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Top travel news stories of 2011

Top travel news stories of 2011

Ten of this year's biggest travel news stories, from rising aviation tax to the launch of the Dreamliner.

» Tourism | Tuesday, December 20, 2011 • Air News Times
Despite fierce opposition from holidaymakers, tour operators, airlines and economists, the Government announced in November that Air Passenger Duty (APD) – one of Britain’s most unpopular taxes – will rise again next year, by eight per cent.

From April a family of four flying to the Caribbean in economy class will pay £324 in APD – up from just £80 in 2006. If they want a little extra legroom, and choose to fly in premium economy, they must cough up a staggering £648.

According to its detractors, the tax is stunting Britain’s economic growth, pricing ordinary families out of flying, forcing airlines to close vital routes, and causing damage to other countries that are reliant on tourism.

These arguments were put to the Government during a four-month consultation earlier this year. But the only changes announced by the Treasury this month were a vague commitment to look at the burden on regional airports, and a belated decision to widen this duty to include some private jets (but not until 2013).

As outlined by Telegraph Travel earlier this month, British air passengers are already the most heavily taxed in the world. In fact, the Treasury will collect almost twice as much in passenger taxes this year (£2.2 billion) as all other European countries combined (£1.17 billion).

And the tax will be going up again. The Government intends to raise £3.8 billion a year from APD by 2016. Assuming passenger numbers do not rise, this could mean that a family of four will be paying up to £587 in APD alone on flights to Australia by 2016, and £414 on flights to Egypt. Should passenger numbers continue to fall at the current rate, the tax is likely to be raised even higher.

North African woes


Less than 18 months ago, industry analysts predicted that, by the end of 2011, North Africa and Turkey would be more popular with British holidaymakers than the traditional destinations of Spain, Portugal and Greece.

The “Mett” – as these emerging destinations were dubbed (Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey) – would soon replace the Med as our sun-and-sea favourites, said the experts.

The Arab Spring, which saw revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and civil unrest in Morocco, put paid to that forecast. For nearly a month, the Foreign Office advised Britons against all but essential travel to Tunisia and four of Egypt’s largest cities, causing visitor numbers to plummet. Since these warnings were lifted, travellers have been slow to return, forcing many hoteliers and tour operators to slash their prices.

Michelle Jana Chan visited Cairo and Aswan for Telegraph Travel in November, have found many popular sites, including the Temple of Philae and the Egyptian Museum, virtually empty.

An estimated five million people visited Egypt this year – down from around 13 million in 2010, and similar drops have been witnessed in other North African countries.

And it is those traditional destinations like the Algarve and the Costa del Sol – written off last year – that are reaping the benefits: visitor numbers to Spain and Portugal shot up this summer.

The Dreamliner is unveiled (at last)

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner – billed as the world’s most environmentally-friendly aircraft – was finally unveiled in October, some three years behind schedule.

It is the first commercial aircraft to be constructed from composite materials like carbon reinforced plastic, making it lighter, stronger and less polluting, while the passenger experience is enhanced by larger windows, softer LED lighting, and a higher humidity.

Perhaps most crucially, the air on board is cleaner than on any other modern passenger aircraft. The vast majority of planes use the “bleed air” system, where air is drawn through the engines, making it vulnerable to contamination from toxic fumes. A number of studies have suggested that repeated exposure to contaminated cabin air can result in long-term health problems. The Dreamliner filters fresh cabin air directly from the atmosphere.

However, as Peter Hughes discovered when he boarded the inaugural flight, there are a number of things that the Dreamliner will not change about flying, from the “fascism” of security checks to “orthopedically challenging” aircraft seats that “leave enough legroom for the lotus position”.

Lamu off limits


The threat of piracy and terrorism off the coast of East Africa is nothing new. Ships have been targeted by Somali pirates for many years and a number of cruise lines no longer visit the region. But the problem reached new heights this year, following two attacks on holidaymakers at Kenyan beach resorts.

