As 2020 looms, we look back on the best and worst things that happened to travel in the past 10 years.
A lot can happen in a decade—certainly in the world of travel. Some things have been for the better, including design-y hotels, chain hotels highlighting local destinations, and a yearning for slow travel. Some have been for the worse, including the Brooklyn effect, overtourism, “doing it for the Gram,” and the myth of unlimited vacation days. And some have been with a touch of both: the travel revolutions brought on by Airbnb and rideshares, a dedicated focus on carbon offsets to address the dire climate change situation we’ve found ourselves in, and the rise of influencers and social media. Read on to see how we can learn from the past decade, and make our world a better traveling place.
GOOD: Design Hotels
When you step into a design hotel, you know it. All senses are on overload, as you take in every exquisite detail of the all-out visual experience. These wow-worthy hotels dedicate themselves to edgy architecture, eye-catching interior design, and one-of-a-kind furnishings. It’s all about the looks, baby.
The NoMad in Los Angeles, for example, designed by AD100 designer Jacques Garcia, turned a 1920s neoclassical bank into a showcase of vintage Old World glamour with a dash of sunny California mod. The Italianate, gold-and-blue lobby overflows with plush upholstery, the rooms take on a soft color palette with curated artwork and custom-designed furnishings, and a Mediterranean-inspired rooftop centers on a hipster pool. It’s lavish and amazing.
But design hotels don’t have to be ritzy and swank; they just need to be contemporary and stylish in an unexpected, one-of-a-kind way. Take the Treehotel in Harads, Sweden, for example, built by a smorgasbord of Sweden’s most famous architects. Seven different treehouses, in different avant-garde shapes and sizes, are scattered throughout the birch forest just south of the Arctic Circle, including a bird’s nest (made of randomly placed twigs) and a mirrored cube.
And then there are the designer-branded hotels owned by fashion design houses that promise extraordinary design: Armani Hotel in Milan; Palazzo Versace in Queensland, Australia, and Dubai; and Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas are prime examples.
Whatever the case, these hotels are fun, outrageous, and unexpected, and that’s a very good thing.
GOOD: Chain Hotels Highlighting Local Destinations
“Going local” has long been a tourism industry trend, and some chain hotels have finally gotten the message. Gone are the days of Naugahyde-bedecked lobbies; bland, cookie-cutter guest room décor; and waking up and wondering what city you’re in since every place looks the same. Many chain hotels—including Hyatt Centric, Hotel Indigo, Westin Hotels, and others—work with local artists, musicians, retailers, designers, and chefs to convey the specific neighborhood story of where their hotel is located. Concierges share their insider tips rather than rattling off a list of must-dos, and hotels often provide local tours of breweries or maker shops or art galleries–some hotels even organize morning runs through the neighborhood led by a local staffer. You also find a minibar stocked with regional spirits and local goodies instead of Pringles and m&ms.
Take IHG’s Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown, for example. Situated in the vibrant gold-rush neighborhood of LoDo, the hotel features a rustic-chic vibe, with vintage, mural-size gold-mining photos, reclaimed wood, and natural light highlighting the lobby. But it’s truly a portal into the surrounding buzzy neighborhood, a place to relax in between exploring neighborhood brewpubs, eateries, and artsy diversions.
A flip side of this is how hotels are becoming the destinations unto themselves, a fact that is not just drawing hotel guests, but locals who come for the community experience. The LINE DC is the perfect example. Located in a former church, the hotel takes on the neighborhood mission of serving as a place of community gathering. And that’s the vibe: The lobby offers a hipster multipurpose space where locals and guests alike can study, gather to chat, nosh on some hyper-local fare, or sip coffee all day long.
Your next hotel stay—even at a chain hotel—could actually have some local personality to it.
GOOD: Slow Travel
The concept of slow food began in Italy in 1986—an anti-McDonald’s movement that supported traditional and regional cuisine, local farmers, communal meals, and sustainability. And now, that notion has entered the stream of travel, as an antidote to the crazy, fast-paced world that travelers yearn to escape.
Slow travel isn’t necessarily a mode of travel as much as it is a mindset. It forces the traveler to slow down and smell the roses—or the sea spray, or the apple orchards. You can do this is a variety of ways. Perhaps biking through the hilltop villages of Provence, shopping at farmer’s markets for picnic fare to enjoy along the way. Or renting an Italian villa and spending the days poking into little towns and sipping caffe lattes at a sidewalk terrace. Or going horseback riding on safari in Kenya. You could even hop aboard a colonial-era train, experiencing the lush tea plantations between Kandy and Ella in Sri Lanka.
Whatever the case, the point is to slow down to relax and breathe and rejuvenate—to take in the journey rather than the destination. It’s about connecting with locals and getting to know one corner of the world, its food, history, language, and traditions, rather than crashing through every site on a bucket list.
