In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Travel concierge services are on the rise
Ed Nawotka can’t stand being put on hold when he’s making travel arrangements. So he’s decided to pay someone to do it for him.
“This appealed to me when I got really busy,” says the editor of Publishing Perspectives, an online journal about the publishing industry. “Having someone else take care of it for you and monitor it for you, it’s very helpful.”
Before the Internet, travel agents from bricks-and-mortar agencies were the only people travelers could turn to if they had a problem booking trips or on the road. Now, travelers can go online and find any number of concierges, or personal assistants, to take care of their needs. Airlines and credit cards are also increasingly offering the services.
“An emerging breed of concierge providers are offering virtual assistance to time-crunched professionals at an affordable rate,” says Shaivali Shah, a customer relationship consultant at the professional services firm PwC. “This is creating stiffer competition for those who provided these services … to find new ways to stand out.”
Spirit Airlines has partnered with MyAssist to provide trip-planning logistics, reservations and event tickets, for a fee of $9.99 per trip. Since October, customers who book JetBlue Getaways, a vacation package, have gotten access to a free “Concierge on Call” in partnership with travel insurance firm Allianz Global Assistance. Air Canada has concierges who provide airport assistance and make last-minute arrangements such as hotel and restaurant bookings for first-class passengers for free.
The rise of the concierge has irked many travel agents, who’ve seen their numbers drop in the Internet age.
London Olympic torch route revealed
Schoolchildren, charity fund-raisers, war veterans and a centenarian are among 8000 people who will carry the Olympic flame in the torch relay for the 2012 London Games.
London Games officials have unveiled a street-by-street map of the 12,875km route, which begins at Land’s End – the westernmost tip of England – on May 19.
Some 8000 torch bearers will carry the flame across Britain, with a stop in Dublin, Ireland.
The International Olympic Committee ruled relays should be confined to host countries after human rights protests disrupted the international route before the 2008 Beijing Games.
Most of the torch bearers are members of the public chosen for embodying community spirit, courage and sporting determination.
The volunteers, who each will cover about 300 metres include Britain’s oldest full-time fire-fighter and a soldier who lost three of his limbs in an explosion in Afghanistan.
The youngest is 12, the oldest, Londoner Diana Gould, turns 100 on May 23.
“As long as the walk is on the flat I think I’ll be OK,” she told the BBC.
One of the first torch bearers will be Dave Jackson, a volunteer coast guard officer from Cornwall, southwest England.
Ethical traveller: Do “slum tours” profit off the poor?
From Mumbai to Rio to New Orleans, organized tours of poor areas have grown in popularity. And so too have ethical discussions on whether “slum tourism” or “poverty tourism” is educational and philanthropic, or voyeuristic and exploitative.
In some cases, these tours offer travellers a glimpse of life in an area they might not visit otherwise, often because of logistics or safety concerns. For example, Nairobi-based Kibera Tours offers trips to what it calls “the friendliest slum in the world”. It also happens to be the largest in East Africa. Esther Bloemenkamp, co-founder of the company, said that travellers come “to see the differences from the way they live themselves. In the tour we show them proudly the way the people in Kibera live. We show some good examples of the community.”
But is “slum tourism” profiting off the poor? Tricia Barnett, former director of Tourism Concern, a United Kingdom-based charity that fights tourism exploitation, told BBC News that slum tours can be unfair if the community isn’t involved.
“You have to see where that money’s going,” she said. And that can be tough for a vacationing tourist to discern. “When there are middle men involved and the locals have no control — whether you’re visiting poor hill tribes or people in a slum — they get nothing out of it whatsoever,” Barnett said. “But tourism can be fabulously well managed and it can be an exchange of culture.”
Marcelo Armstrong, who started Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, said the term “poverty tourism” is too limited to describe what the tours are about. “Favelas are far more than a poor place where the poor people live,” he said. “It is indeed a place with many social problems, but also very representative of our society and culture.”
His goal, he said, is to offer tourists “a much better/deeper understanding of favelas as well as of Brazilian society” and to “confront some stereotypes”.
Many tour operators say they give back to the communities they visit. Armstrong’s company gives money to a children’s education centre, which mentions its collaboration with Favela Tour on its website. Bloemenkamp said her group, a nonprofit, creates jobs in Kibera for tour leaders and gives money to children’s projects. Reality Tours and Travel in Mumbai set up its own charitable organization, which runs a community centre, kindergarten and cricket program in the slum of Dharavi, founder Chris Way said.
Titanic comes home as Belfast launches landmark attraction
The world’s biggest Titanic visitor attraction opens in the ship’s Belfast birthplace this month, 100 years to the day since the doomed liner was completed in the same yards.
After decades of quietly forgetting “the most famous ship since Noah’s Ark”, Belfast has reclaimed the Titanic, and is championing a legend which continues to captivate the imagination a century on.
“What happened to Titanic was a disaster. But Titanic itself wasn’t,” Tim Husbands, the chief executive of Titanic Belfast, told AFP.
“The craftsmanship was a symbol for the industrial time. A symbol of ambition, a symbol of hope. And we’re now creating exactly the same feelings.”
The attraction, which has risen from the derelict Harland and Wolff shipyards, tells the story of the liner from its inception in Belfast’s industrial boom years through to its launch, its sinking and the aftermath.
The six-level, aluminium-clad building is in the form of four Titanic-sized prows that can be seen shimmering from any one viewpoint, representing Titanic and its two sister ships, Olympic and Britannic.
Northern Ireland, the British province torn apart by sectarian strife for three decades until the late 1990s, hopes the eye-catching centre will kick-start its tourism economy and attract visitors from Asia.
“This is all about a new era: This is our Eiffel Tower, this is our Guggenheim, and it’s our time to completely change how people across the world see our city,” said Claire Bradshaw, Titanic Belfast’s marketing chief.
Inside, workmen are putting the finishing touches to its nine interactive galleries ahead of the March 31 launch.
“There’s a lot of other Titanic visitor attractions in the world, with no connection to the Titanic at all. This will be the largest and the only one with the authentic story to tell,” Husbands told AFP.
“People have been talking about Titanic for 100 years now. They want to know more, there’s a real hunger for it.”
The biggest, most ambitious ship of the age hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Southampton to New York, sinking on April 15, 1912. Of the 2,224 people aboard, 1,514 perished.
This is no dusty museum — the visitor experience uses a barrage of computer-generated imagery, audio, special effects and interactive touch screens to tell the ship’s story.
There are recreations of the opulent first-class accommodation and the cramped third-class bunks, which were nonetheless smartly fitted-out.
A ride carries visitors through the sights, sounds and smells of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, while the liner’s launch is seen on a glass screen which then reveals a view of the actual slipway outside where Titanic was built.
An ingenious “3D cave” allows visitors to ‘travel’ straight up from the giant engine room through the ship’s decks to the bridge.
In the section on the sinking, the lights dim, the temperature plunges; the horror and heroism is retold, though here it is cast as just one part of Titanic’s story.