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Castlepoint, New Zealand. Photography by Daniel Rood, image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.

The rise of meaningful travel is prompting visitors and destinations alike to rethink traditional travel formats—ushering in the next era of tourism. “In 2021, the question we’ll ask our clients is: ‘If you could only travel once a year or less, what would you do differently?’” Philippe Brown, travel consultant and author of Revisit: The New Art of Luxury Travel, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “We expect clients to take [2020’s] introspection, reflections and dreams, break with their old mindset and ways of traveling, and consider new approaches.”

Iceland is redesigning the tourist experience to protect both its land and its visitors—encouraging them to visit destinations that are off the beaten path, to prevent ecological damage from over-tourism and to better enforce social distancing. “The growth we saw in the number of visitors up to 2019 was far too rapid and we were getting close to the edge of seriously unsustainable development,” Tryggvi Felixson, a tour guide and Chair of Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, told Conde Nast Traveler. “We are fortunate that Iceland is a relatively big country. It’s possible to distribute the traffic more evenly than we have done before.”

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Látrarbjarg Cliff in the Westfjords. Image courtesy of Visit Westfjords.

In an effort to redirect visitors out of heavily trafficked areas and into farther-flung ones, the country has invested in new infrastructure in lesser-explored regions. As an alternative to Route 1, also known as Ring Road, Iceland opened two new roadways in late 2020 to encourage circulation to more remote destinations. The first is Westfjords Way, a 590-mile road that circles the Westfjords peninsula, and the second is the Diamond Circle in North Iceland, a 155-mile circuit with access to waterfalls and wildlife.

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Roy's Peak. Photography by Miles Holden, image courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.

New Zealand is applying a similar approach locally, targeting domestic travelers. Tourism New Zealand’s recent “Do Something New” ad campaign encourages New Zealanders to rediscover their country—but to look beyond Instagram-famous locales in favor of lesser known ones. The most recent ad, called “Traveling Under the Social Influence” and released in January, pokes fun at people posing at over-hyped Instagram backdrops like the summit of Roy’s Peak. “There are so many great other photos to take besides your usual ‘gram shots,” the comedic Social Observation Squad leader laments in the spot. “What you need to do is think outside the square.”

Venice, which has faced dire consequences from overcrowding in recent years, is also thinking about how to redirect tourists. “The problem is not that Venice has too many visitors,” Valeria Duflot, co-founder of Venezia Autentica, an online social enterprise working towards sustainable tourism, told CNN in January. “The problem is that all the visitors go to the same two places: St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.” The latest measure the city has taken to counteract over-tourism is the Venice Control Room, opened in January 2021. The data center will monitor every visitor to the city, tracking footfall, analyzing traffic patterns and evaluating behavior. The hope is that the data will inform how to better spread people throughout the city and create a more sustainable tourism plan for the future.

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Gareth Chisholm, creative director of travel company Tentrr—the Airbnb of campsites—predicts that this shift will evolve into a new imperative within the tourism industry. “There will be a small but growing awareness of slow, meaningful travel and experiences, particularly in areas and communities where an influx can disrupt why people went there in the first place,” he tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “We’ve seen this with photographers turning off their geolocation, so we don’t have hordes of people trampling through ecosystems that are not prepared for large volumes of visitors.”

Brown agrees. Moving forward, “consumers will be sensitized to the implications of their wanderlust,” he says. “Expect to see more of #travellesstravelsmarter.”

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