May 31st, 2018
Previous generations were inspired deeply by advancements in technology and mobility. The railroad was to the original transcendentalists of the 1800s what the car and the highway systems were to the hippies and poets of the 60s. Thoreau's Walden, Emerson’s Self-Reliance, Fuller’s Summer On The Lakes, Twain's Huckleberry Fin, London's Call Of The Wild, Kerouac's On The Road. The Gold Rush, Lindbergh's first flight over the Atlantic, the Titanic tragedy. Risk and reward. Love and adventure. These classics and modern legends seeded our love affair with travel and idolized a set of men - mostly - for their novel ideas. Technology was also at the center of these adventures.
Transcendent Technology - a new Journey.
Terrestrial travel was only the beginning. We firmly believe that transcendent technologies will inspire and enable a new type of travel. This will be a journey of epic proportions that will take us deep into ourselves and into the limitless bounds of the human imagination. We will travel within and outside of ourselves. We will change our lifestyle habits, our beliefs, our relationships with others as a result.
This transcendence will be a progression with incremental jolts of intensity. One expert said that within 5-10 years virtual reality will be as real as the real thing. How will this impact our travel decisions? Will we opt for virtual over actual experiences? How will the travel industry adjust to these new spatial realities?
The difference between then and now is that everyone has the freedom to be revolutionary. Everyone can publish and distribute their own vision and version of truth. Technology and multi-media is that new conduit. The next wave transcendentalists is already here.
The transformation is already visible in our relationship to technology but also in our lifestyle choices. We observe a renewed focus on wellness, meditation, yoga, veganism, mindfulness - even the use of mind-altering substances. It's also visible in modern design, art, consumerism, and entertainment.
What catches our attention and how we choose to unwind, relax, learn, and explore will change completely. Hold on to your seats people.
This analysis is part of our futurescape series looking at the technologies and paradigms now reshaping culture, art, technology, economics, politics, society, and travel. Here, we start with the bold assumption that travel, both leisure and business, has a shelf life - i.e. that society will eventually transcend into the digital realm where the need to move within the physical world will be altered or limited. We observe three general impact areas from the discussions and data that we looked at: 1) Continued demand growth for physical travel as a result of an explosion in the global middle class 2) new demand for destination-specific multi-media installations e.g. virtual and immersive experiences 3) and a gradual substitution or cannibalistic effect with certain demographics, as transcendent technologies grow more advanced and accepted.
From here, we cover the trends and clues validating our assumptions including tentative timelines for total or near total "transcendence" linked to hardware penetration and content development i.e. for augmented and virtual reality applications. We also look at cultural trends and societal reactions resulting from the adoption of new transcendent lifestyles. We propose a new movement we call the New Transcendentalists, which are those individuals that embrace these new technologies and file formats as a means of entertainment, personal and social exploration, and monetary or professional reward.
From here we suggest avenues for diversification in investments for travel brands beyond basic transport and accommodation functions. We look at demographic and attitudinal shifts that marketers should be aware of. And we identify specific companies that the travel industry should be paying attention to, as transcendence sets in as a more widely accepted concept and in fact industry.
Key Findings & Observations
The rise of a new consumer class
We see a rise of a new creative class that we call the New Transcendentalists or just transcendentalists. The blanket term "millennial" falls increasingly flat in the context of today's trends in digital marketing and multi-media. A significant portion of today's Millennial generation is entering into mature adulthood. Transcendentalists are the younger third of the Millennial spectrum. They are expert generalists with unique attitudes, resources, skills, and tastes for experiential design, immersive art, gaming, spatial computing, and wellness.
We estimate the potential size of this new culture class at approximately 7% of the total U.S. workforce. As with previous generations, this next cultural wave is characterized by a certain frustration, boredom, and a distrust or lack of connection to established conventions and institutions such as civic participation and marriage.
The embrace of new paradigms in work, politics, economics, education, banking, relationships, and other core societal institutions moves in step with innovation in transcendental tech including augmented and virtual reality, but also things like fitness apps, gaming, and even mind-altering substances - essentially anything that allows for the deeper and unfiltered exploration of the human imagination.
Travel impacted and transformed
The bigger implication here is the role of mobility and the impact that transcendence will have on the travel industry short, mid, to long term. Anticipating far future travel demand is difficult if not impossible. Here we offer various scenarios and impact factors to keep in mind. That includes transcendent technology as a demand driver but also substitute for actual travel. One expert we interviewed believes that virtual reality will start having a direct impact on travel demand with 4-6 years. Augmented reality will become more relevant as hardware becomes more wearable and socially acceptable.
