Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ten Hill Place Hotel, Edinburgh

GARETH DEIGHAN takes the high road to Edinburgh and finds it is a city full of charm.
EDINBURGH has always been a popular place for weekend breaks. And this particular weekend break proved why.
Electing to drive because of the train fare, the wife and I chose to take the car for the 120-mile journey.
Not far, you think. And in terms of mileage, you’d be right. But in terms of time, it is very, very far away.
I should have known to be honest with you. As a youngster, mainly because my mother is a Scot, we would often travel north of the border for weekends and weeks away with family members; and it always took ages to get there. Admittedly we were travelling to Wick.
I had suspected, though, that the roads leading to the Scottish capital would have got faster. I was wrong.
It’s a lovely route up with lots of see but, be warned, when you are travelling from the North East it takes a long, long time. Especially as we were trying to get up there for a footie kick-off at 12.45pm.
We arrived at the hotel with little fuss. Our directions, courtesy of route finder, worked rather well.
Ten Hill Place has car parking but not much, and we were directed to a local NCP car park which, incidentally, was cheaper than leaving the car at the hotel.
The hotel is fairly small, with no restaurant; but there is a bar and the rooms are spacious and well appointed. It is also around five minutes’ walk from the Royal Mile, which puts it in perfect position for the tourist.
After the longer than expected car journey we were late and went straight out to watch the match in a bar.
The receptionist in the hotel was very helpful and seemed to know exactly where we could find the kind of place we were looking for.
Following the game (a disappointing draw) we took the chance to explore a bit of Edinburgh and hopped on a tour bus. Yes, it was red and people pointed and laughed as we were upstairs in its open-top part in November, but it was interesting.
And, being of an ever-so-slightly lazy disposition, the bus helped us see more of the city than we would have done on foot.
That evening the hotel staff again proved helpful as another polite and knowledgeable receptionist booked us a taxi and wished us a lovely time for our night ahead.
We weren’t disappointed. After finding a lovely restaurant on George Street in the city, we went to the Opal Lounge (an alleged haunt of Prince William) and found many Prince William types: boys with floppy hair in shirts and jumpers, girls in super short skirts who loved to dance.
It made for an interesting night.
Back to the hotel and the comfortable room with the large bed made for a welcome sight and a very good night’s sleep.
The breakfast in the morning was a choice of full Scottish (like a full English except in Scotland) and continental. Or both.
We went for cooked and thoroughly enjoyed it. We wandered into Edinburgh city again to have one more look round.
All-in-all, Ten Hill Place offers good, reasonably priced accommodation.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Biggest, rarest, wildest: top animal tours

1 Tigers, Kanha NP, India

Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, central India, was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and is one of the best places in India to see tigers.

A 16-day safari with Wildlife Worldwide visiting Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh National Parks costs from £2,450 including flights, most meals, accommodation in hotels and luxury camps and sightseeing in Delhi and Agra.

Tiger-viewing is on elephant or by jeep; leopards and bears are often seen. Departures: November-May.

2 Giant Pandas, Qinling Mountains, China

It has been very difficult to see giant pandas in the wild, but Laoxiancheng Panda Reserve in central China has a fledgling eco-tourism project. A pioneering 14-day panda trek in Shaanxi Province with Naturetrek costs from £3,395 including flights, most meals and accommodation in hotels, lodges and tents.

Trekking is described as tough. The tour includes a visit to the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an and a chance to see rare golden monkeys. Departures: April 13 and October 5.

3 Desert elephants, Skeleton Coast, Namibia

The best chance of seeing the rare desert elephants of Namibia is in Skeleton Coast Park in the dry season (June-December) when the animals head for the hills to escape the rain. A three-night stay at Skeleton Coast Camp with Cazenove+Lloyd costs from £3,224 and includes flights and fully inclusive accommodation in luxurious meru-style tents.

The camp organises day trips in a 4WD vehicle in search of the elephants. Gemsbok, giraffe, ostrich, hyena, Hartmann's mountain zebra and, occasionally, lion and cheetah can all be seen from the camp.

4 Saami reindeer migration, Norway

The annual reindeer migration in Arctic Norway is the most important event of the year for the Saami people. A 10-day journey with a Saami herder family moving their animals from their winter to their summer grazing area, crossing the barren Arctic tundra on a snowmobile, is available exclusively through High and Wild.

The price of £2,435 per person in a group of seven includes accommodation in lavvu tents (like a teepee), snowmobile hire, Arctic-proof clothing, most meals, transfers to and from airport and the services of an expert guide. The return flight from Heathrow to Kirkenes can be arranged, from about £350. Departure: April 5.

5 Ocean giants, Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Whale sharks - the biggest fish in the sea, measuring up to 60ft long - can be seen on a 15-day dive, swim and snorkel tour of the reefs of Western Australia with Dive Worldwide.

Humpback, southern right, sperm and killer whales, dolphins, dugongs, giant manta and eagle rays are among the hundreds of species that can be seen on Ningaloo Reef, the largest fringing reef in the world. The cost of £3,795 includes flights, accommodation in a mixture of hotels, motels and chalets, most meals and guiding. Departure: June 3.

6 Orangutan study group, Borneo

The Orangutan Foundation, in cooperation with Discovery Initiatives offers privileged access to the famous orangutan study area in Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo. The 14-day trips offer the chance to see wild and rehabilitated orangutans and conduct wildlife surveys with Camp Leakey researchers.

The price, from £3,195, includes flights, twin-share accommodation at Rimba Lodge, most meals and a contribution to the Orangutan Foundation. Each trip is led by Ashley Leiman, head of the Orangutan Foundation in the UK, or one of her colleagues. Departures: June 21, August 30, September 13.

7 Wildebeest migration, Serengeti, Tanzania

The unspoilt Mara River area provides an unrivalled viewpoint for the annual Serengeti wildebeest migration away from other tourists. Steppes Travel is offering a 17-day itinerary to Tanzania, including five nights at the luxurious Sayari tented camp.

