In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
  • Explorer2 io scaled

    Adult only - Marella Explorer 2

    As UK coastal cruises start selling out, Marella joins battle

    2 days ago

    Cruises around the UK coast are proving popular as doubts linger over holidays abroad and yet another operator enters the arena. Saga says the inaugural sailing of its new ship Spirit of Adventure and three of four trips on Spirit of Discovery have sold out. And demand has prompted P&O Cruises to make more cabins available on three and four night sailings by Britannia from Southampton. Meanwhile Marella Cruises – part of the TUI stable – has unveiled a series of sailings around Britain, with departures from Southampton and Newcastle.

    Saga had prioritised customers whose cruises had been cancelled. Nigel Blanks, Saga Cruises CEO, said “a good number” took up the offer and when the rest of the cabins went on sale after 29 March they were quickly snapped up. Meanwhile there is only limited space left on its Great British Isles Adventure cruise from Tilbury, departing on 11 July. The company requires customers to have received both vaccine doses. P&O said it was now offering inside cabins, which had not been available previously, at prices from £249 per person for a three night trip.

    Stating on 25 June, Marella Explorer will sail from Southampton on seven itineraries with ports of call including Portland, Dover, Greenock, Holyhead, Belfast – and Dublin. Sailings from Newcastle, aboard the adults only ship Marella Explorer 2, will go on sale at the end of April and start on 10 July. Customers over 18 must have received both COVID jabs at least seven days before departure. Those young than that will need to show proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding. The operator says infants under two will not be accepted “as they are exempt from testing”.

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    New lift will link US ski resorts

    3 days ago

    Two major American ski resorts are to be linked by a new lift. Work is to begin this summer on construction of the $60m gondola connecting Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, near Lake Tahoe in California. The former hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. It was announced last year that the resorts, which already share a name and a lift pass, intended to drop the “derogatory” term Squaw out of respect to Native American groups, including the local Washoe tribe. The new lift will connect the two ski area bases, carrying up to 1400 people per hour. The ride is expected to take 16 minutes and will avoid a seven mile drive. Passengers will be able to disembark at Squaw’s KT ridge enroute. The Denver based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns these and 14 other North American resorts, has yet to say when it expects the link to open.

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    Signs astronomic test prices are falling

    4 days ago

    Tentative signs are emerging that the exorbitant price of PCR tests to be mandatory for returning travellers may be falling amid widespread anger from holiday companies and others. One provider, Randox Laboratories, is offering PCR tests at a reduced price of £60 – way below the £120 – £150 charges widely reported from some other firms. However, customers will need to apply a discount code from a partner airline, leaving the question still unanswered whether more affordable tests will become available to holidaymakers across the board.

    Though there are indications over-50s with spare money may swallow high prices, travel industry representatives have been questioning why people returning from green traffic light destinations will not be able to take relatively cheap lateral flow tests when, or if, overseas holiday trips take off again on 17 May. Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s director of public affairs, wrote in Travel Trade Gazette: “It is difficult to understand why those arriving from so called ‘green countries’, which have been identified not to have significant prevalence of the disease and not to have variants of concern in widespread circulation, should have to take the more expensive PCR tests by default on their return to the UK. Abta believes a more sensible approach, for green countries, would be a protocol using lateral flow tests, with PCR tests mandated if the second of the tests required once the person is back in the UK presents a positive result. Of course, there is an incentive for the individual to seek that test too as a negative result from the more sensitive PCR test would enable an end to self isolation.”

    Meanwhile American Airlines is reported to be following partner offering rapid tests at reduced rates to transatlantic passengers. Test kits from UK Government approved provider Qured are sent to travellers’ homes. Passengers can take them before departing and returning, with the help of an online administrator. They are promised results within 20 minutes and can download a certificate if tests are negative. It is not yet clear how American will charge but BA is offering them for £33.

