Scenarios, Implications and Future Indicators for the Travel Industry

These future scenarios were constructed using the deductive 2x2 matrix, or Global Business Network (GBN) scenario process, and depend on two key social and technological change drivers: the demographic growth of unmarried, unattached, non-cohabiting individuals (“singletons”) and availability of technologically advanced virtual reality consumer experiences.

© Alexandra Whittington

This particular scenario process involves telling a story of the future that puts select driving forces in motion and allows for implications, or consequences of the social change each scenario implies, to emerge. In his 1991 book, The Art of the Long View, GBN expert Peter Schwartz suggests selecting ‘signposts’ or indicators useful for monitoring the future. So, each of the scenarios described is followed by a list of tourism industry-specific indicators that might be watched for hints in terms of the direction society is heading.

I. ‘No Passport Required’

A future where virtual tourism experiences create meaning and satisfaction for single travelers tends to leave families stranded.

Viewed from today, the most surprising aspect of this scenario is that travel has become an almost entirely solitary experience.

The future traveler with ‘No Passport Required’ operates his or her own agenda to venture to new places via virtual reality or artificial reality implements. The travel experience is highly personalized, which lends to a much more segregated experience.

The actual experience of the voyage is not only artificial and alone, but it is so unique that it becomes difficult to convey to peers in a relational way. The overlap is interesting, but insignificant. Sequentially distributed, synchronous, ‘real-time’ images of the travel experience are elemental to completing the activity, so digital memories and images are disseminated on social media and other new platforms.

Rather than build a unified narrative of travel experience as a whole, they tend to diverge in thousands of directions. There are as many travel stories as there are travelers, very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of leisure environment. Other’s adventures can be watched, synchronously or asynchronously via archives.

Families anticipate the creation of technology that can be utilized similarly for groups, but until then they enjoy individual virtual experiences in exotic virtual locations.

The rise of individual voyages maintains separate family experiences where recreation is concerned, allowing a detached family culture to thrive, for example. Although close family bonds do exist, they are not created through travels together. The tour industry has abandoned the idea of being part of family memories and is geared towards the individual consumer.

The singleton is well-suited for this future since individualism is favored. Medical and spiritual tourism are commonly conducted virtually, with limited success, and there are plenty of opportunities for extreme virtual adventures along the lines of ‘collapse’ tourism, although visiting such sites in real life is considered taboo. Though comprising a key market, singletons will experience very different travel services depending on socioeconomic status, age and gender. This will create obvious inequities with particularly noticeable regard to medical tourism; essential medical services can be denied because a particular voyage is beyond one’s budget. Space tourism has settled into a simulated experience as well, and access to it is highly exclusive.

Using data to improve the personalized services is a key strategy for the travel industry. This is seen as helpful to most customers, although resistance and privacy concerns definitely exist.

Leading Indicators and Signposts for ‘No Passport Required’:

First appearance of gaming systems designed for virtual travel.

Family-friendly resorts and destinations shut their doors.

First virtual travelogue published.

II. ‘Seat 1A’

A future where the personalized real-life experience of singleton travel in 2050 tends towards the privileged, with extreme, possibly even voyeuristic overtones. Family vacations are not encouraged.

Without immediate action, environmental crises are a fairly certain component of the future. In ‘Seat 1A’ the environment is one of the many threats that keeps family or group travelers grounded while single travelers are highly attractive vacation guests around the globe. The high cost and ecological impact of transporting, housing and feeding a group will discourage group trips and though the value of travel experience is high, it is an individual activity.

Travel policies favor the singleton by charging premium fees for parties of two or more. There is a social stigma against taking trips as couples or families, which is encouraged by the revision of school schedules to avoid long summer vacations.

Recreational travel has a huge ecological footprint and most people avoid it. Those who insist on their right to travel for fun are shunned, unless they are super-wealthy singletons with the ability to compensate for the damage to the locales they tour.

