The world is changing. Constantly. Perpetually. Every time you look, it has altered. Every second, every minute, every hour and every day the world is transforming, it's morphing, it's adding and subtracting and shrinking and expanding.
For travellers, that's a thrilling concept. It means there need be no conclusion to this wandering passion, no end to the joy of discovery that travel can bring. Every time you set out to see the world, you will find something different. You will experience the buzz of the new, even in places that can feel so familiar.
This changing nature is what makes Traveller's Annual Report so important. Every 12 months our writers take the world's pulse, they weigh up the good and the bad, track the major changes, assess the current trends. Our team of wanderers considers the destinations that have caught their collective eyes over the last past financial year, as well as the advancements made across the tourism board, from aircraft to accommodation, gear to gadgets.
The report this year takes us from the farthest reaches of Russia to the familiarity of inner-city Melbourne. It moves from campsites in Utah to overwater luxury in the Maldives. It takes in everything from Michelin-starred fine-dining, to hole-in-the-wall taco joints.
And of course any good Annual Report should include a profit and loss statement. Ours is a summation of where travel has improved, and where it's begun to let us down. Love slow travel? So do we. Detest spending 15 minutes trying to turn the lights off in your hotel room? You'll find an agreeable audience here.
The world is changing. Destinations are changing. Hotels are changing. Food is changing. Even modes of transport are changing. And this is where to find the best of it. - Ben Groundwater
GO STRAIGHT TO YOUR ROOM
The newly-opened RuMa in Kuala Lumpur has many other positive qualities, but its 24-hour guaranteed check-in and check-out policy is a game changer. It means straight to the room after you arrive on an early flight and the lifesaver of having the bed and shower until you want to head to the airport for a late flight. Pray it catches on. See theruma.com
E IS FOR EXCELLENT
More and more airports are installing high-tech solutions to speed up immigration control – even US airports are rolling out touchscreens to keep the hell queues down. But E-gates, using scanners and facial recognition, speed things up further – and Britain allowed Australian passport holders to use them earlier this year.
WALK THIS WAY
Tourist boards and local governments are starting to embrace the smartphone, programming plenty of useful information into their new apps. Most useful among these are themed, self-guided walking tours – whether you're following the Berlin Wall, marvelling at Bath's Georgian architecture or stringing together public artworks in the City of Sydney. It's a great alternative to niche guided tours that may only run once a week.
THE FULL BOTTLE
Reducing single-use plastic in the hotel industry is a shared challenge. While the proprietors are working their way through the logistics and economics, "customer adjustment" has been cited as one of the main sticking points for replacing small toiletry bottles with refillable dispensers. Get used to it. It's happening globally and may even be law in California, with a world-first bill passed to ban disposable hotel toiletries bottles by 2023.
If you've ever despaired over the amount of food that gets binned after a hotel breakfast buffet, know that change is afoot. With heavy hitters such as Marriott, which is aiming to halve food waste by 2025, and the Langham London, which is using a "rapid composting system" that turns more than 1000 kilos of leftovers into water every 24 hours, low-waste initiatives will hopefully soon become the norm.
Homeware companies opening their own hotels means we no longer need to be tempted to swipe the robes or pillows. Companies such as British-based MADE, Japanese brand Muji and US-based West Elm have opened hotels in which guests can buy many of the design features in their rooms, from chairs to pillows, textiles to bath robes and more. See madehotels.com; hotel.muji.com/en; westelmhotels.com
The increased use of biometrics – facial recognition technology and fingerprinting – in airports and even hotels and hire car companies is bringing us closer to seamless travel. Once concerns over privacy have been ironed out, the ability to board a flight, hire a car and check in to a room with nothing but your face will be a game-changer.
O SOLO MIO
Though taking off to see the world on your own may sound a little intimidating, more and more travellers are choosing to set out solo. And that's a good thing. Solo travel is the ultimate freedom, the chance to get to know the world, and get to know yourself. Everyone should do it at least once.
GO SLOW MOVEMENT
Here's the deal with slow travel: you do less. You take fewer flights. You visit fewer places. Instead you stay in one or two destinations, you get to know their subtleties and quirks, you sit at cafes for hours on end, you eat long meals, you spend time wandering, or you just do ... nothing. It's a brilliant concept, and it's becoming increasingly popular.