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    Most over-50s will travel "as soon as it is possible" - survey shows

    5 days ago

    Fresh evidence of just how keen the over-50s are to holiday abroad again has emerged from a new survey by the specialist travel organisation AITO. It suggests that in the final analysis a Government requirement to pay for a PCR test on their return may not deter them in significant numbers.

    Some 50 companies, as mixture of tour operators and travel agents, took part. The vast majority (87%) of the of the 28,500 customers who responded were over 50. Four in five (80%) all those questioned said they wanted to travel again as soon as it was possible. Just under half (46%) were still planning their trips and an overwhelming 94% intended to spend the same amount or more on a holiday. That amounted to over £2000 a head for half of them. And 60% said they were likely to book with a specialist tour operator. The proportion booking directly with airlines was down from 62% before the coronavirus outbreak to 39%.

    Martyn Sumners, AITO’s executive director said the survey provided " huge amount of optimism". The association’s typical customer was 50+. They were “not really affected financially by the epidemic”, were prepared to pay more for a better experience. And – “more than ever” – they were shunning the do it yourself holiday.

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    Nice flights plan as French COVID rates slow

    5 days ago

    Air France has displayed optimism that infections across the Channel will come down far enough to satisfy the UK Government with a plan to restart summer flights between London and Nice. Services are scheduled to start from Heathrow on 28 June and run until 5 September. The airline is expected to operate four flights a week by Airbus A320, with an extra Saturday departure during the 19 July – 29 August peak. The move came amid more signs that France may have passed the peak of its current coronavirus wave. Its infection rate had dropped to 352.2 per 100,000 yesterday, according to analysts Statista. Until a week ago it had been rising steadily, reaching 415.3 on 5 April. Francophiles will be crossing fingers in hope that the country might yet qualify for a green traffic light in seven weeks’ time – on 17 May. The earliest date by which the Government has said overseas travel could restart.

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    Image courtesy Gatwick Airport

    Gatwick introduces South Terminal drop off charges

    6 days ago

    When holiday travel restarts at Gatwick, drivers dropping off passengers now face fees for dropping off friends or relatives on the forecourts of both terminals. The airport today introduced charges of up to £25 at the older South Terminal. As at the North Terminal, where they were introduced last month, the cost is £5 for ten minutes and £1 for each additional minute up to a maximum of 20 minutes. Drivers picking up passengers can use short stay car parks, where the first 30 minutes cost £5. Those with disabilities holding blue badges are exempt. Gatwick’s management says the moves will provide the airport with a new revenue stream following a “significant” loss off £465.5m and cuts of more than 40% in its workforce resulting from the pandemic.

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    Image by Sasin Tipchair from Pixabay

    Jet2 delays restart as anger grows over Task Force report

    9 days ago

    Britain’s second biggest package tour operator and its sister airline have abandoned the prospect of a 17 May holiday take off in light of last night’s statement on the resumption of non-essential travel. The move came amid a hail of angry criticism of the Government’s announcement – based on the long awaited report of the Global Travel Taskforce. There was fury at its lack of detail and the plan to make people returning from green traffic light destinations take potentially exorbitant PCR tests. And the announcement omitted any mention of whether travellers heading abroad might need to have been vaccinated.

    Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2 Holidays and low cost airline, Jet2, said: ““We have taken time to study the Global Travel Taskforce’s framework, and we are extremely disappointed at the lack of clarity and detail. After several weeks exploring how to restart international travel, with substantial assistance and input from the industry, the framework lacks any rigorous detail about how to get international travel going again. In fact, the framework is virtually the same as six months ago. Following the publication of the framework today, we still do not know when we can start to fly, where we can fly to and the availability and cost of testing. Rather than answering questions, the framework leaves everyone asking more. We know how much our customers want to get away to enjoy their well-deserved holidays. We have seen buoyant confidence levels from UK holidaymakers, as well as strong demand for our ATOL protected package holidays and leisure flights. We are trying to run a business so that we can take customers away, but we need the Government to provide us with clarity to achieve this.”

