Don’t Miss The Last Bus

‘Mummy’. What’s that?’. ‘That’s called a bus, darling, they used to be everywhere’. Could we see buses disappear from our streets? Well, yes if the current trend continues on its downward path. New analysis just released shows that the number of passenger journeys made is at a 12 year low with public transport campaigners warning of an impending ‘crisis’.

Demand for buses has not been this low since 2006 despite significant investments by bus operators in introducing quieter, more efficient and, more importantly, more environmentally friendly vehicles into their fleets. Unfortunately for them (and their passengers) average fares have risen by 55 per cent on the last decade and funding for supported buses by local authorities has almost halved over the same period.

Local authority bus budgets in England and Wales were slashed by £20.5m last year – the eighth consecutive annual government cut according to a study by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT). Faced with the need to find an unprecedented amount of savings, most local authorities are cutting their bus budgets severely. For those that have access to alternative forms of transport that’s no big deal, but in some rural areas it can cause real hardship, A recent report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found the cost of bus travel and the unreliability of services in the North of England was cutting off the poorest families from job opportunities.





How To Build A Successful Business. Lose Lots Of Money

“We’re all mad here.” So said the cat in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We’re beginning to understand where the book’s author Lewis Carroll was coming from. How else can you explain the likely valuation that been put on the ride sharing company Uber when it likely floats early next year. And that valuation? A cool $120 billion.

OK so the market may have headed south by then and they may not get that price. They may even decide not to go public at all. (A thought that must keep all the bankers advising them awake at night) but if they do, then what does it say about the world we now live in? Remember, this a company that was only set up nine years ago. And still only employs 12,000 people.

Did we tell you that it doesn’t actually make anything apart from very large financial losses? A $4.5bn loss in 2017 which was up (down?) from $2.8bn in 2016. So despite a financial track record which would have most sane investors running for the hills, others (no doubt keen Lewis Carroll fans) just keep throwing money at it. In 2013, Google Ventures put in $258 million and just three years later, the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Government lobbed in $3.5 billion.

It has no real assets to speak of as all the cars that collect Uber’s passengers are owned (and maintained) by the drivers themselves who are all naturally self-employed so saving on things like employers’ National Insurance contributions, healthcare, holidays and staff development costs. You know, the costs that old-fashioned companies still pay?

We’re not disputing that Uber is a very successful company. It has an estimated 41 billion users in the US alone where it has now grabbed over 70% of the market share. And its now achieving similar sized market shares in countries right around the world too. And why? Well, because it offers a very cool service that clearly answers lots of people’s travel requirements. So perhaps it is worth its $120 billion price tag. Just don’t tell all those CEOs who work so hard to build up their companies that employ people and make things; like a profit.



“I Want To Be Alone” (On Holiday)

‘Me time’ is a phrase that’s crept into our conversations. As in, ‘I need some me time’. What’s useful about this phrase is its difficult to argue against. It would be a brave partner or spouse that responds ‘no you don’t’.

Which is why the travel industry is seeing a dramatic rise in solo travellers. According to ABTA, which recently released its eighth ‘Holiday Habits’ Report, the number of Britons travelling solo has increased by almost a third since 2011.

There was a time when those travelling alone were defined by their relationship status, ie, they weren’t in one. But ABTA suggests this is no longer the case and “more people are choosing to take a holiday by themselves because they don’t want to compromise on where they go and what they do”.

In fact, according to the Daily Telegraph, which covered the story, ‘solo travellers are…increasingly choosing to leave their loved ones behind in order to do what they want, when they want and get a bit of hard-won ‘me time’. (There’s that phrase again).

That’s probably tough on the partners they leave behind and still a bit tough on their wallets too. ABTA reports that one of the biggest pitfalls of travelling solo is cost, with a third of people saying they felt disadvantaged by choosing to travel alone. Half of them, for example, have had to pay a single person supplement as a result of going solo.

The Telegraph Travel writer Anna Hart recently estimated that “Being single, it seems, is the most indulgent of 21st-century luxuries…the cost [is] an additional £2,049 per year”.

