Whereas 2014 was all about knee defenders, awkward profiles of Brits in the German press, and Outlander-themed tours of Scotland, this year has been very different.
We’ve seen terror on the streets, refugees in crisis, and a king reburied half a millennium after his death, and that’s only a snippet of what 2015 involved.
A World in Chaos
With ISIS/ISIL-led terror attacks tragically striking Egypt, France and Tunisia, and with parts of Belgium on lockdown following the recent Paris attacks, it’s been a sobering year. Western tourists have naturally been cautious, but holidaymakers are not the only targets. Locals socialising or going to work also lost their lives. Whilst the travel industry is under pressure to deliver better safety measures and tighter security, anyone driven to cancel their holiday and stay at home won’t be risk-free, because domestic threats are just as common. The sad fact is that we can’t always prevent these attacks from happening, however we can’t live our lives in constant fear.
Zora Neale Hurston, the American writer and anthropologist, once said: ‘Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’ Yet, when it comes to travel, most of us do very little prep at all, then wonder why we end up with only a vague idea of where we’ve spent the last few days and what it meant to be there.
It’s great to be spontaneous and live in the moment, but a little research goes a long way and means you won’t waste as much of your time off. By all means don’t tie yourself down to specific times, or route march between sights, but do turn up with a fair idea of what you want to get out of your visit. Unless you’ve got deep pockets, you may well only visit a place once in your lifetime, so why take it for granted?
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.
A few months ago I blogged about Belgium’s preparations for the centenary of WWI, and mentioned the sights I’d like to visit in Flanders to commemorate the occasion. Now I’ve had the chance to put those plans into action, as I’m heading over to Belgium this month to see things for myself, with some help from the team at Visit Flanders. I’ll be covering WWI, but also seeing other historical talking points such as museums and beguinages (more on those later).
Day 1 – Brussels
As the centenary of the Great War approaches, it’s fair to say that things are already hotting up on the tourism and publicity front.
Whilst I unfortunately missed the WWI talk at World Travel Market last year, due to clashes in my schedule, I did manage to pick up some poppy seeds from the Visit Flanders area and I will be planting them (despite my not-so-green fingered gardening ‘abilities’) in an effort to bring a part of this very real, global event home – I think that offering poppy seeds is a great marketing tool, but also a really personal way to get people involved. After all, the Great War was something that touched the lives of normal citizens and changed the future and fortunes of a whole generation.
When Facebook duly nudged me towards a travel competition in its ads today, I was happy to click and find out more. After all, who wouldn’t want to hop over to Stockholm, home of ice-cool fashionistas, a gorgeous archipelago of tiny islands to explore and a medieval quarter (Gamla Stan) where you can wander through tiny side-streets and discover the city’s past? As you can probably tell, it’s been sitting on my wish list for a while.
This also sounded like a cool competition because the tourist board took advantage of current technology and made it fairly effortless for people to enter, by using Instagram, or sending a photo by email if you don’t have access to the app. How inclusive, I thought – even giving non-Instagrammers the chance to win. But then I did a double take at the other conditions: they wanted entrants to take a photo from Stockholm, in order to bag a holiday there. Say what?
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.