This year, the second in a row, the Times Travel desk faced the challenge of creating one of our signature pieces of journalism, the annual “52 Places” list, in a world turned upside down.
With global travel at a halt a year ago, we reached out to readers for their thoughts on the places that had supported them during the worst days of lockdown. This list included places as diverse as a beautiful colored-rock formation in India or a simple brickwork church in South London. These were distant destinations that were dear to our hearts, or places that we had found solace from, and they served as reminders that there was still the world out there, waiting.
With the pandemic now in its third year, global travel is easier but still difficult and uncertain. Many people in countries other than North America and Europe are not vaccinated. Most visitors to China and other Asian countries are still barred from these countries. The Omicron coronavirus was discovered shortly after the Biden administration relaxed rules regarding international travel to the United States. Even travelers who have had boosters are not immune from this latest variant of the virus. Travel restrictions were quickly implemented for visitors from southern African countries, and then they were lifted.
Beyond the pandemic, there is a profound shift underway in the world’s understanding of climate change and the swiftness and degree to which we are already seeing its effects. Wildfires and floods, as well as dangerous storms and rising temperatures, all serve to remind us of how fragile our world is. The travel industry is responsible for somewhere between 8 and 11 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and at the Glasgow climate summit this fall, the tourism industry made its first commitment to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050.
The problem of overtourism has also been addressed by the pandemic. However, it is likely to resurface when the world starts to move again. For now, the crowds that made Venice impassable during high season or transformed neighborhoods in Barcelona into Airbnb hubs have dwindled. Will we learn anything from the forced shut downs or will the same patterns reappear?
Yet as the tourism industry’s Glasgow commitment demonstrates, travel can also be part of the solution, and not only on climate. Travel supports depleted economies in places that depend on tourists’ dollars and opens the eyes of travelers to cultures and customs different from their own. That thought is the animating spirit behind this year’s list, “52 Places for a Changed World.”
The list has been dominated in the past by things like a new restaurant scene, a new museum, or the opening of a stunning beachfront resort. This list, instead, highlights places where change is actually happening — where endangered wild lands are being preserved, threatened species are being protected, historical wrongs are being acknowledged, fragile communities are being bolstered — and where travelers can be part of the change. Visit a Canadian park managed by an Indigenous tribe is a great way to keep a culture alive. The distillery in Scotland produces zero-emission whiskey, which helps reduce carbon emissions. A Midwest restaurant run by former prisoners contributes to social upliftment. We are particularly interested to see where grass-roots efforts can be used to transform the world and make it better in the face if all that is wrong.
This is not the spinach (or broccoli) of travel lists: The vistas of Iberá Park in Argentina are stunning even if you don’t know that the park’s grasslands are crucial to saving a bird known as the strange-tailed tyrant. Diving with sharks in the Caribbean is magical, but it is even more so when you know you’re helping to save these creatures that are so critical to the oceans’ health. Touring Normandy’s moody coast on a bike is delightful, and the carbon saved is a bonus.
Some of the locations on this list aren’t yet open to travelers. Others are in areas where the virus has made it difficult for people to travel. We don’t want you to hop on another plane. Instead, use this list as inspiration to make your next year more purposeful and fulfilling.
Source: NY Times