Will air travel one day become, in defense of the environment, a privilege of the wealthy? This is a risk highlighted by the aviation sector in the face of the arguments of NGOs calling for an increase in ticket prices to reduce traffic, in particular by taxing fuel. The threat is also mentioned by many players in the tourism industry, who recall that the development of air transport has enabled large audiences to open up to the world and to other cultures.
→ PORTRAITS. Ecology: despite the “shame of flying”, the plane is still a dream
The argument is indisputable but, according to researchers, this openness remains limited. “Less than 5% of humanity has ever flown,” explains Saskia Cousin, anthropologist and sociologist specializing in tourism and professor at the University of Paris Nanterre (1), according to which only 250 million people take the plane for their leisure each year.
In France, low-cost transport “essentially benefits the middle and upper classes who can thus fly more often, for ever shorter periods”she specifies, recalling that the vast majority of French people do not fly for their holidays. “More than 80% stay in France”, she recalls.
So who really takes the plane in France? In 2017, a civil aviation (DGAC) study of passengers in French airports revealed that 2% of passengers were workers (compared to 12% in the population) and that 27% were senior managers (compared to 9.4 %) in the population. And what are these travelers looking for? “For fifty years, the airline industry has produced an imaginary aiming to associate the plane and leisure travel, enchanted, luxurious, or “exotic””, point Saskia Cousin. Gradually, according to sociologist Rodolphe Christin (2), “an idea has taken root in people’s minds: that the real trip can only be far away, therefore linked to air travel”.
The researcher also explains that the development of tourism has been based on increasingly distant, short and frequent trips. “A growing number of people have thus found themselves frequenting the same places in the world, to the detriment of travel and discovery”, he said. While Rodolphe Christin does not dispute that there are still long-distance travelers eager to meet people, he nevertheless believes that many leave for entertainment, organizing their days between beaches, more or less sporting activities, restaurants, visits to monuments and outings. in nightclubs: “Many of the natives they meet have become service providers whose clientele is mainly made up of tourists. »
Airlines are not responsible for all evils. “The responsibility lies, it seems to me, first with the public authorities – local, national and international – who have always favored quantity over quality, like the famous race for 100 million tourists claimed by the French government”analyzes Saskia Cousin.
→ REPORT. Despite the health crisis, Thailand wants to believe in the return of tourists soon
This tourist development has boosted the economies of certain countries in the South and provided many jobs there. These economies, however, have partly collapsed with the health crisis. “Tourism generates a fragile economy where it is predominant”, insists Rodolphe Christin, who pleads for a reinvention of travel and holidays. “Don’t we say going on vacation rather than taking a vacation?, he observes. The journey can, however, begin at the doorstep of your home and some have begun to discover it during the pandemic. »