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Wish You Were Here?

Taking a selfie with Victoria Falls in the background implies you’re in the money. But looks can deceive. One low cost alternative may be to visit  Zambia Tourism’s stand at next month’s Destinations Show and take one there instead.

The Tourism body has commissioned a street artist to create a 3-D Victoria Falls which will cover a large area of floor-space, so giving visitors the illusion of being in Zambia.

The art installation will measure 16ft  x 10ft and visitors are then being encouraged to ‘selfie’ themselves in the Devil’s Pool – known as nature’s ultimate infinity pool, which is close to the edge of the Falls. Not surprisingly they’re then being encouraged to post the pics on social media.

Zambia isn’t the only destination that’s come up with an imaginative way to attract visitors to its stand and the show – which takes place from the 1st February to the 4th at London’s Olympia – will be full of them. In fact 75 tourist boards are taking part this year as well as 600 travel brands of various shapes and sizes.

Many will be offering free food (Polish stew anyone?) or drink as well as putting on cultural performances. Running alongside the exhibition are masterclasses, talks and demonstrations.

Visit  the show organiser’s website by clicking here

Cape Town Runs Dry

‘Day Zero’ sounds ominous and for Cape Town residents it is. That’s the day when dam levels in the city’s reservoirs reach 13.5%; at which point the city’s water authorities will turn most taps off.

On that day, Cape Town will become – officially – the first major city in the world to run out of water.

And Day zero is not very far away. In fact its April 22nd, which is just a few weeks. In an effort to conserve water and so push Day Zero back, the authorities are urging residents to ‘paint Cape Town green’. This initiative includes publishing a water map and providing advice on ways to conserve water. It’s hoped that residents (the residential sector uses approximately 65% of the city’s water allocation) can be encouraged to bring their water usage down to just 87 litres per person per day.

Thankfully, according to local media reports, ‘wealthy tourists’ are joining in and heeding their hotel’s requests to save water too. Some hotels are not giving them an option and are removing bath plugs from bedrooms so the guests can only take showers – which have been fitted with low-flow shower heads.

Is this a vision of what’s to come we wonder? Attracting wealthy tourists comes at a cost and one of those costs is providing lots of water. (Think of all those new water parks and golf courses). But most emerging countries have not invested sufficiently in their water infrastructure and may now pay the price as a result.

 

Computer Says…Go On Holiday

Did you know we’re in the dying days of ‘click-type-tap’? No, we didn’t either. But according to global travel search engine giant, Booking.com, this type of online booking behaviour is rapidly being replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ‘bots’.

Click-type-tap is where you click on what you want to do, type something in, then tap ‘search’. It’s how 80% of us currently do our own online travel searching and booking. (As opposed to visiting a High Street travel agency or picking up the phone).

All that online activity has now created what is called in the industry ‘big data’ which can then be ‘mined’. Sophisticated algorithms can then be built using this intelligence.

As a result, Booking.com’s new ‘AI-powered Booking Assistant chatbot’ is already in training and so far it can ‘respond to 30% of customers’ stay-related questions automatically in less than five minutes’.

But what does this all actually mean? Well, searching for destinations online using the click-type-tap approach will probably now deliver pages of irrelevant ‘stuff’ that travel marketers have thought you might be interested in, whereas this new booking assistant will have learnt what you had searched for before and so will only deliver the pages that it thinks you might be interested in.

The result, according to the company, is “an even more personalised, instantaneously gratifying and frictionless travel experience for consumers”.

(We don’t have space in this blog to talk about a ‘frictionless travel experience’, suffice to say we don’t think the person who said it has ever been on a Virgin Pendolino train).

How else is AI going to transform the travel industry? Well, according to a survey carried out by the company, almost a third (29%) of global travellers said they would be comfortable letting a computer plan an upcoming trip ‘based on data from their previous travel history’ and half (50%) don’t mind if they deal with a real person or computer, so long as any questions are answered.

50% also said that that personalised suggestions for destinations and things to do (provided by a Bot) would encourage them to book a trip.

So there you have it. Amazon’s Alexa voice service will no longer just turn on your lights but will book your next holiday too. Spooky, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese Aim To Win Gold At The Winter Olympics

Students have a tough life. Or so they tell us. But spare a thought for students in China who are being forced to have skiing lessons. Yes, you read that right. The Chinese government has decided that, as its going to host the Winter Olympics in four years’ time, it has enough time left to find some budding skiers who could help them win some medals there too.

According to a recent article in ‘The Times’, the Government plan “is to get as many as 300 million people on to the ski slopes and ice rinks by the start of the Olympics to ensure that stadiums are full”. Yes, you read that right too, 300 million!

The Chinese are nothing if not far sighted, so first year students attending the Zhangjiakou University (the Chinese city that will host the Games) are being told to break up their studies with mandatory skiing lessons. The university hopes that as many as 20,000 students will take up skiing lessons and the idea then is that up to 100 students will emerge who can  master the piste sufficiently to win gold.

A further 1,000 students are expected to work at the Games as translators, tour guides and in marketing.

