An Economic Update on the Tourism Industry

Wanderlust is perhaps inherent to human nature- a legacy of the pre-historic ages when humans were predominantly nomads. Limited technology and access to information meant that for several millennia, the ability to travel was so severely limited that those who travelled far in ancient times, like Marco Polo or Faxian, are remembered to this day.

The advent of civil aviation, combined with easy access to information through the internet have transformed the travel and tourism landscape beyond recognition over the last few decades, to the point where today, even a common man can realistically dream of travelling to remote corners of the world in his lifetime. As a result, travel and tourism has become one of the most important industries in the world, providing a livelihood to 292 million people and accounting for 10.2% of global GDP.

The travel and tourism industry has displayed remarkable resilience in the current decade, despite factors like a global economic slowdown, political instability in many countries and the rising spectre of terrorism which has left few parts of the world untouched. Despite those factors, the growth of the industry has consistently outpaced that of global GDP since 2011. This astonishing phenomenon has been due to several factors, some of which are discussed in this article.

Tourism has traditionally been of the leisure tourism variety, where individuals go on a vacation unrelated to work. It may be in the form of a weekend getaway or a much longer stay away from home. The drivers of leisure tourism are many. For instance, sports buffs may indulge in sports tourism, which was a USD 7.7 Billion industry as of 2011. Food lovers in pursuit of new culinary experiences may indulge in food tourism.

Here is an interesting fact – There were as many as 56 million tourists who visited the US last year for gambling. Since many countries have a tight lock even on casinos online, people vacationed in places that allowed them to gamble without restrictions.

Leisure tourism can also be driven by negative factors. For example, consumption of alcohol is prohibited in most Middle Eastern countries, prompting citizens and expatriates living in those countries to seek indulgence in places where consumption is permitted. Similarly, individuals may indulge in recreational drug tourism, which allows them to obtain drugs that may be prohibited in their home country.

With increasing global interconnectivity, business tourism has become a very important segment within the travel and tourism industry. As of 2016, the global spending on business tourism was estimated at USD 1.3 Trillion- higher than the GDP of most countries in the world. Despite the advent of technologies like teleconferencing or online video chatting apps like Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts, business tourism continues to thrive, with an estimated growth of 6% in 2017. With a global economic recovery underway, it is likely that this segment will experience significant growth over the next few years. The latest trend in this sector is a portmanteau called ‘bleisure’ tourism when business travellers extend their stay at their destination for leisure activities.

Medical tourism has emerged as another important segment within the travel and tourism industry in recent years. Valued at USD 10 Billion in 2015, this industry is expected to experience double-digit growth until the end of the current decade due to two factors, the significantly lower cost of medical treatment in developing countries (vis-à-vis developed countries) and the unavailability of local expertise in underdeveloped countries. Rising healthcare costs and limited insurance coverage- especially for orthopaedic surgeries- in developed countries are expected to further fuel the growth of this sector.

One of the oldest forms of tourism in the world, religious tourism remains a significant activity. The World Tourism Organisation estimated that major religious sites across the world, such as the Great Mosque of Mecca, Vatican City, Church or the Nativity, and Our Lady of Fatima attracted 300 million tourists as of 2016. Given the fact that religious belief is immune to political and economic downturns, this segment is likely to experience growth for the foreseeable future

One of the latest developments in the travel and tourism industry is the phenomenon of virtual tourism. Thanks to modern technology, it is now possible to experience a virtual tour of major tourist attractions without having to leave the comforts of home. The equipment required for a virtual tour could be as simple as an ordinary smartphone with the added option of a 3D headset. 

Counterintuitive as it may sound, virtual tourism could actually boost leisure tourism instead of supplanting it by giving would be travellers a preview of what they could experience- much the way a starter whets the appetite for the main course. While the concept is still in a nascent stage, with technological advancements it is likely that virtual tourism will grow into a full-fledged segment within the travel and tourism industry.

Several governments across the world to have formulated tourism policies to exploit the economic potential offered by the industry. The combination of higher disposable incomes, especially in developing countries, easy access to information and lower travel costs due to declining oil prices will contribute significantly to the growth of the travel and tourism industry over the next few years.

