Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas is coming...but where are you going

Like everyone else at this specific time of year, I'm feeling that it's "almost Christmas, but its not quite here just yet" feeling.  It's December we're comfortably into double figures date wise, people aren't starting to slope off on their holiday trips if they're taking them.  Obviously for advertisers it's about getting word out and going absolutely crazy in terms of hyping whatever they're being paid to advertise, for them its most definitely Christmas. 

For most people Christmas is a time for returning to the family home, or having family to stay or visit, or family whatever.  As perfectly typified in "Planes Trains and Automobiles" (okay I know it was actually Thanksgiving, but it's sort of similar) For many the journey home to the family can  be the returning home for the first Christmas since leaving home, young people who've just moved out or have gone off to college.  Their life as new adults and the sort of renegotiation of terms with parents who are still used to the idea of charging into their youngsters bedrooms and telling them to get out of bed, that they are losing the day etc.  

Or new parents spending their first Christmas together as a family in their own home rather than going back to the home of those who are now "the grandparents".  It's complicated time of year, its strengthening ties that may have weakened a bit, or realising that a few people have drifted further away and you'll not be seeing them again.  Usually asking people what they did for Christmas illicit a pretty dull response. So I thought I'd try and find the most ambitious or self-aggrandising Christmas and I think I found it.    

So..... and no prizes for understatement or subtlety here, William the Conquer chose Christmas Day 1066 for his coronation as King of England.  Christ's birth, his coronation are you seeing the link?  Probably for the time an inspired bit of public relations, but then if you've got a load of knights to do your bidding you're probably less interested in what people actually think. So he probably had some family round, perhaps some light torturing of prisoners, but we can be sure they didn't have turkey that year due to the discovery of the Americas not being due for another few centuries.  
Anyway that's me for this week, so have a good weekend, Happy Christmas etc and I thought I'd leave you with this.....  Perhaps not too much of a "Baaa... humbug!" type quote, but it made me smile.... 

"Christmas.......Several weeks of Hell for Christ's sake!"

Monday, 12 December 2011

What is the difference between a Traveler and a Tourist?

Leading on from my posting on the 6th of December (shameless self-promotion of my own blog, oh yes, what irony) I briefly touched on what the most stupid thing was that you may have overheard a tourist say.   I started to think how do would you classify a tourist, I have classified it  in the past as the following - mostly people see themselves as travellers and other people as tourists.  But I although I think that's true for most of us I think it might be better to come up with something slightly deeper, not a lot, just slightly.....

So starting with the dictionary 
tourist  (ˈtʊərɪst) 
— n
1. a person who travels for pleasure, usually sightseeing andstaying in hotels
    b ( as modifier ): tourist attractions
2. person on an excursion or sightseeing tour

   [trav-uh-ler, trav-ler]
1. a person or thing that travels.
2. a person who travels or has traveled in distant places orforeign lands.
3. traveling salesman

So basically, I think you don't need to be travelling on business to regard yourself as a traveller.  But, we're all ready to point the finger. Living in central London as I do, at times, I can get somewhat frustrated by being looked at strangely when I bump into tourists who have decided that it would be advisable to stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare.  "Tough!"  You might say, "Take it Barnes, that's living in a busy capital city" and for the most part and I'd agree with you, just like people letting out horrific farts on the tube which make everyone in the carriage stare accusingly at their fellow travellers, hoping to scare an apology out of someone. 

Before the nostrils start to burn
It's part of life in the capital, and so it is, but I can tell you that these people stopping suddenly are definitely tourists and not travellers because even if they have spatial awareness at home, they seem to assume they don't need it or forget they will need to remember it, when lots of people moving fast in directions and the people moving fast are unblessed with the powers of telepathy, then slam into them as they have randomly decided to look up, or down, or reach into their bag, or wonder where their friends have gone, or whatever it is that has made them stop suddenly.  

So, in rough terms, and by now what feels like a slightly rant deflected thought later, I think a "traveller" or "traveler" should be defined as someone who moves to or through places and environment without disturbing everyone around them, either fellow "travellers/travelers" or people going about their daily business who are in the locality.  I think that's sort of fair.  

Thursday, 8 December 2011

How hotel chains can learn from Scandic

When most of us think of Eco-Tourism we think of the small lodge in the jungle which is solar-powered, and recycles all the human waste etc etc.  But the reality is that it's not just a field for small independent operators any more.  Many of the chains are starting to make serious commitments to both the environment and their local communities.

I'm not going to do a deep case study of the Scandic Hotel Chain, although I think it's probably worth doing at some stage so, perhaps keep an eye out for that.  Basically put, Scandic is a mid range hotel chain from Sweden, with both a strong offering for business travellers and families, the Scandic chain is spread through out the Scandinavian countries, and is gradually expanding into other countries in Northern Europe.  But what marks out Scandic from most of the other hotel chains in Europe is that their Sustainability Programme reads like a "how to guide" to Sustainable Hospitality.

They started developing their programme back in 1993, hats off there, certainly well ahead of the curve, and they have been refining it and improving it ever since and quite frankly it really shows.  I imagine one of the hardest things to do if you start an environmental policy from scratch is knowing where to start.  In looking through their comprehensive programme, you can see that they worked and worked on it.  

