Travel Destinations

Two days before the start of English Tourism week, Visit England launched a multi-million pound TV campaign to persuade us to have a staycation this year in England rather than go abroad or visit the other countries in the UK.
The same day ABTA, Association of British Travel Agents, wrote to the government bemoaning the “lop-sided” support of domestic tourism and that this promotion was a misuse of government money. ABTA says, “It is critical that he (the chancellor) shows support to all three sectors of the industry – domestic inbound and outbound – as each plays a key role in contributing to the economic health of the nation.”

Not exactly true.
Outbound tourism helps employment in the travel industry but encouraging us to holiday at home will help the home economies since money will be staying at home. According to the Tourism Alliance, in 2011 the sector created 76,000 jobs and 9% of the workforce is in tourism. they say, “With the upcoming Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics Games, we can only see the UK tourism industry going from strength to strength.”‘ That the vast majority of ABTA members concentrate on selling overseas holidays might have something to do with their complaint. Or am I being too cynical? But then, when was the last time ABTA held their last annual conference in the UK?

What ABTA – and the rest of the travel industry as well as us travelers – wants is an end to APD, the tax that raises over £2 billion a year for the government, claiming that the tax makes us uncompetitive and will eventually lose us, incoming visitors. As I’ve written before, the government isn’t going to listen meaningfully to us, the traveler, or the travel industry until it can be proven that we are suffering. Given the Olympics and the Jubilee, the government should be safe this year. It will collect the money from us and make soothing noises but no more. And in 2014 we have the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare and 2015 sees the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta so reducing APD might be a way away. Like the Netherlands and Ireland, only when the government sees a decline in revenue will it move and suddenly have a change of mind.
Until then has ABTA not thought of exhorting its members to sell UK holidays? Or does ABTA really stand for Association of Brits Travelling Abroad?

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Friends and family are beginning to book tickets for this summer’s slew of festivals. I flattered they thought to invite me along, but as regular readers of CD-Traveller will know: I am not a fan of festivals.

Last summer – my first one in the UK in five years – I watched with horror as every weekend, friends and family (who are old enough to have known better) traipsed up and down the country to attend arts and lifestyle festivals. Finally, I thought I had better find out what all the fuss was about so, against my better judgment, I gave in and signed up for my first festival.

I can safely say: I thought it would be my last. As I sat squashed among a car full of camping gear, I listed to my mates (all confirmed festival enthusiasts) rave about the crowd that festivals attract. Festival goers, they informed me, are just fabulous. So free-spirited and spontaneous, such characters.

I couldn’t disagree more. On arrival, I found a field full of identikit women and men clad in the skimpiest of denim shirts and Hunter wellington boots, at £100 a pair. (Recession? What recession!)

When I’d had my fill of people watching, I ‘got’ to spend an hour queuing for a beer before sitting in a tent and listening to a band (whose speakers system sounded like it was snapped up at a car boor sale) play.

Finally, it was time to go to sleep – in a soggy field with a few thousand fellow festival goers, all of whom you can be sure will want to use the 10 toilets at exactly the same time in the morning. For this privilege, I (and my fellow festival-goers) were required to cough up, upwards of £100 per ticket….

I returned home with my mind made up: my first festival would most definitely be my last. Fast forward six short months tho, and I am being urged to consider Croatia this year owing to, wait for it, the country’s sizzling festivals!

Forget the mud and endless queues at UK festivals… it’s time to swap my wellies for flip flops and check out Croatia (which this summer will be home to eight electrifying festivals) or so the argument goes. I am told that Croatia is the music scene’s best-kept secret.

The season kick starts in June with INmusic (29-30 June), a two day festival in Zagreb, described as ‘Glastonbury’s sunny Croatian alternative’. Then there’s the Hideout Festival (29 June – 1 July) over on the island of Pag, which takes place across four beach-side clubs. The summer season continues with back-to-back festivals throughout July in the tiny town of Tisno on Murter Island; Garden Festival (4-11 July), Electric Elephant (12-16 July), Soundwave (19-23 July), SuncéBeat (25-31 July) and Stop Making Sense (2-6 August) before wrapping up with the world’s biggest dubstep festival in Pula – Outlook Festival (30 August – 2 September) – which is held in an incredible abandoned fort in this ancient Roman city.

My friends are urging me to reconsider my festival ban claiming that in Croatia, it is easy to combine the fun of a festival with a chilled out beach holiday or a fascinating cultural fix. However- after my experience of the UK festival circuit – I am yet to be convinced. So over to you, dear reader … in the words of The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?”

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Travel Destinations

Walk around the center of Belfast and you will see banners hanging from lamp posts all promoting Belfast tourism. In London last Wednesday night at St James’s Palace, there was a big bash to launch on the mainland the tourism campaign for this year. Called “Your Time Our Place,” the event’s host, Eamonn Holmes even tweeted afterward that we should come and visit “our wee country.”

