In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
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    New figures show COVID impact on travel choice

    17 days ago

    A measure of the damage wrought by the pandemic on holiday choice emerged today in figures from the Civil Aviation Authority. Ninety nine travel firms did not apply to renew their Air Travel Organisers’ Licences (ATOLs) by the spring deadline of 31 March. Last year’s total, with the first lockdown just imposed, was 55. ATOLs (Air Travel Organisers’ Licences) are mandatory for firms selling package holidays including flights. An authority spokesman explained that of 23 of the 99 no longer needed licences to cover air travel. Licences are renewed twice a year, in spring and autumn. The CAA said that of the 742 that expired at the end of March, 554 had been renewed, with a further 89 still in the process. With doubt still hovering over this year’s crucial summer holiday season, its licensing head Michael Budge said some operators had been required to ensure they had enough funds to battle on: " We have continued to focus on ensuring the appropriate protection of advance customer monies and requiring ATOL holders to maintain adequate liquidity to meet future obligations. Where appropriate, certain conditions were required to meet these obligations."

  • Hanoi

    Hanoi traffic - image by Sharon Ang from Pixabay

    Vietnam flights - new competition

    18 days ago

    Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways is planning to launch flights to London this year. According to widespread reports it has secured take off and landing slots at Heathrow for flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. It is expected to fly three times a week on both routes using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. If it goes ahead, Bamboo will be in competition with Vietnam Airlines, whose flights, like those of almost all carriers, have been seriously disrupted by the pandemic.

  • Jerash

    Jerash © Ffestiniog Travel

    Steam power in Jordan - new holidays launched

    21 days ago

    Travel on the Hejaz railway, attacked by Lawrence and his Arab guerrilla fighters during World War I, is included in two tours launched by specialist Ffestiniog Travel.

    The firm had planned to operate one tour last year – its first venture to the region – under the title Jordan: Steam, Petra and the Dead Sea. That trip was prevented by the pandemic. This year, prompted by an enthusiastic customer response and it plans to operate two. They will run, COVID-19 permitting, from 18 -26 October and 1 – 9 November. As well as two private steam charters and a tour of the railway workshop, the itinerary will include visits to Petra (by night), Jerash, Madaba and Mount Nebo, and a 4×4 tour of Wadi Rum.

    Under the Ottoman Empire it was planned to extend the narrow gauge Hejaz from Damascus to the Holy City of Mecca, creating a link with Istanbul – then known officially as Constantinople. But war intervened when the line had reached Medina, 810 miles from the Syrian capital. Though it later fell into disrepair, two sections of the line remain in service. Workers on the line have restored many of the original locomotive and there are hopes that if peace should allow, the entire route, if not in its former guise, may eventually be revived through international agreement, as part of a wider Middle East rail network. A spur which once ran to Haifa has been partly been rebuilt and it was reported just over two years ago than Saudi Arabia and Israel planned to restore the route between the Mediterranean port and Riyadh.

  • Easyjet

    Bullish easyJet to launch new routes from Birmingham and Glasgow

    22 days ago

    EasyJet today underlined its optimism that foreign travel will take off again this summer with the unveiling of five new routes from Birmingham. Starting on 29 June it plans to operate to Malaga and Faro, respectively twice and three times a week. Next day it will start flying three times a week to Alicante. From 3 July it will operate three times a week to Mallorca and from the following day twice weekly to Corfu. The airline will also launch new flights from Glasgow to Antalya in Turkey, operating twice a week from 1 July.

    Ali Gayward, the low cost airline’s UK country manager, said: " “We believe that a framework can be put in place for the safe reopening of travel and a strong summer, and we are currently focused on working with the UK Government Travel Task Force in the coming days and weeks. We are hopeful that progress will continue to be made with the vaccination programmes in Europe, with several countries in Europe having indicated they will be welcoming British tourists this summer. We remain of the view that international travel can restart and that, with the right framework in place, restrictions can be safely and progressively reduced and in some cases removed by mid-summer for key destinations. We’ve kept our fleet in a flight-ready mode so we are ready and able to ramp up our services quickly and increase our capacity where we see increased demand for the summer."

