Far from The Madding Crowd? Tourism in the 21st Century

25th July 2015

The title of Thomas Hardy’s book, comes from a phrase in the “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Gray:

“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife / Their sober wishes never learned to stray.”

Although this expression was coined in 1751, it has been used extensively since that time to highlight an innate human desire to escape the hubbub of everyday life.

Relating this to the travel and tourism industry of today, it is ironic that this professed desire does not often transmit to travel behaviour – people mostly like to travel to where other people travel; and the result of this is delivering a real challenge to the travel industry.

This challenge was highlighted recently in a New York Times article, The Revolt Against Tourism

“How do you take advantage of the growth in tourism and not be taken over by mass tourism?”… Local officials around the world have begun to crack down on tourism, and the tourism industry, even in the face of opposition from their national governments, who want the tax revenue from tourists. One destination facing this challenge is Barcelona, where the city’s mayor has announced a one-year ban on new tourist accommodation….The mayors’ greatest worry ‘is Barcelona’s turning into Venice.’

Whilst large numbers of travellers are converging on popular locations, at the other end of the spectrum there is divergence: independent and adventurous travellers looking for experiences off the beaten track. As a rather ‘mystical’ recent piece from The Huffington Post observed –
Sometimes you have to get lost to find what you are looking for.

From these types of travellers, there is increasing demand for individual, authentic vacation experiences, and locations anchored in history and tradition. Whilst this is good for locations that can successfully provide these elements; the irony is that they will become less able to do so as they become more crowded with visitors.

And whilst some people are taking a more isolationist approach to travel, many of them are still staying virtually connected via social media. According to Research Now’s 2014 Twitter survey – 57% use this channel to stay in contact on vacation and 46% tweet their holiday photos.

So what is the solution? Obviously some restrictions need to be put in place, as highlighted by the Barcelona example. It would also help going to ‘bigger’ places, where there is more room to roam, be it the vastness of Australia, the East African savannah, or the lakes, plains and prairies of Texas, USA. Travel habits change of course over time and some people will always look for less cluttered experiences, leading to new destinations being discovered.

The real problem here is that we humans are social animals and because of this, we feel comfortable spending time around each other. We either do this physically, in the world’s most popular locations, or virtually and digitally via social channels where we look to share our experiences with those who are unable to be with us in person.