The Trip Doctor

Episode 10: People First Tourism

You have an incredible number of options at your fingertips when you decide to travel. From individual businesses to meta-search engines, experiences vary widely. Companies like AirBnB and others have made it easier to find smaller family owned businesses that provide unique tourism experiences, but they can still sometimes be hard to come by. My guest today is Dr. Duarte Morais. Duarte is an Associate Professor at North Carolina State University. He has been conducting research on the intersection of tourism and microentrepreneurship as a method to empower small businesses in the tourism segment for the last several years. He has created a unique solution to the lack of access to tourism experiences provided by small and family businesses by creating an organization that partners business and research called People First Tourism. While the organization allows him to study the phenomenon of tourism microentrepreneurship, it also serves another purpose.

Episode 09: #travelingwhileblack

In the globalized travel environment of today, it is
sometimes easy to forget that some groups of travelers have long been and are
still yet sometimes marginalized during their travels. The #travelingwhileblack
movement has grown to connect travelers who are interested in addressing marginalization
and other issues faced by black travelers in the U.S. and abroad. My guest
today is Dr. Alana Dillette, an assistant professor at San Diego State
University.  Dr. Dillette has recently
conducted several studies focusing on the #travelingwhileblack movement, and
has attempted to understand the lived experiences of black travelers through
their social media posts and interviews with travelers and travel companies.
Her research has shown that while some destinations or organizations may still
be less than friendly to people of color, travel now more than ever is providing
opportunities for hosts and guests to interact and expand their historical and
cultural world views. She has also found that social media provides an avenue of
communication for travelers that may have previously been disconnected from
each other to share their experiences.

The future of tourism

Imagine a future where people don’t travel to experience tourism. Thats where I see this going. Hear me out. I’m not talking about augmented reality. I’m not talking about virtual reality in its current form, either.  We already have both of those. We’ve had them for years. I’m talking full on ‘The Matrix’ style immersion into a place so real that your brain can’t tell you aren’t really there.

You might be sitting there thinking, “Don’t be ridiculous, The Matrix is just as unrealistic today as it was when it came out in 1999 (Yeah, it came out almost 20 years ago, isn’t that nuts?). But I’ve got news for you – it isn’t.  In 2010, we already had a headset that could read brainwaves and use them to control mechanical objects. Since then, things have gotten even more interesting. First there was Oculus Rift, then there were mass market virtual reality headsets made by HTC, Samsung, and others, and now experts are predicting we’re only about 30 years away or so from fully immersive virtual reality, which is the fancy science phrase for being in the matrix. Of course, there are quite a few pretty smart people out there that believe that, based on probabilities, we most likely already live in a simulation. If that is true and then we create immersive virtual reality within the simulation that we already live in…are we approaching ‘Inception’ levels of reality issues? That is a question for another day. The question I want to answer here is, what if fully immersive virtual reality really does become possible in the next 30 years?

Traveling without traveling could become the norm. Let’s think about the implications of that for you as a traveler. Let’s think about what that means for the economy, the environment, and society as a whole.

The Economy

Lets start with the economy. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, there were 1.3 billion international tourism arrivals in 2017, accounting for $1.6 trillion in exports, 1 out of every 10 jobs in the world, and 10% of the world’s GDP. If you’ve studied tourism, this probably doesn’t surprise you; if you haven’t, it might be a bit of a shock. The economic impact of tourism is HUGE – and some of those numbers do not include domestic tourism, which is much more common than international tourism. It is estimated that between 69% and 85% of all trips are domestic, but they are much harder to measure than international arrivals, so our data isn’t quite as accurate. It is difficult to imagine the economic ramifications of a tourism industry that shifts, even partly, to traveling without actually going anywhere. Of course, not all travel is for tourism purposes, but if even a small percentage of people who would have otherwise taken a trip did not, there would likely be an enormous loss of jobs and the benefits those jobs have across the economy. In an era where a great deal of service jobs in the tourism industry are already being lost to automation (Have you ever ordered your meal from a touchscreen device? Checked into your hotel and gotten your room keep on your phone and bypassed the front desk? Those two advances are already costing jobs), additional loss of a valuable source of employment could be catastrophic for some areas, especially those which are heavily depended on tourism like many sand, sea, and sun destinations.

