Why the World Cup is a Unique Travel Industry Event

Ah, the World Cup. It only comes around every 4 years and is always over far too soon. This summer’s tournament is no different, with 32 national teams from around the world heading to Russia to compete in beautiful game’s greatest spectacle.

Like so many international sporting events, the World Cup brings together people and cultures that wouldn’t normally mix. It’s a festival atmosphere that somehow manages to drag everything into the mix. That explains why there are various sponsors from all over the world – including an ‘official beer partner’ – and every conceivable brand is seeking to get involved with the action.

This World Cup’s FIFA Partners include Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai/KIA, Qatar Airways and VISA. But aside from the huge multinationals, individual nations are also looking for ways to boost tourism as a result of the tournament.

Travel Industry Stories From the FIFA World Cup 2018

As we reach the end of the group stage and discover which countries will be facing off in the first knockout rounds, it feels like as good a time as any to look at how travel industry players are making the most of World Cup.

Here are a few examples.

Russia, Obviously

As the host nation, Russia has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of football fans from all over the world.

In fact, more than 1.5 million foreign tourists are expected to visit Russia during the World Cup, the head of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, Oleg Safonov, said.

“We believe that about 1.5 million people will visit us. The figure may be even revised upward,” he said.

Eleven Russian cities are hosting matches throughout the tournament: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Sochi. The host nation hopes that, contrary to Russia’s international reputation, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will have a long-term positive effect on Russia’s tourism industry.

moscow, russia - how is the fifa world cup impacting the travel industry

It’s too early to say what the long-term benefits will be to Russia, but it’s likely that cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg  – currently the main fan hubs – will see increased numbers of tourists following the positive experience of many international visitors. Market research company Euromonitor believes the World Cup could put Russia on the map for more tourists after the tournament ends.

“The number of inbound arrivals in Russia is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent by 2022, reaching 37.5 million trips,” Euromonitor’s sports industry manager Alan Rownan said. In fact, Euromonitor forecast a 1.4 percent increase in the number of total arrivals to Russia in 2018.

“However, negative factors, such as lack of mid-tier accommodation facilities, safety concerns, relatively high visiting costs and burdensome visa regulations for non-ticket holders will have an impact on the incoming tourist flows,” said Rownan. “Furthermore, the recent political tension between Russia and UK is also likely to undermine tourist flows from the latter.”

Given the billions of dollars Russia has spent preparing to host the tournament with infrastructure investments, it’s unlikely that those funds will be reimbursed overnight or even within a matter of years. The World Cup is being framed by Putin as a longer-term project to improve facilities in the country, not to mention the international prestige that comes with hosting.

There have been fears that foreigners have been put off making the trip for a variety of reasons. These range from strained diplomatic ties between Russia and the West, to threats of football hooliganism and discrimination against minorities.

But speaking to Skift, Varvara Topolyanskaya, general manager of Australian Russia tour operator Discovery Russia, said the World Cup is a chance for fears and doubts to be eased and reputations to be restored.

Her company is bringing more than 1,000 travellers to the World Cup.  “We’re hoping for a completely different image of the country after people watch the matches on TV,” said Topolyanskaya. “We’re always asking our clients of their first impression of Russia and the number one response we get is that Russian people are so friendly.”

She added: “I think we have a lot of brainwashing right now in the media on what Russia is like, but that’s not what Russia is.”

Beyond the Hosts – A Chance for Smaller Nations to Build a Reputation

One of the best things about the World Cup is the platform it gives smaller nations to make a name for themselves.

At Euro 2016, for example, the Iceland football team captured the imaginations of people around the world – both on the pitch and off it. As well as making it through the group stage and beating England in the last 16, the team’s fans became famous in France for their passionate support.

The easiest way to understand is to watch the video above.

Sure, the ‘ThunderClap’ doesn’t directly make Iceland a more appealing destination. But its popularity says something about the nation to the wider world: that despite being the smallest country in terms of population at the World Cup, it’s going to have its say no matter what.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, Iceland’s tourism industry is expecting its football team to drive further interest in the country’s tourism industry.