And don’t forget the environmental benefits of slow travel. Bikes and trains (and your own two feet) are much more eco-friendly than airplanes. Slow travel also is more cost-efficient, since you’re generally spending a longer time in one place and often cooking your own meals, rather than staying in a hotel and eating all meals out.
BAD: 'The Brooklyn Effect'
Brooklyn started it. Back in the 1990s, the once blue-collar, abandoned-factory borough began attracting yuppies fleeing Manhattan’s high rents, and things began to change. Old industrial buildings became industrial-chic lofts, artists opened galleries, chefs prepared artisanal cuisine in experimental restaurants, musicians played in avant-garde venues, and stylized boutiques appeared overnight. And all of a sudden, second cities far and wide wanted to become Brooklyn—i.e., what was being hailed as the go-now, super-cool-and-artsy-but-still-a-little-gritty destination. Oakland, California has been dubbed “Brooklyn by the Bay.” Asheville, North Carolina; Wynwood in Miami; Philadelphia; and on and on, with places around the world claiming to be Brooklyn hip. There’s even a “Brooklyn” in Paris: the artsy neighborhood of Pantin.
Is this a good thing? Life definitely has been injected in some of Brooklyn’s dying corners, with shots of trendiness. But the thing is, the model is being copied so that everywhere you go, you find the same formula: gluten-free restaurants, makers hubs, brewpubs, art galleries, sidewalk cafés…It’s like the chicken of travel (that is, the observation that everything “tastes like chicken,” even if it’s rattlesnake or alligator). Whatever happened to tasting a little different, or being authentic and unique?
And there’s a darker side. The so-called Brooklyn Effect didn’t touch most of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. Only a small part of Brooklyn, such as Williamsburg and Park Slope, experienced the effect, while many neighborhoods remain over-exploited and under-funded. So to say that the place as a whole is trendier, and therefore happier, is a misnomer.
What did change were the prices—including rents—that shot sky-high, chasing long-time residents and businesses out of transitioning neighborhoods. In their wake came a new population of generally white renters fleeing more expensive prices elsewhere, and ephemeral businesses that are up-to-the-minute-trendy today, but with no roots—will they survive? What happens tomorrow? It’s a vicious cycle, without complete consideration of the all-around consequences.
In short, “The Brooklyn Effect” is simply another word for gentrification without the baggage that it carries. And that’s hardly something to brag about.
If you’ve been to Florence recently, or Venice, or Barcelona, or Amsterdam, or Bali, or Mount Everest, even the Louvre, your first impression will be one of crowds. Hoards of people standing in line, crowding restaurants, getting in your way of taking photos or enjoying a moment of quiet appreciation. The rise of discount airlines, inexpensive accommodations such as Airbnb rooms, and social media shares all contribute to the disconcerting problem of too many people able—and willing—to travel. The result? Overcrowding has become a poignant threat to some of the world’s favorite destinations.
And it’s only going to get worse. According to UN News, 1.8 billion tourists—just over one in five persons in the world—could be traveling around the world by 2030. That’s an increase of more than three percent a year since 2010.
Possible solutions include focusing on different but similar destinations: Lower Zambezi National Park instead of the Serengeti; Kauai’s Waimea Canyon instead of the Grand Canyon; Umbria not Tuscany; Tel Aviv, not Barcelona. Also, advocating for off-peak travel. Venice in the wintertime becomes magical, for example, with mist rising off the canals and cozy trattorias warding off the chill—and fewer crowds.
Some destinations have started to regulate visits. The Philippine government has begun limiting cruise ship visits to the island of Boracay during peak times after the destination was nearly ruined with an onslaught of visitors. Other places have implemented or expanded tourist taxes, including Venice, Rome, and Amsterdam.
But until this complex issue is addressed head-on, overcrowding will remain a huge problem in destinations worldwide.
BAD: Doing It for the 'Gram
Instagram has been declared one of the greatest social media tools to brand yourself and to connect with your followers. It’s simple to use, it’s visual, and there’s not much text to read (a plus these days). And this is all great, right? And yet, “doing it for the ’Gram” has become a catastrophe—even a death knell.
It seems like every week or two, we read about a wacky couple or daring bozo who has died trying to get the perfect selfie shot. A 2018 study showed that between October 2011 and November 2017, there were 259 selfie deaths globally, with the conclusion that “no selfie zones” should be created across tourist areas to decrease the incidence of selfie-related deaths.
Instagram also seems to have given us permission to crash into communities without interacting with locals or being culturally sensitive. We are so snap-happy, trying to get that perfect image to share on Instagram, that we sometimes forget that’s it’s not all about us. The cute little kids in Africa—why are you taking their photos? To share their culture or get more likes? Do you even know their names?
