How travel will change in the next 10 years

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British Airways is trialling autonomous robots at Heathrow Airport to handled customer service queries.
 Photo: AP

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Making predictions which peer into the year ahead tends to be a fool’s errand that can only end in ridicule and embarrassment once the actual eventualities are revealed. So trying to second-guess an entire decade from the standing start of its first moments is an act of rank foolishness that no reasonable person should ever consider attempting. After all, who could have foreseen the events of the last 10 years?

A Britain riven from top to toe by desperate political division? A reality-TV president in the United States? An England men’s team winning a World Cup in a major sport? A Best Actor Oscar for Matthew McConaughey. Had you suggested any of these things in the last hours of 2009, you would have been told to leave the bar, and consider moderating your intake.

And yet, here we are on the doorstep of what can’t be called the “Roaring Twenties” (because that’s been done), and surely won’t be called the “Boring Twenties” (because the current global and environmental situations make that seem unlikely) – and the instinct, as ever, is to look forward and make pronouncements. What will the 2020s bring us? The first woman on the moon (almost certainly – it’s in NASA’s diary for 2024 anyway)? The first humans on Mars (possibly – though it’s a hell of a long way)? Kanye West as US president (maybe – the rapper has already said he will run in 2024)?

But never mind these weighty matters. What of travel? Where will we be over the course of the coming 315,619,200 seconds (or, if you will, 87,672 hours) – and, perhaps more importantly, how will we get there? The following 10 theories are, if not quite stabs in the dark, then random punches in the gloaming. More trains? Probably. Fewer flights? Perhaps. Monkey rulers and killer robots? Well yes, obviously. Let’s all meet up in the year 2029, to see if any of the following made sense.

Space tourism. Maybe

There is an unwritten rule which declares that every feature about the long-term future of travel has to start with a paragraph about how we’ll all be enjoying afternoon tea on Mercury within three years, quad-biking across the red surface of Mars within four – and buying second homes and setting up boutique patisseries on Venus within seven.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2.

However, the 2020s may just be the decade when some form of commercial space travel comes into play. You will still have to be exceedingly rich even to contemplate it – but options for soaring into the skies are likely to be available sooner than you might think. SpaceX, the American aerospace company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, was conducting extensive tests on its Starship prototype for much of this year, and has been talking about commercial flights by as soon as 2021. Similarly, Virgin Galactic is still adamant that lift-off is relatively imminent – only last month, it tweeted footage of ongoing engineering work on its SpaceShipTwo craft. Sir Richard Branson’s vow, made in February, that he would personally go to space within six months, has again come to nothing, but the mood at the firm is bullish – partly because it has 600 people on its space-flight waiting list, each paying near half a million dollars for their great adventure.

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Of course, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are “merely” conduits to the journey. Really serious space tourists will also need somewhere to stay – but this, too, is no longer beyond the realms of possibility. Recent weeks have seen hopeful pronouncements from the California-based start-up Orion Span about a launch date for its private space station Aurora (again, 2021 has been suggested), while the similarly ambitious Gateway Foundation has plans to put its state-of-the-art Von Braun Rotating Space Station (VBRSS) – which could have room for up to 450 guests – into orbit by 2025.

Up, up and away at some point in the 2020s? For once, the sky may not be the limit.

More of the Middle East

Madain Saleh, an archaeological site in Saudi Arabia. Photo: iStock

Thirty years ago, the idea of jetting off to Dubai for a week in a luxury hotel was not a regular part of the travel conversation. Nowadays, a getaway to Jumeirah Beach – or to Saadiyat Island, down the road in Abu Dhabi – is as unremarkable a proposition as a winter dash to Thailand or an August fortnight in a plush villa in Bali. Will we, in 10 years time, be similarly laissez-faire about trips to other parts of the Middle East?

It’s a reasonable question. You may have noticed the sudden soft-sell for holidays in Saudi Arabia. Back in September, the desert kingdom announced the launch of a new tourist visa programme – part of a bid to refresh the image of a country that has long been decried for its human rights abuses and its treatment of women. As such, you may well have reservations about considering it a travel destination. But equally, there is no doubt that Saudi will continue to throw money at the issue – calculating that expensive adverts which show off its dramatic landscape and its broad sandscapes will stick in the public mind far longer than the fall-out from last year’s extra-judicial murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

On this score, its PR team is probably right – and if Saudi starts to harness its long Red Sea coast as a hotel zone to rival Egypt across the water, it is entirely plausible that, by the end of the decade, a beach break to the Costa Del Jeddah will be just another listing in the last-minute deals sections of holiday websites.