This is largely made up of paying all those single person supplements, but the travel industry is nothing if not responsive to its customers and we suspect that if this trend continues then a few hotels or tour operators will soon break ranks so as to capture a bigger share of the solo traveller market, especially as the fastest-growing age segment is in the fairly flush 35-44 age bracket (up 6% in just one year).



Why We Should All Watch More Films

If anyone asks tell them you’re watching lots of films because it’s good for the UK economy and encourages more tourists to visit here. Still not convinced? OK. Tell them that those visitors will have spent £597.7 million in film-related tourism in the UK, and so have generated 628.3 million in gross value added (GVA) which in turn supports over 13,000 jobs and creates nearly £195 million in tax revenues.

If that doesn’t impress them then we don’t know what will.

And if they ask you where you’ve got these figures from, then refer them to the British Film Institute which has just published a new report called ‘Screen Business’, that analyses the impact that the government’s various film industry tax breaks are having on the wider economy.

It turns out that films with a strong UK story, place or culture such as Harry Potter, Paddington and Kingsman have been used in several UK tourism campaigns and those in turn have encouraged lots of visitors to come and see the places where these films were shot.

In fact the British film industry’s contribution to the UK economy goes a lot further than encouraging tourist to visit here. The report provides some pretty powerful evidence about how its ‘seeding unprecedented levels of production, creating thousands of jobs, growing businesses and infrastructure, generating record levels of inward investment, boosting exports of UK productions and services internationally and creating spillover benefits for other industries’. Phew. And you thought it was all about entertainment.

Given HM Government’s generosity – few other industries have squeezed as many tax concessions out of the Chancellor as the film industry – then it probably does need to work hard to justify why it should keep them.

And this report does a good job of it. Did you know that the ‘estimated £632 million in tax relief seeded £3.16 billion in direct production spend in 2016, a 17% increase on 2015’? No, we didn’t either.  Or that film and high-end television production attracted £1.97 billion of inward investment’.

These are big numbers and we clearly all ought to think  about the film industry in a fresh light. Preferably a dimmed one with some popcorn close by.



Iraq and Congo Emerge As Tourism Hot Spots. Really?

Lots of people in the travel industry spend their time trying to identify where’s the ‘next big tourist destination’. Get it right and they’ll be able to make money by offering tours, accommodation and packages. Get it wrong and they’ll be late to the party where all the best hotels, guides and  coaches are already taken. What must add to their sleepless nights is the apparent randomness surrounding which destinations are gaining in popularity and which are declining.

For instance, a substantial number of the UK population would probably associate Iraq and the Congo with things like, well, war. But these two countries have just been ranked as two of the fastest-growing holiday destinations in the world! And the tipster? The world renowned World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Given that this new information is based on a research study that the WTTC has just carried out amongst 185 countries over the last seven years, then we certainly wouldn’t dispute its findings. We just, err, question whether anyone would actually want to go there given that most of the news coverage is, lets just say less than flattering. The same could be said about Myanmar too which made it onto the top spot.

The top five are made up of the following countries

1          Myanmar

2          Iraq

3          Georgia

4          Rwanda

5          Iceland

Iceland looks pretty tame when compared with the post-conflict zones listed here but we recognise that for some intrepid travellers, being amongst the first to visit these countries adds to the excitement.

That excitement is not always shared by the Foreign Office whose travel advice would be enough to poop any would-be party in Iraq. Their latest ‘advises against all travel in a number of provinces, and advises against all but essential travel to the rest of the country including the rest of the Kurdistan region. There are threats of kidnapping, terrorist attacks, airstrikes, and the potential collapse of the Mosul Dam’.

Mmm.  Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have another look at the Icelandic Tourist Office website?


EasyJet Shows How It Should Be Done

It’s only taken a few years for budget airlines to transform travel as we know it. And although they’ll probably never shake off the negative connotations associated with being ‘low-cost’, some of these airlines are working hard to demonstrate to their passengers that they offer more than just cheap seats.

One of those is easyJet which has just announced a new partnership with Virgin Atlantic that offers seamless transatlantic booking. Virgin is the latest, so-called, ‘full-service’ airline to join its ‘Worldwide by easyJet’ programme. Others already signed up include Norwegian, WestJet, Thomas Cook, Corsair, La Compagnie, Aurigny and Loganair as well as Singapore Airlines and its low-cost subsidiary, Scoot.

