Great Wall Of China Ticked, Now The Lake District

Planning to see a UNESCO’s World Heritage site? Thinking you’ll have to travel to the Great Barrier Reef or Great Wall of China? Well, think again because now you only need travel to the Lake District.

Billed by the Independent as the ‘Oscars for sites of natural beautiful or cultural significance’, UNESCO adds extra sites to its list each year. Like the Oscars, not everyone gets to make a tearful acceptance speech, as this year the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee (which has a vaguely Soviet ring to it) only voted in twenty of the thirty three nominated sites.

The Lake District was one of those that got the nod. The announcement has naturally been welcomed by the local tourism authority as it will undoubtedly help attract many more visitors. But it hasn’t received universal support. Opponents, including The Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot labelled the decision a ‘blatant assault on nature’ [that] ‘turns the area into a Beatrix Potter-themed museum’. His strongly worded article proves just how contentious this winning World Heritage Site status malarkey can be.

Here’s a further taste of his dramatically opposing view, “Everything that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision: the cowardice, the grovelling, the blandishments, the falsehoods. The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful, but also familiar”.


Of course, if you did want to travel further afield then you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here’s the complete list of this year’s new intake.

City of Yazd, Iran

Venetian Works of Defence, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

Valongo Wharf, Brazil

Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine, Poland

Taputapuātea, France

Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Okinoshima, Japan

Mbanza Kongo, Angola

Los Alerces national park, Argentina

Kulangsu, China

Kujataa, Denmark

Assumption Cathedral, Russia

Aphrodisias, Turkey

Swabian Jura, Germany

Khomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

Dauria, Mongolia / Russia

Hebron/Al-Khalil, Palestine

Asmara, Eritrea

Ahmedabad, India



Luton Steps Up The Battle Of The London Airports

Luton Airport’s decision to invest £200 million in a new light railway link – that will run from the airport to the railway station – should give it bragging rights over rival Gatwick Airport, as it will make the journey time between Luton Airport and the capital much faster than those traveling in from Gatwick.

The new link will replace the existing shuttle bus service and once constructed it’s estimated that passengers will be able to get to London St Pancras from Luton Airport in less than 30 minutes.

The bad news for the bus drivers, who’ll soon have no buses to drive, is that the air link will be automatic; in other words, driverless. However, they’ll probably find other work at the airport as it’s experiencing real growth – passenger numbers grew 17% to 12.3 million in 2015 and the airport now employs more than 8,600 staff.

Luton Airport is owned by the local council (which should have made the planning application a pretty straight forward exercise) and the council is to be applauded for making such a ballsy decision in these belt tightening times. Mind you, it has already committed to spending £110m on redeveloping its terminals, which it hopes will expand capacity to 18 million passengers a year by 2020.

Putting its local ratepayers’ money where its mouth is has helped convince EasyJet to commit to staying at the Airport too. The low cost airline has gone on record as saying that the redevelopment is a key factor in its pledge to double the size of its operations there over the next decade.

If Gatwick feels aggrieved at the news, spare a thought for rival Stansted airport, where hopes of building a faster rail connection to central London have been dampened by Network Rail, which estimated that the upgrades needed would only shave 2-5 minutes from the current 45-53 minute train journey.

Clearly, the battle between London’s airports is hotting up with the winners being the passengers. That’ll make a change.

TfL To Vacuum The Underground (This We Have To See)

Calling all vacuum cleaner salepeople. Transport for London (TfL) has just announced that it’s going to spring clean the entire Tube network; using vacuum cleaners. And magnets. OK. So the job is probably beyond your average Henry Hoover. It may even be too tall a task for a Dyson (even allowing for its revolutionary cyclonic separation technology). But the Mayor and his senior colleagues at TfL have announced that its time to give the Underground network a bit of a scrub.

Given how many people use it and its great age, it’s perhaps not surprising how grubby the network is. But the spring clean is long overdue nonetheless  and their announcement will be warmly welcomed by the millions of commuters that use it every day – as well as the thousands of tourists who travel on it too.

The vacuum cleaners will be special ones that will hoover up all the dirt that has collected in the tracks. (We can’t imagine how often they’ll have to empty the bags but we’re guessing that the cleaning company will have thought of that).