This is topped and tailed by stays at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge and the Matemwe Bungalows in Zanzibar. The price of £4,995 includes flights, road and light-aircraft transfers, accommodation, most meals, activities and guiding. Departures: February.

8 Whale watching, Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Grey and blue whales, dolphins and sea lions can all be seen at close quarters on a 17-day whalewatching, kayaking and hiking tour with Pura Aventura. The tour includes kayaking across the turquoise waters of Baja, California, a boat trip into the Bay of Magdalena to see migrating grey whales and a three-day hike in the Copper Canyon.

The price of £2,125 includes hotel and camp accommodation, most meals, guiding, transport and specialist equipment. Flights can be arranged - eg from Gatwick to La Paz via New Mexico - with American Airlines, from £660 return. Departures: February 2, 16 and 23.

9 Polar bears, Spitzbergen

At 80 degrees north and only 600 miles from the North Pole, the island of Spitzbergen is one of the best places in the world to see polar bears. Against a backdrop of icebergs, glaciers and immense sea cliffs, landings are made from an expedition cruise ship for encounters with walrus, Arctic foxes, whales and bears during a period of 24-hour daylight.

A 12-day guided expedition aboard the MV Vavilov with Exodus costs from £2,999 and includes flights, accommodation in a main-deck twin cabin, full board on the ship, and all activities. Departures: June, July, August.

10 Lion safari, Botswana

A two-stop safari in Botswana will pretty much guarantee the best lion sightings in Africa. First, at Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta, you will see large prides take on the local buffalo population and in the dry Savute Channel in the Chobe National Park you might see some of Africa's biggest lions take on elephant.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The top 10 IT places to visit in 2008

Looking for a new vacation spot this year? Try Mozambique, Oman, or even revisit Paris, all of which feature on a list of the top 10 must-visit destinations for 2008 from online travel site said the places on its annual list of the top 10 "it" places share a few common denominators -- a new crop of hotels, protected natural appeal, and with enough substance to make a journey worthwhile.
"Many of the destinations on this year's list have undergone a transformation," said Peter J. Frank, editor-in-chief of
1. Mozambique, Africa
After a devastating civil war 15 years ago, the country is now open to visitors to enjoy its 1,500 miles of Indian Ocean coastline and archipelagoes with superb diving, the vibrant capital of Maputo with an exciting Afro jazz scene, and national parks that are slowly restoring the wildlife to prewar numbers.
2. St. Lucia
One of the most striking islands of the Caribbean, with copious rain forest, sparkling waterfalls, and a fair share of pretty beaches, St. Lucia has kept a relatively low profile in the last decade, and is mostly the secret of a fiercely loyal group of repeat visitors. But the word is out this season.
3. Montenegro
Montenegro was cut off from the world during the civil war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, so few travelers know this stretch of mountainous Adriatic coast with quiet beaches and picturesque fortress towns. But insiders are calling this the next Croatia or the new European Riviera. Though Montenegro has adopted the Euro, prices remain much lower than in Croatia and Italy.
4. Ecuador
Low-profile Ecuador is emerging as Latin America's best-kept secret, with a sophisticated cultural scene and enough adventure to keep adrenaline junkies pumped. Start your trip in newly glamorous Quito, the country's colonial capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city just received a $40-million face-lift, and a number of stylish new restaurants and restored hotels are also fueling the renaissance.
5. Sicily
Long the domain of fusty grande-dame hotels and package tourists covering well-trod itineraries, the Italian island is experiencing a revival, thanks to a new generation of enterprising hoteliers and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Start your trip in the northwest near Trapani, an area of vineyards, Baroque villages, and cuisine with a North African zing then head across the island to Syracuse, arguably Sicily's most beautiful city.
6. San Diego
San Diego is going through an unprecedented growth spurt, with a particular focus on the young, the restless, and the loaded. Leading the charge is one of Miami's main luxury players, the Setai, set to open in April 2008 in the Gaslamp Quarter, following close on the heels of a brand-new Hard Rock Hotel.
7. Hainan Island, China
Exchange Honolulu's high-rises and crowds for empty beach and gentle surf, add in coral reefs, sleepy mountain towns, rain forests, and hot springs, and you'll find the country's answer to Phuket or even Bali. The island, located southwest of Hong Kong and not far from the Vietnamese coast, has a distinctly Southeast Asian vibe that has proven popular not only with domestic visitors but as a side trip for international travelers to Shanghai and Beijing.
8. Oman

Dubai might be the fastest-growing area in the Middle East but Oman is becoming the destination of choice for the more eco-minded, adventurous traveler. The mix of beautiful beaches, traditional cities that retain a genuine desert culture, and one-of-a-kind hotels is unbeatable. Must-stops include the Wahiba desert for sandboarding and camel riding, Muscat for the Chedi hotel and the authentic souks, and the clean beaches.
9. Puerto Escondido and the Oaxacan Coast, Mexico
The future of this unmanicured stretch of nirvana is much more secure now that FONATUR (the Mexican agency responsible for the development of Cancun, Cabo, and Acapulco) seems to have run out of steam in its attempt to make it the country's next big thing. For now, the beaches are home to fishing villages, quiet lagoons, and coconut plantations. The idyllic beach ending of the film "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was shot here.
10. Paris
France's capital has never lacked for charisma, what with its atmospheric cafes, astounding art collections, rarefied cuisine, and romantic ambience. But lately there's a fresh emphasis on innovation and ingenuity, whether in art, architecture or gastronomy.

The world's greenest hotels, from Switzerland to Sri Lanka

Here are the world's best environmentally friendly hotels, as selected by Travel+Leisure magazine, which partnered with Conservation International to assess properties.

1. Spice Island Beach Resort, Grenada: "Sip your cocktail with a clear conscience, knowing the property's water is solar-heated, the bulbs are energy-saving compact fluorescents and the pool is treated with salt instead of chlorine." Doubles from $800, including meals.

2. Soneva Fushi Resort, Maldives: "A collection of refined, castaway-style villas, Soneva Fushi has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by next year and achieve carbon neutrality by 2010." Doubles from $605.

