With destinations including Barcelona and Venice over-run by tourists, how ready are the world’s 50 biggest cities for future growth in visitor numbers? A major study for the World Travel & Tourism Council has identified Barcelona, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver as the cities most at risk from overtourism over the next decade. The Destination 2030 report said many of these cities were starting to redefine their measurement of tourism success by shifting from just destination marketing to adopting a more proactive and holistic approach to visitor numbers. The report compiled by JLL said these cities were “Managing Momentum”, whereas New York, London, Auckland, Berlin, Dublin, Madrid, Sydney and Las Vegas were in the next category of “Mature Performers”. They benefit from established tourism infrastructure but with a risk of experiencing future strains in relation to visitor volumes.

City tourism growth

Travel and tourism accounts for an estimated 10.4% of global GDP and supports 319 million jobs, or 10% of world’s total employment. Forecasts point to growth of nearly 4% a year for each of the next 10 years, which in some cases will put additional strain on infrastructure and essential services. Of the 1.4 billion international visitors crossing borders in 2018 for tourism purposes, the report said that 45% of them travelled to cities. International arrivals to the 300 largest city travel destinations accounted for over half a billion trips last year. JLL’s executive vice-president Dan Fenton said: “Whether a city is looking to bolster its travel and tourism industry or manage growth, the approach needs to be strategic, purposeful and comprehensive.”

Lower levels of readiness

Those cities grappling with challenges around excessive tourism numbers have been looking at policies such as regulation on home sharing or are looking to create new tourism attractions in order to move people away from congested areas. At the other end of the scale, the report highlighted the “Emerging Performers and “Dawning Developers”, where there’s often a lower level of urban readiness. These cities tend to be emerging countries, with a need to enhance urban infrastructure such as airport connectivity, accommodation and to address environmental issues including water quality. Examples include Bogota, Cairo, Delhi, and Istanbul.

Elephants are still being used for rides and performances in many parts of Asia, leading travel association ABTA to update its guidance to members.

While most UK travel companies stopped selling attractions featuring the riding or bathing of elephants a long time ago, that doesn’t mean the animal welfare issue has gone away.

Travel association ABTA is now in the process of updating its guidance so that such practices involving elephants are deemed to be unacceptable rather than just discouraged.

Its members are also working with local communities to help them develop more positive and responsible ways of involving elephants in the tourist experience, such as viewing the animals from a respectful distance and providing access to as much natural habitat as possible.

Harmful training methods

ABTA says there is a now “a strong weight of evidence” to suggest that harmful training methods of elephants are widespread.

Its current guidance from 2013 states that elephants shouldn’t be encouraged or forced to perform unnatural behaviours such as headstands, football or painting. They also say that elephants should have good access to food, quality housing, be in good health, demonstrate natural behaviour and are protected from fear and distress.

In drawing up the new guidelines, ABTA says it will be important to understand the role that elephants play in community livelihoods, as well as cultural attitudes towards animals. It admits working with local suppliers to change practices won’t happen overnight.

Rising tourist numbers

In 2017, World Animal Protection investigated the conditions of nearly 3,000 elephants at tourist venues in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Laos and Cambodia, concluding that more than three-quarters of them were treated badly.

They said the animals were fed poor diets and frequently kept on concrete floors in stressful locations near loud music, roads, or noisy visitor groups.

Several venues in Thailand reportedly cater to thousands of visitors daily, with the doubling in the country’s tourist numbers between 2010 and 2016 resulting in a 30% rise in the number of elephants held in captivity for tourist activities.

A flight protection levy of up to 50p a passenger is part of planned changes to airline insolvency rules following the collapse of Monarch Airlines.

Passengers rather than the taxpayer are to shoulder the cost of repatriating stranded customers as part of government plans for dealing with future airline failures.

The proposal for a Flight Protection Scheme levy of “less than 50p” per person is part of a series of recommendations in the Department of Transport’s Airline Insolvency Review, which was commissioned following the collapse of Monarch Airlines in October 2017.

Monarch’s failure meant 85,000 passengers had to be repatriated by the Civil Aviation Authority in the largest peacetime operation of its kind. It also had to rescue XL Airways customers in 2008.