And the  magnets? Apparently, all that screeching when a train arrives are the metal wheels grinding on the metal tracks, which produces metal particles. The magnets will collect these particles which can then be – presumably – recycled into building more trains.

The spring clean will also help deprive the scores of rats and mice that inhabit the network and feed off all the food wrappings dropped by passengers. These unwelcome guests gnaw through cables and so cause disruptions to the network. Thanks to the introduction of the night service, however, commuters may have spotted fewer of them recently. According to an academic who has studied them, this is making them ‘sleep  deprived’ and so driving them out of the network!

Airbnb Has Up-Market Hotels In Its Sights

‘Disruptive technology’ is one of those phrases journalists love to use in their articles. Usually they don’t mean disruptive at all, just mildly better; like a quicker toaster. But we do think the phrase can be applied to Airbnb, which recently announced that it intends to launch a premier service that will compete more directly with hotels.  It’s aim to capture high end customers who haven’t yet tried its service.

Airbnb has come a long way in a short period of time and for most start-ups, deliberately moving away from your core target audiences (in its case, sofa surfing millennials) would be the kiss of death. But you feel with Airbnb, the company may just pull it off and cause yet more grief to the hotel industry along the way. (As well as justify its valuation of $31 billion!)

The company believes that it can attract older, richer clients who might have been put off by the perception that its service is less polished than that offered by quality hotels. But money talks and as the price of hotel rooms continues to climb (London’s average room rate is £136 per night and this includes some pretty dodgy dwellings) so Airbnb can start to nibble at this new socioeconomic group too.

Trials for the new service are expected to start in the US shortly. As part of the service, inspectors will call on the hosts to check that their services are as advertised.

The company is not moving away from its core market just yet though. It also recently announced a new ‘split payment’ feature, which would allow multiple guests to split the fee and share the cost of a room – something that apparently has been long in demand. We were intrigued to see from the press release that this can accommodate up to sixteen friends!

We at Explorer Insurance know that we’re getting old, not just because we couldn’t conceive of sharing a room with fifteen other people, but because we can’t think of fifteen friends to go on holiday with.


London Homeowners Can Make Italian Ghost Towns Come Alive

Stories of London homeowners cashing in their property chips to buy bigger properties out of London are pretty common in the national press, but we’ve never seen one before where flush Londoners can buy a whole town. Admittedly, the town is in Italy, but we can think of worse places to live.

The property section of the Daily Telegraph recently carried a story of how three tiny ‘ghost towns’ have been put up for sale. They’re all located in the northern region of Piedmont, close to Turin.

They include the hamlet of Lunella, which comprises six dwellings (yours for €350,000), Calsazio, which boasts 12 houses for sale totalling €250,000 and Gilli, which has has eight properties up for sale for €180,000. As the average property price in the UK is now £315,000, – which will only buy you 95 square foot studio flat in Westminster – then the idea of being the local Mr & Mrs Big might be quite appealing.

As always (and here it seems Italian estate agents are on par with their British counterparts) there is a catch. Most of these buildings are in a pretty dilapidated state and some may even have been damaged by earthquakes.

Apparently, the ghost town phenomena is quite common in Italy. Known locally as ‘sleeping beauties’, up to 20,000 abandoned small villages and hamlets dot the Italian landscape, with the former owners driven out by either natural disasters, such as earthquakes, or economic necessity, so forced to find jobs in bigger towns.

Their abandonment represents a sad reflection on life in such a beautiful country, but also a once in a lifetime opportunity for those tired of living in London.

For those with bigger budgets, €1.5 million buys you the entire abandoned hamlet of Frattura Vecchia di Scanno in Abruzzi. Overlooking a heart-shaped lake, the one-acre plot includes 70 dilapidated dwellings! These measure about 540 sq ft each (so not palatial) but with a decent local builder on site, these could presumably be turned into fewer, bigger holiday lets. And this is where the smart money is moving in, as according to the Daily Telegraph, ‘restyled homes such as these can earn up to €800 per week in rent during high summer season’.

Of course you needn’t take your London property winnings to Italy. £315,000 will also buy you an entire small island off Orkney in the very north of Scotland, which boasts its own period farm cottage, 40 acres of land and, thanks to a wind turbine, free electricity too.

Free electricity or free olive oil? The choice, as they say, is yours.



