How Tomorrows’ Tourist Will Forgo Religion For Spirituality
By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management
From Figure 1 we can see that religion in Britain is playing an increasingly less important role in people’s lives. By 2040 more people will be praying at the Mosque on a Friday than the Church on a Sunday. This shift from a western religious society to one more concerned with spirituality is an interesting one from a tourism perspective. Ian Yeoman writes that spirituality is born out of consumers’ desire for self-actualisation and the move to inconspicuous consumption which results in spirituality becoming an important motive for travel and many destinations like Bhutan, Thailand or Scotland promoting their spiritual connections.
Figure 1: Forecasts for UK religion
The social theorist Anthony Giddens has encouraged us to believe that we can be “the authors of our own life story” and this is a notion that is increasingly gaining currency in contemporary society. If consumers see their personal development as a project – ‘Project Me’ - what are the implications for consumer behaviour, and for the other aspirations that might motivate it? One obvious consequence would be an increasing need for new experiences and the trend towards spirituality. A trend that collates with consumers wanting to ‘learn more’, ‘self-fulfilment’ and ‘be creative’. Such a trend moves us out of a world of materialism where the consumer is not concerned with ‘having the best what money can buy’ but a greater focus on self-actualisation and a broadening set of concerns are also borne out to some extent by increased expressions of creativity, learning or self fulfilment. These consumers are not expressing themselves through consumption but what they do.
I am not arguing that a step change from materialism to a ‘spiritual world of good’, but a stronger trend amongst those consumers for self-actualisation and the move to inconspicuous consumption. Today’s status embraces many different kinds of riches, whether it is cultural or intellectual capital relative to economic capital. The very idea of ‘status’ arguably has too many associations with economic wealth, ostentation and crude snobbery to be useful in the 21st century and perhaps needs replacing with a concept such as ‘positive individual differentiation’ to describe consumers’ ongoing (if re-defined) desire to distinguish themselves from others. Today’s middle classes have responded by finding ‘subtler’ expressions of social status, drawing upon the wider array of intellectual resources at their disposal. Ostentatious spending on big-ticket consumer goods was soon widely recognised as a marker of relatively lower social status. A new mode of consumption was thus identified – that of ‘inconspicuous’ consumption.
What’s changed is this: (inconspicuous) consumption provides clues to social status in a different way now, and the nature of social status has broadened, embracing the ever more important ‘intellectual’ resources salient in a knowledge/service economy. The ‘quality of life’ the middle classes yearn for, while it may look more bohemian in flavour, is still expensive in most instances.
From Religion to Spirituality
From Figure 2, we can see that there is a growth in the number of people who wish that their lives had more spiritual content, more of a sense of higher purpose. We need to look only at the appearance of the word ‘spirituality’ in practically every area of self-help, inspirational literature and advertisements for many products, from deodorants to jewellery, fashion to holidays to see how the yearning for some kind of ‘spirituality’ has become ubiquitous.
Figure 2: The desire for spiritual content
Spirituality appears to be less about attending formal ceremonies and services associated with religion and more about incorporating a generalised sense of belief into daily life. Spirituality is best exemplified in the Chicken Soup series of books which promote greater time for contemplation, whether an exploration of who you are, what goals you can achieve or how you ‘connect’ to other people. Spirituality manifests itself in terms of self-fulfilment, arguably the search for the quintessential authenticity in modern society and well-being, in which spirituality is an extension of our concern for longevity and health and fitness. From a tourism perspective, spirituality manifests itself as the desire to get away from daily life, and holidays provide the avenue and the environment for mediated experiences. Whether this is ‘it’s just me and the mountain’ or the enjoyment of the great outdoors which have a strong spiritual dimension.
The appetite for ‘getting away from it all’ or ‘getting in touch with one’s true self’ is strong and is growing. Holidays certainly seem to provide the right environment for these kinds of ‘unmediated’ experiences, the idea that ‘It’s just me and the mountain’ and, of course, for some people, the great outdoors has a strong spiritual dimension and satisfies some inner yearning. Hence the growing desire to find authenticity within ourselves, through rejecting fake destinations and attractions. Figure 3 shows how 65% respondents from the Future Foundation’s Changing Lives Survey agreed that when they go on holiday the most important thing to experience is the authentic culture of the destination. This finding cuts across all age, gender and socio-demographic profiles. The search for one’s inner self is about a self-actualisation which focuses on the altruistic and self-development experiences.
Figure 3: The Importance of Authentic Culture
Volunteers can gain these experiences when working on projects. For example, the Church of Scotland supports a number of projects in several countries such as Malawi and Scotland. In these projects people volunteer their time and skills to help those who are less fortunate.
Spirituality is also connected to our participation in a cultured society driven by rising disposal income, which is illustrated by the consumer taking more short breaks and trying out new experiences. People in today’s society participate in a wide variety of leisure activities, including a search for non-material, inner experiences, learning new skills or even going back to traditional activities and putting a modern, technofriendly twist on them. This means that spirituality is becoming an important motive for travel and many destinations are promoted in connection with spiritual motivations.
Ian Yeoman is the world’s only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In July 2008, Ian took up a faculty position at Victoria University, New Zealand as an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist. Ian’s new book, tomorrow’s tourist envisions what world tourism will look like in 2030, where tourists 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 Visiting Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society. Ian is also Editor of the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management.
Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be found at
Victoria University Management School | Victoria University
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