Travel insurance

If you’re reading this, chances are something horrible has happened while you’re on vacation ― a health scare, a disruption, even an unexpected death.

Maybe you’ve phoned your travel insurance company and the wheels are now in motion for a claim. And you’re wondering: What now?

I’ve written more than a few stories that offer general strategies for filing a claim. But I never thought I’d find myself in a position to write about my own claim until it happened. I have an annual insurance policy through Allianz Travel Insurance, which is a supporter of my family travel blog. (I pay for the policy with my own money; it’s worth the peace of mind)

At the end of a lengthy road trip this summer, I woke up one morning with a painful eye infection. I had to give a speech in only a few days and I looked like an extra in The Walking Dead. I needed to get patched up quickly.

Call first. You first have to determine if your event is covered by travel insurance. A quick call to your insurance company can establish that. Calls are recorded, so you can rely on what a representative tells you. My rep told me the eye infection was covered by my annual policy.

Ask: What’s next? If you have an urgent situation like a trip disruption or a medical situation, you’ll want to find out what to do next. The company can help with that too. In my situation, I needed to see what my primary health care provider would cover. Travel insurance, I was told, would take care of the rest ― acting as “secondary” coverage.

Get the paperwork requirements. Now the bad news: Nothing is automatic. Your travel insurance company will have paperwork requirements for your claim. For a medical claim like mine, that would be an itemized bill, the M.D.s notes and a description of coverage. Getting that information from my health insurance provider, United Healthcare, was like pulling teeth.

Fix the problem ― and file After you’ve visited the doctor or rebooked your flight, it’s time to file your claim. Collect all of your documents and figure out the fastest way to get them to your company. My insurer offered a web form or email option.

Fix the problem ― and file After you’ve visited the doctor or rebooked your flight, it’s time to file your claim. Collect all of your documents and figure out the fastest way to get them to your company. My insurer offered a web form or email option.

Prep your docs I found the fastest way to file my paperwork was by taking pictures of the invoices and sending them by email. You’ll want to pay attention to the file size. Your insurance company’s mail server or website may have a size limit, which could cause problems. My advice? Send the docs at a lower resolution to ensure they all arrive at their destination.

Patience … Claims can take one to two weeks, although smaller claims of less than $100 typically move at a faster clip. You may need to furnish your company with direct-deposit information or give them a debit card number for payment. My claim was fully processed in less than a week.

By the way, you can avoid all of this paperwork by purchasing a policy through a travel agent. I know agents who will handle all of the paperwork for you and one who even has a perfect track record with claims. Remember, if your first claim is rejected, you can always appeal. Odds are, you’re just missing a form or two.

There’s a lot of paperwork when it comes to claims, but you’ll get your check in the end. And if you don’t? Well, you know

Azamara Adds Third Ship

 

(Recently posted in USA Today)

The first new Azamara Club Cruises ship to debut since the line’s founding in 2010 will spend its first winter in South America — a continent rarely on the line’s schedule.

Arriving in August, the 690-passenger Azamara Pursuit will operate a series of voyages around South America out of Lima, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile starting in November 2018, Azamara will announce today.

The sailings will include trips to Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords — both firsts for the line. There also will be voyages to Brazil that will place the vessel in Rio de Janeiro around New Year’s Eve and during Carnivale.

“We’re going to plug into New Year’s Eve right off the Copacabana,” Azamara president and CEO Larry Pimentel told USA TODAY. “That is an extraordinary experience.”

RELATED:  Azamara Club Cruises ship emerges from major makeover

Speaking in advance of today’s announcement, Pimentel said he and his itinerary planners purposely designed a schedule for the new ship that would take it to places the line has rarely if ever visited. Pursuit will be the first Azamara ship to arrive in South America in three years, and it’ll be the first ever to sail along the west coast of South America, he noted.

“For us, it was about adding more (new itineraries) because the guests are destination collectors,” Pimentel said. “All of sudden we’re able to throw an immense amount of new at them.”

In advance of the South America sailings, Pursuit will operate more than half a dozen Europe voyages that include a 15-night trip out of Southampton, England to Iceland, and several Greek Islands voyages that focus on off-the-beaten-path stops.

Pursuit will debut on Aug. 3 with a 10-night sailing from Barcelona to Southampton, England.

Pursuit is an existing ship that Azamara is buying from British line P&O Cruises and upgrading in a massive overhaul scheduled to take place between March and August.

Originally built in 2001 for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, the vessel is a sister to Azamara’s two current ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Journey and Quest also originally sailed for Renaissance.

With just two ships, Azamara has been one of the smallest cruise lines that markets to North Americans. The addition of Pursuit not only expands Azamara’s capacity by 50% but also allows it to operate a far more diverse array of voyages, Pimentel noted.

In all, Azamara’s destination offerings will expand by 40% after Pursuit’s arrival with the vessel sailing to 61 ports in its first year that aren’t currently on the schedules of the other two ships, Pimentel said.