The Titanic centenary is the centerpiece of the celebrations and with the new museum opening on March 31st, the tourist people are making the most of it. Even the province’s lifestyle and entertainment awards are christened, “The Titanic Go Awards” and MTV is having a “music event” on the Titanic Slipways.

But other things are being promoted as well. It’s just that they seem to get dwarfed by the big one. For example, there is a four day festival at the beginning of July to welcome back the yachts participating in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race which ends in Belfast. Many concerts on the mainland have been postponed this year (like Glastonbury) so the Peace One Day Concert in Londonderry on June 21st could attract a lot of people from the other home countries. And there’s golf. It hasn’t passed many commentators that there are two Northern Irish golfers who won majors in 2011 so the tourist people will be hoping that visitors from around the world will come and see what courses turned these two into champions.

Most visitors come from the rest of the UK and the Irish Republic. But with transatlantic connections and a reduced APD for those flights, there could be an upsurge from North America as well. But the concentration will be in the UK. The adverts are already running. Are you persuaded to visit Northern Ireland this year?

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Travel Destinations

Last Summer all those holiday destinations where they had the euro didn’t do quite as well as they expected. Because the pound was weak against it, we chose areas with different currencies that had not declined as much or where we felt we got better value for money. Turkey and Egypt spring to mind.

Ireland suffered despite a campaign last May/June to get us there. !5% fewer Brits went there last year, and since 50% of tourists to Ireland come from the UK, it is a vital market for them. Now that the pound has strengthened against the euro will we be more likely to visit Ireland again?

In March visitors by those living in the UK dropped by just over a fifth to just 212,000 visits. 40,000 fewer of us visited in just one month! Given that this will include visits made by people visiting friends and relatives, this could mask quite a drop. As the world pulls out of recession what could be the cause?

Is Ireland still seen as too expensive? Do Dublin city breaks no longer appeal? Does Ireland no longer appeal? Is it because fares by Ryanair, Aer Arann, British Airways and Aer Lingus are more expensive than previously? Is it due to a lack of or maybe less than effective advertising? The head of Tourism Ireland has said that it is due to the recession but aren’t people feeling more confident now? Are other countries fighting to persuade us to go there? Is the impact of Irish advertising being overtaken by that of other countries?

The numbers will look worse in April when the effects of airport closures due to the Icelandic volcanic eruption will be seen. So to still have a 20% decline before those effects are felt seems to warrant a lot of thinking. And the number of European travelers was down by about the same amount as well. Australians, Japanese, and South Africans visited in greater numbers, but then the numbers are small to start with. American visits were down just slightly. Ireland needs Britons to travel there. Have you considered going to Ireland this year and if not why? Now Tourism Ireland needs to find out and then remind us why it is such an attractive destination or it could be an uncomfortable year for tourism.

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Travel Rumblings

Last November there was a further increase in the Air Passenger Duty (APD) we UK based flyers pay. Next November it will go up yet again. In Ireland, a similar tax is blamed by Ryanair for a substantial fall in the number of people visiting there and its decision to maintain quite so many planes at Dublin. It has concerned some countries that their tourism is being affected so the Netherlands has abolished the tax.

The UK is one of the most heavily taxed, if not the most heavily one for airline flights. But it doesn’t only hit people in the UK. Because of the high cost, overseas countries that rely on tourism for substantial national income are worried we won’t travel there.

Take the Caribbean

Because of a badly thought out system of taxation, travelers to the Caribbean pay more APD than if you were to fly to the west coast of the USA despite the fact that the distance is less. So last week, this incongruity was raised in parliament by Roger Godsiff, an MP who has a high number of constituents with links to the Caribbean. Was the government sympathetic? No the answer that Sarah McCarthy Fry gave on their behalf was that it would not be straightforward to reform the APD. Six months after consideration began, they still have not found a solution. Despite the fact that the issue has been raised face-to-face by Caribbean politicians, nothing has happened.

Why not?

For a start, if you had to have this tax at such an oppressive rate, you could tax it on the number of miles flown after you leave a UK airport. (that way you wouldn’t penalize domestic tourism) instead of the four bands, we currently have. It is not only the Caribbean that is affected. People flying to Egypt pay at the same level. The Dutch dropped the tax. They worked out that it caused a net loss of €900 million per year because of not having the tourists. Polls show people think it is unfair but you can understand why the government is reluctant to drop a cash cow that gives them billions per year. But they can’t see how much is being lost to the UK by the loss of visitors. Sooner or later as we compete for the tourism spend we will lose to those that charge less. Will their eyes ever open?

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