Could Global Tourism Go Extinct?
The jet-setting, Instagramming lifestyle of a generation is threatened by local backlashes and worldwide climate action
There’s no more disreputable evangelist than the libertine who spends his youth lost in drink, drugs, and depravity, only to find religion, fetishize sobriety, and spend his life’s second act scolding others for indulging in the perdition he himself so copiously explored. But I think I’m about to become that person. And so, too, I’m pretty sure, are a lot of you.
My vice hasn’t been booze, dope, or cheap relationships. It’s been travel. I’ve been to 49 states (Maine, if you need it) and somewhere in the region of 75 countries. I’ve bunked down in grotty guesthouses in the Philippines, crashed on friends’ couches in Germany, upgraded to four-star suites in the Caribbean, and enrolled in loyalty programs from Starwood to Motel 6.
For a number of years, I made my living as a travel writer and editor, enjoying the globetrotting lifestyle and encouraging others to partake. I wrote travel guides and books. I briefly edited a magazine for one of those cruise lines. I enjoyed the work, liked my co-workers, accepted the money.
Back when I started traveling a lot in the 1990s, this made me a mildly interesting person to talk to at parties. But this is no longer the case. I have a schoolteacher, IT guys, government workers, even unemployed people in my life with more stamps in their passports than I have. According to various surveys, at least half or more of millennials would rather travel than do traditional things like buy a house and pay off debt.
Americans aren’t unique: Tourism has become the habit of the world. In 2019, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced that international travel had increased, yet again, to 1.4 billion tourist arrivals. Like the data about warming oceans and melting polar ice, the figures measuring mass tourism have been surpassing forecasts years earlier than anticipated and are expected to continue their exponential climb. The UNWTO predicts a 3% to 4% annual increase in international travel.
Travel is a drug, and a damn good one. Like any other user, I want to take…