Travel trends 2020 — the big destinations

Headshot of Stephen Scourfield
Stephen ScourfieldThe West Australian
Kabukicho red light district, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Camera IconKabukicho red light district, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan Credit: Getty Images

trends2020 JAPAN

Travel to Japan is going from strength to strength, and during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, from July 24-August 9, the spotlight will shine even more brightly on the land of the rising sun.

We are now connected by direct flight with All Nippon Airways between Perth and Tokyo. But other good carriers such as Singapore Airlines have very good connections direct to many airports in Japan — Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Matsuyama, Okayama, Shizuoka, Toyama, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Okinawa, Sapporo, Kagoshima, Niigata and Sendai.

The usual pattern for post-Olympics is to see good offers, but demand for travel to Japan is so high I can’t see any better deals after the Games of the XXXII Olympiad than you will get now. If you want to go, you might as well just book.

trends2020 HANOI (oh, and F1 generally)

Twenty-three corners will do nicely for the new F1 street circuit in Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. This first race in Hanoi, added into an F1 season of 22 races (which starts in Melbourne on March 15 and includes a return to the Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands) will draw mainly race enthusiasts, though there’s a full program of entertainment to spice up race weekend, on April 4 and 5. Not so far east of Hanoi, Halong Bay is seeing more and more visitors. For families, combine a couple of nights on a junk with a ride on the Reunification Express train from Hanoi to Hue.

A young family cycles past in front of the rock fortress of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, Asia
Camera IconA young family cycles past in front of the rock fortress of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, Asia Credit: Getty Images/Cultura Exclusive

trends2020 SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka has made a quiet comeback since the bombings last Easter which killed 259 people, at least 45 foreigners among them. Security has increased across the country and the tourism industry has again been finding its feet.

The Australian Government’s Smartraveller website still advises exercising “a high degree of caution” but the Indian Ocean island’s proximity to us, its palm-fringed beaches, hill and tea country, Buddhist temples, wildlife, bazaars and colonial buildings are a draw.

For me, a highlight is at Sigiriya, at the heart of its “cultural triangle”.

I climb the metal staircase up Lion Rock at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, and I’m faced with one of the most unusual art galleries I’ll ever see. There are elegant portraits of women, from all over the world. These are beautiful, exotic princesses with their attendants — black, Asian, perhaps one from the Americas, concubines painted in frescoes 1500 years ago.

Specialists say there may have originally been as many as 500, but there are now only 21 rock paintings of apsaras ... these celestial singers and dancers. Their figurative style is remarkable, but so is the fact they look freshly painted. This is largely because they were painted on plaster made of limestone, bee honey, egg white and resin. Minerals were used for the brown and yellow colours, and herbs for the violets and greens. There remains uncertainty as to what was used for the blue, which is still bright.

Below are the Pleasure Gardens of Sigiriya. I am inland, 32km from Kandalama, and these also date from the reign of King Kashyapa, between AD477 and AD495.

They are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

These ancient water channels were used for both delight and outdoor air-conditioning.

They provided somewhere for King Kashyapa to cool off after he usurped his father and murdered him by walling him up alive, seizing what should have been his brother Moggallana’s throne.

Sri Lanka is becoming as popular for its wildlife as for its food and culture, but poaching is a problem, with Sri Lanka’s Movement for Land Agriculture Reform reporting 361 elephant deaths in 2019, from a population of 7500 wild animals.

Did I mention the food? It’s fantastic, and so much of it is “close to source”.

GIZA, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 13: A boy leads two horses past Khafre pyramid November 13, 2004 at Giza, just outside Cairo, Egypt. The three large pyramids at Giza, built by King Khufu over a 30 year period around 2,550 B.C., are among Egypt's biggest tourist attractions. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Camera IconGIZA, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 13: A boy leads two horses past Khafre pyramid November 13, 2004 at Giza, just outside Cairo, Egypt. The three large pyramids at Giza, built by King Khufu over a 30 year period around 2,550 B.C., are among Egypt's biggest tourist attractions. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images

trends2020 NORTH AFRICA

Traveller interest has been steadily increasing in North Africa — specifically in Morocco and Egypt …


Mixing Marrakech, Rabat and Fez gives the flavour. Of all of it, probably the most memorable may be medinas in the old, historic parts of Marrakech and Fez. Medinas are divided into Quartiers, each with a mosque, hammam (bathhouse), communal bread oven, water fountain and madrassa educational institution. In the souks, there are food markets, spice sellers and all sorts of crafts, from metal to hide tanning.

