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Airbnb's Lost and Found campaign invited tourists to learn lost Chinese crafts

80% of travelers would be interested in a holiday which promised to be sustainable and 88% like it when the hotel they stay in uses local artisans, suppliers and produce, according to research from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence’s report The New Sustainability: Regeneration. So it’s no wonder that as overwhelming crowds endanger iconic tourist attractions and cultural heritage sites (for more on this, see trend #22 gated tourism in The Future 100: 2020), there is a shift in how consumers are vacationing. Now, travellers are consciously seeking out overlooked or little-known destinations in an effort to not only have unique experiences but also to help fuel and support local economies and preserve customs.

As Japan gears up for record-breaking numbers of visitors attending the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, players in the travel and hospitality industry are preparing to get a piece of the tourist action. In a marked shift away from the big cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, travel operators are seeing an increased interest in trips to lesser known areas. Last November, Expedia’s home rental brand HomeAway partnered with the Japanese rental brand Rakuten Lifull Stay, with a focus on renting out properties outside of Japan’s major tourist areas. This influx of visitors is a step towards reviving small towns and villages that have seen decreasing populations as younger generations are drawn away to major cities for their vibrant lifestyles and employment opportunities. With a growing body of research pointing to the benefits of Shinrin-Yoku, the Japanese practice of forest bathing or spending time in a forest, it is no wonder that stressed urbanites are seeking out more remote holidays.

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Airbnb Sabbatical invited tourists to the Italian village of Grottole to revitalize local culture and crafts

Overcrowding is reaching critical status in one of Europe’s most well-known cities, Venice. Venice’s tourism—while great for the economy, bringing in $2.6 billion, or €2 billion, annually—is detrimental for the environment around the lagoon as well as the local culture of the city. As increasing tourist accommodation pushes locals further afloat, the nature of the city is changing. Neighbouring islands like Burano, only a 40-minute boat ride away, are hoping to tap into this flood of tourists, relieving some of the pressure on Venice and bringing the economic benefits to these smaller communities. Venezia Nativa was formed by entrepreneurs from Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello islands to help revitalise old trades like fishing and making lace, attract new tourists and give young islanders a reason to stay.

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Other destinations are hoping to revitalise their reputations and draw tourists back to their incredible sights. Tunis, once known for its Roman ruins and beautiful beaches has suffered from civil and political unrest after the Arab Spring, which ousted its president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and ISIS led terrorist attacks in 2015. Now however, the democratic country has implemented major anti-terrorism initiatives and has a much-improved economy, not to mention freedom of expression. A new generation of Tunisians is working to preserve their heritage in exciting ways, enticing visitors back to the country. Leila Ben-Gacem started Blue Fish, an organization which aims to bring together global markets and local artisans to help sustain the heritage and culture of the capital city. She has restored historic houses into guest houses inviting visitors to travel the city to see the craftsman at work, increasing the reach of these microbusinesses.

Tourism is a double-edged sword in today’s global world, bringing economic benefits but also potential harm for local sites and cultures. Entrepreneurs outside of major tourist destinations are working to change the story, making tourism a win-win for local communities bringing benefits to the economy whilst also preserving heritages.

Main image courtesy of Airbnb Sabbatical

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