Eight trends that changed travel over the last decade

Michael Gebicki

Posted January 08, 2020

These were the hottest travel trends and destinations from the last decade.

A decade is a long time in travel, and as the calendar turns to 2020 it’s worth a look in the rear vision mirror to remember the way things were back in 2010.

If you travelled overseas that year you probably took a fold-out map and a guidebook, and though the inflight entertainment screen on the aircraft was smaller than today’s, you might have scored an empty seat beside you. 

The word “overtourism” had yet to be heard, there were no selfie sticks, a non-stop flight from Australia to London was science fiction and Airbnb was just a tottering infant. In 2010 the home-sharing platform notched up 700,000 nights booked for the year. In the first quarter of 2019, that figure was 91 million. (More: The hottest travel trends and holiday destinations for 2020.)

Aerial view of Barcelona


Eight trends that shaped travel over the last decade

Hot destinations of 2010

Barcelona was on every travel bucket list, Cuba was the hot new trophy destination for intrepid types, Colombia was in the spotlight, freed of its drug cartels, and travellers were discovering the mellow joys of Sri Lanka, freshly emerged from years of civil conflict. An overwater bungalow in the Maldives was the very last word in luxury and Antarctica was on the cusp of a boom as a cruise-ship destination. Damascus was being billed as the next Marrakesh, but tourists had yet to discover Japan in large numbers. In 2009 the country welcomed just 6.8 million travellers. A decade later the figure is over 30 million.

The rise of China-based airlines

Back in 2010 there were just three China-based airlines operating non-stop flights from three Chinese cities to Australia. Today there are eight Chinese airlines servicing Australian cities. That’s more than the total number of European and North American carriers flying into Australian airports. As well as non-stop flights from Australia to more than a dozen cities in China, these airlines also offer highly competitive seat prices, exerting downward pressure on other carriers’ airfares. Increased flights have also fuelled a boom in the number of Chinese visitors. In the year ending 1 July 2009, 373,000 residents of China visited Australia. A decade later that figure is almost four times greater.

The decline of the jumbos

In 2010 Boeing’s 747 and Airbus’ A380 were the unquestioned rulers of long-distance air travel but the winds of change are blowing the four-engine, double-decker jumbos from the skies. The Boeing 747, which took its first paying passengers into the skies 50 years ago, is no longer in production as a passenger aircraft. Production of the A380, which made its commercial debut only in 2007, is tapering to a close. Although the jumbos are spacious, quiet and smooth, technological changes and rising fuel costs have spelled their demise. Twin-engine, wide-bodied aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 and 777 and the Airbus A350 are now the vehicles of choice for airlines looking for long-haul aircraft. Not only are they cheaper to operate, they can carry almost as many passengers as the jumbos and fly even further. 

The cruise scene sets sail

In 2010, 466,000 Australians took a cruise holiday. The figure for 2019 is expected to be three times greater. As a percentage of population, more Australians take a cruise than any other nationality. The increase has coincided with the era of the megaships – those with a gross weight in excess of 200,000 tonnes. Another phenomenon that has spurred the increase in cruise numbers is the advent of luxury expeditionary ships – those small and hardy vessels that take us through the fiords of Patagonia and to the temple cities along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. You can now have National Geographic-style encounters with wildlife and ‘calving’ glaciers (when chunks of ice break off a glacier), dance with painted warriors in Papua New Guinea then go below decks for a spa treatment followed by a drink in the cocktail lounge and dinner served by a bow-tied waiter. 

Couple with a selfie stick

But first, let me take a selfie.

Smartphone apps

The first iPhone went on sale in 2007 and smartphone apps were still in their infancy back in 2010, when ‘app’ was voted ‘Word of the Year’ by the American Dialect Society. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all made their debut that year. Today it’s hard to imagine travel without Google Maps to help us navigate the laneways of Venice or the backroads of Vermont, Google Translate to help us decipher the menu in Lima, currency exchange apps to tell us how many Croatian kuna that crystal vase costs in Aussie dollars, Instagram images for dazzling the folks back home and WhatsApp for making free video calls to friends and family. (More: 10 apps every traveller needs to have on their phone.)

Speaking of social media...

The noughties also gave rise to a new breed of intrepid traveller. But instead of being fearless adventurers, these foolhardy photo seekers will go anywhere and do anything – often casting common sense, sensibility and safety aside – in the quest for that one epic Instagram snap.

We’ve seen tourists teetering on rocky outcrops for the sake of an uninterrupted photo of the Grand Canyon, standing atop New York city skyscrapers or dangling their legs over the edge of steep ocean-side cliffs along the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk in NSW. While this quest to boldly go where everyone on your Instagram feed has gone before has put plenty of destinations on the beaten track, it has also played a part in taking them off it. Such is the case with The Pillars in Mount Martha, where coastal sandstone cliffs overhanging crystal clear waters look like a scene straight out of the Mediterranean. Thanks to Instagram sending a sudden surge of iPhone-wielding beachgoers, access to the cliff-diving spot has been shut off for safety reasons.

...Oh, and let’s not forget selfie sticks

Social media is also to blame for perhaps one of the most annoying travel trends of the noughties: selfie sticks. So swift was their rise to selfie-worthy essentialism that, at many popular tourist spots around the world, it became near impossible to see the attraction through the selfie sticks forest. It even prompted the go-go-gadget photo-taking arms to be banned at many popular monuments around the world, including Disneyland, inside the Colosseum, Westminster Abbey and even galleries like the Met and the Guggenheim in New York. (More: Top travel mistakes you might be making.)


This has been a game-changer for the way we travel. In 2010 you probably got wifi in your hotel room but today you can count on free wifi in most airport terminals, in cafes and restaurants around the globe, on your cruise ship and almost certainly aboard your aircraft. Some leading carriers now offer inflight broadband wifi via satellite which makes it possible to stream videos and other data-hungry feeds to your device and make VOIP calls, wherever your aircraft happens to be in the world.

No wifi? No worries. Global SIM cards offer connectivity in just about any country you’re likely to find yourself so you don’t have to worry about chewing through your data while you’re on holiday. RACV members can take advantage of great discounts on United Networks’ Global SIM cards.