Which is handy, because by Icelandic standards the country’s tourism boom has plateaued…

tourism and the world cup

However, the chance to shine on the global stage is an opportunity to bring back some spark. “Iceland is stepping on the big stage this summer,” said Skapti Orn Olafsson, a spokesman for the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, so “we surely have a clear shot on goal to use the attention in a positive way.”
No puns intended, of course.
Yet there is real hope that an injection of footballing interest in Iceland will stretch beyond the smallest nation in the tournament becoming many fans’ second team. It could drive more visitors, too.
On the flip side, it might turn out that the appreciation of the Icelandic krona (it has strengthened by more than 40 percent against the euro since 2009) – one factor thought to be contributing to the slowdown in growth – is a blessing in disguise. Although it has turned Iceland into the most expensive tourist destination in the world and led to Landsbankinn to declare that “the tourism boom is over,” there have been worries about the sustainability of Iceland’s tourism growth.

An Influx of Chinese Tourists

Anyone working in the travel industry will know how lucrative it can be to tap into the Asian markets. Across the continent, there is a real demand for international travel experiences – no more so than in China.

Incredibly for a country whose team hasn’t even made it to this summer’s World Cup Finals, it’s expected that more than 100,000 Chinese tourists will make the trip to Russia.

Interestingly, Russia is becoming a magnet of sorts for Chinese holidaymakers, so it’s no surprise that they are flocking in to watch the football.

According to data released by Trip Advisor, the number of Chinese tourists between January and May increased by 38 percent year on year.  Data collected by Ctrip suggests that, for example, two-leg tours to Moscow and St. Petersburg over the summer have seen a month-on-month increase of over 100 percent. The conclusion: It seems as though the Chinese are coming for the football and making a vacation of it.

And Don’t Forget India

Another football-mad country that failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament is India. According to the India Times, wealthy Indians will be heading to the World Cup in huge numbers, despite a spike in airfares and hotel rates.

According to the piece, the relative proximity of Russia makes it an ideal starting point for a summer trip of famous sporting events, from the World Cup to the Wimbledon Championships.

“We have seen an increase in people travelling to Russia during this period. Airfares and hotel rates have definitely gone up by at least 20% due to increase in demand for the World Cup, but this hasn’t dampened demand,” said Karan Anand, head of relationships at Cox & Kings, one of India’s oldest travel agents.

“We have also seen a 10% increase in last-minute bookings to Russia, and expect this to continue, and even peak closer to the final stages of the tournament.”

The Other Side of the World Cup from a Tourism Perspective

It seems obvious to say but we will say it anyway: If the World Cup is drawing travellers to Russia in huge numbers, surely there are other destinations missing out?

That appears to be the case, at least in the Seychelles.

seychelles tourism hit by weak russian ruble and fifa world cup 2018

The archipelago in the western Indian Ocean is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. Among the country’s most common visitors are Russians. However, the Seychelles has seen just a two percent rise in inbound tourists for the first half of the year. The boss of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Sherin Francis, has said that the figure is below what the country was predicting.

One huge part of that is the fact that the number of Russians coming for the summer has dropped by a huge 18 percent compared to the same period last year. Francis believes that the FIFA World Cup is partly responsible: Many Russians are no doubt staying at home to enjoy the party and choosing to travel around their own country instead.

The value of the Russian ruble has also dropped in recent times, making travel abroad more difficult for the Russian market. Both of these conditions “are not favourable for prompt recovery of this market,” she said.

“Four years ago, we had only one percent increase and this year we see ourselves faced with a similar situation. Russians are travelling within Russia to watch the matches as the event is taking place in their country. We also see other potential visitors from Europe as well as other markets travelling to Russia to support their teams,” said Francis.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. The World Cup is a unique travel industry event that causes some obvious tourism shifts, as well as some unexpected ones.

The Travel Industry’s Battle Against Plastic Has Begun

The travel industry owes a lot to the natural world. If it wasn’t for the spots of outstanding natural beauty, the pristine beaches, the untouched wildernesses; many of us would be out of a job. These are the things that most people enjoy. These are the things that help make travel worthwhile.

