In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Fireman Sam creator detained at airport for veil comment at security gate
A retired fireman, and creator of the popular children’s character, Fireman Sam, was detained at an airport for questioning why a veiled woman was not checked by security.
As David Jones arrived at the security gates at Gatwick airport, he was looking forward to getting through swiftly so he could enjoy lunch with his daughters before their flight. Placing his belongings, including a scarf, into a tray to pass through the X-ray scanner he spotted a Muslim woman in hijab pass through the area without showing her face.
In a light-hearted aside to a security official who had been assisting him, he said: “If I was wearing this scarf over my face, I wonder what would happen.”
The quip proved to be a mistake. After passing through the gates, he was confronted by staff and accused of racism.
As his daughters, who had passed through security, waited in the departure lounge wondering where he was, he was subjected to a one hour stand-off as officials tried to force him to apologise.
“I am a 67-year-old pensioner and have lived my life within the law. I do not have even one point on my driving licence.”
He said that when he made his initial remark the security guard had appeared to agree with him, saying: “I know what you mean, but we have our rules, and you aren’t allowed to say that.”
As he went through the metal detecting arch, his artificial hip set off the alarm, prompting a full search from a guard. It was after this, and as he prepared to rejoin his two grown-up daughters, that he was confronted by another guard who said he was being detained because he had made an offensive remark.
Prague tourist trail spotlights sleaze
Prague has long been a favored destination for its medieval looks and cheap beer, but one travel agency has freshened up the offering with a new type of tourism experience which spotlights graft and sleaze.
Corrupt Tour has made a hit out of “The Best of the Worst” trips showing places tied to scandals that have plagued the country’s political life.
The project has caught the zeitgeist in a country of 10.5 million people, where public debate has been dominated by revelations of dodgy deals in everything from multi-billion dollar army contracts to a scheme suspected of skimming nearly a cent from every city transport ticket.
“Our target is to get Czech corruption on a UNESCO list of the world’s cultural heritage,” said Pavel Kotyza, one of the Corrupt tour organizers.
“We are sold out for a week ahead. We are adding German and English tours and thinking about Russian, Italian and even Japanese.”
The Czech Republic, like neighboring Slovakia and other formerly communist countries, has undergone a profound economic and political transformation over the last two decades. But many of the country’s institutions have struggled with graft and a system where prosecutions are rare and convictions even more so.
The new agency offers a range of tours. One popular tour, called Safari, takes tourists around the villas and walled-in estates of businessman linked to big state orders.
On a tour this week, a group of about 20 Czechs of various ages and professional backgrounds was taken to the Prague city hall. A guide – with accessories in orange and blue, the colors of the two biggest political parties – gave lectures on anonymously owned trusts, bearer shares and dodgy tenders.
Walking through the corridors of city hall, participants are told how deals are done with mysteriously owned companies as the “tourists” glare at a clerk just inside the offices.
Chinese tourists the new big spenders Down Under
Cashed-up Chinese tourists are set to exceed the combined outlay by visitors to Australia from the UK and New Zealand within two years.
That is the verdict of Deloitte Access Economics in its latest Tourism and Hotel Market Outlook report.
The report highlights the changing face of Australia’s tourism market as strong income growth in emerging Asian economies, particularly China and India, increasingly drives growth in international visitor arrivals.
China has already overtaken Japan to become Australia’s third-largest inbound visitor market behind New Zealand and the UK with annual growth averaging 13 per cent over the past decade. And it has surpassed the UK as Australia’s largest market in terms of visitor nights and expenditure.
“By 2014, expenditure from the China source market is expected to exceed the UK and NZ markets combined,” the Deloitte report states.
Deloitte says arrivals from China could account for more than one third of the forecast growth in international visitor nights over the period to 2014.
The high Australian dollar – which Deloitte predicts will remain close to parity until 2013 – will ensure outbound travel by Australians will continue to grow solidly, considerably outpacing growth in international arrivals.
The preference for Australians to travel overseas, rather than domestically, is creating challenges for tourism operators. “Unlike domestic travellers, who often holiday in regional areas, international visitors tend to spend the majority of their time in capital cities,” Deloitte says.
“As the tourist mix shifts towards international visitors, therefore, tourism expenditure becomes increasingly concentrated in capital cities.”
One overlooked perk of high-end travel is airline lounges
Why are most airport departure lounges terrible places to pass the time? The simple answer is because the airlines want to ensure that premium flyers receive better treatment than everyone else. If every passenger were allowed “amenities” like friendly staff and clean restrooms, then no one would want to pay more money to upgrade to a higher class of service.
Premium lounges offered on invitation to travellers in Business and First Class helpfully fill the gap for travellers who expect such luxuries—but in many cases, the lounges aren’t that exciting. At most airline lounges in the US and Europe, mediocre filter coffee comes from a carafe, with no options for cappuccino or espresso of any kind. The ever-present Starbucks is often right outside the lounge, but you can’t bring your latte inside because the lounge allows no outside food or drink.
Knowing this in advance, I smuggled a café au lait into the Continental club in New Jersey’s Newark airport recently, but then I felt like I had somehow cheated myself instead of Continental. If they could just make decent coffee, I wouldn’t have to spend US$4 (Dh14) outside and then feel like a reverse shoplifter trying to bring in my Styrofoam cup.
The model of punishing Economy travellers so that Premium travellers will feel slightly better is probably not the best or most ethical way to do business, but it’s worked for a lot of airlines for a long time. Is there a better way? Indeed there is, and you just need to look to the busiest airport in the United Kingdom to find it.
I’m writing these notes from Terminal 3 in Heathrow Airport, waiting to fly to Washington, DC. A few years ago, I was in the same location, waiting to fly to Tokyo. Both times, I spent about four hours hanging out in Richard Branson’s US$21 million (Dh77.1mn) Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse thanks to a one-way Frequent Flyer ticket I acquired through transferring rewards points from American Express. The cost for my ticket to Tokyo was US$212 (Dh779) in airport taxes and 50,000 Frequent Flyer Miles that I didn’t even have before transferring AmEx points. Today’s flight was much the same: 45,000 miles and US$325 (Dh1,194) in taxes—not bad for flights that are at least eight hours long.