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Cruise Ships Put Safety First

Planning your first cruise holiday but worried about falling overboard? Well you needn’t. Since 2000, reports say roughly 300 people on cruise ships have fallen overboard. There were 17 cases reported in 2017 and so far in 2018, there have been five.

Tragic for those involved but when you consider that more than 20 million people take cruises each year then, all things considered, a fear of going overboard shouldn’t be used as an excuse not take a cruise.

Of course cruise lines are aware of these concerns and take strenuous steps to prevent them from happening. High railings on public decks prevent passengers from getting blown or swept off accidentally, and security cameras record what’s going on in public places.

Overboard incidents are usually down to reckless or deliberate accidents induced by drunkenness so cruise ship bartenders are trained to see when someone has had too much to drink and, like their colleagues on land, will stop serving them. Cruise ships also have on-board physicians and security officers to monitor people who might be at risk.

Of course given the age profile of many cruise passengers, deaths do occur onboard but again these are relatively rare, all things considered. In fact, the odds of dying on a cruise ship are roughly 1 in 6.25 million. It’s much more dangerous to drive in a car, where the odds of dying in a crash are about 1 in 645.

The biggest risk to your safety on a cruise ship is not falling off it, its the spread of diseases. Contact with ship railing, bathroom doors, and open food buffets can quickly spread contagious viruses like norovirus, which plagued hundreds aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise in 2014. But here again, cruise companies have worked hard in this area and most routinely sanitise railings, handles, and other objects with virus-killing alcohol.

Still not convinced? Well consider a river cruise instead, as, in terms of falling overboard, river cruises are far safer than their open water counterparts. River ships are smaller than traditional ocean liners, so the chances of a deadly fall are slimmer and as river cruises go on much tamer waters, and sail closer to the shore then your chances of survival are much higher.

But consider this fact too. Out of all the holiday options out there, cruise ships are still among the safest. Heli-skiing? Now that’s another matter.

The Brighton Belle Glides Back

Why do historic trains have such emotional appeal? Say the words ‘Orient Express’ to most people and their eyes glaze over at the thought of elegant soirees. The words ‘Flying Scotsman’ will conjure up in most people’s minds dramatic images of speed and steam. Now another formerly famous train is hoping to capture our imagination again.

The Brighton Belle was once one of the UK’s most famous electric Pullman trains that journeyed daily from London Victoria to Brighton. Although it was withdrawn from service fully forty five years ago, its memory refused to die and, after a nine year fund raising campaign,  £6 million has been raised; enough to restore five of the coaches to their former glory and enough to launch a new rail service sometime next year.

The 5-Bel Trust, the organisation in charge of the restoration project, (Click here to watch a short video about their restoration efforts) is hoping to launch a new service sometime in 2019. Only it won’t be for commuters but day tripper who’ll be able to enjoy rides through Kent, Dorset  and Sussex.

In its heyday the Brighton Belle’s luxury Pullman service was renowned for its top quality service and art deco style, with avant-garde designers and famous furnishers like Maple fitting out the interior. It was also known for its celebrity passengers including many famous actors and actresses who lived in Brighton. Lord Olivier was one of them who, when discovering that his favourite breakfast kippers  had been removed from the menu, kicked up such a fuss that a petition was organised calling for their reinstatement. (And today’s celebrities consider themselves divas!)

Although absent for nearly half a century, the Brighton Belle was considered the flagship of the then Southern Railway’s mass electrification project, which began in 1931 and which carried on until April 1972 when it was withdrawn on the grounds that it was too expensive to run.

Which is not surprising if they had to serve fresh kippers every day.

 

Look Out Online Travel Market, Amazon Could Be Back

“Alexa. Book me a holiday”. If reports from the US are to be believed, then Amazon is about to re-enter the travel market.

In which case, as Jeff Goldblum would say to all the current players in the online travel industry, “Be afraid, be very afraid”.

Why? Because Amazon’s financial firepower and scale is truly eye watering.  US investment bank Morgan Stanley suggested that Amazon may make the move in a recent financial report on the company prepared by one of its analysts. The report then caused quite a storm as the author argued that “Amazon has more than 300 million consumers who could spend money on a potential travel offering”.

