Philantourism to pop culture: 5 trends that will rule travel in 2021
2020 tossed out all travel plans and put into perspective the importance of embracing the small and simple things in life, which might explain why so many of us are looking forward to enjoying laidback holidays in 2021.
In 2020, the world came to a grinding halt. The global pandemic and travel restrictions closed the borders of many countries. To reimagine travel in 2021, tourists have to reinvent themselves and revisit their choices. Though it may be a while before we get used to the idea of unfettered travel, 2021 will still be a hugely significant year for tourism. Here are five trends that will help us keep up with the spirit of travel.
Tragedy unites people in unexpected ways. As such, we can expect to hear the word 'philantourism', a mash-up of philanthropy and tourism, a lot in 2021. While the pandemic has created a distance between people, many have gone out of their ways to support local communities, small-scale businesses or those who have had to shut shop due to the lockdown. As life limps back to normalcy, we can only hope that this newfound sense of interconnectedness will persist. There is reason to believe that many people would be content with local or domestic travel. Many travellers would prioritise destinations or communities hit hardest.
Sreejith P Nair, CEO of Kabani Tour, an organisation in Kerala that facilitates community tourism in the state, says this could be an interesting trend in 2021: “After months of being confined to their homes, people want to make their travels count. They want to travel locally and contribute to the local economy.”
Citing Kerala's Wayanad as an ideal spot for philantourism, Sreejith says: “Wayanad is home to a predominantly agrarian community. Most of those who organise homestays rely heavily on paddy cultivation, tea and coffee plantations. The pandemic affected their way of life. They have had zero income for many months. So, they are desperate for tourism to get started. For instance, we have a programme called Walking Wayanad, where we take people on long walks through villages, paddy fields and along tributaries of the river Kabini. During these walks, tourists get to connect with indigenous tribal communities, local storytellers, villagers among others.”
Travel & fashion blogger and influencer Romeer Sen feels 2021 will be the year for domestic travel, which would see steady growth, and pave the way for a new adaption.
“Homestays, hostels and smaller accommodations would find favour among travellers. If most Indians follow this, we would be able to bring the travel industry back on track to a certain extent,” says Sen, who has over 60k followers on Instagram.
Pravin Tamang, a photographer passionate about travel and documentary-style photography, feels though the concept of putting in money into local pockets is yet to catch on in India, COVID-19 is unconsciously making many travellers support a destination that is down on its luck. “What’s happening by default is that many people are now inclined to stay in homestays, farm stays, rural stays, and remote stays in smaller and micro-community settings," says Pravin.
Streaming services are one of the few industries that benefited immensely from the lockdown. People have had more time than ever to stream content — new and old. And after being exposed to a new destination through a movie or a television show, the desire to be a part of that environment has become even more strong. The way pop culture has glamourised destinations, it may change the way we experience real places.
Pravin says, “Not everything about 2020 was bad. There were a few happy moments, as well, that gave us some joy. For example, the wanderlust videos, TV shows and movies that gave masses the urge to visit a particular place more than ever. It was the next best thing to going on a trip — living out the trip through characters on the shows and movies.”
Pravin is based in rural Darjeeling, and, along with his brother, runs Tathagata Farm, where people can escape from the din and bustle of chaotic urban life. They also motivate a number of local homes to open their doors to travellers. In 2014, Tathagata Farm received an award for the best homestay in India from Lonely Planet.
Could we have weathered the lockdown without the Internet? No! With work-from-home becoming the new normal, most of us have been constantly glued to our screens. Employers have obliterated whatever boundaries remained between work and life. This has made people even more desperate for a break, with many even wanting to keep their laptop or smartphone use to a bare minimum once they set out on their journey. Instagram posts can wait!
“People are truly exhausted sitting in front of their laptops the entire day. Earlier, people used to travel, take photos and immediately post those on Instagram. Now, they just want to travel. Post the lockdown, many people have asked us about our program on stargazing on the banks of Periyar river. Josegiri, a mountainous area in Kannur, is another popular location. They are least bothered about connectivity,” says Sreejith.
In 2020, if we all missed something, it’s family and friends. True, we spent most of our time at home, but what about those who don’t stay with their families. As social distancing norms relax, many are waiting to set out on a trip with their entire family. Apart from families, many people, especially youngsters, would also want to reconnect with friends by embarking on a trip together.
“Solo trip is a fairly new concept for Indians. In India, culturally, people are very family-oriented. They seek activities that would entertain each member of the family. I recently got an enquiry from a person asking if we would accept bookings for his 10-member family travelling for the first time after the lockdown. At the moment, travelling with friends and family is a huge trend,” says Pravin.
The lockdown hammered home the connection between decreased human activity and health of the planet. It was ironic that a pandemic caused by a disease that affected the lungs also helped people breathe clean air. As we notice the positive implications of decreased human footprints on Earth, it could also be an opportunity to introduce slower, fairer, more sustainable holidays. As destinations reopen slowly, this could be the only chance for tourism to rebuild in a greener, more sustainable way.
Popular travel television presenter Alex Outhwaite, who is based in London and has 57.5k followers on Instagram, says, “I always try to travel in a slow and sustainable way. But I hope that a small silver lining of the pandemic will be an increase in the number of people that are also conscious of this when they travel. Some areas have been suffering from over-tourism and we’ve seen the benefit of fewer people visiting these popular spots.”
Shivani Singh, a Hyderabad-based travel blogger, too, feels that as destinations slowly start to emerge from after-effects of the pandemic, this is the best chance for tourism to rebuild in a greener and more sustainable way. Shivani, who has 36.3k followers on Instagram, says, “After being through so much, people are understanding the importance of sustainability and the fact that it’s just us who can take care of the planet. So, there will be an increase in responsible travelling. You can already see a change in people’s perspective — awareness is high and, now, there is a lot more willingness to participate in preserving the planet at any cost.”
While the pandemic has brought travel to a standstill, it has not silenced our curiosity. On the contrary, one of the biggest psychological effects of the pandemic has been the strong desire to be elsewhere. Even after an effective vaccine makes its way and the pandemic’s threat reduces, travel will look different than it did pre-COVID. Instead of ‘where to travel’, in 2021, most people may start thinking about ‘how to travel’.
Shivani adds, “ In 2021, factors such as culture, food, history, architecture will play an important role in the selection of a destination. That’s because people had a lot of time during the lockdown to read and get themselves educated on these aspects of travel.”
Alex sums up, “I’m sure that in whatever way we chose to travel in the future, people will be keen to explore the world as much as they can and hopefully not take it for granted.”