Sonari Glinton: You're listening to Now, What's Next?, an original podcast from Morgan Stanley. I'm Sonari Glinton. It's a busy day in Forest City.
Brian Hazelton: Our main facility in Forest City, we're on 400 acres here. It's a tremendous campus with over 26 different buildings. It's basically a mini-town and, typically, you'd have your chassis lined up waiting. You'd have steel. You'd have subcomponentry lined up.
Glinton: This manufacturing plant is having a record-breaking year. Seriously, in a pandemic, despite a global business shutdown and deep recession level unemployment.
Hazelton: We opened up our factories in early May and the demand that we saw was really unlike anything we had seen in this industry before.
Glinton: The product? Winnebagos, campers, recreational vehicles; Brian Hazelton is with Winnebago Industries. For over six decades, Winnebago has come to mean a vacation on wheels.
Hazelton: We called back all of our workers and just have seen continued record levels of demand, as we progressed through the summer.
Glinton: Who wants to get on a plane or a tour bus, or stand in a crowded line at a resort buffet these days? The pandemic has changed a lot, but our desire to get away, to leave, that has not changed. An RV may not be great for our carbon footprint, but it can feel like a safe environment to travel in.
Hazelton: Our parents live in Florida. We want to go see them. We can't get on an airplane or don't feel safe getting on an airplane. Well, let's take an RV. And by the way, if we're going to take an RV, OK, it's going to take us three days. Maybe we should stop and see A, B and C. It's a safe way. You control the environment. You clean the environment. You let in who you want to let in, you know, who's been there.
Glinton: In the book of stereotypes, RVs go with retirees, but it's not just Baby Boomers storming the Winnebago dealer lots. People under 45 are buying RVs at higher rates. They now make up a third of Winnebago's customer base and growing.
Shawn Cole: I probably shouldn't have gotten the hugest RV you can possibly drive.
Glinton: That's Shawn Cole. Shawn with a “W.” He's a podcast sound designer based in Nova Scotia, Canada. Shawn, in fact, designed the very episode you're listening to now. Renting a camper wasn't in the original summer vacation plan for Shawn, his wife and his two daughters; but COVID canceled plans for a family reunion. So why not improvise? An RV sounded good, even though Shawn had never driven one before.
Cole: I didn't realize that it would make driving a little bit hairy. The Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia is beautiful. It's picturesque. I think it's consistently one of the top 10 drives in the world. I should have clued into how windy and steep the roads were.
Glinton: Vacations are about having new experiences, learning new things. Now, maybe that means swimming with the dolphins, or maybe it means a death-defying ride along the cliffs of Nova Scotia. If you can say one thing about this past year, it's been full of surprises. We're all up to here with surprises, but not all surprises are bad. If anything, Shawn was forced to do something new and difficult. The payoff was a family vacation his family won't forget.
Cole: The best part about it is that it was an adventure. It was more than just sipping drinks and hanging out at the pool at a resort. It was a shared experience that I think made it so much more exciting.
Glinton: The pandemic meant Shawn Cole and his family couldn't go on a normal vacation. They had to stay closer to home. RV sales are among the few bright spots, but overall, the travel industry is in deep trouble.
This season on Now What's Next?, an original podcast from Morgan Stanley, we're trying to figure out what life after a global pandemic looks like, or can look like. Some of these changes will be subtle, others dramatic, but no matter what, even after the dust settles, life is not going back to the way it was before. We're exploring how the world continues to evolve, in the face of a global crisis, and the rare chances given us to rethink our assumptions. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, but it's also an opportunity to create real and lasting change. Today, what's next for how we travel.
Every imaginable business has been touched by coronavirus. Everyone. The travel and tourism industry are usually the first hit in hard times, but this pandemic has devastated the industry. The UN World Tourism Organization has predicted that the industry will suffer a trillion dollar loss in 2020 alone. The pandemic has pushed the travel industry into a corner, but this existential crisis could be an opportunity. To figure out just how we may have to adapt. I talked to Jessica Nabongo. Jessica is a travel influencer with 200,000 followers on her Instagram—it’s called "thecatchmeifyoucan." She also runs Jet Black, a boutique travel agency. Born in Uganda, raised in Detroit, for Jessica, travel is more than fun. It's a life. You're the first black woman to travel to every single country in the world. Why?
Nabongo: I really love that. So why? Probably the primary reason is because I'm a geography nerd. So I've been traveling internationally with my family since I was four. And, you know, my parents always made us feel like we could go anywhere we wanted to go. In my early twenties, I always knew I wanted to visit every country in the world, and so, found myself in an internet rabbit hole. Found out at that time, less than 150 people had ever done it. More people have been to outer space than have been to every country in the world.