Stay Safe. Implant Your Travel Card In Your Hand. Really?

Travelling is one of life’s great joys. But its biggest downside is the potential risks that a traveler can be exposed to. As a travel insurance company we deal with our share of customers whose trip has gone wrong for some reason. So we’re always interested in stories about people who take steps to protect themselves and who might offer an example to others.

We think we found one in Australia but we’re not sure whether others might want to follow his lead.

An Australian man (we’ll come to his name later) has had his travel card chip implanted in his left hand. The chip from his Opal card (the Australian equivalent of TfL’s Oyster card) was especially cut down to 10mm by 6mm and inserted into his hand by a professional piercer.

Among the reasons he gave for having it done was ‘”If someone stole my wallet I could still get home”. To be fair, you can’t fault his logic here. Presumably other benefits include just waving your hand over the card reader. And watching the reactions of other travellers.

Given that this is a pretty wacky idea, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that his name is Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow. Or that he has several other implants in his body, one of which he uses ‘to store documents’.

At this point we must confess that our collective mind started to boggle. What documents would you want to store in your arm and how would you retrieve them?  How would you print them out? (You can see how, as a travel insurance company, our mind works).

Although we applaud his attempt to take his personal safety to an entirely new high, we suggest you just keep your travel card safe about your person.

A Rewilding Caravan With 7,500 Animals Onboard. What A Sight!

“The animals went in two by two”. Most of our readers probably know the nursery rhythm and were they in Zimbabwe this week would probably be singing it. Why? Because this week sees one of Africa’s largest wildlife relocation projects take place.

Over 7,500 animals will be moved from from Zimbabwe to neighbouring Mozambique to restock a national park that was emptied of wildlife during the civil war. They’ll be joined there by a further 1,500 animals sourced from Mozambique.

The ‘rewilding caravan’ would be a truly joyous sight, as nearly 50 elephants will be among the first passengers making this 600km road journey, together with 200 zebra, 100 giraffe, 900 impala, 200 buffalo, 200 eland antelope, 300 wildebeest and 50 kudus. (So not exactly two by two anymore!).

The animals will be accompanied by a small army of game-capture staff, veterinarians, ecologists, helicopter pilots and lorry drivers.

The animals – and the tourists who’ll soon be able to see them in their new home in the Zinave National Park – owe their good fortune to a German businessman and philanthropist called Wilfried Pabsterman, who owns the Sango section of the Savé Valley Conservancy, from where the animals currently, err, reside.

He has agreed to donate 6,000 animals over the next three years as his conservancy ‘enjoyed a surplus of wild animals’ and, according to the Peace Parks Foundation, which sponsored the operation, the businessman has donated the animals for free.

Given the terrible consequences that largescale poaching is having on Africa’s wildlife, Herr Pabsterman’s generosity deserves widespread recognition. Perhaps acknowledged animal conservationist Prince Harry could have a word in his grandmother’s ear about a knighthood?

Once rehoused, the animals will play their part in a much larger, trans-frontier project designed to restore animal migration routes across Africa, as well as benefit local communities through wildlife tourism projects.


The Best Travel Advice? Stay At Home!

In this exceptionally warm weather, we’re not sure who has it worse, the commuters forced to travel to work or those who work for the companies that provide the means of transport.

Let’s face it, we Brits are pretty good at the blame game and nobody ‘cops’ more criticism than the management and staff working for airports, airlines, bus and railway operating companies and the myriad of other companies that provide all the products and services needed by travelers.

So as to even things up, here are few pointers in their defence.


Hot weather does buckle train lines

Rails are made of steel which expands as it heats up. If trains go too fast they risk buckling the track and while the air temperature might be 31C, the temperatures on the tracks can exceed 50C during heatwaves. Even just a few hours of above-average heat is enough to cause problems.

The best way to prevent buckling in hot conditions is for Network Rail to impose blanket speed restrictions, which prevent trains from slowing down and speeding up excessively. It may take you longer, but you will get there.

Hot weather can melt tarmac

Most roads laid with tarmac in the UK will start softening at 50C. With temperatures in the UK this week registering 30+C, that might not sound like much of a problem, but those temperatures are typically measured in the shade, and anything up to 2 metres above the ground. The temperature in direct sunlight on the ground can be much higher and dark road material can also absorb a lot of heat. So roads can reach a temperature of 50C and above at which point, they will start melting.

