The company aiming to turn the old QE2 cruise liner into a luxury hotel in Dubai has insisted that the project remains on track.
The government-owned developer, Nakheel, bought the liner in 2007 saying it wanted to “usher in the next exciting chapter of her rich and dignified life.”
But there have been rumours that the plans might be shelved because of a lack of funds. The company has cut staff and postponed several projects, including a tower planned to be the world’s tallest, and a high-end hotel being built with Donald Trump.
Nakheel insists, however, that the conversion will go ahead. The company told the Sunday Times in the UK: “The plans for QE2’s full restoration and refurbishment are ongoing; we have no intention of selling the ship to any party whatsoever.”
The refurbishment plans include replacing the ship’s funnel with a glass structure housing penthouse suites, installing a 500-seat theatre in the engine room and building an extensive spa complex.
Dubai is decidedly not immune from the worldwide recession. Cash-strapped tourists have been staying away and the Dubai government has mounted a £10 million ($14 million) campaign to try to lure them back.
Hotel occupancy rates dropped to 79 per cent last year, the lowest level since 2004, with a particular decline in demand from Europe because of the recession.
Hotels in Dubai are said to be cutting rates by up to 60 per cent, so now might be the time to see this modern wonder of the world. Luxique has great deals at a choice of 12 top luxury hotels in Dubai City.
by Andy Moreton
The Spanish Canary Islands are trying to revive their flagging tourism industry by showing people how to be more welcoming to visitors.
Taxi drivers, hotel receptionists and shop owners will be offered ‘friendliness seminars,’ where they’ll be taught the importance of smiling and given a smattering of English phrases to demonstrate that the tourist’s custom is appreciated.
Spain – including the Canaries – has been a magnet for British holidaymakers for years, but a combination of the recession and the falling value of the pound against the euro has seen a sharp downturn. Some 200,000 fewer Britons went to Spain in February compared with the same month in 2008.
A spokesman at the Lanzarote Chamber of Commerce, which is running the £38,000 ($54,000) pilot scheme, said: “We’re aware that Spaniards are not seen as overly friendly by British holidaymakers and we want to change that grumpy image.”
Cab drivers will be reminded that they’re the first point of contact for visitors and should do their utmost to be welcoming. “Ensure your taxis smell nice – and don’t drive too fast,” is the message for them in the two-hour seminar.
If the initiative is successful, it will be extended to other holiday resorts throughout Spain. A spokesman for the marketing company behind the strategy said: “We have a good climate and great beaches and if tourists are made to feel welcome, they will come again and tell their friends to come too.”
by Andy Moreton, with Fiona Govan in Madrid
Luxique offers great rates at six top-class hotels in the Canary Islands – all with different styles, but luxurious facilities.
Some of the world’s leading architects have spent the past nine months creating their vision for the Paris of the future and have now have presented their ideas to the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The President had asked them to project 20 years ahead and dream up the world’s most sustainable metropolis.
One crucial aim is to end the isolation of central Paris, with its two million inhabitants, which is cut off from the six million living in suburbs just outside its ring road, le périphérique. As one of the eminent architects, Lord Rogers, observed: “I know of no other big city where the heart is so detached from its arms and legs.”
The ideas are many and varied. One scheme, proposed by architect Roland Castro, envisages new cultural landmarks in a capital shaped like a huge eight-petal flower and with a New York-style Central Park.
Yves Liot would like to create 20 sustainable ‘towns’ of 500,000 within the Paris area. He would double the number of forests and bring fields to the outskirts so that urban dwellers could cultivate their own fruit and vegetables.
Christophe de Portzamparc proposes building four economic ‘buds’ in an archipelago around the capital and transferring a huge European railway station to Aubervilliers, north of Paris, modelled on London’s Euro terminal, St Pancras.
An exhibition of scale models will be shown to the public from April to November and there will be a public debate.
by Andy Moreton
The city of today is pretty special too – use Luxique to reserve a room at a spectacular luxury Paris hotel.
The German capital, Berlin, displays a certain modesty with its advertising slogan: ‘Poor, but sexy.’
But it seems to work because so far, Berlin has bucked the trend of the crisis-hit global travel industry. Last year, it welcomed 7.9 million tourists, breaking its own record for the fifth consecutive year with a gain of 4.2 per cent from 2007.
Tourist numbers have soared since the 1990s - most of them visitors from the former East Germany rediscovering half a city they were banned from seeing under Communist rule.
But Berlin is attractive to foreign tourists too, because its prices are low while its image is cool. A four-star hotel room in Berlin will set you back around 150 euros (£140 / $192), less than half what a similar hotel in Paris or London would cost.
Low-cost airlines are also fueling Berlin’s tourism success. The city is the second biggest hub for low-cost airlines behind London.
Tourism officials are realistic about the difficulties of the coming financial year, but hopeful at the same time. “We may take a cut, but Berlin is very competitive with cities like Paris or London in terms of what you get for your money,” said a spokesman, Christian Taenzler. “That goes for the price of a cappuccino right up to tickets for cultural events.”
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can offer great deals at some of the best luxury hotels in Berlin.
Figures released last week give an indication of the extent of the problem of lost airline luggage.
A total of 42 million bags worldwide were ‘mishandled’ in 2007 and, of those, more than a million were never found.
The consumer watchdog, the Air Transport Users’ Council, said that an additional irritation was that passengers were being short-changed when they sought compensation. At times, they were being offered as little as 10 per cent of the value of the lost items.
The situation has prompted the European Union to take action. A statement said the EU’s Transport Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, had decided ‘to take immediate measures on passengers’ rights, starting with an investigation on the scale of the phenomenon.’
