October 26, 2010Travel by Jeff Welch
It seems to me that the more zeros you add to a number, the harder it is to understand. Which is too bad because in today's world, numbers matter. Numbers help us keep score. And like it or not, keeping score is what the world does.
I just returned from the Adventure Travel World Summit in Aviemore, Scotland. Lots of good haggis, good scotch and good people doing some really interesting things. But what I didn't see was many big companies — even big by the travel industry's small-ish standards. Which in my view, is too bad because adventure travel won't be able to advance its sustainability goals without some bigger numbers behind it.
We've heard about how the adventure travel market is valued at $89 billion. Which is great — and maybe undercounted — but regardless, let's put that in context:
Global GDP is approximated at $58 trillion. That makes our little sector of the market one-tenth of 1 percent. Further, there are 55 individual companies in the world that have annual gross sales higher than $89 billion. The number from the travel sector? Zero.
Now certainly, few of us are involved in the adventure travel business to make loads of money. But if one of the reasons we're in this business is because we believe travel can help sustain places and cultures, then we need to also understand where we sit in the global economy. Because the reality is that there are massive forces out there that have far, far bigger influence than we have in determining whether we should sustain the world's great places. Look no further than the saga of BP and gulf coast tourism. BP's annual sales alone are two and a half times greater than the entire adventure travel segment's combined. Was there ever a doubt that Obama's moratorium on off-shore drilling would be short-lived?
My point? Let's pat ourselves on the back for how far we've come. But let's figure out how to get more big guys on the team. The travel industry, even in its largest incarnations, is still small ball when viewed through the context of the global economy. And if we want our values spread wider in the world, then it's time to start managing up.