Pursuit’s initial cruises will include visits to 15 places that no Azamara ship has ever visited before. They include Agadir, Morocco; Antofagasta, Chile; Fowey, United Kingdom; Callao, Peru (the port for Lima); Maceió, Brazil; and Monemvasia, Greece.

Since debuting seven years ago, Azamara has carved out a niche in the cruise world by focusing on “destination immersion,” a term the company has trademarked and that revolves around its ships staying far longer in ports than is common in the industry. The line is known for itineraries with lots of late night and overnight stays in ports, and it also offers a rich array of shore excursions that include multi-day outings and once-a-cruise, exclusive AzAmazing Evenings events.

The new Pursuit itineraries will include 48 late night stays and 26 overnights.

“We spend a lot of time curating what we do on the ground,” Pimentel said. “That’s the reason to go on the product.”

Among unusual offerings available to passengers on Pursuit’s South America sailings will be a two-night stargazing experience in the super-dry Atacama Desert near Antofagasta — known as one of the best locations on Earth for viewing stars. Also built into the South America schedule is the opportunity to do yoga in the Paracas Desert near Pisco, Peru.

Avignon, France

Our excursion three hours or less from Paris last month brought us to Avignon, in the south of France. Just two hours and forty-five minutes by TGV train from Paris Gare de Lyon railroad station, Avignon is the gateway to the blissful Provence region.

Avignon has ancient roots as far back as 600BC and in 120AD the Romans arrived and ruled. The most important historical structure is the Palais de Papes/Popes Palace, the seat of Roman Papacy from 1309 to 1348, where seven successive popes resided. The city was then owned by Joanna I of Naples, and still under Papal control till 1791, during the French Revolution. Today the Palais de Papes is the main attraction of the old quarter of Avignon and a UNESCO Heritage site.

Our late September visit brought us magnificent weather, with unusually warm temperatures in the high 70s. We strolled the ancient cobblestone streets and passageways of Avignon bordered by the towering walls of the Palais de Papes. Hungry for lunch, we dined at L’Epicerie, a café nestled in the corner of a quiet square, where we savored Provencal specialties and chilled, local white wine.

After lunch, we strolled over to Collection Lambert, an art foundation located in two converted 18th century mansions. Yvon Lambert ran a highly successful contemporary gallery in the Marais area of Paris for over forty years, representing a stable of international, renowned artists. Collection Lambert opened in 2000 with over 500 works from Lambert’s private collection from artists such as Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Anselm Kiefer, Nan Goldin, Jean Michel Basquiat and Donald Judd. Today it hosts temporary exhibits along with pieces from the permanent collection. The outdoor café in the courtyard is a lovely, tranquil spot for lunch or a drink.

Another UNESCO Heritage site we visited was Pont Saint-Bénézet, a bridge connecting the Rhone River and Avignon, constructed between 1177 and 1185. The story of the bridge is based on a legend; a young shepherd from Villard in the Ardeche, while herding his sheep, was said to have had a calling from Jesus Christ to build a bridge in order to cross the river. Mocked and shamed by the townspeople for his futile dream, the shepherd miraculously lifted a huge block of stone by himself to start the bridge. Now receiving unwavering support by the town, he formed a Bridge Brotherhood to oversee the construction. Later a chapel was built into the bridge in his name.

The big cultural event in Avignon is the international Avignon Festival in July. One of most important and prestigious performance festivals in Europe, it attracts major artists, performers, dance and theater companies from around the world, which perform in many languages. The festival, founded in 1947 by actor and theater director Jean Vilar, which only had one show in its first year, has now expanded to include over 1,000 shows in the official festival and “Off” festival in a period of three weeks.

Our stay at La Mirande Hotel was the highlight of our trip. A five-star hotel with the highest standards, La Mirande is a privately owned by the Stein family, a rarity these days. We were fortunate to have Mr. Stein give us a detailed historic tour of the hotel. Located directly across from the Palais de Papes, La Mirande was originally built in the early 1300s as an annex for the palace to house religious figures of the time. Parts of the initial building were destroyed in 1410 and in the late 1600s it was reconstructed as a private palace. The Stein family purchased the property in 1987, taking three years to transform it into a luxury hotel.

La Mirande has the rare combination of elements only a handful of hotels contain: an impressive historic building, lavishly appointed rooms and furnishings, flawless service, and a sublime restaurant.

Our delightful room was decorated in the local Provencal style with floral design wallpaper, starched white cotton bed covers with natural linen bed skirts, gold framed portraits and landscapes, a handsome dark wood writing desk and a marble bathroom outfitted with old fashioned faucets.

The next day we were invited to lunch on the terrace overlooking the lush garden filled with late summer flowers, vines, greenery and blooming fruit trees. Starting with three amuse bouches even before we ordered our meal, we knew were in for a special experience. Twenty-nine year old Chef Florent Pietravalle astounded us in the next two hours with his intricate but not fussy flavors, tastes, textures and knock out presentation.

