Saturday snippets: 7 December 2013

By | Category: Travel news

Bournemouth on a public holiday

We all like a holiday. This week a government minister, Lord Gardiner, suggested that each time we had a bank holiday it cost the country £1.2 billion which is about £20 for every adult in our countries. Is this true? Isn’t a lot of the cost just deferred a few days and people catch up with the work that would have been done that day? We still shop and spend on public holidays. It isn’t as if we ever have a complete shutdown even on Christmas Day. The minister was relying to a question asked about whether we would have a public holiday to celebrate the signing of Magna Carta in 2015. The answer looks to be no.

Northern Ireland had an interesting week for tourism. Not only did they have a full debate about one tourism subject, east Belfast, the government also announced that they were reviewing the NITB -Northern Ireland Tourist Board. What does that mean? According to Arlene, the NI tourism minister, it means “to ensure that we have the optimum structures in place to deliver the tourism targets.” Or, to put it another way, whether it is using its money to attract as many of us to visit as it could. Given NI has had a 9% drop in new visitors according to the latest figures, the senior people had the NITB might have a tough time in explaining how effective they are when just about everywhere else is announcing increases in visitor numbers.

Like Greece for example. This autumn Greece welcomed more tourists than ever before. According SETE (The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises) – 847,000 visitors arrived in Greece in October 2013 – a 21.5 per cent increase over October 2012. Herakleion Airport in Crete saw the biggest increase, with 2.5 million tourists arriving from January to October. International arrivals have grown by 10.9%, with more than 12.3 million visitors coming to Greece between January and October, compared to just over 11 million during the same period last year.

But whilst we are returning to Greece in larger numbers, our government is trying to attract more to people to come here. The Government has announced that it is committing a further £90 million to the overall GREAT campaign over the next two years. £45 million will be allocated in 2014/15 and £45 million in 2015/16, a significant increase on this year’s allocation of £30 million.

On top of that we had a national infrastructure plan announced which included a redeveloped railway station at Gatwick, (I had realised it needed one especially since Glasgow and Edinburgh don’t have any direct rail connections at all) improved access at Heathrow and Stansted, the Northern Line in London would be extended to Battersea and there would be a new garden bride over the River Thames. But what of tourism related projects outside the south east? Once you cut through the waffle of design and mandarins explaining what has already being done or achieved, the 152 page report has only a few things for the visitor. Improved M62 and A1 facilities and, across the whole UK, 360 “lane miles” improvements which means actually only improving 90-120 miles of motorway (assuming there are already three or four lane motorways in place) will help but whether the government sale of the 40% stake it owns in Eurostar will, be of benefit other than to the Treasury is moot. At least they have announced that there will be no toll on the planned A14 scheme between Cambridge and Huntingdon and that there will be road improvements to the A50 around Uttoxeter. The central government is also allowing cheaper borrowing rates for the governments in Scotland and Wales for infrastructure projects so there be more news for the visitor there in time. I could have missed some details – 152 pages is a lot to read and stay awake through!

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Antonine Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. Built on the orders of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140, it ran for 40 Roman miles from modern Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde. In Scotland it was announced that that various bodies were getting together to establish the Wall ( which is a World Heritage Site) as a ‘world class visitor experience.’ Over the next five years, the aim is to strengthen local, national and international partnerships, create a new website dedicated to it, improve signage and paths and strengthening links with museums and thus encourage more of us to go here.

The government also announced that rail fares in England would go up 1% less than originally planned. Whoopee is all I can say to this magnanimous gesture that affects visitors and commuters alike. It will make such a difference!

In Wales, the broadcaster, Huw Edwards, who is a trustee of the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust, a committee member of Capel – the chapels heritage society – and author of The Chapels of Wales, tore into heritage bodies saying that cultural and heritage chiefs were “castle, cathedral and country house obsessives” and failed to support smaller religious buildings. He said the Welsh government, its heritage arm Cadw, and local conservation bodies and local authorities “who have often sanctioned some of the worst cultural damage” each had roles to play. “It is already too late for some of our best chapel buildings.” The remarks might apply to all our countries. Do you visit smaller churches or religious sites or just the larger ones and cathedrals?

St Kitts' Scenic Sugar Railway

Cruising is a big aspect of the Caribbean. The St. Kitts Tourism Authority has projected that close to 700,000 passengers will visit the destination from 183 ship days. Last month approx. 80,000 passengers were expected to have come ashore from 28 cruise ship visits, while on one busy Thursday at the start of December, the port received four cruise ships calls, bringing a total of about 8,188 passengers to the island. I quite fancy a bit of warmth and sunshine after the winds and high tides this week.

Dundee Airport only attracts about 50,000 passengers each year. Is that enough to justify its continued use? I confess, I have never flown into the airport and I am not alone. Air passengers prefer Edinburgh or Glasgow airports so Transport Scotland is working to attract more services. All airport bodies say this. Attracting them is another matter.

From one flight experience to another. If you are planning on holidaying in New Zealand you might want to consider an excursion with Auckland Seaplanes, which launched last week. It, takes off and lands on the waters of the Waitemata Harbour in an original 1961 De Havilland Beaver and offers scenic flights over the volcanoes and islands of the Hauraki Gulf, as well as vineyard lunch packages to sample the local food and wines of Waiheke Island.

Auckland seaplanes © John King

The Weather Channel has commissioned a survey about Christmas. What a surprise that it reveals that households with children have a stronger desire to see snowflakes falling, with 72 percent of households with three or more children hoping it will snow this Christmas, compared to 47 percent of GB adults who have no children in the household. Although a majority of British adults would like it to snow for Christmas, the survey discovered that almost 90 percent would not travel abroad to ensure they experience Christmas in snowy climes, even if they could afford to. It’s just skiers who will go then.

And to all of you who might be reading this on mobiles or i-pads at airport today good luck and have patience. A technical issue at Swanwick air traffic control centre is delaying flights at airports and no-one seems to know how long it will last. That’s life!

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