I can't deny a degree of self-interest because we list a number of their hotels.  But the main reason is because our whole ethos at is to take the word "Eco" or "Sustainable" or "Ethical" and not have these terms that just mean something to special interest groups but to put in into the mainstream of travel.  And by focusing on Scandic, perhaps we can push some the other hotel chains to thinking about how they can improve and actually bring a degree of competition to eco policies within the larger hotel groups, to have the most developed eco offering for their customers.  

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What's the most stupid thing you've ever heard a tourist say?

I had been meaning to write about tourism more widely today, and then I thought back to things I've overheard tourists say at various attractions around the world.  And thought I'd just post a brief couple of thoughts about that.  

The Griswalds Abroad

So here are a couple of choice phrases that I have heard over the years from the mouths of tourists that have stayed with me.

At Stonehenge 
"It's really beautiful, it's just such a shame they built it so close to the road."

At Tate Modern
"Okay, we've done this room and that room, that just leaves this room.... or have we done enough art?"

I hope that I have not managed to utter anything as stupid.  Actually, okay, I have one confession, when my ex and I were about to fly out of Mumbai we'd booked ourselves into the Iskon Hotel in Mumbai, its is a nice hotel owned and run by devotees of Hari Krishna which has amazing food, and its own temple within the hotel complex which runs food kitchens for followers and guests, very nice place to stay and not too far from the airport.  

Anyway as my ex and I were heading back to our room we were accosted by a really big (I'm 6'2" and this guy must have been at least three inches taller than me, I digress) he asked if we had visited the temple?  We had got there after rather long journey due to serious floods in Goa, little did we know what would happen that afternoon. (Again with the digression).  No, we hadn't taken the opportunity to see temple, so off he took us off to see the beautiful temple a few footsteps away.

He lead us in and talked us through the various elements within the temple.  After a moment he fell silent and let us wonder at the beauty of the place.  And what did I say, as he stood welcoming us into this sacred place?  And I still cannot for why it sprang out of my mouth.  I uttered "It's amazing how you keep it so free of dust." !!!!  I don't think about dust, I don't have OCD, I'm not constantly aware of surfaces, but at that moment I managed to offer the point of view of an American house-wife in a cleaning commercial from the 1950s. Fortunately he was such a happy guy that he just nodded and turned back smiling at the impressive ceiling above us.  Doubtless to say after we'd learned a bit about the early days of the Hare Krishna movement we thanked him, made a donation to the food kitchen run by the devotees and continued on to our room.  My ex enjoying the opportunity to laugh at my perfectly chosen compliment.  Anyway these days I try and keep my ear open for new utterances.  (My internal monologue has stopped me saying anything as stupid as the above, ever since.)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Film Review of The Lady and whether you should travel to Burma

Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi
I saw the film "The Lady" a few days ago at an advanced screening, the film is the biopic of tireless campaigner for Burmese freedom and Nobel Peace Prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi.  And I thought I might try and combine a rather ragged review of the film with some thoughts on whether it is ethically acceptable to travel to Burma.  

The film does give you an interesting insight of Aung San Suu Kyi's curious situation of being someone who had a comfortable life, who due to circumstance found themselves in a position and was left with the quandary of whether she could walk away. Aung San Suu Kyi as a Burmese woman whose father had brought the country independence from the British, felt a compulsion, to stay and campaign from house arrest and other ongoing degradations for freedom.  The generals who are responsible for savage acts are depressingly comic, they seem to look group of taxi-drivers who like to dress up as generals on dress-down Fridays.  Knowing the butchery and inhumanity the real generals have inflicted I felt we should have felt more than amusement upon seeing them.  Perhaps the one things to come from the portrayal of the generals, is that they are constantly playing for time and ultimately seem to only be slightly bothered about external pressure be it from the US, Europe, China or Russia.  

The Fighting Peacock Flag
The film tries to capture Burma's struggle against oppression, through the life of Aung San Suu Kyi's relationship with her husband and her two sons.  And on some level, it kind of succeeds, for brief moments, but overall it doesn't leave you with much hope for her or the country, and it feels quite distanced from the real the horrors faced by ordinary Burmese people for most of the film.   

The film focuses in the main on Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest and she has now been freed from house arrest and with her freedom has come a change in her views on tourists visiting Burma.  Until recently Aung San Suu Kyi and the Free Burma Coalitionwhich are (effectively the elected government which has not been allowed to govern the country) were both firmly against foreign travellers going to Burma.  
But obviously after such a strong and lasting stance against it, travellers are still reticent and concerned about travelling to a country which such an oppressive regime in power. I think those concerns are perfectly justified and regardless of the views expressed by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Free Burma Coalition each traveller must first find peace with their own conscience.  If travellers can do that, then they may find solace in the interview she gave to the Daily Telegraph this November in which she stated that “There has been change, not sufficient yet but we’ll get there” and that she hopes that the changes will occur sooner rather than later.  I'm of the mind that the generals of the junta will loosen the reins of control off a bit and then pull hard on them when they start to feel real power start to slip away from them.  It was only 2007 when the monks rose to protest against army rule and were brutally put down. I hope will be proven to be wrong as time progresses and if the selfless and courageous people who have spent every day of every year since 1947 trying to bring peace and democracy to Burma say they welcome visitors to the country then you have an open invitation from the people best placed to make that judgement.  
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