Money can buy almost anything, including extreme vacations that can put human rights and individual dignity at risk. The over-privileged singleton traveler is accountable to no one but himself on his expensive voyages, so there is almost no experience that cannot be bought. Collapse tourism, slum tourism and indulgent, elective (possibly life-span lengthening?) medical tourism all contribute to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

Rumbles of dissatisfaction persist in society in the ‘Seat 1A’ future. The highly technologically-gifted and globally connected Generation Z makes a priority of returning to how it ‘used to be’ for family vacations. There are many entrepreneurs working on environmentally sound transport and sustainable resource use that could mean more earth-friendly travel opportunities.

Tourism is being re-framed as a beneficial value-add to environments, not a burden. Innovative ideas are reaching marketability by 2050 so that a brief ‘dark age’ of travel is coming to a close.

Leading Indicators and Signposts for ‘Seat 1A’:

Nostalgia for summer family vacation expressed through art: award-winning film of 2050 is a documentary made from historical footage of a 1970s family vacation to an amusement park.

Some regions discourage single travelers with surcharges, while others go so far as to prohibit solo visitors.

Stereotypes of the single t as deviant or antisocial results in public service ad campaigns depicting the lone tourist as a threat to be avoided.

Personalized measurement of ecological footprint developed and becomes part of processing travelers through airports, customs and borders.

III. ‘See the World From Your Living Room’

A future where virtual travel opportunities are prevalent and mass marketed.

As such they are generic, formulaic, all-ages and affordable. Family oriented virtual travel dominates, marginalizing singletons.

In 2050, travel is more a state of mind than a physical experience. There are a number of ways for people to explore new places, not the least of which are non-existent places of pure fantasy made real by the use of technology and neuroscience. Travel is markedly different from today in the sense that it is completely mass-marketed but customizable, has the capacity to be spontaneous, and can be experienced at a different level of consciousness using virtual and artificial reality, wearable technology, and/or advances in brain science (such as drugs, transhumanist modifications or intentional shifts across levels of consciousness) that make artificially generated experiences equal or superior to ‘real life’.

Travel can be generic in the sense that virtual travel to Paris, for example, is marketed and sold in formulaic packages: Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Left Bank cafes, for example. But while technologically innovative, they are not unique. Luckily, the overall social mood in 2050 will be one that prefers a predictable and non-eventful vacation. Turbulent conditions in ‘real life’ make these escapes very valuable.

Travel for leisure is appreciated for its relative ease, safety and low price tag. The artificial or virtual tours are highly accessible to families of all economic levels, since even the simplest equipment can deliver impressive results. Families have become reliable consumers of virtual travel since it is affordable, and because it creates a safe haven from the chaotic world outside the safety of home.

Leading Indicators and Signposts for ‘See the World from Your Living Room’:

Extreme incidents of socio-political instability in tourist areas that result in frequent travel bans, warnings and risks.

Simplicity movement grows in light of irreversible environmental crises and mass overconsumption.

Transhumanist travel organization established.

IV. ‘Meet the Globe Trotters’

Family-friendly “real life” travel will be the norm, but limited to the most elite family groups.

Travel is dangerous, expensive and highly out of reach for most people, including less-than-wealthy families but especially solo travellers.

In 2050, the global travel landscape could buck the virtual trend and remain a physical experience, as it is today. For this to remain, we would expect to see changes in other aspects of tourism, most especially a rise in cost and danger which would exclude most people from participation. ‘Meet the Globe Trotters’ is a future scenario that favours the elite: the resources required to regularly travel have become so limited so that the majority of people will never be able to experience it.

The safest way to travel is in groups, either kin groups or friends. Almost all things in this future world of 2050 favor families because distrust is a key aspect of society.

Although not necessarily composed of blood relatives or legally partnered individuals, family is a critical component of tourism in ‘Meet the Globe Trotters’ — individual travel will be too dangerous and expensive.