He also claimed that “travel represents an annual market of $480 billion in the U.S. alone…Amazon could make $600 million of profits a year if it builds an online hotel business roughly half of Expedia’s size”.

The goliath online retailer did try to enter the travel market once before in 2015 when it launched a product called ‘Destinations’ –  a platform where consumers could book getaways and hotel deals – but pulled it from its virtual shelves just a few months later. But that was then and this is now and since then, the company has invested heavily in two key technologies, cloud-computing and voice.

Although these are both relatively new technologies, its Amazon Web Services subsidiary – that offers cloud computing, storage, networking and analytics –  already accounts for 10% of the company’s total revenue (with a figure put at $17.46 billion) whilst third-party estimates suggest that the company’s Alexa-powered devices already dominate the smart-speaker market with 76% of the total user base.

All this talk of domination suggests that the consumer is missing out. Quite the contrary, according to one American analyst who said, “They have a history of being very, very good at optimizing the supply chain and controlling it and squeezing out every penny from every step that they can and thereby reducing the cost to the consumer for what would normally be a lot of intermediary steps.”

So why should we complain if Alexa – who will soon have learnt all about our purchasing habits – suggests a holiday that she knows we’d enjoy and can afford?

Come to think of it, we wonder if she’d feed the cat whilst we’re away?

Adios Avios

Hurrah. You’ve done so much travelling recently you’ve amassed a great pile of Avios points. So now you can afford a free long haul holiday somewhere. Well, only if you book it before the summer, because the International Airlines Group (AIG), has just announced that its closing the Avios frequent flyer programme down then.

Panic over, it’s not the entire currency they’re closing, just the travel reward scheme with all existing scheme members’ points being transferred to BA’s Executive Club.

So that’s all right then. Or is it? Airlines make a great play about their loyalty schemes but then seem to tinker with them at will. And the airline’s reasons for closing this scheme seems a bit, well, flimsy. According to an Avios spokeman, Chris Treadwell, he said: “This move is good news for members. Outwardly there will be very little change for them other than their Avios will have a new home”. In which case, why do it?

In fact, the the reasons do seem to stack up. Members will be able to earn points on more airlines; they’re currently restricted to a handful including Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia, whereas BA’s rewards scheme will expand these to include partner airlines such as American Airlines, Qantas and Qatar Airways. They also point out that the BA rewards scheme covers 60,000 more partner hotels and 50,000 sightseeing experiences as compared to the Avios scheme.

Points collected on credit cards will continue to be accrued and these will simply be moved across to a new BA Executive Club. Or, of course, you could just opt out.

We’d be intrigued to know how much IAG has spent on tinkering with its various loyalty programmes and whether they justify the investment. The original Avios frequent-flyer programme was created from a merger between Air Miles (remember those?), BA Miles (ditto?) and Iberia Plus Points schemes in 2011. And it was further restructured again just four years later in 2015 when all of IAG’s affiliated loyalty programmes were transferred to a dedicated IAG subsidiary called Avios Group.

Perhaps when things get too confusing it’s best to just give up.

Queen’s Baton Travels 230,000km But Arrives In Time

Well. It’s arrived. After travelling 230,000 kilometers in 388 days and crossing all six Commonwealth regions, the Queen’s Baton made it in time for the opening ceremony of this year’s Commonwealth Games, which were officially opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on April 4th.

The baton left Buckingham Palace last year – on March 13, 2017-  and this year’s Relay was the longest Queen’s Baton Relay in history.

Such a simple concept – essentially handing a length of metal tubing from one person to the next – attracts huge amounts of interest and every community that has had a hand on it along the way have turned out in force to cheer it on – as well as the local residents chosen to carry it. Each person has his or her own story to tell and it’s this aspect that perhaps provides a clue to its popularity.

Elite athletes may be taking part in the Games but it’s the ordinary people of every Commonwealth country who have had a hand in getting the baton to the Games. And these countries are located right around the world, including Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Each host nation is entitled to change the design of the baton. This year’s baton has been made using macadamia wood and reclaimed plastic, sourced from Gold Coast waterways, and ‘inspired by the region’s vibrant spirit and indigenous heritage’. (We’re not sure where reclaimed plastic fits into Australia’s indigenous heritage but we’re not there so can’t comment any further).