IN POD WE TRUST
Whether you're on the road with time to spare, or at home dreaming of the wandering life, a travel podcast is the perfect companion, a way to learn about the world from expert travellers, and hear a few amusing anecdotes along the way. There's a slew of great travel podcasts out there waiting for you, including Traveller's own, Flight of Fancy series. See traveller.com.au/travel-planning/podcasts
CLEARING THE AIR
Plenty of cities are now introducing laws to regulate the use of Airbnb, providing a good balance between spreading the tourist dollar around seldom-visited neighbourhoods, and preserving local culture by restricting tourist access. The likes of Paris, Barcelona and Berlin are leading the way, preventing short-term rentals on second homes, and taxing and regulating other stays.
GOOD NEWS FOR GOODIE BAGS
Once found exclusively in business class, amenity kits are increasingly appearing in premium economy cabins. Virgin Australia spoils its premium economy passengers with a stylish Mandarina Duck amenity kit containing Australian-made Hunter Lab products while the new American Airlines offering includes Baxter of California products in a stylish bag made by Brooklyn-based social impact brand, State. See virginaustralia.com; americanairlines.com.au
LUXE FOR LESS
Rapidly expanding brands such as Moxy, Freehand, Arlo and Z Hotels have shaken up the hotel market by offering well-located city centre hotels that are affordable and stylish. Sure, the rooms are intimate and you won't get all the facilities and fanfare of a five-star property but you also won't pay the five-star price tag. See moxy-hotels.marriott.com; freehandhotels.com; arlohotels.com; thezhotels.com
THAT'S INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
Across the board, inflight entertainment screens are getting bigger, more responsive and increasingly including useful functionality such as wish lists and seat-to-seat chat. The underlying range of movies, TV shows and music that's available also continues to expand. Some airlines offer the added convenience of a streaming service that allows you to watch your favourite show on your laptop, phone or tablet (fantastic when it works).
FREE, FREE AT LAST
Gone are the days where you had to search out the nearest McDonald's or Starbucks to get online. Many attractions, airports, districts and even entire cities now have free, fast Wi-Fi services, which means you can research, plan and navigate without having to sign up for a local mobile service. Leading the charge are Barcelona, Seoul, New York, Wellington and Perth.
Often housed in a drab, unflatteringly lit space, the hotel restaurant used to be something of a last resort. Nowadays, high-end hotels are increasingly collaborating with celebrity chefs to create notable in-house dining experiences. New York leads the way with The Beekman featuring eateries by Tom Colicchio and Keith McNally while The Four Seasons Downtown has a restaurant by steakhouse supremo Wolfgang Puck. See thebeekman.com; fourseasons.com/newyorkdowntown
Increasing awareness surrounding the torment and suffering of animals used for tourism has led to more than 50 tour operators banning elephant rides. Intrepid was one of the first, phasing them out in 2014, and it also avoids promoting activities involving petting or walking with wild animals (so no tiger selfies). There's still a long way to go but the tourism industry is finally taking a stand. See intrepidtravel.com
No more hunting in vain for that elusive plastic key card or trudging down to reception when it mysteriously stops working. Starwood was the first major brand to introduce keyless entry, in 2014, but since then many others have followed suit. Guests can now use a smartphone app to access selected hotels in the Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt hotel groups, along with other handy features such as mobile check-in.
Japan in autumn is beautiful and less busy. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
With overtourism gradually destroying the allure of many destinations (the recent cruise ship collision in Venice is a case in point) operators are encouraging travellers to select off-season journeys in an effort to reduce pressure on the places we love: the Trans-Siberian railway in winter, Death Valley in summer, Japan in autumn. Bonus? Cheaper prices, less crowds.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Bonjour! Hola! Guten tag! Smartphone apps such as Babbel, Duolingo and Memrise have made it easier than ever to grasp the fundamentals of another language before travelling to a non-English speaking country. No need to lug around a bulky dictionary or put your acting and miming skills to the test – these interactive apps make learning the basics fun and efficient.