Glinton: So what happens when someone who's born to travel, who is literally a world record holder in going to other countries, just can't?
Nabongo: You know, before I used to travel sometimes up to eight weeks, but I was, and I said, what, what I've learned in quarantine is I have no desire to live my life the way that I was living at prior to quarantine. So I say "no" a lot more. For me, that's what slowing down looks like.
Glinton: And it might surprise you to learn that the woman who has traveled to every single country in the world, she's rediscovering the joys that are closer to home.
Nabongo: I often say, to travel just means to leave home. It doesn't mean you need a passport stamp. There's so much to see in your backyard. If I'm in Michigan, I can go up to Traverse City. I can go to Mackinac Island. I can go to the UP. Absolutely, let us take this time to explore our own backyards, like, hop in the car, drive a hundred miles. I'm super excited to go to Kentucky. I've driven through, but I've never really been. So I'm like, oh, let me go do the Bourbon Trail. It's like five hours from my house.
Glinton: I have to say, I agree with Jessica. I've lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade and I can count the number of times I've been to San Diego on three fingers. But maybe we all should be more like my buddy, Shawn. Maybe not with the 33-foot RV, but most of us are less than an hour or two away from something that's truly wonderful. When the world is forced to stay home, or close to home, what happens in the places we all used to go? What happens to the tourist traps when there are no tourists to trap?
Valerie Workman: The airport is buzzing. I mean, flights going, taxis zipping in and out. Same thing coming out of the port. People are just getting off cruise ships. I'm looking for a tour, a taxi or whatever. The beaches are full. You seeing the margaritas and the pina coladas just coming on to the beach; you see the snow-cone vendors plying their trade; you see people laying out, tanning, getting stuff from the vendors whose selling the coral, the little necklaces.
Glinton: Valerie Workman is an event planner and concierge in Barbados. Now, that's her talking about what it felt like before the pandemic. Tourism was a billion-dollar industry on the island. More than a third of the economy in Barbados was tourism. That was the past. This is the new normal.
Workman: All of that, now you don't see it because of COVID. The nightclubs, the bars, the sitting and having a drink and interacting with the locals, none of that now is really happening. And it feels so strange because we are not that island. We are not that people. We love to, "Let me take you there, let me show you a good time," because that's what we do. But yeah, we miss it, but we understand what is happening. So we're just trying our best to make things easy until we get back to being able to be our wonderful self.
Glinton: Valerie feels the effect on our community. And it's not just financial, it's emotional.
Workman: I know depression set in for a lot of people because there was no light at the end of the tunnel. For some people there still is no light at the end of the tunnel. Just saw a letter today from a hotel that everybody's going home; the hotel has decided they're going to close because it just—they just can't do it. So that's, let's say, another 120 people on the bread lane with no end in sight for COVID. So, it was a rough blow, it really was for me, knowing the people that were out there.
Glinton: Barbados is probably a safer place to be than many of the cities where the tourists who used to visit live. There have been only a few hundred cases over the entire course of the pandemic. And they now have very stringent entry requirements. If you don't pass the COVID screening, you can't get into the country. Locals like Valerie want—no—need the tourism industry back. But it's not enough to bring it back the way it was. She wants it back, but better. Now that means change. It means less reliance on foreign dollars and foreign products. And with that, Bajans are starting to rediscover their own culture. Take Barbados cuisine, which locals are rightfully proud of. Cou cou and fried fish cakes, roti wraps. Local food with local ingredients can be overlooked behind the mountains of burgers and rivers of ranch dressing that come with all those tourists. But the pandemic has started to change that.
Workman: I think it has taught us to eat better. I think because, during COVID, every place was closed. We had our Chefette was closed, KFC was closed. You weren't getting deliveries. So you start eating vegetables, things that were available to us. We started being creative on, you're going on YouTube or whatever, and finding recipes to make vegetables good for your kids, because your kids are accustomed going to grandma or grandpa or auntie, or you stopping for fast food in the evening.
Glinton: Before the pandemic, much of the fresh fruit that was grown in Barbados went to tourists, but with no tourists, local produce and food is available to locals.
Workman: It's things that we needed to go back to the old time way of how we used to live. When I was a girl, you had stuff in the back. Yeah, we had stuff in the back. Granny had a few chickens in the back. You might have had a pig or a cow or sheep in the back. So now we're going back to that. And it's a simple way here you learn to save money, and all of that, that comes with it.