In September, the luxury villa of David and Judith Tebbutt, from Bishop’s Stortford, was raided by terrorists, believed to be from Somalia. Mr Tebbutt was shot dead and his wife was kidnapped – her whereabouts remain unknown. Weeks later, Marie Dedieu, a disabled French woman was kidnapped from Manda, an island in the Lamu archipelago and a popular destination for holidaymakers. She subsequently died in the hands of her captors. In response, the Foreign Office issued a warning advising Britons against all but essential travel to all coastal areas of Kenya within 150km of the Somali border, putting nearly half of Kenya’s idyllic coastline – including Lamu – off limits to British travellers.

While Kenyan authorities have sought to beef up security, and have urged the Foreign Office to reconsider its warning, two further incidents away from the coast have compounded matters. In October, a pair of Spanish aid workers were taken from the Dadaab refugee camp close to the Kenya-Somalia border and have not been seen since. And in November a vehicle carrying two Swiss holidaymakers was shot by bandits as it returned to the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge.

Kenya’s popularity soared after Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton at a lakeside resort on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya last year, but as long as the Foreign Office’s advisory remains in place visitor numbers are sure to suffer.

Tripadvisor’s troubles

TripAdvisor, the world’s most visited travel website, faced increasing pressure on several fronts this year.

Claims persist that many of its anonymous reviews are either fake or defamatory, and several hoteliers are pressing ahead with legal action.

Two complaints are also being considered by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), concerning the way TripAdvisor advertises its content, and the way hotels and restaurants market their businesses using positive reviews from TripAdvisor. If both are upheld, many of the claims made by TripAdvisor about the reliability of its reviews may have to be scrapped, and hotels could be prevented from using their TripAdvisor ranking to attract guests.

Furthermore, proposed changes to defamation laws are being considered by the Justice Department, which could prevent sites such as TripAdvisor from publishing reports by anonymous reviewers.

This year has seen TripAdvisor drop its long-established slogan “reviews you can trust” (although it claims this was not in response to the ASA investigation) and establishment a support line for disgruntled hotel owners. Next year could see the website forced into a far more extensive overhaul of its working practices.

Thomas Cook

2011 proved to be something of an annus horribilis for Thomas Cook, one of Europe’s most venerable tour operators. Around 200 of its high street stores are to close, 1,000 of its staff face redundancy, and in November it was forced to turn to a consortium of banks, cap in hand, asking for a £200 million lifeline - a move that saw its share price has dropped like a stone. To make matters worse, TUI Travel, its major rival, ran a full page ad in national newspapers the following day, claiming that “unlike a certain holiday company we could mention, you don't need to worry about the way we run our business.” Ouch. TUI announced record profits a week later.

Beyond the big beasts of package holidays, it has been a torrid year for the industry. At least 24 travel companies have ceased trading, according to the Civil Aviation Authority, including Gill’s Cruise Centre and Holidays 4 U.

Burma’s resurgence

Following the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and her decision to withdraw her opposition to tourism, Burma has returned to travellers’ itineraries. But visitors should visit Burma “with their eyes open”, according to the famous dissident.

Among those returning this year – for Telegraph Travel – was Michelle Jana Chan, who followed the backpacker route around the country, Tim Jepson, who explored the country’s ancient temples, and Teresa Machan, who was granted an audience with Suu Kyi herself.

Japan suffers

The March earthquake, and subsequence nuclear crisis, saw visitor numbers to Japan plummet by up to two thirds, while a number of the country’s traditional ryokan guesthouses have been forced to close.

Tourism authorities responded in innovative style. Lady Gaga provided a celebrity endorsement, declaring the country safe during a concert in Tokyo, while the government took the unusual step of offering 10,000 free flights to internet bloggers, if they promised to document their trip online.

Furthermore, hoteliers and airlines have been forced to cut their prices, so for those wishing to visit, now could be the perfect time.
Another ash cloud

Iceland’s troublesome volcanoes disrupted European airspace yet again this year. The eruption of Grímsvötn caused far less chaos than that of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 – just 900 flights in northern Europe were cancelled, largely due to favourable winds and heavier ash particles.

More strikes

A proposed Easter strike by British Airways staff was called off at the last minute, and in the summer a peace deal between the airline and members of the Unite union was finally brokered. Instead it was the national carrier of Australia that saw mass walkouts, with industrial action in October forcing Qantas to ground all its flights.
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