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    Zakinthos: image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

    COVID anxiety sparks package tour upsurge

    22 days ago

    Uncertainty over foreign travel has sparked an upsurge of potential demand for package holidays, new research from industry organisation ABTA suggests. Nearly half (45%) of people questioned said they were more likely to book an inclusive break than they were before the pandemic began. The main reasons, cited respectively by 51% and 49% were the promise of being looked after if something goes wrong and financial protection. Interestingly, 14% said they were less inclined to book packages, perhaps suggesting a reluctance to fly and a preference for independent travel by car. While other recent surveys have indicated relatively few Britons have booked overseas breaks for this year so far, ABTA’s results reflect widespread reports of pent up demand. They show 63% of respondents saying they “hope to book a holiday abroad in the next six months or longer”.

  • Orkney

    Orkney Islands - virtual destination

    Cruise line’s cultural enrichment channel attracted 2m viewers

    22 days ago

    Cruise line Viking says more than 2m people have viewed streamed content on the online digital platform it launched last year, in the early stages of the pandemic. The operator has broadcast over 340 live sessions, transporting customers past and potential – and crew who continued manning its ships – to destinations from the Cotswolds to the Orkney Islands and institutions such as Oslo’s Munch Museum, St Petersburg’s Hermitage and the British Museum. There have been guest appearances from the likes of Sir Michael Palin, cellist Yo Yo Ma, yachtswoman Tracy Edwards and actor Lesley Nichol (Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore). As the line prepares to resume limited operations with cruises in English waters, executive vice president Karine Hagen said “Viking TV was started because we felt there was a need to connect our guests, crew and other curious people to the world during a time of great isolation, uncertainty and fear.” The channel won the Breakthrough Award for Product Innovation in last year’s Silver Travel Awards.

  • Valetta

    Valetta, image courtesy Malta Tourism Authority

    Malta plans June return for UK sunseekers

    23 days ago

    Malta will welcome back fully vaccinated UK visitors from 1 June. They will need to show evidence they have received a second jab at least ten days before arriving. The island’s Tourism Authority says passengers will be required to show their vaccination cards before boarding their flights. Malta claims to be second only to the UK in Europe in the proportion of its residents vaccinated, with 40% having received their first jab. It is also relatively low in the region’s league table of infection rates, recording 151.3 new cases per 100,000 of its population in the seven days to Monday (29 March). Clayton Bartolo, Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, said: “The health and safety of Maltese citizens and tourists will always be our top priority, and with the continued rollout of the vaccine here in Malta, this focused reopening plan is designed to slowly and safely reopen tourism to fully vaccinated Britons.”

  • Queen elizabeth

    Cunard's Queen Elizabeth to cruise around British Isles

    23 days ago

    Voyages around the British Isles aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth go on sale today. The ship will join a fleet of ships, operated by a clutch of cruise lines, sailing close to home this year – with reservations open only to UK residents who have been vaccinated. The Queen Elizabeth will make ten voyages from Southampton lasting between three and 12 nights, between July and October. Itineraries will include the Jurassic Coast, Land’s End, the Isle of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. Among the ports of call will be Liverpool, Greenock, Invergordon, Belfast, Newcastle and – for the first time by Cunard ship – the Welsh port of Holyhead. Also on sale from today are three seven night “Sun Voyages”, also to be operated by the Queen Elizabeth from Southampton, which will be “guided by the weather forecast and heading to where the sun shines brightest”. The company notes that other sailings currently on sale do not require guests to be vaccinated.

  • Alentejo

    Alentejo, Portugal - image © Roger Bray

    Sunshine breaks - Portugal front runner

    24 days ago

    Portugal looks the best bet for an early European getaway to the sunshine this summer, according the latest COVID statistics. While the seven day new infection rates in many of the continent’s other major tourist countries has risen, Portugal’s fell slightly. Figures from statistics analyst Statista showed that as of yesterday it had recorded 28 new cases per 100,000 of its population, against 31.8 a week earlier. In contrast. Cyprus also recorded a fall, though from a higher level, its weekly new infection rate dropping from 297.4 per 100,000 to 267.6. Spain reported a 50% rise, though from a lowish base of 60.8 to 91.3. Croatia’s rate rose from 161.8 to 235.1 but Greece showed a smaller increase, from 149 to 157.6. Francophiles may be forgiven a groan of frustration, as its rate rocketed from 216.2 to 392.2, suggesting it could take some weeks of intensive vaccination before it starts to see a fall. Away from southern Europe’s hotspots, Norway and Ireland both recorded relatively low rates of 115.6 and 80.1 respectively.