3. Heritance Kandalama, Sri Lanka: "When viewed from afar, Heritance Kandalama resembles an ancient temple grown wild with disuse. In fact, the vegetation and location have nothing to do with neglect (note the handwoven tapestries and stunning floor-to-ceiling windows in each room) and everything to do with ensuring that rainwater flowing from the hills collects in the hotel's reservoir below." Doubles from $114, including breakfast.

4. Voyages Longitude 131, Australia: "The retreat's elevated canopy tents have solar-heated showers, a switch that lets guests control the floor-to-ceiling window blinds from the comfort of their king-size beds, and expansive views of Ayers Rock." Doubles from $1,980, including meals and activities.

5. Tiamo, Bahamas: "This solar-powered, 11-bunglaow hideaway, set alongside a stretch of perfect alabaster sand on the largely undeveloped South Andros Island, uses less electricity per month than one average American household." Doubles from $830 including meals.

6. Whitepod, Switzerland: "Set in the Swiss Alps near Aigle, the nine Buckminster Fuller-inspired geodesic domes ... may be electricity-free, but they keep things cosy with plush organic bedding, sheepskin throws and fireplaces fuelled with sustainably harvested wood." Doubles from $392, including some meals.

7. Devils' Thumb Ranch, Colorado: "Sixteen airy cabins and a soon-to-open lodge are all heated and cooled entirely with fireplaces (the wood is harvested on the property, often from beetle-infested pine trees) and geothermal energy. Best yet, the owners have limited their development to only one per cent of the land, leaving the rest free for guests - and elk, moose, bears and beavers - to roam." Doubles from $195.

8. El Nido Resorts, Philippines: "Guest cottages on stilts are set above the crystalline ocean. The resorts are active in both reef and island conservation." Doubles from $210.

9. Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar, Tanzania: The sole resort in Tanzania's first managed marine protected area, Chumbe's rooftop rainwater-collection system and solar-powered lights keep the resort in harmony with its surroundings, while its seven open-air bungalows make it a favourite among honeymooners." Doubles from $440, including meals.

10. Adrere Amellal, Egypt: "With its walls built using rock salt and mud, doors and windows placed to catch the desert breeze, and oil lamps and candles lighting the corridors each night, the Adrere Amellal gives guests a taste of life in a traditional Berber community in the Egyptian desert. It also helps to fund and support numerous community projects. Meals are prepared using organic ingredients purchased from farmers at fair market value. Doubles from $448, including meals.


Travel, Tourism fair begins in Chennai

Talking to newspersons here, Fairfest Media Limited Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Agarwal said "the three-day event will also provide the people with options to gather information on various national and international destinations, cruise lines, hotels, resorts, adventure tourism, theme parks, tour operators, travel agents, finance, insurance, airlines and railways and make bookings on the spot".

"It will also help prospective business and leisure travelers to discuss and finalise customised plans, tailored to suit their budget and individual needs and interests," he added.

He said the event would also provide an opportunity for the travel trade visitors from the city and the state to meet and do business with over 140 exhibitors from India and abroad.

TTF had participation from six countries, including partner country Nepal, feature countries such as Egypt, Malaysia,Chennai and Hong Kong, also including Dubai and Thailand as the other participants. Most of the state government departments were participating along with private sector hoteliers and operators from their respective states.

Mr Agarwal pointed out that among the new additions in the TTF was the first time participation by Tata Motors and Mahindra and Mahindra.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Picture World Travel Gallery

Picture World Travel Gallery..........
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) was conceptualized in the early 1980s when a group of CEOs came to the realization that although Travel & Tourism was the largest service industry in the world and the biggest provider of jobs, nobody knew it. There was no consolidated data or voice for the industry to give the message to elected official and policy makers.
WTTC was established in 1990 and today the Council is positioned as the global business leaders’ forum for Travel & Tourism, comprising the Chairmen and Chief Executives of 100 of the world’s foremost organizations, representing all regions and sectors of the industry; a membership list is attached.

By : Wikipedia

Family travel: All off together - and baby came, too

For many parents, the idea of touring the world with their children in tow sounds like Hell. But those who have tried it report that their experience was far closer to Heaven. The notion of being stuck together as a family 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is certainly a daunting prospect.

Burgnard family in Quebec
Getting away from it all: the Burgnard family in Quebec. The couple and their daughters are now on Easter Island

Mark Twain even managed a quip for this: "Familiarity breeds contempt - and children." But he also said: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Travel - if planned correctly, with time together and apart - has a mysterious way of resolving family problems and of getting everyone rested and in the mood to start having fun again. Think therapy without the shrink.

Parents will have plenty to consider before they pack and go. They need to prepare for exhaustion and for new responsibilities, as well as recalibrating their lives on all levels - including career, self-image and curtailed freedoms and relationships. Compare these challenges with those faced by freewheeling kids on gap years and there's simply no contest.

So why doesn't putting one's feet up at home have the same benefits? Besides the sink and the stove, there's that third party - the television. You might well get some rest, but a clear head to work things out? Or the energy to do something enjoyable? No chance.

The decision to get up and go can be a tough one, although some people need little persuasion. Juliet Heller was one such. Her eureka moment came when she was reading a bedtime story to her son. The tale told of a family that went sailing around the world. As the pages were turned, the fictional parents started talking, smiling at one another and cuddling.

"Mmm, good idea," Juliet said to herself as she read on. And so off they went, to cruise the canals and waterways of the Netherlands for six weeks. "Apart from consolidating our own relationships, there's a special bond between sailors that makes friendships quick and easy to forge, especially when there are children on board," she says. Needless to say, the family had a wonderful time and this became the first of many similar trips.

The effects of such action are usually immediate. Besides the usual travel-dazzle pleasures, there's nothing quite like a world perspective to make us feel fortunate with our lot. Every trip also contributes to a sense of collective achievement as a family, and few sights are as warming as watching your offspring being patted and hugged by people you meet along the way. Even the odd run-in with poor companions can have a silver lining. As every parent knows, Other People's Children can make you feel curiously satisfied with your own.