It’s possible that the result of that investigation could be a body which would order airlines to pay compensation to travellers whose baggage fails to arrive. European law already means airlines must compensate passengers whose flights have been cancelled or significantly delayed.
by Andy Moreton
There are plans to recreate the most famous outdoor musical event of the 1960s – Woodstock.
It’ll be 40 years this summer since Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, was turned into a four-day love-in, featuring some of the greatest names in popular music.
The original co-promoter, Michael Lang, wants to mark the anniversary with two free concerts in August, the first at an unspecified location in New York and the second at Berlin’s disused Tempelhof airport. He’s hoping to woo Woodstock veterans The Who, Santana, Joan Baez, Joe Cocker and Country Joe and the Fish.
It’s early days in the planning process – sponsors have to be found and the authorities in Berlin haven’t yet given permission for the former airport to be used.
There have been doubts about whether Tempelhof would be a suitable European venue. As one Berliner commented: “This airport was one of the Nazis’ strongholds, there’s not much peace and love to be found there.”
by Andy Moreton
You might have enjoyed camping out on the land in ’69, but these days you probably want a bit of luxury. Luxique offers an unrivalled selection of fabulous boutique hotels in New York and luxury hotels in Berlin.
A host of special events have been organised in the UK to commemorate the 500th anniversary on April 22nd of the accession of one of the most colourful and controversial kings of England – Henry VIII.
Many of the sights most associated with Henry are in and around London, such as three royal palaces – Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and the Tower of London; all of them are all holding special exhibitions in April.
At the Tower will be a large collection of objects known to have belonged to the king, including weapons, armour and clothing. At Windsor, visitors will be able to see his hunting sword and a poem hand-written by his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I.
Hampton Court is throwing open the doors of the king’s state apartments and council chamber. There will be opportunities to ‘meet’ the King and his Queens, as well as take part in traditional 16th century games and feasting. Tudor costumes are available for those who want to immerse themselves fully in court life.
Full details of the activities can be found on the Visit London website and Luxique can help you reserve accommodation at a range of luxury hotels in London.
by Andy Moreton
Henry VIII had six wives, two of whom were executed at the Tower. This reminded me that years ago, an advert for the London Underground appeared, showing Henry buying a ticket saying ‘Tower Hill return, please.’ Before long, someone had scrawled underneath: ‘And a single for the wife.
The world’s biggest travel trade fair, ITB, has been taking place in Berlin, but with the industry under an economic cloud, the atmosphere’s been more funereal than festive.
Airlines and tour operators worldwide are suffering from the recession as companies spend less on business travel and tourists cut their budgets.
Most of the countries who welcome tourists – and some who rely heavily on them - are represented at the fair, but all are fearful of future prospects.
“Hard times lie ahead for the world’s travel industry,” said David Ruetz, chief organizer of ITB, noting that 2009 would be, at best, a year of stagnation for the industry. “In all likelihood the downturn will continue before things improve again. The signals for 2010 are not encouraging.”
Travel experts say people are economising by leaving booking to the very last minute and choosing different kinds of trips such as short getaways. The media here in the UK have been reporting a sudden surge in bookings of single-night stays - what have been dubbed ‘nano-breaks.’
But the experts say expensive luxury holidays and cruises seem to have bucked the trend because wealthier clients are less affected by the crisis.
by Andy Moreton
The city council in Verona is giving couples the chance to get married on the stone balcony where Romeo is said to have wooed Juliet in Shakespeare’s play.
The 14th-century Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet, is one of the top tourist spots in Verona, drawing more than a million people every year.
It was once the home of the Cappello family - possibly the model for the Capulets of Shakespeare’s play; however, historians say there is little evidence linking it to the tragic love story.
Mary Handley, an English businesswoman who’s been organising weddings for foreigners in Italy for the past six years, said she was sure the Juliet weddings would be popular. “It’s extremely romantic, the weather is usually co-operative and your photos are going to be wonderful,” she said. But she gave a warning that the bureaucracy could sometimes be complex and an interpreter was required by law if the couple didn’t speak Italian.
A balcony wedding will cost citizens of Verona 600 euros (£556 / $775). Couples from elsewhere in the European Union will have to pay 700 euros (£648 / $905), while non-EU couples will face a bill of 1,000 euros (£926 / $1,293).
Tourism councillor Daniele Polato said: “We’ll be offering tourist packages just like Las Vegas does, with wedding and honeymoon. It’s a way of using the city’s artistic heritage to boost tourism.”
Despite the lack of historical fact, the courtyard beneath the balcony contains a bronze statue of Juliet. It’s the custom for visitors hoping to be lucky in love to stroke her right breast, which is now highly polished.
‘Fair Verona,’ as Shakespeare called the city, is in north-east Italy and, as well as the Romeo and Juliet connection, is famous for its summer opera season. This takes place outdoors in the Roman amphitheatre called The Arena.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can help you arrange accommodation at two luxury hotels in Verona – the impressive Due Torri Baglioni, which is close to the Juliet Balcony, and the elegant Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amista.
The President of the Maldives has made a bold, green statement – the islands will become carbon neutral within ten years.
Mohamed Nasheed said this would be achieved by switching completely to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
He said the Maldives understood better than most what would happen if the world failed to tackle climate change; his tiny country – made up of some 1,200 tropical coral islands - is one of the lowest-lying on earth and extremely vulnerable to rises in sea level.
He said that going green would cost a lot of money, but refusing to act now would ‘cost the earth.’
“We don’t want to sit around and blame others, but want to do whatever we can; hopefully our carbon neutral plan will serve as a blueprint for other nations to follow,” said the President.
by Andy Moreton
For those who want to taste a little bit of paradise, Luxique offers ten luxury hotels in the Maldives.