    Of course, there are still almost seven weeks until the earliest date by the Government for the resumption of non essential foreign travel – and conditions everywhere may change by then. Boris Johnson has promised to provide some indication next Monday (5 April) of the way such a resumption could be handled. Reports have suggested a return to last summer’s traffic light system. But expert thinking on what might qualify a country for a green light – both in terms of infection and vaccination rates has yet to emerge. Nor is in known what value will be placed upon the successful UK vaccination roll out as the mathematics of risk are assessed.

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    The Grill aboard Spirit of Adventure - image courtesy Saga

    Saga launches British Isles cruises

    25 days ago

    Over-50s specialist Saga today launched a programme of all inclusive UK cruises for this summer. As it indicated earlier, passengers will need to have received both doses of vaccine against COVID-19. The “cruises”:, either aboard Spirit of Discovery or the company’s new ship Spirit of Adventure, will depart from Tilbury between late June and late July. One of will extend from Scotland to the Norwegian fjords. However, passengers will be able to disembark only in UK ports such as Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, Kirkwall in the Orkneys, Ullapool, Douglas, Belfast, Holyhead, Bristol and Falmouth. As well as all meals, drinks wi-fi and shore excursions in some ports, prices cover private door to door chauffeur service to and from Tilbury for journeys up to 250 miles each way.

  • Train

    Image © Isere Tourisme

    Comeback for historic French train

    25 days ago

    One of Europe’s most dramatic and history making railway lines is scheduled to reopen this spring after more than a decade. Le Petit Train de La Mure, in southwest France, runs for more than 15kms west of Valence and south of Grenoble. It passes through five tunnels and crosses three viaducts, affording passengers views of the Vercors Massif, a stronghold of the French Resistance, and the Matheysin plateau, at the foot of the Alps. The track was closed after a a landslide in 2010 but after work to restore is, holiday visitors will be able to take the 40 minute trip and lunch at a new restaurant with sweeping views. Originally built in the 1880s, the line ran between La Mure and St Georges-de-Commiers and was used until the 1980s to transport anthracite. The restored service will stop at la Motte d’Aveillans, which there is a mining museum. Four locomotives which operated between 1933 and 1986 will be used to haul three carriages ordered in 1930 and others of the period that were acquired from Switzerland.

  • Formentor

    Facelift for famous old Mallorca hotel

    28 days ago

    Mallorca’s Hotel Formentor, whose celebrity guests have included Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gary Cooper and Elizabeth Taylor, is to relaunch under the Four Seasons banner in 2023. The dramatically situated cliffside property, which opened originally in 1929, will undergo a major refurbishment. It overlooks the Mediterranean from a peninsula on the island’s northeast coast, not far from the resort of Puerto Pollenca. It will have 110 rooms and suites, with views of the sea or the surrounding forest from their balconies. The hotel has access to a beach but there will also be a pool. There will be places to eat and drink in both locations, as well as an indoor restaurant, while spa facilities are promised.

  • Barbados

    Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

    Aer Lingus confirms Manchester Flights

    29 days ago

    Aer Lingus has confirmed it will launch three new non stop routes from Manchester this year. Starting on 29 July it will fly daily to to New York and five times a week to Orlando. And from 20 October the airline will operate three times a week non stop to Barbados. The airline is expected to add from summer Boston next year. New York flights will depart at 12.05pm, arriving at JFK airport at 3.25pm. Orlando departures will be at 11am, arriving in the theme park capital at 3.45pm. Westbound services will depart at 5.25pm and 7pm respectively, arriving at 8.35am and 5.50am. Barbados flights will depart at 10.15am. arriving in Bridgetown at 2.35pm. Manchester bound services will leave at 6.30am, arriving at 5.50am. Meanwhile the continuing ban on non essential travel and doubts about its resumption have prompted British Airways to reduce its planned daily operation from Heathrow to Bermuda, which had been scheduled to start on Sunday, to a once a week service, starting three days later.