Source: http://www2.unwto.org/content/why-tourism

The Environment

While the economic implications of a fully immersive virtual tourism experience may seem dire, the environmental impacts tend to skew toward the positive. If we’re being honest about the tourism industry, it isn’t great for the environment. The act of traveling, whether its in the car, on a train, on a boat, or by plane, consumes energy and creates other, less obvious strains on natural resources. When we travel, we also tend to be a little less frugal with our use of natural resources as well (who doesn’t like a little extra time in the shower under that waterfall shower-head we don’t have at home?). The point is, just like the vast majority of other industries, tourism is consumptive. So if a bunch of people all of the sudden are not traveling to travel anymore, thats a good thing. Right? Probably so, but there are also other hidden impacts to think about. One of the positive impacts that tourism has on the environment is that it gives us a reason to protect natural resources that people want to see in their travels. If we don’t actually need to go to a place to see it, that may eliminate the need to protect it. National Parks? Not really useful if you can plug in and be inside the Grand Canyon or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Society and the travel experience

Societal impacts are where things get a little bit more tricky. There are all sorts of well-documented societal impacts of tourism on the negative side there are impacts from cultural appropriation to traffic and crowding and on the negative side to cultural preservation and increased quality of life on the positive side (check out this page for a review). One of the big reasons people travel is to experience culture, and culture is complicated. It includes architecture, language, food, religion, festivals, and so much more. So the question is, if travel becomes virtual, who decides what the virtual experience entails? How do you program how a scratch cooked meal from a recipe handed down generations tastes? And what about social interactions? One of the great things about travel is the unexpected interactions with someone at a grocery store or on the sidewalk or on a tour. Do those interactions go away in a fully immersive virtual trip? Or will we have ‘hosts’ plugging in to the virtual experience as well? What about interactions with people you’re traveling with? Can you and your friends plug into the same ‘trip’ and have your travel experience together like you normally would?

The bottom line

If the future is indeed going to be fully immersive virtual reality travel experiences, there is sure to be upheaval in the tourism industry. There are all sorts of questions to be answered about who decides what goes into a virtual travel experience and what that means for places where tourism plays an important economic, environmental, and sociocultural role. Technology will likely continue to move forward at a blistering pace, and we need to think about how to address these implications before they become a reality.

Episode 08: Surf tourism

Have you ever heard the terms lineup, dropping in, or getting snaked? If not, you might have a lot to learn before you get on a board and try your hand and surfing while you travel. Whether it is your first time or you’re a regular on the waves, surfing while you travel is a great option to get some exercise, get a feel for the local beach culture, and meet new and interesting people. As surf tourism has grown rapidly over the past several years, there is an increasing amount of research being done about cultural norms at surf breaks and impacts of surf tourism on people, the economy, and the environment. My guest today is Dr. Lindsay Usher, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Virginia. Lindsay is an amateur surfer and former professional kayak surfer, and does research on surf tourism throughout the world. Lindsay took the time to talk to me about her research on the impacts of surf tourism, and has some great tips about surf etiquette if you’re thinking about giving it a shot.

Episode 07: The impacts of AirBnBs

Traditional Bed and Breakfasts have been around for centuries, and in many ways, they are one of the earliest forms of accommodation in existence. Fast forward to 2007 and the advent of AirBnB, which has turned the tourism industry on its head over the last 10 years. Destinations across the globe have grappled with the rapid growth and regulation of short-term vacation rentals (known colloquially as AirBnBs). Various approaches have been taken, lawsuits have been filed, and court battles continue to rage about the legality of AirBnBs from the perspective of cities, owners and operators, travelers, and community members. Meanwhile, researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how and why short-term vacation rentals impact the communities in which they reside. My guest today is Dr. Emily Yeager, an assistant professor at East Carolina University. Emily has conducted several studies on the impacts of AirBnBs, and while much of what you’ll read about in the news shows them in a negative light, she found a balance between the positives and negatives.

