Top Travel Trends of the Decade
Another decade, another reason to look back at our past and how times have changed. It's been 10 years of unprecedented global travel growth as cities and countries around the world break tourism records year after year.
What changes and trends have had the most significant impact on tourism since 2010? Follow along as we step back in time.
2010: Mega Cruise Ships Rule the Seas
After Royal Caribbean upped the cruising game with the introduction of its Oasis of the Seas in 2009 and then its Allure of the Seas in 2010, the cruise industry spent the decade attempting to outdo its competitors with bigger and better ships.
Oasis of the Seas weighs more than 225,000 tons; measures 1,187 feet in length, 208 feet in width and 213 feet above the water; and accommodates 6,680 passengers along with 2,196 crew members.
Royal Caribbean ended the decade with the world's biggest ship, as well: Symphony of the Seas. Just three tons bigger than Oasis, Symphony features 18 decks, 19 restaurants and 2,759 staterooms.
No doubt it will soon be topped again.
2010: Full-Body Scanners Bare All
In an effort to increase air security, the TSA introduced full-body scanners in March 2010. Taking a naked X-ray panicked passengers who were not just worried about strangers getting a glimpse underneath their clothes, but were concerned about what the X-rays were doing to their bodies. Some states banned the equipment, lawsuits ensued and airport security lines got (even) longer.
In 2019, not much has changed. Despite the opposition, by 2013 the scanners were used in all U.S. airports. Passengers and medical professionals are still challenging the use of full-body scanners and the low levels of radiation transmitted through them. (Children are not required to pass through them.) The TSA will be working to add privacy features to the scanners in the coming years.
2011: A Somber 9/11 Memorial Opens
Ten years after the most horrific terrorist attack on U.S. soil, New York City unveiled the 9/11 Memorial on September 11, 2011. Located in the very place where the World Trade Center towers had fallen, killing 2,977 people, there wasn't a dry eye at the opening, and perhaps ever since.
Two recessed reflection pools remain in the footprints of the original towers, with the names of every victim etched into the pools' surrounding walls. On the birthdays of those who perished, flowers are placed.
Next to the pools, the 9/11 Museum opened in 2012 and One World Trade opened in 2014 to show the world the U.S. remains strong. Two World Trade is expected to open in 2024.
2011: The Dreamliner Debuts
When the 787 Dreamliner took its first flight in 2011, it brought a new comfort to flying. (OK, legroom is still an issue.) The new planes featured seat-back entertainment units so every passenger could be entertained and remain charged while flying the friendly skies. Boeing, its manufacturer, also added more humidity levels to help relieve dryness in cabins, while new pressurization features were designed to help reduce air sickness — all in a quieter plane.
To compete with the new planes, Airbus launched a similar-style aircraft in its A350 series.
United was the first U.S. carrier to adopt the 787 in 2012. However, in 2013, Dreamliner planes were grounded to work out a variety of kinks. (The glitches were ultimately fixed.)
Now, if we could just get that extra legroom we have been losing year after year...
2012: PreCheck Helps Passengers Fly Through Airports
As security continued to cause longer delays, the TSA came up with a plan: You can pay to go through a government prescreening program and once approved, use a special security lane that doesn't require the removal of shoes, liquids, belts and electronics, nor a walk through the full-body scanner. (You move through a metal detector instead.)
When the program launched in 2012, 35 U.S. airports offered PreCheck lanes. By 2013, it expanded to more than 100 airports, and more than 2 million people had registered through the TSA by July of that year. The $85 program covers travelers for five years; as of the end of 2019, it was located at nearly 200 airports and offered through 67 airlines.
2012: More Than 1 Billion People Travel
McDonald's has a sign to let everyone knows it serves billions, but the travel industry couldn't do anything more than shout the news through media outlets that 2012 was a banner year. For the first time, more than 1 billion tourists crossed borders — or at least those that required a security check in order to do so.
By July 2012, travel was recorded at 1.035 billion! In 2018, the World Tourism Organization noted the number had increased to 1.4 billion.
2013: Electronics Are Allowed on Planes (Sorta)
In 2013, the FAA finally released its ban on the use of electronics during taxi, takeoff and landing. The worry had been that electronics interfered with flight equipment, but this was proven untrue.
Alas, this didn't stop airlines from being too strict.
While the FAA permitted portable electronic devices to be used during all phases of flight while in airplane mode, it also allowed the process to vary by airline, and some have continued to make us power down.
2013: Ride-Sharing Becomes a Thing
It's hard to believe that it wasn't so long ago that ride-sharing services launched. In 2013, Uber debuted its ride-sharing service, allowing riders to use their personal vehicles to ferry passengers.
Rather than hailing or calling a taxi, passengers could now download an app to connect with a regular Joe driver (vetted by the companies) in the area, willing and able to provide a ride.
