Another year of travel highs and lows has gone by, so it’s time for a review of poppy-filled, sports-dominated, battle-scarred 2014. The stories below stood out for me as the most realistic insights into much-discussed destinations and travel habits.
Trouble in Paradise
Thailand suffered from the effects of harsh military rule and the aftershock of a tragic double murder, claiming the lives of two British holidaymakers. The country’s Tourism Authority is now trying to put a positive spin on martial law, claiming it offers greater safety for visitors, but the increased presence of the police and the army isn’t appealing to everyone. During the darkest times for Thailand, Russian tourists helped to boost the economy, but the falling value of the rouble has seen fewer Russian arrivals. Fortunately, high-spending Chinese visitors have helped Thailand get back on its feet again. This is all the more important as it’s now been 10 years since the devastating Boxing Day tsunami claimed 8,000 lives and affected 12,000 homes.
Closer to home, people who’d booked Turkish breaks became increasingly worried about the conflict in neighbouring Syria. ‘Is it safe to go on holiday to Turkey?’ was a popular longtail search query (that’s SEO-speak for a more detailed question/phrase typed into Google), but many didn’t consider just how big Turkey is. The provinces deemed unsafe by the FCO are just 10km from war-torn Syria, whereas popular resorts such as Marmaris and Bodrum are hundreds of miles away to the west.
Lest We Forget
Belgium and France’s battlefield were rightfully in the spotlight for the start of the WWI centenary. I was lucky enough to take a battlefield tour in Ypres during a visit to Belgium earlier this year; the tour was even more atmospheric than I expected and it also covered a German cemetery as well as focusing on Allied lives lost. Over in London, the Tower of London’s moat was gradually filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies representing the WWI dead from the British Empire. Crowds from all over the world flocked to see the installation take shape.
Further afield, Rwanda remembered the horrific genocide that swept the nation 20 years ago, with at least 800,000 people killed in just 100 days as Hutus turned against Tutsis. A memorial service in Kigali attracted global media coverage and saw the UN Secretary-General speaking out in remembrance. Educating visitors is one part of the country’s tourism strategy; the Rwanda Tourism website describes Kigali’s Genocide Museum as ‘ Perhaps the most important tourist attraction in the capital’ and a visit there is included on an official city tour.
Sport in the Spotlight
Glasgow got a boost from hosting the Commonwealth Games, with fantastic results for both the athletes and the organisers – the event was even under budget. Hotel occupancy reached 95% throughout August, and it’s believed the Games boosted the Scottish economy by an incredible £282m. Parts of the city’s East End were redeveloped to become the athletes’ village and some of the sports venues, bringing jobs and investment along the way.
More controversially, Brazil welcomed football fans for the World Cup, but bulldozed favelas (slum areas, often ruled by gangs) to make way for Rio’s Maracana Stadium. Favela clearing could have been seen as a sign of progress, but not when it emerged that residents were simply relocated to a new site with similar living conditions. People living below the poverty line didn’t get to feel the financial benefits of hosting the World Cup, and the only real help they’ve received is from NGOs. With the 2016 Olympics looming large, the Brazilian government really needs to get its act together and help its poorest citizens. Look out for a new documentary, State of Exception, exposing the truth about forced eviction from the Rio favelas.
British tourists got a bashing in the German media when an article published by Bild newspaper highlighted our ‘Anglo-Saxon rash’ (a.k.a. tattoo addiction), ‘Welsh wandering hands’ and ‘vodka cough’. Whilst stereotypes can be deeply offensive, it’s fair to say that many of the observations weren’t too far from the truth. I’ll freely admit that some Brits abroad can be total nightmares, as a few of us tend to drink too much, whilst others reject unfamiliar food, get pointless tattoos, or only speak loud and slow English to everyone. Oh, and some of us unashamedly wear socks with sandals… but don’t assume we’re all the same.
On a global level, Knee Defenders became the year’s most controversial airplane accessory, offering passengers the chance to claw back that last bit of space from the selfish idiot in front of them by placing two specially designed clips on their tray table to lock the seat ahead. Some airlines, including Air Canada, United Airlines, Virgin and Qantas, quickly banned the Knee Defender, but it hasn’t brought an end to the awkward wriggle for extra room.
In Other News…
- Visit Scotland embraced Outlander, the Scottish-set TV series taking America – and indeed most of the world – by storm. If you haven’t read the incredible books by Diana Gabaldon which the series is based on, now’s the time to start, because an as-yet-unnamed UK network will be broadcasting Outlander in 2015 (I can hardly contain myself, I’m so excited!). Taking a trip to relevant locations, such as Edinburgh, Inverness and the Culloden battlefield, is surely the icing on the cake for lovers of the books or the program.
- The Whitney Museum of American Art, which I visited on my last trip to New York, has moved from the Upper East Side to the Meatpacking District, where it sits next to the High Line. You can visit from 1st May 2015, when it will reopen to the public in its new home.
- A couple from Alberta, Canada, won a five star holiday to Hawaii and are generously donating it to “the most loving person in Central Alberta”. They’ve set up a Facebook page where people can nominate someone who deserves to win the prize.
Which headlines from the travel industry have caught your eye? Were you lucky enough to see the Commonwealth Games in action? I’d love to hear your views.