Posts made in October, 2013

Southern African sojourn – into Cape Town

Posted on Oct 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Southern African sojourn – into Cape Town

Hotel Verde breakfast P1030488

It takes a while to reach Cape Town from Sydney. The 13 hour flight on Qantas was pretty painless but the four hour layover in Johannesburg was painful, even if the One World/BA/Qantas domestic lounge was nice enough.

Finally, we were in Cape Town with our bags and an Avis rental Polo and went looking for the Hotel Verde. This BON Hotels property only opened in August and claims to be the greenest in Africa. Clean, modern, friendly and efficient and trying to be carbon neutral – what’s not to like? It was stylish enough, too, and for about $120 per night (including breakfast and free wifi) it was good value. After a quick shower and checking in back home we fell into bed.

However, sleep didn’t come easily as I found myself pondering how remarkably like Australia South Africa often appears. From afar it’s all about reports of violence and murder but on the ground it seems surprisingly like home, hospitable and friendly, but with a funny accent.

Read More

Egypt’s Tourist Industry in Ruins?

Posted on Oct 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Egypt’s Tourist Industry in Ruins?

6.9 Luxor field, Egypt

Morale in Egypt’s tourism industry is at rock bottom; a summer of bloodshed has frightened away all but the bravest foreign visitors from Cairo and the pyramids, and things are little better in the Red Sea beach resorts.

Yet if the business could survive the 1997 bloodbath at Luxor, when Islamist militants killed dozens of tourists at a pharaoh’s temple, it can probably recover from its current convulsions.

Already visitors are gradually returning after the worst civil violence in Egypt’s modern history, offering hope to an industry that has been brought to its knees, depriving millions of their livelihood and the economy of badly needed dollars.

However, Egyptians know that numbers can never climb back to anywhere near their 2010 peak as long as security crackdowns, street protests and militant attacks on the government persist.

Like other countries in trouble, Egypt could try an advertising campaign to lure back the Europeans, Asians, Americans and Gulf Arabs who are now largely holidaying elsewhere. But for now it won’t even bother.

“There is really no point in trying to embark on a PR campaign,” said Karim Helal, an adviser to Egypt’s tourism minister. “If you cannot convey the feeling that it is safe, nobody will come,” said Helal, a dive company owner turned investment banker.

Egypt has endured almost constant upheaval since a 2011 popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, but things have got much worse since the army’s removal of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July and the bloodshed that followed.

As international media broadcast scenes of mosques and morgues filled with bodies, governments in the main tourist markets issued warnings on travelling to Egypt.

Visitors are a rare sight in Cairo these days, even though October had always marked the start of the peak season when a gentle breeze from the Nile eases the stifling heat. In July, only about one in six of the capital’s hotel beds were occupied, according to research firm STR Global.

Even in the Red Sea resorts, largely shielded from the violence in the big cities, occupancy rates are drastically down. In Hurghada, a destination usually popular with Russians fleeing their bitter winters, only 11,000 of 50,000 hotel rooms are occupied, provincial governor Ahmed Abdullah said.

A lonely figure

Nobody has felt the consequences more than the many Egyptians – from hotel workers to guides and gift shop owners – who rely for their living on tourism, traditionally a pillar of the economy and the second biggest foreign currency earner.

Horse carriage driver Ramadan Iraqi has lost hope that he will soon see tourists return to the five-star Cairo hotel which once gave him work. He cuts a lonely figure late at night in Zamalek, an upscale district on an island in the Nile, searching for a customer so he can feed his family of six.

“I am an old man,” said Iraqi, 55. “What am I supposed to do?” It’s been 20 days since anyone rode in his carriage along the Nile embankment. Iraqi can scarcely feed his gaunt horse and can no longer afford medicine to ease severe pain in his knee.

Such individual misery is reflected at a national level. Tourism earned Egypt $9.75 billion in the 2012-2013 financial year which ended in June, before the worst violence erupted. Even so, that was down from $11.6 billion in 2009-10, the peak before the overthrow of Mubarak.

In July and August, tourist arrivals crashed by 45 percent, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said. He estimated losses since the army takeover at $1 billion per month.

There are no signs Egypt’s divisions will soon heal. People continue to die in protests in cities and towns. Adding to foreigners’ anxiety, police and soldiers are coming under almost daily attack from Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, site of the Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

A Sinai-based group said it tried to kill the interior minister in September in Cairo in a suicide bombing, and earlier this month two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a satellite station in a suburb of the capital.

Anyone who wants to visit Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the rallying point for Egyptians during the 18-day revolt that toppled Mubarak, may think twice about going.