    With tour operators on the horns of a dilemma – still having no idea how much capacity to mount for the peak summer season – it seems likely others will follow suit

    Earlier Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government would announce which countries would be on the green, amber or red traffic light lists closer to the 17 May date, the earliest overseas trips could restart. He said he was not longer advising people not to book summer holidays abroad. And he promised to “drive” down the price of private PCR tests, which can cost up to £150. Shapps was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today why they were so often more than double the price in the UK than in other countries. “It’s a very good question and one that I intend to get answered. We want to see these tests being as cheap and convenient as possible. I want to work with the travel industry and the private testing providers to drive down that cost. I won’t spare those companies that seem to be profiteering, including potentially removing them from the recommended list.” He said he couldn’t see any reason for such prices " particularly given have a bigger testing market in the UK than virtually any other country." He added: “I don’t want to see people being ripped off”.

    The Minister said this was " the first time I’m not advising people against booking foreign holidays", but as we reported earlier this week, the PCR requirement has cast huge doubt over the successful resumption of overseas holidays in the near future. On Tuesday Boris Johnson hinted at moves to organise more affordable tests, suggesting the Government is serious about reducing prices. There may also be competition between tour operators, airports and others in the industry to subsidise costs. In its announcement last night the Government would consider whether it could provide people with tests they could take before setting out for home.

    But until there is some evidence that the system will be made affordable, travellers and the industry alike will be on hot bricks. Chris Rowles, chair of the specialist travel organisation AITO, said “It smacks of elitism”. “If those travelling have been vaccinated, whether one jab or two, that should suffice – otherwise, what on earth is the point of the UK’s highly successful vaccination project and of the proposed travel certification mentioned?"

    Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Shai Weiss argued passengers should need to take PCR tests only if they had been tested positive with a cheaper lateral flow test. Also interviewed on the Today programme he said that, during lockdowns, potential travellers had made “a lot of extra savings and I think people will still want to treat themselves to that trip”. But easyJet’s CEO Johan Lundgren said earlier this week the plan “really doesn’t make sense to me because this could add cost and complexities to some extent because if you are needing to do a PCR test at a cost that would far outweigh the average fare – at least in the case of easyJet – that wouldn’t open up international travel to everyone, you would open it up to those who could pay it”.

    There will be reviews of the planned restrictions on 28 June, 31 July and 1 October. Meanwhile a “COVID-19 charter” will be introduced “clearly setting out what is required of passengers and what their rights are while measures remain in place”.

    The Government also promised to investigate whether it might provide pre-departure lateral flow tests for returning travellers but that still leaves the question how whether people would take kits away with them, how the results would be certified and what might happen if the test is positive? Will they need to fork out again for a PCR test to make sure it wasn’t a false finding? If it wasn’t, will they be required to stay put – and will their travel insurance cover them for that?

    Equally perplexing is the Task Force’s requirement that PCR tests should be taken within two days of returning to the UK, by which travellers may have ridden on crowded trains, mingled in shops or gone back to work.

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    Gibraltar - image courtesy British Airways

    Docklands airport to get new Gibraltar, Jersey flights

    9 days ago

    New flights from London City Airport to Jersey and Gibraltar are set to take off in June. They will be operated by British Airways’ Cityflyer subsidiary. Both will depart on Mondays and Fridays – ideal timing for weekend breaks. Jersey services will leave at 9.45am, arriving at 1050am, departing the Channel Islands at 11.25am to touch down in Docklands at 12.30pm. Gibraltar flights will leave London at 1.15pm, arriving at 5.10pm. They will return at 5.55pm, arriving at 7.50pm. Between 9 and 30 August Jersey services will depart at 11.05 am, returning at 12.45pm.