Alternative investments & marketing strategies
Today's digital realities warrant alternative investments in verticals that may not necessarily fall within the traditional definitions of travel. These include partnerships with developer platforms like Magic Leap and Apple, in-flight entertainment, content and design studios, and in-destination attractions.
Marketing & Advertising
Timeframe for adoption
Mass market augmented real
Topics explored in this Report
- The long-run relevance of travel as a medium for self-exploration and expression
- Convergence of art, creativity, and business
- The state and evolution of the creative class
- Historical context to today's consumer trends
- Transcendent branding and marketing for travel brands
- Destination product design and marketing strategies
- The boundless appetite of the human imagination
- Departure from mundane inspiration; impact to visual design and market messagin
- Modern curiosity and systems thinking
- The power of now; existence in the present state
- Focus on physical and mental health as a vehicle for further transcendence
- The convergence of mediums in the creative arts blending physical and digital elements
- Community and belonging combined with a dedication to self-reliance
- Passive disillusionment with and disregard for modern institutions
- Decentralization, anonymity, and peer-to-peer networks
- Introspection and discovery of self-meaning
- Creative rather than consumptive travel experiences
Meow Wolf Strategy & The Rise of Multi-Media
Meow Wolf is a successful "arts and entertainment group" that operates an immersive multi-media art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visitors come and enjoy the interplay between art and science. The full experience lasts between 2-3 hours. The name has no intrinsic meaning. It came from drawing two words out of a hat. The company launched in 2008 as an art collective and currently has around 200 artists across different disciplines including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography and video production, virtual and augmented reality, music and audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming and performance, and more.
In 2015, Santa Fe Resident and Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, invested $3 million in the project. The investment included the purchase of a 20,000 square foot bowling alley that became the permanent space for The House of Eternal Return. The for-profit company brought in $6 million in revenue during its first year - according to a recent article published by Artsy.
The company has plans to build two more unique spaces in the next two years, in Las Vegas and Denver in 2020 in a 90,000 square foot facility across the river from Mile High Stadium. From there, founder and CEO Vince Kadlubek said the goal was to launch one new installation in a different city every year. Meow Wolf is kid friendly but the company also appeals to adults. Our sense is that the exhibits will grow more sophisticated over time. The fact that Meow Wolf has succeeded with all ages speaks to the power and popularity of the genre as a medium for exploration.
Meow Wolf is not the first of its kind. There are other immersive art experiences from which the company has found inspiration: Kusama’s “Infinity Rooms,” James Turrell’s light installations, enveloping animations by teamLAB, Wham City in Baltimore and the Do LaB in Los Angeles, the Burning Man festival, and Sleep No More in New York City. Many others likely exist.
We also point to lesser-known local installations that have been around for decades - including Alex Jordan's House On The Rock in Spring Green Wisconsin and the Saint Louis Children's Museum and The Magic House, St. Louis Children's Museum, and adult nightclub House of Yes in New York City.
Meow Wolf is different because of its high production value, R.R. Martin's endorsement, and a smart and coordinated product, branding and public relations strategy that will likely propel the brand as the one that captures the world's imagination.
Meow Wolf is also launching a music festival in Taos, New Mexico as part of its growth strategy. The so-called Taos Vortex will be a two-day event akin to Burning Man and Cochella on a smaller scale with various bands featured including the Flamming Lips and Dr. Dog - not a powerful line-up but the event appears well organized with various add-on features and experiences for attendees including a "glamping" option for those that want to avoid the hassle of bringing their own equipment.
These are still early days for the format. In a recent interview, Kadlubek said that he sees a future where the "lines between things like art, theme parks, role-playing games, and augmented reality will be blurred." Kalubek calls it "alternative reality" which for Meow Wolf means "providing a multitude of alternative reality experiences that are, for the audience, spontaneous and unpredictable." Another quote from Kadlubek: “People go to a location, they have an experience, and then they go home. The ultimate goal is for time spent in these spaces to actually change real life—to “subvert” the everyday."
Kadlubek sees Meow Wolf and similar installations as precursors to a much bigger trend. “I don’t even know if it’s art anymore. There’s a whole way of being that’s going to be shifting soon.”
Profiling: The New Transcendentalists
Transcendentalists are millennials but edgier. The litmus test? Millennials openly self identity as such. Trancendents have moved on and are a motley group of well-educated, highly social yet somewhat introverted, self-reliant and ambitious expert generalists that may have received financial help from family. They do social media but only as a means to an end. They may not post regularly. Instagram and Twitter mostly. More frequently on Twitter than on Instagram. SnapChat is too high maintenance. They are mostly urban dwellers but increasingly concentrated in secondary cities and abroad. Austin, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Berlin, Amsterdam - perhaps Shanghai.
