Big issues have rolled out and re-shaped the travel landscape over the past 10 years. Our dollar has been on a big-dipper ride, we're travelling faster and exploring more out-of-the-way places, and we need to because there are many more of us on the road. Some places are on the danger list due to terror attacks and some on the endangered list due to a changing climate but there's plenty of good news with the sharing economy making travel cheaper with the likes of Airbnb.
CHINA DOMINATES HIGH-SPEED TRAIN TRAVEL
China now has more than 22,000 kilometres of high-speed railway lines, more than any other country and about two-thirds of the world's total. The list includes the world's longest high-speed rail line, the 2298-kilometre Beijing-Guangzhou Railway, cutting the train travel time from 24 hours to eight. Even more impressive, the country only opened its first high-speed rail line in April 2007. Last year, China's high-speed rail network carried more than 1.44 billion passengers, with plans to extend the network to 30,000 kilometres by 2020.
CLIMATE CHANGE – BIGGER, AND WORSE
Glaciers are disappearing, sea levels rising, summers are hotter, storms are stronger and polar bears are skating on thin ice. Evidence of climate change is undeniable and the splendour of some of the planet's natural wonders and its human populations are threatened. The oceans are copping it, experiencing increasing acidification, changing currents and rising temperatures. The highest point in the Maldives is just 2.4 metres above sea level and if our own Great Barrier Reef could speak, it should be screaming blue murder right now.
Google Maps directs our footsteps, Facebook tells us when our friends have a cold, some will Instagram their food before it passes their lips and "digital detox" has entered the travel lexicon. We now expect to be online even when far from home, and most of the world obliges with free or low-cost Wi-Fi at cafes, shopping centres, airports and the most humble of guesthouses. Our smartphones now pack a massive punch when we're on the road, booking restaurant tables and train tickets, checking the weather and our bank balance.
THE AIRBNB REVOLUTION
Born in 2008, Airbnb is now the world's largest accommodation listing service, matching travellers with anyone who wants to rent out a house, an apartment or a spare room in almost 200 countries. The hotel industry cries foul and legislation makes it almost impossible for Airbnb to operate in cities such as New York, Amsterdam and San Francisco but travellers are voting with their wallets, and what's not to like? Why pay $350 a night to stay in a three-star hotel in Venice or London when you can rent a studio apartment for about half the price?
RISE AND RISE OF CRUISING
The number of travellers taking a cruise has almost doubled over the past decade, and the ships they sail on are also expanding. Australians are among the world's most enthusiastic cruisers. Figures from the Cruise Lines International Association show the number of Australians taking a cruise grew by 21 per cent in 2016 to more than 1.25 million. That's one in every 19 Australians, the highest ratio of any nationality.
Paris, London, Nice, Istanbul – some of our favourite world cities are not only high on our own wish lists, they're also on the radar of those who would do us harm. As the murderous sociopaths who go under the Islamic State banner lose ground in the Middle East, they are exporting their brand of horror and wreaking havoc. Airlines are a target, but with the single exception of Metrojet Flight 9268 flying from Egypt to Russia in 2015, measures designed to keep travellers safe in the air have been effective over the past decade.
THE POWER OF ONE
Sisters are doing it for themselves – and by themselves. In tandem with the rise of the single-person household, an ever-increasing number of women are choosing to travel solo and the group-tour segment of the travel industry is catching on. There is now a growing number of specialist travel operators organising tours exclusively for women. All are designed by and for women and the best bring creativity and imagination to their task, with themes that range from classical music to shopping, food, yoga to hardcore adventure
Ambush fees for airline carry-ons, currency conversion fees, exchange rate swindles, dynamic currency conversion fees, mysterious charges for damage to your hire car that materialise months after you return home – over the past decade the dark lords of the travel world have been working hard to develop ingenious ways to burrow into your bank account. Ancillary fees make up a significant portion of budget carriers' earnings. In 2016, airlines netted an estimated collective haul of more than $US40 billion in ancillary fees and charges, and that figure goes up year by year.
Tourism now accounts for one in every 11 world jobs, the biggest employer after agriculture. In 2016 the world logged 1.235 billion international travellers, an increase of 45 per cent over the decade. Such numbers have their casualties, particularly in Europe. Paris, with a population of 6.75 million, saw 36.5 million tourists in 2016. Barcelona – population 1.6 million – saw 32 million. Some in the city are kicking back, asking for limits on the number of available beds while Iceland is pondering tourism caps and higher taxes to put the lid on spiralling visitor numbers.
LACK OF CONSUMER PROTECTION
While North American and European travellers have statutory protection from shonky travel operators and compensation for flight delays or being offloaded from overbooked flights, Australian travellers have taken a backwards step since the termination of the Travel Compensation Fund in 2014. When you buy a ticket aboard an Australian airline, for example, the operator is contracted to get you to your destination, nothing more. Travellers with a grievance are left with state or territory consumer affairs as the go-to option if things don't turn out as they should.
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