Please note that the train from Gare de Lyon stops at the Avignon TGV station, which is not in Avignon. You must board a local train from the same station, which takes about seven minutes to Avignon center. You can also take an Uber or taxi, approximately 20€. Trains run almost every hour.

Passengers Want More Control Over Travel Experiene

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced the results of its 2017 Global Passenger Survey (GPS), which revealed that passengers expect technology to give them more personal control over their travel experience.

Based on 10,675 responses from around the globe, the survey provided insight into what passengers want from their air travel experience. Topping the list were:

  • Automation of more airport processes
  • A single identity token for all travel processes using biometric identification
  • Real-time information sent directly to personal devices
  • More efficient security – without having to remove or unpack personal items
  • More seamless  border control
  • Ready to go digital

Digital travel processes are the expectation and passengers want more. The GPS found that 82 percent of travelers would like to be able to use a digital passport on their smartphones for as many travel activities as possible, from booking flights to passing through the airport. Biometric identification systems were the technology of choice with 64 percent favoring biometric identifiers as their preferred travel token.

“Passengers want to use one single biometric identity token for all their travel transactions from booking flights to passing security and border control and picking up their bags. IATA’s One ID project is rapidly moving travel towards a day when a face, iris, or fingerprint will provide the key to a seamless travel experience. The technology exists. Its use in aviation needs to be accelerated. Governments need to take the lead by working with industry to establish a trusted framework and agreeing the global standards and security protocols needed to use the technology. One ID will not only make process more efficient for passengers but allow governments to utilize valuable resources more effectively” said Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, in a written release.

Passenger in Control

Passengers want to be able to do more of the airport processes themselves by taking advantage of the latest digital self-service options. Baggage was the top activity that passengers wanted more control over. The GPS found that 68 percent of those surveyed want to self-tag their bags with electronic bag-tags being the preferred option. In addition 48 percent of passengers wanted to self-drop their bag.

The survey found that the number of passengers using automated immigration gates and kiosks increased by 6 percent in 2017, reaching 58 percent with a satisfaction rate of 90 percent. Boarding the aircraft was another area in which passengers wanted to have more control with 72 percent of passengers preferring to self-board, an increase of 2 percent over 2016.

“Passengers have never been as empowered as they are today. Self-service solutions range from mobile check-in and bag drop, to self-boarding and automated border control. Smartphone- and tablet-toting, passengers want to use these mobile devices to control their travel experience. They expect easy access to the information they want, exactly when they need it in the travel process. Airlines and airports that make the most use of technological innovations will be giving a better travel experience to their customers,” said Pierre Charbonneau, IATA’s director Passenger and Facilitation.

Well-informed Passengers

Passengers want airlines and airports to keep them informed throughout their journey. The survey found that 85 percent of passengers want to be able to check the status of their flight and 50 percent want to track their bag throughout the trip. Passengers also wanted more information to help then plan their passage through the airport with 51 percent wanting to know wait times at security and border control and 58 percent wanting to know wait times at arrival customs, a 17 percent increase on 2016.

Providing more real-time information was also identified by 63 percent of passengers as the key to improving their experience during travel disruptions.

SMS messaging remains the preferred option for receiving travel notifications. However this trend is reversing with 28 percent of passenger preferring communication through smartphone apps and 26 percent through email.

“Passengers expect to get up-to-date information on all aspects of their journey with minimum effort, through their preferred channel. Offering this level of personalization is reliant on capturing, managing and understanding passenger data. But no single member of the travel ecosystem has the capability to optimize the end-to-end journey on their own. A global coordination framework is needed on how passenger data is shared, controlled and protected. The IATA personalization program aims to provide customers with trusted, accurate real-time information from all travel service providers throughout their journey,” said Charbonneau.

Passenger Pain Points

Passengers once again identified airport security and border control processes as two of their biggest pain points when travelling. The top frustrations were the intrusiveness of having to remove personal items (60%), the inconvenience of having to unpack electronic devices in carry-on bags (52%) and the variation in security screening procedures at different airports (47%).

To make security and border control areas as safe, effective and hassle-free as possible for passengers, the industry needs to embrace new Smart Security technology, the IATA said.

Bring Your Own Device

The GPS found that 42 percent of passengers, would prefer to use their own devices- Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – to access inflight entertainment options. Greater connectivity promises to be a win for both the carriers and the passengers they carry.

“The importance of smartphone technology, the demand for more automation and personalization throughout the travel process and desire to stay connected is not new to aviation, however the GPS highlights the extent of the opportunities on offer and the need for airlines and airports and to invest significantly in this area. To satisfy travelers, airports and airlines will need to work together to provide passengers with easy-to-use mobile services, self-service options and one-stop security checks to make sure they meet this demand. But industry can’t achieve this alone. Government support is essential to change antiquated regulations before the industry can fully transform,” said Careen.

The latest IATA Global Passenger Survey (GPS) analyzed the comments from passengers from more than 152 countries across all regions in the world.

