Monday, 21 December 2015

New lift link creates "largest ski resort in the US"

(image courtesy Vail Resorts)
The link between Utah's Park City and neighbouring Canyons is now open, creating what is claimed to be the biggest ski area in the US. The Quicksilver gondola lift connects resorts in 8 mins 30s ecs. Together the two area offer a total of over 300 runs served by 41 lifts. A longer term plan envisages linking the with a further five Utah resorts - Snowbird, Alta, Deer Valley, Solitude and Brighton. Known as the One Wasatch Concept, after the eponymous mountain range, this would create a combined 750 runs with 100 lifts, But the plan will be fraught with difficulties, not least over the need to protect the water supply.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Cuba: how long before the US tourist rush?

A full scale tourist invasion of Cuba from the US now looks inevitable - but the timescale remains doubt. The two countries this week agreed a bilateral air treaty enabling the establishment of scheduled flights. Since the initial thaw in relations only charters have been permitted. American Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue were among the first to say they would seek early approval to start services. But under US law, Americans may only visit Cuba if the purpose of their trips falls into one of a dozen strict categories, including official Government or inter-governmental business, education and some exports and imports. Ordinary American tourists are still barred from travelling there. My advice to anyone toying with the idea of a trip from the UK is to go soon, before the atmosphere changes significantly - and before prices are pushed up significantly. But don't panic. It's unlikely there will be any flood tide of new scheduled flights, for the simple reason that Cuba doesn't have infrastructure adequate to cope. Airports will certainly need upgrading, not least to speed up baggage delivery and render those other than Havana's capable of handling big increases in passenger traffic. According to the authoritative magazine Air Transport World, IATA (International Air Transport Association), has offered the Cuban government expert assistance to head off mistakes. And the national airline Cubana will face challenges. At present it can only operate aircraft with a maximum 10% US-made content. That means it's largely limited to Russian built airliners. The timetable may also be affected by the result of the forthcoming US presidential election. It's surely open to question whether a right wing Republican winner would be keen to proceed at the same pace as President Obama. But however long it takes the inevitable outcome of this week's agreement will be make Cuba less distinct than other Caribbean destinations.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Holiday prices: questions remain

Llewyn Peninsula, North Wales - will holidaymakers stay closer to home

How will holiday prices move in response to recent terror attacks? There seems little doubt that in the immediate term capacity will be squeezed in the relatively few short haul sunshine destinations still perceived as safe, notably the Canary Islands. As I have already noted on this site, that’s likely to make last minute bargains harder to come by. According to the major tour operator TUI travellers are turning to long haul destinations such as the Cape Verde islands following the Sharm el Sheikh crisis. The bounce back in Greece looks likely to gather momentum next summer. But the big question remains whether general nervousness will depress the overall market beyond Christmas and into the New Year, persuading consumers to stay close to home and producing a downturn in bookings greater than the reduction in capacity created by the demise of Tunisia and the grounding of flights to Sharm el Sheikh. Some tour operators reported a sharp decline in bookings in the immediate aftermath of the Paris atrocities. It’s not possible to look at travel from the UK in isolation. Statistics show that sales of airline tickets from the US to Paris have plummeted. They were reported to be down 28% last week compared with the same period last year – though bookings to the rest of Europe have held up fairly well.  The International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose membership includes the world’s major airlines, reports traffic to Europe from Asia is down. At the same time it says air fares worldwide fell by an average of 5% n he first eight months of this year. Low aviation fuel prices have been the main cause. According to Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of the association, fares are still “trending downwards” (the statistics also suggest that  European passengers may be less likely to reap the benefit than those in other regions). Will that trend be accelerated by a reluctance to fly in the face of terror. It's just one more unknown. But whatever happens in the next few months history shows that tourism is remarkable resilient. Eventually, even from the greatest adversity, it recovers.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Budget long haul flights - will they last?

Will the rapid expansion of low cost long haul flights prove sustainable in the long term? Iceland's WOW is showing how it might, widening its catchment area any introducing new links with its trans-Atlantic flights from Reykjavik. The carrier's latest move was to announce the launch next May of flights from Bristol that will connect with its services to and from Boston, Washington, Toronto and Montreal. It will operate three round trips a week from the UK West Country airport. A recent survey showed that 83% of UK senior UK travel industry executives thought new low cost long haul operations would continue to be introduced over the next five years. But some expert observers question whether such expansion would be able to weather a sharp rise in aviation fuel prices, which remain low. They are currently less than half their peak level in the past seven years. A big spike would reduce the percentage savings budget airlines are able to offer. Aviation history is littered with low fare long haul operators which have come and gone. It is also worth noting that Ryanair, now the world's largest airline in terms of international passengers carried, has so far avoided the temptation to join the fray, limiting its operations to short and medium haul destinations.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

House party in Herefordshire

It was a big birthday this week for she who must be obeyed. I won't tell you how big - but significant enough to organise the party she had said she didn't want. So I booked a big country house in Herefordshire through Rural Retreats, an operator we had used previously, and summoned the family. It worked beautifully. There were 14 of us - eight adults and six children. Bearwood House and cottage, near the black and white village of Pembridge, slept up to 15 in seven bedrooms. There was a bathroom each for us - en suite in the master bedroom (naturally) and three families of four. The kitchen was well equipped, with an AGA, a conventional love, a microwave and a dishwasher  - though kitchens in rental properties rarely match your own - and there was plenty of fridge space for the considerable quantities of champagne and white wine we had all brought. The house and separate cottage, which also contained an AGA, had been built on the site of a former barn. There was under floor heating downstairs (the upper floors creaked a bit). We were greeted by hampers full of essentials such as bread, coffee and free range eggs plus wine and excellent local cider. Rooms were low beamed and attractively furnished and there was a lot of artwork mourned the walls. There was wi fi, there were Wii games and a couple of TVs- and there was an outdoor hot tub. Sadly the wind howled and rain lashed the landscape. so an important plus point was the superb games room, where kids who might otherwise have felt frustratingly housebound by the atrocious weather could disappear and play pool, air hockey and table tennis. The Michelin starred Stag Inn at Titley was only a short drive away but we had so over stocked with goodies that there was little temptation to venture out. Hiring large properties such as this, popular with those celebrating similarly important milestones, isn't cheap. But you can't watch pennies when it's a special occasion, especially in the depths of winter. And I think that in the end, she who had opposed the very idea of a party was rather glad one had been arranged for her. 

View from the house

Friday, 20 November 2015

Snowfall raises skiers' hopes

Good news for skiers from the Rockies and encouraging signs in the Alps. Colorado's Vail (see video above) opens today, with nine lifts in operation. Following storms that have dumped over a foot of snow and temperatures ideal for snow making, the resort hasn't seen a better opening day in a decade. The new, six passenger Avanti Express chair is scheduled to carry visitors for the first time and Game Creek Bowl should open. Elsewhere in Colorado, Steamboat was opening for the weekend after significant snowfall this month. In Utah, Alta was open today, with 20 inches of fresh snow this morning and a big storm forecast for Thanksgiving weekend at the end if they coming week. That means neighbouring Snowbird and - with any luck - other Utah resorts including Park City and Deer Valley - should ansi be blanketed with powder. In Canada, Sun Peaks in British Columbia was opening today after storms which have produced some 75cms of fresh snow. At resorts In the French Alps heavy rain was forecast to turn to heavy snow. In Val d'sere, for example, chichis scheduled to open on November 28, snow was forecast to fall down to 600 metres by Sunday. Elsewhere snow was forecast this weekend and on and off through next week at resorts from St Anton to Kitzbuhel in Austria, Zermatt to Davos in Switzerland and Courmayeur in Italy. Sub zero temperatures suggest there's reasonable chance this may not prove a false dawn - so don't salivate too much yet but start preparing for the new season with a work out or two. Remember, this RockyMountain resorts are very high and altitude sickness is extremely unpleasant. And the best snow in European resorts this early in the winter will also almost certainly be on the highest slopes. So besides stretching, a little heart lung exercise is a very good idea.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

New budget flights from eight airports

Ryanair will fly to Krakow from Bristol

New low fare flights from at least eight UK airports are planned for next year. Here’s a round up:

Ryanair will launch four flights a week from the Birmingham to Madrid and two a week to the Italian city of Verona at the start of its summer schedules. The airline will also start flying five round trips a week to from Newcastle to Alicante and four to Malaga, three a week from Bristol to Krakow and twice a week to Reus in Spain, and four a week from Glasgow to Berlin. And it will start six new routes from Manchester - to Bratislava (Slovakia), Brindisi n southern Italy, the north German city of Bremen, Carcassonne and Limoges in France and Malta.

Vueling will start flying from the Scottish capital to Rome’s Fiumicino airport and Paris Orly on March 29 and to Alicante from June 16. It will also start operating to the southern Spanish city from Manchester and Birmingham next summer.
Copenhagen, easyJet adds Luton - Copenhagen (image courtesy VisitDenmark/copyright Kim Wyon

easyJet has announced the start of an array of  new routes to be launched between the end of March and May 31. They include: Manchester and Edinburgh to Funchal in Madeira, Glasgow to Marrakech, Belfast to Reykjavik and London Luton to Basel, Copenhagen, Lyon, Munich, Naples and Rome. The airline also plans to operate from Southend to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Jet2 to fly Edinburgh - Tenerife (Image of Mount Teide courtesy Tenerife Tourism) 

Jet2 will start operating to a dozen new destinations from Edinburgh including the Greek islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos, Vienna, Larnaca (Cyprus), Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife in the Canary Islands and Antalya and Dalaman in Turkey. Most of the services will launch on various dates in spring or midsummer but those to the Canaries will take off for the first time in February.

Monarch will launch new flights from Manchester to Gran Canaria and Ibiza.

For regular travel news updates go to

Dollar, cheap flights to boost Canada holidays

Forillon National Park on the Gaspé Peninsula

With the £ riding high against the Canadian dollar, Canada looks likely to enjoy an upsurge in tourism next year. New Budget flights there are among a clutch of new services from the UK announced in recent weeks. WOW, the low cost Icelandic airline, will start operating from Keflavik and Montreal next May. The services are planned to connect with flights from and to London’s Gatwick. There’s plenty to occupy the visitor in Toronto alone. It’s one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. After exploring Montreal you could hire a car and head east to Quebec City for an even more distinctive North American experience. See my account of a visit there in winter here  With the £ riding high against the Canadian dollar, Canada looks likely to enjoy an upsurge in tourism next year. New Budget flights there are among a clutch of new services from the UK announced in recent weeks. WOW, the low cost Icelandic airline, will start operating from Keflavik and Montreal next May. The services are planned to connect with flights from and to London’s Gatwick. There’s plenty to occupy the visitor in Toronto alone. It’s one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. 

Quebec City

After exploring Montreal you could hire a car and head east to Quebec City for an even more distinctive North American experience. See my account of a visit there in winter 
Further east, you could head north along the St Lawrence  - see my story here or branch south of the river to the Gaspé Peninsula. Read my account of a recent journey to the Gaspé.