Where did you go this summer on vacation? What were the crowds like there? If you could, please share a bit because I’ve had three different experiences this summer where the tourists were clearly somewhere else. Others have noticed the same at Niagara Falls, the Caribbean Islands (a steep decline!), Alaska, and the Western US. In fact, world travel as a whole is in decline, though there is hope that it could grow in the future. But, many of us have had our salaries frozen or cut and our expense accounts trimmed while cost-of-living continues to rise.
I’ve done some research and discovered that tourism is down in general. And I’m not sure you can blame the economy in every case. I think we’re in the midst of a shift between generations and the future of tourism will go to those who can recognize it. I studied tourism research in my doctoral program at Purdue. Because short-term missions practices parallel tourist practices, the literature helped develop my background knowledge.
I visited a local attraction, one that advertises within a 200 mile range and is one of the unique attractions of its kind in the country. We were there on its 40th Anniversary. Every worker was on sight and in costume. The parking lot was not even half full and the employees there were visibly shaken. Just recently a local farmers market, a HUGE one, announced it was closing. I guess the planned water park, campground, and gas station won’t be coming soon either.
We visited the amazing presidential museum and library of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL. In July. Everyone was out and about in costume, waiting on the visitors. But the sidewalks were empty. No lines at the museum and, while I was touched and a bit misty-eyed at times, moved by the story of perseverance that Lincoln displayed (based on his convictions), it was clear that attendance was down.
Probably the most eery experience, and the one that concerns me most, was our Boundary Waters trip in late June. Now, of course we were there during a low period (the week before July 4 isn’t the busiest), but as we canoed through Lake 3 and Lake 4 we were shocked at how many empty campsites there were. For the 2nd busiest route in the BWCA, it was clear that something had changed in the last 4 years since our last time where each campsite were packed with scouts.
I’ve since discovered that use of the BWCA is down 20% and is down 12% this year (2010). If you picked up a real estate guide in Ely, Minnesota, you’d find that over 1/3 of the businesses on Sheridan Street are for sale. As I walked around town that week, I was often the only customer in a store. Cashiers told me it had been as slow as they remember. There are some implications that I’d like to talk about this week:
- The economy is clearly still part of the problem.
- What is an “attractive” vacation has changed. This is what has me curious today. What have you noticed?
- People aren’t connecting with nature as part of their vacation. I want to explore this more fully this week in a future post. I think there’s a danger here (you KNEW that I was going to say that, didn’t you?).
- We’re getting soft. There. I said it. I think we are. Our comfort levels are higher (and this isn’t just generational, but societal) and we have changed what we want from a “time away.”