Better yet? The rides were often cheaper than a taxi.
Of course, the cab companies pushed cities to find ride-share companies unsafe and unregulated, but that wasn't stopping people from using them.
Times have changed. It may be easier to find a ride with the ride-share cars, but prices aren't always lower. Take a taxi from JFK to Manhattan, for example, and it is a flat-rate of $52 with a surcharge of $4.50 during peak hours, not including tip and tolls. A price comparison on Oyster found Uber rates to be as low as $35 but as high as $163, and between $48 and $76 on Lyft.
There has been much news on the safety of ride-share companies, too, with Uber even releasing a safety report in December 2019 that revealed more than 3,000 sexual assaults took place in 2019 — including drivers who were attacked.
2014: The World Gets Frozen
Disney's animated film "Frozen" debuted at the end of 2013 and dominated pop culture throughout 2014 and beyond. Set in Norway with an ice queen, singing snowman and ornery reindeer, it was a blockbuster that children fell in love with. And parents? Well, they really wanted to "Let It Go."
By 2014, Norway became a hot destination. Virtuoso, a luxury travel network of agents and advisors, saw a 65 percent increase in sales for travel to Norway for the summer. VisitNorway reported a 57 percent increase of flights from New York to Oslo within the first quarter. By the year's end, tourism from the U.S. increased by 170 percent and became Norway's third-largest market.
"Frozen 2" was released in November 2019, and Norway is hoping another spike in travel will follow.
2014: The Final Frontier Is Closer Than We Think
Virgin's Richard Branson promised to take us to space with the first commercial spacecraft, Virgin Galactic, in 2014. At a price tag of $250,000, wannabe space travelers could train for three days at Spaceport America, then rocket at speeds of up to 2,664 miles per hour and reaching zero gravity before returning home.
In October of that year, Virgin's SpaceShipTwo exploded during a test flight just as it hit the beginning of outer space, 62 miles above.
The first spaceplane made its way into space in December 2018. In 2019, Branson's group announced that testing had advanced enough to begin staffing the Spaceport with more than 100 Accredited Space Agents, getting closer to providing its Virgin Galactic adventures.
2015: Paris Suffers Attacks
As we entered the second half of the decade, France became a target of ISIS. On January 7, 2015, staff members from the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" were attacked. Ten journalists and two police officers lost their lives. The world reacted with cries of "Je Suis Charlie!" (I am Charlie.)
But it got worse. On November 13 of the same year, a series of attacks, including gunfire at a crowded concert hall, claimed the lives of 130 people. It was the deadliest attack in Europe in over a decade.
Despite the attacks, tourism climbed in the City of Light to 84.5 million people. But with the end-of-the-year attack, tourism dropped 1.5 million the following year — including a 7 percent drop in January. Unfortunately, the situation didn't immediately improve, with France enduring another attack in July 2016 in the city of Nice. The Bastille Day celebration assault killed 86 people.
The love for Paris and France hasn't dwindled with the rise of hatred. In 2017, tourism in Paris climbed 8 percent. In 2018, there were nearly 40 million visitors to Paris.
Terrorist attacks have become less common in the city, though there have still been incidents stoking fear in locals and visitors.
2015: The Pope Comes to America
Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States in 2015, visiting New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in September. It was the first papal visit in seven years.
In just six days, the "People's Pope" brought millions of people to see him. An estimated 1.5 million lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for his Mass. Eighty thousand received tickets to New York's Central Park procession while another 20,000 were able to attend Mass at Madison Square Garden.
During His Holiness' visit to Washington, 11,000 were packed onto the White House's South Lawn to hear the Pope speak. Another 25,000 attended Holy Mass and the canonization of Junipero Serra, and thousands more lined up along Constitution Avenue to watch his procession.
2016: Brazil Brings (and Takes) Heat
Brazil dominated travel news in 2016, but not in a good way. Leading up to the Summer Olympics, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil impeached its president and had a deadly virus outbreak: Zika.
The mosquito-transferred disease affected babies and caused miscarriages. Some athletes dropped out of the games due to the virus. Others reported robberies and attempted kidnappings — just part of the rampant crime that plagued the city.
In spite of all its negative publicity, Brazil saw a record number of tourists in 2016 — 1.17 million visited Rio during the games and a total 6.6 million visited the country.
2016: Travelers Toast with Cuba Libres
For the first time since the 1963 Cold War prevented U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba, restrictions were lifted by President Barack Obama. It didn't mean just anyone could go, however. The new restrictions allowed for travel for educational visits as part of a tour group.
Enter the cruise lines: Carnival was the first to set sail, introducing a new travel trend called "volun-tourism." By taking passengers on a cruise that would visit schools and help support communities, Carnival found its way into the Cuban market.
Airlines were next, with JetBlue carrying the first commercial flight to Cuba in August 2016.
