On 10th of January 2002, Alison Burgh and Kevin Millington created Acorn Tourism Consulting. In 20 years, the tourism industry has evolved dramatically, our work has significantly changed, but the people that we have met along the way have remained as inspiring and resilient!

In 2002, Alison started working from a Sussex barn, and Kevin was based in Saudi Arabia. Over the years, they have built the strong business that Acorn Tourism has become and are now surrounded by a great team!

In two decades, what has changed?

  • Travelling has become more accessible

In 1996, before starting the firm, Kevin Millington worked on Tourism 2020 Vision, a project commissioned by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). His forecast of 1.6 billion international tourist arrivals in 2020 would have been almost spot on, without Covid.  In 2019, the UNWTO recorded 1.5 billion tourist arrivals worldwide.

In 2002, there were just about 700 million international tourists. In what seems two very short decades for us, visitor numbers have more than doubled!

  • Increased awareness

Most notably, individuals have become more aware of the impact of their activities on others and the planet. Scientists have been talking about climate change for the past 50 years. But the rise in catastrophic natural events around the world is probably one of the reasons why the environmental crisis has become more accepted in the past years. The impact of tourism on local communities has also been widely discussed for decades. We are now seeing a slow change in behaviour, with tourists starting to make conscious choices about where they spend their money and who it benefits.

  • Increased competition

With the development of the Internet, information now circulates quicker than ever, which definitely wasn’t the case in 2002. Purchasing holidays on the Internet has now become the norm. More individuals book holidays without the help of a travel agent or tour operator. Anyone can become the next travel influencer. Everyone can review, rate, rank or give their opinion on their experience and be heard by large audiences. Nowadays, a strong brand and sustainable destination management are essential to remaining competitive and meeting customers’ ever-increasing and changing expectations.

  • Change in expectations

New generations want to explore the world. They are in search of adventure, meeting new people, immersing themselves in local communities’ realities, discovering and understanding new cultures.

25 years ago, in Tourism 2020 Vision, Kevin had predicted huge growth in adventure tourism by 2020, and in particular suggested that as the world becomes increasingly explored, there will be a trend of tourists travelling to high places, underwater, to the ends of the earth, and off the planet itself. The UNWTO organised a conference around this prediction, and it became known as Mountain High – Ocean Deep – Ends of the Earth – Moon and Space.

Interestingly, that closely reflects our work over the past two decades. We’ve been up in the mountains in Lesotho developing high altitude tourism; we’ve worked on an exciting scuba diving project in the Pacific Islands; we’ve developed marketing strategies for a destination on the edge of the Antarctic - the Falkland Islands; and space tourism is now a reality.

We’ve worked in 82 countries and on every continent. There are some areas we’ve been to more than others. Africa is well-trodden, as so is the Middle East. Some destinations that held so much promise during our studies now lie in ruins, most notably Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Small islands have become a speciality. Most of the tiny islands of the South Pacific have been the focus of Acorn’s work, including the wonderfully remote Tuvalu, which holds the honour of being the least visited country in the world! Other beautiful and remote destinations we have worked in include Saint Helena in the South Atlantic (which used to be a five-day trip on a ship before creating the airport) and the Falkland Islands. And throughout all of these projects and destinations, what we remember the most are the people!

Do we think there is a positive future for tourism?

“For the most important future markets (Millennials, and even more so Generation Z), travel is an essential part of their lifestyles.  They may travel differently and to different places, doing different things, but they will continue to travel, with more passion than previous generations” Kevin Millington

“There is a continual need and desire to travel for a whole variety of different purposes. Tourism is a sector that has always adapted to circumstances beyond its control and is adept at creating opportunities in a continually changing environment.” Alison Burgh

What makes us optimistic for the future of sustainable tourism?

“The resiliency of people working in this industry. They’ve been pushed into corners time and time again, but they don’t give up. They think outside the box, learn from one another, share experiences and find solutions to the challenges they face.”Louise de Hemmer

“Consumers are increasingly seeking destinations and experiences that promote sustainability that actively limit impact on the environment while making positive contributions to local communities. In this changing landscape, tourism led by communities that offer authentic, sustainable experiences will make a key contribution towards mitigating global climate change.” - Sally Gandon

“The clear, pollution free, blue skies of lockdown has forced us all to think about sustainable travel and our carbon footprints.  There are so many benefits of staycation holidays and new destinations for us to discover here in the beautiful British Isles.” - Kate Withnall




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