Travel as We Know It Could Go 'Extinct' by 2040, New Report Warns

Climate change is forecast to have a dramatic impact on travel, but five industry trends can help.

Image courtesy of Intrepid Travel
Image courtesy of Intrepid Travel

Unless we make some structural changes to the way we approach it, travel as we know it is doomed to become a distant memory. Or at least that's what a new study commissioned by group adventure travel company Intrepid Travel, together with foresight agency The Future Laboratory, is reporting.

The problems tied to modern travel are many, but they can all be summed up in a pretty simple explanation. Travel as we know it is not sustainable, and not only that—it is also not regenerative, meaning it isn't focused towards leaving a positive impact on the planet and its natural resources. Basically, modern travel leaves no space for a "better than you found it" mindset.

"One of the problems with tourism at the moment is that it is the opposite of regenerative," Darrell Wade, co-founder and chairman of Intrepid Travel, said in a statement provided to Thrillist. "It's extractive—and this cannot continue for much longer."

According to the study, travel as we know it is on a course to become extinct by 2040 if action isn't taken now—but that doesn't mean that we'll live in a world in which nobody goes anywhere. Rather, you can think of it more like a complete shift (a negative one!) in terms of the places we visit and when we visit them.

Climate change will make already-balmy locations become even hotter, forcing travelers to opt for cooler options. In this lens, places like Belgium, Slovenia, and Poland are set to become the new Mallorca and Greece, which will become too hot in the summer months, according to the study. You can also say goodbye to some of the world's most treasured gems, like the Maldives and Jakarta, which, due to the rising sea levels, are predicted to go officially underwater in less than 20 years. And if you're a winter sports enthusiast, there isn't good news for you either—with increasing temperatures, winter wonderland destinations like Lapland will struggle to hold on to the snow, and ski seasons around the globe will become much shorter than they already are.

It isn't time to shed your tears yet. Luckily, the study offers a solution to the problem—or better, five of them. According to the report, five different future trends in travel are crucial to building a more sustainable and regenerative approach to the industry, which could reverse this trajectory.

One of the key points involves focusing on regulating travel businesses, meaning that governments would be required to ensure that the money spent by tourists fuels the local economy for a more equitable and sustainable relationship between the destination's communities and visitors. Next, thanks to AI, real-time carbon footprint tracking can allow travelers to track their daily emissions in real time, allowing for a more careful and informed approach to making any kind of travel decisions. No-trace accommodations are also one of the crucial trends pointed out by the study, and they refer to a new generation of pop-up accommodations that are both sustainability- and local community-focused (there are already some of these available, like Thierry Teyssier's 700,000 Heures hotel and Australia's CABN concept).

The report also highlights the future travel trend of a regenerative approach to transportation. High-speed, luxury trains that provide both comfort and a minimal impact and footprint can help reduce how much we rely on air travel. Last but definitely not least, vacations can become people- and experience-centered, rather than focused on the particular destination or hotel. This way, human connections become central, helping to foster a more inclusive and empathic way of traveling that ultimately leads to social change.

For all of this to happen, both the travel industry and us travelers need to come together to implement positive change and replace old trends with the new—and we must do it now.

"The direct, catastrophic impact of climate change has for too long been viewed as something distant in the future. But this is no longer an impending event; it's happening now," Wade said. "There is limited time left and immediate collective action and innovation is needed to decarbonize travel together and truly achieve the immense potential for sustainable development within our industry."

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. She will beg you not to put pineapple on pizza. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.