Taking time out can also help parents to absorb some of their children's ability to play, making for some memorable moments together. Children, of course, are naturally amenable. As the novelist and travel writer Pico Iyer said: "Every child is a born adventurer, and every traveller a born-again child." Soon, everyone unwinds and begins to enjoy themselves: toes are wiggled in streams; milk shakes, hammocks and dreams are shared.

As part of the relaxation process, couples will inevitably have some frank conversations. Rows might occur, but problems between partners are best not ignored. And what better way to work things out than against a different backdrop?

The Harrises - Yael, in marketing and PR and husband Sam, a photographer - claim to have avoided conflict during their six years travelling in India and Australia with their two daughters, now eight and three. They both found work along the way, but otherwise conserved finances by "wwoofing" (from the acronym WWOOF - Willing Workers On Organic Farms). The scheme allows a few hours of farm work each day in exchange for food and a bed.

It's a period that they already refer to as their "Golden Years". When asked about rows, their response is: "What rows?" They eventually admit to a patch of "some tension" years ago. While listing the familiar benefits of travel, they also point out that, for most children, it's a rare treat to have both parents around all day long. "When you spend so much time together, you get to read and respect each other's needs," says Yael.

Adolescents have their own problems to work through, which is why they tend to be more difficult. The Burgnards, both teachers (a very transportable skill), are currently on Easter Island, mid-way through a gap year with their three daughters aged 16, 19, and 21. They say that being together has been a challenge, although they value the closeness it has given them as a family. Their youngest, Manouck, declares: "I wouldn't be talking to my parents in this way if my friends were around." Maybe that's the point. Without email, Facebook or the pub, everyone gets to spend more time with each other.

Matt Heason, now 35, trekked across Sudan and Nepal as a child with his parents. These days, he looks forward to travelling to his parents' kitchen, where the family gathers several times a year. After dinner, the travel stories are re-lived one by one, with the memories illustrated by the expedition photographs plastered all over the kitchen wall. As Matt's father, Alan (now a grandfather), says: "It's curious how even bad patches make for good memories. They can keep the kids happy for years." The lows, the highs, they're all good. What else in life can make a similar claim?


Friday, January 11, 2008

Travel to China

It was September in 2007. And thanks to Korea's traditional Chuseok (Full Moon) holiday, I received many vacation days from my Korean ESL (English as a second language) academy.

Many foreign ESL teachers, including myself, took full advantage of this time off work. We had an amazing opportunity to explore a communist country recently opened up to the world for international tourism ― China.

Due to its sheer land mass, its law regulations, and its language barriers, many ESL teachers choose to experience China through a guided tour. And this five-day tour made efficient use of my seven-day holiday.

Approximately, 20 teachers left on a tour collaboration between a Korean company, Happy Tour Agency, and local Chinese tour guides. Our group met one tour guide in Beijing and the other in Xian. The flight, Air China, flew out of Daegu International Airport and landed in Beijing International Airport.

Upon arrival in Beijing, Wally, our Beijing tour guide, quickly blew our group away with local sites and food. And our group maintained a maddening pace to experience China's best features. Since we only had five days, a tightly budgeting schedule managed to provide us many exotic foods, spectacular shows, and tours of breathtaking attractions.

Indulging in China's food was a tough job; we worked our stomachs very hard. Since every meal resembled one seen at a Chinese buffet, I would not recommend a visit to China on a diet. However, as opposed to a normal buffet, each dish was laid out on our moment of arrival.

Each dish certainly tasted fresh, and the style of cuisine varied with each restaurant. Possibly, the king of all our meals was Peking Duck; a mouth watering dinner prepared with a great imagination. The restaurant created and served food for politicians, businessmen, and exclusive families. And it did so for a good reason.

Each elegant duck dish was prepared with great detail. And the restaurant created and served so many that they were stacked one on top of each other on our spacious table. This site seemed a little intimidating at first glance. But, nevertheless, our group managed to devour a dinner fit for a king.

In addition to stuffing ourselves with authentic Chinese food, Hannah Tour visited sights hard to believe exist. On our tour, we saw two of China's most cherished treasures: the Great Wall outside Beijing, and the Terra-Cotta Warriors in Xian.

They represent two manmade wonders of the world. Honestly, after first-hand views of these structures, it seems as if people should admire the engineers that designed these awe aspiring creations. Likewise, people should take pity on those poor laborers who made the massive works of art possible.

China, not only offers masterful statues, it also features masterpiece performances. I watched one show that triggered personal memories as a childhood performer. As a five year old child, while I walked casually between two adults, I often locked our hands together, sprung off my feet, and flipped myself completely upside down. I rotated like a man suspended in air by a bungee cord.

But my childhood stunt was certainly mere child's play in comparison to China's Acrobatic Show. Without a doubt, China's kids performed feats of amazement only reproduced by superheroes.

For instance, I watched one teenage girl who resembled Wonder Women. Just like a superhero, she rode a bike and supported three other girls on her arms and shoulders. Additional girls joined this human pyramid.

More and more girls piled onto her bicycle until the rider simultaneously supported 11 girls. Wonder Women's surreal performance complimented another actor's performance.

I gave him the pseudo name: Spiderman. Spiderman, a teenager, swung 180 degrees, back and forth, on his own webbing: a tight rope. At the end of his act, he flung himself from side to side while he balanced himself upside down, in a handstand, on a stepladder.

Recently, China has generously opened its borders to one more trade: tourism. And since these dinners, attractions, and acts seem incredibly difficult to believe, you should research them yourself; the experience will be priceless.


Kenya tourism hurt by images of violence

Kenya's game parks usually teem with camera-toting tourists at this time of year. Now they are all but empty after images of deadly clashes that rocked the country were beamed around the world.

Operators say pictures of machete-wielding youths battling riot police and of a torched church that evoked nightmares of the Rwandan genocide, have sent some tourists packing and others delaying trips or scrapping planned visits outright.

