In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
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    Palace of Parliament, Bucharest

    Low cost battle on new routes from Southend

    3 months ago

    Battle has been joined on planned new routes from Southend to Bucharest and Vilnius. Budget airlines Wizz and Ryanair have both announced they will launch flights to the Romanian and Lithuanian capitals in November. The former will operate five round trips a week to Bucharest and two a week to Vilnius from 22 and 23 November respectively. Ryanair will similarly operate five times a week to Bucharest but will fly three times a week to Vilnius. In December Wizz will also launch new flights from Luton to Vienna and Castellon, between Valencia and Benicassem.

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    Riu Plaza Espana Madrid

    Madrid gets major new hotel

    3 months ago

    With a top floor glass walkway opening up spectacular views of Madrid, a huge new hotel has opened on the city’s Gran Via. The four star Riu Plaza Espana has 585 rooms and an outdoor pool on its 21ST floor. It is housed in the neo-baroque Edificio Espana, which was completed in 1953 and was once Spain’s highest building. The property is Mallorca based Riu Hotels and Resorts’ first in the capital. It has a gym. Two bars on its upper floors – and even the Jacuzzis in some suites – also have sweeping views over the city.

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    St Pancras Station

    Souped up train link planned for Luton Airport

    4 months ago

    A new, more frequent fast train link between London’s St Pancras station and Luton Airport is scheduled to start at the end of next year. The shortest current journey time is 21-22 minutes but is only available once per hour. With the introduction of a new fleet of electric trains, services taking approximately the same time will run to and from Luton Parkway every 30 minutes. But the airport is urging the Government to approve a four times and hour service as part of the refranchising of the East Midland rail line. It has already announced a partnership agreement with Abellio, which will operate the East Midland Railway for the next eight years. The deal heralds an investment package of over £600m in services beyond Luton, to Bedford, Corby, Wellingborough and Kettering. This will pay for station upgrades, including new waiting areas for passengers at St Pancras. Meanwhile work continues on a light rail link between Luton Parkway station and the airport.

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    Kingley Vale Nature Reserve - credit Visit Hampshire

    Chichester woos walkers

    4 months ago

    In a bid to bring the South Downs and its nearby coastline to a wider audience, Chichester will launch its first walking weekend next month. From 6-8 September the West Sussex city’s tourist office will offer a programme of mostly free guided walks in collaboration with the local Ramblers Association group. Besides routes across the Downs and through the city itself and around its harbour, itineraries will take in the Manhood Peninsula, for example, with the history of Selsey and Sidlesham, and the market towns of Petworth and Midhurst. There will one route designed for wheelchair users. Full details are at www.visitchichester.org/walkingweekend

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    Gothenburg

    Swedish port installs alcohol barriers to catch drivers over limit

    4 months ago

    Sign of things to come? The port of Gothenburg has installed several “alcohol barriers” to keep ferry passengers who’ve been at the booze driving on Sweden’s roads. Technology in machines looking a bit like petrol pumps automatically selects drivers randomly for breath tests. If those drivers are above the 0.10 milligrams per litre limit the barrier will stay down and police will be alerted. With no direct ferry service from the UK and a bridge and tunnel now linking from Copenhagen with Malmo in Sweden, British drivers are unlikely to encounter the problem. Could the idea be replicated at other ports? That would clearly depend on speed of processing and levels of traffic.

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    Franz Josef Land

    Arctic expedition cruises hit by sudden Russian ban

    4 months ago

    Russian authorities have abruptly barred two Hurtigruten expedition cruises from sailing to the Artic archipelago of Franz Josef Land. The company said MS Spitsbergen, the ship due to make both visits late this month, met the requirements of the Polar Code and had permission to operate in this part of the Arctic. “Despite this fact, and at the last minute, the final remaining permits from the Russian Authorities have unexpectedly been denied and we have not been granted the final sailing permission to Franz Josef Land”. Hurtigruten had been in long term discussions with the Russians about the planned cruises. “Their last-minute decision comes as a surprise, further highlighted by the very vocal strategy from Russian authorities to attract more cruise traffic and new operators in general – and Hurtigruten in particular – to Russian Arctic waters.” However, the Independent Barents Observer, which covers the region, said a large scale Russian military exercise was planned in the area next month Passengers were being offered compensation and alternative expedition cruises. The company said it would continue its dialogue with the authorities about future voyages to Franz Josef Land, which was annexed by the then Soviet Union in 1926.

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    London Tower Bridge

    London hotel prices in the rise

    4 months ago

    Hotel prices in London hit record highs for the second consecutive month in July, according to preliminary data from research company STR. The average daily room rate rose by 3.3% to just over £176, compared with the same month last year. On 20 nights in the month, hotels operated 90% full. In June the average rate rocketed by 11.3%. The averages, of course, cover a wide range of prices but they show that increased prices are eating into the advantages overseas visitors are enjoying as result of the weakness of sterling.