Cruising is the behemoth that continues to rule the travel world, and plenty of adventure companies are now ditching the shuffleboard and offering cruises to remote locations. The likes of G Adventures, Intrepid Travel and Chimu Adventures have adventurous, small-ship itineraries to suit even the most cruise-averse traveller. See gadventures.com.au; chimuadventures.com
Stress levels seem to escalate the moment you enter an airport and an automated check-in system that simply won't co-operate never helps. But some airlines are finally catching on, upping the numbers of staff on-hand to help when the scanner refuses to recognise your passport for the umpteenth time.
Using apps and digital boarding passes is not only environmentally sound, but also stops your pockets from being stuffed full of 100 different receipts and papers by the time you reach your gate.
Why can't we have Bali-style beach clubs in Australia? More popular than Bintang singlets in Bali, you roll up for a day-bed, waiters bearing cocktails, and a known chef in the kitchen delivering poolside dining delights. (Happily, however, beer-logo T-shirts are banned in most beach bars).
Photo: Exodus Travels
Exodus Travel launched active family holidays that fall within the Australian school holidays, taking the angst out of organising hotels and activities at this busy time. You just book the flights. Meanwhile, Intrepid Travel and Exodus are among those designing tours for families, with some departures for single-parent families only.
UGLY IS THE NEW BLACK
Remember Jerry Seinfeld's "junners" look – the fashion sin of blue jeans with bulky runners? Well, it's a sin no more – the "ugly" or "dad" trainer trend has become a thing. You'll see fashionable types wearing the likes of Skechers' D'Lites with everything from tracksuit pants to cocktail frocks. How good is this trend for pavement pounding travellers? It's the moment to ooze both comfort and faaaahshion, darling.
Bespoke. Curated. Crafted. Artisan. When will travel industry operators stop using these "authenticity" terms for everything from bath plugs to buffets as a way of appealing to the Millennial market? Coupled with not actually doing anything particularly thoughtful and place-appropriate, let alone unique – a subway tile here, a vintage print there, this movement has become hackneyed, lazy and meaningless.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has recently walked back (surprise, surprise) on his earlier enthusiasm for bunk beds and relaxation lounges for economy passengers on the airline's Project Sunrise flights. These are the ultra-long, non-stop flights that Qantas is proposing to London and New York. From Sydney or Melbourne to London – that would mean 21-plus hours sitting semi-upright in an economy seat. Ouch.
The latest eco evangelist cause spotlights the impact jet travel has on our planet through its contribution to CO2 emissions, one potent factor behind climate change. Australian travellers, who often fly long distances, are responsible for more aviation-industry CO2 emissions per capita than most other nations. While we have cause for concern, the remedy lies in strategy rather than abstinence.
Online applicants for a non-immigrant visa to visit the US are required to provide details of their social media accounts over the last five years. Applicants must also provide telephone numbers, email addresses and international travel details over the same period. For Australian passport holders, most of whom are entitled to a visa waiver, fessing up to your social media usage remains optional.
JETTING OFF: ONE
Photo: Andrew De La Rue
Fifty years after the 747 first took to the skies, Boeing is no longer producing the passenger version of its jumbo. We'll still be flying aboard these four-engine double-decker aircraft for some years to come but their days are numbered, replaced by more fuel efficient twin-engine aircraft that can haul almost as many passengers at lower cost.
JETTING OFF: TWO
It's the biggest bird in the sky generally made for more spacious seating and major capacity boosts but Airbus, and for that matter its customers, has decided its A380 is no longer sustainable, and will be phased out after current orders are completed. They'll still be around for a good couple of decades, but their replacements won't have the same sheer grunt.
Tourists pack into the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. Spain. Photo: AP
Overtourism, as it's been dubbed, is a huge problem – particularly in Western Europe – with no easy answers, and it's one that's still growing. Cities such as Venice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Dubrovnik are being trampled daily by tens of thousands of feet, as the global number of travellers increases and interest in the hotspots shows no sign of waning. But what to do about it?
FEED THE MASSES
The wildly popular photo-sharing app Instagram is partly responsible for overcrowding at some of the world's most photogenic locations. Travellers used to read guidebooks and follow those recommendations slavishly. Now they do their research through their Insta feed and seek to visit the stunning places they've seen in photos. Everyone wants to go to the same ones.