Workers don’t have to work in unreasonable temperatures

Remarkably, there is no legal maximum safe working temperature. The only requirement is that workplace temperatures in buildings should be ‘reasonable’. In the absence of a legal ruling, the TUC has recommended a maximum temperature of 27ºC for manual workers and 30ºC for sedentary workers.

Employers are not bound to adhere to these limits, but as excess heat can lead to drowsiness, or even worse, then you’d probably want your train, bus or tube drivers to take regular breaks and drink plenty of fluids.

Hot weather does make people more angry

Although people claim they are enjoying the current heat wave, scientific evidence suggests that people are actually far more aggressive and violent when the temperature rises. There are numerous theories for why this might happen.

The physiological theorists suggest it’s because ‘raised temperatures cause an increase in heart rate, testosterone, and other metabolic reactions that trigger the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, so people are more inclined to fight’.

The psychological theorists see it differently. They argue when people are experiencing discomfort – and the resultant stress – due to something they have no control over, it makes them angry.

Either way, irritable people are best to be avoided. So if you can work at home this week, perhaps you should.



Singapore Airport Adds A Jewel To Its Crown

So what do Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh airports all have in common? Answer. They’re all considered to be among the ten worst airports in the world. Well that’s according to data compiled by a flight delay compensation company called AirHelp. The company factored in things such as quality, punctuality and service to reach its conclusions, together with ‘social media sentiment’.

Admittedly, this last factor only accounted for 10% of the weightings but it did involve analysing 130,000 tweets over a three month period earlier this year. We were intrigued to see social media sentiment being used in this way and suspect we’ll be seeing it used on a more regular basis as a guide to gauging consumers’ attitudes and feelings towards their suppliers; be they airports, airlines or banks.

And why not? Most people will immediately turn to their social media accounts to tell their friends and ‘vent’ their frustration when told about a cancelled or delayed flight. And that post will probably be a very accurate record of their attitude at that time!

We can only imagine what it must be like for the researchers, though, who had to read these 130,000 tweets and score each one. Presumably, emoticons are quite easy to score. A smiley one can be recorded as a positive attitude and an angry face as a negative one. But what of messages such as “whats up man?”.

But we do have some sympathy for airports generally. Most of the things they get lambasted for are beyond their control, including things such as air traffic control in other air spaces (by that we mean France) and the weather. Clearly, what they can control are things like communications, facilities, catering and seating arrangements.

So it’s not surprising really that Singapore Changi Airport came out on top of this ranking as the world’s best airport. Those that have visited it will know what a tremendous advertisement it is for the country and how far other airports must go if they are to dislodge from the top spot next year.

Given that this is the fifth year in a row that the Airport has won the crown and that it’s just announced plans to invest a further $1.7 billion in building a mixed-use facility, then we thinks there’s a good chance they’ll keep the title for a while yet.

Not surprisingly, the airport authorities have called the new facility, ‘the Jewel’. The 1.4 million sq.-ft. complex will feature a series of forest-like gardens, an indoor waterfall, a hotel, as well as hundreds of dining and shop options. The free wifi will also give its visitors plenty of opportunities to tell their friends what a great place it is too.



Even Captains Of Industry Have to Economise

You know that we live in an age of austerity when the Financial Times newspaper publishes an article entitled ‘Five tips for travelling at the back of a plane’. Despite being the paper that all business people love to read (or say they love to read) the FT recognises that most companies are forcing their staff, including senior ones, to turn right on entering the aircraft and not stop until they reach their seats right at the back.

Business trips have always sounded a lot more glamorous than they really are and when airlines such as BA take away the free drinks trolley, or finance directors quibble about only using low cost carriers, these trips can turn nightmarish. Here’s the five tips that the FT offered its readers.

  1. Employ the Saturday night ploy (the idea here being that airlines reduce their prices at the weekend so offering the better chance of an upgrade. Clearly, old habits die hard)
  2. Study the seats
  3. Never pay for in-air food
  4. Use the airline lounge
  5. Try the alliance partners

Some of these tips may still  be beyond the realm of the ordinary traveler more used to travelling in economy (such as paying to use an airline lounge), but it’s good to see the nation’s captains of industry are doing their bit during these belt-tightening times.