You don’t really want an authentic travel experience

I once spent a few months in a small town in northern Jamaica doing research on the impacts of the new cruise port that had just been built there. I rented a room in a house that was owned by a non-profit focused on restoring local buildings in a historically accurate way – so my digs were pretty nice compared to much of the rest of the town. There were a few important things I learned during my time there that opened my eyes to what life can be like for people living in a tourism destination in a developing country (if you want to read about all the impacts of tourism experienced by people living in this town, you can check out the (academic) article I wrote about them here). Here are just a few things that I experienced during my time there:

  1. When I turned the faucet on every morning, depending on how many cruise ships were in port that day, water may or may not come out of the faucet.
  2. We had a couple of computers in our house for various work projects that were going on – and it was standard practice for the doors to not only be locked at night, but to also be barred from the inside.
  3. You really don’t want to have a hole in your mosquito net. Even though our house had screens in all the windows, in warm and/or humid destinations, mosquitos are everywhere.

These are three pretty minor things I had to think about on a daily basis, and for some travelers these things are the norm. In terms of the world as a whole, Jamaica is actually a pretty ‘developed’ tourism destination. Although in any continent, region, country, city, etc. you can find places that are much more or much less developed than the rest. Those travelers who are Trendsetters and maybe some of you who are Explorers in terms of  your traveler personality probably wouldn’t mind those things.  For those of you who are Adapters, Daytrippers, and Relaxers, thinking about a vacation to Jamaica probably does not elicit imagery of non-functioning water faucets, barred doors, and mosquito nets.

Authenticity is a concept that is talked about constantly in the travel world. Some travelers will expend a huge amount of time and money to get an authentic travel experience, while others don’t know or care what authenticity is or what it means for their trip. This post discusses what authenticity in travel really is, why it is (or isn’t) important to the travel experience, and whether it is something you really want, or just something you think you want.

What is authenticity in tourism?

I teach about authenticity in a lot of my classes, and there are a lot of researchers out there who have pondered this question a lot longer than I have. What is authenticity? The dictionary will tell you that authenticity means real or genuine; not copied or false. That is a pretty close match to what authentic means in the tourism world. However, I think the real question we should be asking is what an “authentic experience” means to travelers. I think most travelers fall into one of three categories with their answer to that question:

  1. I want to authentically experience what people living in x destination see and do in their every day lives, including food, culture, language, etc.
  2. I want to experience an authentic representation of the food, language, culture, etc. of x destination, created within the tourist bubble.
  3. I want to experience what I think the food, culture, language, etc. of a destination are like.

This is probably a question that many travelers have not pondered too deeply before taking their trips. If they did, I figure that the majority of people would self identify as belonging to category #1. In reality, I think people ACTUALLY probably fall into either category #2 or category #3. This brings us to the concept on frontstage and backstage in the tourism destination.

Fronstage vs Backstage

Frontstage and backstage in tourism are essentially the same thing as frontstage and backstage in a theatre or the concept of ‘front of house’ and ‘back of house’ in essentially any service related job. Let’s use the example of a theatre. The ‘actors’ in the frontstage put on a show. They are expected to act, sound, and look a certain way – the people sitting in the seats paid good money to see the play, and it is the actors’ responsibility to give them a show. Many tourism destinations have, intentionally or not, developed frontstage and backstage areas that serve similar purposes as those in a theater. The frontstage is typically the area either formally or informally designated for tourism activities, which is often done through specific zoning ordinances. Throughout the world, a huge number of destinations have widely recognized ‘tourism zones’ – think Waikiki in Hawaii, The Las Vegas strip, or the thin strip of land that holds all of Cancun’s hotels, restaurants, and attractions. These tourism zones are where the tourist experience is produced – and in most of those places, that experience is carefully curated to provide the experience that tourists expect.

