Slow travel is a trend that was gently gaining pace in the years before COVID abruptly stopped travel and has accelerated at speed since the world reopened. Lockdowns made people think about how they travel and the effect on our planet. Many of us enjoyed the slow pace of life that is now being transposed into travel habits. It's time to get on-board with this trend - I’ve found textbooks and academic papers dating back to 2010 - a slow uptake for a slow trend, perhaps?
I’m writing this sat on a train heading for a weekend in the Brecon Beacons. The journey is as much a part of the trip as the walking days ahead. As soon as I got on the train, I plugged my headphones in and listened to two podcasts—something I rarely would find the time to do at home. I’ve also hand-written three blog posts, read a book and listened to music. I’ve enjoyed the changing scenery sweeping past the windows as I leave the hilly Chilterns and thunder through the flat part of England before getting excited that I have left the country and entered Wales next to the River Severn! I’ve been mesmerised by the juxtaposition of the quaint Birmingham Moor Street station and New Street, which are mere paces apart but divided by decades of architectural design.
People still want to travel, yet travellers are conscious of the carbon benefit of not going anywhere for almost two years. Add to that the travel chaos we saw at airports over the summer and the intrepid travellers who want to see the world differently. The CBI identifies slow travel as an opportunity for tourism. They suggest 60% of travellers are willing to take fewer trips that last longer, and 40% of Uk travellers want their tourism spending to have a positive socio-economic impact.
Slow travel is about the journey, using slower forms of transport - trains, bus, bikes, feet! A trip to a European destination can combine the annual city break with beach time or an adventure in the Alps, whilst seeing parts of France you would never have noticed from 20,000ft.
A train connection can mean enjoying a local meal in a new destination and experiencing a new town or city. Once we grasp that the journey is not just a means of arrival at a destination; significant strides will be taken in changing travel habits.
Slow travel goes beyond how the traveller arrives and consumes tourism products. Slow travel links with the fundamentals of regenerative tourism. You are immersed in the destination, and there is more time for a food or art experience and spending time with local musicians or storytellers. Tourism spending is spread beyond the typical stakeholders.
Tour operators are responsible for embracing this trend, not just to reach their net zero targets but to build resilience into tourism and build back better. Some are promoting this trend head-on. Byway was born during the pandemic, only using train travel and market less known destinations - they’ve even partnered with Intrepid and Exodus to use rail journeys instead of flights. Undiscovered Destinations have a series of by-rail tours - all the way to Morocco or Georgia!
Product development is vital in ensuring the slow travel trend can grow and here are my top tips:
Can you arrive at the tour's start point by train or ferry?
Product managers often check flight schedules to determine the tour's start and end days. Now is the time to start checking rail routes as well. Communicating the reasons for a random day of the week start may be necessary for nudging clients onto a train - low-cost airlines may get you there every day, but Eurostar/TGV may not.
Make stopovers easy
Trains may need an overnight stop to make a connection. Find a local host that can facilitate a locally run hotel close to the train station, and suggest a restaurant or local experiences if time allows.
Show options available on trains
Overnight trains and ferries can be either a sit-up seat, an en-suite cabin, or anything in between. Pricing will vary depending on the comfort level, and many people may need to learn that trains can be more comfortable than a cramped low-cost flight. Possibly, because of how bad the reputation of train travel in the UK is!
Build slow travel into a long-haul itinerary
Many tours will be long-haul, and taking the train may be impossible. In these cases removing internal flights and taking a train will have a similar outcome. For group tours, check your date scheduling. Can you link tours together if people want to stay longer, and can a train be taken if the start and end points are different (reread points 1-3!).
Get the word out and sell it!
The most important part of getting people off the aeroplane and slowing down! Sell the benefits of arriving slowly - less stressed before the holiday starts, more immersive experience en route and possibly even a price saving (a quick check of Easyjet to Amsterdam in May v Eurostar - £170 for the flight, £118 for the train!).
If you are committed to sustainable, regenerative tourism and want to reduce your carbon impact, then slow travel is a trend you need to jump on quickly.
Contact email@example.com if you would like a product review and suggestions on how to slow down your itineraries.