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In the News this Week...
brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
Holidays selling out? Don't panicabout 22 hours ago
New research suggests Britons wondering whether to leap in and grab a summer holiday before they run out should follow the mantra of Corporal Jones – don’t panic. Claims that the Government’s road map sparked a huge surge of business have been comprehensively dismissed by YouGov. A poll conducted yesterday (25 February) suggested 79% of Britons had still not booked a break either at home or abroad – down a mere two percentage points compared with similar research two weeks earlier. The proportion saying they had booked a foreign holiday was actually lower than before the road map was unveiled – down from 7% to 6%. The 11% now saying they had made reservations for UK breaks was up, however, by two percentage points from the earlier 9%. The proportion saying they hade booked both staycations and foreign trips was up by one point, to 3%, as was the figure for don’t knows – up from 1% to 2%. A total of 4943 adults were questioned. Travel industry sources had in any case indicated that a high proportion of the bookings claimed were by customers seeking to trade in credit notes issued in lieu of cash refunds.
Saga lunches new culture toursabout 22 hours ago
Musicians from the Royal Academy of Music will play for customers of Saga Holidays on a new series of “Cultural Odyssey” tours. But music will not be the only theme. Itineraries on offer for next year – including rivers cruises – will concentrate on a range of interests, from art and ballet in St Petersburg to astronomy beneath the light pollution free skies of Africa. Trips will be accompanied by expert lecturers and will include some visits exclusive to the firm’s clients – such as backstage access and private viewings. Saga’s CEO Chris Simmonds said: “We are delighted to partner with the Royal Academy of Music, with which we will work in delivering exceptional programmes with serious musical content. We are also working behind the scenes on a number of other partnerships for this new range of holidays which we will announce in due course.”
Motels enjoy COVID comeback2 days ago
The motel is making a cultural comeback. A curious consequence of COVID-phobia, says Tourism Canada is that establishments all too often down at heel and associated with trysts of a fleeting nature are set for “a sizzling revival”. And entrepreneurs across Canada “are swiftly leveraging the opportunity to rehab roadside inns or yore to appeal to a new generation of travellers”. At this time of social distancing, the facts that motel rooms are usually single or two storey buildings with entrances accessible directly from parking areas provides reassurance. But practical considerations have been turbocharged by same kind of nostalgia that has breathed new life into the diner.
Tourism Canada also points to the starring role played by Ontario’s Hockley Motel as the Rosebud Motel in the TV series Schitt’s Creek, which saw the property going on sale last year with a $2m asking price. It lists a few top picks, including the 12 room Drake Motor Inn, also in Ontario, which has rooms full of photography and other art and sells picnic baskets for lunches in Prince Edward County’s surrounding wine areas. Another is the Lamphouse Hotel, which “modernises the motel experience” in Canmore, Alberta, against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It has online check in, allowing guests to by pass the usual formalities, 55in TVs and in room Martini stations. Then there’s Hotel Zed in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, which claims “the world’s first bike-through lobby”, The Stoke, a revitalised classic motor inn in the British Columbia ski resort of Revelstoke, or the retro-style rooms at the Lighthouse Motel & Cottages near Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, with its firepit and picnic tables.
Contactless chalets launched3 days ago
The current ski season may be already in its death throes but for those still nervous about booking next winter’s holiday – welcome the contactless chalet. London based specialist operator Ski Solutions is introducing them at a range of properties in major resorts including La Plagne, Courchevel and Val’Isère. The move will also help the firm cope with difficulties staffing chalets posed by Brexit. The chalets are available only to families or single groups of friends. Breakfast, afternoon snacks and dinner will be available on six nights a week – with red and white wine – but there will be no chalet staff to serve them. Mostly bought from local delicatessens, they will either need to be simply heated up or easily assembled, says the firm. A dinner example could include a choice of pumpkin soup and croutons, goat cheese salad of charcuterie for starters, main courses of chicken in red wine sauce, duck in a cep sauce or hake (prepared so guests can pan fry it themselves, and desserts of Normandy apple tart with crème Anglaise, chocolate mousse or waffled with chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream. Vegetarian and vegan options are available. The firm says some chalets offer a slightly more tempting premium menu as standard. Alternatively you can still opt for a la carte from a private chef – or simply self cater.
United to launch Heathrow-Boston flights4 days ago
United Airlines plans to launch daily flights from Heathrow to Boston this year. But the precise start date will depend on the bounce back of demand for travel and the lifting of restrictions. The carrier’s planned schedule sees flights leaving London at 5pm and arriving at Boston’s Logan International at 7.30pm. Eastbound services will depart at 10pm, arriving at 9.35am next morning. Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network and alliances, said: “We will continue to monitor the demand recovery and travel restrictions as we finalise a start date for this service later in 2021”.
United’s announcement follows the unveiling of a re-vamped premium class cabin on London flights planned by JetBlue, which is expected to offer highly competitive fares on routes to Boston and New York. United claims the proportion of premium seats on its new service will be the highest on any aircraft operated on London-US routes. It will use an extended range Boeing 767-300 with 46 seats in business class and 22 in Premium Plus, which offers greater legroom than standard economy, plus upgraded meals. There will be 56 seats in economy. The airline has continued too operate some of its Heathrow routes through the pandemic, including those to New York (Newark).
Travel hopes rise as PM sets out lockdown exit5 days ago
Hope for an early resumption of travel began to glimmer fitfully today as Boris Johnson unveiled plans for Britain’s exit from lockdown. If infections allow, self catering accommodation and some campsites in will open from 12 April and hotels, with social distancing, from 17 May. Meanwhile a new taskforce will report by 12 April on the potential for international travel to restart – in time for people to make belated plans for summer breaks. But there will be no resumption until 17 May at the earliest and the PM said much would depend on the willingness of Governments abroad to welcome tourists from the UK. There will in any case be a review of progress towards the potential provision of vaccination certificates. And far ahead though it seems, 21 June could see to end of all legal limits on social contact and the remainder of closed businesses free to operate again. The Prime Minister announced four key conditions: the vaccine programme must go to plan; jabs must sufficiently cut deaths and the need for hospital treatment; infections should not suggest a renewal of pressure on hospitals; and new variants do not fundamentally increase the risk of relaxing restrictions.
First US cruise line unveils jab rule5 days ago
Crystal Cruises will demand that all passengers have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The move will apply to its ocean and river sailings. It is thought to be the first US line to announce such a requirement already put in place by UK operator Saga. Crystal says guests will need to show proof they were inoculated at least 14 days before departure, with two doses if that is recommended by the manufacturer. The line’s river cruises remain suspended until May. Current plans are for ocean cruising to restart in June, with two ships – Crystal Esprit and Endeavour – set to sail again in August.
Balearic Islands plan post-COVID tourism8 days ago
A mountain refuge for hikers, a gastronomy centre in a 17th century abbey and a facelift for an eighth century settlement are all part of a post-COVID sustainability drive launched by the Balearic Islands government.
The eco friendly refuge, due to open next year, involves the conversion of a former animal shelter – Ses Porqueres de Galatzo – in Mallorca’s Serra de Tramuntana. The building lies in the west of the island on the Piedra Seco – or dry stone – hiking route which runs through pine forests, vines and olive groves. It will comprise 12 rooms sleeping up to 52 walkers and is due to open next year.
The gastronomy centre, showcasing and helping to preserve local cooking methods, is planned as part of the restoration of Menorca’s 17th century San Diego abbey. It is also scheduled to open in 2022. The islands’ government has pumped €884,693 into the project, which has included the installation of climate control, cleaning and waterproofing the building’s cistern and restoring its grisaille murals. The Franciscan abbey, with its fine cloister, is midway across the island in the village of Alaior.
A third element of the plan is the restoration of Ibiza’s Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta, which dates from the eighth century BC and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The work, set for completion in 2023, will include the provision of a new interpretation centre and restoration of the nearby 20th century coastal defences.
Start of Jet2 Bristol flights delayed9 days ago
Continuing uncertainty over the return of foreign travel has persuaded Jet2 to delay the start of new services from Bristol for three months. The airline and tour operator had planned to launch flights and holidays from airport on 1 April. Now it will start on 1 July, serving 33 destinations in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Portugal. A spokesperson said : “Where customers yet to travel are affected by any programme changes, we will automatically cancel their booking with a relevant refund.”