Which is why the travel industry has a clear vested interest in keeping the natural world in the healthiest state possible. But that’s not always easy. Inevitably, travel means pollution. So unless you’re going to force tourists to cycle from one destination to another, that’s one thing you have to allow for and mitigate against. Governments are already stamping down on dangerous emissions, for example, and encouraging electric vehicles where possible.

But one other side of pollution is the human footprint left behind at travel destinations: the rubbish, the waste and – most destructive to the long-term health of the environment – the plastic.

Single-use plastics, such as shopping bags and drinking straws, are perhaps the epitome of the globalized, consumerist world. They are cheap enough to make and use to be totally disposable, but they are not degradable in the environmental sense. They don’t just go away and break down. They clog up our beaches, harm our wildlife, pollute our water and entangle the animals living in our oceans. One million seabirds die each year die from ingesting plastic.

All of which isn’t ideal for an industry reliant on the natural world remaining as pristine and untouched as possible.

Earlier this year, the EU introduced the first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which is aiming to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. Better design of plastic products, higher plastic waste recycling rates, more and better quality recyclates will help large companies dealing with plastic to be more environmentally friendly.

But aside from actions taken to stop plastic and the use of non-recyclable materials at a governmental level, what can the travel industry actually do? And what steps have already been taken by travel giants to handle waste in a more responsible manner?

Alaska Airlines Leads the Way

As you might expect, the battle to become more sustainable is starting with travel companies associated with more nature-driven customers. For example, in a couple of weeks, Alaska Airlines will become the first in the US to ban straws on their flights. The airline distributed 22 million plastic straws in 2017 alone – that’s a huge amount of plastic.

The plan, in line with their partnership with environmental charity Lonely Whale, is to replace stirrers and straws with birch stir sticks and non-plastic straws. Most of their juice boxes will also be replaced with recyclable aluminium cans.

The initiative is part of Alaska Airlines’ push for sustainability and the ultimate goal of reducing in-flight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70 percent by 2020.

“Whether providing fantastic service or leading in sustainability, caring about people and communities is in our DNA,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of external relations.

“Without a doubt, we fly to some of the most beautiful places on earth, including many communities that depend on healthy oceans. We’re thrilled to partner with Lonely Whale to take this next step in our sustainability journey, and help keep the places we live and fly beautiful for years to come.”

Another popular travel company, Ryanair, is seeking to back up its claim of being Europe’s ‘greenest airline’. Much of the company’s efforts are targeted towards the significant challenge of CO2 emissions, but there was also a plastic policy unveiled earlier this year.

The company has pledged to be plastic free by 2023 as part of the five year ‘Always Getting Better’ plan. After the announcement, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs, said, “We are very pleased to announce our Environmental plan which includes our commitment to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from our operations over the next five years.”

“For customers on board, this will mean initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, bio-degradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products We will also introduce a scheme to allow customers to offset the carbon cost of their flight through a voluntary climate charity donation online.”

Hotels making progress with plastic waste

Beyond airlines, other major travel companies are also taking steps to reduce plastic waste and, in some cases, go entirely plastic-free. For example, hotel giant Hilton is planning to eliminate the use of straws in all of its 650 global accommodations, as well as plastic bottles from its conferences – all by the end of 2018. Marriott International is also the way to reducing plastic use by replacing those small bath bottles in its North America hotels with dispensers.

Simon Vincent, Executive Vice President and President, EMEA, Hilton said: “As a leading global hospitality company, we have a huge responsibility to act as stewards of our natural resources, and support the communities in which we operate. Through our corporate responsibility strategy, Travel with Purpose, we are constantly looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact. Extending a ban on plastic straws across our managed portfolio is an important move in the right direction, and one which we are committed to building on in the coming years.”

Hilton’s move will mean that in Europe, Middle East & Africa alone, more than five million plastic straws and 20 million plastic water bottles will not be put into circulation. For a dose of respective, that amount of straws saved each year laid end to end would exceed the length of the River Seine.

It makes sense that hotels chains are making these big steps. They have guests with environmental and sustainable values. They also have a moral responsibility to not produce waste that will mostly impact those who could never afford to be one of their guests.