Soldiers manning armored personnel carriers and riot police keep a close eye on it and try to keep members of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood from protesting. Only a few hundred meters away stands the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the greatest pharaonic treasures including King Tutankhamen’s burial mask.

Remarkable comeback
Nevertheless, Egypt has been here before. On Nov. 17, 1997 gunmen descended on Queen Hatshepsut’s temple near the Nile town of Luxor. In a short time they shot or hacked to death 58 tourists and four Egyptians in their campaign for what they regarded as a pure Islamic state.

The following January and February, visitor numbers were down almost 60 percent from the previous year. Hotel occupancy rates collapsed from 70 percent just before the massacre to just 18 percent.

Yet the indus1try staged a remarkable comeback. In 1999 almost 4.5 million visitors came to Egypt, well up on the 3.7 million in 1997.

At that time Mubarak’s security apparatus was able to keep the streets much quieter than they are now. Nevertheless, hope remains that the industry can again recover, if more slowly.

Holidaymakers from Germany, one of Egypt’s biggest markets, have been starting to return since last month, when the Berlin government relaxed a travel advisory that had said tourists should stay away from Egypt entirely.

Tour agents and operators said many clients were still opting for quieter destinations. “Bookings to Egypt are coming back but they have not caught up to levels seen a year ago,” said a spokeswoman for the Lastminute.de booking website. “Customer interest is there, but it’s cautious. Bookings to the Spanish islands or the Turkish Riviera have increased instead.”

But some were surprisingly upbeat. “Weekly bookings are above those seen one year ago,” said a spokesman for DER Touristik, one of Germany’s biggest tour operators.

“We have cut capacity but can react quickly to demand. We expect a swift recovery for tourism to Egypt and expect a wave of demand for March and April.”

Most Germans seeking Egyptian winter sun are heading for the beach. TUI Germany, along with its rivals, has not resumed trips to Luxor or Nile river cruises in accordance with German foreign ministry advice to avoid overland travel in those areas.

But the company, which is part of Europe’s largest tour operator TUI Travel, can fly guests directly to Cairo.

The United States, Britain and Russia still have strict travel warnings. However, Maya Lomidze, executive director of the Association of Tourism Operators of Russia, told Reuters that tens of thousands are ready to visit their favourite destination, Hurghada, immediately if Moscow eases its warning.

Believing in Egypt

Some hotel operators, like Alexander Suski of Kempinski Hotels, expect Egypt to bounce back one day. “We really still believe in Egypt as a destination,” said Suski, who thinks a recovery would be possible in two to three years and has no plans for the hotel group to leave Egypt.

Austrian-based Kempinski already runs an upmarket hotel in Cairo which opened shortly before the 2011 uprising, and another on the Red Sea near Hurghada. A third on the outskirts of Cairo is due to open next year.

However, much depends on whether Egypt can regain some degree of stability following the long period of turmoil.

Capital Economics estimated the industry’s losses ranged from $250 million to $650 million a month. William Jackson, an economist at the London-based group, said a rebound is possible, but that “the events over the past two and a half years give us every reason to be cautious about thinking that will happen”.

There are bright spots; unlike in 1997 Islamist militants have not targeted tourists. Cairo visitors are probably at much greater risk crossing the road through the capital’s anarchic traffic than they are of getting caught up in the street violence, which affects only small areas of a huge city.

In the meantime some tourists are enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the riches of the Egyptian Museum or the Sphinx up close, without being jostled by tour groups.

“It’s paradise: the pyramids, the museum, everywhere is empty because of the situation,” said Alvero Rocca from Argentina, a country which has endured its own upheavals in recent decades.

“For Westerners, perhaps it’s more problematic … We in Argentina are more used to the chaos,” Rocca said at Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili bazaar which was nearly empty of tourists. “For us it’s better. I know for Egypt’s economy it’s a catastrophe.”

Read More

Antarctic Travellers – US bases closed

Posted on Oct 10, 2013 | Comments Off on Antarctic Travellers – US bases closed

Shutdown Cancels Entire US Antarctic Research Program

Shutdown Cancels Entire US Antarctic Research Program
A U.S. Antarctic Program Twin Otter on the sea ice of McMurdo Sound.

As scientists had feared, today (Oct. 8) the National Science Foundation announced it was canceling the U.S. Antarctic research program for this year because of the ongoing government shutdown.

Scientists and contractors already stationed at the three U.S. science bases on Antarctica will be sent home and a small staff left behind to maintain the structures and equipment, the National Science Foundation (NSF) said.

