When a senior director from Ikea declared in a sustainability debate that westerners have too many home furnishings, it was akin to the boss of Thomas Cook or Tui telling the British public to take fewer holidays.
The furniture retailer’s head of sustainability made the comment in reference to what he called “peak stuff”: the maximum amount of resource-depleting consumerism that consumers can engage in.
It refers to disposable fashion, to discarded kids’ toys played with only once, and to cheap self-assembly furniture so fiddly I once ruined a wardrobe before I’d even finished building it by not knocking the little wooden dowel thing into its hole far enough.
And there’s a growing sense that those of us who live in the developed world cannot continue consuming and wasting at the levels we do (Ikea intends to respond to this by helping you repair and recycle your furniture by the way. If I’d known I’d have hung on to that wardrobe).
If the experts are right, and the western world will gradually consume less, does this spell trouble for travel? Happily not. I’m currently reading Stuffocation – a book by James Wallman, who spoke at the Abta Convention in 2014. He believes consumers now seek to find meaning in experiences instead of material goods. So on Facebook, we’re more impressed by a friend who’s climbing a mountain than by photos of their new gadgets.
Which is exactly where the travel industry comes in; those who sell travel are uniquely placed to capitalise on the growing desire to experience instead of “have”.
Whether that’s swimming with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef, taking a foodie tour in Montreal, staying in an igloo in Sweden, or watching turtles lay eggs on a Costa Rican beach, it is you who sell the products that give consumers more satisfaction than curtains, headphones and handbags ever could.
Tapping into that movement will depend on showing them how you can help them build memories instead of flat-pack furniture. No fiddly allen keys required.