Source: IATA

History of St. Petersburg

by Tribune Content Agency and Rick Steves, Rick Steves Travel – PBS, October 24, 2017

A former imperial capital and the home of the czars, St. Petersburg is Russia’s most tourist-worthy city. Pastel palaces, bucolic gardens, commanding statues and graceful waterways evoke romantic images of Peter the Great and the Romanov dynasty.

But travelers can also find memories of St. Petersburg’s darker history: In 1917, the Russian Revolution started in the streets, ultimately doing away with the czars and ushering in the Soviet era.

In February of that year, Czar Nicholas II was ousted and a provisional government took over. Just months later, in what’s now called the “October Revolution,” Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks grabbed power. Not long after, the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family.

In today’s Russia, there’s little official recognition of the centenary of these turbulent events. Still, St. Petersburg’s Museum of Russian Political History (www.polithistory.ru) tells the story in detail, and you’ll find other revolutionary sights around the city.

Start with the battleship “Aurora,” docked on the Neva River (and now a museum). According to popular history, this ship had a key role in the revolution: It was a shot fired from the Aurora that signaled the start of the October uprising.

On that fateful day, the anarchists’ first move was to storm the czars’ Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum), where members of the provisional government had holed up. Imagine them worriedly looking out over the huge Palace Square as it filled with masses of angry workers, inspired to action by the promise of a better life under Bolshevism.

The seeds of this discontent had been planted a half-century earlier, in 1861. Nicholas’ grandfather, Alexander II, freed Russia’s serfs. Suddenly free but with no land and no livelihood, the dumbfounded peasants rioted. Meanwhile, extremists, dissatisfied with the pace of reform, began plotting. In the end, an assassin tossed a bomb at Alexander, killing him on a St. Petersburg street in 1881.

The Romanovs built the onion-domed Church on Spilled Blood to commemorate the very spot where the czar fell (even preserving the bloodied cobbles). With its gilded domes and dazzling mosaics, it’s a fairy-tale image of Russian tradition and history, and one of the city’s most popular sights.

But the very theme of the church — honoring an assassinated czar — was an insult to the Bolsheviks. They looted it with gusto during the 1917 revolution. In the communist era, the church was used for storing potatoes, and the streets around it were named for Alexander’s assassins.

Other churches suffered similar degradations. Mobs overran the Peter and Paul Fortress, ransacked its cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, and desecrated the Romanov tombs there. Some churches were made into ice-hockey rinks, swimming pools, and so on. The Kazan Cathedral, repository of the treasured icon of Our Lady of Kazan, for years functioned as a Museum of Atheism.

Today, the churches and Orthodox religious practices have made a comeback. It’s particularly meaningful to see the beautifully renovated cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Glittering with Orthodox imagery, it’s filled to the brim with dead czars and czarinas, including the last Romanovs: Nicholas II and his wife and children. Things have changed so much that they’re now considered martyrs, and were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ironically, St. Petersburg’s museums owe some of their wealth of western European art to the revolution. The urbane aristocrats of turn-of-the-century Russia patronized French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, buying paintings in Paris (especially from newcomers like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso) and sending them home to St. Petersburg.

After the October Revolution, the state confiscated those private collections and designated them to state museums. The owners, meanwhile, fled abroad. Today the very paintings that once hung in St. Petersburg’s palatial townhouses are viewable in the galleries of the Hermitage and the Russian Museum.

Perhaps the most storied “reclaimed” artworks in St. Petersburg are the Easter eggs crafted by the illustrious House of Faberge, made on commission for czars Alexander III and Nicholas II. Fourteen Easter eggs — nine of them imperial — are on view in the Faberge Museum, itself housed in the beautifully restored Shuvalov Palace.

The final imperial egg (on view in the museum) was given by Nicholas to his mother in 1916. When she fled Russia three years later, it was this egg — with miniature portraits of her murdered son and grandson — that the dowager empress carried out. The Bolsheviks kept the rest, and over time, the Soviets sold the eggs to fund their government. The Faberge Museum (with the help of a deep-pocketed oligarch) had to buy the eggs back on the open market.

A century after the revolution, most tourists come to St. Petersburg for its resurrected aristocratic opulence. But its 20th-century upheavals were every bit as transformative as the age of the Romanovs — and are just as enmeshed in the city’s cultural fabric.

IF YOU VISIT…

EATING: Pelmeniya is a great place to sample dumplings (and variations from around the world). The modern interior overlooks the Fontanka River (Fontanka 25, tel. 7-571-8082). Cococo serves up traditional dishes with a modern twist in a laid-back, mellow cellar (Nekrasova 8, tel. 7-579-0016).

SLEEPING: Alexander House is a boutique hotel in a historic building, with 20 homey rooms in a quiet neighborhood near the Mariinsky Theater (splurge, www.a-house.ru). The basic M Hotel has 61 central rooms tucked away in a utilitarian courtyard near the city’s main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt (moderate, www.mhotelspb.ru).

