A lot has happened in 2019. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the year’s travel stories, from the Peruvian Andes to the banks of the Grand Canal…
1. Machu Picchu Airport
To the dismay of activists, historians, locals, archaeologists, and observers from UNESCO, May saw construction begin on the multi-billion dollar ‘Machu Picchu Airport’, intended to funnel millions of visitors directly into the already overloaded site. 3,762 metres above sea level, bulldozers have already cleared a space in the nearby Andean town of Chinchero, and there are widespread fears 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.”
2. Project Sunrise
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. The first ever nonstop 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. Now officially the world’s longest flight, Qantas higher-ups will vote over the coming months on whether to proceed with the programme.
3. Venice battles overtourism
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, local authorities took action, issuing a sweeping set of new rules popularly known as Daspos, penalising 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.
— Alexander Araya (@alxaraya) December 31, 2019
The rules have been rigorously enforced, and a pair of German backpackers were fined €950 and expelled from the city for using a portable stove on the 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.”
4. Uluru shuts up shop
Finally bringing to a close one of Australia’s bitterest internal disputes, Uluru closed permanently to climbers in October, 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.
If you feel the urge to climb Uluru please instead find the nearest garbage bin and climb in there instead ?
— Bec Shaw (@Brocklesnitch) July 11, 2019
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 it was time for the rock to “rest and heal”.
5. Sustainable sightseeing
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 Israeli-made, all-electric nine-seater which can travel 500+ miles with ease. EasyJet are targeting low-noise, electric flights of more than 300 miles by 2030, and in January Etihad completed the world’s first commercial flight powered entirely with biofuel.
Our house is on fire.#2019in5words
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 28, 2019
ABTA figures show that a record 50% 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?
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