The super techie ones may be former big-four employees or are on their way out looking for new opportunities to start new companies. The non-technical ones are media folk, writers, designers and art directors. They skew male since tech and gaming has traditionally moved that way.
They drink and use recreational drugs - marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms - but do not smoke. They are open sexually. Music tastes are mixed skewing toward electronica and soundcloud style beats.
They are talented. They get rewarded and add value to the world by combining new thinking, tech-savviness, keen networking skills, with business strategy and execution. They are into themselves and into health, yoga and other eastern practices but don’t flaunt it. They are likely well traveled having spent significant portions of time abroad in Europe and increasing in Asia. They invested in crypto and don’t shy away from skirting the law from time to time.
Younger generations are getting smarter and better at this. We also see Transcendence as an age-neutral transformation. Those with more experience and access to networks and capital at the enablers. They connect with younger generations better than people their own age.
History Repeats Itself
Transcendentalism was an idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, it taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were central figures.
It’s philosophical roots go deep with influences from German Romanticism in eastern religions including Hinduism. They were nonconformist idealists that believed in free love and being close to nature, they turned away from both traditional religion and materialism, and their central goal was self-realization of the individual by transcending the ego to attain union with the whole. The Transcendentalists opposed Puritanical law. The Hippies opposed McCarthyism, the Vietnam War and post-war conformity. Today's transcendentalists see an opportunity to break away from old conventions.
Classic Millennials vs. Transcendentalist Millennials
The millennial framework is convenient but also broad in scope in terms of age range. The Pew Research Center classifies anyone born between 1981 and 1996 as a Millennial. The big societal event that impacted this group was the global financial crisis of 2008-09 - also referred to as the Great Recession.
We suspect that attitudes among Millennials are shaped heavily depending on their relative age during the worst of the crisis. Some were impacted more than others. The Transcendentalists are at the old end or young end of the millennial spectrum and isolated from the full brunt of the great recession.
They were either old enough to be financially secure and established at work, or young enough waiting out the bear job market in high school or college. The more typical Millennials took the full hit, just entering the workforce right before or after the crash. Lower skilled positions were the ones that got cut first and hardest. All hiring effectively stopped between 2009-2014.
What effect did this have? The Transcendentalists are generally more optimistic as a result. Perhaps not as good with their money. Perhaps more likely to partake in recreational drug use and promiscuity.
At the older end of the spectrum they may be getting married or having kids but still consider themselves young. Many have already made their money and are looking to invest or start second careers.
At the younger end of the spectrum there is a certain urgency to secure their financial fate as soon as possible. The aim is to retire early. They invested in crypto. They are more willing to take bigger risks for bigger rewards. They are looking for good paying jobs with one of the big four tech players or ramping up the next startup hopeful.
Music continues to be a huge part of their lives. Music festivals could hit their peak popularity in 2018. Burning Man runs from August 26th through September 6th. Many others will lead up to the grand finale.
Their worst fears are living an unfulfilled life and committing something in life that is unoriginal. This sense of freedom is propped up by today's strong economy.
This is an excerpt from Thoreau's Walden - for some literary context:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to 'glorify God and enjoy him forever."
The old transcendentalists had books, philosophy, and discourse. The hippies had music and LSD. Today’s new transcendentalists are using some of the same old tools to lay down a wall of passive resistance - but also some new ones. This includes the rise of wellness e.g. yoga and meditation apps, gaming and esports, mixed reality, immersive and surrealist art, along with other chemical medium including substances like DMT, LSD, and psilocybin.
Concepts that resonate
The transcendentalists are systems thinkers. They have new knowledge available to them at the touch of their finger tips and are interested in understanding the periphery and in making observations about the inter-connected nature of the physical and spiritual worlds. Making realizations is their favorite pastime.
Here are some concepts that might trigger inspiration:
Biology. Understanding the human body as a biome and the realization that we are an island of microscopic inhabitants. A complex ecosystem of microbes that come together to form our likeness and personality propelled through space and time. Immunotherapy in fighting cancer. Bio-hacking. Alternative medicines and understanding that our mental health has an impact on our physical health.
Energy. The deeper recognition that energy is everywhere and that everyone can take part in producing and distributing it. Removing friction in the production, storage and distribution of energy. Using blockchain to track and remit payment for energy exchange and production.
Politics. Social networks and consensus-driven organizations. Local rule and governance over national rule. Global culture and openness. The influence of social media on public opinion. The self-governing and automated state.
