In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
The shrinking holiday globe for tourists
More of us are escaping these shores than ever this Easter but many once favourite destinations, like Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Kenya and the Maldives have lost their appeal.
Despite threatened strikes, fuel shortages, a lack of security staff and fewer pennies in our pockets, it seems escaping austerity Britain has never been more appealing. Some two million holidaymakers will be flocking to our ferry ports, train stations and airports this Easter for a foreign break. What has changed is not whether we go, but where, as socio-political issues, terrorism, natural disasters and monetary constraints have combined to tear up the holiday map as we once knew it.
The British travelling public has long been stoical in the face of adversity. After bomb attacks, disease outbreaks, earthquakes and floods, Britons were usually the last ones out and the first back in – particularly when there were bargains to be had. But no longer.
As social unrest swept the Arab world after President Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January last year, so tourism to North Africa went with it. Since the turn of the millennium, increasing numbers of Britons had grown tired of the Spanish costas’ traditional package fare and expensive euro, favouring instead Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt for good value and guaranteed sunshine. Britain’s operators adjusted their brochures accordingly. Then suddenly Tunisia was in revolt, President Mubarak was pushed from office in Egypt, Colonel Gaddafi was felled, Yemen’s president was forced to sign away his powers, Morocco and Bahrain were witnessing waves of protests, and Syria was ablaze.
A year later, Mounir Abdel Nour, Egypt’s minister of tourism, has announced that the number of tourist arrivals fell by a third last year, while many in the industry claim that the situation is far worse. As Nigel Richardson wrote in these pages following a visit to Egypt last month, some hotels are only 10 per cent occupied, and key historical sights are still only attracting a fraction of the normal tourist crowds.
Even the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh – 320 miles from the turmoil of Cairo’s Tahrir Square – is struggling. The regular stream of British and Russian tourists in search of sun, sea and scuba-diving, has fallen to a trickle. Everyone, from hoteliers and restaurateurs to market stallholders and belly-dancing troupes, is feeling the pinch; some are defaulting on rent, others are temporarily closing shop. Even with a promised £8 billion investment in tourism from the government over the next five years, Egypt will need a lengthy period of social and political stability if it is to win back the holidaymakers.
Century-old African Queen sails again
The son of actor Humphrey Bogart will follow in his father’s wake by taking a ride on the African Queen to help relaunch the newly restored riverboat that co-starred in the classic movie by that name.
Stephen Bogart will board the 100-year-old steamboat on Thursday as it plies the waters off the Florida Keys for the first time since undergoing a $60,000 renovation.
“I’m going to see it and take a little ride,” said Bogart, a 63-year-old real estate agent who lives in Naples on Florida’s southern Gulf Coast.
Bogart was 8 when his father died from throat cancer and said he welcomed the chance to pay tribute to the 1951 movie. Humphrey Bogart won an Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut, the unkempt, unflappable and hard-drinking captain of the African Queen.
“I think it’s a great movie,” Bogart said.
His memories of his father are spotty, Bogart said, but he remembers him as “a brilliant actor” who bore little resemblance to the tough guys he played in the movies.
“He wasn’t a gin-swilling, roughneck bearded guy,” Bogart said. “He liked to drink certainly but he never missed a performance.”
In the movie, Katharine Hepburn played the prim missionary who sailed up the leech-infested Ulanga River with Bogart aboard the balky African Queen during World War One, falling in love while launching an attack on a German gunboat.
Stephen Bogart’s mother, actress Lauren Bacall, went with her husband to Africa for the filming of the movie, leaving young Stephen in the care of a nanny who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage moments after their plane departed.
“She dropped dead right on the tarmac,” said Stephen, whose grandmother took care of him until his parents returned.
ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS THE LIVINGSTONE
The steel-hulled steamship used in the movie was built in 1912 at England’s Lytham shipyard. It was known as the Livingstone when the British East Africa Rail Company used it to carry cargo and passengers on the Ruki River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Jim Hendricks Jr., the Florida man whose family trust owns the boat.
Years after director John Huston used it for the movie, the boat was sold, shipped to the United States, resold and left to languish in a Florida horse pasture.
The late Jim Hendricks Sr., a Florida attorney and Bogart fan, bought the vessel for $65,000 in the early 1980s. He restored it, ran tourist trips aboard it from his Holiday Inn Hotel in the Florida Keys, and loaned it out for historic celebrations as far away as England.
The boat fell into disrepair after Hendricks Sr.’s death and languished again at a Key Largo marina until a couple who run a nearby charter boat operation, Lance and Suzanne Holmquist, struck a deal with the Hendricks family’s African Queen Trust to lease it and fix it up.
Wish you were here…? Cruise firm sets sail for world’s trouble spots
Sedate ports of call such as Gibraltar and Valletta are being displaced on Europe’s navigation charts by a trio of strife-torn cities: Algiers, Beirut and Belfast. Britain’s biggest holiday company, TUI, has set a course for conflict zones for its Thomson Cruises brand for next year.
With appetites for safe European favourites apparently sated, the firm has decided to venture to two Mediterranean ports that have not been regular cruise-ship calls since the 1970s. From next summer, passengers will be able to explore Algiers, where the Foreign Office currently urges British tourists to “exercise extreme caution at all times”, adding: “You should arrange, if possible, to be met on arrival in Algiers.”
The man who devised the itinerary that includes the Algerian capital is Neil Duncan, of Thomson Cruises. He insisted: “The tours and visits to the city will be absolutely fine, and customers will be very safe going there.”
However, he confirmed that, if trouble flares in the region, contingency plans include switching to safer ports of call in Tunisia or Morocco.
Despite Lebanon’s civil war being long over, the country and its capital are still regarded as high risk by the Foreign Office, which warns of “a general threat from terrorism” and says: “Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.”
Thomson, which is Britain’s third-largest cruise company, has also devised a new Black Sea itinerary that includes the battlefields of the Crimea. It is aimed at military historians and tourists who are keen to visit a region previously off-limits to mainstream package holidays.
The ship departs from Marmaris in Turkey and visits the naval base of Sevastopol, close to the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, when British cavalry led by Lord Cardigan fought Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. “The Black Sea is an area that cruisers are fascinated with and they want to experience,” said Fraser Ellacott, managing director of Thomson Cruises. Passengers will be offered excursions to the “Valley of Death”. Also on the circuit is Constanta on Romania’s Black Sea coast, from which excursions will run to the land-locked capital, Bucharest. The city of Belfast, where RMS Titanic was completed a century ago, features on an around-the-UK itinerary. Shore excursions are likely to feature the Nationalist and Republican murals on the Shankhill and Falls Roads, testimony to the Troubles that tore Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland apart.
Bad body odour on fellow travellers the worst complaint by air passengers, says Skyscanner
Poor personal hygiene is the worst offence a person can commit when catching a plane, with no one wanting to share an armrest with someone who has bad body odour.
A survey of passengers undertaken by travel search site Skyscanner, found the most dreaded fellow travellers were the un-deodorised, followed by overweight people who encroach on other’s personal space.
Drunks came in third ahead of babies and children, while a mere 44 passengers considered a stag party their worst flying nightmare.
Others to make the top 10 of undesirable seat buddies were very chatty people, nervous flyers and amorous couples.
Dave Boyte, from Skyscanner, said the findings suggested people needed to put some thought into how they presented themselves when boarding a flight, particularly a long-haul one.
“When other people are around you need to be considerate and think about personal hygiene, and perhaps not drinking too much either before or during a flight,” said Mr Boyte.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had to sit next to anyone with bad body odour, but I’ve been next to a very chatty person, which wasn’t such a bad thing actually.”