The airport may not look too different from the one you walked through last January. The same sitcoms are showing on your seat back screen, assuming you still have one. And hopefully the people you’re traveling to visit are familiar faces, too.
But there’s a lot about travel that has changed over the past 12 months. Here are the major highlights.
Flights went farther
Qantas Airways debuted its newest ultra-long-haul this spring: a flight from Perth to London. At 17 hours, it came close to breaking records.
Then in October, Singapore Airlines did what Qantas didn’t. Its 18-hour, 45-minute route — which spans 10,400 miles from Changi to Newark — is 500 miles longer than the previous record-holder, a Qatar Airways flight from Auckland to Doha. Credit goes to Airbus’ new A350-900 Ultra Long Range aircraft, which guzzles less fuel than previous versions.
And flights are only going to continue getting longer. Gulfstream made advances this year that will help private aviation reach extreme distances, and Qantas would like to have 20-hour flights from New York and London to Sydney by 2022 — possibly on planes with bunk beds, child-care facilities and gyms.
Planes got nicer
Delta, American and United airlines all started installing premium economy cabins along their international routes — a first — while JetBlue Airways announced the expansion of its relatively affordable (and very comfortable) Mint Business Class.
Still stuck in cattle class? Don’t worry: Even perks such as in-flight internet access were a focus this year, as service got more ubiquitous and faster than ever.
Tented camps were the rage
Hotels with four walls are so 2017. This year was all about the tented camp — experiential properties inspired by the glamour of the African savanna. They cropped up in Bali, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, with more in the works in Mexico, Costa Rica and beyond. And no, we’re not talking about roughing it. These are tents with private pools, indoor and outdoor showers, canopied beds and butler service. The canvas walls just add to the adventure.
The Caribbean rebounded
A year after the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria, hotels have refurbished and reopened and new air routes have improved access to quieter corners of the region. Travel companies at every end of the spectrum are engaging in smart philanthropic efforts.
Among the hotels to prioritize: the sceney Mandarin Oriental Pink Sands in Canouan, the fully redone Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve in San Juan and Silversands, the first resort to pull out all the stops on the lush island of Grenada. And just about anything in St. Barts and Anguilla.
Hotels figured out how to take on Airbnb
No, the answer isn’t to start offering apartment rentals. In fact, the companies that tried that approach largely floundered in 2018. Instead, hoteliers found success in the extended-stay model. In Europe and the U.S., “boutique apart-hotels” took the best parts of extended-stay hotels (large suites with kitchens, affordable rates) and merged them with modern-day luxuries like high-end design, third-wave coffee shops and vibrant coworking spaces.
The Balkans became buzzy
There’s no question: The trendy destination of 2018 was the Balkans. Europhiles looking for the next big thing set their sights just past over-touristed Croatia and to places like Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia. All have untrammeled, postcard-perfect landscapes, fascinating history, distinct food traditions, few crowds and easy access. Whether you want to connect them by road trip or regional flights, it’s easy to check off a couple of countries in a single weeklong trip. (Up next on the insiders’ heat map: the Silk Road.)
Kid-friendly travel went next-level
This year multigenerational travel got a new spin. First was the concept of “skip-gen” trips, where grandparents cut the parents out of the equation and take the grandkids for a grand tour, European or otherwise. That put more pressure on the older generation to channel what younger travelers want — which isn’t always easy.
As a response, TCS World Travel has convened a panel of teenage travel consultants who can help adults cater to their ever-shifting preferences. A few months later, Big Five Tours and Expeditions followed suit. Hotels have also started to overhaul their family-friendly programming.
And if that all weren’t enough, private aviation company VistaJet took in-flight entertainment to new heights with a program that delivers themed, six-figure play parties at 45,000 feet.