From the rise in eco-friendly hotels to the search for authentic experiences, the world of travel has never been so ‘woke’. In a series of articles revealing what’s new and what’s coming up on the horizon, I continue my look at what’s happening in travel for 2020.
1. Slow Europe
Of course, the appeal of not doing very much on holiday is not a new concept – in fact, it’s often the very tenet of what a holiday should be about. But in the days of trying to achieve an ‘Instagrammable’ trip of a lifetime, resulting in ‘ticking the boxes’ of various must-do experiences, many of us have forgotten how to slow down and truly unwind.
Aimed at the over 50s, the company Overseas Adventure Travel has predicted a return to a more considered way of travelling: “In 2020, travellers will show greater interest in journeying at a relaxed pace, rather than cramming as much sightseeing as possible into hectic days. Slow travel emphasises cultural immersion and spending time making connections to local people and their culture where they live and work.”
Rebecca Jackson of Perfect Stays, a luxury self-catering company, agrees that it is these ‘unscripted moments’ that people are now looking for. “Gone are the days when holiday-goers expect to be confined to a resort,” she says. “Instead, today’s travellers now crave engagement with the people, cultures and landscapes of the countries and cities they visit. In 2020 we will see this rise with travellers focusing on the native surroundings and how to fully immerse themselves into the local culture. Food will be a key feature of many trips, with people keen to try local delicacies and new foods. You’ll also see an increase in the use of in-house concierge services, a direct way for individuals to experience their destination like a native.”
The Travel Corporation – a family-owned, international travel group, which focuses on offering enriching experiences for travellers – also forecasts the return to ‘slow travel’, inspired by the charm of a bygone era. “2020 is already being hailed as an important year for technological innovations in transport, with 4G coming to the London Underground and driverless cars becoming ever-more a reality,” says the company. “In the face of these rapid changes to the daily commute, it’s no surprise that the charm of a bygone era appeals in our leisure time, and that slow travel, including holidaying by train, is increasing in its appeal.”
It recommends Luxury Gold’s Remarkable Russia with Trans-Siberian – a 22-day exploration across Russia, which departs in April 2020. It includes a private after-hours visit to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the chance to travel along the Trans-Siberian Railway aboard the Golden Eagle. “With constantly changing views, the journey is guaranteed to be an experience in itself.”
You don’t have to embark on exhausting, long-haul journeys to find those rewarding, ‘quiet’ destinations. In fact, ripe for meandering travellers, are some ‘undiscovered’ hotspots found dotted across Europe. Lastminute.com’s predictions for 2020 must-see destinations includes Lithuania, which the company reveals it has seen a 51% increase in bookings year on year.
“A country rich in folklore, language and landscape, we have noticed Lithuania shooting up the list of city break destinations” says the brand, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019. “It’s a country that is also trending as a foodie destination with hearty and tasty cuisines based on local produce and foraging.”
Dubrovnik’s Konavle Valley, is another example – known as the Tuscany of Croatia by those in the know – is often overlooked for Croatia’s better-known locations, but is, in fact, easily reached from Dubrovnik. Offering bijou wineries, traditional taverns known as ‘konobas’ and stunning countryside – it’s ripe for soaking up a slower pace of life. Check into Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik, just 5km from the area, which opened this year after an extensive revamp. Tucked into a cove, it has a secluded setting on a clifftop, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, which is gloriously cinematic.
Bulgaria’s Zornitza Estate is another countryside gem that not only offers a rustic, unhurried experience, but which also is the perfect gateway for discovering the lesser-known, southern part of the country. The Relais & Châteaux property has its own vineyard and an eco-farm, with beehives, organic fruits and vegetables on tap, culminating in the ultimate field-to-fork experiences. With its pure air and volcanic origins, the destination is also known for its curative spa mud and natural mineral water. Expect stand-out locally-inspired treatments, wine-tasting on the estate and at the nearby ten wineries and exploring the Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its stunning glacial lakes and awe-inspiring views.
The trend also ties in for a growing penchant for ‘under-tourism’, which says Rebecca Jackson of Perfect Stays, encourages “travellers to take the path less travelled, rather than joining the flocks that takeover popular spots in search of that Insta-famous shot.”