Visiting a slum or a favela? Touring through indigenous communities? Visiting schools or orphanages? There's danger here. Travellers have to be very careful that the tours they choose to do are actually beneficial for the people they go to stare at. There are plenty of exploitative experiences out there, and research is required before you commit.
Though awareness is slowly being raised, there are still plenty of travel experiences that rely on the exploitation of animals. They're easy to recognise, too: if an animal is being made to act or live in a way that would be unnatural to it in a normal setting, then it's being exploited for human gain. Avoid.
Do you want to ride a horse in rural Japan while dressed in plastic samurai armour? Some well-meaning tourism operators urge their clientele do so. Why does this sort of thing – and plenty of similarly tacky experiences – still exist?
RIDE NO MORE
For a while there it seemed like you could switch on your phone anywhere on the planet and arrange a low-cost ride with Uber. But the governments of the world are catching up with the infamous app, and in an increasing number of countries it's no longer available. Uber has pulled out of Singapore and Denmark, it's been banned in Hungary and Bulgaria, and it's restricted to just a few cities in Germany, Italy, and Spain.
WE WUZ SWABBED
At most airports around the world, swabbing passengers in the search for explosives is not a thing. It rarely happens in the US. You hardly ever see it in Western Europe. So why is Australia so obsessed with it – now, seemingly, more than ever? And how many would-be baddies are actually caught by this constant swabbing?
With budget airlines it's a given – you have to pay extra for any niceties. Now, however, supposedly full-service airlines have begun charging extra money for seat selection, and have even begun forcing passengers to fork out for seat-back entertainment and extra food they want to consume on board. When will this creep of hidden costs end?
WELCOME TO AMERICA
Hell is a scrummage of 500 people awaiting clearance through two open TSA (Transport Security Administration) machines manned by grumbling, screaming staff, when eight more adjacent machines remain inexplicably closed. National security is a sensitive issue but, no, Mr Customs Officer, that uniform and badge don't entitle you to act like a bulldog chewing a wasp, especially after a 15-hour flight.
EARLY MORNING NOISE
Certain airlines should desist from Walking on Sunshine at a hideous volume at 4am during check-in (let alone, on the plane itself). Yes, we get the idea of trying to make the whole process seem more fun but maybe hold off on the sunshine at least until sunrise?
Robot (or just do-it-yourself) hotel check-ins are already upon us, and robot room services and concierges are likely to follow. Sure, it's an amusing high-tech innovation at first, but what will happen to the human interaction and emotion, and those late-evening chats to real bartenders? We'd much rather take the good, the bad and the unpredictable that comes from interacting with actual people in foreign places.
CONTROL FREAK OUT
Do the tech-heads who design hotel rooms ever trial a prototype? Have they tried to close the curtains, extinguish the mood lighting, turn on the TV or adjust the shower temperature with their gadgets, iPads, remote controls and complicated dials? A bit of international consistency and user ease would be nice. Sometimes simplicity and a basic switch are good things, especially when jet-lagged.
LEANERS NOT LIFTERS
Dear tourist, we know you aren't really holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and maybe you could think of something more original than the same thing 500 other tourists are doing right behind you. It's an old joke. The cliché of holiday snaps. And we don't need you to pout, make the victory sign or leap into the air either. You look silly. Just saying.
NOT-SO-GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Just say no to the daytripping queues lined up to snap a photo at the lookout at Port Campbell. Stay overnight to go beyond the clichéd shot and there are plenty of other non-official "apostles" along the south-western Victorian coastline.
WHAT A WASTE
There's a reason why pool clubs now abound: the pollution on Bali's beaches is shameful, given the amount of money tourists spend to be there. It's called "plastics pollution" and reached its nadir with the finding of a plastic bag in the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, 11 kilometres below sea level in May. We should be ashamed.
Kudos to Campari for making the Aperol spritz a ubiquitous global drink. But who doesn't long for the days when that first sip of "sunshine in a glass" was something special: a marker of arrival in the Veneto? That's where the Aperol spritz was invented: a mix of white wine, soda and the orange aperitif created in Padua in 1919. At least those who know, know: spritz will always taste better in Italy.