The announcement was a devastating blow for the polar science community. The shutdown means the cancellation of millions of dollars of planned research. Graduate students may have to stay in school longer because they won’t get the data they need to complete their research. Contractors are losing their jobs. Other countries, including New Zealand, France and Italy, rely on the United States’ sea-ice runway at McMurdo Station and may not be able to conduct their own research after the pullout. [Weirdest Effects of the Shutdown]

Though the NSF said it would work to restart science activities after the government shutdown ends, many U.S. scientists will miss their timing window for the summer research season, which started Oct. 3.

“It makes the blood boil,” said Ross Powell, a geologist at Northern Illinois University and chief scientist for the WISSARD project, the first drilling expedition to discover life in a buried Antarctic lake.

This year, Powell and his colleagues planned to drill into the spot where the Whillans Ice Stream meets the sea. Remote sensing surveys suggests water flows from the buried Lake Whillans into the ocean underneath the Ross Ice Shelf, creating a hidden, estuary-like setting.

The NSF has invested $10 million in the project, not counting the hours and hours of planning and operational time, Powell said. “If we don’t get this field season, basically, we’ve wasted half the money,” Powell told LiveScience.

Dawn Sumner, a geobiologist at the University of California, Davis, expected to leave for Antarctica on Oct. 17. Now, Sumner said she’s in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Congress “gets its act together” in time for her to salvage her research plans, she told LiveScience.

“Mine is somewhat time-sensitive; we can’t do it in midsummer,” Sumner said of her research on microbial life in Antarctic lakes, though she put her plight in perspective. “Although I am very disappointed in losing some, possibly all, of my research, the impacts on other people’s health and safety are much more dire.”

Other projects that could be affected by the pullout include NASA’s Operation IceBridge, which tracks yearly changes in the polar ice, as well as the ongoing monitoring of climate change. Interrupting the unbroken data sets researchers gather to gauge global warming makes it difficult to analyze trends, many scientists have said.

Read More

America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Posted on Oct 9, 2013 | Comments Off on America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Antarctic marine sanctuaries : Adelie and emperor penguins, Bay of Whales, Ross Sea, Antarctica

National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze.

 The federal government shutdown is reaching all the way down to the South Pole.

The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze just as scientists are starting to arrive for the start of a new research season.

The NSF runs three stations in Antarctica spending just under $400m a year there. It often takes weeks for some 1,200 researchers to get to the southern continent by boat or plane.

Scientists say October is when spring and summer research starts in Antarctica. A ship had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday with researchers, including those working on a long term study that has tracked penguins and other creatures since 1990.

A skeleton staff will remain for safety and property protection.

Associated Press in Washington

Read More

Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Sydney Harbour’s Q Station earns sustainable award

Q-Station-North-Head-420x0Retreat on Sydney Harbor earns sustainable award

Award collected by Karan Singh, Pres., Skal Intl. Sydney North, on behalf of Mawland Quarantine Stn.

Oct 07, 2013

Adaptive reuse of the old Quarantine Station at North Head Manly has ensured public access to and awareness of the buildings behind the stories of those who came to Australia through the site (from nineteenth century migrants to the orphans of Operation Babylift from Saigon in 1975) and those who have worked to protect them. The Quarantine Station has integrated environmental management and sustainable management practices into operation of a successful hotel.

For twelve consecutive years, the Skal International “Sustainable Development in Tourism” Awards have been presented during the Opening Ceremony of its annual World Congress. Skal recently closed its 74th World Congress aboard the Carnival Glory, the first time this yearly event took place on a cruise ship. This year, Q Station Retreat in Australia won an award in the category of Urban Accommodation.

This award will increase international awareness of this iconic Sydney site and allow the hopes and dreams of those who passed through it to be remembered. Quarantine Station has also recently been named as a finalist in the New South Wales Governmental Green Globe Awards for operation of the site on the principles of conservation, heritage protection and sustainability wherever possible having regard to the heritage nature of the buildings in which we operate. The Quarantine Station, trading as QStation, has come to be known as the “Jewel in the Crown” of Sydney Harbour National Park and has already won many awards and media commendation for our serene setting, stylish reuse of this historic place and our pristine natural environment. Over the last five years we have consistently won awards for best MICE and Upscale boutique hotel properties at the Hotel Management Australia Awards, and have received grants from the state and federal governments to support our conservation programs.

