Opinion: there are many misconceptions about the changing patterns of travel and tourism

The lives we live limit our perspective on issues and we assume that what we think we know is the truth. But in these times of fake news, constant social media feeds and the "always on" lifestyles we lead, it is crucial that we develop critical thinking skills and delve into issues in more depth. Here are 10 common misconceptions about tourism

(1) Most people take a flight to go on holiday 

As the CEO of Boeing outlined, more than 80% of the world’s population have never been on a plane. This reflects the UNWTO data which identifies that 43% of tourist activity is undertaken by road or boat so this shows us that people often travel to nearby countries. Of course, it also reflects the fact that nearly half the world lives on €5.50 a day. These facts highlight the reality that many more people than us relatively prosperous island dwellers never go on holiday and have never been on a plane.

(2) Overtourism is a new trend

Overtourism is a term that has become part of our lexicon in the last few years. However, concerns about overtourism have been part of the ongoing discussions that academics, policy makers, businesses and destination management organisations have had regarding sustainability over many decades.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, tour guide and hotelier Stephen McPhilemy and tourism lecturer Kevin Griffin discuss the impact of over-tourism

(3) Most parts of the world are affected by tourism

Increasing accessibility has opened up many parts of the world to tourists, but tourism is still very clustered. While nearly 90 million people visited France last year, only 64 million tourists went to the whole of Africa. The top 10 tourism destinations internationally attracted 40% of global tourists. Thus it is clear that these tourists do not travel far and wide and there are significant differences in terms of the impact of tourism according to region.

(4) Tourists are travelling further away for their holidays

About 20% of travel is long haul and, while this rate has been increasing, UNWTO data shows that four-fifths of tourists travel within their own region (Europeans in Europe, Asians in Asia etc). Tourism travel, then, is mostly regional rather than global.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Juliette Gash reports on sustainable tourism on Ireland's islands

(5) Tourism products are created by tourist businesses

While this is mostly true, there are interesting changes afoot with the emergence of co-creation tourism whereby the tourist experience is created by the tourist and the provider together. Examples of this include the arts, activity holidays, food tourism and living history events.

(6) Tourism is about money and business

Increasingly, tourists want to engage with the local and the success of Airbnb is a testament to this. Local people and communities are a very important part of their tourist experience. Equally, social enterprises and local community groups are increasingly providing tourist experiences to visitors. There is increasing emphasis on re-focussing the tourism debate and policies away from tourist numbers and destinations to local communities and towns and cities.

(7) Travel is reasonably unrestricted.

In spite of recent changes in the US, there is an assumption that travel for most people is relatively easy. However, actually half of the world’s population still need a visa to travel.

From RTÉ Archives, a 1986 RTÉ News report by Mícheál Ó Briain on the opening of US pre-clearance at Shannon airport

(8) Governments want to increase tourist numbers

The focus for most governments and government agencies should be to maximise the tourism spend in their country. Attracting high spending tourists, such as the Chinese and Americans, can mean you need fewer tourists to maintain the tourism sector and national government accounts. Even in countries where there is overtourism at some landmark sites or cities, the policy is not to reduce the number of tourists visiting the country. Instead, the objective is to encourage them to visit alternative (less touristy) places and so maintain the income that is generated and distribute it throughout the country.

(9) Mass tourism to the beach is no longer a thing

Package holidays and people travelling to the sun and staying by the beach may have reduced in popularity, but this is still an attractive way to holiday for many. You only have to look at the continuing popularity of beach resorts all along the Spanish coast to prove this. In fact, 46% of tourism bednights in Europe were spent in coastal locations in 2017. While there are trends of city breaks and specialist holidays such as eco-tourism, adventure, learning and activity holidays, the beach and standard sun holidays are still very much part of the tourism landscape.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Manchán Magan discusses deadly tourist spots

(10) Americans are the biggest spenders when it comes to tourism

In fact, China is now the world’s largest tourism spender, accounting for a fifth of all international tourist spending. These tourists are set to become more important as only about 10% of the Chinese population currently travel, but this is expected rise to 20% (300 million tourists) by 2027. It is the growing middle classes in China, and India, which are now the most attractive market segments for international tourism destinations.

Even in a fast changing world, where tourism numbers are now in excess of 1.4 billion, there are many nuances to changing travel patterns and the type of tourism on offer. What is also apparent is that the impact and experience of tourism is not felt equally across the world, and that emerging trends are going to create significant changes in terms of the increasing number of tourists travelling from Asia, the challenges of sustainability and overtourism, and the role of tourism from both a societal and economic perspective. As global citizens entering into a period of change and uncertainty, the ability for us to decipher, challenge and go beyond common perceptions will be vital.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