Ironically, while South Africans feel pressure to enjoy a fulfilling break, we are less likely to switch off and are more connected to work when we’re on holiday than our global counterparts. So says research conducted by global guided holiday specialists, Trafalgar, which surveyed travellers around the world to define the concept of ‘good travel’.
What is ‘good travel’? Simply put, it is an opportunity to step away from daily life and pressures and to learn, appreciate and experience something new.
“Good travel experiences are when people seek out sights that others don’t, switch off and relax, and make a real connection with the local culture. It’s an opportunity to be surprised and challenged and to spend time with loved ones in a relaxed environment,” says Teresa Richardson, MD South Africa The Travel Corporation, of which Trafalgar is a leading travel brand.
Many of the travel trends being seen globally, reports Richardson, can be attributed to the need for ‘good travel’; those of reconnecting with one’s past, reconnecting with loved ones across generations, and ‘real’ travel, most notably.
As the famous George Santayana adage goes: “To know your future, you must know your past”. There is a strong movement towards the discovery of this past – one’s family history and the places from which one’s ancestors hailed or once lived, says Richardson. Particularly poignant for some is a visit to the destination where a great grandparent gave their life in defence of their country.
“We see travellers returning to the battlefields of France, Belgium and Turkey to pay homage to their fallen family members. And, we even have a World War I and II Battlefields trip and special Anzac departures on our Turkey itineraries for travellers who want to visit Gallipoli to be part of the annual memorial.”
In a world where technology allows us greater access to information and people, there is a particular craving for a deeper connection. “In many ways, while the world has grown smaller, it has also grown more superficial, driving travellers to seek more meaningful connections. And few things could be more meaningful than connecting with one’s past,” says Richardson.
Linked to this is the rise in multi-generational travel, and this trend does not appear to be abating.
“Once again, our research shows the drive for ‘good travel’ to include opportunities to reconnect with our loved ones in a relaxed and safe environment, as well as an opportunity to learn, be surprised and forge memories together,” explains Richardson.
In addition, it is often for the sake of practicality, making the most of limited time and value for money, that we travel as extended family in South Africa.
“Today’s grandparents are arguably more active and adventurous than their forefathers. And, with both parents often working, it’s difficult to get everyone in the same room together. If three generations or more travel, they can share the load in terms of childcare, but also come together to forge meaningful memories in one place on one trip.”
The emphasis is on learning, explains Richardson. “The world is today’s classroom and travel needs to bring what you would once have learnt in a textbook to life, for all generations. In Rome, we take our guests to a gladiator school so they can learn about ancient Rome. In Costa Rica, the whole family gets to go ziplining on the slopes of the Arenal Volcano. While in Ireland, there are encounters with a leprechaun whisperer and the tragic story of the Titanic at the award-winning Titanic Belfast visitor attraction and monument in Belfast.”
Over-tourism has become a real factor as the world’s tourist population grows from 278 million travellers in 1980, to 1.32 billion travellers in 2018. Much of this travel growth continues to be centred in iconic destinations, causing overcrowding, while leaving lesser-known destinations craving the benefits that tourism and travel can bring.
In addition to over-crowding and lack of economic impact comes a lack of connection to culture and lack of environmental sustainability.
Short-term letting in city centres is leading to locals leaving as they cannot afford the rents. That in turn removes the local culture from those city centres and then the inevitable loss of local charm and local businesses whose livelihoods depend on long-term residents.
“As tourists, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we enjoy ‘good travel’ but also that we ensure that we travel for good. With over-tourism comes uninhabitable cities and environmental problems, including pollution and litter. But, there’s a great deal that travellers can do to ensure that their travel brings positive benefit to destinations,” explains Richardson.
Dispersal and dissemination are key in under-tourism, the counter to over-tourism, she adds. Simple changes to travel behaviour make a big difference, such as spreading travel year-round into shoulder seasons, seeking out experiences that connect travellers to the grass-roots culture and visiting destinations that are lesser known.
“We introduced new destinations like Colombia, Georgia and Armenia to tap into the desire and need for destinations that quite literally are off the beaten track. In many of our trips, we also incorporate a component of ‘making a difference’ to a community or an initiative benefiting a local community, which also gives the traveller an opportunity to make a positive impact,” says Richardson.
Real vs staged travel
Trafalgar’s research has shown that almost half of travellers feel that ‘real’ experiences aren’t real at all. With the plethora of information available on the Internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern what’s really local or ‘real’ when people travel.
“We hear increasingly from travellers that they are concerned about having a ‘surface’ travel experience. Instead, they are looking for a richer, deeper connection with the places they visit; for engaging and interactive experiences. They don’t only want to see a place, they also want to do all things local when they visit,” says Richardson.
The best way to do that is through the eyes and taste buds of the locals. What could be more ‘real’ than breaking bread with someone in their home? It’s the experience that travellers delight in having, and delight in sharing once they’ve returned home – that dinner with two sisters in Sorrento on their shady terrace sampling a homecooked meal and limoncello.
“That connection over food is something we’ve worked hard to incorporate into our travel experiences. More than the homecooked meal is the opportunity to meet the characters who bring these destinations to life just by being locals, whether that’s through wine blending in Napa, visiting a Florentine food market with an Italian chef, or picking up some tips on the art of French cuisine in a Parisian cooking school,” concludes Richardson.
“Good travel experiences are when people seek out sights that others don’t, switch off and relax, and make a real connection with the local culture. It’s an opportunity to be surprised and challenged and spend time with loved ones in a relaxed environment.”
“In many ways, while the world has grown smaller, it has also grown more superficial, driving travellers to seek more meaningful connections.”
“The world is today’s classroom and travel needs to bring what you would once have learnt in a textbook to life, for all generations.”