    Meanwhile low cost airline Jet2 is to launch summer flights to Innsbruck for the first time. Starting in late May it will operate the to the Tirolean capital from Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

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    Azura - image © Christopher Ison, courtesy P&O Cruises

    New cruises from P&0 and Seabourn

    10 days ago

    In a first for P&O Cruises, the line is to operate winter sun sailings from Tenerife – with pre-registration for places opening today. The Azura will sail on two different, alternating, seven night itineraries that can be combined. Prices will include flights. Depending on the length of the cruise, the ship will call at all or some of the following ports: Madeira, La Palma, Fuerteventura, Tenerife, Madeira, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. Among other holidays from P&O, its s new ship, Arvia will make a 14 day maiden voyage to the Canaries, a round trip from Southampton, followed by a Christmas and New Year trip to the islands, before operating for the rest of the winter in the Caribbean.

    Meanwhile luxury line Seabourn, also part of the Carnival group and whose boutique ships offer only suites with sea views, is to launch Mediterranean cruises from Athens, starting on 3 July. Sailings will be open to people with proof of full vaccination completed at least 14 days before de[arture. The Seaborn Ovation will sail from Athens on seven night itineraries. One will take in Nafplion, in the Peloponnese, the Greek islands of Crete, Rhodes and Mykonos, and Limassol, in Cyprus. The other will call at Paphos, also in Cyprus, and four Greek islands: Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini and Spetses. Passengers are also able to combine two seven day voyages.

  • Skopelos

    Skopelos - image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

    Greeks aim to make islands COVID-free

    11 days ago

    The Greek Government is attempting to make islands in the Aegean COVID free by the end of April in a bid cope with a resumption of tourism, according to a report today. Authorities have promised that the populations of 69 islands will be vaccinated, according to the Guardian’s Athens correspondent, Helena Smith. The report quotes Marios Themistocleous, the health ministry official in charge of the programme as saying: “We have so many smaller isles. Preciselt because they’re so difficult to get supplies to, we decided to vaccinate entire populations in one go so that when they begin receiving tourists, permanent residents are protected”. But it follows that if vaccination massively reduces the spread of the disease among residents, visitors will also be far less likely to contract it." As of yesterday statistics showed new cases were still rising in Greece as a whole. But the increase had slowed significantly from that seen in the week to March 29.

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    Taj Mahal - on Over-50s agendas (Image courtesy Saga)

    Over-50s to splash COVID savings on big trips - Saga survey

    11 days ago

    One in five silver travellers is planning a bigger than usual holiday – and will use money saved because of pandemic restrictions to help pay for it. That is one of the conclusions from a survey conducted on behalf of Saga. Roughly two thirds of those questioned were over 50. Less than 25% said their finances had worsened during lockdowns – for the 70-plus group its was under one in ten – compared with 40% of younger people.

    Euan Sutherland, group chief executive, said: “This is a group who’ve used lockdown to embrace new hobbies, strengthen their finances and plan for once-in-a-lifetime trips. No wonder we’ve seen a surge in people researching a holiday on the Trans-Siberian railway or to India’s Golden Triangle.”

    The survey found that in Saga’s market age group holiday plans were second only to seeing long missed family and friends this year. Nearly one third (30%) planned to get away for two weeks and 15% were looking forward to longer trips. Researchers also asked what people had used their time online during the pandemic.

    We are more resilient than young people and fewer of us are feeling lonely or bored, says the research. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, just over half (52%) had spent more of it the previously on video calls with friend and family, while 61% cited increased shopping. Over one third (36%) had streamed more TV and films, 35% upped their use of social media, 17% spent more time “engaging with local communities” and ten per cent indulged in more online gambling – though it should be added that 69% said they didn’t gamble at all.

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    Image courtesy Viking

    Viking launches new Bermuda, Iceland cruises

    11 days ago

    Viking has added summer sailings around Bermuda and Iceland to its restart programme. And after its cruises around the English coast from Portsmouth, starting next month, sold out within a week, the company has add two more of them. From June Viking Orient and Sky will make eight day round trips from Hamilton and Reykjavik respectively. The small size of both ships will enable them to call at ports in Bermuda and Iceland. Viking is working on extending its “Welcome Back” sailings to other destinations this year , including Greece, Turkey, and Malta as soon as government approvals are given. As we reported previously, passengers on all such cruises will be need to be vaccinated and there will be frequent non invasive saliva PCR testing of all guests and crew while ships are at sea.

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    Holidays abroad: PM reacts to jab proposal concern

    12 days ago

    Boris Johnson hinted today at the possibility of cut price checks for holidaymakers heading abroad. “We’re going to see what we can do to make things as flexible and as affordable as possible”, he told Sky News.

    He said Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet, had been right to raise the issue. The budget airline boss had had told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was concerned the Government was proposing tests before leaving for home and again after arrival, even in the green category. He said the idea “really doesn’t make sense to me because this could add cost and complexities to some extent because if you are needing to do a PCR test at a cost that would far outweigh the average fare – at least in the case of easyJet – that wouldn’t open up international travel to everyone, you would open it up o those who could pay it”.

    The two test proposal has posed serious questions over the restart of holiday travel abroad. The document issued alongside yesterday’s Downing Street briefing contained no details of how such checks would be carried out. Would travellers be obliged to take lateral flow kits away with them? Or would they need to find somewhere to take a PCR test? Will destination countries provide cheap and easily accessible jabs in resorts? What about people staying in remote, rural areas? If someone with no symptoms tests positive before departure, would they and their fellow travellers be quarantined abroad for several days? How would that be organised, and would it be covered by their travel insurance?

    With some early indications that the third wave of infections in major European destination countries could be flattening out, the proposal will be a key debating point over the new few weeks until further decision are take about whether and how non essential travel can resume on 17 May. The PM said he had raised the issue himself yesterday but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the test idea has been tossed across the Cabinet table without being properly thought through. It certainly put a damper on the his confirmation of the traffic light system yesterday and his repeated statement hat he had seen nothing in the data to alter the progress of the road map for relaxing restrictions. And though he has always emphasised that 17 May is the earliest possible take off date, there was nothing in yesterday’s Downing Street briefing yesterday’s Downing Street briefing to suggest it had yet been abandoned. Indeed, Mr Johnson said he remained hopeful it could still mark a restart and the Government would set out before then “what we think is reasonable”. But he did not “want to give hostages to fortune or underestimate some of the difficulties we are seeing in some destinations”.

    Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel industry association ABTA, welcomed confirmation of such a risk based system but added that it was important to wait for the details in the Global Travel Taskforce report, due out later this week. “A priority for the industry is a more stable system which avoids the situation of last summer where travel to many destinations was quickly turned on and off. It is vital that the Government clarifies how the transition between green, amber and red levels will work, both to help travel businesses plan ahead and to provide reassurance for travellers. Destinations should not be suddenly closed off unless variants of concern dictate that this must happen. The goal must be to have unrestricted travel to ‘green’ destinations. At present the costs of testing may be a deterrent to many UK travellers, so the Government must ensure that testing is required only where the public health risk justifies it, and that a cost-effective and efficient testing regime is in place."

    The specialist travel association AITO was angered by the Government document advice that people should not book summer holidays “until the picture is clearer”. Chairman Chris Rowles said: “Rather than discussing anything with the outbound industry, or offering us help – as they have with the creative arts and hospitality sectors, listed by the government’s own Office for National Statistics as second and third worst hit industries (travel being the top of the “worst hit industry” listing) – they’ve simply ignored us and treated us as if we don’t exist. The astounding success of the UK’s vaccination programme, with 60% of adults now vaccinated, seems pointless if it doesn’t restore the freedom to travel overseas for those who seek to do so, whether to visit family and friends or to escape from the past 12 months’ virtual imprisonment that we’ve all endured. We know and accept that the mantra of face, space, hands and fresh air will need to be maintained, wherever we are; it is a small and sensible price to pay for freedom.”