The big difference

The experience you have in a tourist zone is most often the 2nd or 3rd description of an ‘authentic experience’ that I provided above. However, venture out of Waikiki, The Strip, and the Hotel Zone in Cancun, and you’re liable to have a wildly different experience. Not to say that it isn’t a good experience, simply different. Some travelers can’t stand the curated experience that is found in the tourism zone; others seek out those experiences specifically because they’re designed to be a good time. To me, the most important element of the equation is awareness. Awareness that much of what we see in many tourism destinations is not really how people in those locations live their everyday lives. Often times tourism destinations cherry pick elements of culture that look appealing to tourists and greatly exaggerate them in creating their tourism product. This can lead to negative outcomes for the people who live there, including things like commoditization of culture and loss of cultural meaning – both of which occur when elements of culture are consumed by others. On the plus side, sometimes tourism can preserve cultural practices that otherwise would have disappeared if it weren’t a tourist attraction.

The bottom line

When you’re planning your trip, think about your traveler personality and what that means for your travel experience. Just because you don’t want to experience the real lives of people who live in a tourism destination doesn’t mean you can’t have meaningful interactions with your hosts. Ask questions, be open minded, and you just might find bits and pieces of authenticity when you least expect it.

Episode 06: It’s not easy being green

We’ve all seen the signs in hotel bathrooms – if you want to be environmentally friendly, hang your towels up when you are done and the housekeeping staff won’t wash them. This is just one program that many hotels utilize to be more ‘green,’ and it has the additional benefit of saving them money as they have to do less laundry. What about other green activities that hotels are doing? Are there programs we don’t know about as consumers? How do they communicate with us about what they are doing? Do travelers even care? My guest today is Rawan Nimri, a Ph.D. student at Griffith University in Australia. Her research focuses on understanding tourists perceptions of the things that hotels are doing to be green, and she’s made some fascinating discoveries about the effectiveness of hotel’s communications about them:

Traveling with kids is easy!

Alright, maybe I should have said ‘Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be painful.’ Every year, families have to make tough decisions about what to do with their limited vacation days. From a 30 minute drive to a nearby park for a hike to a trans-Pacific flight, parents decide whether or not to travel with their children for a variety of reasons. For many, it can be a hard decision. A lot of parents dread traveling with kids or avoid it altogether, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

My wife and I recently traveled to Germany and Switzerland with our 14 month old son, Jack. We’ve taken Jack on more than 10 flights since he was 8 weeks old, ranging from 30 minutes to 12 hours. We’ve driven him across the country and back (well not quite all the way, but  Arizona to New Jersey is pretty close!). During these travels we’ve learned a ton about traveling with kids, but certainly can’t say we’ve experienced it all. So I put out a call on Facebook and Twitter to family and friends asking: “what is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to other parents traveling with their kids?” I’ll give a breakdown of the responses later in this article, but first I want to address a common theme: A lot of parents said something to the effect of, “Its a trip with kids, its a vacation without them.” Without getting deep into a discussion about the definitions of trip and vacation (academics love that shit), I’ll start by saying that this sentiment is shared by a LOT of parent travelers, but not by me. I’m not saying people shouldn’t travel without their kids – of course, ‘escape’ is one of the main reasons people travel, and many parents justifiably need an escape from parental responsibilities every now and then to maintain their sanity. My own take is that you can have your kids with you and still ‘escape.’  It really boils down to your traveler personality, which plays an important role in your expectations for your travels. Let me explain.

Expectations

If you’re expecting to have the same experience when traveling with children that you did when you were traveling without them, you will probably disappointed. This is something that a lot of parents brought up in their responses as well. Travelers with differing travel personalities are divergent in their expectations for what a vacation is. For those travelers who view vacation as sitting on the beach or by the pool having everything taken care of for you and blissfully unaware of whatever responsibilities you may have left at home (The Trip Doctor Traveler Personality Quiz calls these travelers ‘Relaxers‘ or ‘Daytrippers‘), then traveling with kids is probably less appealing to you. That’s because traveling with kids can be very uncomfortable. Kids (young kids especially) can get thrown out of whack if you change time zones, have no sense of what is culturally appropriate, and generally don’t do very well when confined to small spaces like a car, train, or airplane for long periods of time. Throw in different foods than they are used to and a schedule that likely deviates from their norm, and you have a recipe for cranky kids. The thing is, some people don’t mind it as much as others…and some even thrive on the chaos (The Trip Doctor Traveler Personality Quiz calls these travelers ‘Explorers‘ or ‘Trendsetters‘). This is not to say that 100% of Relaxers or Daytrippers wouldn’t enjoy traveling with children or 100% of Explorers or Trendesetters would – these are simply tendencies that these personalities usually have (If you’re an Adapter, you could really go either way!). Knowing your traveler personality and adjusting accordingly is one of the best things you can do to manage expectation of travel with children.