Visitors loved visiting the island nation in the Caribbean, but travel proved somewhat difficult as credit cards were not accepted, banks were not commonplace and the volun-tourism was just not really very helpful.
A new ban was reinstated by President Donald Trump in 2019 that forced the cancelation of cruises and flights and stranded travelers.
2017: Theme Parks Get (Even) Bigger
Orlando's theme parks are no joke: Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort have taken over central Florida and are in a constant battle to best each other. In 2017, both companies brought out the big guns: Universal added a third theme park, Volcano Bay water park, as Disney's Animal Kingdom opened the highly anticipated Pandora – The World of Avatar.
It was only the beginning. Disney continued growing with Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which just opened in late 2019. Meanwhile Universal plans to add a Nintendo-themed park — you know, just in case that whole Wizarding World of Harry Potter park doesn't pan out.
Who won the theme park battle in 2017? Disney World visits rose 15.3 percent, with the opening of Pandora credited for much of the gain. Universal celebrated a 4 percent attendance increase, which are good numbers for the company as it has fewer parks than its competitor.
2017: Hurricanes Devastate the Caribbean
The Caribbean took a powerful hit from not one but two back-to-back hurricanes in 2017. First, Hurricane Irma struck — and devastated — Barbuda, Dominica, St. Maarten and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as much of the Florida Keys. Nearly two weeks later, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with 155 mile-per-hour winds.
In the course of weeks, multiple islands known for their welcoming people, white-sand beaches, blue skies and seas, and palm trees were reduced to rubble. Irma's damage was estimated at $100 billion. Maria's? About $95 billion.
Even worse, the fear of hurricanes and worry over the devastation kept travelers from the islands, including those not hindered by the storms. Although 2017 had a record-breaking 30.6-million visitors to the region, the numbers declined 2.3 percent in 2018, marking the first drop in nine years.
Happily, tourism has now started returning as the nations rebuild and bounce back.
2018: A Fairytale Comes True
Everyone loves a fairytale wedding and when American Meghan Markle wed Britain's Prince Harry, nearly 29 million people in the United States alone watched the event on TV. (Two billion in total tuned in.)
The world had watched Harry grow up with his mum Princess Diana, and then, as a sad boy following her coffin. To see him in love and all grown up had many feeling like his surrogate mother. And not only did people want to watch the wedding, they wanted to be there. Tourism to London the weekend of the wedding spiked 33 percent.
In Windsor, home of the castle of the same name where the couple said "I do," VisitBritain expected a surge in tourism they dubbed "the royal wedding effect." Sure enough, in 2018, Windsor became the most popular attraction in the U.K., with ticket sales to the castle growing by 92 percent.
2018: The World Cup Scores
Around the world there is no bigger sport than futbol/football/soccer. (Except in the United States.) Wherever the FIFA World Cup takes place, crowds are guaranteed to follow. In 2018, it took place for the very first time in Russia — also the first time any Eastern European nation hosted.
Seventeen countries compete in the month-long event, and although 3.4 billion people had to watch on TV, 7.7 million people made it to Russia for the matches. It was the highest-ever number of tourists to the games, which take place every four years.
A true success, Russia is credited with hosting the best World Cup ever.
2019: Thomas Cook Strands Thousands
One hundred and 78 years. That is how long the U.K.-based travel company Thomas Cook had been in operation before it suddenly and very abruptly closed its doors on September 30. More than half a million travelers already on vacation were left stranded — no flights, no agents to assist.
One of the oldest tour operators in the world had been struggling and failed to secure $250 million in order to save itself from ruin. So just like that, the travel agency renowned for offering low-cost packaged holidays was no more.
Other airlines stepped in to assist getting passengers home with the Civil Aviation Authority making arrangements. Whether travelers who didn't get to take their trip will be refunded is a question still left unanswered.
2019: Strikes Derail Travel
As the decade drew to a close, France became embattled in a travel strike. Flight delays and cancelations, non-operating trains and Metros, and protests are creating chaos to one of the world's most-visited countries.
The month before, just in time for Thanksgiving travel, airline catering workers planned to walk out at 20 airports in the United States.
Hotel strikes in 2019, from Boston's Battery Wharf Hotel to 26 Chicago hotels, became big news in September, as well. This followed 2018's end-of-year hotel strike of more than 7,000 employees at Marriott, the world's biggest hotelier.
2020: What's to Come?
After 10 years of record-breaking growth year after year in cities and countries around the globe, a backlash has begun to swell.
Environmental groups are pointing out just how much airline travel is increasing greenhouse gases and the use of fossil fuels. Scientists published a report on tourism's affects on the environment, citing 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is a result of air travel alone.
Locals are also making pleas to reduce travel. Residents watching their cities become overwhelmed by visitors and crowds are asking their governments to place limits and curb tourism.
Will tourism continue to boom in the next decade? Or will it be curtailed? We'll be watching.