Glinton: Bajans have been able to imagine an island without tourists. And you know what? It ain't that bad. But the tourists won't be gone forever. And no one wants that. About a million people came to the island on cruise ships, pre-COVID. They bought billions of dollars with them. But if you look at how much money actually stayed on the island, studies show that, year over year, tourists were spending less and less. It was a case of diminishing returns. It was unsustainable. The money often spends less time on the Island than the tourists.
Workman: I hope that we get the numbers that we got before, or maybe more, but I hope that we can balance. We can balance keeping them happy while keeping us Bajans happy. And we all working together to make sure that we can balance and remain focused on what is important, which is our people, family—and not just separating, having these layers of importance. It cannot come down to just being the mighty dollar.
Glinton: No one wants to give up on travel or tourism, because it's adventure. It can make us better. But travel pre-COVID was doing a terrible job in almost every way. It's so necessary, which is why it needs to change.
Elizabeth Becker: It employs one out of ten people in the world, but it is terrible for wages and benefits.
Glinton: That's Elizabeth Becker. She's a journalist who's covered international business and politics. She wrote the book, "Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism."
Becker: Generally, when you do the shakedown and look at who's making money, the locals are making—often, they have to pay to clean up after the visitors. Those cruise ships take away any need for a hotel, generally, take away any need for a restaurant. I've seen three and four dock at the same time, thousands get out, they'll have a coffee, they'll have a beer, they have lunch. And the cruise ships themselves decide what to offer for the excursion. And then they're back on. It's like a game show. How fast can you do this?
Glinton: What's the chance that going fast was a good thing? Could any of this be remotely sustainable post pandemic?
Becker: No, it's not. It's not. But in Europe you were already seeing a strong push against industrialized tourism, a very strong push. Barcelona was making big regulations that they could actually enforce to push back on all that kind of tourism that was suffocating them. So, have they lost the money? Yeah. How much of it was actually from the people of Barcelona and how much it was the hotel chains? The pushback now goes in such a way that they say: We don't even want sustainable tourism, we want regenerative tourism. We want you to stop having the kind of tourism that will hurt our environment, hurt our locale. And we want the kind of tourism that will recover what we have lost.
Glinton: Regenerative tourism goes one step beyond sustainable tourism. It actually repairs and restores the places, environments and cultures we visit.
Becker: You want to have a really engrossing vacation? Come to that place where the dock was, and we'll give you a whole week of helping us rebuild the reef. We'll give you a whole week with sustainable fishermen who are trying to prevent those yucky, two big fish farms up the road. Or, we'll send you to a sustainable farm where you're going to help us recover from water pollution. Right now, there are lots of people who are experts, trying to figure out how to use this moment of the pandemic to come up with solutions that people around the world can use to have what they call regenerative tourism.
Glinton: Travel and tourism have a tremendous environmental impact. It affects everything. Water use, soil erosion, noise pollution. When you're on vacation, you use twice as much water as when you're home. Tourists are responsible for 60% of all air travel, which means they're responsible for a gigantic percentage of the world's carbon emissions. That makes a regenerative kind of tourism even more important—because it's not just about doing less damage, it's about healing the damage we've already caused. And that means businesses and government are going to have to rethink some pretty old assumptions.
Becker: The premise of globalization and global tourism was fundamentally open borders. I don't know when all the borders are going to open, and if they are going to open, and how they will open. But there'll be more countries like Bhutan, which I think is doing a good job of saying, we can only accept X number of tourists a year. That's all the visas we give. And I wouldn't be surprised if more countries were like that.
Glinton: If more countries limit the number of tourists they let in, people like Jessica may not be able to visit every single country in the world anymore.
Becker: And that's going to mean we're going to have to be a little more selective and careful. We're not going to have these bucket lists where we think we can go anywhere when we want to.
Glinton: I mean, what is wrong with me wanting to go anywhere and everywhere?
Becker: Oh, it's not wrong. Don't, it's not personal. Let me tell you what a mayor, I think it was in, it was Northern Europe. He said, "Listen, there are days where the only analogy I can say about the tourism now is that I have a dinner party. I've invited 12 people. I've, the food all done, table set, and 12,000 show up. We can't continue like that."
Glinton: But in today's connected globalized world, can you really ask everyone to stay home? Traveling is part of what makes us human and we're not going to just shut it down completely. And there are tons of reasons why. Mainly, family. A 100 or even 50 years ago, our friends, family and acquaintances might've all lived within 10 miles from us. But today, who doesn't have family in the old neighborhood or the old country? I'm not that unusual. I live in West Hollywood. My mom lives in Chicago. My sister lives in Colorado Springs. I have dear friends all over the world. So many of us have to get on a plane to see our nanas and our bubbes and zaydes.