A minority have bravely chosen to see out their holidays.

"We have never felt like we were in danger," said Debbie Shillito, a Canadian relaxing by the pool of a lodge in the Samburu Game Reserve, the only tourist in sight. "Our biggest fear was that our trip would be cancelled."

Protests and clashes following President Mwai Kibaki's re-election have killed 500 people. His rival, Raila Odinga, believes he was cheated of an election win and the controversy has triggered bloodletting displacing more than 250,000 people.

Tourism industry players say the violence, which has been in isolated places and usually far away from where tourists stay, has portrayed the whole country as a basket case and no-go zone.

Tourism is Kenya's biggest foreign exchange earner and supports about a million people.

Many western countries, including Britain -- Kenya's biggest source market -- have slapped travel bans on non-essential visits, meaning insurance firms won't cover anyone going there.

As a result, bed occupancy across the country has fallen to around 20 percent, when it would normally have been above 85 percent at this time, the industry's peak season.

"Phones are not ringing with new bookings. That is the main concern for us," said Peter Mbogua, sales and marketing manager for the Serena Group of hotels. "And the phones will not start ringing until the perception created is changed."

Mbogua said the Mara Serena in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, famous for its annual wildebeest migration, was just 40 percent occupied. Usually in January it would be nearly full.


Those in the industry see attempts at a political deal as half-hearted and say if the impasse remains unresolved much longer, all their first quarter bookings -- worth an estimated 30 billion shillings ($460 million) -- may go down the drain.

"We are telling the politicians: take your toys and play with them elsewhere," said Duncan Muriuki, chairman of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators.

"If tourism goes down, the economy will go down big time and the multiplier effect will hit everyone," he said.

The private sector Kenya Tourism Federation asked political leaders to find a quick solution, warning in a newspaper statement on Friday that its members may have to lay off some 20,000 workers in the next three months alone.

Kenyan tourism has bounced back from previous scares. Ethnic clashes in a suburb of the resort city of Mombasa in 1997. Bomb attacks the following year and in 2002 also cut visitor numbers.

The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) said it had just managed to get Kenya back onto international tour operators' itineraries.

"To see all these gains wiped out overnight due to this crisis is very unfortunate," said KTB's Managing Director Achieng' Ongong'a.

"Kenya had regained her place on the tourist map. All of a sudden, just because of the perception that it is unsafe, we receive all these cancellations." (Editing by Daniel Wallis)


Tourism Mixed Bag in Nepal

Raju Gandharva is a player of traditional musical instrument called Sarangi. He roams around Thamel area playing melodious tones and looking for tips from generous tourists.

This year while statistics have shown that record number of tourists – over half a million – came to Nepal, people like Gandharva are not too encouraged.

"Yes, there were tourists. But I could earn only as much as to feed myself," he said.

Similar is the response of small and medium traders in Thamel – the important tourism hub in the country.

Surendra Bajracharya, a trader of pashmina shawls, said that though increased numbers of tourists have come, their businesses have not flourished.

"It is true that the number of tourists have increased. More tourists have come but they come to Kathmandu and immediately leave for trekking or for other places, return back and then head to their home country. They have not been spending money in shopping," Bajracharya rued.

Sharing his sentiment, trader of handicraft and thanka items Arjun Kumar Shrestha said, "There has not been marked improvement in our sales as we had expected due to the revival of tourism."

"Quality Tourism"

One of the problems of tourism in Nepal, as pointed out by Nepal Tourism Board's director Subas Niraula, is the lack of tourists who spend much. Niraula said that on average, a tourist stays for nine to ten days and spends around $50 a day – which is quite less.

It is important, he says, to lure more tourists who will spend more. "Right now we have just reached base camp in terms of attracting tourists. After years of slump, tourism has finally recovered. This is a major psychological victory for all of us. In the coming days we will need to promote tourism in a manner so as to maximize our economic benefits," he said.

The tourist arrival has set a new record in 2007 by reaching half a million mark. While over 360,000 tourists came by air, around 150,000 came by land route.

Earlier, it was in 1999 when 491,000 tourists had come to Nepal. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has come out with a statement saying that the year 2007 saw growth of 27.1 percent in the arrival of tourists by air. The board has said that in the month of December alone, the arrival grew by 13 percent.

The NTB statement says that the arrival figure for 2007 reached 360,350 - an all time high since 2000 and against 283,516 in 2006. "In 2000, the number of visitors arriving Nepal by air was 376914. Since then, it has continued to plummet due to various socio-political reasons," the NTB statement says.

"One of the main reasons for inspiring growth in 2007 in tourist arrivals is the ongoing peace process and political stability in the county. Another reason is the good air connectivity with many destinations ushered in by the operation of nine new international airlines to Nepal in 2007," it says.

The board has expected that the year 2008 will be very promising for Nepalese travel trade "as more new airlines are coming and existing airlines are also extending their flight frequency to Nepal."`


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Switzerland: Into a silent world of wonder

The 1956 film of Around the World in Eighty Days has one quintessential image: the urbane David Niven as Phileas Fogg cooling his champagne in ice he has scooped up as his balloon brushes an Alpine peak. Yet nowhere in Jules Verne's novel does Fogg use a balloon to travel.

It's a further irony that Niven was allergic to heights ("at home I almost pass out if I have to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb") and yet he helped to promote the first balloon festival in the Swiss Alpine town he chose to make his home: Château d'Oex.

To reach the resort for its International Balloon Festival, I took the train. The sleek Pininfarina-designed GoldenPass Panoramic climbs from Montreux through a series of hairpin curves to give stupendous view over Mont Blanc and the French Alps before diving into a long tunnel to reach the rolling pastoral country known as the Pays d'Enhaut. The sky above the snow-covered valleys near Château d'Oex itself was dotted with multi-coloured balloons from 20 different countries.

All were here to benefit from a microclimate that is ideal for the sport. In fact, so propitious a place is Château d'Oex that the first non-stop circumnavigation of the Earth by the Breitling Orbiter 3 balloon took off from here in 1999, piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones. They made this remarkable journey in 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes.