Cosmology. Space as the next but also reachable frontier. The commercialization of space travel e.g. SpaceX and Amazon’s Blue Origin. Business and political leaders stepping up with views about relativism. Do we live in a simulation? The very real possibility that we are not alone yet completely alone in the universe.
Economics. Universal basic income and the impact of technology on wealth distribution. The rise of China and a restructuring of the global balance of power. Cryptoeconomics and tokenization of equity in public assets. New socialism in Western and Northern Europe. Co-working and co-habitation. The sharing economy and resource utilization. Post nationalism and the emergence of the net state.
Urbanism. Interconnected cities. New modes of transportation including the hyperloop, ebikes, and flying cars. Urbanization and urban systems. Smart cities. Regionalism.
Social Connection. Connection between emotional wellbeing, physical health and social networks. Co-working and co-habitation. Entrepreneurship.
Anonymity & Decentralization
Transcendentalists make it a thing to care about staying anonymous and keeping their data private. The term "trusted third party" is mainly reference to the inefficiencies of an old world order dominated by the big banks and centralized institutions. As discussed, the global financial crisis of 2009 hit the millennial generation hard. Occupy Wall Street still lives on in vivid memory for the core Millennials. They were it’s organizers. They are also today’s business leaders and blockchain billionaires. The younger Transcendentalists are going along for the ride. The older quartile missed out.
The momentum behind Bitcoin and the blockchain movement over the last decade was by and large a direct response to the mismanagement of the U.S. and global economy by consumers, central bankers, and the global financial institutions that failed to stem the flood of speculative investments in real estate and so-called mortgage backed securities and other dodgy derivatives.
A white paper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System was published on October 31st 2008. Enthusiasts often refer to January 3rd 2009 as the official birth date for the network came into existence with Satoshi Nakamoto mining the genesis block of bitcoin.
Momentum behind the technology is growing as indicated by venture capital investments (see figure) and the overall maturity of the developer community including established names such as The Hyperledger Project, Coinbase, ConsenSys, The Ethereum Foundation, the global base of Bitcoin and other cypto investors.
Michael Pollen Endorses Psychedelics
Popular author Micheal Pollan recently published his book on the history and future of psychedelic drugs. His cautious endorsement and call for more testing on the medicinal and spiritual benefits of substances such as LSD, psilocybin, DMT, mescaline and others could also accelerate the recreational uses. The use of these drugs is reportedly on the rise. New York Magazine recently published an article entitled "Why We Should Say Yes To Drugs". More celebrities are coming out about their experimentation with psychedelics.
Silicon Valley is catching on. San Francisco is the epicenter of the free love movement of the 60s. Pollen was recently featured as a guest on Recode Decode a popular technology publication.
Implications for travel brands
Brand affinity and the care and scrutiny that products should exercise when trying to relate to this new and edgier breed of millennial. While they are looking for a sense of belonging, they are growing increasingly individualistic as content creators and creative masters of their own universe. They will see through gimmicky lifestyle branding and messaging that smells corporate. Don't tell them what to do. Giving them the opportunity to create and control their own fate is critical.
Creation not consumption
This also factors into product design and things like avoiding strict rules around the use of shared facilities and flexible check out. Rather than food tours and beer trails destination marketers can look towards more creative outlets that have gone under recognized.
Digging out local art communities, quirky groups, circus schools, pool halls, cool barber shops, and tattoo parlors. Those destinations that nurture creative outlets over consumptive outlets will see longer run returns returns of the visitor economy.
Franchising local winners
Those destinations that are serious about playing a product development role for their respective communities should capitalize on the growing popularity of transcendent tourism. Meow Wolf is one example. There are also virtual reality gaming halls. Watch out for augmented reality tours.
Product developers and marketers can now communicate value creatively - even stepping beyond the rational and material world. Bold originality and universal simplicity get rewarded. This new consumer is also an idealist and introspective, seeking meaning and purpose.
The implications for travel brands and the travel industry are significant and varied and boil down to the real possibility that leisure travel as we know it is in the very early stages of losing its monopoly as the supreme channel for self-exploration. We are in the midst of a creative big bang that will offer real and local alternatives to travel. Technology - digital, material, pharmacological - already offer new mediums that facilitate the unbounded exploration of the human imagination. Their sophistication will only increase. People will still travel but for different reasons. The risk to travel brands i.e. hospitality brands, online intermediaries, and airlines will need to re-write their narrative and connection to the consumer. We put the destination front and center as the core broker of travel. In this context, we see terms like sightseeing and tourism as part of a by-gone era. Travel will become more about affinity and social connection to place. Travel i.e. the physical movement of people will become more of a means rather than an end.