Sonu Shivdasani, the chief executive of Soneva Resorts, a small luxury hotel chain that stopped its use of single-use plastics way back in 2008, said “Hotels serve the richest 30 percent of the world’s population, and in doing so, consume far too many natural resources that weigh negatively, impacting the other 70 percent of society. We, as an industry, continue to consume far more than our fair share of resources.”

Cruise companies joining the fight against plastic

Nowhere is the scourge of plastic more obvious than in our oceans. Plastic straws alone take 200 years to biodegrade. On top of that, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans every year.

For that reason, it makes particular sense for travel companies reliant on the seas to go some way to protect them. And so several cruise companies have been taking steps in the right direction.

This week cruise giant Royal Carribean announced that the 50 ships across all of the company’s brands will stop using plastic straws by the end of this year. The move is a step forward from the previous position, which was to only provide straws to guests on request.  Next year, guests who ask for straws will receive paper ones. Royal Caribbean also wants to tackle the use of other single-use plastics on its ships, including condiment packets, cups and bags.

Chairman and chief executive of Royal Caribbean Cruises Richard Fain said: “Healthy oceans are vital to the success of our company. For over 25 years, our Save the Waves programme has guided us to reduce, reuse and recycle everything we can. Eliminating single-use plastics is another step in that programme.”

And they aren’t the only ones. Norweigan Cruise Line Holdings has launched an anti-plastics initiative. P&O Cruises and Cunard also announced plans earlier this year to abolish single-use plastics including plastic straws, water bottles and coffee stirrers from all cruise ships by 2022.

Changing things from the bottom up

All of these examples feature big travel companies removing plastics from their operations, which is undoubtedly a positive step. But for real change to occur, it needs to happen from the ground up. It requires a state of mind shift for travellers and a more widespread recognition of the damage we are capable of doing to the natural world.

You’ll have to travel literally as far from the ocean as possible to find a place where this shift has started to take place: Mount Everest.

The world’s highest mountain is, unsurprisingly, an extremely popular tourist destination. 100,000 people – mainly adventure tourists – visit the region every year and help to make the Everest basecamp path one of the world’s busiest trails. On top of that, each year around one thousand people go via the mountain’s base camp and attempt to reach Everest’s summit.

In a recent Guardian article, wildlife journalist Ben Fogle describes how, on a recent trip to the top of Mt Everest, he was taken aback at how clean the mountain was looking.

everest plastic rubbish cleanup

Over the years, Everest has developed a reputation for being something of a dump. Climber and hikers have nowhere to put their rubbish and use supplies, so they inevitably get tossed to one side  – especially when rapidly changing conditions force climbers to keep on moving.

But over recent years, local agencies have teamed up with climbers and sherpas to help clean up the mountain and remove the tonnes of plastic that were thought to be partially responsible for dangerous avalanches.

The job isn’t done yet, but Mount Everest perhaps offers proof that, even in the most remote and wild locations, we can undo the damage of unsustainable, unecological tourism.

As Fogle writes, “I have spent time in many of the world’s popular wilderness locations and I would say Nepal should be proud. It is an example of man repairing the damage he has done. As our focus turns to the oceans and the seemingly impossible task of repairing our marine habitat, we could look at Everest as a fine example of turning back the clock.”

There’s a long way to go

According to an article in the New York Times, “Many big luxury hotel brands, airlines and cruise ship companies — notorious for their oceanic waste and high carbon footprints — remain slow to curb unnecessary single-use plastics like bottles, slipper wrappers and plastic swabs that end up in the very oceans and beaches their guests travel across the world to experience.”

“It’s surprising that the travel industry doesn’t show more leadership in terms of sustainable practices,” Clark Mitchell, a former editor at Travel & Leisure and now director at The Band Foundation, a conservation charity, told NYT.

“People go on a cruise to see beautiful islands, clear waters and gorgeous beaches. These companies have a direct stake in keeping these places pristine. And yet single-use plastic, like straws, are literally everywhere a traveler looks, in the drinks being sold, in the water and on the beach.”

plastic wastre travel industry declares war on plastic

Inspiring the next generation

The travel industry has an important role to play in the fight against single-use plastics. Sure, individual companies can take steps to reduce their plastic waste and encourage their customers to treat the environment with respect.

