A lot can happen in a year — but 2017 was particularly eventful when it came to how we travel the world.
• Mother Nature rewrote the travel map: Three hurricanes of extraordinary strength crashed into Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico this year; the effects of Harvey, Irma and Maria continue in nearly every place that they were felt.
Parts of the Caribbean have been written off the tourist map until at least late 2018, including St. Barth and the U.S. Virgin Islands; the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are showing slightly quicker signs of recovery. Wildfires swept the West Coast, one across California's wine country and another in greater Los Angeles. The natural disasters have set travelers on hunts for new places: New Zealand, Bermuda and Mexico's Los Cabos. But remember that trips to recovering areas provide much-needed tourism dollars that are crucial to restoration efforts.
• Airlines stooped to new lows: Travelers in the back of the plane were subject to several new kinds of torture in 2017. Passengers got physically assaulted or dragged off planes in a series of nightmarish incidents that catapulted "airline spokesperson" to one of the most unenviable jobs of the year. In July, United Airlines announced plans to resell fliers' seats to other people for more money. Then in September, Jet Blue Airways Corp. decided to shrink its seats after years of prioritizing a customer-first philosophy. And last month, British Airways announced a new policy whereby those who pay the least for their tickets also get to board last.
• Cruising grew up (and got younger): This year, cruise companies made a concerted effort to attract younger travelers, with expedition-class ships sailing to uncharted Arctic territories and facilitating high-octane thrills around the world. For some companies, that meant offering bike tours of classic European destinations; for others, it meant open-water kayaking off the coast of Alaska. Cruise ships also became more innovative in their dining and entertainment concepts, swapping tired revue shows for original productions.
• Unplugging took on new importance: With the volume of breaking news reaching what felt like an all-time high, travelers looked to get far, far away from it all in 2017. Hot destinations stood out for their seclusion — Antarctica, the Maldives — and unplugged experiences in the great outdoors (Nepal, South Africa). Mental well-being and holistic wellness took precedence over massages or facials.
• New airport rules made for new headaches: Nationalist fervor in the U.S., Great Britain and Germany made closed borders one of the most commonly recurring themes of the year. It manifested itself most prominently in President Donald Trump's travel ban, barring visitors from eight countries (including six with mostly Muslim populations).
In airports worldwide, additional safety measures included banning laptops on flights and at-the-gate pat-downs. Airlines started cracking down on smart luggage with battery packs. With Europe voting to end visa-free travel in March — and Trump responding with new rules for inbound tourists — this is a narrative that's still unfolding.
• The effects of "over-tourism" were felt: From Venice to Peru, local governments confronted the fact that tourism is an important economic engine, but too much of it becomes destructive. San Jose on Ibiza banned DJs from 16 beach clubs and started regulating the number of hotels and Airbnb listings available at a given time. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, legislation capped visitors to the medieval walled city at 4,000 per day. And in Peru, long-rumored limits on daily entries to Machu Picchu finally took off in a play to protect the historic site from the effects of excessive foot traffic.
All this is good news. It means that in these fragile places, tourism will develop with a closer eye on sustainability — and some overlooked places will get the turn in the spotlight they deserve.