How the industry manipulates our obsession with bucket lists

Places to head for in 2019 – and maybe some to avoid

How the industry manipulates our obsession with bucket lists

I was pleased to attend the launch of the ABTA Travel Trends Report 2019 shortly before Christmas. It’s a useful synthesis of industry insight into changing travel patterns and also prospects for the year ahead – never more uncertain than now we are confronted by both global geo-political and economic tensions, including whatever happens about Brexit.

One of the elements of the report is a selection of ‘12 destinations to watch’ picked by the ABTA team as places it feels will be high up people’s wish lists to visit in 2019, and seen to be well set to attract visitors for a range of reasons, including new air connections, major events and celebrations or areas experiencing a revival or rediscovery reflecting current cultural and social trends.

The list includes countries Bulgaria, Poland, Costa Rica and Jordan, and cities Denver, Durban and Thessaloniki. I have to say that I am somewhat weary of such lists of ‘top places’ and ‘must-see’ destinations and the concept of ‘bucket list’ makes me groan.

It’s as though we are all waiting to be told where to go to have a good time and to be seen to be ‘on-trend’, and to address our ‘Fear of Missing Out’. I wonder what does this list-making/trend-spotting habit tell us?

Perhaps it’s just an over-done marketing concept, an expression of less than thoughtful clichés, or the desire of people in positions of influence to start the trend rather than be on it?

Hearing the ABTA list was quickly followed by me reading the selections by the National Geographic Traveller magazine of its ‘coolest’ places to visit this year. The editor of the UK edition of the magazine claimed ‘our team of editors, writers and industry experts have compiled the 19 destinations set to hit the headlines with key openings, new routes, and rising star destinations firmly in the spotlight.’

Hitting the headlines was quickly achieved by the release of the list itself, as newspapers and magazines seem to have an insatiable appetite for such ‘list stories’, and the angles they can apply to them, on this occasion including noting that West Yorkshire in the UK was selected as ‘cool’ on the basis of its ‘sculpture culture’, not to mention the National Coal Mining Museum. Other National Geographic recommendations that the press got excited about were the destinations Bhutan, Eritrea and Antarctica.

My next discoveries in this vein came from the website farandwide.com, which certainly seems to have embraced the current obsession with lists. It reported the economic impact of tourism in 72 major cities around the world which, according to analysis by the World Travel & Tourism Council, adds up to an astounding $625-billion and the site goes on to list the 15 top cities for such economic activity. In fact, the top seven cities where tourism industries contribute in excess of $20 billion to GDP are Beijing and Shanghai, being major honeypots for mainly Chinese visitors, Paris, Orlando, New York City, Tokyo and Bangkok.

Even more interesting than this on the farandwide.com website was a list that acknowledged the potential downside of the estimated 7 percent growth of International tourism last year. Over-tourism resulting from this is consequently leaving people in some famous hot spots feeling less than happy with the constant stream of travellers turning such places into glorified theme parks, trampled down by the millions of visitors. With different kinds of impacts, this list includes Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, Anghor Wat, Machu Picu, Amsterdam, the Taj Mahal and the Galapagos Islands.

A final list on farandwide.com that seems to bring all this together, is one identifying ‘Overhyped and Overrated Tourist Traps to Avoid at All Costs’. It points out that many places once seen as an iconic destination have arguably become degraded tourist traps that aren’t really worth a visitor’s time or money. The queues are long, the crowds add hours to your visit, and the chances of having the space and time to genuinely take it all in are very slim. On farandwide.com’s list they include the Blarney Stone, Times Square in New York, Niagara Falls, Stonehenge, Taj Mahal, Versailles, the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the Sacre Coeur in Paris, the Manneken Pis in Brussels, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum in Rome, The Vatican City and whale watching.

Their advice to tourists: With the time and money you saved by giving these a miss, find some places more beautiful, compelling and unique to visit instead.

This article was originally published in issue 285 (January 2019) of GTO magazine.