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    Cadair Idris - by Christopher Chilton from Pixabay

    Walk specialist launches guided day hikes

    30 days ago

    Guided day walks in England and Wales – with the enticing possibility of a pint at the finish – have been launched by specialist operator HF Holidays. They are scheduled to start on 12 April, when the firm says the resumption of outdoor sports under stage two of the Government’s road map out of lockdown will allow group sizes up to 15 (including the guide).

    The programme will comprise 46 different walks from 16 of the operator’s country houses. The houses, a mainstay of HF’s accommodation, will remain closed for overnight stays until 17 May, but toilets will be open and the firm says “potentially they end on the terrace with a pint, as there will be the option to buy a drink and some of our famous cake”.

    Routes will range from challenges such as climbing Catbells in the Lake District or Cadair Idris in Snowdonia to hikes on the Southwest Coast Path or Pennine Way and strolls in Shropshire’s Carding Mill Valley or between the Slaughters in the Cotswolds. Prices start at £17.50 and there is free parking, except for walks from Lulworth Cove.

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    Australia gets spectacular new hiking trail

    about 1 month ago

    Another spectacular new hiking route is set for completion this May. The 160 kilometre Grampian Trail, some three hours west of Melbourne, promises mountain summits, rocky outcrops, sensational views and a flavour of ancient Aborigine heritage. Already partly open, it will run through the Grampians National Park, whose Aboriginal name is Gariwerd. The whole route will take 13 days, enabling hikers to visit park features including the Venus Baths, Grand Canyon and the Pinnacle Lookout. Packages are available to book through the newly formed Grampians Peaks Walking Company, part of the Absolute Outdoors tour and outfitting operation. Short itineraries are on offer for walked of all abilities, from a three day, three night luxury trip combining an adventurous section with boutique accommodation to camping on an “immersive” experience of history, geology and environment

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    Summer travel warning anger: politicians, experts "jumping the gun"

    about 1 month ago

    With reports emerging that the Government may revert to last year’s traffic light system of approval for holiday destination countries, anger is mounting in the travel industry at what are seen as premature comments by ministers and scientific advisors.

    Among those drawing fire have been Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Dr Mike Tildesley, an advisor to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). The former said: “We can’t be deaf and blind to what’s going on outside the United Kingdom. If you look in Europe, and the increases in infections, we can’t put at risk the huge amount of effort, by the taxpayer, by the NHS, by our scientists, in developing this vaccine. And if we were to be reckless in any way, and import new variants that put it at risk, then what would people say about that?” And Dr Tildesley, warning about the risk of importing variants said it looked “extremely unlikely” international travel would return this summer.

    Chris Rowles, chairman of the specialist travel association AITO, said “they are all jumping the gun”. The association’s members had reported a “dramatic” slowdown in bookings over the weekend, “just as confidence had picked up with the huge success of the UK’s vaccination programme”.

    “It seems to have been overlooked that 17th May, the earliest date for international travel to restart, is more than two months away. Destinations are working hard to ensure that visitors and locals alike will be safe when travel recommences – subject of course to one and all wearing face masks, socially distancing and hand washing, as recommended, for the foreseeable future. All we ask is for some common sense to be used. Let’s wait until the Global Task Force has assessed the situation fully and properly, in three weeks’ time. Our suppliers – the airlines and accommodation providers – need to know that bookings are in the pipeline to give them the confidence to put on flights and to open hotels and other accommodation.”

    Julia Lo-Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, also said it was important to wait for the report of the Taskforce, due on 12 April. And 17 May was still two months away. "To wonder what will happen is one thing but two months is a huge amount of time in a pandemic. Two

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    Image © visitBerlin, photo Tanja Koch

    Berlin's 20th century art gallery set to re-open

    about 1 month ago

    Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie, home to an impressive collection of 20th century art, is scheduled to re-open in August after a major renovation. Among its highlights are Picasso’s 1909 Woman seated in an armchair and Kirchner’s 1914 depiction of nearby Potsdamer Platz – alongside works by Klee, Kandinsky, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Dali and Miro. Its sculpture garden was inspired by that at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Originally opened in 1968, it was designed by the famous architect Mies van der Rohe, last director of the Bauhaus, who emigrated to the US after the Nazis came to power, in what he called his ‘skin and bones’ style, with open space, flooding light and an apparently floating roof. The renovation has been conducted by British architect Sir David Chipperfield, whose work has included Margate’s Turner Contemporary and a reconstruction of another Berlin building, the war damaged Neues Museum.

