In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
York debates £1 per head per night tourist tax
Instant opposition greets a notion aimed at giving the council more money to tackle local social inequality
York’s Labour council cabinet is spending part of today’s Valentine evening discussing whether to go for a ‘tourist tax’ – a levy of £1 a head per night from visitors staying in local hotels.
The suggestion has met a distinctly unromantic response from businesses in the tourist trade, as happened with the UK’s two other centres which have mooted this idea, Edinburgh and Cornwall.
York calculates that the levy would bring in £7 million a year, a figure dwarfed by the £443 million which its approximately seven million visitors are reckoned to contribute annually. The difference is that whereas that money plays an obviously crucial role in the local economy overall – underwriting 23,000 jobs for example – the levy would go straight to the council which could then use it to tackle inequalities.
This is why it came to be suggested. The idea was one 30 recommendations from York’s unique Fairness Commission, headed by Archbishop John Sentamu and discussed in previous Guardian Northerner posts here and here. The commission’s aim of targeting inequalities in York met a virtually universal welcome in theory. In practice, as ever, the means of doing this are not so popular.
Lionel Chatard, chair of the York Hoteliers Association and manager of the upmarket Middlethorpe Hall hotel, tells the Yorkshire Evening Press(whose comments thread is worth reading too):
“Every hotel in York pays substantial amounts in business rates, and an additional tax for tourists – which is not applied in cities we compete with, such as Edinburgh, Chester and Bath – would be a terrible mistake.
If York suddenly became £1 a night more expensive to visit, I’d be extremely concerned we would lose a lot of visitors as they may choose to go to other cities or abroad. The economic climate is already challenging for hotels and it would be very bad PR for the city.
The council needs to be very, very careful about this, and we would oppose it strongly.”
Heathrow owners warn of ‘capacity crunch’
The owners of Heathrow have issued a new warning about the future of the airport after air traffic to China fell during January despite the country’s growing economic importance.
BAA said a “capacity crunch” at Heathrow is “harming UK growth” because overseas business leaders are reluctant to invest in this country when there is a lack of direct flights.
Heathrow’s China traffic, including Hong Kong, fell 0.7pc last month. In 2011, traffic grew 3pc, however this compares to growth of 9pc seen in Paris and Frankfurt.
BAA has campaigned for a third runaway at Heathrow, but its proposals have failed to gain traction with the Government amid opposition from residents in West London.
Overall, Heathrow handled 5.2m passengers in January, up 2.3pc on the same month last year.
Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, said: “BAA airports have demonstrated resilience in the current weak economic environment. However, Heathrow’s capacity crunch is harming UK growth. Business leaders in the world’s fastest-growing economies say they are put off investing in the UK because of a lack of direct flights.
“Heathrow’s China traffic declined this month, which is in marked contrast to the 9pc annual growth rates experienced by our European competitor hubs. This provides clear evidence that capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy today when the country can least afford it.”
Extreme fliers: They love flying, they really, really do
LOS ANGELES – Four flights, five cities and two continents in five days.
A gruelling week’s work for a high-powered road warrior maybe. But not for about 170 travel fanatics who ended a fast-moving trek here two weeks ago.
It was their idea of a vacation — a chance for behind-the-scenes access to how an airline operates and to socialize with other extreme fliers who love air travel and racking up hundreds of thousands of frequent-flier miles each year.
They paid from $799 to more than $4,000 to participate in what’s called MegaDo, an event sponsored byAmerican Airlines and its Oneworld alliance partners to give the hardiest of fliers insight on everything from why flights are canceled to a ride down a plane’s emergency exit chute. They jetted from New York to London, Dallas/Fort Worth, Seattle and then here.
“It’s a travel junkie field trip. That’s really the best way to describe it,” says Tommy Danielsen, the man who founded the idea of MegaDo in 2009.
The events — with the first three involving United, Lufthansa and other Star Alliance airlines’ frequent fliers before the one this year with American for Oneworld alliance fliers — were created to cater to the whimsies of the “junkies,” the most extreme fliers.
Attending one offers insight into a rare breed of traveler in a day when many people loathe everything about flying commercially: the security lines, hours in crowded planes, and inevitable delays and cancellations.
Their love of flying and all things related to it far exceeds the enthusiasm that the George Clooney ultrafrequent business traveler character in the 2009 film Up in the Air exuded. For them, going somewhere is almost secondary to just getting there on a plane.
“Everybody’s got their hobbies,” says one of them, Darren Mak, president of the Winnipeg-based IT services company DigitalWeb. “Some people like to garden, some people collect stamps. And, for me, it’s flying.”
The artful dodgers of Melbourne’s graffiti revolution
Melbourne’s shining attractions include cool cafes, contemporary galleries, designer shops and endless open spaces to watch the world go by. Yet many people are flocking to Australia’s southern capital to disappear down its dark and smelly back alleys. Among the dumpsters and discarded cardboard boxes, is some of the world’s best street art.
The city has emerged as an unlikely leader in urban art, being compared with Berlin, New York and Sao Paolo, and attracting urban art A-listers like Blek le Rat (the Parisian “godfather of the stencil”) and Banksy.
More than a dozen of the city centre’s laneways are an explosion of colour, with vast murals, stencils and paper “paste-ups” occupying almost every hidden corner. In the celebrated hotspot of Hosier Lane, you will easily find dozens of visitors, young and old, wandering the street as if it were a gallery, pausing to consider each artwork in turn.
Adrian Doyle, a successful artist and creator of Melbourne Street Art Tours, knows the paint-splattered laneways better than most, having “sprayed” his way across the city since he was a teenager. Doyle’s artists’ collective, Blender Studio, creates some of Melbourne’s most vibrant underground art and his street artist-guided tours give an insider’s view of the best art laneways in the city.
“I’ve travelled a lot to these places that are supposed to be the street art capitals of the world, like in South America, and they don’t compare to Melbourne,” he said. “In terms of the artwork, it’s not anywhere near the quality of what you get here.”
Throughout the streets, the scrawls, tags and basic shapes of traditional graffiti mix with elements of fine art. A careful observer can spot delicate hand-cut paper cityscapes, line-drawn images of soaring saints and mixed media installations using everything from mirrored glass to wooden chess pieces and empty Xanax bottles.
Even the stencil work, a staple of contemporary street art the world over, is remarkably rich and detailed. Local artist Ha-Ha uses up to 50 layers of paint in his pieces to create extraordinary depth and texture.