Doha, Qatar. Photo: iStock

Qatar will also be hoping for a tourism surge. This peninsula state is one of Saudi’s bitterest rivals in the region, but it will enjoy a month in a laser-bright spotlight in November and December 2022, when it becomes the first Middle Eastern country to host the men’s football World Cup. That decision, announced as far back as December 2010, has been dogged ever since by allegations of corruption and reports of appalling conditions for Nepalese and Pakistani workers building the stadia for the tournament. But three years from now, the full weight of the football machine will swing behind the event, and questions of malpractice will be lost behind montages of Lionel Messi goals and the usual inflation of England‘s chances. Once the tickertape from the trophy presentation has been cleared away after the pre-Christmas final – on December 18 2022 – Qatar will face the planet with a burnished profile. Will tourists follow in 2023?

American dream

Los Angeles will host two of the world’s biggest sporting events in the next decade. Photo: iStock

If major global sporting events produce tourism surges – and the evidence suggests they do – then America can expect a travel boom in the second half of the decade. The USA is one of the three confirmed host nations for the 2026 men’s football World Cup (along with Canada and Mexico) – and if supporters decide to shun the Qatar tournament four years earlier, there will surely be a renewal of interest when the planet’s best players are performing their flicks and tricks in the likes of New York, Washington DC, Denver, Houston, Seattle, Nashville, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (all of which are currently due to stage matches). LA, as LA does, will enjoy its weeks on the global stage, then invite everybody back for a repeat visit a couple of years later – it will be the host city for the following Summer Olympics (July 21-August 6 2028.)

Paris in summer

Paris 2024 (July 26-August 11) will be the first time the Games will have been held in Europe for 12 years. Keen-eyed fans of all things Olympic will already have noted that the sailing competitions will be held in the waters off Marseille – a perfect excuse for a tied-in holiday on the Mediterranean.

Fewer flights

The concept of flygskam – the Swedish term for “flight shame” – may be a very recent arrival in the dictionary, but it is likely to shape the way many of us travel in the next decade. A survey conducted by the Swiss bank UBS in October found that one in five of us lowered the number of times we caught a flight in the last year.

The poll questioned 6000 people in the UK, the USA, Germany and France – and 21 per cent replied that they had reduced their use of aircraft in the last 12 months. The role of aviation in climate change was given as the key reason. There were variations in results according to nationality – 16 per cent of British respondents said they were cutting back on flying, compared to 24 per cent of Americans. This alone will not make a huge difference – but UBS calculated that, as a consequence, the air industry in the EU will only expand by 1.5 per cent next year, as opposed to the expected three per cent – with the USA experiencing a similar drop in growth from 2.1 per cent to 1.3 per cent. Small steps – but stretch this across a whole decade, and airports in 2029 could look very different.

High-tech airports

Whether or not airports become more or less busy in the next 10 years, they are certainly set to become cleverer. Earlier this month, SITA (or Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques, to spell it out fully) – an information-technology company which operates at the heart of the aviation industry – released its own set of predictions for the future of air travel. Among them? “Frictionless” checks whereby “going through security will mean walking along a corridor. No more taking off your coat, shoes, and belt, or putting little bottles into little bags. And no more queues. Passengers and their bags will be recognised automatically as they go through automated checkpoints”. And Artificial Intelligence. “AI algorithms will be key to efficiency,” the report continues. “Airports will use Digital Twin technology – an advanced computer simulation that takes data from across the entire airport and airline operations to visualise, simulate and predict what will happen next – to bring real-time operations to life, improving efficiency and enhancing the passenger experience.”

Longer flights

Qantas has tested non-stop flights from London and New York to Sydney.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) does not agree that the public will turn its back on the airport, predicting a doubling in passenger numbers over the next 20 years. But whether the statistics go up or down, it is all but certain that planes will go further and further as the 2020s progress. Of the current top ten longest passenger flights in operation, only one – the 10th place service, between Johannesburg in South Africa and Atlanta in the US state of Georgia – was launched more than a decade ago (in June 2009). Admittedly, the flight that holds the top spot – Singapore Airlines’s 9,534-mile odyssey between its home airport and Newark in New Jersey – is something of a reboot. It existed between 2004 and 2013, before being revived in October 2018. But the other eight have all appeared on the map of the skies in the last five years. The direct Qantas connection between Heathrow and Perth, born in March 2018, is the first non-stop flight between Australia and the UK.

This 9,009-mile, 17-hour jaunt across oceans and continents is, at present, the planet’s third longest flight. It won’t be for much longer. October (2019) witnessed further Qantas envelope-pushing – a test flight of 10,066 miles and 19 hours, 16 minutes between New York and Sydney. This monumental feat saw a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flit from Big Apple to Bondi Beach with a cargo of just 50 passengers and crew, and limited luggage. Existing fuel capacities don’t yet allow aircraft to cover such distances with a full load of people and bags – but the technological leap is just a matter of time.

More trains

Australia’s new luxury train, the Great Southern. Photo: RUSSELL MILLARD

Whether or not it happens concurrently with an expansion in air travel (spoiler – it will), the train is set to see a grand resurgence across the course of the next 10 years. But while eco-consciousness will certainly play a part in this upsurge, the rail revival will also be underpinned by better, speedier technology that will make taking the tracks as viable an option in time and expense as it is in terms of environmental-friendliness.

The signs are already there. Australia has not always been the heaviest investor in its rail network – but this month has seen the launch of a 1,800-mile train service between south-coast Adelaide and east-coast Brisbane. In taking three days over the journey, it will be a connection that appeals primarily to tourists in no hurry, rather than business travellers who can make the leap by plane in two-and-a-half hours – but the principle is commendable. The same could be said of the mooted direct train between London and Bordeaux, which would carry travellers to France‘s claret heartland in four hours, cutting out the need to change stations in Paris. This could be up and zooming in 2021.

More impressive still is the “Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor” – which will begin to take shape on India‘s west flank in 2020. Far more than a trundling tourist line, it will be an economic artery for this nation of 1.3 billion people, linking its glittering financial hub to the biggest city in Gujarat in a little under two hours. At present, this journey of 330 miles takes nine hours by road (India‘s notoriously jam-prone traffic permitting). The flight takes an hour, but factor in cab rides to the airport at either end, and the result is something akin to parity. The future? Just the start of it.

Japan to London by train

A Japanese shinkansen (bullet train). Photo: Bloomberg

Indian fast trains are one thing. Rail journeys from London to Tokyo are quite another.

But the prospect is not as outlandish as it sounds. Indeed, the main current barriers, at least in terms of track infrastructure, are two gaps of five and 28 miles; the respective distances between the Russian mainland and its Far Eastern island of Sakhalin, and between Sakhalin and Hokkaido – the northernmost of Japan’s three main outcrops.

Moreover, Russia has an eye on linking A to B, and then B to C. It already has plans to extend its own railway from Vladivostok – where the Trans-Siberian Railway terminates – towards Sakhalin, and has conducted a study on the feasibiity of a bridge across the Strait of Tartary, which keeps the island at arm’s length. It is Japan which ne convincing to join in. “We are seriously offering Japanese partners [the chance] to consider the construction of a mixed road and railway passage from Hokkaido to [the] southern part of Sakhalin,” former First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov commented in 2017. Tokyo is yet to give its consent, but the idea is far from impossible. Its own Seikan Tunnel – which allows shinkansen (bullet) trains to dash underground between Hokkaido and Honshu – is proof that such engineering projects are feasible in a region known for its earthquakes. And at 33 miles in length, it is longer than a Hokkaido-Sakhalin passageway under the Soya Strait would need to be.

The obstacles to its construction are more likely to be political than geographical, and agreement may not come any time soon – Russia was first estimating costs as long ago as 2000. But a journey from St Pancras International to Tokyo Central, without ever leaving terra firma, before the decade is out? Don’t bet your roubles or yen against it.

Killer robots and talking chimps

Terminators should be here by the end of the decade.

Hollywood has a notoriously poor record on major predictions. Back To The Future Part II promised us an October 21 2015 filled with hoverboards and flying cars, but has yet to make good on its big talk; 2001 has long been and gone, and still there is no sign of a manned mission to Jupiter, as was detailed so gloriously in A Space Odyssey.

Still, the next decade is bound to be different – and all those earlier cinematic visions of the 2020s are bound to come true, right? So you should be able to set your clock by unkillable death-robots stepping out of the ether to wipe out humanity – both Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in the original Terminator movie and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 in the 1991 sequel are dispatched back to the present day from 2029. Failing that, you can always watch out for the ascent of our new simian overlords, as depicted in the 2001 cinematic reboot of Planet Of The Apes – also pencilled into the diary for 2029. At the very least, a little subservience to General Thade will give us something to do while we mull over whether Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is any sort of prophecy.

The Telegraph, London

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