Wim Verstraeten, part of the team who made that achievement possible, took me up in a blue-and-yellow balloon brought from his home town of Sint-Niklaas in Belgium. With almost British understatement he told me that "ballooning looks like hocus-pocus, but there's a bit more to it".

Nevertheless, to begin with it does look disarmingly simple. The envelope, as the balloon part is termed, is laid out on the ground beside the basket and filled with cold air using a large portable fan.Once basket and envelope are vertical, two Bunsen-like burners fuelled by liquid petroleum gas start to heat the air.

At this point passengers scramble into the basket to provide some ballast until the pilot is ready to take off, whereupon ground helpers release the balloon.

Watching your shadow leave the ground and diminish in size is a curious sensation, with the unfamiliar roar of the twin burners in your ears and a nozzle of flame 10m high shooting into the envelope. It's quite reassuring to learn that the ripstop nylon from which the balloon is made is extremely strong.

The first balloonists had no such comfort: when Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes became the first humans to fly (in Paris on 21 November 1783) the Montgolfier brothers' linen-paper balloon caught fire from the open brazier and had to be extinguished with wet sponges.

As the air inside the envelope warms, the balloon rises through the cooler air. The colder the air, the more stable is the flight, which is why winter in the Alps provides the best conditions. When the envelope cools to a similar temperature as the outside air, the balloon will begin to descend, so the rate of ascent and descent is controlled by the pilot's use of the burners. Great skill is needed to judge the altitude at which the wind is blowing in the appropriate direction.

The pilot has an altimeter and thermometer as well as a radio for communication with the ground crew, who meet the balloon wherever it lands. The giant laundry basket is divided into two compartments: one third for the pilot and gas tanks, and a leather-trimmed two thirds for the passengers. (The basket is made partly of wicker from willows grown on the Somerset Levels – the world's best balloons happen to be made in Bristol, by Cameron Balloons.)

Technical curiosity satisfied, you can become absorbed in the panorama from 3,000m above sea level. The almost unrestricted view is a world away from the porthole-sized windows of a plane, with a wonderfully liberating sense of space and fresh air.

In all directions there is nothing but endless valleys, peaks, glaciers and corries mantled with snow, the folds in the mountains becoming more pronounced as sunset approaches. To the west lies Lake Geneva and beyond is Mont Blanc; to the east the massif of the Bernese Oberland with the Eiger and Jungfrau; and to the south the mountains flanking the Rhône valley.

Evidence of the microclimate that gives Château d'Oex and the adjacent valleys so many days of clear skies and light winds can be seen from on high: more distant valleys are littered with clouds.

Beneath us were patterns in the landscape only usually seen in aerial photographs (which capture shapes and shadows to striking effect). I saw a tracery of dark-brown roads, the long shadows of a cluster of lonely chalets and barns, streams and ponds glinting in the sun, a forest of conifer crowns newly dusted with snow. Dogs barking can be heard at 2,000m. Indeed, the acoustics of the basket were a surprise: like being in a sound-proofed booth, perhaps because of the taut mass of material above.

After crossing a dozen or more threatening crags of rock, we descended into a broad valley that leads north to the cheese-making centre of Gruyères, floating past the hilltop town and its 12th-century castle at battlement level.

The landing, albeit on a cushion of snow, proved so gentle as to be almost imperceptible and so accurate that we came to rest less than a metre from the road on which the support crew and trailer were waiting. Within 10 minutes, the balloon was deflated and folded away and we were heading back to Château d'Oex.

That night I stood beside a stone church on the hill, steep as a Norman motte, overlooking the town for the "Night Glow", which attracts thousands of visitors for the evening. Loudspeakers the size of wardrobes filled the freezing night air with the incongruous sound of the haunting harmonica tune played by Charles Bronson in Once upon a Time in the West. On the mountainside above the town, balloons were lined up to give choreographed bursts of colour as their burners were ignited to illuminate the harlequin fabrics, while from the higher ridges hang-gliders took off, trailing showers of yellow sparks. In a breathtaking display of floodlighting, an entire mountain peak and its crown of trees behind the town were lit up as a dozen skiers descended the slopes in arcs of red and green lights.

Though the International Balloon Festival is undoubtedly the highlight of the calendar, every day of the year when conditions are favourable, a hot-air balloon takes off from Château d'Oex. The town's own balloon can be hired to take you up to between 2,500m and 3,500m for a minimum flight of one hour, costing from SFr1,500 (€937) for two people.

It's easy to see why many find ballooning addictive. By the end of the flight, I could identify with the words of the 18th-century pioneering French balloonist Professor Jacques Charles after his first flight: "It was not mere pleasure; it was perfect bliss." Phileas Fogg didn't know what he was missing.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

How to stretch out your summer

West isn't necessarily best for sunseekers this month. MetService forecaster Bob Lake saying holidaymakers should hit the east coast - but be prepared for the odd day of rain.

"It looks like some of the best places to be will be around the middle of the country, the east of the South Island and the east of the North Island," he said.

"Much of the North Island will get a dose of rain around Tuesday and Wednesday, but it should improve on Thursday and Friday."

After that a high should move in, meaning next weekend looks settled, particularly for the North Island.

Lake expects a series of highs in late January to keep most of the country warm and dry, apart from occasional rain on one or two days.

That's great news for holiday- makers in Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and the Coromandel Peninsula, which should all get sunshine and little rain.

"The only place where it might be a bit dodgy is in the Far North, where there will be quite a lot of easterly winds, which could bring showers through that region, " Lake said.

The rest of the month would probably be "reasonably warm", with most places falling in the mid-20s.

Canterbury and Marlborough have been experiencing the highest temperatures this summer, up to 32C, and they would continue to be hot throughout January.

But whatever the weather, there could be problems finding somewhere to enjoy it. Campsites and holiday parks around the country are full, so workers planning weekend getaways are advised to book ahead.

Some space may come free over the coming weeks, but many holiday parks are booked until the end of January as families make the most of school holidays.