  • Brexit

    Overseas holiday bookings hit by Brexit concerns

    4 months ago

    Brexit uncertainty is having a serious impact on overseas holiday bookings, according to a new survey from KPMG, but silver travellers are the least fazed. With the £ nosediving and the threat of a no deal departure from the EU causing political turmoil, nearly one in ten (9%) of UK consumers overall has missed out on a break abroad. That figure rises to 15% among parents with young children. But the proportion of over-55s missing out on overseas holidays, while still significant, is 6%. Linda Ellett, head of consumer markets at KPMG UK, says: “These figures bring to light just how much Brexit has impacted people’s everyday lives. We can see this in the way that people are delaying significant purchases such as new cars or foreign holidays. When looking at travel and holidays in particular, fears around flight paths and border controls are clearly playing out in people’s actions, and of course the fall in the value of sterling won’t have done much to entice people overseas either. For these consumer businesses, the focus has to be on remaining agile so as to ride this wave of uncertainty. Those that can achieve this may even benefit from pent up demand when clarity finally does return to both businesses and consumers.”

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    Air Antwerp

    London City gains Antwerp link, will lose Lisbon and Porto

    4 months ago

    Direct flights between London City Airport and Antwerp – perhaps the most interesting city break choice you hadn’t considered – are set to take off on 9 September. Belgian start up carrier Air Antwerp will operate three round trips a day on weekdays and one on Sunday evenings, using a 50 seat Fokker F-50 turboprop. Flights will depart from Docklands at 7.45am, 2.55pm and 6.10pm. London bound services will leave at 7.10am, 2.15pm and 5.35pm. Air Antwerp has also struck a code share agreement on the route with KLM, enabling passengers to buy tickets via the Dutch airline. KLM markets travel from London City to Antwerp with flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with a high speed train connection to the Belgian city. Meanwhile TAP Air Portugal has decided to suspend its flights from the airport to Lisbon and Porto. The move will take effect in October. A spokesperson for the airline said it had made the decision “due to uncertainties in customer demand associated with Brexit and the lower than expected results at London City”. It had partially offset the lost seats by providing extra capacity on routes to the two cities from Heathrow and Gatwick.

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    Valle del Cabriel

    Deepest Spain: rural areas win UNESCO status

    4 months ago

    Away from the busy Costas, the Alto Turia and Valle del Cabriel in Spain have been named Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO. The former is in Valencia province, the later mostly in neighbouring Cuenca. Biosphere status is accorded to areas that combine conservation of biological diversity with sustainable use. Both newly designated areas, 40-60 kilometres from the city of Valencia, have fine landscapes and a rich variety of flora and fauna. The former is crossed by the upper Turia river and attracts visitors seeking outdoor activities, from hiking and cycling to canoeing, rafting and fishing. The Cabriel is claimed to be Europe’s cleanest river. The valley is home to a number of important archaeological sites, among them the Cave Paintings of Villar del Hurno. Worldwide, UNESCO has named a total of 18 such new reserves this summer.

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    Bangkok MRT Wat Mangkon Station

    Old Bangkok gets new underground stations

    4 months ago

    Bangkok’s old city has been made more accessible for tourists berth by the opening of four new MRT underground stations. Travel between them will be free between 10am and 4pm until 28 September. They are part of a 14 kilometre extension to the Thai capital’s Blue Line. The old area – Rattanakosin – is home to attractions including the Grand Palace, Chinatown and Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Pho – respectively Temples of the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha.

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    Norwegian by Steven Byles from Taipei, Taiwan [CC BY-SA 2.0]

    Norwegian axes Ireland-North America over 737 MAX grounding

    4 months ago

    The grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX has forced Norwegian to axe all its flights from Ireland to the US and Canada from 5 September. The low cost airline operates from Dublin, Cork and Shannon. It is trying to re-route affected customers on its services from other countries and offering full refunds if they no longer want to travel. The aircraft was grounded globally following two fatal crashes. Matthew Wood, Norwegian’s senior vice president, long haul commercial, said the airline had been hiring alternative jets to operate the services. “However, as the return to service date for the 737 MAX remains uncertain, this solution is unsustainable.”

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    Undersea hotel

    Rooms with undersea views

    4 months ago

    With floor to ceiling windows affording views of ocean life from turtles to manta rays, Australia’s first underwater visitor accommodation is scheduled to open on the Great Barrier Reef in November. Guests will be able to book from the end of this month. ‘Reefsuites’ are part of the AUD8m redevelopment of the Reefworld pontoon at Hardy Reef, 39 miles from Airlie Beach in Queensland’s Whitsunday region. Prices start at AUD740 for each of two sharing (about £412 at the time of writing). That includes a Reef cruise, meals and drinks and a selection of marine activities. More details