What these partnerships mean to the passenger is the chance to book one itinerary through the easyJet website. Although the airlines require a longer ‘layover’ (at least two hours and 30 minutes, to ensure flights aren’t held up) they will now rebook passengers if they miss their connecting flight.

Under the current arrangements these would be treated as two separate bookings and if the first flight was delayed causing you to miss the second, well, tough. You’d also have reclaim your baggage twice.

It’s interesting that this sort of innovation is coming from the budget airlines and not their full-service partners. You’d assume that easyJet would have no spare staff available to look into these deals (given that many will check you in then pop up at the departure gate to do it over again before no doubt servicing the engines) whilst the full-service ones would have whole departments available. Clearly this isn’t the case. And it may therefore be time soon to stop considering easyJet as a ‘budget’ airline and consider it as a full service one. If it wants to that is.

The Million Miles Queen

Even staunch anti-royalists would find it hard not to admire the Queen. Now aged 92, she is our longest reigning monarch and, despite more of her workload being shared by other members of the Royal ‘firm’, she still attends an impressive number of engagements each year.

It would be impossible to calculate the number of hands she has shaken or buildings, roads, bridges, boats and stations that she has officially opened. Or even the number of bouquets of flowers she has accepted. She was presented with 161 bouquets at one function alone – in Australia in 1954.

One statistic about the Queen that has been calculated and that is the number of miles she has travelled. And, like the Queen herself, it is a truly impressive figure. That’s why the Daily Telegraph recently referred to her as the ‘million miles Queen’. The paper estimates that has travelled 1,032,513 miles and visited 117 countries (out of a possible 195, so a 60% ‘visit rate’).

To put that number into context, measured at the equator, the world has a circumference of 24,901.461 miles. It’s fair to say therefore that the Queen has lapped the globe forty times. And with the distance between the moon and the earth being 238,900 miles, she could have done two return trips there too.

As an ultra, ultra-long haul traveller, it’s worth noting what the Queen takes with her on these trips and what tips and hints she can offer us mere mortals who are considering taking a long haul trip of our own. Something she never does now but clearly has plenty of experience of.

Some of her ‘must haves’ – like taking her own sheets  – are probably a stretch too far for us, what with the prices that airlines charge for baggage now, but some others are worth considering. These include: her own hot water bottle, a portable camera, a spare pair of white gloves, bottled water, and her favourite cake. In a sense, these few items sum up the Queen. Practical and pragmatic. Especially the favourite cake part. It saves one from getting hungry.


Is That A Vicks Inhaler? Then You’re Under Arrest

Just arrived in Tokyo with a cold and about to whip out your Vicks inhaler? We’d advise you not to as they are illegal there. You’d get the same treatment from the local police if you reached for your Sudafed too.

It’s a little known fact that some of the medication that we buy over the counter here in the UK is actually banned in other countries and as more and more of us are travelling abroad, the Foreign Office, which has responsibility for this area, is stepping up its efforts to help ensure that we don’t fall on the wrong side of the local law unwittingly.

Clearly falling on the wrong side of the law can have unpleasant consequences wherever you are and can involve arrest, a hefty fine or even imprisonment. In one notable case,  a British woman got three years in an Egyptian slammer after a large quantity of Tramadol tablets were found in her suitcase; legal here but strictly banned in Egypt.

Codeine, which you can easily buy online here, is actually illegal in lots of countries including the United Emirates and Greece.

Some countries that are becoming increasingly popular to visit, including India, Turkey and the United Emirates, actually have quite long lists of banned medicines. For instance, those visiting China (another country now high on our bucket lists) will need to carry a doctor’s letter with any prescribed medication that they’re taking with them.

Here’s what the FCO is now advising to ensure that you stay in those countries’ finest accommodation and not their jails.

Anyone taking prescribed medication should visit their GP four to six weeks ahead of their holiday and ask if the medication contains any ‘controlled drugs’. The same advice should be sought from the pharmacist if you’re taking over-the-counter medication. (The government also has a list of controlled drugs on its website.

