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
A friend of mine – lucky thing - had a two day-stopover in Mauritius on his way back home to Australia.
On his post card he sounded a touch bemused: “All the road signs are in English, they drive on the left, but they all speak French!”
The history of Mauritius goes some way to providing an explanation. Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the island was taken by the British from the French in 1810. But, despite British rule (which ended in 1968), the residents were allowed to continue speaking French and living by French laws.
These days, Mauritius is a popular up-scale holiday and honeymoon destination and a fine place to stay is Le Touessrok. It was described in a recent Sunday newspaper feature as ‘a slice of palm-fringed paradise dedicated to fine food and indolence – with butlers and instant gratification everywhere.’
Regular celebrity guests at Le Touessrok apparently include Joan Collins, Whitney Houston and Cilla Black. No doubt they opted for the total privacy offered by the hotel’s three villas, each with its own swimming pool and chef.
Journalist Sarah Turner says: “The staff will try to organise everything you request – from a personal firework display to a private meal on a deserted beach.”
None of this comes cheap, of course – food prices are high, as everything has to be flown in – but it sure sounds a fine antidote to the depression of the recession.
by Andy Moreton
Apart from the fabulous Touessrok, Luxique can offer deals at nine other great luxury hotels in Mauritius.
The German town made famous in the fairy tale of the Pied Piper, who lured away a plague of rats, has a real-life modern problem with the rodents.
Officials in the town of Hamelin in northern Germany have expressed alarm at a surge in the rat population much like the Great Plague in 1284 on which the tale is based.
“Rats usually come in packs of 20 to 30 but these can expand up to 200 or 300 and that what’s happened in Hamelin,” said Rolf Schmidt, who works for a pest control service in the town north of Hanover.
The town, which has 58,000 inhabitants, has added teams of rat-catchers to try to contain the new plague.
In the tale made famous by the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning, a man claims extraordinary rat-catching skills and promises to solve the town’s rat problem by playing his magic pipe. He lures the rats into the river where they drown.
But after removing the rats, the villagers renege on their promise to pay him so he takes revenge by using the same pipe to abduct the village children. Some locals believe the tale to be based on actual events.
“We do have a rat problem but this could have happened anywhere in Germany,” said Thomas Wahmes, a city council spokesman. “It’s just a coincidence that it happened here.”
by Andy Moreton
If you happen to be travelling to Northern Germany and want a taste of sheer luxury, try the prestigious Kempinski Grand Hotel at Heiligendamm on the Baltic coast. It hosted the summit of G8 leaders in June 2007.
I was discussing with a friend who shares my fear of heights what would constitute our ultimate nightmare.
We thought of such vertiginous venues as the Eiffel Tower, the glass-floor elevators in the CN Tower in Toronto, a bungee jump platform and any number of ancient Italian bell towers with just some flimsy wooden bar between you and fresh air.
But eventually, we decided that, for sheer unadulterated terror, it was impossible to separate ‘The Edge’ at the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne and the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
The Edge Eureka Skydeck Melbourne
I wouldn’t want to spoil the whole ‘Edge’ experience by giving too much away, but suffice to say that those brave enough to volunteer are projected nine feet out from a building in a glass box 900 feet above the ground. Thanks, but no thanks.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk extends 65 feet over the edge of the Canyon’s west rim. The glass floor is built to support the weight of nearly 800 people, 100mph winds and major earthquakes. Visitors are given shoe covers to prevent the highly polished glass floor from being scratched. I think I’d need something to cover my eyes as well.
by Andy Moreton