The Relay was first introduced at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales. Up until the 1994 Games, it only went through England and the host nation and it wasn’t until the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that it travelled to the other Commonwealth nations.

Officially, the Baton carries a message from the Head of the Commonwealth ‘to the Commonwealth and its athletes’. We think it’s more likely to say, ‘don’t drop me’.

Newcastle Airport Shows London’s Airports How It Should Be Done

Britain’s airports were busy again at the weekend as millions of us jetted off for a well deserved Easter break. (Heathrow alone handled a record 1.1 million passengers).

But according to a new report published by price comparison website skyscanner, those passengers didn’t get particularly good value for money from using the airport. In fact, none of London’s airports are regarded by the site as offering  value for money.

Unlike passengers using Newcastle airport which was judged by skscanner as being the best value airport in the UK for European flights.

The website’s marketing folks looked as things such as average flight prices, passenger drop-off and pick-up charges, car parking charges, fast-track costs and lounge access charges. It then ranked all the UK’s airports to see which ones offered the best value. Newcastle came out top, followed by Birmingham airport in second place, with Leeds Bradford and Liverpool John Lennon sharing joint third position and East Midlands in fifth.

Much is made of the North South divide but in this case it seems true. All of the top five spots in this league table are filled by airports based in the North with none of London’s airports troubling them.

London Stansted did make it into the top five when Skyscanner looked at the average flight prices that are paid when visiting six of the most popular European destinations, this time coming in at third place. Glasgow Prestwick was the winner this time, closely followed by Liverpool John Lennon. London Stansted also made it into the top five for the best value flight price to key European destinations.

Drop off charges, which can raise passengers’ blood pressures before they even enter the terminal building were looked at in detail by the website. London Gatwick, London City and Birmingham came out on top for not charging for drop offs; however, they do charge for collection.

In this category, Glasgow Prestwick offered the best value for money for passenger drop-off and pick-up charges combined, followed by Bristol in second place and Newcastle, Leeds Bradford and London Heathrow in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

In some instances passengers can now choose between all fifteen airports when flying to popular European destinations and this growing awareness of all the costs associated with flying is making would be travelers do more research before flying, as its clear that flying from their nearest airport may not always be the best or cheapest option.

“Howay man!” is what we think they’ll be saying in Newcastle when they read this.

 

Wanted. Bed Tester. Must Be Prepared To Bounce

Are you big into beds? We ask because if you are, we think we’ve seen the job for you. A company called Zuji in Singapore is looking for ‘bed testers’.

The job entails flying around the world and, er,  testing beds. Your actual title will be ‘hospitality curator’ which we think you’ll agree sounds far more important than a plain bed tester.

And you’ll actually be doing far more than just testing beds. In fact, according to the company’s spokesmen, you’ll ‘travel around the world in business class in airlines to review Zuiji’s merchants by providing their account of the sheet thread count, mattress support, room temperature, pillow firmness, duvet thickness and accessibility to facilities’.

As you can see, it’s a big job. And one the company has been thinking about creating for some time. Why? Because ‘as trivial as it seems’, they say, ‘a bed tester will be able to give customers a chance to know what they will be paying for and travellers now can travel without a negative enigma of their accommodation.”

We’re not sure they meant to use the word ‘enigma’ but we’ve written it as they’ve said it. And perhaps they did mean to use it. This is a company, after all, that is prepared to fly people in business class around the world to bounce on a bed.  They think the job might be of interest to ‘travel lovers who appreciate diverse cultures around the world’.

We can think of hundreds of boys and girls who’d also appreciate a good bed bounce.

 

 

Driverless Snow Ploughing. No, Really

Driverless cars are proving a difficult sell at the moment. Not surprising given that one recently caused a fatal accident.

But driverless snowploughs? Now you’re talking.

Given how Scandinavia has a much healthier attitude towards snow, as in, ‘it snows, so we deal with it without bringing the country to a halt’, it’s appropriate that a Swedish company and a Norwegian one have got together to create driverless snowploughs.

