Saturday snippets: April 22nd 2017

By | Category: Travel news
The Millen ium "bean" in Chicago

Chicago reflected in the bean. It can now reflect on its status as the most visited attraction in the city

Last year Chicago saw 54.1 million visitors. The most popular place for visitors is Millennium Park which had nearly 12.9 million guests. And that was just in the second half of the year! Opened in 2004, Millennium Park is a 24.5-acre urban park in the heart of downtown Chicago, home to the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (also known as “The Bean”) by Anish Kapoor, Crown Fountain designed by Jaume Plensa, the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the internationally-acclaimed Lurie Garden and more. One of the attractions of the park is that most events are free. Coming up from June 2nd-3rd will be the Chicago Gospel Music Festival (as a reluctant attendee I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this) and a new event in the park, the Chicago Blues Festival from 9-11th of June.

Today is the beginning of the Leeds International Festival which runs until the end of the month.
In this time, the city expects over 100,000 to attend 35 events and 327 speakers and acts.  Concurrently, Fashion in Leeds is hosting The Fashion Space on Briggate with runway shows and free industry talks. An allotment will be in Leeds Kirkgate Market which is a new green space for creativity and community, with a programme of free activities. There is also the opportunity, in the organiser’s words, to “merge with technology by having a microchip implanted in your hand; to experiencing a collision of tech talk and WWE wrestling, to hearing from fashionistas to having family fun, getting inventive at Leeds Museum.” 

Also happening in the Trinity shopping centre in Leeds today is The Hyper Reality Experience, a rather different virtual reality- powered visitor attraction. Called “an experience merging virtual reality technology with physical sets and multisensory effects to create a unique, fully immersive, multi-player entertainment attraction,” it is the first in a series of ten that will be running by 2019. Up to eight players can play the 15-minute games where the objective is for the group, using VR headsets, to complete a mission inside a room.

One of the tourist attractions of the Thai capital, Bangkok, are the street food vendors. The government is evicting thousands of them from their usual spots in a bid to clear pavements. Local media reported 15,000 street-food vendors had been handed eviction notices. While congestion is a problem on the streets of Bangkok, do the food sellers have to go? CNN named Bangkok as having the best street food in the world and visitors wander around taking in the sights and smells that they produce as well as sampling the food at under £1 meal.

The sign hanging proudly from Cardigan Castle this week

In the two years that the renovated Cardigan Castle has been open it has seen about 30,000 visitors a year, not enough to break even and there is local concern about cutbacks. That might not happen now that it has won Channel 4’s Great British Buildings: Restoration of the Year as the publicity might attract more visitors. The award isn’t for the castle of which only walls still remain but for the Georgian house in its grounds and the marriage of the house within the mediaeval castle so that the ages blend rather than stick out like a sore thumb. Locals still argue as to the value of the £12 million spent on restoration. If more tourists come, the money will be well-spent. If not…

More people are visiting the UK than ever before. It looks as though the weakened pound is, in part, attracting visitors this year. For the first two months of the year, numbers are up by 6%. Most of the the 5.2 million visits in January and February were for business but the cheering feature is that 1.6 million were holiday visits and that was up by 15%. Looking forward, flight bookings to the UK for April to September 2017 are up 21% compared to the same period last year.

Many holiday visitors will concentrate on London and more and more of them – and Brits, are seeing London from the river Thames. BNA Thames Clippers operate the largest fleet on the river carrying passengers and they reported that Easter visitor numbers were up by 40%. The destinations seeing the largest numbers were Greenwich, (drawn by the Tall Ships?) Tower Bridge and Waterloo. (for the South Bank activities.) the company seems confident about the tourism potential of the Thames having ordered another two boats.

Durham Cathedral dominates the skyline of the city

Visit County Durham has launched a national marketing campaign to attract us to visit the county to see its heritage including Durham Cathedral and Castle – a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of Durham City – and the Beamish Museum. From June 19th, you’ll be able to see the cathedral’s new exhibition, Magna Carta and The Forest Charters and, from the 29th of July there is The Treasures of St Cuthbert, a permanent collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts including the wooden coffin of the saint himself.

In my letter to readers this week, I wondered whether parties would support a reduction in VAT for tourism services. The subject came up in the House of Commons on the very day that Mrs May announced that she planned an election.  The Treasury announced that they disagreed with the campaign to reduce VAT’s economic forecast as they considered that it cost the government around £10 billion pa. Northern Ireland is a special case however as it has VAT at 20% but just over the border in the Republic it is 9% as Margaret Ritchie MP pointed out. Jane Ellison, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury didn’t get anywhere near answering the problems this causes to tourism organisations in the north satisfying  herself with just saying that the UK government had found another £250 million for the capital budget of the province.  Will the SDLP, of which Mrs Ritchie is a member, announce – as part of its manifesto  – a fight to reduce VAT to a rate comparable with the Republic?

Finally, an update on the closure of Nigeria’s Abuja airport. (Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.) It has re-opened following essential runway maintenance. The Sri Lankan capital of Colombo’s airport has also reopened after resurfacing. But not all flights are running normally so check with your airline of travel agent if you are flying there.

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