After being locked down in 2020 and 2021 and with borders gradually reopening in 2022, 2023 was when many of us went all out on travel, catching up with friends and family overseas or ticking off trips from our bucket list in Australia.
But after a year of heightened mortgage pressures and cutbacks in household spending, in 2024 tourists are staying a bit closer to home, and that's just how Wollongong likes it.
As the region's peak tourism body appoints three new board members for 2024, we asked them about what tourists will be checking out next year and how Wollongong is placed to welcome them.
Here's what they had to say.
Trend #1: Experiences and adventure
The number one trend for 2024 will be experiences. Rather than destinations or purchases, tourists will be looking for a thrill or a once in a lifetime event, and Wollongong has these in spades.
"People are getting a bit more adventurous and wanting to do things like jumping out of planes and learning to surf," new Destination Wollongong board member and marketing head at Experience Co Brooke Robson said.
The opening of the Great Southern Walk and the Illawarra Escarpment mountain bike trails are expected to be big drawcards in this field.
Trend #2: Staycation
Australians took more overseas trips in the past year after border closures kept travel domestic and at times within each state. But with the high cost of international travel continuing, many tourists will be looking closer to home for short breaks and an escape from the rat run.
"We live in a vibrant city that is so close to Sydney but also feels a million miles away," new Destination Wollongong board member and former Matilda Amy Duggan said.
"I really wish that more people would stay and play here in our region."
Trend #3: Foodie tours
After a flurry of Good Food Guide hats in 2022, two Wollongong venues held on to their titles, while the only one that lost the coveted gong, Franco's Pizza Bar in Thirroul, was named a top five pizza spot by Delicious magazine in NSW.
It's clear that the region's food scene is no longer a secret, and the availability of fine dining and local produce will attract more visitors - and entice locals to stay - in 2024, Mark Upton, general manager of the Sage Hotel said.
"Growing the food and beverage area within Wollongong will make it a Mecca for the state," he said.
"There's a lot of regions that have done that, I think it's time for Wollongong."
After the ups and downs of COVID and the highs of the UCI Road World Championships, Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said 2024 would be a "return to normality".
"People have got the post-COVID bug out, now they're really looking for new things to do, and being able to give those experiences like a Great Southern Walk or the Escarpment mountain bike part," he said. "Being out and about in nature, Wollongong has a wonderful advantage."
Destination Wollongong chair Simon Kersten said with the injection of new talent, the organisation was focused on targeting the areas where Wollongong could shine, citing experiences, hospitality and events.
"Those three things were huge assets that we chose, and super keen to have these three as part of it."