However, the industry continues to face significant challenges to growth. Apart from the factors mentioned at the beginning of this article, weakening currency exchange rates and barriers to entry in the form of visa restrictions could act as headwinds restricting the growth of the sector.

Why Millennials Are Hitting The Highway

Something is driving the generation of new adults to push the boundaries, choosing adventure over security and experiences over comfort. There are countless articles reproaching millennials and their seemingly unconventional ways. Calling them lazy, narcissistic and entitled. Directionless. Criticism disguised as insight are becoming increasingly common.

Let’s not forget that it is a tired old trope, the old mocking the young. Even as far back as the 4th century, Aristotle was quoted saying the younger generations “think they know everything, and they are always quite sure about it”. In 1985, Generation X was known as The Video Generation. Back before smartphones or Youtube were invented, today’s parents had been featured in Newsweek as the generation who are never seen without their “latest cutting edge technology”. Sound familiar?

But now, it is time to explore whether millennials are suffering psychological problems or simply living as practical and as full as they are able to in today’s age of technology.

However, it is worth noting that millennials are a lot less inclined to visit a casino than their parents were. This generation is more interested in enriching their minds than they are with striking the jackpot. Huffington Post pointed out that millennials have seen how working hard does not always guarantee a comfortable life as they were old enough when the financial crash of 2007-2008 took place. Perhaps it is during that event that had millennials re-thinking the value of money. Perhaps the time spent for an unfeeling corporation is better off spent on the individual’s needs and wants.

Based on the amount of successful vloggers or bloggers and even social media influencers that generate content for a living, it did not seem impossible to have their cake and eat it too. Without the fixed nine to five, Monday to Friday schedule, one becomes free. With less limitations, it is up to them to push and meld their lives they want to lead. And this has given way to those who travel for a living by working remotely, through the internet. These belong in another sub-category: travelpreneurs. What is it about not having a permanent home that makes it so attractive?

According to CNBC, it is about priorities. Experiences are more important than material items to the average millennial. This is largely due to how costly real estate is. Therefore the next best thing is to make the world home, rather than purchasing brick and mortar that is virtually unattainable on a low, flat pay which is what many make these days. Travel, by comparison, is more affordable and a more meaningful way to spend time and money.

As millennials have been touted as the ‘me’ generation, it is logical to assume they are focused in self-improvement such as broadening their perspectives. It is not a secret that “people who are exposed to diverse lifestyles and cultures from an early age grow up to be more tolerant, charitable and rational on average” according to an article by Forbes. The article continues to highlight how the previous generation did not have the luxury; saying that “this is a modern development” as the older generations had little choice but to work hard “relentlessly for most of their lives and put off seeing the world until their twilight years”.

To be sure, the plans have flipped and millennials want to see the world first. Another contributing factor could be the fact that when they are old and grey, they would not be able to jump off buildings or hike in nature as they would if they had seen the world in their prime. Furthermore, it is more beneficial for the young and impressionable to travel as grandparents or parents are more set in their ways and see travel as a way to escape their humdrum lives instead of an eye-opening experience.

Furthermore, millennials want authenticity. It is no longer enough to go to Rome and gawk at the colosseum. They want to immerse themselves into the culture and truly learn something. Bringing home something priceless that belongs to them alone.

Travel and work has become such an integral part of this generation of travelpreneurs that more and more are ditching their luggage and renting tuxes instead. With renting culture on the rise with the likes of AirBnb and Uber or Grab, consumers are no longer against renting clothes, especially designer wear which would be out of their budget if they were to purchase them. Based off a recent survey by Realty Mogul, the amount of respondents aged 18 to 34 said they would rather rent over buying if it meant they could continue affording small luxuries such as visiting any restaurant they desired and afford their favorite mug of coffee daily.

Even those who are less adventure inclined, and is unwilling to sacrifice stability for their dreams have taken a stab at a bleisure. A term combining ‘business’ and ‘leisure’ promotes adding extra days to an otherwise short and stressful business trip. It has been proven to increase work performance. It is undeniable that millennials are just as obsessed with travel as travel is with them. Travel agencies try their best to market their services to the largest demographic in America by creating youth-oriented packages, Instagram-worthy decor and of course, high speed wifi.