These won’t be used on public roads but on clearing airport runways. And if the first trial is anything to go by, they’ll be pretty good at it too. During the trial, which took place at the Fagernes Airport in Leirin, Norway – which is located 200 kms north of Oslo so we’re guessing it gets lots of snow – the companies hitched up two vehicles which between them were able to clear an area of snow measuring 357,000 square meters every hour.

(There’s a pretty cool video uploaded on to YouTube which shows the vehicles in action. Click here to watch it).

Clearly, the introduction of driverless snowploughs is good news for Scandinavian air passengers – although less good news for Scandinavian snow plough drivers who presumably will find them themselves ‘assigned to other tasks’.

But even they must have seen the writing on the wall (or in the snow) as countries like Norway and Sweden, where heavy snowfall is expected, also have problems reconciling accurate staffing levels with accurate weather predictions. Runways in these countries must be completely clear of snow for aircraft to take off and land meaning having drivers on permanent standby – an expensive option and an easy line item for the bean counters to want to reduce.

We were struck by a comment by one of the  project leaders who explained the benefits of this new system as including,” The precision with which the snow ploughs operate, and the fact that they can clear snow in formation”.

Formation snow ploughing. Will we ever see it at Heathrow we wonder?

Take A Bow, Harry Goodman, Pioneer Of The Package Holiday

We’re not overly sentimental at Explorer Travel Insurance but we did want to acknowledge the death of one of the true giants of the UK travel industry, Harry Goodman, who passed away earlier this week.

Acknowledged by many as a true innovator and someone who was well ahead of his time, Harry was the mastermind behind a host of travel brands and single handedly helped thousands of Brits to experience ‘package holidays’ abroad.

His airline Air Europe was a forerunner to today’s budget carriers whilst one of his greatest innovations, offering packages to Florida from just £139 a week in 1979, gave millions of Brits a chance to discover not just holidaying abroad but visiting the US. The Florida Tourist industry will surely be raising an extra big glass to him.

Although Club 18-30 wasn’t to everyone’s taste, for those that experienced those holidays, they were just that…an experience.

His initial holiday brand Intasun, became known as the iconic International Leisure Group. This group later collapsed but, ever the entrepreneur, Harry then set up the TV Travel Shop, only to sell it four years later for £70 million. By which time, Harry’s fame was assured.

 

60 Million Irish Celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Now That’s What You Call A Party

Get ready to party. Especially if you’re in Irish company. This Saturday is St Patrick’s Day, one of the biggest days in the Irish calendar. It’s estimated that over 60 million people around the world will claim they’re of Irish descent so they can join in the celebrations.

And why not? St Patrick’s Day is a global excuse for some heavy celebrating and some heavy drinking. Guinness estimates that over 12 million glasses of their famous black stuff will be drunk this weekend. (And that’s just in Dublin. Just kidding).

If you can’t get to Ireland to celebrate it, then here’s some places in the UK that might squeeze you in.

If you’re in London then you can either head to Trafalgar Square for the annual St Paddy’s Day Parade (which takes place on Sunday 18th March) or head further East to Canada Water where Guinness are hosting a Six Nations and St. Patrick’s Day party at Hawker House on Saturday 17th March.

Which is convenient for them as it’s the last day of rugby’s Six Nations tournament when England will play Ireland. And seeing as Ireland has already won the competition this year they’ll be even more Guinness being drunk than usual.

For those that like their St Patrick’s Day parades to be really big, then you’re better off heading to Birmingham as its parade is the third biggest in the world (beaten only by Dublin and New York). Unfortunately, for this year at least, you’re too late as their Emerald Mile fun run took place on Sunday, March 11.

There’ll also be a big parade taking place in Belfast on Sunday, March 18th, which finishes with a free-to-access concert featuring a variety of performances and closing with ‘former JLS and Strictly Come Dancing member Aston Merrygold’. (No, we hadn’t heard of him either).

Of course, you can have as much fun parading at home. The Guinness will be cheaper and, depending how many guests you invite, the queues should be shorter too.

But wherever you’re celebrating this weekend, we hope it will be a good craich.