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Future's travelers may never leave home

Long before the year 2100, travelers probably will reach no farther than a console in their homes, a library or virtual travel agency to have their choice of excursions.

And the technology will transport them with such multisensory sophistication that their brains won't be able to distinguish the experience from a real one.

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They may choose to visit environments that no longer exist in physical reality, for experiences such as an encounter in the forest ranges of the mountain gorilla.

Nostalgic destinations will no doubt be popular, too: Paris of the 1930s. Broadway of the 1950s. Southern California of the 1960s.

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So predict futurists such as Edward Wenk of the University of Washington and Josh Calder of the Washington consulting firm Coates and Jaratt. Among their other predictions for travelers:

Technological advances will create change at a rate never before experienced in human history. For travelers, that will mean supersonic and subspace air transport and access to both undersea environments and outer space. Although space may seem like the most distant tourism frontier, the groundwork already is laid for travel there.

In 1986, a Seattle-based company, Society Expeditions, accepted deposits for outer-space tours. Liftoff for the $52,200 orbital vacation was set for Oct. 12, 1992. The Challenger shuttle explosion, however, caused a change in plans.

Now a St. Louis-based foundation is offering a $10 million prize for the first private spaceship capable of carrying three humans to a suborbital altitude of about 70 miles on two flights within a period of two weeks.

Even today, in Russia tourists can, after a short training period, take suborbital space flights in fighter aircraft. And, reportedly, companies in the United States and Japan already have plans for mining operations on the moon.

The mass tourism of the mid- to late 21st century will be via virtual-reality technology. Actual travel, despite transportation advances, will be more troublesome and complicated than it is now, considering the pressures of world population. Virtual travel will be inexpensive and accessible to most people, even as disposable incomes decline.

Most people actually will prefer to stay at home to travel, rather than venture into crowded, tumultuous and increasingly homogenous megalopolises.

Obviously, factors such as war, economic collapses, and environmental and epidemiological disasters will affect travel patterns. Few futurists actually forecast nuclear conflicts or deadly pandemics -- their studies are intended to help us avoid such things. Yet most recognize such possibilities, if not probabilities.

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Actual travel, especially independent international travel, will again be primarily an activity of the upper classes. It will be expensive and require extensive time and planning, considering that most desirable, "unspoiled" destinations will be remote and exclusive. Exploitation of resources will diminish the number and scope of wilderness areas and other natural destinations.

Adventure travel will continue to grow in popularity, although for the reasons stated above, will become increasingly costly and time-consuming. Most foreign nations will prefer that visitors limit themselves to resort-like tourist compounds rather than venture into increasingly rare, and possibly dangerous, wild lands.

Work weeks will shorten as the growing population floods work forces around the world. As a new leisure ethic arises, travel and tourism will strengthen its place at the top of the world industry list.

Mega-corporations will dominate mainstream vacation travel, with a growing number of resorts and theme parks worldwide.

As tourists of some nations seek more independent alternatives to these enclaves, tourists from emerging economies will rush in to take their places, beginning a new cycle of mass tourism.

Nostalgia will be a popular travel theme, but what tourists may be nostalgic for will certainly change. Instead of re-enactments of Revolutionary and Civil War battles, for instance, tourists may participate in re-enactments of such events as the race riots of the 1960s and urban gang wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

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Visits to national parks, wildernesses and other wild lands -- now among the most popular domestic destinations -- will require reservations far in advance as well as hefty entrance fees. The pattern is already being set in parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, and in state and national park campgrounds.

Entrepreneurs will rise to meet any demand. As active, %o adventurous experiences with some degree of risk will continue to appeal to many travelers, one possibility will be "mercenary travel": trips into regional war zones, including perhaps flights in warplanes, with the opportunity to fire live ammunition at rebel groups. Insurance charges will be high, and hold-harmless clauses ironclad in the tour contracts.

Micro-tourism will be all the rage. Virtual-reality technology will allow travelers to explore their own back yards as never before -- exploring anthills, beehives, bird nests and gopher tunnels. Body parts, cells and genes will be popular destinations.

Volunteer tourism will increase, as travelers head around the world to help with social, cultural and environmental problems.

Among the most popular world destinations for travelers on the brink of the 22nd century, as forecast in the New York Times, will be: Lhasa, Tibet (for peace and quiet); Tasmania (nature adventures); the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan (skiing); and Cambodia (beaches on the Gulf of Thailand).

Pub Date: 5/11/97


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