Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 02.08.2012

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In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel

Is London really empty during the Olympic Games?

The Guardian

With all the tourists distracted by sport, is now the perfect time to book into a fancy restaurant or take in a West End show?

Apparently it’s not just stadium seats that are empty at London 2012.Shop owners and restaurateurs have complained that their businesses are suffering as tourists and locals abandon the West End.

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, says visitor numbers at its flagship London venues had fallen by 30-35% last week.

But hold on. If London is empty, isn’t this the perfect time to get into the best restaurants and shows? Martine Ainsworth-Wells from Visit Londonsays we should take advantage and “enjoy London’s world-class restaurants”. Perhaps she’s right.

Since its opening in January, Dabbous has become the most booked-out restaurant in London. Clearly now is the time to sneak in and enjoy the £54-a-head, seven-course tasting menu. Sadly, the Olympics doesn’t seem to have put gourmets off a trek to Fitzrovia. The receptionist says that there is no table until May 2013. A call to the three-starred Michelin restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea is equally unsuccessful – no table until January. Luckily the two Michelin-starred eateries Le Gavroche in Mayfair and The Ledbury in Notting Hill aren’t quite as busy. They can squeeze me in in October. At Noma at Claridges, the pop-up restaurant that chef René Redzepi is running during the Olympics, seats sold out months ago, and there won’t be any cancellations as the £195-a-head tickets are non-refundable I’m told, rather firmly.

But just as I am about to give up, Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton’s venture that opened to great fanfare last year, says it can give me something at 7.30pm, while The Wolseley has space at 9pm. Result.

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Travel firms accused of fixing hotel prices

The Telegraph

Holidaymakers are being overcharged hundreds of pounds because of a suspected hotel price-fixing scandal, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

British holidaymakers are likely to have been overcharged for hotel rooms because of a price-fixing scandal involving some of the world’s biggest online travel companies, the Office of Fair Trading said yesterday after an investigation by The Daily Telegraph.

The consumer regulator disclosed yesterday that it is poised to punish and take action against a number of online travel companies and major hotel chains for conspiring to fix the cost of rooms.

Hotels were effectively banned from selling rooms cheaply, with the huge global online travel agents accused of illicitly setting a minimum price to stop their prices being undercut. Hotels refusing to use the minimum price were threatened with removal from the sites.

Expedia, one of the world’s biggest online travel firms, has admitted it has “engaged in cartel conduct on breach of the law”. It is now co-operating fully with the investigation and is understood to be providing information on its rivals under a “leniency deal”.

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East London early winner in Olympics

Toronto Sun

One look at London’s skyline, and it’s clear the city is shifting east. Once a run-down wasteland, East London now glistens with gardens, greenery and state-of-the-art construction. Skyscrapers punctuate the skyline while a tangle of new Tube lines makes it a quick and easy trip from the center of town.

Much of the revitalization is thanks to the 2012 Olympic Games, which are taking place through Aug. 12. But even after the summer games are safely tucked away in the record books, their legacy will live on in East London. While definitely not Jolly Olde England, this area — stretching from the Olympic Park south to the bustling Docklands district — offers a break from quaint, touristy London and a refreshing look at the British version of a 21st-century city.

The gleaming new Olympic Park is located about 11.5 km northeast of downtown London in an area called Stratford. Filling the Lea Valley, Stratford was once the site of derelict factories, mountains of discarded tires, and Europe’s biggest refrigerator dump. But in preparation for the Olympics, this area has been gutted and rebuilt. Half a million trees were planted, and tons of dirt were cleansed of arsenic, lead, and other toxic chemicals — a reminder of this site’s dirty industrial past.

Olympic Park is huge — bigger than Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens. It’s also quite beautiful, laced with canals and tributaries of the Lea River. At the heart of the complex is a gaggle of ultramodern construction, including the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which hosts the opening and closing ceremonies; the Aquatics Centre, with its swooping wave-like roofline meant to suggest a dolphin; and the 107-metre-tall Orbit viewing tower, made of more than 550 metres of spiraling tubular red steel.

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Egypt to tourists: Come back we’ll open more pyramids

News.com.au

It’s a country that has suffered months of revolution and protests, so it’s little wonder tourists have decided to steer clear.

But 18 months after Hosni Mubarak resigned as Egyptian President, authorities are pushing for tourists to come back, promising to reel them in with its greatest lure – more pyramids.

The Ministry of Antiquities has launched an ambitious project to make a number of tombs more accessible to the public in a bid to boost its fledgling tourist industry.

According to British website Door2Door.com, “the number of inbound tourists has fallen significantly and the tourism industry is struggling from lack of revenue”.

In response, authorities want to open more tombs and for longer periods.

Most tourists head to the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara, but tourism bosses hope to open up more than 100 other sites across the country, including at Dahshur, which has more than a dozen tombs as well as the famous Bent Pyramid, which will have two interior passages opened up to visitors for the first time in December.

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