A lot happened in the realm of travel in 2019, some of which may affect your travel plans in 2020. Here, we catch you up on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
To the dismay of activists, historians, locals, archaeologists, and observers from UNESCO, May 2019 saw construction begin on the multi-billion dollar Machu Picchu Airport, intended to funnel millions of visitors directly into the already overloaded site. Bulldozers have already cleared a space 3,762 meters above sea level in the nearby Andean town of Chinchero, and there are widespread fears that the inevitable influx could push the fragile site to the brink.
A petition against the project attracted more than 100,000 signatories, but the airport’s architect said the protests were falling on deaf ears. “The recent movement has valid arguments in abstract terms,” he told Dezeen, “but it comes at least four years too late, and the process is practically irreversible.”
It may sound like a code name left over from the Cold War, but Project Sunrise made history in a very different way when it touched down in Sydney Airport in October 2019. The first ever non-stop flight between New York and Australia, the route by Australian carrier Qantas was the first of three research missions charting a possible commercial route for 2020.
The airborne odyssey took 19 hours and 16 minutes, covered nearly 10,000 miles, and carried a team of researchers closely monitoring how pilots, passengers, and crew coped with crossing 15 time zones – needless to say, it is now officially the world’s longest flight. Qantas higher-ups will vote over the coming months on whether or not to proceed with the program.
The City of Bridges has long struggled with one, central dichotomy: it is financially dependent on tourism, but being steadily destroyed by it. The city’s 50,000 permanent residents field tens of millions of tourists every year, and Venetian infrastructure is almost literally sinking under the strain. In May 2019, local authorities took action, issuing a sweeping set of new rules popularly known as Daspos, penalizing everything from littering and eating on the ground to wandering around shirtless. Swimming in the canals is an absolute no-no, and authorities are working on a tourist tax for day trippers.
The rules have been rigorously enforced, and a pair of German backpackers were fined and expelled from the city for using a portable stove on Rialto Bridge. “Venice must be respected,” said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, “and bad-mannered people who think they can come here and do what they want must understand that they will be caught, punished, and expelled.”
Closed for Business
Finally bringing to a close one of Australia’s bitterest internal disputes, Uluru closed permanently to climbers in October 2019, sparking celebration from activists and locals. The site, previously known as Ayers Rock, is sacred to the indigenous Anangu people, who have long implored visitors not to climb.
The board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park voted unanimously to close the climb, with half an eye on safety as well as spiritual concerns. People have died on the ascent in the past. Huge crowds scaled the monolith on its final Friday, drawing derision from many on social media. As the final groups descended, an Aboriginal elder told the BBC that it was time for the rock to “rest and heal”.
Greta Thunberg may have gobbled up the column inches with her 20-day, transatlantic boat ride, but sustainability has been slowly permeating the narrative across the modern travel industry. Carbon offsetting and electric aviation have both been in the headlines, and the 2019 Paris Air Show revealed a prototype for an all-electric nine-seater that can travel 500+ miles with ease.
EasyJet is targeting low-noise, electric flights of more than 300 miles by 2030, and Etihad completed the world’s first commercial flight powered entirely with biofuel in January 2019. ABTA figures show that a record 50 percent of consumers now say eco-credentials are important or essential for their holiday bookings, so the wheels are creaking into motion. The question is: are they creaking fast enough?