Extended family, non-blood relatives and close friends constitute ‘family’ in this future; anyone who can be trusted is considered family. Marriage has become less prioritized, and other, alternative unions gained recognition, so a greater scope of family ties are now legally recognized. A declining birth rate means fewer children so the family is composed of more adults than youths.

Furthermore, child-less families tend to bond to other adults (aging parents, cousins, siblings, life-long friends) to create the groups to whom the travel industry in 2050 caters. The ‘family vacation’ will be a much more dynamic and mature consumer domain than it is today.

The persistent inequality between rich and poor means there are many dangers shaped by political instability, social discontent, xenophobia and scarcity of resources. Tourists, particularly foreign ones, are often perceived as threats. While locals see travelers as unwelcome competition on their turf, industry and political leaders will welcome the large cash injections these wealthy tourists create. This, in turn, contributes to the cultural chasm created through wide social and economic gaps between the wealthiest and poorest people, a positive feedback loop with escalating impacts by 2050.

Economic inequalities have eliminated the middle class so there is little common ground between the tourist and the non-tourist classes. Travelers crave isolation and security from the masses, contributing to a resort-ification of most vacations. Unique and authentic eco-travel experiences are desired and become typical vacations. There could be monopolies on the market for these tours and the staking out of affluent customers will be a primary strategy for travel operators.

The ability for travel agents to book safe and predictable travel is highly valued; incidents that put customers in danger or expose them to the masses are a death sentence for even the best companies.

Employment in travel agencies has become highly lucrative and selective, including background checks, tightly-monitored work environments and much more resources are poured into the training of employees. Unlike the more virtual-leaning futures for tourism, ‘Meet the Globe Trotters’ will be highly dependent on human workers. There will be a shift away from online bookings and trip research, since the utmost value of safety and reliability for the traveler will demand a much higher level of human input and accountability for travel planning.

Bodyguards, trained dogs and artificial intelligence devices that can ensure tour safety will also be the norm for the leisure tourist. This also drives the high cost of travel in 2050; it is possible that the most wealthy globe trotters will employ trusted service personnel that will travel with them and become part of the large groups that they entrust and travel with.

Leading Indicators and Signposts for ‘Meet the Globe Trotters’:

Bodyguards and personal devices designed to provide intelligence and security to traveling groups.

End of the single hotel room.

Increased number of programs to train, certify and support travel industry employees. Travel industry is a highly lucrative and desirable career.


Making both truth claims and explanatory claims are the ontological qualities of forecasts that fall under the category of ‘predictions’ according to Bergman et al. The GBN process is a good match for this framework, since it guides the creation of alternative futures based on information prepared and gathered specifically for the forecast activity, thus incorporating evidence as ‘truth’ and ‘explanations’ that allow the forecasts to exist. Information gathering for this exercise resulted in a list of the trends and issues shaping the future of tourism, building a foundation of facts on which to rest four alternative future forecasts.

These are the ‘truths’ and ‘explanations’ underlying this version of the journey to 2050: widening gap between rich and poor, fragmentation of travel services, rise of the singleton, environmental crises looming, and more.

Thus each scenario describes highly exaggerated, or completely reversed versions of what is happening today. This is where another of Bergman’s et al. concepts can be emphasized: ‘a prediction does not have to be definitive’. Indeed, these four scenarios are offered as possible, or alternative futures.

While the word ‘prediction’ in the traditional use implies some degree of precision or accuracy, forecasting with future scenarios does not necessarily rely on being right, but being perceptive.

Most notable among Bergman et al.’s contributions is the advancement of the question ‘why there are different possible futures:’ that more than one future exists is a critical assumption of particular types of forecasting, such as the GBN approach, and an extremely important area for further research.

The truth/explanatory ontological classification system by Bergman et al. is an excellent candidate as a more frequently used framework for the study, interpretation and analysis of future scenarios. It also seems like a valuable way to present data captured during the information gathering phase of foresight work. Predictive statements about expected outcomes from active and observable mechanisms of change are valuable forms of academic, commercial and public foresight.

Futurist. Foresight research, education, writing and consulting.