This is a continuation of a series on the The Future of Travel – Check out the others below!
- End-to-End Connectivity
- Agentless Airports
- Thinner, Longer Route Networks
- All-Business Class Flights & Terminals
- The Rise of Inflight Branding
- Autonomous Aircraft
- Hotels Becoming Homes
Now, onto a subject that deals with exploring on the ground
Tourist Traps Exist Because of Assymmetric Information.
THEY know that there’s a better restaurant around the corner, but YOU don’t.
THEY know that the museum is overrated or the club is completely empty, but why would they tell YOU when they can easily pocket your money for a substandard experience.
Similarly, every writeup in every guidebook will hype up 3rd rate churches, museums, temples and restaurants and neglect to mention the entry fee of that the cocktails come from a jug. Every beach is a must see. The travel writer is generally paid to make every corner of the planet as interesting as humanly possible.
These factors combine to give us the classic tourist trap, the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” or the restaurant with the overeager (and sometimes really attractive) host or hostess with terrible, overpriced food.
Enter Mobile Internet Abroad
Now travelers can learn from each other’s past mistakes. If a place is a scam, reviews and star ratings let us know before we go and those places start having to try harder. I can now check on my phone for nearby places that offer a much better, high quality experience and patronize them over the shops and restaurants in the “Times Square” of wherever I’m visiting (don’t worry, the US has plenty of its own tourist traps too – especially Times Square).
While not perfect, ratings from Google, Yelp and (sigh) Tripadvisor can also help me figure out what kind of patron various places are targeting. I learned to ignore all of the upset travelers posting negative reviews because pretty every restaurant in Portugal charges for bread placed on the table (It’s called cover, it’s a thing, move on).
Fast Forward 20 years
So in the spirit of this series, what happens when everyone has mobile data and avoids the Hard Rock Cafes and crappy brasseries serving warm beer?
I’d like to think that places relying on assymmetric information will either get better, change hands or close — especially as people travel more and diversify their behavior while abroad. But what else?
It Might Not Be All Rosy
We might end up exchanging tourist traps for the Yelp effect — everyone concludes “oh we could go to the place rated 4.5 stars, but there’s a place rated 4.6 next door” 4.5 star place closes while the 4.6 place gets swamped.
Generally the Yelp effect is heaping of local maxima in a general vicinity – this is great if you’re that ONE restaurant or store, but it also causes a triaging of resources – long lines, rushed service, reservation only. It kind of takes the fun out of serendipitous exploration – wandering and happening upon cool places that just haven’t made it on to the internet, or deliberately don’t want to be overrun with tourists snapping instagram photos (the prevalence of No Photos signs in Europe is dramatically on the rise).
Moreover, we’ll likely see more of the “Anthony Bourdain Effect” (well, I kind of like Anthony Bourdain, let’s call it the “Guy Fieri Effect”). This can be even worse than Yelp heaping because now it bestows a firehose of patronage onto tiny coffee kiosks, cronut stands, banh mi carts, subway station michelin-starred holes in the wall.
In some ways, this is great for the owners of these places, but like any business, you’re looking to maximize profits. You may halve the quality and double the prices to ration demand or go for scale over quality. You might close your cart in favor of a pristine new eatery in a strip mall, killing all of the charm and ambiance that people originally came for. Or become an international chain with locations on 3 continents (::cough:: Din Tai Fung).
Many would argue that they’re being rewarded for good work. But most cities are dynamic, changing beasts. The Studio 54 of yesteryear is no longer cool when it’s in a Vegas casino, nor do I need to go to Paris to get Laduree (try Pierre Herme – they’re better) macarons when I can get them in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka or Miami.
What’s worse is for places that expand too quickly, building new locations, if the hype machine passes them by, then the owners are saddled with debt and it may sink the entire enterprise.
There’s probably a happy medium. All small business owners want their enterprises to succeed, but may not have the tools or desire to run a multi-continent restaurant empire. I think (purely anecdotally when searching alongisde friends) that we’re already starting to see Yelp and Google show different results to different people, which smoothes the local maxima problem You may like Starbucks and I may never set foot in one, so yes show it to you, but never show it to me, even if it is highly rated)
Growing too are the armies of celebrities. Yes, police departments respond in force when a Kardashian is robbed, but the number of people with followings is becoming more democratized. Instead of 3 or 4 traveling chef shows, there may be 50 tastemakers in the same niche in the future – on a particular style of food or cultural tourism, so highlights of local treats and experiences attract attention and new visitors, but don’t turn the place into a shopping mall. Does anyone really follow what’s being served in the White House these days? They used to.
So hopefully, the internet in everyones’ pockets will steer us away from bad overpriced food and rude service and give us more tools to explore. Celebrities become curators instead of tools of mass market consumption. The hope is that as you travel, and especially as you visit the same cities over and over, you branch out to different neighborhoods, make friends, go for reasons other than to take the same pictures everyone else does.
That will make for a world with richer experiences and worthiness to explore.
Agree? Disagree? Think Guy Fieri will start opening food malls in Asia too? Comment below!