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The Art of Retreat: The Future of Travel is Slow

Written By

Chad Bolick

Executive Director, Senior Philanthropic Advisor,
Morgan Stanley

5 min read

The way we live now — dramatically altered by the location and pace of our professional and personal lives — will transform tourism into experiential exchange.

When COVID-19 spread across the globe, people were forced to pull back from normal life and shelter in place. With the world slowly reemerging from pandemic, the impact of this extended retreat and the contraction of the travel industry means that tourism going forward promises to be slower and simpler. Trips will be longer, and more pared back. Whereas resorts used to serve as cocoons from the local environment, now they will encourage exploration of the surrounding area and bring aspects of the locale in. The trend toward incorporating purpose and sustainability into travel will become increasingly popular. It’s all part of a new way of regarding travel and leisure—a redefinition of what it means to retreat from routine and discover new vantage points at a studied pace.

To start with context: the number of people traveling has dropped precipitously. In the United States, April 2020 was the slowest month for travel in decades, as measured by the number of travelers going through TSA checkpoints, down nearly 95% as compared to the year before.1 By June, numbers had picked up, so the decline was only 75% year-over-year, but the tourism industry around the world has scaled down dramatically. The impact on individual lives is nearly incalculable—travel and hospitality is one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the global economy, supporting 100 million-120 million jobs.2 Moreover, in many locations tourism funds preservation and conservation work—everything from architectural restoration to anti-poaching efforts. In the new economic conditions, these vital endeavors are at risk.

Meanwhile, a shift is taking place in what it means to be a responsible traveler, not a tourist. We are witnessing the fruition of the slow-travel mindset, an offshoot of the slow-food movement, which began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. It translates into longer trips, intentional exchange and less movement upon arrival. Rather than spending weeks jumping from destination to destination, slow travel means renting a cottage or apartment for a week at a time, and exploring your immediate surroundings on foot or by car—soaking in the environment and staying open to new experiences. One might even go so far as to say that it’s moving away from quickly taking in the best of a place without offering anything back. Think about a destination like Venice, a popular destination and brief stop for many guided European tours. Do those short-stay visitors get to fully experience the culture that made Venice such an interesting destination in the first place?

For many Americans, international travel is now either impossible or ill-advised, often requiring a mandatory quarantine period. For the foreseeable future, travel is likely to look a lot like it did in the 1970s, when local road trips were the norm, international travel was a very expensive luxury and trips lasted somewhat longer. In this moment, expect national parks to be under even greater pressure, with folks retreating out of urban locales and into rural ones. For those willing to undertake international travel trips will be more cumbersome, and require the consideration of more details, from safety to security to medical evacuation insurance coverage. Moreover, countries are reopening to travel at various times, with a wide variety of restrictions based on country of origin.

It may be that we are at a historic inflection point where, in a post-pandemic world, the concept of a “bucket list” fades away, to be replaced permanently by the notion of more thoughtful travel. Travelers seem to be less interested in pursuing a checklist of must-see places—visiting without any obvious consideration for the culture and the people who created or now maintain those iconic destinations—and want instead to seek out more authentic experiences. What makes sense in an era of slower, more purposeful travel is genuine exchange with locals and volunteering. This seems to be where the industry is headed—back to the future. It’s an exciting, hopeful shift that promotes thoughtful consideration of the balance between moral worth, legacy and wealth.

The above article was featured in our latest edition of Insights & Outcomes. Please contact your financial advisor to request a copy of the magazine.




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