“Five-star tourism is a blip”

Last month I was lucky enough to hear a talk at the Destinations travel show in London by Kate Clow, creator of the Lycian Way long-distance trekking route in Turkey.

It was a great presentation. Kate is very passionate about discovering and preserving these walking routes through the hills, spending thousands (from her own pocket) on waymarking and maintenance, applying herself for EU funding, dealing directly with the Turkish tourism authorities to engage them in developing these old roads – and, by her own account, making some headway in introducing the idea of long-distance walking on heritage trails to Turks themselves: though originally from the UK, she is now a Turkish citizen. She self-publishes her own guidebooks – they are the most authoritative sources on these routes – and leads regular tours.

One thing she happened to bark out in response to a question from the audience stopped me in my tracks. In 20 or 30 years, she said, when coastal tourism is threatened by climate change or finished altogether because of rising sea levels (or economic collapse), community-based walking and nature tourism will still be thriving. “Five-star tourism is a blip,” were her words.

What a thought. There’s so much money wrapped up in luxury tourism – both in the investment, but also in the wider industry which supports it – that it can be hard to see past it. When you’re in the middle of the whirlwind, either reporting on hotels and PR-driven tourism initiatives or aspiring to the kind of lifestyle where a stay in a luxury resort is something to be desired, it all feels so exciting, so now.

That’s the point, of course.

But Kate is right. ‘Going on holiday’ – the idea of travel as mass relaxation, which we (in the West, at least) spend so much time, energy and money pursuing – was unknown a century ago.

And the notion of spending excessive amounts of money to play at a life of luxury within an opulent tourism complex under sunny skies far from home is even newer – perhaps less than 25 or 30 years old.

I don’t want to get too Alain de Botton-ish about this, but what Kate is doing – and many others involved in grassroots, sustainable tourism worldwide – mirrors how people have always ‘travelled’: with sensitivity, emotionally invested, on foot. For the entire history of humanity up until a few decades ago, travel was dangerous, unknowable and prohibitively expensive. It’s seductive to think that they way we do things now is the way things have always been – but of course that’s not true. Travel for pleasure is a very 20th-century thing; nothing says that it will last.

If fashions change and, some day, advancing technology renders five-star hotels obsolete or laughable (think of holiday camps, charabancs and “port out, starboard home”), walking will still be there.

It’s how we get about.


  1. wealthandliving

    I agree that with climate change will come a shift in holiday patterns. However, at the same time it will be interesting to see migration patterns if it becomes the norm to holiday in your own country. Will people then move abroad in order to explore that country?

  2. Alastair Humphreys

    I’ve always wanted to walk the Lycian way – this has got me thinking about it again…

  3. Matthew Teller

    Thank you both for coming by!

    @wealth – interesting thought. Migration, I think, is going to be one of the defining issues of the next few decades: the patterns, the legalities (and illegalities), the motivations… another reason why travel and tourism may look very different in a generation’s time!

    @alastair – great to hear from you! I agree: these long-distance trails sound very enticing…

  4. Jenny Woolf

    Kate sounds a marvellous person and walking the Lycian Way sounds great. But I might take issue with the idea of going on holiday just for the sake of having a nice time was unknown a century ago. I sort of know what you mean, but perhaps what you are really saying is that the average person couldn’t afford the level of luxury we can afford now? There were certainly luxury hotels where people hung out for – well, for months sometimes – a hundred years ago/

    Society was organised differently then and there was more of a gap between the rich and the poor. But people have always liked to get away on holiday if possible.

    As for the future – I don’t know. I suspect there will always be rich people who want luxury this and that. But perhaps for the man in the street it’s going to be back to the British seaside and the boarding house, or the camping holiday (or, whatever is the late 21st century equivalent )

  5. Matthew Teller

    Hi Jenny – fair points. However, just to clarify, my words were: “’Going on holiday’ – the idea of travel as mass relaxation – was unknown a century ago”.

    As you say there were plenty of wealthy people travelling at that time (and before), but I think that’s rather different from the idea of “going on holiday”, where everybody takes time out from the working year to relax somewhere away from home. Strikes me that that’s a very 20th-century phenomenon!

    My point – following up on Kate Clow’s insight – is that tourism is the product of a specific set of economic conditions – and those conditions may change…

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