GETTING AROUND: Most sights (and the dense urban core) are on the south bank of the Neva River. Use the cheap, easy Metro system. Buses and trolley buses help bridge the (sometimes long) gaps between sights and Metro stops and can save tons of time. The useful online English-language journey planner covers Metro and surface transport

These 10 Cities Are Fastest Growing in Tourism

by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, October 25, 2017

The world’s top 10 fastest growing cities, in terms of tourism, are all in Asia – and the top five in China, new research has shown.

But they’re not likely to be destinations thronging with British holidaymakers.

Like Chongqing. The city in south-west China is poised to grow its travel industry by 14 per cent in the next 10 years, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which considered the likely future contribution to GDP by tourism sector of 65 cities, including 21 in the Asia and Pacific region.

Or Guanghzhou, once a major terminus on the Silk Road, which is expected to expand 13.1 per cent by 2026.

Not familiar with these? But surely you’ve been to Shenzhen, which boasts the eighth largest growth rate in the world (10.7 per cent)?

Which of the top 10 have you been to?

  1. Chongqing – 14 per cent rise in contribution to GDP
  2. Guangzhou – 13.1 per cent
  3. Shanghai – 12.8 per cent
  4. Beijing – 12 per cent
  5. Chengdu – 11.2 per cent
  6. Manila – 10.9 per cent
  7. Delhi – 10.8 per cent
  8. Shenzhen – 10.7 per cent
  9. Kuala Lumpur – 10.1 per cent
  10. Jakarta – 10 per cent

“The dominance of the Chinese market is clear, both in terms of future growth and overall size,” said the WTTC in its report.

Of course, it is no surprise that countries looking to boost their visitor numbers should appeal to the Chinese, the world’s largest holiday market, but one that remains largely untapped. As it stands, only 8.7 per cent of its population own a passport, a ratio set to soar in the coming years.

This lack of travel documents partly explains the big growth expected for Chinese destinations.

unbelievable tourism stats

Fancy a trip to Chongqing?

But why might you want to spend a long weekend in Chongqing? Our family editor Sally Peck, who lived in China for two years and returns frequently, explains.

“Greater Chongqing, population 30 million, is a major manufacturing centre and transportation hub,” she says. “One of China’s most polluted cities, it occupies a strategic position along the Yangtze, serving as the start of most Three Gorges cruises, and also as the port for many cargo ships, which have easier access thanks to the grand Dam down river at Yichang.

“While hot pot probably originated in northern China, its greatest iteration comes from Chongqing: you cook raw vegetables and meat in a bowl of fiery chilli-laden soup and it is delicious.”

What about Guangzhou?

“If it’s top-notch dim sum you’re after, Guangzhou, aka Canton, is the place to be, a teeming, humid monument to the best and worst of contemporary China,” she says.

Shenzhen, a city that registers a higher growth rate than Kuala Lumpur, is “a study in the haves and have-nots of the People’s Republic”, she adds.

“Luxury high-rises for business people loom over shanty towns housing the millions of workers who produce everything from trainers to toys for international consumption,” she says.

I think I’d rather go to Manila…

Our cruise editor Teresa Machan had some tips, too, for Manila, the Philippine capital and fastest growing destination outside of China.

“According to the 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum the Philippines is the 11th most dangerous country for tourists. I’ve never met an unfriendly host in that country, which makes the trigger-happy tendencies of the capital’s criminal gangs and kidnap-for-ransom occurrences all the more sad,” she said.

“Do visit the Philippines’ sprawling and stunning archipelago of islands (avoiding the southern half of Mindanao) for some of the region’s best snorkelling and powder-soft beaches; but don’t linger in traffic-clogged Manila longer than you need to. While the Spanish heritage most evident in the restored walled city of Intramuros offers a point of difference in south-east Asia, so does the concern for personal safety.”

What else did we learn from the WTTC report?

Singapore is soaring

Singapore’s travel industry has doubled in 10 years, now turning over $12.4billion (£9.4billion) every year. The vibrant city state boasts a diverse culinary scene, from fine dining to sizzling street stalls, as well as lush botanical gardens. Once regarded as a pleasant stopover, the city is increasingly being recognised as a destination in its own right. Some 450,000 Britons visit every year, according to the Foreign Office.

Macau is the “most tourism intensive city” in the Asia Pacific region, with more than a quarter of its economy the direct result of tourism spending. The gambling hub is the sixth most visited city in the world, ahead of the likes of New York, Istanbul and Dubai. By 2026, its contribution to GDP will grow by 10.9 per cent.

Thai tourism is growing outside of Bangkok

Though the capital enjoyed a healthy growth rate (8.4 per cent), the WTTC noted that its share of national tourism had fallen from 60 per cent in 2006 to 50 per cent in 2016.

“Other destinations within the country have grown rapidly,” the report said. “For many years Bangkok was the key gateway for Thailand as the location of the country’s main hub airport.

