Travel: Where will we be going in 2020?

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The Independent Travel
IF YOU CAN'T imagine what your world is going to look like in the year 2020, I am now going to tell you, with a little help from a new report from the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

Let's start with the world's top tourist destination. In 2020 this will no longer be France but China, which will be welcoming 140 million visitors yearly.

This will certainly come as startling news to anyone who has ever walked into a typical Chinese town and found the population crowding round in amazement at the sight of a tourist. When there are 140 million of them, presumably the Chinese will have learned the French habit of ignoring foreigners altogether - especially as 100 million Chinese will themselves be travelling abroad annually by that time.

Rather less startling is the identity of the country whose citizens will be responsible for generating the largest proportion of the world's foreign visits. The British score well on this scale - notching up nearly two foreign visits per person per year - but way out in front are the Germans, every man, woman and child of whom will be making more than two foreign trips per year by the year 2020.

This is no news to me at all. When I started travelling I got the impression that going abroad was all about making contact with Germanic youth. Going to Greece and Turkey felt a little like gate-crashing the annual summer party of the entire German people.

But while the Germans will insist on travelling almost incessantly, people like the French will continue to insist on stayng at home. Presumably this is a reflection of how fond the French are of taking holidays in their own backyard, and given a choice between Stuttgart and St Tropez I would have to say that I see their point of view. The fact that the other big travelling country will be Japan bears out the theory that the more industrialised and crowded your own country is, the more you will want to travel.

By the way, a curious aspect of the figures is that the total of foreign visitors does not quite match the total of foreign visits - this is because a small proportion of our foreign trips will not be to any country at all, but to outer space. Apparently demand is greatest in the US, but no doubt the Germans will soon be up there too.

Other gems to emerge from the WTO study include the idea that tourism destinations will be increasingly a matter of fashion. We already have the phenomenon of "in" and "out" destinations. But in 2020 our whole identities will be defined by our choice of holiday destination. People who enjoy trekking in the Himalayas will no longer regard those who prefer villa holidays in the Algarve as real human beings.

Before it comes to that, though, we should take note of another interesting little statistic from the WTO, namely that the 1.6 billion foreign trips made in the year 2020 will be shared out among just 7 per cent of the world's population. In other words, 93 per cent of us will not be travelling anywhere at all, and we can safely assume that foreign travel will remain unknown to most of these people for the whole of their lives - something to remember the next time you are about to get stroppy with your partner for preferring last year's boutique destination.

IF 2020 SEEMS too far away I can tell you something else about how our world is going to look after 4 April. This is the launch date for the first TV travel shopping channel, TV Travel Shop.

Imagine it. Turn on your TV, visit the kitchens, smell the food, inspect the beaches, examine the bedrooms, turn on the taps, listen to the reps, talk to the families, consult the doctor, check out the swimwear, test the temperature. And then go there (or not, if you are already happy enough watching it all on TV at home).

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