In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Midsummer Dreams: the finest places to follow the sun
Yes, we do mean midsummer. It may be freezing here, but in the southern hemisphere this Friday marks the longest day of the year.
The solo traveller has all the advantages when availability is scarce – and the three-week Trails of New Zealand trip from Exodus (0845 287 7681; exodus.co.uk), departing 6 January, has just one place left at £6,499. The itinerary includes the one-day Tongariro Crossing, rafting on the Buller River, watching the seals at Tonga Island, the chance to walk on the Fox Glacier and a free day in Queenstown. The price includes flights on Air New Zealand from Heathrow, local transportation (including a scenic flight over Aspiring National Park), most breakfast and lunches and three dinners.
Who said that?
“Nobody on the road/Nobody on the beach/I feel it in the air/The summer’s out of reach” – Don Henley, “Boys of Summer”
“The summer still doth tend upon my state” – Titania in A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare
“May the road always rise to meet you, May the wind always be at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face” – Pilgrim’s Blessing
“Set the controls for the heart of the sun” – Roger Waters, Pink Floyd
“Most people set off a week or so before Christmas, and return early in the New Year. Fares soar and seats are scarce. Instead, head off on 24 or 25 December, when fares drop. Travelling a week or so later than the rest of the pack, you will probably also return later, when availability starts to open up. A final tip for a bargain Christmas 2013: the best deals are to be had if you book in January.” – Haydn Wrath, founder, Travel Nation)
Norad ‘Santa tracker’ drops Google Maps for Bing this Christmas
Service that tracks Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve night makes switch after Google launches its own version.
It could be the most controversial technological break-up since Apple ditched Google maps for its own inferior version.
On Wednesday, the North American Aeropsace Defense Command (Norad), announced that it has teamed up with Microsoft Bing to power its annual “Santa tracker” after its previous partner, Google, announced it was launching its own version.
Norad, which usually spends its time monitoring the air space above the US and Canada for unexplained or criminal aerospace activity, has “tracked” the worldwide progress of Santa’s gift-giving journeys atChristmas since 1955. For the past five years, it used Google Maps to display its “data”, which is hugely popular with children.
Norad said the split from Google Maps, who it had worked with to track Santa since 2007, was a mutual decision.
Google now has its own virtual Santa space , which features an animated interactive tour of Santa’s village, including games and a service to offer personalized telephone calls from Santa to children.
In response, Norad signed up Bing to be its official mapping tool. Microsoft joins 51 other organizations who work offer their services pro-bono to Norad for the agency’s more than 60-year-old tradition.
Norad’s tracking feature will also include information about the elevation and direction of Santa’s “journey” and photos, weather and Wikipedia information on the destinations.
Ryanair voted ‘worst’ short-haul airline
Ryanair has been voted Europe’s least popular short-haul airline by the readers of the consumer publication Which?
More than 5,500 travellers rated dozens of airlines in the survey, giving each a mark out of five for categories including check-in process, baggage allowance, seating allocation, punctuality, food and drinks and value for money. Only those airlines receiving at least 30 votes were included in the final results.
The low-cost Irish carrier received an overall satisfaction score of just 34 per cent, placing it last out of 16 airlines. Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Monarch also fared poorly in the poll – each scoring below 50 per cent.
Ryanair fared poorly for baggage allowance, boarding arrangements, seating allocation, and food and drinks, scoring just one out of five in each category. The airline is renowned for charging a high fee to check in baggage (up to £35 for a single 15kg bag), while a study by the website Travelsupermarket revealed that the cost of six basics items on Ryanair’s in-flight menu (a cup of tea, a sandwich, a tin of Pringles, a Kit Kat, a bottle of water and a glass of wine) often costs more than a ticket to fly. Its results were based on 563 responses.
“We were inundated with comments about Ryanair – many about its extra charges,” said a spokesperson for Which? “This partly accounts for the paltry one-star ratings for baggage allowance, boarding arrangements, seat allocation, and food and drinks.”
Two other airlines received the minimum score for a single category – Thomas Cook for its cabin environment, and Thomson for its food and drinks.
The most popular airline was deemed to be Swiss, which received an overall score of 82 per cent. The carrier received full marks in five categories.
Day-use hotel rooms growing in popularity
It is a common gripe among business travellers: how to fill that dead time pre- and post-meetings without sitting for hours in coffee shops.
Hotel managers have similar bugbears. As well as their rooms sitting empty at night, there are also all those non-monetized hours between early morning check-outs and late check-ins to fret about.
Though regular corporate clients do sometimes request daytime stays at hotels, and are given special rates, such deals are rarely advertised and most individual travellers would not be aware of such a service.
Enter Paris-based start-up DayUse, an online reservation service allowing people to rent a room in luxury hotels from 11am to 5pm.
With boutique-style hotels signed up across Western Europe and in New York, the year-old firm sets a flat rate for daytime use of a room, which is on average between 30 to 70% less than the rooms’ fluctuating ‘rack rate’.
But whereas top-end hotels are unlikely to advertise themselves as a destination for a by-the-hour visit, working with a third-party to increase their revenue during a time when rooms are empty appears to be a no-brainer – so long as their main night business is unaffected.
By-the-hour hotel use carries certain connotations, but the idea that DayUse is mostly used for clients looking to carry out illicit affairs or romantic liaisons with a loved one is disputed by its co-founder and director Thibaud d’Agrèves … for all markets except Paris anyway.
In France, he concedes, the DayUse market is mainly ‘romantic’. “With the current (financial) crisis, there’s nothing to do about business in Paris.”
d’Agrèves told Reuters that his service comes into its own in London for day-tripping businesspeople who, when visiting London from Europe for a late afternoon meeting, tend to catch an early Eurostar train and then wait around in coffee shops and the like.