Baches are scarce until the end of January, while Top 10 Holiday Parks Group operations manager Keri Gibson said most of its sites were full for at least the next fortnight.

While camping spots traditionally became free from mid-January, Gibson said units and caravan sites tended to stay booked until school begins at the start of February.

Even then space can be tight, as international tourists start arriving.

But Gibson said there might be the occasional opening, and advised holiday-seekers to ring their preferred park to check for gaps.

"If someone is wanting to stay at a certain place, there may be a couple of dates available."

Things aren't much different in Auckland, said manager of the city's i-site centre Chanthara Sinclair. "Hotels, motels [and] campsites are all nearly fully booked. People should book before they arrive.

Iran to become 2008 holiday hotspot

The widely distributed Sunday Telegraph newspaper says Iran is a key holiday destination offering 'comfort, solitude and authenticity', PressTV reported.

In an article titled 'Holiday hotspots: where to go in 2008', the paper refers to popular Iranian tourism spots as magical places which attract numerous international visitors.

The paper mentions Isfahan and Persepolis as great tourist attractions and says it is hard to feel safer and less hassled anywhere else in the world.

Iran with its many unique cultural features, magnificent historic monuments and breathtaking scenery is one of the Middle East's major tourism hubs.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Auto Court’ ensures hassle-free travel in Kerala district

The men on wheels at a small town in Kerala's northern district of Kannur are out to change that perception. They have set up an Auto Court to ensure a hassle-free journey to the passengers.

The passengers can take their complaints against the drivers to the court. If they are found genuine, the court punishes the errant driver. The court is an offshoot of the Auto Drivers Coordination Committee set up to protect the interest of the passengers as well as the auto drivers.

The committee consisting of trade unions affiliated to both the ruling and opposition parties had been engaged in settling the disputes between the drivers and passengers for the last two years.

The ‘Auto Court’ has no judicial powers. Yet its verdicts are accepted by both the auto drivers as well as the passengers. The result is a steep fall in the number of complaints involving auto rickshaws, except those concerning accidents.

“We were flooded with complaints about service and fares before the court started functioning. Now there are hardly any such complaints", says K.V. Chandran, an office-bearer of the Auto Drivers Coordination Committee.

The Auto Court is functioning like normal courts, hearing both sides and pronouncing punishment according to the degree of the ‘crime’. It meets every Saturday. The sittings are led by the office bearers of the committee.

Suspension from the operating service is the main punishment for minor crimes like overcharging and refusal to take the passengers to their desired destination. Drunken driving invites a month's suspension. Misbehaviour is punished with a heavy fine and licence confiscation.

The self-regulatory mechanism has got the support of 1,500 auto drivers operating in the Payyannur Municipal area. Each driver is allotted an identity card and a number, which are recognised by police and the Motor Vehicles Department.

The auto drivers display the card on their vehicle to enable the passengers to identify the ‘black sheep’. The system has eased the burden on police. Officials at the Payyannur station said cases involving auto drivers had declined drastically since the court started functioning.

The passengers are also happy with the system as they get instant justice from the Auto Court. Earlier they had to go through the police and hire advocates to plead their case in the court. The passengers themselves can argue their cases in the Auto Court.

The Auto Court at Payyannur adds to honest track record that the auto drivers have been maintaining in the northern districts of the state, especially Calicut. The drivers in Calicut are specially known for their passenger friendliness, honesty and fairness.


Hotels becoming expensive; Kerala emerging as Honeymoon Destination

Tourism industry Hotel Keralain India has seen a decent growth over past 3 quarters. The hotel room prices have been firm and this makes Tourism in India quite expensive for an Indian middle income family.

The prices may be less for foreign tourists and they are flocking at places like Goa, Kerala, Ooty and many other exotic destinations across India.

The prices for travel package for Kerala cost anywhere between Rs 30,000 – 60,000 excluding travel expenses. We inquired with many tourist agencies in Kerala for the prices of various packages.

The package for 5 days and 4 nights in Kerala Backwaters was costing around Rs 25,000 for economy. The price for Deluxe package was Rs 32,000 while the premium holiday package cost was around Rs 55,000.

The package offers food and complimentary drink on the houseboat. Package includes Sightseeing and cruises to Alleppey. Kumarakom is a nice place for nature lovers. Kumarakom bird sanctuary is good place to visit for bird watching.

The best option to reach by Air is a flight to Cochin International Airport. Most of the travel packages will include the transfer from Airport.

There are many other options to choose from for wildlife and nature lovers. Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary an interesting is a place to visit. Neyyar wildlife Sanctuary is a house for Elephants, Lions, Gaurs and Sloth bears.

At Kollam, one can spend good time at Shenduruni Wildlife Sanctuary. Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary is also a nice place to visit.

Kerala has also emerged as a nice destination for honeymooners. As Goa has been quite expensive and there isn’t much to discover for Indian couples in Goa, Kerala has taken a lead for honeymoon travel packages. The cost of package varies with the choice of hotels and the season, but will be still lower than Goa.

Our suggestion will be to check the prices with different agents before making a final decision. The peak season will remain till March and after that the prices will come down quite sharply. The prices for packages will start reducing in first week of February.


SriLankan Airlines provides extensive publicity for Sri Lanka through foreign media

SriLankan Airlines has obtained wide publicity for Sri Lanka as a tourist destination, by organising visits by more than one hundred journalists and travel writers in 2007 from the country’s major tourism generating nations.

Chandana De Silva, Head of Corporate Communications at SriLankan, said: “The visits of these journalists are an important part of the numerous efforts of SriLankan Airlines to support Sri Lanka as a global tourism destination. They are invited and brought to Sri Lanka at the airline’s expense, not only to write about the airline, but to provide valuable publicity for the country.”

Journalists on familiarisation tours typically spend a week in the island, with the airline organising visits to the southern beach resorts, the mountain region of Nuwara Eliya, and cultural areas such as Dambulla, Sigiriya and Kandy. They also spend some time in Colombo, where they are shown the attractions of the capital, including its value-for-money shopping areas.

