A friend of mine who travels extensively recently returned from a trip to France with his wife. His review of Paris is that everything is smoky, run-down, and falling apart. The citizens are rude and unhelpful, and the Eiffel tower looks just like the pictures. He was underwhelmed.
People who have both the time and the money to travel – call them the top 1% – are running out of great places to visit. Most visitors to Paris probably love it, but by definition, once you’ve visited your personal top ten destinations, everything else is either less interesting or seems like a repeat (Look honey, it’s another beach!). I realize it’s a high class problem, boo-hoo. But that’s not the point that I’m staggering toward.
My point is that no matter how bad the economy gets for the bottom 80% of the world, there will likely be a surging population of rich people and retired people with resources who need more interesting places to visit. Things will only get worse when robots start doing all the hard jobs, say in twenty years, which I hope is your lifetime. The poor will get poorer while the rich will own stock in the robot factories and get richer.
My proposed solution is to start now and turn the United States into the world’s most awesome vacation destination, not just for the rich, but for anyone who has the means to travel. Sure, the United States has some good vacation areas already. But it’s all sort of random and spaced out. Las Vegas is far from Miami which is far from Washington D.C.
I propose building a vacation-oriented high speed train loop around the country that connects all of the existing tourist destinations and creates lots of new ones along the line. The sleeper cars would be large and handle huge amounts of luggage so a traveler can easily pack for skiing in Aspen plus swimming in San Diego on the same extended trip. Think of it as an ocean cruise experience but on land. The train itself would be packed with fun for the ride and the stops would be frequent and interesting. Visitors could book trips for any portion of the loop they wanted. And let’s assume the trains have both deluxe cars for the rich and more ordinary accommodations for everyone else.
The great thing about vacation industries is that they employ lots of people, starting with the construction phase. The United States has an advantage over other countries if it can keep the air clean and the destinations safe and convenient. I’ll emphasize convenience in this concept. It would be nice if a rich Swede, for example, could buy one ticket that included airfare, train travel, shipping excess luggage, and meals. Planning a trip to Europe requires a lot of research and work. Planning a trip to the United States should be reduced to which segment of “loop” you want to see and how much you want to spend on luxury.
Costa Rica is following a version of this plan, but without the train. Their national strategy is to become a vacation destination. If you want to be a bartender or a guide in that country, it requires serious college-like training, including languages, safety courses and more. And they’re so serious about protecting the environment that they say no to oil drilling. Their strategy seems to be working. I think the United States could take it up a notch. All of those future rich Chinese entrepreneurs will need someplace to visit that isn’t polluted. I also think that for the rich, the gating factor is planning, not money. If a vacation plan can be made easy, people will flock to it the way they flock to ocean cruises.