Now ask yourself, If you had the ability to make money on the go, why wouldn’t you?

Is the internet allowing negative influences to enter our youth’s lives?

The information super highway, popularly known as the internet, is one of the greatest discoveries of the last century, ranking only next to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics.

There has been an explosion in internet usage in early part of the 21st century. The internet has created new ways for individuals to communicate, meet and exchange information about their lives, with social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram becoming almost synonymous with the internet. The internet is however, must broader in its scope. It has changed the field of education and health, in the form of massive open online courseware (MOOCs) and tele-medicine respectively. The face of business has changed beyond recognition, thanks to the developments in e-Commerce, E-Business and E-Marketing. A study by Stephen Siwek of Economists Incorporate, a premier economic consulting firm in the USA, discovered that businesses directly connected with the internet created wealth of about $966 billion for the US economy in the year 2014 alone.

The dangers of a ‘wired’ world are many and often insidious, especially for young people who are naïve to the horrors of the net.

Personal Health

The time spent in front of computers can be injurious to health, contributing to obesity, undeveloped social skills and addictive behavior. Physical inactivity is probably the most obvious culprit of an internet lifestyle. The traditional emphasis on a balanced life-style, combining the mental and physical dimensions and providing for adequate rest, falls prey to the couch-potato syndrome seen in a typical consumer of the internet. In a paradoxical way, the ready convenience of the Internet for shopping, gaming, etc limits physical activity and leads to a sedentary lifestyle.

Social Disconnect

It is ironic that the internet, which was meant to connect people, has actually broken the bond of face-to-face relationships. An increasing number of youngsters are choosing virtual contacts, both for the anonymity they offer and as an escape from the real world.

Humdrum Existence

A humdrum existence, characterized by a lack of creativity, is a fall-out of the Internet age. The easy availability of information at the click of a button has numbed the need for creativity among the youth. Students no longer apply their minds and discover new approaches to the subject matter at hand, but rather confine themselves to using that which is readily available online.

Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying refers to the widely prevalent practice of bullying using the Internet. This type of harassment is easier for the perpetuators than physical bullying as there are hardly any regulations and laws to control the menace. Cyber bullying can be so detrimental to mental and psychological health that victims are often driven to acute embarrassment, shame and even suicide in extreme cases.

Time Wasted and Opportunity Lost

Improper use of the internet for watching films, surfing Facebook and playing games, among other things, can be a colossal waste of time. The online betting industry is rumored to have a turnover in excess of billions of dollars, with casino online being a favorite haunt of the youth brigade. According to one study conducted by Stanford University, 12.4% of the participants often stayed online for a longer period of time than intended.

Social Neglect

Excessive use of the internet can lead to social withdrawal and even a break in relationships with near and dear ones in some cases. The tragedy of a couple in Korea is a bone-chilling reminder of this fact. The young couple was so obsessed with their virtual baby that they neglected their real baby to the extent of driving her to hunger, abandonment and eventual death.

Privacy Disrupted

Privacy is a real threat on the internet. It is very common for youngsters to shed their inhibitions in the virtual world, exchange pictures and private information even with total strangers, a behavioral trait that is unimaginable in the real world. Moreover, there is an ever-present threat of stalking and black-mailing, especially in the dark, deep net.

Internet Addiction

The Internet addiction is no less dangerous than other form of addiction. People are known to find it difficult to abstain from the internet for a continuous period of time. An interesting fact is that males are more prone to be addicted to the internet.

The starting point of internet addiction may be a desire to escape from the real world due to parental expectations, bullying, etc. Studies have found positive co-relations between the use of the internet and depression, with people addicted to the internet being more prone to depression in comparison to their normal counterparts.

Cyber Crime

The internet is not a very safe space. The proliferation of illegal websites, unethical content and fraudulent activity online are a fertile ground for criminal activities aka cyber crime. The unhindered growth in computer viruses and malwares can not only attack a computer, but also put its sensitive information at risk. Unethical hacking has become a norm and an individual computer user is often found wanting, in dealing with such formidable adversaries.

The revolutionary technology of the internet has become a defining part of our century and an integral aspect of their daily lives. The internet has no doubt spawned both positives and negative influences on the youth of today. It is our onerous responsibility to use the internet to its full potential, while simultaneously guarding against the pitfalls.