“Increased connectivity elsewhere in the country more recently has prompted faster growth than in Bangkok.”

Location such as Phuket, in the south and famed for its beaches, and Chiang Mai, in the mountainous north, are increasingly popular with visitors.

Osaka has the slowest growth rate in the region

Behind every other city in the Asia Pacific region, Osaka has to resign itself to an anticipated growth of just 1.2 per cent over the next 10 years. The WTTC puts this slow rate down to the city still recovering from the Japanese earthquake of 2011.

 

Viking to Add Seven Longships

Viking Cruises has announced that it has ordered seven new river cruise ships that will launch in 2019, helping it inch closer to its goal of 100 ships. The order includes six additional Viking Longships that will sail on the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers as well as one additional ship designed for Portugal’s Douro River. With the addition of the new ships, Viking will have 69 river ships sailing around the world. It will also welcome a new ocean ship in 2019.

The new Viking Longships have the line’s patented corridor design and cutting-edge technology for the modern traveler. The ships will have an all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that allows guests to enjoy the views and dine al fresco.

The ship will accommodate 190 passengers in 95 staterooms, including two Explorer Suite, as well as seven two-room Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom; 39 Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas; and 22 French Balcony Staterooms. Rooms include high-end amenities like hotel-style beds, heated bathroom floors, mini fridge, and both U.S. and EU outlets. Additionally, all Viking Longships have sustainability upgrades, such as onboard solar panels and organic herb gardens, and energy-efficient hybrid engines that also reduce vibrations.

The new Douro River ship is being designed specifically for the Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary. It will be joining three other sister ships on the same river.

While the new ship will be smaller than the Viking Longships, 106 passengers in 53 staterooms, it will still feature many of the same amenities including Aquavit Terrace, a variety of stateroom choices, onboard solar panels and an organic herb garden.

Arctic Cruise to see Polar Bears

by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, October 9, 2017

One o’clock: polar bear; nine o’clock: walrus; four o’clock: minke whale; seven o’clock: bearded seal.

These weren’t the times I spotted the mammals, but the easiest way for Boris Wise, our expedition leader, to point out their positions in relation to our ship.

Then, halfway through my voyage around the High Arctic island of Spitsbergen, came the most exciting sighting of all: 10 o’clock, blue whale (announced over the Tannoy just before 7am). Leaping out of bed, I arrived on deck just as a second announcement came that there were at least two of them.

“I think we’ve got three… no, four… possibly five!” said Wise, the excitement evident despite his years of wildlife encounters. Their enormous backs broke the surface a few hundred metres away; even at that distance I could see the huge plume of spray from their blowholes. Gradually they approached the ship, its decks now rimmed with passengers. One did a deep dive – its huge fluke rising gracefully against the backdrop of one of Spitsbergen’s boulder-like glaciers.

We later learnt how rare it is for a blue whale to “fluke”, yet I witnessed this spectacle three times. The next sighting would surely have made even Sir David Attenborough gasp. Well over 100 tons of muscle and blubber rose out from the water so close to the bow of the ship I could have jumped on its back. I leaned as far over the side of the railing as I could without falling in.

The previous day our expedition ship had been buried in the loose ice at the edge of the endless white cap that covers the North Pole. As the crew set out the tables for a deck barbecue in this bizarre location, a minke whale spy-hopped – stuck its head right out of the water – so close we could hear its breath. Making use of the open pools of water between the ice sheets, another of the pod joined in, checking us out. Minkes are among the smaller whales but to look one in the eye is unforgettable.

I had joined our ship, Akademik Ioffe, in Longyearbyen, the surprisingly busy “capital” of Spitsbergen that is a three-hour flight north of Oslo. Ioffe is a Russian-owned polar research vessel that is still used for its original purpose for several weeks each year, as well as being chartered for expedition cruises by the likes of One Ocean Expeditions.

We were welcomed by a team of naturalists, guides and other specialists from North America and Europe, most of whom had spent decades embracing the great outdoors. Their knowledge and anecdotes were to add hugely to our experience over the next 10 days.

Foremost in my mind when booking this trip was the chance to see polar bears. They are, after all, why most people travel to the Svalbard archipelago way up in the Barents Sea north of Norway. But the emblematic bear was, on this rare occasion, usurped by the planet’s biggest animal.

Bears still played an electrifying role in our nine-night voyage, however. Shortly before we enjoyed the minke ballet, the One Ocean naturalist team had spied one wandering across the frozen sea, which is why our ship, built to do just that, had gently nudged its way through the ice.

Telegraph Tours | A thrilling 12-day cruise through the Arctic guided by wildlife experts

Some distance away at first, the butter-coloured speck played cat and mouse behind the icebergs, slowly ambling towards us.

I could see its reflection in the water pools and watched its progress through binoculars until it disappeared in search of (most likely) a seal dinner. He was one of nine polar bears that we would see during the trip; towards the lower end of the usual count, though sightings can never be guaranteed.

