Once upon a time, the Boomer would fantasize about the forthcoming Third Age – all that free time, stashed savings and retirement revenues, pent-up demand for extraordinary experience.
The term bucket list thus entered the vernacular of ageing. Invariably, the umpteen wonders of the world beckoned like the lorelei. For the list meant selecting glorious travel destinations, deserts, savannahs, fjords, ancient ruins, pilgrimage pathways, birthplaces of famous move-stars, off-beaten-track shrines, preposterously tall buildings from whose viewing gallery you could just in the distance descry your younger self.
Willy-nilly neighbours were soon to be entertained with photo montages over drinks : Machu Picchu, Giza, Rodeo Drive, Lakes of Killarney, Hermitage, Uluru, Vatican….. And, of course, you travelled first-class, on a camel, by jet-ski, in a hot-air balloon, at the end of a bungee cord, in a suite on a Caribbean cruiser… Naturally, the travel and hospitality sectors responded generously to this surging grey appetite and the promotional marketing would prove just how easy it was to get out your list and go tick, tick, tick….
Anyone old enough to remember the early wave of first-time tourists who headed for Spain when she stood on the cusp of post-Francoism will recall all those Costa Brava café signs like : Tea Like Mother Makes! or Full English Breakfast Here! The traveler had back then to be shielded from the shock of difference. If you went to Italy you would just about stretch to pizza. In France, ordering a glass of wine was as daringly novel an experience as asking for a Class A drug. Nowadays, all tourists are pretty seasoned. This is a feature certainly damaged by such a long period of C19 restraint and interdiction. But a craving for the authentic as well as both the colourful and the famously unfamiliar motivates so much leisure movement now, specially – let us argue – for the more battered suitcases in our midst.
Now, there was a lot to be said, culturally and psychologically, for the concept of the bucket list. It could serve as a septuagenarial reward for a life of hard-work and family-devotion; it could bestow a goal and a purpose which mercifully did not include an armchair and a box set; it could – not a pudding we would over-egg – invite all concerned to see foreign realities in more sympathetic colours; it could help sustain employment and career-building in the tourism and leisure sectors; it could also lead to the acquisition of new skill and knowledge . Les voyages forment la vieillesse, one might say.
But we are, of course, here to declare that the bucket list – and the sense of full-blown third-age liberation it once implied – is dead, killed by the following:
- An antipathy to the very notion of personal mobility swelling inside public policy and political agit-prop – specially leisure-driven
- The desire of the leadership of both big cities and heritage venues to actively discourage tourist invasions, whatever the age involved.
- The realization on the part of the grey traveler that in the 21st century it behoves to leave but the shallowest footprint on the planet’s surface. (Must you fly to Cambodia again, Grandma?)
- An awareness that the pandemic has gouged a vesuvial crater out of national economies, weakening and potentially pauperizing pension schemes and saving plans.
This is an age which has lost all frivolity. Your whimsies are your crimes. Tread lightly for you tread on my endangered species.
But we can all hear the howl of the paradox.
So many economies worldwide crave the first-world tourists and see salvation in their wanderlust. We notice from Canatur, for instance, that only 78,000 foreigners visited Peru in the first six months of 2021. Even counting the 2 million indigenous movements over the same period this hardly compares to the 16 million movements enjoyed by the economy in the first quarter of 2020 alone. Obviously, we reference here a coronavirus hit that is as colossal as it is understandable. The Peruvian authorities, meanwhile, still see tourism is “the key to development” and along with so many national inbound tourist agencies across the world they are back on the post-C19 pitch, beating the cajón for Titicaca at international sales events. Meanwhile, a scan of recent UNWTO statistics exposes the dizzying decline in international tourism, with 2020 now being officially “the worst year on record”. It is still a sector which, whatever liberations are aboard, is limping very badly. And according to the WTTC, some 10% of all global employment is tourism-related. Eurostat used to put the equivalent EU figure at 13 million people and one would have to expect that this implied level of economic engagement has been severely damaged. Many families, one assumes, would really like the status quo ante, with all that would suggest for family incomes, skills, careers.
So quo vadis? Where does this leave the older consumer-citizen? Two competitive trends, two tribes, at least, will emerge:
- There will be those greys who see a social eco-heroism in abjuring foreign travel, no matter how much they think they have personally deserved all its splendours.
- There will be those greys, numerous enough, who will totally insist on their days in the sun, by the pyramids, on the whitewater rapids, with the snorkels… Me and my spouse, we have but limited time – if I get to Niagara this coming Summer then it is unlikely that I will ever make it back there again. So….
In this era, commuting is being delegitimized as a valid time-use. The rise of the 15 Minute City concept also undermines the presence there of anyone who has spent 15 hours airborne to reach and taxi around the city concerned. The definition of the staycation will, in these conditions, grow ever narrower. It will be just about acceptable for those living in the hinterland of Alpes-Maritimes to hit the beaches of Cannes and Nice but Parisians need not apply. Mutatis mutandis, the same will be true for the Lake District and Londoners. But will septuagenarians be given, culturally speaking, a special licence or permission to go the distance in search of self-actualization or even just fun? Well, no. Not in Europe. The grey who travels to Australia to watch what might indeed be his last ever Test Match can expect just as much opprobrium as the thirtysomething. For many too, even the reality and the perceived desirability of staycations will grate and bore – and pockets of rebellion will come soon enough.
However, in a way this here story is about what used to be called the developing world. The writ of global warming – the terrors it carries – does not universally run. GDP growth of an utterly conventional kind will continue to be pursued in those many places where formal incomes are low, public services weak and populations poor. (The latest IMF figures put GDP pc for the UK at $46,000, Peru $6,680, Kenya $2,130, Cambodia $1,720 – the differentials are stark). Soon enough, older punters will be welcomed to certain long-haul venues with renewed intensity and by virtue of seriously competitive marketing. There will be a war for that grey cash – just as such travel is contemporaneously and increasingly deprecated at home.
But the bucket list itself is already a yellowing snapshot of a happy boomer interlude, one that is no more.
The post-C19 world will see just too much pressure placed on the family finances. Not at all a fond hope, there will be a rise in septua-entrepreneurship as greys bristle at high inflation, sclerotic pensions, the demand from adolescents for university courses and first homes. Boom is just not the right word anymore.
And for millions asceticism will replace appetite. The grey years are now a lot more grey.