Quarantine Station recognizes the valuable legacy of this harbor-side site and are committed to the conservation and interpretation of the Q Station as a place of national and international significance in the history of health and migration. To date Mawland has committed $17M to development of the site, with $8 million to the conservation of the site, creation of a public museum and curation of the historical collections. Quarantine Station cares for over 15,000 historical items, the most significant of which are on public display. Indeed, the site is sustainable by the very nature of its complete adaptive reuse of the buildings and operational structures of the old quarantine station.

Quarantine Station is listed on the Australian National Heritage Register alongside fellow harbor icons: Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a stunningly beautiful and lovingly restored retreat, home to the story of migration to Australia and custodian of historical artefacts of national significance. Within its 30 hectare estate lie 65 buildings and nearly 200 years of memories from post European arrivals.

Mawland is very proud of our record on this site. We have established a viable commercial operation which is managed by Accor and have received many awards and kudos for our operations on site. Within the limitations of operating on a widely spread area, which involves balancing daily logistics of transport of guests, food and beverage, staff and supplies , arrivals of guests by water and road, compliance with strict State consent conditions and operation within historic premises which were not purpose built for operation of a hospitality business we have achieved public, governmental and media approval for sustainability and investment in the natural and cultural heritage of the site.

Within our code of having minimal impact on the natural environment we are welcoming about 3000 visitors per week to the site. We are a showcase for environmental management and cultural preservation.

Our approach to adaptive reuse has been applauded and as a result we have been invited to prepare a paper for the influential Tourism and Transport Forum on the Adaptive reuse approach to redevelopment of government assets and our Directors Max Player and Suzanne Stanton have been invited to join the Sydney Harbour National Landscape Steering Committee.

Extensive publicity and marketing of the site, highlighting sustainability, conservation, adaptive reuse and the cultural and the fascinating history of the site has led to QStation being seen as one of the emerging icons of Sydney tourism.

For more information, go to www.quarantinestation.com.au

Read More

Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites

matera_-_i_sassi

Matera, one of the most remarkable sights iTravelTree has seen in Southern Italy is endeavouring to promote both itself and other, often overlooked, UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Matera is a world-renowned city for its almost prehistoric-like human shelters entangled on a hillside and named “I Sassi” (the stones). I Sassi shelters were evacuated for many years until UNESCO included it in its list of World Heritage sites. It is the first city in the South Italian region to enjoy said privilege – a bliss for the city that began to revive its “dormant treasure,” owing it to newcomers – artists of various cultures pioneering the Sassi renaissance.

Back in the 70s, I Sassi was an ideal location for a number of movie films. Among these, P.P.Pasolini (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo), King David (starring Richard Gere), and La Passione di Cristo by Mel Gibson. The latest generation of film directors have also contributed to further spread the image of this biblical-age portion of the city of Matera.

The Chamber of Commerce of Matera recently decided to create a network called Mirabilia. It includes UNESCO minor cities, “deliberately” excluding those already universally known, in order to promote them in a coordinated manner to Italian and foreign tourists. “In Italy we have a variety of traditions unique in the world, and every UNESCO World Heritage site, especially the minor ones, have a particular characteristic that distinguishes themselves from others,” said Angelo Tortorelli, President of Mirabilia. “Our project is to unite them all, enhancing the value and importance of each respective territory,” he added.

The Chamber of Commerce’s vision is to create a cooperation synonymous of strength and to break up the competition existing among territories.

“In this case, Union Camere’s idea is to create the force – our idea,” says Vito Signati, Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Matera. He added that it is to propose tourism off the beaten path, tourism with a soul. This year the project has been expanded as compared to last year and incorporates nine cities, namely: Brindisi, La Spezia, Genova, L’Aquila, Matera, Perugia, Salerno, Udine, and Vicenza.

“By connecting areas which have a common historical, cultural, and economic life, we wish to propose them to the attention of the domestic and international tourism consumer, with the objective to decentralize and extend their seasonality,” Signati said.

The final aim is to promote the services offered by each territory for the creation of custom-made package tours connecting the Mirabilia destinations. The new itineraries will be proposed for short and long weekends as well as one-week tours.

The handling of this very new (for Italy) type of tour packages has been assigned to Caldana Tour Operator, selected by Mirabilia for its high reliability and deep experience in the field. However, the mandate is not of exclusivity and is open to new applicants.

“The initiative will be presented in Moscow on October 11 to the local travel trade at the Italian Embassy venue, the Rimini travel mart, “TTG Incontri,” being held from October 17-19 and November 5 at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. The highlight of the 2013 edition presentation will end in Matera on November 25 to 27 in connection with the “Cultural Tourism Fair.”

For more information, go to www.mirabilianetwork.eu

Read More
%d bloggers like this: