Traveling has always been core to the human condition. Whether it is in search of food and resources in ancient times, or business or pleasure in recent times, travel has always been reflective of the human spirit for discovery and exploration. In 2019, tourism generated almost $4.9 trillion to the world economy accounting for 10.3% of all jobs generated (WTTC). At the end of the year WTTC estimates that the industry to grow upto $8.9 trillion despite shocks generated by the pandemic and political events.
In 2022, the Travel & Tourism sector contributed 7.6% to global GDP; an increase of 22% from 2021 and only 23% below 2019 levels.
Post COVID 19 pandemic tourist preferences have shifted to experiences based on authenticity, relaxed enjoyment and connection with local places, nature and cultures. This is a trend driven by tourist’s need to have a more wholesome experience uninfluenced by mainstream expectations and curiosity for social, cultural and natural values. This is a trend that is becoming all too popular in hospitality with a forecasted 10% compound rate over the years (Hospitality Insights).
What is Slow Tourism?
So, what is Slow Tourism? It is an approach to travel that emphasizes connection to local people, cultures, food and music. It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact, while remaining sustainable for local communities and the environment (Hospitality Insights). It is also a counter-trend to the trends in mass tourism where the focus is on covering a number of places on a “Bucket List” or enjoying a holiday in the mainstream sense. The concept however, is not entirely new. Slow Food was started by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980s to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, with the initial aim to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life (Slow Food International). The aim of the movement was to preserve local traditions, cuisines and lifestyles intrinsic to Italy. What was once a movement centred around local cuisines has now lent new meaning to the purpose on travel through what is known as “Slow Tourism”.
How can you travel slower?
As the term suggests slow tourism is based on the leisurely and mindful enjoyment of a place rather a hurried attempt to tick places of a bucket list or itinerary. Travelling slower involves transitioning from materialistic and consumerist motivations to wanting meaninful experiences and creating memorable moments. People no longer want to have a schedule full of tours of classic sightseeing spots. They want to travel at their own pace while experiencing and tasting the local culture. A word used a lot when discussing slow travel is “experience-based”. Experience-based travel can be accomplished in different ways, such as connecting with people, creating a community, experiencing local culture and making conscious decisions. These conscious decisions impact one’s own cultivation and regeneration as well as helping the environment by reducing your own global footprint.
“Slow tourism is characterized by reducing mobility and by taking time to explore local history and culture, while supporting the environment. The traveller’s main goals are relaxation, self-reflection, escape, novelty seeking, engagement and discovery.” – Journal of Travel Research
Prior to the pandemic global tourism hit record highs with 671 Million global international arrivals. Both the influence of the pandemic and these high numbers have motivated travellers to explore new destinations and lesser-known countries such as Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Georgia, Nepal and others.
How can hotels adapt to this movement?
There are simple approaches which both, urban and rural hotels, can adapt to enhance their guests experience through different hotel departments.
Food & Beverage:
An already commonly practiced way is through F&B outlets, where the local culture can be easily incorporated by serving regional dishes with local and seasonal produce. A significant trend that many businesses have already adapted to is “going back to the roots” (Hospitality Insights). There is growing realization of the importance of nutrition and local food production for the sustainability of the planet. Going back to traditional ways pays respect to local herbs, vegetables and as well as cooking practices. Teaching these cooking practices to guests also offers a way for guests to delve deeper into the local culture.
Wellness & Wellbeing
As everyday life continues to become more technology-driven, there is a strong desire for down-to-earth therapy and spa practices that use traditional foods, plant-based medicines, oils and ancient rituals.
Experiences & Activities
Slow travel inspires travellers to disconnect from their busy day to day life, this includes learning new skills which will be a motivating force for future travellers. Experiences can allow guests to engage with the local community and interact with others to expand their cultural knowledge and understanding.
Off – Grid
Along with the movement of Slow travelling came the trend of Off – Grid travel, which is made possible by modern technologies. An example being solar power providing electricity anywhere, such as in mountain cabins, a boat or other remote locations. Both urban and rural hotels can adapt to travellers trying to get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily life, by offering digital detox experiences, which are becoming increasingly more popular.
With sustainability being a priority for slow travellers, hotels should offer or organise different means of transportation to their guests. Bike rentals, walking tours or excursions by train are all attractive options for today’s traveller.
“Slow Tourism represents a very human desire amongst tourists to experience places and cultures in all their authenticity. It also represents a desire to disconnect and un-wind from the expectations of mainstream tourism” (Hector De Castro, CEO at LUSH, luxury sustainable hotels & wellness association)
With growing environmental and social awareness and an interest in experiencing nature, cultures and societies unimpeded by modern social expectations, the trend of slow tourism is only bound to grow soon.