  • Portsmouth with emirates spinnaker tower

    Portsmouth with Emirates Spinnaker Tower

    New pass cuts cost of Portsmouth breaks

    4 months ago

    Portsmouth has launched a single ticket combining admission to the Mary Rose Museum and other key attractions. The pass promises to save 20% overall compared with the price of visiting each attraction individually. It also covers the Portsmouth Historic and National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Emirates Spinnaker Tower and the D-Day Story. Entry to The Mary Rose Museum and the Dockyard are cover is free for a year. Prices are £65 for adults, £57.50 for concessions – and for those taking grandchildren it’s £38 per child or £149 for a family of two adults and three children. Called the Portsmouth Pass, it must be bought in advance on the websites of all the sponsoring attractions except the Dockyard, and at www.visitportsmouth.co.uk

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    Venice

    Venice to re-route cruise ships – but problems remain

    4 months ago

    The Italian Government is reported to be planning to divert cruise ships from the centre of Venice, where they currently loom like great apartment blocks. Following two recent incidents – one a collision between the MSC Opera and a small tourist boat, the other a near miss, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that, from the start of September, some ships would no longer sail through the Giudecca Canal to reach the city’s maritime terminal. Instead they would dock at the Fusina and Lombardia terminals, still in the lagoon but some distance away. But cruise experts are sceptical that this could represent anything but a temporary solution. They note that ferrying passengers from there to the principal island, with attractions such as St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, would be a major logistical task. They want to see the implementation of a long hatched plan to sail into the lagoon from the southwest and approach the terminal via the Vittorio Emanuele channel. Nothing being simple, however, this would involve dredging a deeper channel through the lagoon, which raises concern among environmental activists, who argue it would disrupt sediments and marine life.

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    The Royal Mineral Water Hospital, Bath

    Historic Bath hospital to become hotel

    4 months ago

    The Royal Mineral Water Hospital in Bath is to become a luxury hotel. The Grade II listed building will be developed by the Singapore based Fragrance Group, whose UK hotel portfolio includes the Imperial in Blackpool and the Crown in Harrogate. The hospital which consists of two buildings linked by a bridge, opened in 1742. Its purpose was to provide care for the poor, who had long been drawn to Bath by the supposed healing powers of the city’s Roman baths. Officially known as the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases it is scheduled to move to the site of the Royal United Hospital – whose Trust runs it – on the outskirts of Bath. The Fragrance Group’s other current hotel projects include plans to transform Liverpool’s Municipal Buildings into a four star property and redevelop the site of Torquay’s former Palace Hotel.

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    Franfurt Airport's new security area

    Smoother security at Frankfurt Airport

    4 months ago

    Frankfurt Airport is speeding up its security process. Operator Fraport AG has opened seven new lanes in an extension to Concourse A in Terminal One. Passengers are able to overtake others taking more time in the same lane. There is also more space for analysing x-rays and conducting manual checks. In October the lanes will be removed and switched to other checkpoints in the airport’s two terminals. The Concourse An extension will be put back into operation in time for next summer’s busy holidays season.

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    Himalayan trek

    New Himalayas trek launched

    4 months ago

    A trekking holiday in northern Pakistan, designed for those keen to experience the Himalayas without committing to a long challenge on foot, is one of three new packages for next year launched by KE Adventure Travel. Customers hike in two stages to the foot of Nanga Parbat, at the western end of the mountain chain, the world’s ninth highest peak at 8126 metres. After that the group will move to the Hunza Valley, widely acknowledged for its stunning beauty, visiting the old capital of Karimabad, trekking for a day on the Bualtar and Barpu glaciers, taking a tour to the Chinese border and cruising on Attabad Lake, which was formed as a result of a huge landslide in 2010. The two week holiday – Nanga Parbat and the Hunza Valley Trek – costs from £2635 including flights and £1995 land only.

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    Gatwick Airport by Martin Roell [CC BY-SA 2.0]

    Gatwick speeds up domestic arrivals

    4 months ago

    Passengers arriving at Gatwick on domestic flights can now expect a faster and more convenient passage to the baggage hall. The creation of a new, dedicated route, launched at a cost of £24m, means almost all travellers from UK airports – including the Channel Islands – and the Republic of Ireland, will disembark via a jetty or aircraft steps directly into the South Terminal. Previously they were coached to a special baggage reclaim area to observe immigration rules that demand segregation of domestic and international passengers. The airport company says while passengers on a few flights might still need to use coaches during peak periods, 95% would be able to use the new route.

  • Hotel bathrooms

    Hotel group to banish mini bathroom bottles

    4 months ago

    The end may be near for those little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisteriser in hotel bathrooms. In a move to reduce plastic waste the giant InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has announced that it will switch its entire operation to “bulk size bathroom amenities” by 2021. On average, that will amount to the removal of 200 million miniatures a year. CEO Keith Barr says they have already been abolished at hotels comprising nearly one third of IHG’s 853,000 bedrooms worldwide. “It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly – we know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect. Switching to larger-size amenities across more than 5,600 hotels around the world is a big step in the right direction and will allow us to significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact as we make the change.”