In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
The world’s worst supersized tourist flops
The Tokyo Skytree looks magnificent. Four years in the making and topping out at 2,080ft, the giant observation tower and broadcasting mast opened on Tuesday as the world’s second largest structure, with as many as 8,000 tourists expected on its first day. Only Dubai, that other great purveyor of very big things, can boast bigger – the vast Burj Khalifa tower would peer over the Skytree by almost 700ft, if they stood back to back.The pursuit of the huge is a long-standing tourism obsession. While the Skytree and the Burj have been executed with laudable style, other attempts at large-scale tourist-aimed projects demonstrate that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Here are five reminders:The Ryugyong hotel, North Korea
Photograph: ReutersScheduled to be unveiled in time for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989, the Ryugyong hotel in North Korea was to be the tallest hotel on earth, mocking the vertically inferior efforts of the South’s Olympic efforts the year before. There were to be seven restaurants at its 100ft peak, and they would spin in tandem over the Pyongyang skyline. Sadly, its fate mirrored its graph-like profile, rocketing upwards before plummeting into decline. After several delays, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992 fatally ruptured North Korea’s raw-material supply lines and the hotel remained derelict until 2008, when an Egyptian telecoms company agreed to give it another go. New glass panels have plastered over the holes, but the planned April 2012 deadline for re-unveiling, to coincide with Kim Il-Sung’s 100th birthday, was missed.The Mecca Clock Tower, Saudi Arabia
Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty ImagesArchitects have been licking their lips at the prospect of redeveloping visitor-rich, infrastructure-poor Mecca for years. King Abdullah has long sought a dramatic overhaul of the city that welcomes more than 12 million hajj pilgrims each year, and has entertained a series of radical propositions – from building a high-speed “Pilgrim Express” train line connecting Mecca and Medina to replacing the Ottoman section of the Haram mosque with a multistorey prayer hall. The Mecca Royal Clock Tower is the grandest construction yet, looming over the Haram mosque at a height of 1,900ft, with a five-star hotel, a five-floor shopping mall, two heliports and a conference centre within it’s bulk. Mecca authorities flattened a mountain, and destroyed an Ottoma-era fortress to accommodate its construction, but its appearance has drawn revulsionfrom locals and critics as an “architectural absurdity” and a “kitsch rendition of Big Ben.”
Visitors to Greece warned over possible euro exit
Holidaymakers warned over possible food and fuel shortages, but Greek tourism official says “there’s never been a better time” to visit.
Britons visiting Greece this summer could face food and fuel shortages if the country leaves the euro, a senior Barclays economist has warned.
Dr Brian Clark told the bank’s annual Travel Forum that the implications of a eurozone exit were “frightening”, and that the situation could resemble the Argentinian banking collapse of the 1990s.
“That was a traumatic experience,” he said. “You had major civil unrest, and basically a non-functioning economy. It was not the sort of place you wanted to go on holiday.”
He said a newly restored drachma would devalue quickly, raising questions about whether Greece could afford essential items like fuel. He also questioned whether banks would allow visitors to change money.
Dr Clark’s comments come as tour operators in Britain and Greece seek to reassure visitors that the country remains open for business.
ABTA, the travel association, which represents hundreds of British tour operators, said: “If [a Greek exit] were to happen – and that’s a big if – there would clearly be a transition period where euros will still be accepted in bars and restaurants, as is common in many countries where the euro or the dollar are accepted in parallel to the local currency.”
The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) issued a statement highlighting the excellent exchange rates currently on offer to British travellers, as well as reduced prices at many hotels and holiday apartments, and dismissed concerns about civil unrest.
“It is important to mention that the country is preparing for national elections and usually the pre and post election periods are characterised by tranquillity, hence the chances of strikes in Greece for summer 2012 are far lower than in most other European countries,” it said. “During April and May, the number of strikes and demonstrations has indeed been very limited compared to the same period last year.”
Soft drink ‘bomb’ on plane a hoax – police
A can of soft drink with the word “bomb” written on it that forced an Air Mauritius plane to make an emergency landing at Melbourne Airport last night has been found to be a hoax.
An investigation into the incident last night determined the can did not contain explosives, a Victoria Police spokesperson said.
A crew member found the can, which was wrapped with paper that had been inscribed with the word “bomb” and secured with masking tape, about an hour into the flight.
The captain of the Airbus A340, which took off from Melbourne at 1:24pm local time, then made the decision to return to the airport.
The 180-passenger aircraft, which was also carrying 11 crew members, landed back at the airport at 2:55pm, where 13 fire trucks were on standby.
All the baggage aboard the flight was removed for screening.
Police Superintendent Peter O’Neill, who was managing the police response and investigation, said, “That’s what they [airline staff] found and it was of obvious concern to them and so they took that action and made the decision to return.”
“How they came about it, their assessment of it, made them return,” he added. “If they thought for one second the passengers were at risk, they’ve done the right thing.”
All of life’s journeys should be precious
Travel is one of the great life experiences, one that broadens the mind like no other. But with rising costs and increasing worries about environmental effects, I am mourning in advance the loss to future generations of the easy and quick travel available to us today. And I worry that we will have smaller mindsets for it.
I have been fortunate: my early 20s coincided with a heyday of travel, when it was cheap and plentiful and no one batted an eye at travelling abroad every weekend. With money in my pocket after graduation, precious few responsibilities and plenty of discount travel, no place was too far or too exotic.
I saw the world, experiencing first-hand the places that appeared in the news. The conversations I had with people whose voices are rarely heard are irreplaceable: the unemployed PhD graduates at the foot of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains; the 20-year-old human rights activist in Gaza who had never been permitted to visit Jerusalem; the caretaker of the cemetery in Qana in Lebanon where 100 refugees were killed within the UN’s jurisdiction by Israeli fire.
I feel a nostalgia on behalf of my future self at the loss of these human connections as travel becomes more difficult and expensive, the preserve once again of only the wealthy.
While Facebook and Twitter may connect us with those who inhabit unknown places and cultures, they can never replace the experience of tasting local food or seeing emotions painted in the creases of people’s faces as they show you their world.