Featured

CD-Traveller tells you what’s hot and what’s not in the travel world.  Read on to find out why it’s a good month for Sri Lanka, if not Scunthorpe…

HOT

Pampered Pooches

Want to pamper your pooch? Look no further than the House of Mutt (houseofmutt.com) in Suffolk. The dog only hotel can arrange long country walks, bespoke portrait painting and indulgent spa sessions for £39.50 per night.

Screaming in Norway

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch – aka Norway’s best-known artist. To celebrate Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, the Norwegian tourist board is asking people to record themselves screaming in Norwegian locations – and then upload their wail to visitnorway.com. The prize for one lucky winner? A week-long trip to Norway.

Corruption Tours in Prague

The Corrupt Tour agency in Prague has launched a tour taking in the Czech capital’s sites of sleaze and scandal. “We have corruption in our cultural heritage. We want corruption in Prague to be listed by Unesco” commented Petr Sourek – the founder of the CorruptTour agency. The Czech Republic was ranked 57th on the Transparency International’s corruption index.

Rio decoded

Rio de Janeiro is providing tourists with information about the city by embedding QR barcodes into Rio’s iconic black and white mosaics. The codes have so far only been installed at Arpoador – a massive boulder that rises at the end of Ipanema beach. However, there are plans to install 30 of these QR codes at popular tourist sites across Rio. All tourists with a QR reading app on their smartphone need to do, is to take a snapshot of the mosaic and a map will appear showing your exact location and providing you with information about that area.

Sweet dreams in space

NASA is testing an inflatable bedroom for astronauts at the International Space Station. The 13ft pod which Nasa aims to install by 2015, has been designed by Las Vegas-based company Bigelow Aerospace. The price is pretty perturbing tho: a 60-day stay will cost £15.6m. Ouch!

Surf’s up!

Surfer, Garrett McNamara, who holds the title for the biggest wave ever surfed, broke his own record in February when he surfed an incredible 100ft wave off the coast of Nazare in Portugal. This was the spot where the 45-year-old Hawaiian set his last record on a wave measuring 90ft, back in 2011.

March 16 will see Alton Towers launch its biggest ride to date. The name of the new ride isn’t yet known (insiders are using the code name, Secret Weapon 7,) but it promises to have a drop of 30m.

Forking out for fresh air in Beijing

So bad is Beijing’s smog (the American Embassy reported that concentration of polluting Airborne particles went past the ‘hazardous’ range and off the chart last month), that one Beijinger has started selling fresh air in a can! Multimillionaire businessman Chen Guangbiao is selling cans of fresh air for 5 yuan (80 cents). Chen said he wanted to make the point that China’s air pollution is now so foul that the idea of selling bottled air makes perfect sense. Proceeds from the sale of green and orange cans of ‘Fresh Air’ are sent to the poorest regions of China.

Sri Lanka

March is the month that British Airways starts flying from Gatwick to Sri Lanka. The flight may be 12 and a half hours but at the end of the journey, you’ll find palm-fringed beaches, treasured temples, verdant vegetation, happy herds of elephants, and brightly colored saris, in spades.

NOT

Scunthorpe

Sorry Scunthorpe but you’ve been named and shamed, as the least romantic place in Britain. The North Lincolnshire industrial town was voted the most unromantic place to visit in the UK in a poll by booking website Hotels.com. Bradford and Blackpool claimed a second and third place, respectively.

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Travel Rumblings

During the recession airlines and tour operators, hoteliers and destinations worked hard to get us to visit them as people became more careful with their money. Good deals were to be had despite the efforts of the government to wring more taxes out of us with increases in Air Passenger Duty.  But cruise ships (and domestic holidays) don’t pay these taxes so cruising had a financial appeal as well. Increases in holiday prices are beginning to seep through and Carnival Cruise lines is one of those that are planning to increase their prices during the booking period. From 22nd of March, their prices go up by 5%.

The reason? Strong booking for their summer sailings they say.

The question is whether this is really going to happen. Almost every newspaper you pick up offers discounts off cruises. The prices you find in the glossy brochures seem to be negotiable at times as there are so many cruise ships pleading with you to travel on them. Airlines try to raise prices and, if their rivals don’t follow quickly, the price rises often disappear. Will a similar situation happen with cruising? As I wrote earlier, there are lots of ships out there and some very big ships which they ordered in the good times (I mean the good times for the cruise companies) have come into service in the last 12 months. They need filling with passengers to pay for their construction and 100 cabins at discounted prices still make a contribution. Will people who considered Carnival switch to other cruise lines? In fairness to Carnival, they point out that prices are still below 2008 levels. But back then there weren’t as many ships around as today.

Some tour operators increased their prices when their new season brochures came out. They will offer discounts as well. It is how quickly those discounts dry up that will show the rest of us whether holiday prices are generally likely to rise in the next year or so.

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Travel Rumblings

Looking out of the window at the large dollop of snow that has fallen overnight, it is easy to think of warmer parts of the world and getting away from the cold and bleak view I see. Where to go is one issue but who I go with is another.

You could be forgiven for thinking, after seeing the Which? Holiday report on tour operators that you should avoid the big companies like Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook, Cosmos, and Virgin because they haven’t done very well in the report.

You would be wrong

This is not to say that the survey is wrong. The Consumers Association, (CA), publishers of the different Which? Reports have strict and solid research techniques and knowledge. No, the problem is the sample. It is drawn from members of the CA which is largely upmarket, middle class. These are not the sort of people who tend to book package holidays with the large tour operators so the number of people surveyed who have holidayed with those I mentioned earlier is proportionately much lower. Low response means a few positive or negative responses can affect results.

The whole survey is only 4,507 responders so the people responding per tour operator could be low.  A minimum of only 30 has to reply for each tour operator to be included. Thirdly, smaller tour operators like VFB, which came top (and congratulations to them), move comparatively small numbers of people compared to the millions moved by the big companies. It is always easier to get better customer satisfaction ratings from smaller companies than larger ones and that applies to whichever industry you survey. And to be fair, Rochelle Turner, head of research at the CA said that it might be harder to provide the attention to detail in big companies. Finally, it should be said that the tour operators interview people during their holiday. The CA interviewed people after they had returned home and, in some cases, holidays could have been quite a long time ago. Answers may vary as time elapses.

I should make an admission. I have worked with most of the big tour operators over the years on their customer satisfaction programmes so I know how much time effort and money go into it and the responses they make to problems.

The big tour operators try as hard as the little ones to make your holidays as enjoyable as they can. And if there is a problem, they will try, by and large, to resolve it. I cannot remember, over the last 10 or so years, of any of the biggest tour operators ever being voted number 1. And I wouldn’t expect them to in any survey of CA members

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