Authentic tourism could save the travel industry


Trying to second-guess the consumer decisions potential travellers will make is a fraught business at the best of times, but after a period of sustained – and unprecedented – restrictions on movement in all regions and nations, predicting how people will now go about booking travel for holidays or work has become an enormously difficult task.

Over the course of the first quarter of 2022, signs of vitality within the travel industry have returned.

More and more the sector is seeing two distinct types of travel booking. The first is a preference for much longer-term planning than was the case pre-pandemic, whereby travellers hope they will encounter fewer travel restrictions if they book to travel next year, or even later.

The second is last minute bookings, where travellers are able to exercise sufficient agility to quickly act upon favourable travel rules or Covid rates. US travel site Kayak recently reported it had seen a 50 percent spike in searches for flights within a seven-day window.

Interestingly, it is the rise of what I term ‘authentic tourism’ that has been amongst the most marked trends.

These tourists are people who in their travel choices are opting for long haul over short haul in a desire to experience the thrill of an authentic cultural adventure – be that culturally-authentic destinations, people or experiences.

UK-based travel operator G Adventures has reported that so far this year only 18 per cent of global travellers say their preference is to travel short haul on their next dedicated vacation, and that instead people are actively choosing to book travel to what they consider to be remote, underexplored and brag-worthy destinations.

These trends are significant because they are clearly suggestive of a reordering of travel priorities occasioned by the realities of the Covid years. Evidently, in response to the common feeling of confinement and boredom felt during lockdowns, there is now a yearning for experiences that deliver an authentic connection to tourists with a host culture.

It is clear that these new tourists are deeply interested in using travel to learn about history by immersing themselves in destinations that are considered to be of deep cultural significance.

These authenticity-seeking tourists are also happy to place a premium on sustainability. According to Expedia, more than half of global travellers are now willing to spend more to ensure a trip does not impact the environment negatively. Perhaps this is why Google added carbon emissions data to its Google Flights tool in late 2021, and why Danish booking platform Bookmundi now offers a carbon calculator that estimates emissions for every aspect of a potential trip, including accommodation, transportation, meals and activities.

I accept I am biased, but I believe Diriyah – the very birthplace of Saudi Arabia – is the perfect destination for tourists seeking cultural authenticity.

That’s because Diriyah offers something completely authentic – a chance to connect with centuries of tradition and culture in a country that is still a mystery to many people. The whole of Diriyah is steeped in history and will be built using locally sourced mud bricks in the traditional Najdi style native to the region.

These are exciting times for the global travel industry. People want to travel, perhaps more than ever. 

These authenticity-seeking tourists will drive much of those bookings. Diriyah is proud to soon be in a position not only to welcome the world and to showcase the very best of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage and culture, but also to play a key forthcoming role in the re-emergence of the international travel industry.

* Jerry Inzerillo is Group CEO, Diriyah Gate Development Authority (the complete, unabridged version is available online)