    Meanwhile, though reported rates of new infections in Portugal, for example, remain at a much lower level that in most other countries, and there are first signs that in Spain, Greece and France, for example, the increase in rates may have slowed slightly, the Government’s scientific advisors will be paying hawk like attention to the numbers. Speed of vaccinations and prevalence of variants that may be more resistant to vaccines will be fed into the arithmetic.

    The question still plaguing tour operators will be whether to prune their capacity – to cut the number of holidays they offer in order not to wind up with too many contracted airline seats and hotel beds – or to gamble on a major swing towards normality come early summer.

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    Norwegian Jade (courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line)

    Norwegian Cruise Line unveils new summer sailings

    12 days ago

    Norwegian Cruise Line has announced a resumption of cruises this summer, with the launch of one week island hopping itineraries in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Starting on 25 July, Norwegian Jade will sail to Greek islands from Athens. From 7 and 15 August respectively Norwegian Gem will sail from Montego Bay, Jamaica and Norwegian Joy will operate trips from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. All the cruise will involve time in ports. Passengers embarking until the end of October will need to be fully vaccinated and tested before boarding. The line’s President and CEO Harry Sommer said: " Given the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic, the accelerating rollout of the vaccine, and the speed of scientific learnings, it is premature to make decisions about our health and safety protocols for cruises with embarkation dates beginning 1st November 2021. We will continue to evaluate our health and safety protocols and rely on science and our expert council as we make decisions and evolve our policies and procedures." The company simultaneously cancelled all previously planned July and August itineraries aboard Norwegian Breakaway, Dawn, Escape, Getaway, Sky, Spirit, Star and Sun. Voyages aboard Norwegian Epic up to 1 September and Norwegian Pearl up to 7 November have also been cancelled. Passengers will be contacted direct.

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    New figures show COVID impact on travel choice

    12 days ago

    A measure of the damage wrought by the pandemic on holiday choice emerged today in figures from the Civil Aviation Authority. Ninety nine travel firms did not apply to renew their Air Travel Organisers’ Licences (ATOLs) by the spring deadline of 31 March. Last year’s total, with the first lockdown just imposed, was 55. ATOLs (Air Travel Organisers’ Licences) are mandatory for firms selling package holidays including flights. An authority spokesman explained that of 23 of the 99 no longer needed licences to cover air travel. Licences are renewed twice a year, in spring and autumn. The CAA said that of the 742 that expired at the end of March, 554 had been renewed, with a further 89 still in the process. With doubt still hovering over this year’s crucial summer holiday season, its licensing head Michael Budge said some operators had been required to ensure they had enough funds to battle on: " We have continued to focus on ensuring the appropriate protection of advance customer monies and requiring ATOL holders to maintain adequate liquidity to meet future obligations. Where appropriate, certain conditions were required to meet these obligations."

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    Hanoi traffic - image by Sharon Ang from Pixabay

    Vietnam flights - new competition

    13 days ago

    Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways is planning to launch flights to London this year. According to widespread reports it has secured take off and landing slots at Heathrow for flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It is expected to fly three times a week on both routes using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. If it goes ahead, Bamboo will be in competition with Vietnam Airlines, whose flights, like those of almost all carriers, have been seriously disrupted by the pandemic.

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    Jerash © Ffestiniog Travel

    Steam power in Jordan - new holidays launched

    16 days ago

    Travel on the Hejaz railway, attacked by Lawrence and his Arab guerrilla fighters during World War I, is included in two tours launched by specialist Ffestiniog Travel.

