Couchfish: 2023 Will Be The Year Of ...

Couchfish: 2023 Will Be The Year Of ...

Break all your clocks before reading on.

Blink and you’ll miss it right? I feels like only yesterday that 2019 was drawing to a close, yet here we are on the cusp of 2023. It has been, it would be fair to say, a sub-optimal spell.

Last time I got into predications, I suggested the pandemic would stretch for years rather than months—broken clocks and all that. So what do I see on the cards for 2023? Smash all the clocks within reach and read on to find out.

1. The return of the queue

In the heady days of early on in the pandemic I was one of a group interviewed about what it all meant. One of the others, a technologist investor, declared it would be a shot in the arm for “contactless.” By that they meant the technologies built around removing human contact in travel. Driven by the fears of human contact driving Covid, they, along with others, argued for the removal of humans.

Screenshot from The Serpent: Stuart McDonald

Thankfully, and for a glad bag of reasons, this hasn’t happened. What is back with vengeance though, is queues. If you thought queues were awful in 2019, expect 2023 to be a special surprise.

2. The return of China

If you think queues are bad now, wait till China comes back on stream. The teat Southeast Asia’s tourism industry welded itself to will start pumping in quarter two. By the middle of 2023, Chinese outbound tourism will be back big time. I’d like to say this will pump needed income into regional economies, and to a point it will, but ...

3. ... the structural problems of tourism will remain unaddressed

Much of the income China’s tourism brings will beat the passengers to the departure gate. The leaky boat that tourism is will continue to leak and vast amounts of money that should be staying in the destination will continue to get offshored.

The only leakage here is the roof. Literally. Ko Chang Noi. Photo: David Luekens.

The industry at large remains patently uninterested in addressing the exploitative financial arrangements that underpin it. Or at least that underpin the wealth of the CEOs whose decisions perpetuate it. There is though, hope for change in at least one area—greenwashing.

4. Greenwashing will see court time

The passing of Australian laws aimed at reigning in greenwashing are welcome indeed. Expect in 2023 to see a high profile operator, a media outlet, or more likely an influencer, to have their day in court. Taken to task for deceptive claims around their activities, this could be a watershed. Bring the hammer down hard please.

If you’re not convinced this is true, check this out about the tourism industry deciding to measure their carbon emissions a different way in order to be able to crow about what progress they’ve already made.

5. Destination communities will get involved ...

... though not in a way one might expect. The days of being nothing more than background for Instagram photos are over. Expect legal action much as you already see against natural resources firms. After all, is there that much difference between the coal and travel industries? Communities will point the finger over the environmental, social and economic ravages tourism can bring.

Pave it over baby. Sapa, Vietnam. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

There are no shortage of regional destinations that would make for test cases in this regard. Residents have seen a tourist-free world, and while most would like some degree of tourism, nobody sane wants 2019 back. The industry meanwhile, is racing back to 2019’s madness—pushback is inevitable. Head to court, today—well, on January 1 please, so this prediction counts.

6. Tourism’s spots will not change

Many, myself included, argued that the pandemic provided the opportunity to “rethink tourism.” Many, again myself included, argued that this was a pipe dream—and it was. There are exceptions, but by and large, tourism is not going to change its spots. As mass tourism comes on stream through the middle of 2023, expect the industry to both encourage and embrace it.

7. Flying is toxic

Flight frequency will surge to accommodate the tens of millions of returning travellers. A minority though, a vocal one, will speak out against it. Their travels reorganised, forward-focused operators will highlight opportunities for “no-flight travel.” Much like the “Responsible Travel” schtick of the late 1990s, this will be a profitable niche for some. It will also be one that matters.

Look, at least it wasn’t coal-fired. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

If you think vitriol aimed at superfluous flying was bad now, you ain’t seen anything yet. Expect to see public calls for the boycott of operators who elect not to put this thinking into practice.

8. Visas will not get smarter

Destinations will continue to blather about “quality tourists” but ignore long-stay slow tourism’s value. In particular they’ll continue to distance themselves from backpackers and independent travellers. Visas will remain too short to allow slow travel to gain any true scale nor deliver on its potential.

9. 2023 will bring opportunities for ...

... operators who swim against the flow. For those who eschew domestic flights. For those who embrace and work to deliver the benefits of tourism that vests communities.

Avoiding tourism that leaves local people no option but this. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

This could take all sorts of forms. Not flying is an obvious one, but another could be avoiding destinations that are the worst example of over-tourism, and instead visiting alternatives that offer many of the same factors, but empower the local community in better ways. Expect to see this niche increase in size as both operators and travellers grow to see their holiday as more than a holiday.

10. A growing realisation that travel is more than travel

For these people, and the companies that help them, 2023 could be the beginning of something great. Great how? Great in that bucket lists become the antithesis of responsible travel. Great in that the calculus in determining a good trip changes. Great in that the question changes from “what am I getting out of this trip,” to “what am I achieving in this trip.” Great in seeing travel as an agent for positive change rather than one simply of change. Great in embracing outward facing rather than inward-looking personal growth.

This is the last Couchfish post for 2022. They’ll be a Travelfish newsletter tonight, but after that, I’m taking a break. I’ll be back in your inbox on January 9, by which time I’ll be in Vietnam working to deliver on some of the above. Watch this space!

Tourism in 2023, be not like this. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Happy holidays to you all, and if you’re hitting the road, good luck with the queues! Thanks for your support through the years and see you on the other side!

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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.