How Could Hungary Lose 5 Million Visitors?

What’s with the British and our love of the underdog? Rooting for the little guy is part of our national psyche, so when when we had a chance to dig into the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) database, we were more interested in the losers rather than the winners.

The losers being countries which had recorded drops in their visitor numbers rather than increases.

For the record, the winners were Cambodia and its two close neighbours, Laos and Myanmar which each recorded spectacular increases in overseas arrivals.

In Cambodia’s case this represented a staggering 32,941 per cent increase from 1990 when just 17,000 travellers visited the country (although admittedly it was then still reeling from the nightmarish rule of the Khmer Rouge) to 2016 – the most recent year for which the UNWTO has compiled data – when it welcomed 5.01 million overseas arrivals; a number that is predicted to climb further to 5.6 million for last year.

But that’s enough attention paid to the top dogs. How about the also rans?

Step forward Hungary which has somehow managed to lose over 5 million visitors in just under thirty years, down from 20.5 million in 1990 (when it was the 5th most visited country) to 15.5 million today where it now languishes in the 23rd spot.

Given the strength of its currency then Switzerland, another big loser, probably isn’t too fussed about dropping from 11th to 35th place but Romania, plummeting down from  24th in 1990 to 73rd  place today is probably feeling the pinch more.

More recent declines have been put down to war, terrorism and civil unrest. So Ukraine, Tunisia and Egypt have all seen visitor numbers fall since 2010 and while Syria welcomed 8.55 million tourists in 2010, more recent estimates suggest this has fallen to around 90,000 (although the real figure is surely even lower).

Even more recently the US has seen arrivals fall by around 3.6 million since 2015. That decline has been put down to ‘White House policy’ and the, er, ‘Trump slump’.


A Salt Mine, A Pig Museum Or A Fountain Park. Take Your Pick

One of the joys of traveling is experiencing something new. It’s why the travel industry is constantly racking its collective brains to find new things, be it new places to visit, new hotels to stay in or new types of food to eat. But new quickly becomes popular and then it becomes old, as in ‘old hat’.

So we say ‘bravo’ to the Guardian newspaper which recently asked its readers to write in and suggest their best, as in weirdest, travel tips.

What’s clear is that these Guardian readers don’t rate anything to do with Disney, or cruising or even skiing. But they do have oodles of imagination.

Check out their top three winning tips and if you’re interested in reading all ten, then click here to read the whole article.

So the winning tip was to visit a theme park. OK. So far so normal. Except this theme park is in a Transylvanian salt mine in Romania!

Apparently, the 120-metre-deep Salina Turda salt mine was built in the 17th century. It was briefly used during the second world war as a bomb shelter and then as a cheese storage facility but more recently it has been converted into an underground theme park. Naturally. It also boasts an underground lake with rowing boats that can be used to explore the mine. We’d recommend seeing one during a particularly rainy half term holiday.

The next winning suggestion was to visit the Stuttgart Pig Museum in Germany. Other pig museums can only look on with envy because the Schweine Museum is the largest in the world boasting 50,000 items on show – over three floors and in 25 rooms  – which detail every aspect of the pig: from hunting, farming and butchery to the role of the pig in human culture.  Vegans and vegetarians might want to give it this one a miss as pork and ham dominate the restaurant menu.

In third place came the Trick fountains at Hellbrunn Palace in Salzburg, Austria. Apparently, the fountains were built within the grounds of the Schloss Hellbrunn by an eccentric Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, who enjoyed playing practical jokes on his guests.

His jokes included rigging up a banqueting table with water jets that sprayed unsuspecting guests and building a grotto that traps guests with a maze of water sprays. (His parties were obviously ‘must-attend’ events). He even constructed a water-operated musical theatre.

As part of the fun is walking around and waiting to be hit by a jet of water, we suggest visiting this one during particularly hot and sunny half term holidays.



Jack Frost Makes Driving Difficult

As the UK continues to shiver, most travel experts’ advice is simple; ‘stay at home’. Which is all well and good, but what if you have to, have to travel? We’ve trawled though numerous news sites and other information sources and offer our own advice based on what they say.

Drive carefully

Err, this is a bit self-evident but it’s worth repeating here anyway. Keep your speed down, stay away from the car in front and be extra vigilant. You know it makes sense.