YES SIR, NO SUR
British Airways, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific are among the airlines that have bumped up their "fuel surcharges" in the last year. With cash tickets, it makes little difference whether it's called a surcharge or a price increase. But for frequent flyer redemption tickets, it can mean a couple of hundred dollars on top of the redeemed points. Alas, other airlines may soon have the same idea.
Traditional full service carriers are attempting to compete on price with low-cost rivals – and, increasingly, that means making the baseline economy fares non-inclusive of checked-in luggage. British Airways, Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic are all guilty on this to varying degrees. It makes comparing prices for long-haul flights a real nuisance when some airlines work to a different standard.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Faced with fights for locker space, several airlines are tightening hand-luggage policies. Alas, instead of telling everyone with a wheeled case to check the damned thing in, they're shrinking what you're allowed to take on board for free. Europe's notorious Ryanair is the latest to get stingy, only allowing bags that will fit under the seat – maximum measurements 40cm x 20cm x 25cm, down from 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.
Air Canada's 787-9 Dreamliner economy class seats.
Airlines seem determined to give passengers the full battery-farm experience, slipping extra seats into planes clearly not designed for them. Air Canada 3-3-3 formation Boeing 787-9s are the most egregious example of cram-'em-in greed. 30 inch (76 centimetres) pitch and 17 inch (43 centimetres) seat width may be just about OK for a short domestic flight, but it's not for a 14-hour trip from Vancouver to Melbourne.
The travelling tea-drinker gets a poor deal these days, in that so many hotel rooms sport only a tiny Nespresso machine (if you have ever tried to make tea with the water from one of these things, you will know it tastes more like coffee). Here's a big thank you to those who do go to the trouble of offering a kettle in the room for tea tragics. We thank you.
GIVE SIP THE ZIP
You've nabbed two prime viewing perches on the Champs-Elysees in Paris or the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ll in Milan and ordered cocktails. Whaaat? They still use plastic straws? Europe, you are now officially on notice. In March, the European Union passed landmark legislation that will ban single-use plastics such as straws, plates and cutlery, giving businesses until 2021 to phase in alternatives. We can do our bit by saying no in the meantime. See laststraw.com.au
DON'T BE A PHONEY
Be careful what you wish for. The widespread availability of free Wi-Fi in attractions, airports and cities now means travellers are increasingly immersed in their phones rather than their surroundings. Take advantage of Paris's free Wi-Fi to find your way to the Eiffel Tower, but once you get there, try putting your phone away and focus instead on being present and savouring the moment.
Do we really need a bath butler, a sleep specialist and a pillow menu with 12 different options? In a bid to differentiate themselves, many hotels are offering unnecessary levels of customisation. Worryingly, this trend will only get worse as chains collect more and more personal data about their guests. Some brands already let you tailor the furnishings, toiletries and mini-bar for your stay. What next? The curtain colour? The brand of TV?
The novelty of finding a gaggle of towel geese waddling across your hotel bed wears off rapidly when you realise, a) all the towels will probably be washed and replaced tomorrow, and b) the housekeeper who made them just scrubbed a toilet. We already have enough work clearing the bed of decorative pillows – please leave our towels in the bathroom where they belong.
BIT OF A STRETCH
We all know how important it is to get up and stretch during a long-haul flight, but that doesn't mean you have to block the galleys and emergency exits for 15 minutes while you run through your entire yoga routine. A few in-seat exercises each hour is enough to keep the circulation flowing. No one wants to emerge from the bathroom and come face-to-bum with someone doing a downward dog.
Rampant hotel development is slowly strangling the Maldives. The archipelago has more than 130 resorts with another 20 expected to open in the next two years. The Maldivian authorities wants to relocate residents to larger atolls to free up smaller ones for development, which will put even more pressure on the region's water and energy resources, and meanwhile, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has promised a threefold increase in tourism promotion.
Contributors: Ben Groundwater, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Michael Gebicki, Belinda Jackson, Julietta Jameson, Brian Johnston, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Rob McFarland, Catherine Marshall, Alison Stewart, Craig Tansley, Guy Wilkinson, Sue Williams, David Whitley