But we already know that a sustainable world requires sustainable humans. So what’s ultimately required is a state of mind change. We need to think differently about how we treat the environment as travellers. Luckily, travel is an easy way to inspire that kind of mental shift. Encouraging people to get out there and explore the world is the best way to motivate them to protect it.

That’s probably why we’ve seen eco-tourism evolve as a sector in its own right. Environmentally-minded travellers are starting to demand trips that combine conservation with sightseeing and exploration. Perhaps we need to find a way to bring this attitude into mainstream travel. Just as mountaineers scaling Everest are asked to collect any rubbish they see en-route, maybe we should all start with the little things to help make tourism viable and enjoyable for future generations.

Research: Tourists Aren’t Ready For Digital Detox

A survey of American tourists has revealed some interesting results about travellers’ relationship with their mobile phones. Hint: we’re more addicted than you think. 

One travel industry trend that’s been well documented – by us and others – is the desire for authenticity.

This trend arguably has several distinct causes. Among them is the relentless presence of technology in our lives. Internet access in the palms of our hands has caused a change in dynamic. It’s made the world feels closer than it’s ever felt before. Nowhere is off limits.

On a day to day basis, it’s also changed the way we travel for the better, at least in practical terms. You can read some of our stories that discuss the intersection of travel and technology here:

Many of these stories explore our relationship with technology and how it impacts the travel experience. Sometimes there’s room for debate, such as with Google’s Pixel Buds. Real-time translation is obviously useful, but does it take something fundamental away from the authenticity of random encounters abroad? That’s just one example.

Either way, with an increasingly connected world comes the desire to remove oneself from it, to escape the madness. More than anything, that’s embodied by the search for unique, bespoke and authentic experiences – which is as competitive as ever.

Second, it’s shown in the wellness travel industry rise, in which the desire to switch off and remove ourselves from the pressures of modern technology – and the intensity of that 24/7 connectivity – is a leading driver.

So what do tourists really think about technology and much it should be present during a vacation? Are we just addicted to our devices, or do they genuinely add something to our time away from home? These are a few of the big questions that a joint survey from Asurion, a mobile device insurance company, and OnePoll, a UK-based marketing research company

Here are the headlines.

A digital detox is a step too far for most tourists

Vacations are supposed to be the place where we get away from it all. But apparently ‘it all’ doesn’t include smart phones and social media.

According to the Asurion study, Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation. Some check their phone more than 300 times each day, according to new research.

A study of 2,000 Americans found that while we want to relax and get away from our daily routine, we don’t want a break from our phones.

Whether on a beach, by the pool or in a museum, results showed the average American checks their phone five times an hour – or once every 12 minutes while on vacation. And nearly 10 percent said they check their phones more than 20 times an hour.

The study by global tech services company Asurion found we might like to relax on vacation but we certainly aren’t looking for a digital detox – 53 percent of Americans have NEVER unplugged while on vacation.

In fact, Asurion’s 2018 study conducted by OnePoll shows that we are on our phones during vacation just as much as during our regular day-to-day life. Asurion’s 2017 survey insights into day-to-day phone use found that we check our phones 80 times a day as well.

So how long can we stand to be away from our phones while indulging in some R&R? Four hours is the average. In fact, Americans are so dependent on our phones that one in four said they’ve either climbed a tree, hiked to the top of a hill, or canoed to the middle of a lake just to get cell phone reception during vacation.

“The results reveal that while people enjoy taking a vacation from everyday life, they don’t necessarily want to take a full break from their phone, which serves as their main connection to friends and family, and is a practical tool to help get around when travelling,” said Bettie Colombo, Asurion spokesperson.

So what’s driving our phone attachment on vacation? Friends and family are the biggest factor, with more than 46 percent saying they want to stay connected with friends and family, or to share their experiences. In second place, nearly 20 percent said that their phones help them to be a smart tourist and get around unfamiliar locations.

