Seat sales, Airbnb and more: The democratization of travel
There’s a world of difference between traveling back then and traveling today.
On a trip to China several years after I had retired, I ran into one of the messengers of my former company, who was working in one of its subsidiaries, in the airport in Beijing. Obviously surprised, I asked him what he was doing in China.
He replied proudly, “Sir, we are on our annual foreign trip sponsored by the company. If the company meets its targets for the year, all employees get rewarded with a foreign trip. There are 75 of us here right now!”
“So, what other countries have you been to?”
“Oh, we went to Thailand last year, and to other Asian countries in previous years.”
I told him I was very happy to learn about the great way the company was rewarding its employees. But what really impressed me was how travel had been “democratized” in recent times, and that this corporate incentive was only one of many examples.
Years back, when I was a young executive in a large multinational company, getting sent abroad, either for training or on a foreign assignment, was a rare privilege, and certainly no company at that time had a travel incentive package which included all its employees, down to the last messenger.
As president of an international poetry organization, I attended recently our society’s biennial congress, held in a different country every two years; this time it was in Thailand.
The organizers chose a large resort hotel outside Bangkok. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the hotel served only organic food in all its outlets. This hotel, we learned, operated under the unique positioning of “organic tourism.”
No, this was not a “specialty” or boutique hotel, but a huge complex with its own organic farm, catering to regular, mainstream visitors.
Travel today is literally a world away from the kind we were used to in the mid- to late 1990s. Developments in technology, the elimination of bureaucratic barriers and travel requirements, and the increasing sophistication of commercial and state-sponsored marketing have made global travel and tourism grow by leaps and bounds.
Led by the expanding middle class, more people are traveling more frequently to more destinations around the world, and even around their own countries.
Today, even if you are of relatively modest means but love to travel, just wait for the next promo fare or seat sale of an airline, book early (usually for a travel date within 12 months), and you’re set to go. As I write this, I’m looking at PAL’s latest round-trip promo fare of $79 to Hong Kong and $339 to Melbourne.
For lodging, you can shop online for an available hotel room at the best rate through your favorite app, e.g. Booking.com, trivago, agoda, etc. If you’re looking for bigger savings for yourself and your family, you can go to Airbnb or any of its clones to book a room, a whole house, or a villa complete with amenities.
For added convenience, you can ask for your airline e-ticket to be sent via e-mail to your laptop or cell phone. You can also choose hassle-free online check-in before departure.
If you are the independent, tech-savvy traveler, you need very minimal human assistance when you reach your destination. For transportation, use Uber, Grab or the local online vehicle service, or simply go to the shuttle service terminal at the airport.
For getting around the city or visiting interesting sites, check with Google Maps and City Mapper to know what transportation to take and how long to get to your destination. For any other information you may need, you can always count on Google.
The evolution of world travel has also transformed the traveler, as can be seen in the emergence of the tech-savvy free spirit described above. But he or she, usually a millennial or a bit older, is only one “species” among many, which include “mutations” of older types, that have emerged as “sub-species” of their own.
Here are some:
Those who hop on a plane for a quick long-weekend getaway, mainly to relax, eat and shop in a nearby country for a few days
Those who go to a single destination, extending their stay to immerse themselves in the local culture and mixing with the locals to get a real feel of the place to become fluent in a language, practice an art, learn a popular dance
Travel for special events
Those who keep going to the same country year in and year out because of a strong fascination for the place and its people. I have a friend who returns to Japan every year, visiting its different regions with his wife and young son.
Those who regularly go in groups to watch special events such as concerts and sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, where they cheer lustily for their national athletes and sports idols
Those who travel to various countries every year to participate in local and international competitions of their chosen sport, such as marathon runners, triathletes, surfers, trekkers and mountain climbers
Those who get married in destination weddings or celebrate milestones in their lives, bringing along relatives and friends
Young people who go in groups to a country for an extended period, to learn a language or to hone their skills in a sport to become future professionals. Here at home, two examples are the many Korean children sent by their parents to learn English, or to immerse themselves in golf (which is much more affordable here) in preparation for a professional career.
These modern travelers have added their numbers to the traditional ones who still join organized tour groups, visiting as many countries as possible in the shortest possible time; those who go on pilgrimages to holy sites; those who go on regional luxury cruises, making short stops in different countries along the way; and those who attend regular international conferences of their respective professions and civic groups.
All this does not even take into account the millions of overseas workers from developing countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, including the Philippines, who get to go abroad on employment contracts in more advanced countries, experiencing some new-found prosperity in these places far from home.
The first time I ever traveled abroad was in my early 20s, on a business trip for the company I worked for then. In contrast, my children and grandchildren had visited other countries even before they became teenagers.
Travel has become exponentially more affordable and more accessible to more people, many of whom, happily, are taking advantage of this opportunity to expand their horizons, learning first-hand about the world and interacting with the many different people who inhabit it.
Today, the term “jetsetter” may justifiably no longer be an exclusive label for the well-traveled and the affluent.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”—Mark Twain, author and traveler –CONTRIBUTED
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.