Ioffe is an interesting ship, with lots of open deck space for viewing both the wildlife and Spitsbergen’s untamed seascapes of sharp mountains striped with snow from the long and brutal winter. Cabins are cosy, the food hearty and the bar lively, the latter being the venue for informal “fireside chats” by the expedition team as an adjunct to the audio-visual lectures in the presentation room.

The daily programme is edifying. Each day, when the 7am wake-up call comes through, there’s a delicious feeling of not knowing what you may encounter over the next few hours – or even late at night as, up here, the sun never sets in summer.

The ship’s fleet of Zodiac craft – manoeuvrable excursion boats taking up to 10 passengers – were used almost daily to ferry guests ashore for guided hikes or for scenic cruising along the face of glaciers. On our way up to the polar ice cap – more than 80 degrees north – we stepped ashore at the site of an old whaling station to investigate a quivering brown mass on the beach that the staff had identified as a herd of walruses. Obeying strict rules about not stressing any animals, we crept up to them, observing the occasional lift of a huge tusked head and listening to their various belches and grunts.

Brushes with nature were plentiful and varied. A large bearded seal resting on an iceberg allowed us to float past on the Zodiacs. Arctic terns danced around us on the water, trying to avoid the bullying skuas that force them to give up their food. White reindeer, unused to human interaction, approached my hiking group, almost posing for the inevitable photos. An Arctic fox trotted along the mossy shore, looking for birds’ eggs.

Towards the end of our voyage the decision was made to round the southern tip of Spitsbergen where more sea ice had been identified by satellite imaging. It was our last chance to see another polar bear. After hours of searching through telescopes among the scattered ice, we had almost given up hope when the call came: 12 o’clock, dead ahead.

Carefully guiding the ship towards our “target”, the whispers of “I can see it!” became more frequent as the slumbering animal woke up and began its patrol. We stopped, letting the bear – a large male in prime condition – choose his own path. He obligingly gave us many picture opportunities before slipping into the water and swimming off into the distance.

In the bar that evening, we toasted this moment and the wild nature of Spitsbergen with cocktails chilled with ice, thousands of years old, from one of the glaciers. At a very civilised six o’clock.

 

Why You Should Visit Taiwan

The first non-stop flights from the UK to Taiwan in five years will launch in December, courtesy of China Airlines. From its 100 peaks above 3,000 metres to a toilet-themed restauurant, here are 15 reasons why you should concern yourself with visiting the Asian island.

1. There’s a museum of 696,422 exhibits

The sixth most visited museum in the world (6.1m people each year), and home to an impressive 696,422 exhibits, the National Palace Museum in Taipei is a tremendous repository showcasing more than 8,000 years of Chinese art.

John O’Ceallaigh, who visited for the Telegraph in 2017, said it boasts “some of the most exquisite artworks in existence”, while the building itself, on a verdant hillside on the outskirts of the city, is a “dramatically beautiful, multi-tiered complex”. Its vast galleries are dedicated to luminescent jades, lustrous lacquerwares and paraphernalia ranging from snuff bottles to rare bronzes to intriguing oddities such as an intricately detailed miniature boat carved from an olive pit.

2. A gigantic gold bar

In the mountain town of Jinguashi is the Gold Ecological Park where visitors can learn about the history of gold mining in the region, and marvel at one of the original tunnels. And at the park’s museum, you can touch one of the largest gold bars in the world – weighing in at 222kg.

3. And a toilet-themed restaurant

For a different kind of cultural experience, head to Modern Toilet, a lavatory-themed restaurant. “Diners sit on loos decorated with cartoon toilet seats and tuck into novelty dishes – including chocolate ice cream styled to resemble faeces – eaten from miniature cisterns and bedpans: a truly weird culinary experience that’s a big hit with young Taiwanese,” wrote Sally Howard for Telegraph Travel. Each to their own.

4. But Taiwanese food is actually very good

Toilet establishments aside, the cuisine is reason enough to visit Taiwan. Enjoy spicy pork dumplings and beef noodle soup bought from street vendors or gorge on platefuls of xiaochi or “small eats” at one of the nation’s 300 night markets.

Enjoy spicy food in one of 300 night markets
Enjoy spicy food in one of 300 night markets Credit: getty

5. It has a fascinating history

Taiwan is often seen as hosting a Chinese culture that might have succeeded in the mainland had the Communists not won the Chinese Civil War. First inhabited by indigenous Taiwanese before it was colonised by the Dutch and Spanish in the 17th century, Taiwan came under Japanese rule after the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. The Republic of China then took the island back in 1945 before losing it to the Communists in 1949. Its cultural heritage, therefore, is a blend of traditional Chinese, Japanese, Confucianist beliefs and modern, Western values.

6. They love their night markets

Hustling, bustling, buzzing and brightly lit, the night markets of Taiwan are quite an experience. From the best-known Shilin Night Market to Tainan Flowers Night Market, these open-air festivals of sound, smell and taste take place on different nights around the island so be sure to research ahead. There is around 300 to choose from.