Greece and UK discussing vaccination passports9 days ago
The Greek and UK Governments are in preliminary discussions about the use of vaccination certificates to ignite a revival of tourism this summer. The Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theoharis told the BBC today that they could replace the need for proof of negative tests. When people had received the jab, these were “a waste of resources”. Asked about the threat that new variants might appear he said there was also a risk that when people had been vaccinated before departure they could still contract COVID before arriving. But vaccination was “a step forward”: “We cannot set this in stone yet. It’s a dynamic situation. For the time being I can say things are not that worrying but we will continue monitoring.” He said the roll out of vaccination programmes and the advent of summer, which would limit the spread of the disease, made him hopeful tourism to Greece would “have a semi normal summer”. In a normal year the country claims to attract some 4m Britons.
Now Inghams abandons ski season9 days ago
Major ski tour operator Inghams has followed Crystal in giving up any hope of offering trips to the slopes this winter. The move also applies to Flexiski and Ski Total, its sister brands under the Hotelplan UK umbrella. The group’s CEO Joe Ponte said: “We’re very disappointed for everyone impacted by this news. Customers with bookings in April will be offered a refund or the chance to postpone their holiday until a later date. With many skiers and snowboarders eager to get back to the slopes this season, while there was still a possibility that ski holidays would go ahead, we continued to monitor the situation closely. As there has been little change to ongoing travel restrictions, and with further ski resorts announcing that they will remain closed, now is the time to suspend ski trips for this season and focus on making next winter one of the best yet. We continue to see strong numbers for the 2021-22 winter season and bookings are well ahead of the same period last year. As people think about their holiday plans now, to avoid missing out next winter, across the Hotelplan UK brands we’ll be looking at how we can increase capacity to keep up with demand—and some of next winter’s holidays are on track for a record breaking year.”
Wildlife art tours launched10 days ago
Aspiring artists are being invited to paint subjects from puffins to African elephants on a new programme of short breaks and longer holidays launched by tour operator Wildflife Worldwide. Coronavirus allowing, they will start this spring with a one day visit to Cotswold Wildlife Park and two nights in the New Forest and finish in May and June next year with trips to the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Lundy Island. Called “Sketchbook Safaris”, each trip will ne accompanied by artist Trevor Waugh, who will provide instruction on how to capture birdlife such as guillemots and razorbills and African wildlife, seen from traditional mokoro canoes.
Crystal abandons all ski hopes11 days ago
Leading ski holiday operator Crystal has finally thrown in the towel with a decision to abandon this season. A statement on its websites said: “We’re sorry to confirm that due to the continued impact of COVID-19 on worldwide travel and ski resorts, Crystal Ski Holidays won’t be operating any holidays this season. All impacted customers will be proactively contacted to discuss a range of flexible options. These include amending your holiday to a future season with an incentive, or cancelling and receiving a refund.” The operator, part of the giant TUI UK group, added: “We’re sorry for the disappointment these updates will cause and we hope we can take you to the mountains soon.”
At the end of January rival Inghams – with sister operators Ski Total and Flexiski – suspended departures until 2 April. But Joe Ponte, chief executive of parent group Hotelplan, said the company thought it was still possible ski holidays could go ahead in late season.
Sleep in an Airstream at four new campsites11 days ago
If a caravan can be iconic the Airstream, with its sleek lines like a jet fuselage, is surely sole contender for the description. California based operator AutoCamp, which specialises in offering them as holiday accommodation, is scheduled to open a a new camp this spring on Cape Cod and has plans to launch three more. The site on the Cape – the company’s first on the East Coast – will be between Falmouth and Wood’s Hole, about 1hr 30mins drive south of Boston. It will have 108 Airstream “travel trailers”. This Autumn it plans to open at Joshua Tree National Park with 47 and next year it will add sites at Zion National Park and the Catskills, with 72 and 65 respectively. It already operates at Yosemite National Park and Russian River, California. Its sites also have, variously, luxury tents, cabins and accessible suites. The distinctive, polished aluminium Airstream, first appeared on US highways in 1920.
Luton Airport to get new express train link12 days ago
A new non stop 30 minute express rail link between Luton Airport and London is set to launch in May. While some existing Thameslink services take slightly less time, some are slower – depending on where they stop – and they run only once an hour. The airport hopes the new link, which will be operated by East Midland Railway, will pave the way for a simpler to use, Gatwick Express style service. Trains will run from 6am until 10pm every day with additional late night and early morning departures where needed. The move results from a timetable re-vamp by the operator which will also see the introduction of half hourly services from Corby and other stations in the East Midlands, enabling passengers from those stations to reach the airport within an hour. Later this year travel there is scheduled to become faster, with the opening of a driverless “people mover” that will whisk passengers between Luton Parkway station and the terminal in around five minutes, and replacing the current bus transfer.
