A lot can happen in a year - and 2017 was eventful when it came to how we travel the world. The threats that loomed largest in 2016, Zika and the migrant crisis, faded as talk of a United States travel ban and Brexit dominated global headlines. That was just the start. Here are six significant ways the world changed for globetrotters in the past 12 months.
Mother Nature rewrote the map
Three hurricanes of extraordinary strength crashed into Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico this year; the effects of Harvey, Irma and Maria continue. Parts of the Caribbean have been written off the tourist map until at least late 2018, including St Barts (the island’s villas are back online, but hotels will need the year to rebuild) and the US Virgin Islands; the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are showing slightly quicker signs of recovery. Almost simultaneously with the storms, wildfires swept the west coast of the United States in two bursts, one across California’s wine country and another in the greater Los Angeles area. The natural disasters have set travellers on hunts for new places to cure their winter doldrums: Warm-weather alternatives include New Zealand, Bermuda and Mexico’s Los Cabos.
Airlines stooped to new lows - and hit new highs
Travellers in the back of the plane were subject to new kinds of torture in 2017. Passengers got physically assaulted or dragged off planes in a series of nightmarish incidents that catapulted “airline spokesperson” to one of the least enviable jobs of the year. It wasn’t just the in-flight brawls that raised eyebrows: In July, United Airlines announced plans to resell fliers’ seats to others for more money. Then in September, Jet Blue Airways decided to shrink its seats after years of a customer-first philosophy. Last month, British Airways announced a policy whereby those who pay the least for their tickets get to board last. All this, while Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline defied luxury aviation standards with their upgraded premium cabin configurations that look less like leather seats and more like someone’s living room. What it adds up to: a wider-than-ever class disparity in the skies.
Cruising grew up (and got younger)
If you still think of oceangoing ships as a gathering place for the retired set, you’ve been living under a rock, far from the beach. This year, cruise companies made a concerted effort to attract younger travellers, with expedition-class ships sailing to uncharted Arctic territories and facilitating high-octane thrills. For some, that meant offering bike tours of classic European destinations; for others, it meant open-water kayaking off the coast of Alaska. Cruise ships have also become more innovative in their dining and entertainment concepts, swapping tired revue shows for original (sometimes interactive) productions. The trend will continue with a push for cutting-edge technological advancements.
Unplugging took on new importance
With the volume of breaking news reaching what felt like an all-time high, travellers looked to get far, far away from it all in 2017. The destinations on travel agents’ lips earned stood out for their seclusion- Antarctica, the Maldives - and unplugged experiences in the great outdoors (Nepal, South Africa). Around the world, mental well-being and holistic wellness took precedence over massages or facials, with companies from Four Seasons Hotels to Seabourn Cruise Line launching programmes on mindfulness and meditation. Social media analysts at Local Measure, a consumer insights firm, say that travellers referenced “detoxing” more than twice as often in 2017 as the previous year.
New airport rules created enormous headaches
Nationalist fervour in places as disparate as the US, Great Britain and Germany made closed borders one of the most commonly recurring themes of the year - alarming for travellers who live by the credo of a borderless world. It manifested itself most prominently in Trump’s infamous travel ban, now officially in effect, barring visitors from eight countries (six are from mainly Muslim populations). You didn’t need to be from those places to feel the cascading effects of “enhanced security and screening.” In airports around the world, additional safety measures included banning laptops on flights and at-the-gate pat-downs. Airlines have started cracking down on smart luggage with battery packs. With Europe voting to end visa-free travel in March - and Trump responding with new rules for inbound tourists this month - this narrative is still unfolding.
The effects from too much tourism were felt around the world
A word that should have been added to the dictionary this year? “Overtourism.” In destinations from Venice to Peru, local governments confronted the reality that while tourism is an important economic engine, too much of it becomes destructive. In Ibiza, the unthinkable happened: The municipality of San Jose banned DJs from 16 beach clubs and started regulating the number of hotels and Airbnb listings available at any given time, in a pivot away from the island’s up-all-night reputation. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, legislation capped visitors to the medieval walled city at 4,000 per day, creating much-needed elbow room. And in Peru, long-rumoured limits on daily entries to Machu Picchu finally took off in a play to protect the historic site from excessive foot traffic. All this means that in these fragile places, tourism will develop with a closer eye on sustainability - and some overlooked places will get their turn in the spotlight.