Pico Iyer: And I think these days, so many of us, especially in the developed world, have very close family members in another continent. And I don't think any of us wish not to see our wife or our mother or our siblings because plane travel is a little more expensive or a little more difficult than it used to be. So, I think, at that level, we've passed the point of no return.
Glinton: This is Pico Iyer. He's a travel writer and novelist who splits his time between Japan and California. Now, during the pandemic lockdown, he flew back and forth between his two homes three times to see a sick mom. Now, that's three globe-spanning trips through empty airports and half-filled planes, while most everyone else was sheltering in place. He has an old mom. Zoom was just not going to cut.
Iyer: I was once at the TED conference in Vancouver and I saw this state of the art virtual reality machine. And I stepped into a booth and I was in a South American rainforest. And I could smell it, I thought, I could feel the precipitation, I could hear the birds singing in the trees. I felt I could touch the foliage. It was an extraordinarily intense and convincing recreation of being in Ecuador or Brazil, perhaps. But, I came out of that booth thinking everything that's essential about being in the rainforest, I couldn't catch there. Which has to do with, you know, the intangibles, the spaces between things, the silences. All the images in the world never add up to real life.
Glinton: Virtual reality is great. It's come a long way and all, but it's still virtual. You can think of travel as a luxury or a hobby or a little more meaningfully, a way to connect with your loved ones. But it goes deeper than that. In many ways, it's our obligation to see and experience the world. What is traveling if not bite-sized adventures? So, how can we do that responsibly?
Iyer: In the age of information, we actually know less about the world than ever before, partly because of our secondhand images. And I think we know least of all about the countries we hear most about. We know a little bit about the economy, the leadership and the nuclear programs, let's say, of North Korea or Iran. And then absolutely nothing about how somebody in Pyongyang or Tehran goes through her day. And I think, for me, that's exactly why I want to go to those places, because I feel it's irresponsible for me not to know about them. Our destinies are very intertwined with this, partly because their governments are at odds with Washington. But also, I feel I live in a global neighborhood, and to choose not to know about life in Pyongyang, which is so different from life in California, is a real waste of an opportunity and a kind of negligence.
Glinton: Travel gives us a new perspective on who we are. I mean, who goes to find themselves around the corner? When you leave home, you leave the protection of home, but you can also leave the baggage of where you're from. Just ask Jessica Nabongo, the first Black woman to travel to every country in the world. Ask her what travel means.
Nabongo: Travel is freedom for me because, in particular, when you are a Black person who grew up in the United States, you have to be aware of your Blackness every day. You have to be aware of how the world is responding to you, right? That's something that we're socialized to be so acutely aware of every single day. You have these interactions and, if it's negative, it's like, oh, is it because I was Black? And it's really a lot for the mind to process, it's actually really mentally exhausting. I remember, years ago, I tweeted "being Black is exhausting." I love it. I would never give it up. But in America, being Black is exhausting. I don't have those same considerations when I travel abroad. I also lived abroad for seven years, so, and I think that also changed how I see Blackness and racism out in the world.
Glinton: If the desire to hit the road is so deeply ingrained. Is there a way to keep doing it without damaging the places we visit? Valerie Workman in Barbados believes the tourists will come back, but she wants to keep some of the changes the pandemic has forced on Barbados. If we can transform our habits and our society on a dime, like we did during those first few months in lockdown, then nothing is beyond our reach.
The future of travel will be different because it has to be. Now, it may not be as quick. It could be more thoughtful. But wouldn't that be more fun? Shawn Cole and his family had more adventure exploring close to home in their RV than on trips where they would have taken a plane to another country. What if we all did the same and got to know our own towns, cities, regions and countries better?
Most years, I go to Maine for a short vacation. I fell in love with Maine in college, in part because it feels light years away from my hometown, Chicago. When I was young, Maine helped me through some tough times. I've learned that it's more than just vacation land. The land and the people restore my soul. Casco Bay, Boothbay Harbor, DiMillo's in Portland, Damariscove, Monhegan Island are all the most beautiful places on the planet to me. I love Maine profoundly. Don't we owe it to the places we love to give more than we take? I mean, Barbados gave the world Rihanna. It has given us enough. What if when we visit, we left more than we took? That would be a heck of a tourism industry, but that wouldn't be travel. That would be adventure. I'm Sonari Glinton and this is Now What's Next?, an original podcast from Morgan Stanley.