Regardless of your traveler personality, there are some great travel experiences that you can look for to make travel enjoyable for both parents and kids. A private tour of a fancy wine cellar? Probably not the best choice. An 8 course prix fixe dinner that will probably take 4 hours? No kid is going to enjoy that. Here are some better suggestions:

  1. Go hiking. Can be done in nature or cities. If you don’t have a backpack for your little ones, you can get one fairly inexpensively and it will change your world. Added benefit that being outside all day tires kids out so they nap/sleep well.
  2. Go to a zoo or aquarium. Zoos and aquariums have the double benefit of being interesting for kids and also featuring learning components to teach them about ecology and biology.
  3. Go to a museum that has a good interactive element. Children’s museums are great, but a lot of other museums are stepping up their game with augmented reality and learning games for kids, too!
  4. Go camping! Camping doesn’t even have to be in a tent…there are great options for every budget with RV Rentals, fully furnished or rustic cabins, or even hut to hut hikes in the mountains.
  5. Theme parks. Disney World isn’t for everyone, but theme parks are designed with kids in mind and usually do a great job of keeping them engaged all day.
  6. Check out the local library. Aside from having some super cool culture/ architecture/design for adults to check out, libraries usually have a great areas for kids to play and learn.

A compromise, perhaps?

To me, the happy medium solution to the traveling with or without children question for all types of travelers is to travel with children, but schedule some days or evenings without them by hiring a local babysitter. It can be difficult to find a babysitting outside of your normal area (its hard enough finding a good babysitter in your home town!), but there are some resources out there available to help you:

  1. Ask your social network – chances are you know someone who knows someone who has raised a kid in the place you’re going.
  2. Ask your hotel concierge or AirBnB host. They will often have pre-established relationships with trusted sitters in your destination.
  3. Utilize a website like care.com that is designed specifically for this purpose.

Chances are, you’ll be able to find a suitable sitter using one or more of those resources, and can schedule some time away from the kiddos to have your escape.

Some specific tips from seasoned parent travelers:

When I put out the call to my social network asking for “the biggest piece of advice you’d give to other parents traveling with their kids?” I got a ton of great answers. I found all of the answers valuable in their own way, so I’m going to include them all here, with those that had multiple similar responses first:

“Be FLEXIBLE. Expect the unexpected.”

“We discovered the power of a dollar store calculator. He’d push buttons on it for long stretches of time. We had them everywhere. Highlights magazine has a book for kids under 2 called Hello that worked well for us too.”

“Extra time for everything, snacks, and bring familiar creature comforts. We took the boys everywhere we could and now they are super easy and fun travelers.”

“Nurse or feed milk or something on takeoff and landing. Get a sling or kid backpack and leave the stroller at home.”

“Bring a tape dispenser. It’s hours of fun on a long flight (or at least minutes).”

“Hold off on naps so they’re really tired when you get on the plane or in the car so they sleep!”

“We found getting our kiddo his own seat and using a low profile car seat (Diono makes a travel one) on the plane was so much easier than keeping him on the lap. He couldn’t squirm when he was strapped in! And it was comfortable as well as familiar.”

“Don’t plan connecting flights if you can help it.”

“Oh, and i know kids can be “lap children” until the age of 2, but really thats BS. After they can walk it turns into a mini wwf wrestling match in your lap. Just buy an extra seat and save your sanity.”

The bottom line

Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With some planning, preparation, adjustment of expectations, and luck, traveling with your kids can be just as enjoyable as traveling without them. They might not remember the trip, but the memories you make together will last a lifetime, and there are always pictures…like the one up above of my family and I.