    The firm had planned to operate one tour last year – its first venture to the region – under the title Jordan: Steam, Petra and the Dead Sea. That trip was prevented by the pandemic. This year, prompted by an enthusiastic customer response and it plans to operate two. They will run, COVID-19 permitting, from 18 -26 October and 1 – 9 November. As well as two private steam charters and a tour of the railway workshop, the itinerary will include visits to Petra (by night), Jerash, Madaba and Mount Nebo, and a 4×4 tour of Wadi Rum.

    Under the Ottoman Empire it was planned to extend the narrow gauge Hejaz from Damascus to the Holy City of Mecca, creating a link with Istanbul – then known officially as Constantinople. But war intervened when the line had reached Medina, 810 miles from the Syrian capital. Though it later fell into disrepair, two sections of the line remain in service. Workers on the line have restored many of the original locomotive and there are hopes that if peace should allow, the entire route, if not in its former guise, may eventually be revived through international agreement, as part of a wider Middle East rail network. A spur which once ran to Haifa has been partly been rebuilt and it was reported just over two years ago than Saudi Arabia and Israel planned to restore the route between the Mediterranean port and Riyadh.

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    Bullish easyJet to launch new routes from Birmingham and Glasgow

    17 days ago

    EasyJet today underlined its optimism that foreign travel will take off again this summer with the unveiling of five new routes from Birmingham. Starting on 29 June it plans to operate to Malaga and Faro, respectively twice and three times a week. Next day it will start flying three times a week to Alicante. From 3 July it will operate three times a week to Mallorca and from the following day twice weekly to Corfu. The airline will also launch new flights from Glasgow to Antalya in Turkey, operating twice a week from 1 July.

    Ali Gayward, the low cost airline’s UK country manager, said: " “We believe that a framework can be put in place for the safe reopening of travel and a strong summer, and we are currently focused on working with the UK Government Travel Task Force in the coming days and weeks. We are hopeful that progress will continue to be made with the vaccination programmes in Europe, with several countries in Europe having indicated they will be welcoming British tourists this summer. We remain of the view that international travel can restart and that, with the right framework in place, restrictions can be safely and progressively reduced and in some cases removed by mid-summer for key destinations. We’ve kept our fleet in a flight-ready mode so we are ready and able to ramp up our services quickly and increase our capacity where we see increased demand for the summer."

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    Zakinthos: image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

    COVID anxiety sparks package tour upsurge

    17 days ago

    Uncertainty over foreign travel has sparked an upsurge of potential demand for package holidays, new research from industry organisation ABTA suggests. Nearly half (45%) of people questioned said they were more likely to book an inclusive break than they were before the pandemic began. The main reasons, cited respectively by 51% and 49% were the promise of being looked after if something goes wrong and financial protection. Interestingly, 14% said they were less inclined to book packages, perhaps suggesting a reluctance to fly and a preference for independent travel by car. While other recent surveys have indicated relatively few Britons have booked overseas breaks for this year so far, ABTA’s results reflect widespread reports of pent up demand. They show 63% of respondents saying they “hope to book a holiday abroad in the next six months or longer”.

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    Orkney Islands - virtual destination

    Cruise line’s cultural enrichment channel attracted 2m viewers

    17 days ago

    Cruise line Viking says more than 2m people have viewed streamed content on the online digital platform it launched last year, in the early stages of the pandemic. The operator has broadcast over 340 live sessions, transporting customers past and potential – and crew who continued manning its ships – to destinations from the Cotswolds to the Orkney Islands and institutions such as Oslo’s Munch Museum, St Petersburg’s Hermitage and the British Museum. There have been guest appearances from the likes of Sir Michael Palin, cellist Yo Yo Ma, yachtswoman Tracy Edwards and actor Lesley Nichol (Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore). As the line prepares to resume limited operations with cruises in English waters, executive vice president Karine Hagen said “Viking TV was started because we felt there was a need to connect our guests, crew and other curious people to the world during a time of great isolation, uncertainty and fear.” The channel won the Breakthrough Award for Product Innovation in last year’s Silver Travel Awards.