Does an Asian ethnic background make you more susceptible to gambling addiction?

From flashing casinos to poker on the phone, there’s something about gambling that makes it so attractive. Maybe it is the satisfying feeling of being lucky, that the gambler has beat the system and broken the fact that ‘the house always wins’. Maybe it is the lure of easy money that can make one dollar magically transform into $1000 pleasurably, with minimum effort. Or perhaps addiction comes with the rush that gambling offers. Regardless of the underlying reason, the overall is a narcissistic one, as explained by psychologists.

There is a strong link between narcissism and those who are likely to develop a gambling problem. It has to do with “overconfidence, heightened risk acceptance, and myopic focus on reward”. It is a pathological problem that functions similarly to that of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and displays itself in a myriad of symptoms that include but is not limited to committing crimes in order to continue gambling, being distraught when unable to gamble and fantasizing about gambling and past experiences frequently.

Each country and every culture have their own sort of vice. Horse racing in the West and virtual red packets in the East. Back in 2014, China’s WeChat app released a service entitled Hong Bao which translates to red packet or red envelope. It is a customary practice of the Chinese to give monetary gifts during weddings, birthdays and the Lunar New Year, these gifts are traditionally wrapped in red for prosperity. However, this online feature has become abused as the service allows senders to post a red envelop into a group chat and generate a random amount for each user who opens it until the total is spent.

This quickly escalated into a full blown lottery pool, with fairly simple rules: “the group member who receives the least amount of money is required to start the next round by issuing a Hong Bao envelope containing an amount equal to or greater than the amount he/she received”. The member who is allocated the highest amount naturally wins the round.

Over in Japan, gambling takes its form in a machine filled with shiny pellets, bright flashing lights and blaringly happy sounds. It is the pachinko. An estimate of 3.2 million Japanese are addicted to some form of gambling. While technically illegal, it has not stopped close to twelve thousand pachinko parlours to exist in Japan. It is excused from the criminal code due to historical and cultural value, and to discourage its association with gambling, the money is not dispensed at the parlour itself. The player has to exchange their metal pellets for a chip and go to a different building to exchange the chip for currency.

The entrepreneurial South Koreans have discovered the lucrative business of setting up gambling services in Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia as South Korea itself has a strict ban on gambling and have significantly heavier penalties than the aforementioned countries. They take bets not only from their own countrymen, but from Americans and Australians alike.

Problem gamblers are comparatively low in Great Britain, with reports of 600,000 from NHS Choices (National Health Service), UK’s biggest website on health. While it is still a substantial amount, it is significantly lower than their Eastern counterparts. However, they also have their fair share of options through legal horse races, lotteries, casinos and online betting through the likes of NetBet Casino, Slot Boss, and many more.

So are Asians more susceptible to gambling? A report published by Dr. Amritha Soburn-Maharaj, Dr. Fiona Rossen and Ms. Anita Shiu Wei Wong for The Ministry of Health of New Zealand, seems to suggest so. Entitled ‘The Impact of Gambling and Problem Gambling on Asian Families and Communities in New Zealand’, it explores how gambling could put a strain on both the Asian community in the country and the strain on the health services provided.

It is reported that Asians fall prey easily to gambling due to their “cultural beliefs and values such as superstition and luck”, the most susceptible ethnic group being the Chinese, having gambling seemingly integrated into their culture. During the Lunar New Year, houses become gambling dens filled with tables offering mahjong, poker, blackjack and various dice games.

There is an easy fix, according to Science Daily. Simple education will help curb gambling addiction when it comes to digital games. There was a study at University of Wanderloo that educated players on how games disguised losses as wins (LDWs) and players who are aware of such tactics find the whole gambling culture and experience a lot more negative than those who have not been exposed to LDWs. However, this only works on new players as experienced players already has misconceptions deeply embedded in their minds.

With early exposure and proper education on what gambling entails, the research “show a way in which we can lead slots gamblers to have a more realistic view of the gambling experience and possibly prevent problems down the road”.

The problem with the research is that it only works on slot machines; part of the Western world and far from Asian preferences. Therefore, there is reason as to why Asians are more susceptible to gambling: culture, convenience and competition.