“Many ‘Instagram destinations’ now feel too much strain on infrastructure and supplies because they’re overrun with tourists,” she comments. “Take, for example, Santorini, which has capped cruise arrivals at 8,000 a day, to curb a flow of travellers, keen to share the island’s beautiful sights to their Instagram stories. 2020 will see more tourists travelling to destinations that aren’t as well-known and choosing to visit areas which welcome tourism and benefit from its economic boost.”
2. Paris has our hearts
The ultimate romantic city, Paris looks set to recapture the romance in travel with a string of big openings next year. First up is perhaps one of the most ‘starry’ hotel launches of all time – Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. Due to launch next spring, it will be found within the perimeter of the Versailles Palace grounds. The 14-bedroom luxury hotel will favour an 18th century style, in keeping with its rich history during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, with architect and interior designer Christophe Tollemer overseeing the interiors. Dining will see Alain Ducasse at the helm with lavish hospitality the name of the game (no doubt with plenty of cake for all to eat).
Just a five-minute walk away from the Louvre Museum, Cheval Blanc at La Samaritaine, also promises uber-luxury interiors, this time by designer Peter Marino. Found in an Art Deco building – La Samaritaine, designed by Henri Sauvage in 1928 – the project has enlisted a long line of craftsmen, marble workers, gilders, iron workers and other skilled artisans, orchestrated by architect Edouard François. Designed to feel like an exclusive private apartment, the hotel has bespoke designed furniture and an outstanding art collection, including paintings by Vic Muniz and Sonia Delaunay and pieces bu Philippe Anthonioz and Les Lalanne. A Dior Spa and a focus on gourmet dining will also draw in the well-heeled crowds.
Expect a touch of opulence also at the Bulgari Hotel, due to open early 2020. Found on Avenue George V, it will have 76 rooms, a 25-metre pool, bar and restaurant, and a Parisian courtyard. Designed by Italian architectural firm Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel, it will combine a classic Parisian Haussmann-style with a contemporary rationalistic façade.
Finally, is Monsieur George, also opening in Paris early next year, in the fashionable 8th arrondissement. With a sense of old-world glamour, it has interiors by Anouska Hempel, which she describes as oozing ‘sensual elegance’ with a Middle Eastern feel.
Having worked in Istanbul for the last five years, the designer has imported Arabic and Lebanese influences. Subdued lighting offsets dark-green velvet and eglomisé mirrors. Dark green Moroccan Walilli herringbone tiles from Fez are juxtaposed with marble-topped tables and grey taffeta, resulting in an exotic-luxe aesthetic. “The hotel is eccentric and exciting,” says Hempel. “It is like Casablanca has kissed the city and Tangier has tickled its toes.”
3. Big in Asia
With Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics, it is no surprise that the country is gearing up to welcome a wealth of visitors. Companies, such as lastminute.com, are forecasting a rise in booking to Japan, with Last Minute revealing its bookings have already increased 49% in 2019 year on year.
Luxury tour operator, Kuoni has also reported increasing sales to Japan for the past three years and says: “There have been a lot of enquiries and demand for the year ahead with next year’s Olympics taking sports breaks to the next level. Most of the action takes place in central Tokyo, where the New National Stadium is almost complete. Architect Kengo Kuma’s larch and cedar roof is almost as keenly anticipated as the opening and closing ceremonies. But for the true Japanese sports experience, hold out for Judo at the Nippon Budokan. Built for the 1964 Games, it holds a unique place in pop culture – as famous for hosting the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan as the martial arts duels it was designed for.”
The company recommends its escorted programme for travellers looking to find those secret gems outside of the city.
Offering a range of hand-picked bike tours through Japan’s countryside and on roads that can’t be mapped on Google, Bike Tour Japan offers a novel – and active way – to see the country and also has a special tour on offer for the 2020 Olympics.
Meanwhile, new research from Culture Trip shows that ‘city loops’ are trending with modern travellers, particularly millennials. Unveiling its top destinations for 2020, the global start-up, operating in travel, media and entertainment, reveals that a trend of discovery travel, with multi-destination vacations or ‘city loops’, as a way of experiencing a culture to the max.
“We know from our research that modern travellers want to see famous sights but also avoid the overly touristic places,” said Natalie Malevsky, VP Marketing, Culture Trip. “Unlike other travel sites, we’ve focused on places where culture is most concentrated – in urban centres where contemporary and traditional influences collide. The benefit of city loops is that they give travellers the best chance to live and learn the cultural breadth of a place in one dynamic trip.”