Lack of protection

Other recommendations include the use of an airline’s own aircraft to repatriate passengers should it fail. The review also wants to improve awareness and take up of safeguards which protect customers when airlines collapse.

Around 80% of passengers who book outbound flights from the UK have some form of protection enabling them to recover the money they paid for tickets that have subsequently become worthless because of airline failure.

However, only those 25% who have bought a travel product protected by the ATOL scheme are assured of being able to get home in a timely way at little or no extra cost. This leaves around 75% of passengers who would need to access and pay for alternative travel arrangements.

Industry rescue fares

Peter Bucks, chair of the Airline Insolvency Review, said: “We know passengers expect to be protected from being stranded overseas if their airline should collapse, but in practice, each year many people fly without any such protection.”

The moves, which are subject to consultation, have been criticised by the airline industry. The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK said the recent failure of WOW Air required no financial intervention from the CAA, with 13 airlines offering rescue fares under an industry voluntary agreement. It also questioned the cost and administration of the proposed levy.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, added: “50p may not sound much but airlines operate on wafer thin margins and passengers already pay over £3 billion each year to the Treasury in Air Passenger Duty. The chances of booking with an airline that goes bust remain extremely small.”

UK air traffic controllers have handled a record-breaking 9,000 flights in one day, highlighting the need to modernise UK airspace.

Congestion in the skies is as much a problem as it is on the ground, with UK airspace now typically handling 2.5 million flights a year or just over 7,000 a day.

This peaked at a peace-time record of 9,000 at the end of May, when flights to Madrid for the Champions League final added to traffic levels. It marked the end of a hectic month for NATS, the air traffic services provider, which published a series of visuals on Twitter showing the volume of Bank Holiday aircraft movements over London and the rest of the UK.

Last summer, NATS control centres at Swanwick in Hampshire and Prestwick in Ayrshire handled about a quarter of Europe’s peak of 37,000 flights-a-day.

More flight delays

While the NATS figures for delays were lower than elsewhere, 2018 still saw significant delays across Europe due to airspace capacity constraints and staff shortages.

Parts of UK airspace, particularly over the South East of England, are already restricted, which makes the rising number of aircraft movements particularly challenging.

As part of its Aviation 2050 review, the Government forecasts that by 2030 there will be 355 million passengers on 3.25 million flights. Without modernisation, it is thought that one in three flights will be delayed by half an hour or more by 2030.

Satellite-based navigation

NATS is a member of Our Future Skies, which unites organisations from the aviation industry to highlight the need for airspace modernisation and to make flying quicker, quieter and cleaner.

Air traffic controllers currently track planes via ground-based beacons, a system designed in the 1950s. With new technology, such as satellite-based navigation, it is now possible to make the best use of the full capability of modern aircraft.

Modernisation will make it easier for airports to manage how noise impacts local communities, while other potential benefits include an end to the stacking of planes — where aircraft queue in a circular pattern waiting to land. Analysis by NATS suggests airspace modernisation could deliver up to 20% of annual savings in fuel burn and CO2 emissions.

Lost luggage continues to be a challenge for airline industry, with almost 25 million bags mishandled in 2018.

Waiting at the baggage carousel remains a stressful part of any flight as passengers hope that their bag is not one of the 25 million or so lost or mishandled every year.

Based on the fact that airlines worldwide carried an estimated 4.3 billion bags last year, the chances of disruption are actually reasonably low — at 5.69 bags per thousand passengers.

Increased tracking of bags at key points in the airport journey — such as check-in, loading onto the aircraft and at onward connections — mean the scale of the problem has halved over the past decade. Even so, mishandled bags still cost airlines US$2.4 billion in compensation in 2018 and there are signs that the rate of improvement has plateaued recently.

Baggage tracking

Aviation technology company SITA said mistakes made during the transfer of baggage from one aircraft to another, or between airlines, accounted for 46% of all mishandled bags last year.

It urged airlines to consider the increased adoption of baggage tracking across all journey stages in order to drive greater efficiencies. Where this takes place at check-in and loading onto the aircraft, the rate of improvement ranged between 38% and 66%.

Tracking data will also enable airlines to provide more detailed information to passengers on the whereabouts of their baggage at each step in the journey.

