The New Leisure Class Redraws The Map

The global middle-class explosion will launch a travel boom, and the sky won’t be the limit for the ultrawealthy.

We’re at the dawn of an explosion of middle-class leisure travel. By 2040 it is well within the realm of possibility that another billion citizens of Earth will be jetting off around the world as emerging nations—especially in Asia—are poised to unleash new legions of urbanized individuals with substantially higher earning power.

At the same time, the private wealth of the ultrarich has soared away like an untethered helium balloon, leaving even the so-called One Percent on the tarmac. Since the Covid pandemic began in early 2020, billionaires across the globe have increased their worth by over 60 percent, and their spending on leisure goods and experiences has doubled.

Over the next 20 years we’ll see a mass-market travel model evolve to brace for seismic tourism impact. The luxury market will continue to ascend as the price ceiling of experiential spending evaporates in favor of singular experiences in virgin ecosystems and even outer space.



The traveler of tomorrow is not the nuclear family or the moneyed retiree, but a younger individual without children who has yet to reach the height of their professional career and spending potential.

A new leisure tourist in a developing nation is minted when their annual income surpasses $20,000, or when they join the global middle class. By 2030 China, India, Indonesia and Japan combined will represent almost half of the world’s middle-class consumption share (the US will be around seven percent, by comparison). Additionally, Pakistan and Thailand are among the top four countries in the world primed for urban booms by 2040, again creating more middle-class citizens. This means that roughly 500 million new people will have the propensity to travel internationally by the end of the decade, and it is within the realm of possibility that this number will reach a billion by 2040.

China, in particular, saw an increase of 100 million travelers from 2008 to 2018. When tracing that country’s growth curve of international departures, the biggest upticks occur right after a crisis: SARS in 2003–2004 and the Global Economic Crisis in 2008– 2009. The resolution of these crises spurred sharper rises in travel, which paralleled the revving of its economic engines. After Covid, we can easily forecast another 100 million new Chinese travelers ascending over the next decade. More than half of the nation’s population (around 750 million of a projected 1.5 billion) will have the ability to travel internationally by 2030.


BY 2030

BY 2040



The omnipresence of social media and internet usage, and the ease of international communication have been a conduit for rapid globalization, but they are not a prelude to the future of travel. Movement throughout the planet will not be as free-flowing physically as it is digitally. Visa sanctions, travel restrictions and other red tape will worsen as new crises—energy shortages, resource insecurities, political schisms—manifest, further flaring political friction, nationalism and xenophobic distrust.

Ironically, as technology continues to modernize by the minute, connecting us across oceans at faster and faster speeds, a period of international contraction will occur as the cost of travel increases (to cover additional energy and resource costs) and the act of travel becomes a more bureaucratic endeavor.

Yes, an overall increase in wealth distribution will prime new, middle-class travelers to move, but international mobility will remain largely regional for the average person. Travel alliances will take shape within the lines drawn by the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (previously NAFTA) and its European and Asian equivalents.

It should not be underestimated just how large the surge in regional travel will be in Asia, especially in the countries already fed by Chinese tourists: Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Thailand. Beyond China’s clutch, movement will circulate in three additional gravities: India, Southeast Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. North America and Europe will remain the strongest leisure markets after Asia, which also mirrors their economic output.

South America and Africa will lag, slowed by climate change concerns that, in 20 years, could accelerate migration away from these continents.



While intra-American movement currently shows millions of nationals moving south, the longer-term forecast suggests something very different: As climate change melts glaciers and warms summers, northern destinations will begin to experience palpably longer tourist seasons and less prohibitive winters. Beach destinations across the globe will begin to move northward— imagine the once-chilly dunes around Kennebunkport, ME, hosting the jet set that traditionally roasts on the sands of Miami Beach.