Make sure the vehicle is roadworthy

Motoring organisations are constantly amazed at the number of motorists who set off with everything reading ‘half’; as in half flat batteries, half flat tires, half empty petrol tanks and half empty windscreen washes. Their advice is top everything up that can be topped up (including a good dollop of antifreeze).

Be prepared

If it’s good enough for the scouts, then it’s good enough for drivers venturing out. Here’s a complete list of what some weather experts advise you to pack (we have a strong suspicion they are ex-scouts);

Ice scraper, De-icer, Jump start cables, Torch and spare batteries, Spare warm clothes, Blankets, Shovel, Food and drink, First aid kit, High visibility jacket, Boots with good grip, Empty fuel can, Map, Sunglasses, In-car phone charger and Two reflective warning signs

(We think the sun glasses is probably a bit over the top, but you never know…)

Stay in touch

Make sure your mobile is fully charged and that someone knows where you are.

We’re not experts but we think having a half decent play list to listen to is a good idea and having lots of sweets or chocolate close at hand is useful too.



Up Up And Away Anywhere

Qantas’ new non-stop flight from Perth to London represents the next step in air travel where long-haul takes on a whole new meaning. Seventeen hours of continuous flying is going to be a test for the aircrew,  the passengers and the aircraft itself.

But it will quickly become the new normal. SIA can’t wait to get its’ brand new Airbus airborne so it can resume its marathon Singapore – New York route so ratcheting up non-stop flying by a further two hours to nineteen hours.

In addition to long-haul and even ultra long-haul becoming the norm, what other developments are in the air?

Blink and you’ll miss them because supersonic aircraft are just around the corner. And they will be going very fast indeed. So fast that they’ll probably cover New York to London in just 3 1/2 hours. The initial air fares on these aircraft will probably be beyond the reach of the average passenger but with airlines already queuing up to place orders (industry estimates suggest there is already sufficient demand for 1,300 such aircraft) then it won’t take long for prices to tumble.

Individual windows (or port holes) will be so last century as the new breed of aircraft are being designed to be  windowless so that all the walls and ceiling panels carry giant digital displays. Sounds overwhelming? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to travel in cabins configured by function, such as family, senior or group ‘zones’ or in multipurpose spaces for relaxation and self-service.

And let’s not forget the relentless march of technology. Security will be heightened and made less obtrusive when operated through artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, retinal and fingerprint scanning, whilst the then ubiquitous mobile apps will allow for real-time tracking of arrivals and departures. Finally, expect wearable technology to trace your every movement and provide a ‘personalised experience onboard’. Should be fun, huh?





One Ticket + Many Forms of Transport = Bliss

The European Commission calls it ‘multimodal intercity travel’. We’d call it ‘having one ticket for your entire journey even though it might include planes, trains, buses and taxis.

OK. So their description is probably shorter but will it become reality? Well, it’s getting closer. Apparently, the European Commission ‘has been focusing on multimodal intercity travel over the past decade’.

This has included ‘establishing the framework for a European multimodal transport information, management and payment system by 2020 as one of 10 goals for achieving a competitive transport system’. Who knew?

But it would be very useful if it came off. Imagine leaving home with just one ticket –  or your mobile phone – and completing your entire door-to-door journey using that one ticket? TfL’s Oystercard system allows you to do that in London, jumping from train, to bus to tram, but that system only works in the capital and has yet to be extended to other areas in Britain.

The technology then, is definitely there but what’s missing is the willingness by the transport service providers to work together. Conflicts of interest will always emerge of course, and the current discounting system would tax even the most sophisticated of technology (we defy a robot to work out the cheapest journey leaving on a peak hour weekday and returning on a bank holiday).

Other countries are getting there though. Sweden’s government-owned passenger train operator, SJ, works with taxi companies to enable booking a full rail and cab journey in one go. But Japan is so far furthest ahead when it comes to integrated travel. JR East, one of Japan’s largest railway companies, introduced a rechargeable, contactless fare card as far back as 2001. While in 2004, NTT DoCoMo, a mobile phone provider, introduced a mobile wallet, which served as electronic money, member card, credit card and tickets for aeroplanes and events all in one.