If your prescribed medicine does contain a controlled drug then you’ll need a signed letter from the prescriber listing your medicines’ doses, strength and quantity, as well as what countries you’re going to and when.

The FCO  also recommends that you contact the foreign embassy of the country you’re visiting and check whether there are any restrictions on your medication, and what quantity is allowed. They also advise that you take a copy of your prescription or a doctor’s note with you.

Their suggestions include always carry your medicines in their original, correctly labelled packaging in your hand luggage and that you consider packing a spare supply in your hold luggage.

On the face of it, this looks like a lot of hassle (Cornwall anyone?) but we suspect the FCO is only doing their job. Plus it saves them the trouble of trying to get you out of some foreign clink.


Don’t Crowd Me; I’m Having a Big Thought

Calling all budding creatives. Is the neighbour’s TV preventing you from writing that poem? Is the local park no longer suitable for finishing that song? Are you yearning to spend time in an environment that will give you full rein to your creativity?

Not surprisingly, lots of other people do too and there’s now quite a competition going on to find truly inspiring locations, ideally in really remote places. Check out these five creative retreats that could help your relieve your writers’block.

Fordypningsrommet is located in the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. Among the ‘stilted dwellings’ is a sauna, kitchen house, studio, bathhouse, sleeping houses and a ‘tower for big thoughts’. Presumably little thoughts are things like ‘have I packed my thermals’ and ‘have I spelt the name right on my post card home?’

Wagon Station Encampment, California, USA. This one is truly dotty and features tin can-style wagons with lift-up lids and beds just big enough for one person. Set in the stark and cactus-dotted landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, the 12 ‘stations’ are available to those ‘seeking inspiration from the high desert’. As well as trying to be a baked bean?

The Bothy Project, Scotland. Closer to home, these cabins are based on traditional Scottish bothies which were basic shelters found in remote areas and left unlocked for passersby to use.

Ocean Sound Recording Studio, Giske, Norway. A  second entry from Norway would suggest that the country should be pretty good at creativity. Alas, Abba came from neighbouring Sweden but they might have appreciated this shoreside recording retreat which features windows offering panoramic views across the sea and double-height ceilings that can amplify the studio’s acoustics.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. This one is truly off-the-grid and occupies a remote crop of land off the north-east coast of Newfoundland. Guests can stay in four cabins which are set on metal stilts and scattered across the landscape. Each hut is powered by solar panels and heated by wood-burning stoves although naturally high-speed internet is still on hand. There’s being creative but there’s also season three of ‘The Crown’ to watch.


Sweet Success For Wild Honey

The number of food programmes screened on our TVs each night is one example of how fascinated we Brits are with good cooking. The wealth of celebrity chefs might be another (Gordon Ramsey still edges past Jamie Oliver here worth £113million). And the UK’s burgeoning restaurant scene is another. With an estimated 30,000 restaurants found across the UK, competition to be the best is fierce.

One of the big prizes most chefs aspire to winning is the ‘London Restaurant of The Year’ which is announced at the annual Food & Travel Reader Awards event. This year’s winner, which has just been announced, is Wild Honey, a modern European restaurant based in Mayfair and launched by Chef Anthony Demetre in 2007. ‘Newcomer Restaurant of the Year’ went to Frog run by Adam Handling in Covent Garden whilst Tom Brown of Cornerstone in Hackney took home the ‘Breakthrough Chef of the Year’ award.

Winning these awards are big deals for these chefs. Not only do they help attract more critics and diners to their restaurant but it can help attract staff too. (Gordon should take note. Chefs are banning swearing from their kitchens in an effort to recruit more Millennials). Investors might be influenced to back these chefs’ next ventures too. Despite operating on wafer thin margins, investors can’t help themselves and last September alone, forty four new restaurants opened – just in London.

Of course, the UK’s best restaurants are not all based in London and several located outside it did well too, namely Hampshire’s Chewton Glen, which was awarded both ‘Rural Hotel of the Year’ and ‘Hotel of the Year’; Yorkshire’s The Black Swan for ‘Restaurant of the Year’ and ‘Restaurant of the Year Outside London’ and Simon Rogan’s two-star restaurant L’Enclume for ‘Timeless Classic Restaurant of the Year’; which can be found in Cumbria.