Zhangjiakou is 120 miles away from the Capital Beijing and although there is ni infrastructure in place yet for the Games, Government planners insist they will have all the necessary venues, motorways and a high-speed rail link, completed within a year.

Chinese students also have to do a year’s military service so we’re assuming that any Chinese equivalents of ‘Eddie the Eagle’ that don’t soar as expected can expect to spend that year peeling potatoes.

 

 

Taking Holiday Photos; It’s Not As Easy As You Think

The Christmas holiday season has come to a close and it’s time to review your holiday snaps. The trouble is, now that the effects of the mulled wine has worn off that, well, they may not be very good.

You probably didn’t notice at the time, but some of the group are not in the photo and if they are, some of their heads are missing.

As it turns out, that great panoramic photo that you though might be a stunner looks a bit…blurred.

And as for that photo taken on New Year’s Eve? Well, It’s probably best to delete it.

Capturing the happy times associated with your Christmas holiday is easy with a camera but the results can also disappoint. Luckily, the Guardian newspaper has just published ‘10 top tips for taking amazing travel photographs’. You can read the entire list by clicking here, so we have restricted ourselves to writing about the three that appealed to us the most.

1.Get Up Early

We liked this tip. It wasn’t too technical – just common sense really – and you clearly don’t need expensive camera equipment to make it happen. The technical bit here was interesting too, using a smartphone app (such as Sun Seeker) to find out the sunrise and sunset times for your location so you can pinpoint the perfect time to take your perfect shot.

2. Try an unusual angle

Mmm. We understand what the’re saying here and if it comes off, then great. But we have seen too many photos that might have been quite good, if only the photographer hadn’t tried to balance on the top of a ladder, or underneath a camel.

3. Mystify your subject

The idea here (we think) is to create a sense of ambiguity. OK. so those are our words. We’ve seen lots of mysterious photos in our time, usually along the lines of ‘so who is that in the photo?’ or ‘where were we when we took that?’

 

 

 

Got £500 To Spend On A Holiday? Thailand’s Your Answer

2018, we’re told, is going to be another year of unending misery caused by ever rising prices and static salaries. And although us Brits will not be denied our annual summer holiday, we may have to limit our travels to what we can truly afford.

An interesting idea would be to look at where we could holiday the longest, if we had just £500 to spend. Travelex has crunched the numbers and produced a list of the world’s 10 cheapest holiday destinations (based on how long £500 would last).

For the purposes of their research, the money spent covered three meals, four soft drinks, two beers, a coffee and two trips on public transport a day per person.

According to their research, the longest period of time that you could spend abroad would be 44 days. And you’d be spending it in Thailand.  Where you could get by on just £11.43 a day. Not so much of a hardship given how beautiful the country is and how welcoming the Thais are.

The next cheapest holiday destination is Mexico, where you could last for 26 days living on £19.14 a day.

You’d have to travel home a day earlier from Jamaica, as you could only last there for 25 days, spending £20.01 each day.

Bulgaria and the Czech Republic could each offer you 23 days respite before returning home, spending £21.91 and £22.12 respectively.

Surprisingly, South Africa could only offer you a home for 18 days where you’d be burning up £27.55 a day.  And the tenth cheapest destination? Well that would be Portugal where you’d be on a flight home after just 17 days having got through £29.64 each day.

Travel Memories Are For Sharing

So what was your best holiday experience in 2017?  OK. Let’s rephrase that question. Where did you go in 2017 that was truly fabulous? If you think it deserves a wider audience then the Guardian newspaper would like to hear from you.

If you send them your favourite travel discovery, you’ll have a chance to win a £200 hotel voucher from Uk.hotels.com. Your discovery could be as simple as a coastal walk or a locals’ bar or a luxury villa. The important thing is to share its details and give it the chance to shine.

If you’re interesting in entering their competition then just click here

Social media may get a bad press sometimes but it does have its upsides too. And making more people aware about places that have a special quality about them is one of them. Of course everyone’s tastes are unique to them and one person’s funky bar may be another’s vision of hell on earth but travel does that. It stimulates the senses in ways that few other life experiences can.

We’ve written extensively about all aspects of travel in 2017. We’ll be doing the same again in 2018 and hope that you’ll continue reading our blogs. We’ll start writing them again in the new year.

Until then, we’ll use this final post in 2017 to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas.

 

 

Father Christmas. Where Did You Come From?

It will be the question on everyone’s lips this weekend. Who was Father Christmas and where did he come from? As always, the answer depends on who you want to believe the most.

According to Wikipedia, ‘The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas who was a fourth-century Greek bishop’.

History.com suggests he began life as someone else (a monk), sometime else (280 A.D.) and somewhere else (Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey).

Legend has it that the original St Nicholas was particularly kind to children and was also very shy, so much so that, wanting to give money to a family in secret, he dropped some gold coins down the chimney, where they landed in a girl’s stocking.

Another website, TimeTravel-Britain.com, suggests that, although most people consider Father Christmas to be the same person as Santa Claus, they are in fact different people. According to their  sources the American Santa Claus originated from Dutch settlers’ stories about Sinter Klass, the Dutch name for St Nicholas who didn’t ‘arrive’ in Britain until after the Norman invasion.