Mentally, it can be difficult to take a break from social media even while lounging poolside, and Americans agree – with 68 percent admitting they check social media when on vacation.

And Americans will go to extreme lengths to get cell phone reception or squeeze in more screen time. Nearly half of respondents reported tripping or bumping into things on vacation because they were too distracted with their phones.  And more than 10 percent reported missing their vacation destination while travelling because they were focused on their phone screens.

So, for those looking to just catch a break from their phone while on vacation, Asurion tech experts offer the following suggestions to help find life-phone balance while staying connected:

  • Set your phone on Do Not Disturb for select hours when you don’t want to be contacted.  This allows you to use your phone when you really need to, while blocking calls that distract you from your vacation.  This can be done on iPhone by going to Settings > Do Not Disturb. Android users can activate Do Not Disturb by going to Settings > Sounds and Vibration > Do Not Disturb. From there, you can pre-schedule how long you want the DND setting in effect, and allow repeat callers to get through (in case of emergency).
  • You can also block out everyone while still allowing for crucial calls and texts from your closest friends and family. Under the Do Not Disturb setting, iPhone users can allow their “Favorites” list to get through. Android users can create a custom list of friends and family who can reach them.
  • Need extra help weening yourself from checking your phone too often? There are many apps available to help users break their screen dependency and reduce distractions.
  • The Forest app (available for both the iPhone and Android) uses gamification to help you break the screen habit by setting a timeframe (up to two hours) when you don’t want to use your phone. During that time the Forest app plants a digital seedling that slowly grows into a tree on your phone screen.  The tree withers if you check your phone before your time is up.
  • The Flipd app removes your phone distractions by locking you out of your phone apps during a timeframe that you designate. Or it can also do a “light lock,” which encourages you to stay off your phone, but still allows you to use it if you want to.
  • You can also manually move all your phone apps into one digital folder on your phone.  By not seeing the apps, you’ll be less distracted and tempted to use them, but will still be able to use them if you need to.

Top 5 Things Most Likely to Make Americans Pull Out Their Phone On Vacation

  • Capturing a photo
  • Researching directions
  • Picking up a phone call
  • Responding to texts
  • Looking for a place to eat

Top 5 Phone-Related Accidents On Vacation

  • Bumping into something
  • Tripping
  • Missing your destination
  • Falling down
  • Walking into traffic or a dangerous situation

Bad news for digital detox advocates

Plenty of travel companies are developing trips to cater for people who want to leave it all behind – ‘it’ being absolutely everything, and including mobile phones. These digital detoxes might sound marketable in principle, and perhaps they are, but the pool of willing participants may be shallower than we’d like to think.

The facts don’t lie; tourists won’t give up their phones easily, so why make them?

Talking Points and Final Thoughts

For some people, the results of this study will be a little worrying. Are we really this reliant on our mobile devices? Do we seriously need to check our mobile phones 80 times per day, or keep in touch with social media during our vacations?

These are big questions that go way beyond the travel industry and into wider society, where our relationship with technology is arguably more of an addiction than we care to realise.

However, that doesn’t stop smartphones from being a useful addition to the travel toolkit. That’s part of the problem here: phones these days are everything. Your map; mode of communication, news hub, social media tool, gaming device. How healthy that relationship is can only be determined on an individual basis.

Which leaves us asking one fundamental question: Do these statistics negate in any way from the travel experience? Of course it’s hard to give a definite answer either way. Even the people surveyed in the study claimed to use the same technology for getting directions, checking out local places to eat, translation tools and the like. All of these are overwhelmingly positive and improve peoples’ time away.

Smartphones also allow travellers to capture memories with photos and videos at the touch of a button – the importance of which can’t be understated.

The point to consider from the survey results is this: Sure, we use our phones a hell of a lot, even when on vacation. And whether or not an element of that use is dopamine-driven, there are plenty of valid reasons for avoiding a complete digital detox on holiday.

One final thing to think about: The Asurion survey only dealt with American tourists, so we can’t generalise these results to travellers on the whole. With America being the globalisation capital of the world and the hub of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, more moderate results might be found with different nationalities.