Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

LUGANO, Switzerland -- What is your reaction when learning that 15% of the world -- 1.22 billion people -- can afford to travel internationally today and that, in 2050, 25% of the population -- 2.44 billion -- will have that ability?

Does it make you feel you're lucky to be in a growth industry? Or, given the present state of crowding in some destinations today, are you not so sure that travel will be the pleasure it once was?

I interviewed Edmund Morris, founder and CEO of Equator Analytics, onstage at the Adventure Travel Trade Association's World Travel Summit, held here earlier this week, and I left the stage not quite sure how I would answer the question.

But forewarned is forearmed. The future seems always obscured in fog, so once a convincing data-based case can be made for what we'll be facing, informed planning can commence.

Morris' company is an unusual research firm. He does not conduct surveys or focus groups but, rather, accesses and analyzes publicly available data to advise companies.

For instance, he can confidently say that there were more Airbnbs in Porto, Portugal, this past summer than there were in the summer of 2019. In fact, he can even plot the exact locations of vacation rentals during both years without having contacted either Airbnb or anyone in Porto.

All his team had to do was look at user reviews and include in the 2022 tally those with recent comments and eliminate any that have been inactive for three years.

Not rocket science but clever.

He'll look at Google Street View photos of the entrance of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia in May 2012 and May 2022 to evaluate the increase in traffic at that site. (It's more crowded this year by a triple-digit factor.)

He's likely got Gapminder, an independent nonprofit that uses data to correct global misconceptions, bookmarked on his phone. Heatmaps -- websites and apps that display where people congregate for various activities -- are an essential instrument in his toolbox.

You might be wondering: If all of this information is publicly available to anyone, what value is he adding for his clients? Aggregating easily accessible data seems a relatively low-level task. Is what he does creative?

I would say so, and offer this parallel example: The comedian Ricky Gervais has a routine where he dissects the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again," Gervais recites, before observing: Should that be a surprise? Is there an animal on Earth less qualified to reassemble an egg than a horse?

A friend of mine who's a stand-up comedian marveled. "That joke was out there for any of us. But he's the one who saw it."

When it comes to travel insights, it's often Morris who's the one who sees them.

The value he believes he adds is not simply collecting relevant data but putting it together to create stories and forecasts that guide action.

He refined his methodology working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Jordan, building models to measure the impact of adventure travel and its potential to create jobs and support local economic growth in towns and villages that typically don't see tourists.

Using data taken primarily from online sources, coupled with publicly available information that had been collected by Jordan's ministries of tourism and trade, he worked with the tourism board to justify further investments in what was then the nascent Jordan Trail, a 400-mile hiking route that touches the country's best-known sites (Petra, for instance) but also brings visitors to social enterprises that directly benefit local businesses.

Today, overtourism is only a problem in a minority of destinations. Most regions want more tourists, not fewer. But looking ahead to the day when 25% of the (growing) global population will be able to afford to travel, I asked what advice he might offer destination marketers/managers who today fill my inbox with press releases crowing about increases in arrival numbers.

"I'd like to see tourist boards use data to engage a generation that cares more about sustainability than arrival numbers," he answered. "Being concerned only with the cost of a trip may be true for travelers today, but it's not going to be true 10 years from now. Destinations will have to talk about sustainability. And there's a massive opportunity for those who get there first."

He cited New Zealand, Norway and Tasmania as three destinations that realize this already and have built impressive campaigns to position themselves for more sustainability-aware travelers.

Morris promotes using data to tell stories. I don't think that when he says that he's necessarily encouraging marketers to overtly include data in promotions, but rather to look at what data tells us is coming. If we can see over the horizon and around corners, we can go beyond narrating our present. We can begin to write the narration of our future. 

Comments

From Our Partners


From Our Partners

All-Inclusive Experiences at the New Riu Palace Kukulkan Hotel with the Elite Club by RIU Concept
All-Inclusive Experiences at the New Riu Palace Kukulkan Hotel with the Elite Club by RIU Concept
Register Now
Radisson Hotel Group
Radisson Hotel Group
Read More
PONANT’s Mediterranean: Exceptional Yachting-style Cruising
PONANT’s Mediterranean: Exceptional Yachting-style Cruising
Register Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI