Where to go in 2020: an insiders’ guide
Georgia has enjoyed soaring visitor numbers, and a string of new airline routes, since it was tipped in the equivalent of this article two years ago. Visits by international tourists during the first 11 months of 2019 were up 19.4 per cent compared with the same period in 2017. Meanwhile its southern neighbour Armenia has remained relatively off the radar — attracting fewer than a quarter of Georgia’s visitor numbers — though that now seems to be on the verge of change.
Four members of our panel picked Armenia as one to watch in 2020 (Wild Frontiers says its forward bookings are up 100 per cent compared with a year go) and the country will get its first low-cost airline links with western Europe. Ryanair, Wizz and Air Baltic are all due to launch flights, connecting the capital Yerevan with cities including Milan, Rome, Berlin and Vienna.
The main draw for visitors is the country’s extraordinary collection of medieval monasteries and churches, many of them set among dramatic mountains. Geghard monastery, for example, was cut into the rock of the Upper Azat valley and was completed in the 13th century. It is now a Unesco world heritage site, as are the monasteries at Haghpat and Sanahin.
But Yerevan and the wine-lands are also fascinating. “Yerevan is one of the region’s most exuberant and endearing cities,” says Justin Wateridge of Steppes Travel. “Both country and capital are an unexpected delight that you need to discover before the secret gets out.”
Tom Marchant of Black Tomato recommends the newly opened Alexander hotel in Yerevan, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, as well as stopping for a degustation at the Ararat Brandy Company.
Where I’m going: Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent
Next year my boyfriend and I are going to live in Georgia for six months. We’ll be based in Tbilisi, and the idea is to explore the lesser known creases and folds of the Caucasus Mountains. I’m particularly looking forward to discovering the Racha region in the north-west.
I’ve been to the country maybe four or five times. I don’t normally go back to places, but I love the food, the wine and the vivaciousness of the people.
Generally, I’m trying to fly less — and I no longer fly for personal journeys. I’ve been on expeditions in the past using tuk tuks and motorbikes, but this time we’ve got a very boring Subaru 4×4 for the mountains and we’re going to drive from the UK, going through Turkey and Bulgaria — stopping off for a bit of skiing — on our way to Georgia.
I have started really thinking about how I travel. I went on holiday recently by train to the south of France from Bristol. People often think if you stop flying it means you stop travelling — but that’s not the case. It makes you think in a different way; overland travel is so rewarding. You see so much more; it’s a much deeper way of travelling.
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent’s latest book is ‘Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains’ (Simon & Schuster)
For travellers who really want to get off the beaten track, Chad is ideal. More than five times the size of the UK, the entire country gets fewer visitors in a year than Tate Modern gets in a week. And that is despite glorious desert and mountain scenery, fascinating ancient rock art and the closest “big five” safari park to Europe.
The bad news is that there is a reason for such a dearth of visitors: the UK Foreign Office advises against “all but essential” travel to most of the country, and “all travel” to the rest, highlighting the potential risk of crime and terrorism; the US State Department suggests potential visitors “reconsider”.
Despite that, several tour operators tip it as a rising destination for the coming year, a recommendation that is largely down to the work of African Parks, a South African-based non-profit conservation organisation. In 2010 it was invited by the Chadian government to sign a long-term agreement to manage Zakouma National Park, a 1,200 sq mile park in the south-east of the country that had been ransacked by horseback-riding poaching gangs.
With the help of EU funding, African Parks restored security (elephant deaths fell from 4,000 in the eight years to 2010, to just 24 since then), opened 17 schools and created employment at the three tourist camps.
In 2017, the government put an expanded area around the park into African Parks control, then in February 2018 the organisation was given responsibility for the Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve, a 15,500 sq mile expanse of sandstone mountains in the north of the country, filled with dramatic canyons, cliffs and arches as well as rock art that dates back 7,000 years. “Declared a World Heritage Site in 2016, the Ennedi is a vast wilderness with a savage beauty,” says Will Jones of Journeys By Design.
“Exploring it using private mobile camps, then transferring to Zakouma is an extraordinary combination.” Alice Daunt says she will be visiting this year “for its deserts, nomadic people, rock art and formations” but also thanks to “a chance encounter with a London Uber driver from N’Djamena.”
Britain may be preparing to leave the EU, but the British national tourism agency is predicting a record year in 2020. Visit Britain says international tourist numbers will hit 39.7m, the highest ever and almost 5 per cent up on 2018. Particularly important to the growth are emerging tourism markets in the east — Visit Britain’s data shows flight bookings to the UK for the first half of the year are up 33 per cent from China, and 22 per cent from south Asia.
While the reduced value of sterling has helped make the UK cheaper, the big draw this year is likely to be the country’s literary and artistic heritage. 2020 is the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth (marked by a £6.2m project to expand the museum at his former home, Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the Lake District) and the 150th anniversary of Charles Dicken’s death (with a five-day festival in Rochester among many others). Meanwhile the lack of a significant anniversary does not seem to have deterred Jane Austen fans: a 10-day festival is planned in Bath in September, there is a nine-day festival in Hampshire in June, and yet another film version of Emma is due for release in February, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and a string of fabulous stately homes.
Meanwhile, a Game of Thrones Studio Tour is due to open in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, this spring and Glastonbury celebrates its 50th anniversary with headliners including Paul McCartney and Diana Ross.
Where I’m going: Iain Sinclair
In 2020, my travelling is likely to focus on somewhere I’ve not really been at all — north-east Scotland and the Orkneys.
Most of my travelling in the past has been in the orbit of London, but unusually for me I’ve been in Peru this year  on something of a ghost hunt to research my next book. I was following an expedition that my great-grandfather made in 1891 and wrote about and left a map of. Now I’m examining the territory he came from, and was forced to leave during the time of the Highland Clearances.
I need to visit places like Banff and Forres in north-east Scotland and ultimately the Orkney Islands to track him down. I’ll be up there for a few weeks, around April, May, June, and of all the places I intend to visit, Orkney is probably the most romantic; it pushes back to the origins of life in these islands. I’m very keen to look at those ancient settlements. But from Aberdeen on, it’ll all be new and strange to me.
Iain Sinclair’s latest books are ‘The Last London’ (Oneworld) and ‘Living with Buildings’ (Wellcome Collection)
A growing awareness of climate change has brought the Arctic regions to the forefront of many minds. On one hand, the vulnerability of the ice caps, wildlife and traditional ways of life inspires an increasingly emotional reaction — the endangered glaciers pitied in the same way as the elephants and rhinos of east Africa. On the other, in a warming world, spending a summer holiday somewhere cold rather than hot seems increasingly attractive.
Above all, the Arctic has become so much more visible: consider, for example, that in 48 hours over Christmas, the BBC’s output included radio broadcasts from Greenland and Iceland, a two-hour “slow TV” programme following a Sami sleigh ride through Arctic Norway, and a film about the disappearing skills of the Inuit, “an elegy to the world that is melting away”.
Even Hollywood is leveraging the appeal of the north: Disney’s new children’s movie Frozen 2 draws heavily on Sami culture, myths and landscapes while the forthcoming James Bond movie No Time to Die, out in April, includes snowy sequences filmed in Norway.
While countries across the north are experiencing growing visitor numbers, Norway is especially well placed to benefit, with infrastructure that makes it straightforward to reach the Arctic, and an abundance of fjords, mountains and islands. Set among them are a growing number of landmark architectural projects by the Oslo-based practice Snohetta, a master at creating buildings that manage to be both appropriate to the stark beauty of their surroundings as well as catnip for social media.
Among them are Europe’s first underwater restaurant, launched in March 2019, the National Opera house in Oslo, a remote pavilion for watching passing reindeer at Hjerkinn, and the forthcoming Svart, a circular hotel just above the Arctic Circle, which isn’t due to open until 2022 but is already generating a buzz.
“Interest in all things Nordic continues to grow,” says Georgina Hancock at Discover the World, who tips Senja Island, to the west of Tromso, as “a quieter, under-explored alternative to the well-trodden Lofoten Islands”.
At Red Savannah, George Morgan-Grenville reports forward bookings for Norway up 33 per cent compared with this point a year ago. Both agree about the appeal of Svalbard, which in 2020 marks 100 years of Norwegian sovereignty, and offers the chance to visit the world’s northernmost city, school, museum, piano and much more. “Nowhere is more wild,” says Morgan-Grenville.
Tourism in Turkey collapsed in 2015 and 2016 in response to terrorist attacks and political instability, with visitor numbers falling almost 40 per cent. Those security fears have now eased, and tourist numbers are rebounding — helped by a significant devaluation of the lira (a euro currently buys about 6.6 Turkish lira, up from about 2 lira a decade ago).
That exchange rate has made citybreaks more affordable in Istanbul, with its constantly expanding roster of luxury hotels. Recent additions include Sofitel on Taksim square, which opened in November complete with 33 Hermés-designed suites) and the Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, which soft-launched the same month, housed in two 19th-century mansions and with far-reaching views over the Bosphorus.
The longer term trend, however, is for adventure-seeking tourists to look beyond Istanbul and the Mediterranean seaside resorts. Steppes highlight the move of the World Nomad Games this year from a remote yurt village in Kyrgyzstan to the Turkish city of Bursa, making it far easier for international visitors to watch events including kok-boru, a sort of central Asian equivalent of rugby, with competitors on horseback and a headless goat in place of a ball (the date for the event has yet to be announced).
In the far east, the ancient archaeological sites of Upper Mesopotamia are attracting growing interest, with numerous operators offering expert-led group tours. Meanwhile skiers in search of perfect powder and a complete absence of crowds are travelling to Turkey Heliski’s base in Ayder, close to the south-eastern shore of the Black Sea, where visitors this winter are expected to include the star Swiss free-rider Sam Anthamatten.
Where I’m going: Jason Webster
There are places I’ve visited which, in a curious way, I still feel I haven’t actually been to, haven’t quite absorbed or connected with. Equally, there are cities and countries I have yet to travel to which I feel I already know, indeed are somehow a part of me.
The two most important of these for me are Istanbul and Buenos Aires. I’m saving Buenos Aires — where I plan to commune with the spirit of Borges and have dreams of becoming a gaucho — for a future date (ie when there’s more cash). So for 2020 it’s Istanbul.
My long-standing fascination with Spain stems in large part from the country’s experience of being a point of contact between East and West. Istanbul shares this, if at the other end of the Mediterranean.
So while I see myself there exploring the usual sites, it’s more about picking something up — an energy, an aesthetic, a harmonic — which seems to be produced when different cultures rub together in a particular way.
Data from eDreams ODIGEO, which claims to be Europe’s biggest online travel agency, suggests a surge in the number of European travellers heading to Tokyo in 2020. Across its various websites, forward bookings are up 90 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. There is one obvious reason: the Olympics and Paralympics, due to take place in late July and early August. Some estimates suggest the Games might attract an additional 10m visitors, and there has been a rush of hotel openings in expectation.
Tourism in the country is already soaring: 31.2m foreign travellers visited in 2018, up from 8.6m in 2010. In 2016 the government set a target of reaching 40m visitors by 2020, and 60m by 2030. The downside has been the concentration of visitors in the honeypot sites of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, something the national tourist office has tried to counter with publicity campaigns promoting lesser-known regions, and which should be helped by new flight routes including, for example, Finnair’s direct service to Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which launched last month.
“Quite apart from the Olympics, Japan is increasingly on the radar of those seeking alternative, experiential travel and a completely unhomogenised cultural identity,” says George Morgan-Grenville of Red Savannah.
He suggests 2020 hotspots will include the Samurai districts of Kanazawa, the scenic coastline of Noto, and the art museums of Naoshima Island.
“Uruguay has always been considered a seasonal destination, but is just as special outside the December/January rush,” says Harry Hastings of Plan South America. “It’s ideal for ‘slow travel’, with cycling and riding trips through olive groves, vineyards, fishing villages and the open farmland of the south, stopping for sea swims, picnics, wine tasting and visits to artists’ studios.”
Home to fewer than 3.5m people, the country has long been in the shadow of its neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, with only the sceney seaside resorts of Punta del Este and José Ignacio attracting much international attention, and even then only in summer.
Now, though, small numbers of visitors are beginning to look beyond those hotspots, to the remote beaches of Rocha state, the surfer hang-out of La Pedrera, the old Portuguese city of Colonia del Sacramento and sleepy Carmelo, surrounded by vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms and known by some as South America’s answer to Tuscany.
Visitors should explore rich, full-bodied reds made with Tannat grapes, produced from vines descended from cuttings across the Atlantic in the 19th century before phylloxera devastated the originals in southern France.
Where I’m going: Levison Wood
The journey I’m really excited about next summer is a road trip from Alaska to California. I’ll be in Alaska in August giving a talk on board the QE2 and I’ve given myself a couple of weeks in between jobs to travel down the west coast of Canada and the US to San Francisco before I head to the Burning Man festival with some friends.
I’ve been to California before, but never seen the rest of the west coast so I’m looking forward to exploring, particularly Oregon and the Rockies and seeing Mount Washington in the flesh, spotting bears and experiencing some real wilderness.
Levison Wood’s latest book is ‘Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart of the Middle East’ (Hodder & Stoughton)
The mountainous Caribbean island has staged a remarkable recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, while promotional campaigns billing it as “the nature island” seem more in tune with the times than some of its glitzier neighbours.
Rather than white sands and smart restaurants, the draw here is the pristine rainforests, remote mountain gorges and waterfalls. The tourist board is keen to distinguish it as a place for adventure travellers and in particular as a place for hiking: the country is home to the longest walking route in the Caribbean, the 185km Waitukubuli trail and a system of free “hike passports” was introduced in 2019 for visitors to record their walks.
The government has been working to restore trails damaged in the hurricane, while also introducing a string of environmental policies (plastic straws and cutlery were banned last year; plastic bags are due to be banned outright in 2020).
While eco-tourism remains the focus, the accommodation options are moving increasingly upmarket. Secret Bay, a glorious clifftop retreat that closed when the hurricane struck, reopened in November 2018 with major upgrades. It now comprises six villas built from sustainably sourced tropical hardwood, each of which has a private plunge pool and sea-views from the covered terraces.
The Kempinski group’s Cabrits Resort, a five-star beach hotel surrounded by the tropical forest of Cabrits National Park, opened in October 2019 while the Anichi Resort, part of Marriott’s Autograph collection, is due to open in 2020.
Where I’m going: Sara Wheeler
I’m looking to my next book and I’d like to go somewhere I can sit still for a while and just explore a small area. I’ve always liked America and Americans so I’m going to spend a year in the Bronx. It will be a book in four sections, following the four seasons. I’m thinking of starting in February.
The Bronx is 40 sq miles, and there are 160 languages spoken there. Having gone out into the world in the past, I’m planning to let the world come to me. I’ve been to the Bronx briefly twice, and I liked it, but I don’t know anybody there. I’ve got somewhere half organised to stay — I’m going to rent a room in someone’s house — and then I plan to just move around and get to know the area.
There’s a really interesting history to the Bronx, loads of interesting people came from there and it’ll be election year too, so I don’t think I’ll be short of topics or stories. But it is being able to walk a few miles and hear so many languages that really appeals to me.
Sara Wheeler’s latest book is ‘Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age’ (Jonathan Cape)
“Montenegro was the star of 2019 but the whole region is on the rise,” says Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers, who reports bookings for 2020 up 15 per cent compared with the same point a year ago. “Visitors are drawn to the mountains, canyons and rivers, the sparkling coastline, ancient towns, Greek and Roman ruins, Ottoman citadels and rural hospitality.”
Trekkers are finding the Accursed Mountains in the north of the country — off limits during the country’s years of communist isolationism and during the Kosovo war — offer an alternative to the Alps with almost no-tourist development. Meanwhile, historical tours are taking growing numbers beyond the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint to explore the numerous Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman sites throughout the country.
And, on a totally different note, the Kala music festival, a week-long seaside party on the southern coast at Dhërmi, is putting Albania on the map for young travellers, in the same way events such as the Garden, Outlook and Sonus festivals did for Croatia.
It is a measure of the Albanian authorities’ enthusiasm for tourism that prime minister Edi Rama attended the first Kala festival in 2018. “People think of it as a place where you get robbed or killed,” Rama told a poolside press conference, The Guardian reported. “But the stigma has helped us. When someone visits and gets out alive, they realise it’s paradise!” The figures appear to back him up: foreign visitor numbers for the first 11 months of 2019 topped 6.1m, up 8.3 per cent on the same period in 2018, and up from 1.9m for the full year of 2009.
Jonny Bealby is the founder of Wild Frontiers
Alice Daunt is the founder of Daunt Travel
Georgina Hancock is marketing director of Discover the World
Harry Hastings is the founder of Plan South America
Will Jones is managing director of Journeys by Design
Tom Marchant is co-founder of Black Tomato
George Morgan-Grenville is founder of Red Savannah
Justin Wateridge is managing director of Steppes Travel