At a time when oil prices are $130 a barrel, house prices are falling, the economy is faltering, we are concerned about our jobs, a human pandemic is around the corner, there seems to be no end to the war in Iraq, taxes are rising, the planet is warming up and inflation is eroding our levels of disposal income. Doesn’t this sound depressing. No wonder many of us are reaching for the prosaic. However, all of this depression is good for tourism, as the core purpose of the holiday industry is too make people feel happy and allow them to escape the dowry aspects of everyday life. Welcome to the world of happinomics.
Why affluence doesn’t make us happy
The first leading answer came from a 1958 book by economist John Kenneth Galbraith; "The Affluent Society." Galbraith argued that affluence allowed us to escape miserable lives of hunger and sickness and the social conflicts that stemmed from poverty. Yet affluence has also caused many unforeseen dissatisfactions. Galbraith believed that the materialism would breed discontent. He accused advertising of conditioning consumers into thinking they needed things they really didn't and creating artificial desires that would be inherently disappointing to fulfill.
Galbraith criticized the logic of growth in our advanced post-affluent societies. We rarely reach a satisfactory level of self-fulfillment because our economic culture says that we never have enough. The results to people can be devastating, including mental afflictions and physical illness.
If wealth doesn't bring happiness, then what does?
According to an article in Time, an entirely new field of study called Positive Psychology is dedicated to answering this question. It’s a booming movement that focuses on what makes people feel good. And it has proven that happiness and optimism are skills that can be taught and learned. The key assertion of Positive Psychology is that there are provable techniques for raising our own levels of happiness. In short, we need to maximize just three key factors. First, we should derive more pleasure from sensory life experiences. Second, we should become more engaged and deeply involved in work, hobbies and relationships. And third, we should find ways of making our lives feel more meaningful. Of the three factors, engagement and meaning are far more significant factors in happiness than pleasure. To test the ideas of Positive Psychology, two of its pioneers, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, conducted a study at the University of Illinois. They found that the most salient characteristics shared by those with the highest levels of happiness were strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them. Diener and Seligman concluded that social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support are the essential elements in maximizing happiness.
A study by the City & Guilds Institute found that hairdressers, chefs, beauticians and hairdressers where the happiness people in the world, whereas accountants, lawyers and business leaders the most depressed (therefore the more you pay your staff, the more unhappy they will be....so give them all a pay cut to unleash there happiness). This is by supported by the Pew Research Centre who have tracked US consumers over the last thirty years, and although consumers have got wealthy and living longer, they are no happy than previous generations. A study from the New Economics Foundation - known as the “Happy Planet Index” - claimed that Vanuatu in the South Pacific is the happiest place on earth (the UK & USA are well down the list). Meanwhile, a report commissioned by Cornwall Enterprise found that “middle-class people in the south west of England are the happiest and those in the south east the most miserable”. Learned commentators confirmed that this latter conclusion sounded more than plausible: a less frenetic lifestyle in a pleasant rural setting must help people feel more connected, more at peace, more happy. This is the second, almost omnipresent dimension: happiness references a light and sociable job (with a measure of creativity), a retreat from market-driven lifestyles and the superiority of the countryside over the conurbation. Therefore happiness is about simplicity.
Research by the Future Foundation observe that significant minorities of consumers are withdrawing from certain types of consumption they can easily afford and/or are actively deploring what they regard as excessive/destructive spending on the part of others. Anxieties about the natural environment, obesity, the health of children….are all combining to make it increasingly anti-social to be profligate in our spending, lavish in our behaviour. In addition, further research by the Future Foundation confirms that when asked to isolate sources of personal happiness, the concept of “family and friends” far outstrips “money” in popularity. Pew’s social trend into happiness also confirms that married people are happier than singletons. I suppose Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in ‘Sex in the City’ will never by happy, as marriage will elude them. When consumers are asked what the most important concept of luxury is, it is not perfume, fast cars or a big house, but time on my own. So if happiness is about simplicity, the concept of luxury moves from materialism to time. It’s all about uncomplicated concepts that are simple, rooted in the destination, honest and meaningful.
Therefore time is the new currency, time is the only scarce resource and time is the new status symbol
So it seems that people are generally welcoming of the growing intensity of their lives, but they are also beginning to search new oases of time and space to complement (but not replace) their hectic hours. There's a growing perception, both from consumers and business alike, that downtime can actually be beneficial. Many organisations have already started to tap into this need for time-oasis with, for example, a vast array of new holiday formats emerging (such as rural retreats, remote beach getaways, spa resorts etc). The Japanese-style Yotel in London’s Gatwick Airport offers luxurious and stylish cabins for rent for travellers with very early departures or who might have a long layover between flights or are delayed for hours. Four hours in a standard cabin costs a very affordable $50 ($80 for a premium cabin). Here you can snooze the hours away comfortably and in style. A similar concept is found in the Vancouver Airport and New York’s Empire State Building where MetroNaps operates an urban catnapping business. For $14 you can treat yourself to 20 minutes in their very futuristic (luxurious) looking sleep pods.
Meanwhile, the slow travel movement emerges out of eco-ethical concerns but springs from the trend known as authenti-seeking. The challenge to consumerism posed by global warming could make the slow travel revolution a very real phenomenon. The slow travel, slow design, slow cities, slow love and slow food developments are all about having fun and active experiences but here the emphasis is on taking a step back, having a more authentic moment and savouring time. They represent the simplicity of tourism and making things simple.
So, if you can’t make your guests happy, offer them some prosaic.
Ian Yeoman’s new book, tomorrows tourist discusses what the future tourist will look like in 2030, where they will go on holiday and what they will do.
Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.
Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Honorary Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society.
Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be at