By this time, our Father Christmas had already been around for centuries as he appeared during ancient British mid-winter festivals. He wasn’t known as Father Christmas then, but as a pagan figure who represented the coming of spring.

(You can see why we were put off writing this blog).

Interestingly, the original Father Christmas was said to wear a long, green hooded cloak and a wreath of holly, ivy or mistletoe. And all three continue to play an important part in Christmas today.

It seems that we can then thank variously, the Saxons, Vikings, Tudors and Stuarts for helping morph the original pagan figure into the jolly old man that we know of today ,who is associated with good cheer and benevolence to all, (although the party-pooping Puritans tried to ban him and forced him underground for a while).

Centuries later, the Victorians embraced him with a vengeance before he had his final makeover in the 20th Century, where he was heavily influenced by the Americans. In fact, we can thank the Coca Cola company for giving him his red robes; until the company published an advertisement in 1931 he had appeared in coats of various colours but since then he has always dressed in red.

So there you have it. Today’s Father Christmas is made up of a shy priest and a pagan figure whose wardrobe was chosen by a soft drinks manufacturer. He may be weird but he’s still very welcome wherever he visits.

Time To Swop Your Spork For A Power Bank

People, we are told, are creatures of habit and our travel lists probably contain their fair share of items that we habitually pack. But may be its time to bin a few of them and replace them with new ones? To help you decide what goes in and what now may be left behind, here’s our recommended list of what’s worth packing and what’s not.

Tempted to pack a few traveler’s cheques? Our advice is don’t bother. Yes, we know that back in the day these were the best way to keep your travel money safe but times have moved on and with  debit, credit and pre-paid currency cards now widely accepted, travelers’ cheques are pretty pointless.

Torches used to be a handy item, especially when camping, but nearly all mobile phones have built-in torches so perhaps use that instead. Unless, of course, you’re going night skiing or trekking through areas with no access to a phone charger.

Passport covers have two purposes in life; to protect your passport and to irritate customs staff who will insist that you remove the passport from them. In which case, add to that list of irritated people all those waiting in the queue behind you.

Your old travel alarm clock could probably take a break and stay at home too. It served its purpose when mobile phones weren’t around but now they are…

And finally the chances are you may still want to pack your old spork. Our advice is just don’t. The combination spoon-fork fails at every level; its neither a good fork or a decent spoon. And we’re confident that wherever you go this Christmas there will be better cutlery available.

So what goes in to your luggage instead? Power banks are probably a travel must-have. Essentially a portable battery that gives your mobile phone a boost they have tumbled in price and size.

Some people swear by their travel kettle. Few hotels outside the UK have in-room kettles and the idea of going without a morning cuppa could ruin most people’s holiday.

Noise-cancelling headphones are pretty useful too. They don’t eliminate all sounds, but they do block out engine noise and significantly muffle other sounds, including those made by babies and in-flight tannoy announcements about the duty-free shop now being open.

Finally, consider packing a filtering water-bottle. The bottles have built-in water-cleaning cartridges and use technology to filter out viruses, bacteria, pathogens and parasites from contaminated water – so they’re ideal if you’re camping or visiting destinations where water quality is a concern.

What’s more, they’ll save you mountains of cash at the airport. And by taking your empty bottle through Security then filling up from the airport’s free water fountain, you can develop a smug glow all of your own.

 

 

Hotels Now Come In All Shapes And Sizes

Why stay in a boring hotel this Christmas when you can stay in an ice hotel? Or one made entirely of salt?

The Daily Telegraph has recently published a list of the fifty most unusual hotels in the world and boy, do hoteliers have fervent imaginations. (You can read  the complete list by clicking on the link here).

From what we can tell, anything goes when it comes to deciding what hotels can be made out of.

Twenty years ago the world’s first ice hotel opened in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. But if ice is not your thing then how about checking in to the Palacio de Sal (or ‘Salt Palace’). Located on the salt flats of Uyuni in Bolivia, the hotel is made completely from salt, including most of the furniture.

If you consider those unusual building materials how about staying at the Das Park Hotel in Linz, Austria which is made from renovated sewage pipes?

Airplanes, trains and cars feature prominently on the list including a former Jumbo Jet which has been converted to provide overnight accommodation at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport in Sweden or a 1965 vintage Boeing 727 airframe which has been transported to the Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

On the shore of Clear Lake in Northern California you can stay in nine vintage railroad caboose cars whilst car fanatics will love the V8 Hotel in Stuttgart, Germany. All the rooms there are themed around cars, with features such as vintage cars, racing paraphernalia and drive-through cinemas.

Treehouses, forts, silos, caves, bull fighting rings, even former prisons or floating detention centers. You name it and you can stay in it.

Our favourite from the list? We think it has to be the Hotel CasAnus in Antwerp, Belgium which art sculpture CasAnus has designed to resemble…a giant intestine.

You’re right. Sometimes you just can’t make these things up.