Today’s political climate and negative headlines seem to point towards a more inward-looking global population - minds narrowing, borders going up. But with more people living and working overseas and becoming exposed to influences from different cultures, many of us are seeking an outward-looking, connected world.

According to the recently published cultural mindset study from Culture Trip, 60% of people in the US and UK say that their outlook on life is shaped by influences from different cultures. As a society, we not only want to discover and experience other cultures, we want to learn from them, too. This is one of the many positive side effects of globalization. At the same time, the economic landscape of the last decade has resulted in a shift in values away from materialism, with younger generations more interested in collecting experiences than possessions.

Whether spent on experiences or things, tourist cash makes a major impact
Image: Statista

Welcome to the ‘new culture economy’

The collision of two trends - globalization and the experience economy - has ignited a new travel zeitgeist with cultural curiosity at its heart. This is the ‘new culture economy’. The phenomenon is having a profound impact on people’s interactions and definitions of cultural exploration, and presents an incredible commercial opportunity.

While globalization is usually talked about in the context of the sharing of trade and capital between countries, we shouldn’t forget that the driving force behind it all is people. Education, travel, exposure to other customs and geographies and the cultural mashup that emerges are the more influential social effects of globalization. People are increasingly living or working in countries other than the ones in which they were born - more than half of respondents (53%) from the cultural mindset study have friends living overseas, while 78% have friends or family of different nationalities and ethnicities, all of which results in more interaction with global cultures.

Alongside this, the confines of student debt and unaffordable housing have created a shift in spending patterns, and so a new set of values has emerged in which experiences matter more than ownership. Travel is fundamental to most people’s lives - in fact, nearly half of all respondents (43%) make compromises on their daily expenses so they can save money to travel more. For ‘generation rent’ in particular, no matter how expensive an experience or a trip, it is still more affordable than a house.

Why we travel

People’s social and personal contexts shape their cultural open-mindedness. How individuals engage with their immediate surroundings - people, communities and shared culture codes - is further influenced by the expansion of social media. People’s social networks not only expose them to digital influencers - they also keep them connected to friends or family living in other parts of the world, providing another, more personal ‘way in’ to other cultures.

The unique combination of these cultural, social and personal drivers has helped us to identify four cultural mindsets, mapped on a spectrum of cultural curiosity:

1. Culturally aware: The motivation to travel among this group is anchored in pleasure. They seek out familiarity and select destinations close to home or reflective of their own culture. They are superficially interested in different cultures and want to experience them from a dispassionate distance.

2. Culturally curious - Those with this mindset travel to discover new things and disrupt their everyday routines. They seek some familiarity, but also want to explore boundaries. Quantity is important; they want to ‘collect’ experiences and countries. They want to be seen as someone who is interested in culture, but this is often expressed in terms of visual interest and well-known sites or architecture.

3. Culturally immersive - For this group, travel is all about adventure and personal progression or growth. Travel is their identity; they are trendsetters and trailblazers who want to explore places where others haven’t been. They want to be seen as highly cultured and as ‘explorers’; they are happy to celebrate when things go wrong, which they see as the key ingredient to making memories. They travel all over the world, often off the beaten path, as they search for differences from their predictable world back home.

4. Culturally fluid - This group’s identity is shaped by their familiarity with travel; they are natural nomads with travel in their DNA. They feel at home everywhere and have adopted a hybrid cultural identity. Very interested in exploring, analysing and immersing themselves in deeper cultural codes. Memories are often tied to experiences with people that represent the culture they’re travelling to rather than sites or activities.

The environmental trade-off

The cultural mindset research also sheds light on how people perceive the effect of tourism on the environment and the measures they take to reduce their impact. Two in five millennials (42%) - more than any other generation - worry that tourism has a negative impact on the environment and over a third (37%) limit how much they travel to reduce their impact. They are also the most likely amongst the generations to eat locally sourced food (58%).

There is a general consensus among respondents that recycling is important, with three in four people saying they take recycling seriously. Perhaps more worryingly for the future, Generation Zs (those aged 18-24) are 11% less likely to recycle than average, and the least likely of the generations to eat locally sourced food (46%).

Further analysis of the research reveals the attributes and mindsets of those who rank highly for environmental concerns. High levels of environmental concern are linked to openness to other cultures, a desire to continually learn new things and be educated, as well as a natural inclination towards living or working in multiple places. Those with higher levels of environmental concern are 58% more likely to say their outlook on life is shaped by influences from different cultures than those with a low concern for the environment. They are also 70% more likely to seek out cultures different from their own whenever they can.

Interest in global exploration and exposure to other cultures is closely linked to a high level of concern about the impact of tourism on the environment. While most people won’t curb their desire to travel entirely, the correlation between cultural openness and environmental concern confirms that the two behaviours are connected - those that see the world are also the ones taking measures in their everyday lives to offset their impact on the environment. In essence, caring about the world makes you want to see the world; seeing the world makes you care about the world.