Ruvini Jayasinghe, Manager Media Relations, said: “We obtain the maximum publicity from these visits by choosing specialist travel writers and sports journalists from the most widely circulated magazines, newspapers, and electronic media. We are assisted in this by our PR agencies in target markets, and staff in our ticket offices around the world.”

The airline’s tours for journalists have also increased in sophistication, as well as numbers. It now organises tours for specialised writers who cover niche areas such as spa & wellness tourism, boutique hotels, adventure tourism, and wildlife.

Ruvini Jayasinghe added: “All our tours for media persons are geared specifically to promote the destination as well as the airline. For example, those who cover the airline’s events are given a complimentary tour of the country if they are first-timers to Sri Lanka. Their reports include as much or more about the country as about our event and the airline.”

In October alone, the airline hosted 63 media persons from Germany, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, France, Japan, UK, India, Bahrain, Malaysia, Oman and Dubai.

They included 43 who covered the SriLankan Golf Classic at the Victoria Golf & Country Club. There was also a group of six from Oman, another eight from Coimbatore to coincide with the launch of the airline’s services there; and half a dozen from Dubai in a joint effort with Sri Lanka Tourism. November saw visits by journalists from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

The airline’s other international events, such as the Singer-SriLankan Rugby Sevens and its Surfing Competitions, also draw foreign media personnel to the island.

“We greatly appreciate the assistance of Sri Lanka Tourism and the country’s hotel and travel industries in organising these visits, which are of immense value to the country, especially when it comes to countering the negative publicity that the island sometimes receives,” said Chandana De Silva.

About SriLankan Airlines

SriLankan Airlines first started its operations as Air Lanka in 1979 with initial management assistance from Singapore Airlines. Its present strategic partner is Emirates, the award-winning international airline of the UAE, which holds a 49% stake in SriLankan Airlines. The Sri Lanka national carrier has a route network spanning 54 destinations in 28 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Indian sub-continent and Far East, and carries more than 2 million passengers a year to various parts of the globe.


Join DeGraaf's natural history tours

Three tours in the Michigan region are set for 2008 by the DeGraaf Nature Center. They are:

* "The Arc of Appalachia" wildflower and birding tour to Highlands Nature Sanctuary in Bainbridge, Ohio, Thursday to Sunday, April 17 to 20, 2008.

Witness one of the most spectacular natural shows on the face of the earth -- the blooming of the temperate Eastern broadleaf forest in the spring. This wildflower pilgrimage will be held in the 90-mile-long Arc of Appalachia region located in south-central Ohio.

Most meals, transportation, lodging and naturalist guides are included with the tour.

Registration is under way.

* "Tip of the Mitt and U.P. Birding and Wildlife Tour" -- June 10 to 14, 2008.

In early June, Mother Nature puts on a show. It is a time of vibrancy as spring colors explode across wild landscapes. This tour will focus on exceptional wildlife viewing areas found in the northern Lower Peninsula and eastern Upper Peninsula.

Included in this tour are lodging, one field lunch, transportation and naturalist guide.

* "Isle Royale National Park Wilderness Tour" with DeGraaf Nature Center, Tuesday, Aug. 5 through Saturday Aug. 9, 2008.

Wolves and moose, the wild North Woods forest, ever-changing weather, a cool climate, and the clear waters and rugged shoreline of Lake Superior characterize Isle Royale National Park. Ninety nine percent of the land mass is federally designated wilderness. There is excellent fishing, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, ancient copper mining sites, and plenty of spots to observe wildlife.

Included in this tour are all meals and lodging while on the island, guided boat tours, guided walks and hikes, use of kayaks/canoes, tips at the lodge, fees for the National Park Service and transportation to and from Houghton.


We're ready to buy 2009 First Night buttons

While some people spend more than $100 per couple to ring in the New Year, for just $20 we decided to give the annual First Night Binghamton a try.

The Southern Tier Celebrates!-sponsored event is an alcohol-free, family-friendly extravaganza of activities, music, a parade, bonfire and fireworks that runs every Dec. 31, from late afternoon until the midnight countdown. And while we've both been in the area about eight years, this was the first time we decided to see what everyone was talking about.

We realize that you will have to wait an entire year to attend First Night, but after a night full of fantastic music, we're believers. For $10 a person (if you buy the admission button before the prices go up after Christmas), you really can't get a better deal as far as New Year's celebrations are concerned. While you may not have a glass of champagne in hand at midnight, you're out and about with the entire community and get to enjoy some eclectic, top-notch performers.

After looking at the "menu" for the night, we decided to stick purely to music. You definitely have to plan your trip ahead of time, because there is no possible way to catch every event.

Our first stop was to hear Latin/flamenco group Gazpacho Andalu at the Phelps Mansion. It was a fast-paced, rhythmic start to the night starting around 6 p.m.

We then walked to First Presbyterian Church on Chenango Street, where the Binghamton Philharmonic played to a nearly packed house. The acoustics and grandeur of the church were a perfect fit for the music.

After scooting out a little before the orchestra ended, we trekked back to Phelps Mansion to a standing-room only crowd waiting to hear Jewish band Shtreiml, which had unique takes on old folk tunes and klezmer music.

At this point, we were surprised and a bit disappointed that we were two of only a few 20-somethings in a crowd that ultimately numbered thousands. By 9 p.m., we had taken a mini-world tour of music. What young person wouldn't want that?

Our last stop -- before the fireworks, of course -- was to hear Binghamton's own pianist, John Covelli, who gave a riveting performance at St. Patrick's Church on Oak Street. His fingers flew across his Steinway, playing a wide variety of preludes from Mozart to Liszt to Chopin. His performance alone was worth the First Night admission.

And for those who really want a champagne toast at midnight, there is no reason to think that they can't also go to First Night. All you need to do is leave early enough to head home or to one of the local bars for the countdown. So, in case you couldn't guess, we certainly plan on making this an annual tradition on New Year's Eve.