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    Fingal's Cave

    Three more cruise lines to sail around Britain

    about 1 month ago

    Three more lines – Princess Cruises, Fred Olsen and MSC have joined the clutch of operators launching short summer sailings around the British Isles. With domestic cruises expected to restart in May, Princess has unveiled a programme of 14 short breaks and week long cruises from Southampton, available to UK residents who have received vaccinations. Two of its ships, Regal Princess and Regal Sky will sail from 31 July – 23 September and and 30 August – 28 September respectively. Some itineraries will stay offshore, while others will include stops in ports including Liverpool, Belfast and Greenock.

    Fred Olsen has set out a programme of eleven itineraries from Liverpool, Dover and Rosyth, including sailings by its new ships Borealis and Bolette. Itineraries will similarly range from short breaks to seven night cruises and from purely scenic trips to crujises with ports of call. Its ships will sail to places of interest including Fingal’s Cave. the Orkney, Shetland and Scilly Isles, with one also reaching the Faroes, which are a self governing part of Denmark. Managing director Peter Deer said the company would wait for the Government’s Global Taskforce to report on 12 April to decide on potential requirements such as vaccination.

    MSC plans itineraries from Southampton, starting on 20 May first with short trips, then moving to seven night cruises. The operator has yet to announce full details. It will accept passengers who have not been vaccinated – but will demand they have tested negative within 72 hours of embarkation.

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    Poznan: image by David Mark from Pixabay

    Holiday restart hopes spark new budget flights

    about 1 month ago

    Plans by Cyprus to welcome fully vaccinated UK tourists with no restrictions has prompted low fare airline Wizz to launch flights there. On 17 May, the Government’s earliest date for the resumption of non essential international travel, it plans to start flying twice a week from Birmingham to Larnaca. Flights will operate on Mondays and Fridays. The Cypriot government has said visitors from Britain must have received second doses at least seven days before travelling.

    Ryanair plans to launch flights from Liverpool to Kaunas in Lithuania and from Birmingham to the Polish city of Poznan. Both services will operate twice a week and will start – coronavirus permitting – on 4 June and 3 July respectively.

    Both destinations have universities and bitter memories of wartime atrocities, Nazi occupation and Soviet takeovers. Next year Kaunas will assume its role as a European Capital of Culture. A new concert centre is scheduled to open next to the city’s Vytautas the Great Bridge. The old centre at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers incorporates a wealth of historic buildings including its Gothic cathedral.

    Poznan, on the Warta river, is one of Poland’s largest cities. Much of it was destroyed by bombing and the Germans’ last ditch stand against the Red Army in 1945. But painstaking repair and restoration has ensured there are still many historic buildings to admire. A major attraction is the Renaissance Town Hall on Old Market Square, whose mechanical goats but heads at noon.

    And budget carrier easyJet will launch two new domestic routes from Bournemouth Airport this spring. On 26 May it will start flying to Belfast – twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And the following day it will start operating to Edinburgh – on Thursdays and Sundays.

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    Iona Abbey: image by Sheelagh Donnelly from Pixabay

    P&O plans UK cruises for vaccinated guests

    about 1 month ago

    P&O Cruises is the latest to react to the Government’s expected green light for the return of cruises close to home. It plans to operate a series of short itineraries this summer, predominantly in British waters but with one brief foray along the French coast. Two ships, Iona and Britannia, will sail from Southampton between June and September. For example, the latter will operate three and four night trips along the English south coast while new vessel Iona will head for Scotland – including the Inner Hebrides and the island after which she was named. Reservations open on Monday (22 March) and will be available only to UK residents receiving their second doses of vaccine at last seven days before departure. Social distancing will be required on board, with mask wearing in some public areas of the ships.

    The cruise line’s president Paul Ludlow said that while uncertainty continued over travel abroad, following recent announcements “we have every hope that our guests will be able to enjoy a holiday this summer”. For those dubious about British weather he promised: “We really will look at the weather forecast each day and ai to take our ships where it is warm and sunny”.