Government gloom saps holiday confidence, snap poll suggests15 days ago
Only five per cent of Britons are confident they will have a normal summer holiday abroad this year, according to a snap YouGov poll taken yesterday (11 February) in the wake of this week’s controversy over Ministerial warnings not to book yet. Among those in the 50-65 and 65 plus age brackets the proportion drops to 4% and 3% respectively. In those categories 84% and 87% said they did not feel confident, while eleven per cent in both age groups were don’t knows.
In response to separate questions, 9% and 8% per cent of 50-65s and those aged 65 plus respectively said they had booked UK holidays, while 7% and 6% had booked to go abroad. Three per cent in both groups had booked trips at home and abroad. The vast majority (80% and 84%) said they had not booked anywhere yet.
The poll results run counter to the most buoyant recent claims by travel companies, especially those from operators of UK holidays where it was claimed in one newspaper report today that demand might exceed supply.
A total of 5018 adults were questioned.
Shipboard robot will mix and serve cocktails15 days ago
Prefer your Martini shaken, not stirred. That shouldn’t be a challenge for Rob, the barman aboard MSC Cruises’ new flagship Virtuosa. Rob is short for robot, described as the first ever humanoid bartender at sea. Guests in the Starship Bar will use “vertical digital cockpits” to order – and choose the language they would like him to use in the process. Besides English, it could be Italian, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese and Mandarin. According to MSC, " Rob will mix, and serve his signature cocktails, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and countless personalised drinks, just like a human bartender would do, whilst engaging the guests with his voice and human like expressions for a fully immersive bar experience." Rob is part of an integrated bar and entertainment system that includes as 12 seat, interactive digital table offering the possibility of exploring space with your own “personalised galactic tour”. There will also be live bartenders on hand, dressed as in a sci-fi movie, so there shouldn’t be any problems through misunderstanding. Virtuosa is scheduled to enter service on 16 April.
easyJet's new routes boost holiday optimism15 days ago
Despite uncertain about the restart of holiday trave, easyJet and its package holiday arm have unveiled no fewer than ten new routes for the coming summer. Flights from Bristol to the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini will take off at the end of May. Luton is to get services to the Egyptian Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh, Preveza, on the west coast of Greece, Santorini and Larnaca in Cyprus. Travellers from Belfast will be able to fly direct to Corfu and services will also operate from Birmingham to Amsterdam and from Gatwick to Bourgas, jumping off point for the Black Sea resortb of Sunny Beach, in Bulgaria. While Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned yesterday that nobody should book holidays yet, the budget airline says it remains optimistic about the chances of summer travel following the successful roll out of the vaccination programme.
Gatwick sets drop off, pick up charge date16 days ago
When – or if – summer holiday flying from Gatwick takes off, drivers will have to pay £5 to drop off or pick up passengers on the North Terminal forecourt. The airport has set 8 March as the start date. A spokesman said "Taxis will be able to add the drop off charge to the taxi fare as many already do when picking passengers up from the short stay car parks. " Blue Badge holders will be exempt. The South Terminal, where the charge will be introduced later, is currently closed. In a statement the airport management said: “The initiative will help to reduce traffic congestion and emissions for the surrounding area as well as being a deterrent for a car-led recovery once more regular travel resumes post the COVID-19 national lockdown. The charge will also create a vital new revenue stream for the airport, providing further protection for local jobs as the negative economic impacts of the pandemic continue.” People who do not want to pay the fee can drop off and pick up friends or relatives in Gatwick’s long stay car parks – with two hours free parking.
Copenhagen gets big new hotel16 days ago
New hotels continue to open despite the pandemic slump in travel. A major new property has opened in the heart of Copenhagen under the Dolce by Wyndham brand. The 444 room Comwell Copenhagen Portside is in Nordhavnen district, not far from the Danish capital’s popular attraction such as Amalienborg palace, Tivoli Gardens and the Little Mermaid. It has a rooftop fitness centre, restaurant, deli and bar. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts claims to be the world’s biggest hotel franchising company, with some 9000 properties in 90 countries.