Intrepid has one-week tour itineraries for individuals and families. Itineraries include Marrakech (visiting spice souks and bazaars and tasting local food); Imlil, in the Atlas Mountains (a two-hour drive); Taghazout (great swimming spots); Essaouira (old fishing town). The cost is less than $1000 per person. Visit Flight Centre stores for details.

On security, the overall Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warning for Morocco is the same level as South Africa and Tanzania.


After some false starts, I think we can now say Egypt has somewhat falteringly made its tourism comeback, despite world authorities still being cautious about security (DFAT still suggests we reconsider our need to travel).

The big companies are back.

Ask about Trafalgar’s nine-day Egyptian Voyager itinerary. This includes time in Cairo, with a guided tour of the Egyptian Museum, home of King Tutankhamun’s priceless treasures, then three nights on the Nile, seeing temples and tombs and visiting Luxor before ending in Alexandria.

Expect to pay a bit under $3500 per person for the tour.

For a more basic version, Intrepid has its eight-day Egypt Adventure from $1365 on a deal available until February 13, for travel on selected departures until December 31. It includes four nights in hotels, four in a felucca sailing boat, and two on an overnight sleeper train. In Cairo, there are visits to the bazaar, pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Giza, before travelling to Aswan and Luxor, and three tombs in the Valley of Kings.

Both Trafalgar and Intrepid are sold by Flight Centre.

trends2020 SPAIN

Barcelona, blatantly. Madrid, a must. Santiago, surely. Granada, without a grudge. Valencia, veritably.

But add some odd names to the wishlist: Cartegena, Baeza, Alcazar of Segovia, Aranjuez.

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, one of the most beautiful musical pieces composed in Spain, was inspired by Aranjuez’s gardens of the Palacio Real, commissioned by King Philip II in the 16th century. Spain holds the second spot on the World Tourism Organisation’s list of most-visited countries in the world, after France, although arrivals softened during the last half of 2019.

A baby elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Camera IconA baby elephant in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Credit: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian

trends2020 BOTSWANA & ZAMBIA

There’s a swing (perhaps more correctly termed a “sophistication”) in our thinking about the African continent. Look back at the travel history and we see a mix of some travellers thinking it was just all about South Africa, and others thinking Africa was all just too flaky and chaotic to tackle. From that (I must say, partly through the consistent narrative in these pages), more travellers have come to understand there are good, secure options, there’s plenty of wildlife to see, and great safari camps.

This has heralded the rise of interest in Botswana and Zambia, which will continue as a solid trend in 2020. If you want safari, they have the answer.

trends2020 ICELAND

Iceland has been facing a slump after being a “poster child” of international tourism over the last decade (just over half a million international visitors in 2011; more than 2.5 million now). The strength of its krona, collapse of its budget airline Wow Air, the Boeing 737 Max catastrophe and rising labour costs have all contributed to a downturn in a country where tourism now accounts for more than 40 per cent of the economy, according to Statistics Iceland.

But it pulled off a stellar comeback following the financial collapse in October 2008, and doubtless will regroup again, while providing us with a welcome lull in the growth.

This will be a good year to see its Blue Lagoon, Vatnajokull National Park, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the northern lights.

It’s a great drive destination.

Considering that Route 1, which does a complete lap around the island and was completed way back in 1974, is only 1332km long, and speed limits are 50km/h in urban areas and 90km/h outside towns, so a bit of simple maths (well, and me) will tell you that you could “do” Iceland in a couple of days. But self-drivers should follow the example of organised tours and allow four, I think. It’s the perfect minimum time ... but, bearing in mind that the landscape (and the sheep) will help you to keep your speed down. I’d plan one arrival day, six on the road, and one departure day (but not in winter, between November and April).

I’ve lapped Route 1 on a motorbike. Twice, actually. It was so good, we went round again.The opening marked the 1100th year of the island being settled

... (and there’s more ...)

trends2020 GREENLAND

... cruises couple Iceland with Greenland, for example starting in Reykjavik, visiting Snaefellsnes, crossing to the Fridtjof Nansen Cape in eastern Greenland, and then sailing around the bottom of the world’s biggest island (more than two million square kilometres) to Skjoldungen Fjord, Prince Christian Sound, Nuuk and Disko Bay before flying out of Kangerlussauq.

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