Monday, December 30, 2013

Now So Much More Than Amusement

Maybe it isn’t travel per se, as initially publicized from a recent study, but where and why they travel that makes people more healthy.  Looking deeper into this scientifically-generalizable probe of Americans 25 or older sheds light on the importance of scenic preservation.

Of course, any positive health outcome or “joie de vivre” is specifically related to leisure travel.

Even business travelers who commingle pleasure time on trips are twice as likely to say they didn’t enjoy the trip, including a negative ratio of 4-to-1 who feel strongly that way.

Business travelers, including the 1-in-10 travelers attending meetings and conventions, are a minority among overall travelers (less than 25%) but this negative ratio must still be very alarming to everyone involved along the visitor experience continuum.

This certainly includes not only the modes and nodes of transportation, especially highways, but also the destination communities and states trying to reap the  economic, cultural and now public health value-added from tourism.

The business traveler turn-off becomes a huge drag on leisure travel potential contributing to the study’s finding that nearly 30% of Americans do not view travel as part of their enjoyment of life during any age.

But for anyone willing to look deeper, the significance of this study transcends mere demographics or customer satisfaction metrics.

Cities and states eager to draw visitors for economic and cultural reasons are well advised to note from the study that Americans who take the most trips during a year (averaging nearly six) are drawn to nature.

This aspect proves even more compelling when you add together other nature-related trips listed separately such such as those to be near water (3+,) to explore countryside including smaller towns (nearly 2.5) or visiting national parks and other outdoor sites (nearly 2.)

This by comparison, even when including day trips, is 2.4 times the number of annual trips taken to explore places such as cities or to shop or attend an event which is also about the average number of trips taken to stay with family and friends. 

But even on these trips, nature as a backdrop provides a key health benefit, leading more than 7-in-10 Americans to agree that regardless of what stage they are in, leisure travel is important to their ability to enjoy life.

Of course, this has dire implications for communities and states that fail to grasp and then safeguard the importance of green infrastructure such as urban forests, open spaces and nature places as part of their place based assets including trees and view-sheds along roadways.

These revelations about the central role of nature as an underlying element of leisure travel underscores that more than just mere amusement, is the “awe” it provides.

As another study published by scientists at Claremont McKenna and USC confirmed a few weeks ago, nature is an incredible source of “awe,” even when just glimpsed from the couch on a television channel.

According to a study published earlier this year at Stanford, we should place much greater value on “awe” such as that created by nature and by inference, all green infrastructure, because it enhances well-being, increases altruism such as volunteerism, compassion and other civic virtues.

“Awe” also slows down our perception of time.  Contrary to the old saw, time does not actually speed up with age.  Studies show that from youth and into our 50s, time feels like pressure.

Then, at age 50, as our horizon gradually shifts from days and weeks to decades, time pressure apparently peaks.

Researchers, according to an excellent overview in Scientific American, also attribute “awe” with a sense of increased “time-availability.”

Some studies seem to confirm that nature refuels our sense of “awe” because it gives us another way to view time including the changing of seasons as a metaphor, in my opinion, for the continuum of pre-life, life and after-life.

Travel is just one means to living a life “awe”-filled.  But the sector of industries known as tourism (whose adherents still insist on minimizing by utilizing the long-passé singular term “industry,”) is wise to dig down beyond mere commerce as does the sector’s association website “Travel Effect.”

This new study linking health to travel points out that Americans now enjoy almost equally weekend get-aways (78%) and traditional weeklong vacations (80%.)  But what should be even more enlightening to those promoting travel is the near-equal popularity now of day-trips (76%.)

Long after research methodology made it possible to exclude those commuting for school or work from the measurement of day trip visitation, this is an area still relatively unrecognized by the travel establishment, save for a few forward-thinking destinations such as Durham, NC, where I live, which began to closely monitor day-trips in the 1990s.

Those in my former profession of community destination marketing as a means to achieve visitor centric economic and cultural vitality are well advised to delve into this study with an eye not only to better protecting their brands but to even greater relevance.

It is clear from this study how important green infrastructure is to the vast majority of Americans who travel.  States, cities, towns and counties who ignore scenic preservation by enabling visual pollutants such as signs, roadside billboards and other litter need to connect the dots.

Billboarders demand the “right to be viewed” and lobby elected officials to surrender publicly owned trees, vegetation and view-sheds along roadways for their commercial use. But studies such as this beg the question, “But at what price?”

Scientifically, it is increasingly clear, thanks to new studies, that the “right to a view” in pursuit of “awe” is far more priceless to economic well-being, cultural vitality and now public health outcomes.

Highways, including scenic preservation along roadsides, are obviously the single most important area that states, cities, towns and counties must address in order to be appealing.

Failure to care for this aspect suppresses any other improvement such as livability or tax rate or efforts at revitalization.

This is not only because, as long shown by other studies, these corridors are the primarily mode of travel for 8-in-10 visitors nationwide.  It is also because disguised as leisure visitors are 80% of newcomers and 75% of relocating executives.

Along with an even greater proportion of those scouting to relocate or expand a business, these groups try out locations as stealth leisure visitors before making official contact.

“Old-schoolers” still view visitors only as a source of economic development but their equal value as a source of cultural preservation has been recognized for several decades now.

Today, studies such as this foretell that it will not be long before practitioners of visitor-centric demand-side economic and cultural development also add “public health” as a key objective.

As the study shows, regardless of how intense you travel, these journeys have been shown to improve your ability to get things done, contribute to physical health and well-being and advance your overall mood and outlook compared to non-travelers.

This certainly includes, but is not exclusive, to those of us in the stage of life mischaracterized as “retirement” where perception of time comes into very positive focus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Attractive highways can have a very pleasant subtle effect on some and a dramatic negative effect on others. I once had a business owner who was concerned about visibility to his gas station sign tell me that, "coming into NC from SC on I-26 is like entering a National Park". What was a "negative" for one was a "positive" for many thousands of others. Unfortunately, "the one" had the political clout and got many of the trees removed even though "logo signs" were much more beneficial to his wallet. The "greed" of a few has hurt the State's Brand. It won't be long until NC is "just another State with Interstate Highways with billboards and cut over vegetation as far as the eye can see". Billboard owners are the modern day equivalent of slash and burn timber companies, destroy the land cotton farmers, or water polluting industry. Greed is a human condition that transcends the centuries.