In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Simon Calder: Why Branson’s fresh ideas were Virgin territory
Success in aviation is a matter of learning from mistakes – preferably other people’s. Flying is so safe because the causes of crashes have been studied intensely for the benefit of future travellers. Commercially, there have been many fatal errors. The list of failed airlines is much longer than the table of successes. Recent collapses among UK carriers provide the useful, if predictable, lessons that “stand-alone business class doesn’t work” (Silverjet) and “the Isle of Thanet cannot sustain its own airline” (EUjet).
Laker Airways, which flew transatlantic for five years until its sad demise in 1982, showed that “if you’re going to take on the big boys, you need more than just low fares”. I was a loyal follower of Sir Freddie right up until the point when British Airways, TWA and Pan Am matched Laker’s prices across the Atlantic. Once the incumbent airlines threw in access to Heathrow, a wider choice of flights and a decent dinner, Laker’s game was up.
Richard Branson understood this when, two years later, he launched Virgin Atlantic. Contrary to popular belief, Virgin has never been a budget carrier. Its fares on individual routes, in my experience, rarely drift more than a few pounds from BA’s. But the cheeky upstart put playfulness into flying. “During the Seventies, what was offered in the air was an absolutely miserable experience,” the Virgin boss told me. “Which was why we decided to get into the airline business and try to change things.”
Ski resort celebrates Britons who made it downhill all the way
Eddie the Eagle to join the party as Mürren in the Swiss Alps marks its centenary and Britain’s place in its history.
The village sign is almost buried under the two metres of snow that has fallen in the past couple of days, and it’s hard to make out the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the blizzard. Welcome to Mürren in the Swiss Alps, which this weekend celebrates the start of its 100th winter season with what is almost an embarrassment of snow.
Mürren is throwing a party on Sunday, and boldly claims to be marking not just its own centenary but the start of downhill skiing. The event it is commemorating – the opening of the funicular railway, called the Allmendhubelbahn, which carried early winter-sports enthusiasts to the slopes – is prosaic, but Mürren insists it was the beginning of large-scale skiing. More tourists came, hotels began to stay open in the winter, and gradually skiing took over from bobsleigh and tobogganing as the sport of choice.
Strangely, the two heroes who will be lionised on Sunday are not Swiss but British: Henry Lunn, who encouraged the building of the funicular and almost singlehandedly created the winter sports industry in Mürren, and his son Arnold, who wrote the rules for downhill skiing, staged the first slalom in 1922 and the first world championships in 1931 (both held in Mürren), and in 1936 persuaded the Olympics to accept downhill skiing in the face of vigorous opposition from the Scandinavians, who favoured cross-country skiing and ski-jumping.
“Without the British we would still be a Alpine farming village,” says Anna-Marie Goetschi, who is organising the celebrations. It will be an Anglo-Swiss event. Bernard Lunn, grandson of Arnold and son of Peter Lunn, who captained the British Olympic team at the 1936 Winter Olympics, will be there, suitably dressed in Edwardian gear. But the guest of honour will be Britain’s most famous skier – Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, the bespectacled plasterer from Cheltenham who became a global superstar when he finished last in both ski-jumping events at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Gaza conflict putting off visitors to Bethlehem
Recent unrest in Gaza is deterring Christmas pilgrimages to Bethlehem, according to reports.
Although the small Palestinian town, identified in the New Testament as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, lies around 40 miles to the west of Gaza – and five miles south of Jerusalem – recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas appear to have had an impact.
Around 140,000 people visited Bethlehem last Christmas, but tourism authorities say that figure is likely to fall sharply this year.
“We expected a decrease in tourism, and many tourists have cancelled,” Carmen Ghattas, spokeswoman for the Bethlehem Municipality, told CNN. “This season if the tourists do not come we will not have a good economic situation, and the citizens will be affected.”
She added that, while the recent conflict was largely confined to Gaza, the West Bank had sustained some damage, and a number of rockets were fired at Jerusalem.
Jiries Qumsiyeh, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, confirmed there had been “some cancellations”.
Earlier this year the Church of the Nativity – built on the spot where many believe Jesus was born, and the key attraction for visitors to the town – became the first Palestinian World Heritage Site. Its inscription came after Palestine was granted membership of UNESCO last year.
Top 20 most anticipated hotel openings of 2013
If bunking in a great new luxury hotel is on your bucket list for 2013, then you’ll have plenty of extravagant choices.
From the mountain forests of China’s Zhejiang Province and the grassy plains of Kenya to the bustling streets of Manhattan or amazing developments in Abu Dhabi, a slew of decadent hotels will open their doors and try to wow the world. Our Startle.com editors curated a list of 20 of the top resorts and hotels to debut in 2013 – read on to see which hotels are most worth a visit in the New Year.
Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai
The sleek Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai opens in March 2013, and sits on the banks of Shanghai’s Huangpu River among the financial district’s towering skyscrapers. Throughout the sleek high-rise, you’ll find the warm hues and modern furnishings for which the luxury hotel group is known. The hotel will include 318 spacious guest rooms and 44 suites, including one duplex suite and a 789 square metre presidential suite, as well as 210 apartment units – serviced by the hotel – with panoramic views of the river. Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai will also have six different dining venues (one serving fine Chinese cuisine), an indoor pool with plush loungers and a 13-treatment room spa.
The PuSen Forest Retreat and Spa, Shaoxing, China
One of the more unique getaways to debut in 2013, The PuSen Forest Retreat and Spa will be made up of 50 meticulously restored Zhejiang Province homes, all between 200 and 400 years old. These gorgeous Chinese villas, decorated with elaborate carvings, are tucked into the lush mountain forests of Shaoxing prefecture. When the remote retreat opens in the second quarter of 2013, guests can book villas (some with private pools), dine at two on-site restaurants and get treatments at the relaxing spa.