Cuba is risky and uncomfortable…and that’s a good thing?

Conventional wisdom would say that the people who are most likely to travel somewhere in the world are those who think it is enjoyable, pleasant, or fascinating. In a recent study, my colleagues and I discovered that might not be true for certain destinations at certain points in time. We recently asked 758 people from the United States about their attitudes toward Cuba and whether or not they planned to travel to Cuba within one year, five years, or ten years. The findings from our study surprised us, until we started thinking about them in the context of traveler personality. Before we get into the results, a little bit of background is needed to understand why we did this research.

Over the past decade, there have been a variety of changes to the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Shortly after US President Barack Obama took office in 2008, the administration eased a variety of restrictions on Cuba, and allowed US citizens to travel to Cuba for a variety of reasons, including religion and education. Over the next several years, the warming relationship between the US and Cuba resulted in continued easing of restrictions and eventually non-stop flights and even cruises between the two countries were resumed. However, travel restrictions remain in place, and only travelers from the 12 specific groups including family trips, business travel, research and educational activities, and humanitarian projects may travel to Cuba without the need for a special license. My colleagues and I thought this topic would be interesting to investigate further, as fully opening travel from the United States to Cuba would likely have a significant impact on Cuba. So – we decided to examine what types of people might be interested in traveling to Cuba from the U.S. – not just now, but into the future.

Now – back to those interesting findings. We asked people about their positive and negative attitudes towards Cuba, their perceived control over whether or not they could visit Cuba, and whether their social groups would approve of them traveling to Cuba. We created three models to see if those things differed in predicting whether someone would travel to Cuba within one year, five years, or ten years. When we created our models, there was one particular finding that stood out.

Cuba is scary, uncomfortable, and risky…and thats a good thing?

We found that thinking Cuba was scary, uncomfortable, and risky was actually a good predictor of someone wanting to travel to Cuba within one year. The opposite was true for wanting to travel to Cuba within 5 years or 10 years, where thinking that Cuba was enjoyable, pleasant, worthwhile, satisfying, fascinating, and authentic was a good predictor. Initially, this finding didn’t make sense. Why would someone want to travel to Cuba if they thought it was scary, uncomfortable, and risky? It turns out that this finding makes sense when you think of it in terms of your Traveler Personality

There is a small portion of the population (in The Trip Doctor Traveler personality quiz they are called ‘Trendsetters’) who like to be uncomfortable, and a small portion of the population who likes to be extremely comfortable (called ‘Relaxers’). The vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle – meaning they are willing to be a little bit uncomfortable but not too much. This may provide an explanation for those people who thought Cuba was scary, uncomfortable, and risky – they may actually find those attributes appealing in a travel destination.

But why, then, is that not the case for wanting to travel to Cuba in 5 years or 10 years? We think that might have to do with how people perceive Cuba will change if it is fully opened to travelers from the United States. There is a term called ‘McDonaldization’ that essentially refers to when a travel destination is transformed to look like every other similar travel destination through the development process. Right now, Cuba is unique in terms of its travel image for Americans. Many think of the old cars, historical buildings, cigars, and rum. If Cuba were to evolve to include massive resorts and other tourism amenities Caribbean travelers would find familiar, it is likely those ‘Trendsetter’ travelers would seek out other destinations across the globe and make way for less adventurous travelers to visit Cuba in much greater numbers.

 

 

Episode 05 – Film tourism

What do Iceland, New Zealand, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mount Airy, North Carolina have in common? They’re all popular film tourism sites. A big portion of Game of Thrones was filmed in Iceland, The Lord of the Rings films were shot in New Zealand, Breaking Bad was filmed in Albuquerque, and Mount Airy has transformed itself into Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show. Film induced travel is big business, and a lot of destinations across the globe are cashing in…but how do you know which ones are legitimate and which ones are not being entirely truthful about their silver screen pedigree? My guest today is Dr. Stefanie Benjamin, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee. She has been researching film induced tourism for the past several years, and has some great tips for finding the real deal and being a good tourist if you want to check out the filming locations of your favorite movie or TV show.