An integral Part Of Holiday Is Bagging Sunbeds

What is it with the British and sun loungers? Did Thomas Cook realise just how big a raw nerve they touched when they announced last week they intended to offer holidaymakers the opportunity to reserve a sunbed for their entire holiday, (for the very reasonable cost of £22)?

It was probably reasonable to assume – at least amongst the company’s marketing folk – that we Brits might appreciate the chance to have a lie-in on holiday and not have to set our alarm clocks each morning at some unearthly hour so as to take part in the pre-dawn ‘laying out of the towels’ ritual which takes place at hotels,  beaches and resorts everywhere.

The company’s CEO certainly seemed to be very reasonable when he said of the scheme, “Holidaymakers today want to personalise their package, mixing and matching the elements that best fit their needs.” Yes, but did this have to include that most precious of experiences, bagging a sun lounger?

This being February – and so journalists have got very little to write about – the story went viral with just about every national paper and major broadcast channel (TV & Radio) covering it. And as for social media?

We’re pretty sure that most of our readers will have already read something about this story, so we thought we’d delve a little deeper into it and look at some of the comments that people had added to the news items. These always make for fascinating reading as they give a real insight into people’s attitudes. (We’re rather hoping that Thomas Cook’s marketers are sifting through them right now).

The Times article attracted fifty-two comments. We liked the one from reader David Ilsely who advised other readers to “Buy up all the beds in certain areas, then subdivide them and let them out on 6 hour short-term tenancies”.

The Independent’s readers were clearly too busy that day to comment on the story. Only twelve did so, although we liked this one, “…I have only ever  been on 1 package holiday with TC, hated it and found that it was not Germans who put towels on sun beds, but Brits, who were also particularly rude and arrogant and had tantrums if their roast beef dinner and bacon butty was unavailable”.

The Guardian’s readers were obviously the more exercised  about this story (or bored on that day) as its article attracted 403 comments! One of the most helpful was probably this one: “Clearly the answer is to take your own sunbed with you. Also handy for those lengthy airport delays”.


The Lake District Takes Off

“Passengers to the Lake District, your flight leaves in 30 minutes”. It’s not an announcement many of us will have heard, but we could from June 4th when flights to and from Carlisle Lake District Airport restart.

The new commercial and passenger services were announced by the Airport owners, Stobart Group this week although they haven’t yet confirmed which airlines will be providing the service. (We’ve a hunch it won’t be Etihad or Emirates, but you never know).

Current routes planned to the airport include London, Belfast and Dublin.  Passenger flights to the airport stopped in 1993 but the Stobart Group has obviously done its sums and concluded that, with 41.5 million visitors going to the Lake District each year, it’s a market worth going after. And the region is on the up. Last year it was named a Unesco World Heritage Site, not just for its outstanding scenery but also for its role in establishing early conservation efforts in the UK.

A local business investment group, the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership is investing £4.95 million to help make improvements to the airport’s runway and terminal building. Although no mention has been made of the number of new jobs these new flights will create, it’s bound to stimulate investment in all sorts of tourism-related businesses.

We bet the owners of Carlisle taxis will be celebrating.



W H Smith Shows How It’s Done

W H Smith has been on the British high street since 1792. That’s when Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna opened a ‘news vendor’ in Little Grosvenor Street in London.

But a walk down most high streets today will show how tough it is for British retailers to stay in business there. So we say a rousing ‘well done’ to the company, which has managed to offset the decline in takings from its high street shops by posting significant (seven percent) growth from its travel outlets.

In fact, according to its recently released financial results, its travel locations now account for nearly two-thirds of the group’s profit.

Any passenger queuing in their airport shops, including the two enormous ones just opened at Gatwick and Stanstead Airports, will vouch for how busy – and popular – they are. It’s also intriguing to see what people are buying as most passengers are either going to read a lot of books and magazines whilst on holiday or eat a lot of chocolate. Either way, it’s all sales for the company.

Henry Walton Smith would be amazed to learn that the company now has 249 stores outside the UK as well, including two retail units in Singapore Changi Airport, where, mirroring that airport’s monumental growth, the company plans to open a further eight units in the spring. It seems that we Brits are not the only travelers with sweet teeth.


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.