Radio frequency chips

Some carriers have gone as far as inserting radio frequency chips into luggage tags so that it is possible to monitor baggage in real-time across the journey.

Results from Delta Airlines show that items tagged in this way were tracked at a 99.9% success rate, ensuring proper routing and loading for the 180 million bags it handles every year.

Baggage updates are then sent to the mobile phones of customers so that they have peace of mind before they reach the airport carousel.

Holidaymakers are looking out of Europe this summer, with Turkey, Tunisia and even short-stay jaunts across the Atlantic proving more popular.

Turkey has overtaken Greece as the second most popular destination for Thomas Cook holidaymakers as more Britons choose breaks outside the European Union.

The tour operator said 48% of its package holiday bookings for this summer were to non-EU destinations — a 10 percentage point rise on the same period a year ago — as prolonged Brexit uncertainty keeps the focus on the strength of the euro against the pound.

Bookings to Tunisia are also double what they were last year, with the North African country back on the map for UK holidaymakers after the terrorist attacks in 2015.

All-inclusive holidays

Spain remains the top destination for summer 2019, with the list of the five leading tourist spots in Thomas Cook’s 2019 UK Holiday Report also including the United States and Cyprus.

As well as being outside the EU, Turkey’s popularity has been driven by its reputation as a value for money location and home to sandy beaches, salt lakes and ancient ruins.

The peace of mind offered by all-inclusive holidays also remains important to Britons in the current economic climate, with 66% of package trips locking in costs on food and drink.

Bite-sized breaks

The report identifies a surge in holidaymakers choosing “bite-sized” breaks of less than a week to long-haul destinations such as the United States, Mexico and South Africa.

Savvy travellers are cutting costs on these long-haul short breaks by flying without hold luggage or finding cheaper flight-only deals. The report said that the number of travellers taking a three-night trip to Las Vegas was up 33%, with a 171% jump in popularity for five-nights in Mexico.

New fuel efficient planes such as the Airbus 380 and 787 Dreamliner are helping to push the travel boundaries, leading to a 350% surge in long-haul passengers over ten years.

 

British holidaymakers heading to Greece this summer have been warned to expect delays at the country’s airports.

Extra passport checks by Greek police are set to mean increased waiting times for Europeans travelling to and from certain destinations, including the UK.

The new security measures have been introduced by Greece under the 2017 Schengen Borders Code regulation, which will eventually be applied by all Schengen member states.

Travellers from non-Schengen countries, including the UK, have been urged to allow extra time to reach their departure gate so that police can carry out additional database checks.

Interpol database

As Britons make more than three million trips to Greece every year, the Foreign Office has recently updated its travel advice to highlight the potential for delays. It said: “You should ensure you arrive at the airport in good time.”

There are 26 countries in the Schengen area, making it the world’s largest visa free zone and allowing nationals from these places to travel free from border checks.

The 2017 directive recommends that member countries enhance their internal security by checking the details of EU citizens travelling from or to a non-Schengen country, including against databases such as Interpol’s list of stolen and lost travel documents.

Brexit arrangements

The UK and Ireland do not participate in the borders and visas aspects of the Schengen agreement and continue to operate border controls with other EU member states.

British citizens can still travel across Europe visa-free for a maximum of 90 days, something that the European Union has said will continue after Brexit. This is based on there being a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens travelling without visas to the UK for short stays.

One impact of Brexit, however, is the need for Britons to ensure their passports are up to date in the case of a no-deal withdrawal from the EU. This means the document will need to be less than 10 years old and have at least six months on it before it expires.

Failure to ensure this will mean not being able to travel to most EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. A passport renewal usually takes three weeks.

A Venice tourist tax is being imposed on day-trippers as the famous Italian city battles to cope with overtourism.

Short-stay visitors to Venice will soon have to pay a “landing tax” of up to 10 euros in a move effectively creating an admission fee for entry to the floating city.

Authorities in Venice are introducing the charge this summer so that the income raised can help with clearing the rubbish left by an estimated 20 million tourists who visit each year.

The Venice tax move comes amid growing concern among Venetians about the impact that day-trippers from the many giant cruise ships moored in the lagoon are having on the city’s character. It is thought that only one visitor in every five stays in Venice overnight.

