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British Airways’ inflight magazine was first published 40 years ago. Travel was very different then, but where will it be in four decades’ time? To celebrate 40 years since High Life first appeared, the magazine’s editor, Kerry Smith, convened a “travel think tank” at London’s Café Royal.
The aim: to forecast the future of travel 40 years from now. Besides Ms Smith (KS), the illustrious assembly comprised travel writer Colin Thubron (CT); Herbert Ypma (HY), founder of Hip Hotels; the writer Sara Wheeler (SW), who explores the Earth’s extremes; the adventurer and entertainer Charley Boorman (CB); John Simpson (JS), the BBC’s World Affairs Editor and High Life columnist; Justin Marozzi (JM), travel writer, historian and journalist; and the explorer and television presenter Benedict Allen (BA). The event was chaired by Simon Calder.
Click on the image below to play the recording:
Who will be travelling in 40 years’ time?
CB: We in the West who think that the motor of tourism is us – it won’t be. It will be China, it will be India. We will be the touristed-about nation rather than the tourists. The gaze of the world will be turning back on us.
JM: In the last 10 years the volume of Chinese tourism has gone up five-fold. By 2020, people say that Chinese tourists will represent more than 10 per cent of the global market. And that’s in a country where foreign travel has been off the agenda for God knows how long.
HY: One-third of all the visitors to the Maldives are Chinese.
KS: Everyone will share their experiences. We’re all journalists and photographers now. Everybody has a Twitter feed to tell their own story.
Are there still “undiscovered” destinations?
CB: Papua New Guinea. I travelled there recently; on the north shore there must be 500 miles of white sand beaches with the jungle dropping over it.
JM: The place I’ve just got back from, Kyrgyzstan. Visa on arrival, couldn’t be simpler, no problems with security whatsoever, fabulous landscapes, mountains including unclimbed peaks, rivers, horseback riding, amazing amounts of delicious foods. People need to go out there.
CT: It doesn’t sound the greatest invitation in the world but Russia has some great rivers, such as the Yenisei. It’s very tough and it’s very poor. And in Asiatic Russia there are virtually no roads at all due to permafrost.
SW: I took my kids to China last summer for six weeks. The beaten track? We never even saw it. Nobody spoke a word of English. We stayed with tribespeople in Yunnan, and did some fantastic trekking. I was also in Libya not so long ago – it was unbelievably wonderful.
JS: It’s still a very big world. There are over 200 countries and really most people only go to about 20 of them. There’s an awful lot of Asia and Africa that people don’t go to. If you want to head off the beaten track you can do it.
BA: There are still places in the world where no one has ever gone. In Venezuela, in the Gran Sabana area, there are still gullies and caves that are unexplored and tepuis that have not been summited. You’ve got to be a specialist to get in there, but I think it’s very important that young people still believe that you can go to places and see things that people haven’t seen.
Will we still visit cities?
JM: There are some wonderful cities which remain wonderful, like Cairo. To strike a blow for some continuity in tourism, think about the pyramids on the edge of the city, 5,000 years old. When Herodotus visited them 2,500 years ago they were as old to him as he is to us now.
HY: You could go to Paris and have an extraordinarily exotic experience, even though it’s incredibly accessible and easy. That’s the key for me: I look for authenticity whether it’s an urban experience or an escape.
CT: In a way cities are the new anthropology, aren’t they? Anthropology is converging with sociology because it’s the megacity that is the object of examination and extraordinariness.
JS: But will you be able to tell which one you are in?
CT: Cultures are so impermeable; they’re so resilient. You don’t think you’re in a Western city if you’re in Shanghai or Singapore. The culture is as strong and identifiable it ever was.
Will space tourism happen?
JS: There’s nowhere to go. You can’t stop off anywhere to get out and look around.
CB: There’ll be a hotel on the moon before you know it.
JS: I’m sure we will start recolonising our own planet before we go off and colonise space simply because there’s so incredibly much of it here.
CT: There will always be those who will want to test themselves, to have another sort of experience. We’re all looking for variety. That’s why we travel; nobody travels to find what they already have on their doorstep.
What advice would you offer to the traveller in 2053?
HY: Travel with a purpose is a lot more rewarding than just travel.
CT: What matters is the impulse, the desire, and if you’ve got that, you just go. My good friend Norman Lewis was still going at the age of 90.
BA: I want my children to go out there and know deserts and jungles or the Arctic and strip away the veneer of everything and be what they are.
KS: Travel in the 21st century is about tuning in to all that’s happening in the world; not switching off and sipping a piña colada.
BA: What we love about travel is losing our identity. I certainly find myself becoming a different person when I’m unleashed off in the desert.
CT: We imagine that destinations are always the same, but they’re changing just as much as we are; every generation has to experience them for itself.
SW: All I want is for my kids not to do anything I did.
CB: The only problem with travel is that it’s addictive.