The ’Gram also is being called out for ruining destinations by sending hordes of people suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) to places that don’t have the infrastructure to hold them. But this short-range thinking is creating havoc around the world. Just in 2019, for example, Instagram ruined the following places: Lake Elsinore in California, where after a stunning super bloom, 50,000 visitors showed up in the small town, which dubbed the fiasco #poppynightmare; Mount Everest base camp, which has been closed on the Tibet side thanks to excessive visitation and too much trash; Fjadrarflufur Canyon in Iceland, where Justin Bieber shot a video, was closed in June due to too much foot traffic. And the list goes on…
Doesn’t sound so great now, does it?
BAD: The Death of Vacation Days
What? You’d rather sit at your desk and work than sit on a tropical beach and soak up some rays? If so, sadly, you’re not abnormal. According to a recent poll conducted by Bankrate, only 38% of respondents who received paid vacation days said they planned to use them all. Six percent stated they wouldn’t use any paid time off, and another five percent said they would use less than a quarter. What the heck!?
Vacations are the best to calm our minds, to get away from it all, and to relax. Job burnout and decreased efficiency are serious problems that can lead to physical and mental issues and are easy enough to avoid by slowing down a bit. So what’s going on?
Some people feel they simply can’t afford a proper vacation. Some need to work two jobs to keep food on the table, while others are simply time-crunched, juggling jobs and family. But perhaps the greatest issue is that, in this ever-fast-paced world where we’re expected to be on-call at all times (thank-you iPhone and Internet), we can’t or don’t dare take time off. We don’t dare unplug. Why? For fear of returning to a mountain of work, for fear in this competitive world that if we leave, the higher-ups will consider us obsolete. It boils down to fear.
Clearly, American workers need a vacation—badly.
GOOD and BAD: Airbnb
Want to stay in a castle? An Italian villa? An urban loft? All of these options became much more affordable for the non-1% of us who don’t have a trust fund, thanks to the introduction in 2008 of Airbnb’s online marketplace. Now, individuals can easily rent their homes and properties–an enterprise that today spans more than 100,000 cities and 191 countries worldwide.
There are huge advantages to Airbnb, number one being its affordability, especially in crowded urban markets where the price of a hotel room can be exorbitant. Top that off with the fact that you’ll have more space than a hotel room, possibly including a washer/dryer and a kitchen to prepare meals, negating the need to dine in restaurants all the time.
The variety of accommodations also is a plus. In addition to your castles and villas, you also can rent a simple bed (aka “air mattress BnB”), a room, or an entire house. There are houseboats, treehouses, moored yachts, ryokan-style traditional houses, yurts, and even RVs. No matter what, you generally enjoy the local flavor of an area (you probably won’t be staying in the commercial downtown in the generic cluster of hotels), and hosts can provide insider knowledge to enhance your stay.
And no worries about getting ripped off. Protections are built in to protect both guests and hosts, including the fact that Airbnb holds the payment for 24 hours after check-in, to ensure all is okay.
But there are disadvantages, too. Because hosts create their own listings, their descriptions may be misleading. Comments by other guests create some checks-and-balances, which must be carefully read. But rodents, mold, street noise, and other issues are not unheard of. Hosts may have a different standard of cleanliness. And there’s no front desk to call for assistance.
Hidden costs, in addition, can be shocking. You may think the price of a room is $75 a night, but then as you get deeper into the transaction, learn that there’s a two-night obligation, a service fee, an Airbnb host fee, tax–and suddenly it’s all not quite as inexpensive as you were led to believe.
There also are regulation issues that are still being hammered out, community by community. Some places downright prohibit short-term rentals, so be certain you’re staying in a legal place.
And if you’re the type who likes hotel perks, including gym, pool, daily cleaning—and loyalty points—then the Airbnb may not be the right choice.
Bottom line: Be sure to research to know what you’re getting into—it could be great! Or not.
GOOD and BAD: Rideshares
Remember the days when you had to chase down a taxi on the street, call a cab about half-an-hour ahead of time, or stand in line, never knowing quite sure when a car might come? And then, when you finally got in, pay a pretty price for a ride? The introduction of Uber in 2009 and other ride-sharing options soon after, using private citizens and their own cars, revolutionized the personal transport industry. All of a sudden, a ride is a simple click away on a ride-share app. And before you know it, voilà, your ride is there.
The biggest advantage is, obviously, the price. Ride-sharing services generally cost considerably less than taxis and other transport options. A nice perk is the fact that you pay a lump sum rather than metered fare—so if you get stuck in traffic, you don’t have to sweat it as the meter clicks away. You also have the option of sharing the ride with others, which brings down the cost considerably more. And you don’t have to have cash or a credit card to pay since the payment method is all built into the app.