Billed as its ‘number one’ is a Japan City Loop, which takes in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. “In 2020, Japan is set to welcome 40 million tourists as Tokyo holds the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in the summer. For all the focus that the capital city will be getting, you shouldn’t miss out on the rest of what the country has to offer – and what better time to break free of the crowds?” says Culture Trip.
“By high-speed bullet train, you can travel from Tokyo to Kyoto, and down to Osaka and Hiroshima, in just 10 days. In the bustling capital, uncover the fascinating history of the ancient Buddhist temple Sensō-ji, and avoid the tourist trap of Takeshita Street, favouring instead Urahara for its boutiques, which spawned the vibrant Japanese streetwear scene. Kyoto, much like Tokyo, is home to all manner of curiosities; stick to time-tested traditions and pencil in time for a Zen tea ceremony, before slipping back into your trainers and embarking on a walking tour of the city’s architectural landmarks. Heading south, travel back in time at Hōzenji Temple in Osaka, and tuck into a bowl of ramen – an absolute must-do. Round off your history lesson with a trip to Hiroshima and its many UNESCO World Heritage sites, all totems of the need for peace.”
Also putting Kyoto in its sights for next year, is Aman with its just-opened Aman Kyoto property, the brand’s third destination in Japan, set in a secret garden at the heart of a 32-hectare forest.
The resort is a secluded otherworldly retreat: moss-covered boulders glow emerald-like in the lush undergrowth, winding footpaths link tranquil forest glades, and streams provide a soothing soundtrack broken only by birdsong. From this peaceful haven, where gardens, forest and healing waters rejuvenate body and mind, guests can explore all that Kyoto has to offer on uniquely curated, behind-the-scenes Aman Journeys.
To Thailand next, and also in the limelight next year will be Bangkok, which welcomes openings across the city, with key tour operators, such as Elegant Resorts, putting it on their ‘trends list’. As well as the launch of the luxury Icon Siam shopping mall, which has a floating market in the basement, the city’s riverside also welcomes a new Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River, while the new Capella Bangkok promises a haven of tranquility in the heart of the city.
Also new for the city – which retains its position as most-visited metropolis in the world – will be a revamped airport with passenger capacity at Bangkok’s BKK Airport increasing from 75 million to 103 million.
Leading luxury holiday company Carrier, meanwhile, has Cambodia in its sights, saying that the luxury market is on the rise. “Shinta Mani Wild and Rosewood’s debut in Phnom Penh will attract travellers seeking out unique experiences in the destination,” the company says. “There are also more regional flights launching in 2020 making Cambodia more accessible than it’s ever been before. In January 2020, for instance, Bangkok Airways will launch a daily direct flight between Bangkok and Sihanoukville.”
Known for its innovative take on travel, Black Tomato says to put Sichuan in China on your ‘go-see’ lists. Introducing a new National Parks initiative for 2020 – a first for the country – it’s a good time to visit. The first opening is planned for 2020 in Sanjiangyuan (home to snow leopards) followed by the Giant Panda National Park which covers areas in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. “When it opens, Giant Panda National Park will connect 67 giant panda reserves spread across the southwestern province of Sichuan, which is home to over 80% of all wild pandas. It will be three times the size of Yellowstone,” says Black Tomato.
Finally, in the pursuit of happiness, Bhutan is – says Lonely Planet – a ‘real-life Shangri-La’. “This tiny piece of Himalayan paradise operates a strict ‘high-value, low-impact’ tourism policy, compelling travellers to pay a high daily fee just to set foot in its pine-scented, monastery-crowned hills,” says the travel experts, who have put the country on its top-ten for 2020. “The pay-off for visitors is a chance to walk along mountain trails unsullied by litter, in the company of people whose Buddhist beliefs put them uniquely in tune with their environment. Bhutan punches well above its weight when it comes to sustainability. It is already the world’s only carbon-negative country, and the kingdom is set to become the first fully organic nation by 2020, so it’s only going to get more beautiful. And with the daily fee, it won’t be getting any more crowded.”
Carrier agrees and says that it is witnessing an increase in number of customers wanting immersive travel offerings – and there’s nowhere better for it than Bhutan. With a new andBeyond property opening in the stunning Punakha area, “it will encourage even more luxury travellers to visit the destination”, says the brand.