7. You can soak in a hot spring

“The result of being located on a tectonic join, the springs come in various colours, temperatures and mineral make-ups, and their popularity among visitors is another legacy of the Japanese,” wrote Ben Lerwill for Telegraph Travel in 2013, of the springs mostly found in the east of the country. “I visited the Ruisui springs, which were warm enough to boil me into an afternoon-long submission. I wallowed until the stars came out.”

8. It has a green and lush valley

Taiwan’s East Rift Valley runs along the island’s eastern coast and boasts acres of rich, lush countryside. Ben Lerwill writes: “While much of the west holds industrial zones and urban settlements, the opposite coast is far quieter. The last portion of my trip was spent in the East Rift Valley, a deep green landscape sliced in two by the Tropic of Cancer, marked by rice paddies and a continuous wall of enormous broken ridges. It is countryside crying out to be explored, a fact aided by a comprehensive network of cycle trails. I spent hours circling the farming town of Guanshan on a hired bike, disturbing little other than flocks of egrets and the occasional water buffalo.”

9. And a bling monastery

“Retail opportunities are not typically associated with monastic orders, but there is nothing typical about the gargantuan Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli Town, where tourists are escorted by saffron-robed monks sporting photo identity cards and earphones and by microphone-wired security guards,” says Anthony Lambert, a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel. “The $190,000 woodcarvings in the shop seem to be the least of their worries. If Mecca is turning into Las Vegas, as a report once suggested, the Chung Tai Chan Monastery is more Canary Wharf meets Las Vegas.

“The colossal structure, finished around the year 2000, dominates the surrounding countryside. Its gold-topped stupa on a 37-storey tower is flanked by sloping barrack blocks for the 1,600 monks, ending in wings with faux battlements, machicolations and arrow slits.”

Chung Tai Chan Monastery
Chung Tai Chan Monastery Credit: getty

10. But plenty more arresting places of worship

The island has more traditional religious buildings, too, not least the Unesco-recognised Baoan Temple.

11. There is a gnarly railway

Speaking of Unesco, the world heritage group is mulling over awarding World Heritage Status to the Alishan Forest Railway, an 86km network of narrow gauge railways running throughout the mountain resort of Alishan. Opened in 1912, passengers enjoy dozens of switchbacks, 50 tunnels and more than 70 wooden bridges.

12. Plus a high-speed network

At the other end of the rail spectrum is Taiwan’s high speed network, which opened in 2007 and links the capital, Taipei, to the southern city of Kaohsiung (reaching speeds of 186mph along the way).

13. Taipei was once home to the tallest building in the world

The tallest building in the world between 2004 and 2010, when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took over, Taipei101 (the figure denoting the number of floors) towers over the capital, serving as an icon for the modern evolution of the country. Its lifts reach speeds of 37.6mph, flinging passengers from the fifth to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. There is an observation deck on the 91st floor, some 1,285 feet above the ground.

Taipei's 101 building was once the tallest in the world
Taipei’s 101 building was once the tallest in the world Credit: Getty

14. The opportunities for hiking are vast

Taiwan, despite its fairly small size, is home to nine national parks, including Yushan, in which the nation’s highest peak – of the same name – resides. Its maximum height of 12,966 feet gives it the fourth highest elevation of any island in the world.

Check Into Delta with APP

(posted in Breaking Travel News)

Delta launches automatic check-in through app

Delta Air Lines has added automatic check-in to the Fly Delta app to streamline the check-in experience for customers and take the guesswork out of accessing a boarding pass.

The new functionality, available on the latest version of the app, automatically checks in eligible customers 24 hours prior to their scheduled departure.

Customers receive an alert via email or push notification, open the app, acknowledge the federal government mandate for restricted items, and their boarding pass is there along with all the tools needed for their trip.

“Our customers have told us Delta can eliminate some of their stress associated with upcoming travel if they know their boarding pass is ready and can see their seat assignment,” said Rhonda Crawford, vice president – global distribution, digital strategy.

“Auto check-in provides that peace of mind in a simple, automated solution that also saves valuable time.”

Once inside the app, customers can add checked bags, change seats and purchase upgrades – all from the “Today” mode.
“We’ve approached the app experience with the intention of making it as intuitive as possible,” Crawford continued.
“Take, for example, the bag button in Today mode: once a customer adds a bag, the bag button will dynamically change to display ‘Track My Bags’ so they can take full advantage of Delta’s industry-leading RFID bag-tracking capabilities, through the app.”

Auto check-in is generally available to customers with domestic-only itineraries who already have a seat assignment or are auto-assigned a seat at check-in.
Customers who require assistance with special requests like traveling with a pet in the cabin or traveling as an unaccompanied minor need to continue checking in with an agent.

With more than half of Delta travellers using Delta’s mobile tools to navigate their experience, Delta regularly updates the app for the benefit of customers