Drivers and riders both are rated, in effect keeping each other in check.
All that said, there are disadvantages, too. The greatest one is the safety factor. Drivers might not undergo an extensive vetting process, meaning their driving skills may not be up to par. There also are the few cases of women being molested, abducted, and even killed—a rare instance, but one that must be considered.
Price surges, in addition, occur based on supply and demand of ride requests. So a ride on a Friday night in Midtown NYC might be twice the normal fare. Perhaps it’s fair in the world of economics, but riders hate it.
The short of it: Rideshares have changed the world of personal transport, but be sure to read the fine print—and follow standard safety practices.
GOOD and BAD: Carbon Offsets
As planet Earth gasps in the throes of climate change, it’s a fact that tourism is responsible for nearly eight percent of the world’s carbon emissions, with air travel being the worst offender. Research indicates that one transatlantic flight can contribute as much to a single person’s carbon footprint as a year’s worth of driving. Now that, obviously, is bad. Even worse is the expectation that aviation emissions could triple in the next three decades.
The good news is that the travel industry and travelers are beginning to take responsibility by enacting carbon responsibility. Hotels, tour operators, cruise lines, and tourists all are finding creative ways to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hilton, for example, the world’s fifth-largest hotel chain, announced in 2018 that it would cut its environmental footprint in half. For starters, it built a cogeneration plant in NYC to help reduce the property’s carbon footprint by more than 30%. All of Royal Caribbean’s ships have a purification system to remove 98% of sulfur dioxide emissions from ship engines’ exhaust. And Hurtigruten, an expedition cruiseship line, is beginning to power its ships with liquid biofuels made partially from fish carcasses.
Tour companies are doing their share as well. Intrepid Travel, for example, offsets all 2,000 of its trips by investing in renewable energy projects. They’re also reducing the number of internal flights on their itineraries to cut down on carbon emissions. Glamping specialist Canopy & Stars plans to plant a million trees by 2025. And Undiscovered Mountains, offering multi-activity holidays, has planted its own forest in Portugal through a joint initiative with Mossy Earth
But what to do about air travel? Travelers are beginning to focus on taking fewer trips, or staying closer to home and driving or taking the train. Michael Kerr, a travel writer with the London Telegraph, recently announced he’s giving up air travel completely and will take trains instead (and forego far-flung destinations). If that’s too drastic, you can—after making sure you turn off the lights and air-conditioner and do everything you personally can to offset your carbon footprint—donate to carbon-fighting projects: ones that plant trees, produce renewable energy with sky windmills, or convert heating systems to wood pellets. Or consider the fact that “overall, air travel, that’s everyone’s air travel—yours, mine, people who fly in private planes, airline employees who get close-to-free business class flights, businessmen who travel every day—accounts for roughly 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions,” and consider prioritizing pushing for stronger environmental regulations for the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
Whatever the case, the carbon-footprint problem looms large, and while we’re starting to address it, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.
GOOD and BAD: Influencers
With the rise of social media has come the birth of the influencer. You know, the beautiful blonde dressed in a breezy couture dress staring wistfully over the dazzling sea in Santorini; or the guy with the dressed up dog sitting next to him at a Paris café. The so-called “content creators” who use their expertise and their social media presence—thousands if not millions of followers on Instagram, Twitter, etc.—to sell destinations, clothes, food, or whatever they’re targeting. “Inspiration porn,” some have called it.
According to data collected by Influencer marketing platform MuseFind, 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or traditional celebrity endorsement. And if used properly, this influence can help viewers find amazing places to vacation, give them tips on dressing, and even advance social or environmental issues.
And there definitely are some good Influencers out there. As we reported this past year, some Influencers have inspired us, motivated us to explore, and simply made us smile.
On the flip side, influencers can provide too much spotlight on a destination—or clothes, or food, or whatever they’re targeting—which can be disastrous. A potent example is the aforementioned superbloom at Lake Elsinore, California, and its ensuing #poppynightmare. And this happens over and over again, as influencers are being charged with ruining destinations around the world simply by making them too popular or acting entitled to their shot at the expense of anyone or anything else in the vicinity.
Influencers also have been accused of gallivanting around the globe, expecting freebies everywhere they go in return for coverage to their followers. And that’s what many are about—their followers. Many aren’t about providing insightful info to the consumer or being thought leaders. Oftentimes their glamorous photos don’t even resemble the reality of the destination. It’s all about the numbers. And getting freebies. And even then, how do you know that the influencer didn’t buy their likes and follows in the first place?
Are influencers good or bad? A little bit of both.