Saturday snippets: 30th January 2016

By | Category: Travel news
Mall of America

Mall of America

Some people love shopping, some hate it. I am in the latter group so I was filled with dismay when Great Lakes USA sent me different suggestions of how to spend Valentine’s Day. One way was to get married at the Chapel of Love which is to be found very close to Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport. It is in the biggest shopping mall in North America – the Mall of America – and the chapel is close to Sears and opposite Nordstrom’s and Macey’s. As well as those three giant retailers there are hundreds of other stores plus a Disney play area. Brits are already one of the largest groups of visitors to the Mall since there are direct flights and very easy and quick clearance times due to the timing of the flights. There are hotels there as well so how many wedding couples end up getting married then go shopping and stay in a Mall hotel? To some people, this might be the wedding and honeymoon to beat them all!

One of the sad sights of the week has been the death of the sperm whales off the East Anglian coast. It is close now to the whale watching season and if you want to see them in their full glory one place to consider going are the Azores. March is the peak month for spotting them, best observed from the islands of Sao Miguel, Pico and Faial. At 30 metres long and weighing up to170 tonnes, Blue Whales cut through the Atlantic off the Azores as they make their way from the warm waters of the south, where breeding occurs, to the colder waters of the north to feed.

Just in time for half term, SEA LIFE in Manchester is introducing a new resident called Hank who has three hearts, blue blood, eight arms. Hank is an octopus – a Giant Pacific Octopus. This type of octopus can weigh up to 50 kilograms and can grow to five metres in length. What will attract visitors is that octopuses are very intelligent. They can solve mazes, open jars, fit into spaces that seem smaller than themselves, disguise themselves by matching their skin to the colour, pattern and texture of the environment surrounding them and they can even grow spikes in a fraction of a second! Hank will live in the new Octopus Hideout

the attraction of Iceland with or without VAT

the attraction of Iceland with or without VAT

If you are planning on holidaying in Iceland, be warned that the government has slapped VAT at a rate of 11% on things not previously rated more than 0%. Services by travel agencies are included as is transport by conveyances other than public transport or taxis. This could, for example, include private buses for tours or transfer from airport to hotels. It has caught the travel industry by surprise and the rules seem complicated. The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) is trying to clarify things with the Icelandic government but so far is as confused as the rest of us. Watch out for some tour operators trying to charge you a further 11% on your bills, particularly if you haven’t paid.

Both Thomson and Thomas Cook have suspended all holidays that they offer to Tunisia until after the summer 2016 season is over. This will disappoint the Tunisian tourist authority which had hoped that negotiations with the British government would have resolved security issues before then. Separately, airlines have been pushing out the date that flights to resume to Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt and it looks as though Easter holidays there depend on whether Thomson and Thomas Cook follow the lead of British Airways and easyJet in not resuming flights until May at the earliest.

The British government has said that it raised £3.1 billion from APD – Air Passenger Duty – last year. Those calls by the tourism and airline industry look set to fall on deaf ears until someone can show the treasury that they will make more from increased arrivals by ending it. Needless to say, organisations continue to call for its abolition but cash in the hand is better than possible increases tomorrow. At some stage, APD will be devolved from Westminster to the domestic governments. That may be the time for change. Until then, the travel industry seems to be whistling in the wind.

APD affects incoming visitors not just outgoing ones

APD affects incoming visitors not just outgoing ones

Continuing on a tax theme, at Stormont this week, Pat Sheehan asked the new Minister of Finance and Personnel, Mervyn Storey about a reduction in VAT for tourism. Removing or reducing it could cost the Northern Irish government up to £100 million, money that would have to be found elsewhere. Little wonder then that those seeking a VAT reduction are unlikely to make much headway. Storey claimed that the removal of APD on the Belfast-Newark route was already costing the government £2 million a year in lost revenue. He said “I came into post as not being in the business of creating what could only be described as a sun subsidy for those who might want to spend their money in other jurisdictions during the holiday period.” This interesting comment suggests that Storey sees APD as affecting just locals rather than inhibiting foreigners from journeying to Northern Ireland.

If you are travelling to Singapore, be aware that it has introduced the compulsory scanning of fingerprints of all visitors from June as a security check. Those familiar with the fingerprinting that happens at US entry will find something similar. This time, however, it isn’t just related to those travelling by air. It also includes those arriving by ferry from Indonesia, cruise passengers and also those arriving by vehicle on the causeway that links Singapore and Malaysia.

Not everyone likes flying but most of the comparative websites only look at airline links as a means of transport. Not so Go Euro which is a search engine for comparing and booking rail, coach as well as air traffic. Now it has joined with SNCF, the French rail company to include all of their destinations and ticket options.

Some readers have contacted us about the outbreak of the Zika virus. Everyone other than those that are pregnant should be fine Both Tomson and Thomas Cook have announced those pregnant women have the option of switching any booked holidays from places where there is a likelihood of the virus existing to a Zika-free one. Countries affected include Mexico, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Cape Verde, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil. For those booked with other tour operators do contact them as most are adopting a helpful approach.

higher profits from lower fuel prices. No seat reductions though

higher profits from lower fuel prices. No seat reductions though

Flybe will launch summer only flights from Birmingham to Limoges, Nantes and Rennes. For those considering holidaying or surfing in Cornwall, Flybe has also increased services to Newquay with the addition of Saturday flights from both Glasgow and Liverpool.

Finally, following on from my story about when air tickets would drop in price, Delta Air Lines said it saved a total of $5.1 billion on jet fuel in 2015 due to falling oil prices. That allowed it to declare profits of $4.5 billion in 2015. Delta president Ed Bastian said it could save an  $3 billion in fuel costs during 2016, with prices likely to continue tumbling. Notice he said nothing about reducing ticket prices.

 

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