New investments in such destinations as northern Canada, Alaska, Finland and Greenland make them worthwhile prospects for the luxury market. By the end of the decade, Greenland will have widened its tarmacs in such key areas as Nuuk and Ilulissat, and will cater directly to American travelers. We may also see an increase in stopover travel in Alaska en route to Asia. The weak Canadian dollar and the moderate euro (relative to the expensive krona and krone of Scandinavian countries) make Canada and Finland key destinations for the mature luxury markets (America and Europe) as wealthy, seasoned travelers will continue to crave faraway places of wild encounter. Soon, continental extremities will be preferable to over-touristed Antarctica so long as they are reasonably easy to reach and provide a singular experience for the affluent individual.

Domestically, strategic investments that leverage underused national parks will garner a steady traffic flow of short-stay luxury travelers seeking a quick escape.



Additionally, experience-driven hospitality entities will more readily partner with landowners of large-scale estates to create sweeping networks of privately operated reserves much like Ted Turner’s Vermejo. Turner owns more than 2 million acres (double the size of Delaware) and is the fourth biggest landowner in America. 

Similarly, oil-rich nations will refocus a significant share of their GDP on the spending potential of inbound travelers, leveraging tracts of wilderness as must-see destinations. Saudi Arabia’s ambitious “Vision 2030” project, developing historical sites like AlUla and minting brand new places of encounter like Neom, will be mirrored by other nations in the Gulf, and eventually around the world.


"Ascending Asia no longer means China, it’s the Arabian Gulf, India and Pakistan, and Southeast Asia—Indonesia and Thailand—where the youth populations are growing, the economies are growing, and access to mobility is growing."

—Parag Khanna, authro of Move and Connectography 



We’ve written off the flying car as retro science fiction, but the popularization and ease of private flying will be a mainstay of air travel for the upper class by the end of the decade.

BY 2030

Once deemed an extravagance reserved strictly for the ultrawealthy, private flying is quickly becoming more democratized thanks in large part to the increase in usership during the Covid pandemic.

The price of private flying will drop to entice travelers away from sitting in the costly front rows of commercial carriers, just as the cost of flying on a major airline is set to rise to better offset the environmental toll. With upcoming sustainability penalty taxes imposed by governments and a continued depletion of fossil fuels, it is likely that, in a decade’s time, long-haul airplane travel (flights of more than 3,000 miles) will become cost prohibitive to the average traveler. Short-haul private plane travel will become the preferred method of transit for the wealthy elite who will easily pay off the associated climate costs via greenhouse gas (GHG) credits. But there also will be major energy innovations in the sector over the next 20 years. The near-term focus is on sourcing sustainable aviation fuels, or “SAFs” like waste oils of biological origins which emit 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases than traditional jet fuels and do not require any technical modifications for usage. On the horizon just beyond SAFs: electric jet engines. Starting with small jets making short flights, battery-powered flight is set to blast off. The electric aircraft market is projected to be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040.

We are in the nascent stages of seeing the industry adopt an Uber-like model—with a quorum of flyers to help maximize efficiencies—keeping planes in the air and pooling travelers on semiprivate charters bound for the same destinations. A host of startups such as Archer and Lilium, with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, will begin to normalize battery-powered planes as taxis when they launch in Los Angeles and Miami around 2025, creating a marketplace—and not a monopoly—on unlocking new ways to beat increasing urban traffic.



The history of leisure space flight is sparse. From 2001 to 2009, the first seven space tourists punched through the Kármán line delineating the inner boundary of space and boarded the International Space Station, each journey sporting an eye-watering eight-digit price tag. Following an 11-year drought, space travel for recreational and not scientific purposes is taking off once more. The number of leisure space travelers doubled in 2021 alone, and new projects such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Axiom and Space Perspective have ambitious plans to shuttle hundreds of passengers beyond Earth’s stratosphere over the next few years. Space Perspective, for example, will begin six-hour voyages on their proprietary “space balloon” in 2024—the company’s first 25 launches (carrying eight passengers each) are already sold out (prices are set in the low six figures.) By the end of the decade, the company projects that it will cut its costs to mid–five figures and send thousands skyward on novelty Earth-gazing expeditions.