In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Paris may dig under Eiffel Tower
The hours-long wait endured by hoards of tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower each year could become less painful if Paris presses forward with plans to move ticket counters and queuing underground, beneath the monument’s giant feet.
On Tuesday, the city council will issue a call for architects to submit bids, which it will assess before launching a project to develop the area underneath the tower to relieve crowding and add sorely needed services.
The idea of digging underneath the 324-meter-high pride of Paris has been floating around for decades. But with around 7 million visitors flocking to the site each year, the pressure is on to make visiting the tower built by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 a more welcoming experience.
Since the area directly under the tower, which was built to celebrate modern French engineering, must remain empty and new construction is forbidden on the scenic Champ de Mars lawn that stretches out behind it, the only way is down.
Jean-Bernard Bros, president of the group that manages the tower, SETE, said it was imperative to improve the visitor experience at Paris’ best-known tourist site.
“Because we need extra facilities to better welcome our visitors, the only way is to dig,” Bros told Reuters.
While crowds of tourists will continue to swarm the site, queuing could be better organised in a subterranean space, sheltered from the elements, he added.
“It’s a question of comfort, and to improve the reception for visitors,” he said. “It’s not nice to welcome visitors in the rain, and when it’s really hot it’s the same thing.”
Up to two basement levels could also accommodate ticket counters and services like a coat check, information desk, toilets, souvenir shop and even a museum dedicated to Gustave Eiffel.
Any tinkering with the tower could elicit howls of protest from locals, who have grown to love the impressive wrought-iron spire despite 19th century critics calling it an eyesore.
But Bros said the point was not to create a new piece of public art – like the controversial pyramid at the main entrance of the Louvre Museum, which remains despised by many and loved by others – nor a commercial centre.
Tourism bosses fear unwanted Olympic legacy: empty rooms
Hotels slash prices to as little as £10 a night in desperate attempt to stay full after Games finish.
An “Olympic hangover” could see London turn into a ghost town bereft of tourists immediately after the Games.
The Olympics begin next month and conclude with the closing ceremonies on 12 August. Heathrow airport predicts that the following day will be the busiest in its history for outbound passengers. The mass exodus is expected to be so swift that hotels adjacent to the Olympic Stadium have been offering rooms at the end of that week for less than £10 per person per night.
Senior figures in tourism have told The Independent of fears that “normal” visitors will stay away from London all summer. Nick Varney, chief executive of Britain’s leading attractions operator, Merlin, said: “The travel trade who normally bring tourist groups have basically switched away from London. Hotel rooms have gone up in price, and they’ve thought, ‘We don’t even want to deal with being in London through that summer period’. So immediately, there’s a trade hit.”
Hotel rates in the aftermath of the Olympics have slumped. The new Premier Inn beside the Olympic Park in Stratford is charging £199 a room per night during the Olympics. But by Friday 17 August the hotel is cutting prices by over 80 per cent to just £39 – the rate at which The Independent secured a booking for a family of four.
Stratford is not a recognised tourist area, so a steep decline in demand once the Games are over is to be expected. But hotels in the tourist heartland of the capital are also cutting rates dramatically. The Travelodge in Covent Garden is selling twin rooms on Friday 17 August for under £43 – less than the cost of a modest dinner in the area and a quarter of the price charged a week earlier.
The pattern is repeated at the top end of the market. The Trafalgar Hilton has availability on only a few nights during the Games, when its lowest room rate is £630. From the night of 13 August onwards, this falls by almost £500 for guests who book ahead.
Airlines up chase for corporate traveler with new come-ons
The chase is on for the corporate trekker.
Airlines are racing to fill premium cabins on their planes with bed-like seats. They’re speeding up access to the Web. And they’re carving out space in coach class for those who’ll pay more to stretch their legs.
The goal? To woo business travelers, who often book the more expensive, last-minute fares, as well as others willing to pay more to fly. The premium-paying customer has always been valuable, but they’re more important than ever as airlines grapple with up and down fuel prices and try to compete in an industry increasingly dominated by a handful of mega-sized competitors.
“Premium customers are fewer in number, but they spend a greater amount of revenue,”says Chris Kelly Singley, a spokeswoman for Delta. “You have to continue to really invest in the product that’s bringing those customers to you in the first place.”
Lie-flat seats, which allow road warriors to get some quality shut eye before heading to meetings, have become a particularly popular offering. United offers flat-bed seats in the premium cabins of nearly 150 jets and is adding them to over 30 more planes by early next year.
United, the world’s largest airline since merging with Continental, says it has more of the bed-like seats than any of its U.S. peers. But other airlines are in hot pursuit. Delta plans to offer similar seats on more than half of its international wide-bodied fleet by the end of this year. And US Airways has its lie flat “Envoy Suite” on its entire fleet of A330 jets, which ferry passengers across the Atlantic.
That’s welcome news to Mark Cooper, a field engineer for Microsoft, who travels every week. A lie-flat seat is so important , he says, he bypasses a non-stop flight from his hometown of Portland, Ore., to Tokyo to fly to Seattle or Los Angeles where he can grab another Delta, and sometimes American, flight with the bed-like seats.
“It’s worth the extra time to be able to actually sleep while en route and enjoy the experience,” he says.
Access to the Internet while in the air and space to stretch his legs also are important, he says. “I would much rather fly on a Wi-Fi-equipped flight or one with extra legroom for an extra hour or so, than get there faster and not have access to these services.”
Providing Wi-Fi in flight has become a game of oneupsmanship. Virgin America, for instance, the first U.S. carrier to offer Wi-Fi throughout its fleet, now plans to offer a connection that is four times faster by early August. The change is in direct response to requests by business travelers, says spokeswoman Abby Lunardini.
Put down the remote! Hotel rooms full of germs
Hotel rooms are a hot bed of germs that can cause serious illness, a study has found.
Bacteria known to cause illnesses such as streptococcus and staphylococcus were among those found during tests of rooms in the US.
Light switches and TV remote controls were the worst offenders.
Researchers collected samples from 19 surfaces in three hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina for aerobic bacteria and the fecal bacteria coliform.
Bathroom sinks were found to be hotspots for germs, while floors were also found to be crawling with bacteria.
The measurements were taken in colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimetre squared.
TV remotes measured an average of 67.6 CFU, main light switches had 122.7 CFU of aerobic bacteria and the telephone key pad had 20.2 CFU.
A study of cleanliness in hospitals suggested 5 CFU per cubic centimetre squared as the highest limit, MSNBC.com reported.
The main light switch also came out worst when it came to fecal bacteria with 111.1 CFU.
The lowest levels of contamination were found on bed headboards, curtain rods and bathroom door handles.
Researchers said the study, which was presented at an American Society for Microbiology meeting, was not carried out to deter people from staying in hotels but instead aimed at improving cleaning practices.
“The study is aimed more toward the housekeeping managers,” lead researcher Katie Kirsch, from the University of Houston, said.