Future travelers will be putting down their luggage in far-flung places, underwater, in the air and around the planet. They'll get amazing views from bizarre living quarters that build on "outrageously successful" billion-dollar projects on Earth, and they'll take adventures that have long been the province of science fiction.
That’s the vacationing landscape of the 21st century envisioned by various travel analysts.
Thomson Holidays, a leading travel and destination group based in the United Kingdom, just issued a report on the future of leisure travel. The reportis an outgrowth of the Future Holiday Forum, an event Thomson organized late last year to bring together architects, technologists, travel journalists, experts on social trends of the future, and authorities on sustainable tourism.
The conclusions are a sweeping preview of the changing needs and expectations of globetrotting travelers two decades out.
They include way-out expeditions and down-to-Earth jaunts. No-frills travel will include brief, affordable breaks to locations such as Moscow, Rio and Cape Town. The Middle East and South America will vie for top billing with traditional European destinations.
And others say regular civilian flights to space could finally become reality.
Ride the Cosmoplane
Development by 2024 of the Cosmoplane — a successor to Concorde — will make it possible for adventurous travelers to go farther and faster. More traditional types of destinations won't be crowded out of the picture. In fact, they'll just get more crowded as an aging population swells the ranks of folks with time and money to spare, looking for new places to wander.
China is predicted to be the world's No. 1 tourist destination within 20 years. Elsewhere in Asia, countries along the Silk Road such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are likely to see a dramatic rise in tourist numbers as backpackers seek out new destinations.
Other destinations that can expect throngs include Qatar in the Middle East, with its positioning as the "Real Arabian Experience"; Ljubljana in Slovenia as a city break; and Slovakia for its natural scenery and outdoor sports potential.
Then there’s Brazil for its unbeatable combination of beaches, rainforest, nightlife and cities, according to the report.
Other key predictions:
- In the 2020s, people over 50 will outnumber younger generations. This aging but very active population will holiday more frequently in increasingly exotic locations, thinking nothing of jetting off to destinations all over the world.
- The "real holiday" experience for travelers is seeking many different experiences. That includes "zorbing," in which "zorbonauts" climb inside a large inflatable ball and are rolled downhill; skydiving; watching polar bears in the wild; and mind-and-body getaways at yoga retreats.
- A new breed of tourist will seek out eco-friendly holidays. Less than 1 percent of people currently look for sustainable destinations, but this is predicted to grow to 5 percent by 2024, with many people only traveling to places that protect or benefit the environment.
In the wake of the first private, manned mission to space — SpaceShipOne's history-making trip beyond the atmosphere on Monday — space hotels may also be on the horizon, according to other analysts.
"It's only a question of time and money," Howard Wolff, senior vice president of the international architecture and design firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, or WATG, explained from his office in Honolulu.
Wolff noted that the ability to create habitats in space exists.
"The obstacle is not technology," he told Space.com. "The Catch-22 is that a space hotel won't be affordable until there is a mass market for space tourism … and there won't be a mass market until it's affordable."
The missing ingredient, Wolff said, is a commercially viable fleet of reusable launch vehicles. "You can't have a successful hotel if you don't have the means of getting people there."
Wolff, who is spearheading his company's development of concepts for a hotel in Earth orbit, is optimistic.
"The interest exists among prospective travelers," he said. "Several companies are already testing the next generation of vehicles. The hotel investment community is intrigued but skeptical. All it will take is one entrepreneur with deep pockets who is willing to take a bit of a financial risk."
WATG has been involved in ambitious on-Earth destinations for travelers in 130 countries on six continents, such as: The Venetian in Las Vegas; Atlantis, Paradise Island, in the Bahamas; and The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa.
"We've worked with visionary clients who have invested well over a billion dollars to create a single resort that generates a handsome return on investment," says Wolff. "Others thought they were crazy, but their properties turned out to be outrageously successful."
Wolff predicted that the first hotel in space will be a mixed-use project with commercial and research applications that will make it easier to finance.
What will fly?
WATG’s visionary space hotel concept includes portions that will have partial Earth gravity "for creature comforts like being able to flush a toilet and take a shower" as well as weightless environments "for scientific experiments as well as the sheer thrill of the experience," Wolff explained.
Having designed destinations for well-heeled travelers for over half a century, the folks at WATG have a pretty good handle on "what will fly," a confident Wolff added.
Fly, indeed. For those among us who want to stick closer to Earth, the WATG futurists also envision a potentially revolutionary helium-filled airship hotel.
The concept melds elements of traveling by cruise ship, hot air balloon and airplane. No need for travelers to unpack. Passengers can hit any number of destinations in a given trip. Unlike an airplane, the airship hotel would cruise at a leisurely pace and at low altitude, giving camera-snapping sightseers picturesque viewing along the travel route.
Deep-six those anxieties
Afraid of the heights, be it spinning around in a space hotel or taking cloud-banking turns in an airship?
Then deep-six those anxieties and check into Hydropolis.
Planning is already under way for this watery habitat to be built in Dubai, the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Dubai is being tagged more and more as the Las Vegas of the Middle East, known for its over-the-top hotels. Hydropolis is no exception, albeit under the water. It is slated to open in December 2006.
Planning documents for the venture point out a few factoids: For one, water is a basic elixir of life. Then there’s the basic fact that a human is 75 percent of water, and that a person’s well-being requires regeneration of this basic substance.
"Sanus per aquam" — health through water — is therefore not a trend, "but rather an expression of health-consciousness, a synonym for well-feeling, and of harmony of body, mind, and spirit," Hydropolis designers suggest.
Hydropolis is to be located off the Jumeirah coast. As the world's first underwater luxury hotel, the plan is to construct three distinct areas: one on land, a connecting tunnel, and the submarine complex. There will also be a ballroom, spa, restaurants, shops and separate underwater villas.
"Hydropolis is a splendid refuge far away from the stress factors of everyday business life and is ideally suited for guests from top management seeking to regenerate their inner strength," explains a project fact sheet.
Hotel "pods" that can be moved to any spot on the globe is the way to go, contends Nadi Jahangiri, Director of m3architects in London. He and collaborator Ken Hutt foresee the pop-up pods planted anywhere from the Australian rainforest to the Antarctic.
"We propose a temporary, licensed, prefabricated, self-sustaining, transportable facility that can be located on sites and locations all over the planet in places where establishing a traditional holiday resort would be unacceptable environmentally and politically," Jahangiri and Hutt reported at the Future Holiday Forum.
These futuristic pods can remain in place for up to 15 years, or could be dismantled as demand drops for a destination. Constructed on stilts, the holiday pod is designed to leave only a small mark on the local environment.
A pod would be fabricated off-site, then transported to a select location and assembled on the spot.
Each pod would be self-sustaining and easily transportable from site to site. All waste produced by the hotel pod would go into a disposal unit at the base of the structure. The hotel would create its own operating power, making use of sun-soaking, energy-providing photovoltaic cells.
Different-sized rooms within a hotel pod can be upgraded or downgraded according to a tourist’s travel budget. Inside the rooms, "active" walls and floors will show changeable images. Pod guests can use this mode-changing select-switch and pick whatever mood they wish, be it an ocean panorama, desert landscape or jungle scene.
Guests would arrive by helicopter.
Hugh Edwards, marketing director for Thomson, said the Future Holiday Forum — which focused on earthbound travel — underscored a number of trends. While he expects destinations such as Spain, Greece and Italy to remain popular, the forecasts are based on projections from experts who have carried out in-depth research into future trends.
"Holidays in pods, mini-breaks to Rio and family holidays in Qatar are very likely scenarios for holidays of the future," Edwards said.