a rocky beach with a mountain in the background
65181704 - sunrise at seongsan ilchulbong, jeju island, south korea.

So much doom, so much gloom, but in beautiful little pockets all around the world, destinations are getting a much needed makeover, spa break, rejuvenation, or whatever you want to call it. From coral reefs to dirty beaches and cloudy skies, silver linings are everywhere, as the world enjoys a break from mass tourism.

Let’s take a look at places which will emerge more beautiful than they’ve been in decades, when the world returns safely to the skies and to the beautiful corners of the globe. And since many around the world who rely on tourists are facing difficult times right now, read up on how you can help out, without traveling.

a rocky beach with a mountain in the background

Jeju Island, South Korea

When you ask people about the most trafficked domestic flight route in the world, few ever guess Seoul – Jeju, which operated 80,000 flights in 2019, between the two destinations alone. That’s 219 flights per day, just from Seoul to this island paradise. When you add in all the traffic from Mainland China, it’s even more extreme for such a small place.

With a huge slump across all Asian travel and a virtual stand still of South Korean air travel, flights to Jeju have taken a dramatic downturn, and with fewer passengers, the islands very limited resources are recovering.

The island is known for lush vegetation, beautiful waters and cities which could remind visitors of rivieras in Europe, and the strain put on by an average 15 million tourists had reached a boiling point. Reports are that the island is lush once again, and will be one of the best places to visit, once the all clear is in.

Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays Archipelago, Queensland, AustraliaGreat Barrier Reef, Australia

Nations reliant on marine tourism – the underwater kind, not the military kind – outlined plans to combat the devastating effects of harmful sunscreen in recent years. Even as leaders in the charge, it was too little, too late.

Too many travelers were snorkeling with sunscreens that carry chemicals known to bleach and kill coral reefs, which therefore sent the lovely colorful fish and other marine life away, in search of new ecosystems. Even with bans on certain sunscreens set to take effect in 2021, not enough was being done to stop the unprecedented flow of tourism, until the world took care of that on its own.

With tourism numbers down, this vital ecosystem is rejuvenating itself by the day, and when visitors do return, it’ll be better than ever.

a boat on a canal under a bridgeVenice, Italy

Like the rest of the world, Venice will get through this. As one of the most romantic and charming destinations in the world, that’s good news for just about everyone. Thanks to instagrammable views around every canal, Venice experienced a meteoric rise in tourism, bringing in over 30 million tourists per year, without the infrastructure to match.

Litter was everywhere, canal water turned dark and wildlife left in droves.

While locked down, Venetians are seeing things they haven’t in decades, including clearing waters, dolphins swimming and a lift in smog. Yes, in some places, you can see right to the bottom of the canal, and Venice is more beautiful right now than in years. When everyone does get over this, it’ll have even more reasons to be there first.

a small island with rocks and trees in the water

Boracay, Philippines

Prior to 2018, any expert on the worlds greatest beach destinations would’ve pegged Boracay near, if not at the very top. Side note: must figure out how to get that job.

But like most destinations experiencing boom times, not enough was done to protect the natural resource, too many resorts popped up, and literal sewage began to flow into the crystal blue waters, as beaches were covered in rubbish. Not ideal, by any means.

The Philippines took extreme action in 2018 by closing the beach to visitors for 6 months, and the nation recently initiated similar restrictions state-wide. It may be terrible for business, but when the world opens its doors again, Boracay will be in better shape than it’s been in years.

a stone terraces on a mountainMachu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu is on most travel bucket lists, and in 2019 the jaw dropping wonder reached a breaking point. Strict restrictions were put in place for when you could go, how long you could stay – and where you could walk, as infrastructure crumbled.

Your detective skills are on point, and that same thread applies here – too many people were coming and the beauty was being destroyed, to the point of threatening the long term safety and viability of the entire valley. With the break from peak travel, work has restored key parts of the walkways and once trampled vegetation is coming back in force.

Those first few months where people are still unsure if they’re ready to go back to travel will present amazing opportunities to discover this wonder of the world, without wondering how many millions of people you’ll take it all in with…

boats in a body of water with mountains in the background with Phi Phi Islands in the backgroundPhi Phi Islands, Thailand

Maya Beach is “the beach”, from cult classic movie ‘The Beach’, with Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s insanely beautiful and Thailand has been cashing in on it ever since Hollywood did. Each day, thousands pile onto a beach meant for less than 100, damaging virtually everything on land, and in the water.

Thailand temporarily closed the beach last year to great success, but this prolonged slump in travel is again having wondrous effects, at least for the things that make it worth seeing. Reefs are growing back, waters are clearing, all the good stuff that makes this worth traveling thousands of miles for are rejuvenating.

The Phi Phi Islands aren’t going anywhere, and when you can (go somewhere), they should be at the top of the bucket list, since they’ll be at their best form in a long time. New rules around visitors numbers and an unforeseen drop have restored this beach to full ‘The Beach’ beauty.

What other places do you think will return in even greater glory when the world comes back to travel?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I wish more sustainable tourism was the focus of this article. In general, instead of encouraging everyone to race to these places as fast as possible to ruin them again, we should encourage the nations who are caretakers of these special places to see the benefit of limiting access permanently to them (akin to Machu Picchu). I realize this may lead to cries of elitism but perhaps there can be a lottery approach to getting access that levels the playing field without raising cost. I am sure smarter minds than mine can figure out ways to balance the needs of the environment with the desires of tourists before we Instagram our natural world to death.

  2. Right, so it’s like you’re inviting everyone back for “business as usual,” so the hoardes can continue to ruin these places once again. Nice one!

    1. I don’t decide the policies in these places. That’s for government, which i’m not. It’s up to them to create limits and policies which protect their resources.

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