Fee-charging museum

With the daily throng of tourists in Venice sometimes twice the number of residents, officials in the city have taken other measures in recent months to address overcrowding. This has included limiting entry to St Mark’s Square, such as during the Venetian carnival in February when the historic piazza was closed once the capacity of 23,000 had been reached.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee recently threatened to put the city on its danger list, having expressed “extreme concern” about the impact of tourism on Venice’s historical sites.

But the new tax, which will vary between 3 euros and 10 euros depending on peak times, has drawn criticism from some who say it will turn Venice into a fee-charging museum.

Thailand beach closure

Venice is not alone in facing overtourism, with other Italian cities including Florence expressing  interest in adopting similar tax schemes.

Further afield, authorities in Thailand have closed Maya Beach after the location made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach sustained significant environmental damage as a result of visits from as many as 5,000 tourists a day.

And in Peru, the number of permits for visiting the Inca Trail is now limited to 500 a day, with 2,500 available for Machu Picchu.

With just 4% of people making their last journey to an airport by coach, a campaign has been launched to “break the stigma” around this form of travel.

The poor perception of airport coach travel has been blamed for preventing more passengers from using sustainable modes of transport when going to and from an airport.

Research by the independent watchdog Transport Focus said that one third of people believed that coaches were often uncomfortable, dirty or old. More than half described them as infrequent and often delayed by traffic or roadworks.

At a recent summit hosted by Heathrow airport, leaders from the transport industry including coach operators and the Department for Transport pledged to do more to make coach travel more appealing.

Sustainable travel option

Despite strong levels of passenger satisfaction among coach travellers, awareness of this option as a cost effective and reliable way to travel remains desperately low.

The five-point action plan includes the use of technology to boost the visibility of coach journey information, as well as publication of performance data to inform consumer choice.

More work will be done to promote coach travel as a value for money, sustainable option compared with other forms of long-distance travel. The coach industry will step up efforts to challenge current misconceptions, as well as work more closely with airports and airlines.

Coach travel perceptions

The research found that the majority of people travelled by car to the airport the last time they flew, with 35% parking at the airport, 18% being dropped off and 19% getting a taxi. Scheduled coach services accounted for just 4%, compared with 13% taking a train.

Perceptions of coach travel are frequently driven by isolated and long ago experiences, such as one off journeys or school trips and private coach hire.

Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “It’s time to break the stigma around coach travel and to promote this travel option as the savvy consumer choice.”

Aviation minister Liz Sugg added: “It is clear that misconceptions need to be overcome so that coach travel is seen as a genuine alternative to the car.”

A vision of the future for holidaymakers

Augmented reality glasses for use on city tours are the latest example of the immersive technologies helping to enhance the holiday experience.

An alternative to the umbrella-waving tour guide could soon see holidaymakers exploring cities and places of interest with the help of augmented reality glasses.

The specs, which are currently being tested by TUI customers in Palma de Mallorca, enable text, photographs, videos and 3D models to be displayed in front of what the user is looking at. The company said the technology offered holidaymakers “new, more exciting access” to historical facts and stories and took into account many tourists’ desire to explore on their own.

In the Palma trial, users have been able to learn more about an artist whose paintings they are viewing, or see an animation of the famous dragon that is said to have terrorised the city.

Try before you fly

TUI is one of the first travel providers in the world to offer the technology, which builds on recent developments revolutionising the holiday booking experience.

This has included Thomas Cook’s “try before you fly” virtual reality feature, which gives web and store visitors a closer look at destinations or the cabin of one of the company’s planes.

Hotels have been using similar technology to give their website visitors a better view of the rooms they have on offer. And once customers arrive at their destination, interactive maps have been providing an extra layer of information on local points of interest when viewed on a smartphone.

Airline technology

In the airline sector, easyJet is now using augmented reality technology to help customers know if their cabin bag is within the right dimensions before they set off for the airport. The company hopes the feature on its app will reduce unexpected baggage queries on arrival.

The scan provides an on-screen 3D box which when combined with a customer’s smartphone camera sizes the cabin bag and indicates whether it fits within the maximum dimensions.

Travelport’s Cormac Reilly, who helped develop the feature for easyJet, said: “Audiences are increasingly demanding digital solutions which improve their travel experience.”