Travel news review of 2012 from Costa Concordia to unrest in the Middle East
THE biggest travel news stories of the year
The biggest travel story of the year was undoubtedly the Costa Concordia disaster.
On January 13 the cruise ship, with 4,252 passengers and crew on board, ran aground off Isola del Giglio in Tuscany, after deviating from its pre-programmed route, allegedly to treat the islanders to the spectacle of a sail-by.
The disaster – which came just months before the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic – resulted in the deaths of 32 people. It also triggered an industry-wide safety review, leading to the introduction of several new measures, and hit holidaymakers’ confidence, resulting in a temporary fall in the number of people booking a cruise holiday.
The shrinking globe for travellers
Unrest in Africa and the Middle East has continued to affect travellers, with the Foreign Office now advising Britons against all travel to Syria and Mali.
A spate of kidnappings means travellers are also now advised to avoid the Sinai peninsula (with the exception of Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Taba and Nuweiba), putting St Catherine’s Monastery out reach, while violent protests in Male, the capital of the Maldives, saw a travel ban temporarily imposed.
Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and most of Afghanistan also remain off limits, according to the Foreign Office.
One piece of good news arrived last month, however, when a long standing ban on travel to the Indian cities of Jammu and Srinagar was lifted. Burma, meanwhile, grew in popularity, and more tour operators than ever are offering packages to the country.
Air Passenger Duty rises (again)
Air Passenger Duty, paid by all travellers flying from the UK, rose yet again in April, and last month plans were announced to increase it again next year.
Although the rate of tax paid by those flying to Europe will remain the same (£13 per person), long-haul fliers will be expected to contribute an extra £2-£3 per person. A family of four flying to the US and North Africa, for example, will soon be required to pay £268 in APD, while a family visiting the Caribbean will be expected to fork out £332, and those heading to Argentina or Australia will be liable for a £380 tax bill. Those rates are doubled for a family flying in premium economy, business- or first-class cabins.
In purely sporting terms, the London Olympics could scarcely have gone better. The heroics of Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Sarah Storey and Andy Murray – to name but a few – generated a feel-good factor that was almost tangible.
But attempts by hoteliers to cash in on the Games, by hiking their room rates, angered many in the travel industry, who claimed ordinary travellers had been put off visiting.
Their concerns were confirmed in September when official figures revealed that visitor numbers to Britain actually fell during July and August, compared with the previous year.
The world’s most visited travel website continued to face pressure over the reliability and legitimacy of its reviews.
In February it was banned by the Advertising Standards Agency from describing its reviews as “honest” or written by “real travellers”, due to the possibility of fake content appearing on the site, and in March, a report from Telegraph Travel revealed doubts over TripAdvisor’s fraud detection systems.
It also chose to scrap a controversial new “ratings” system, which allowed reviewers to mark hotels, restaurants and attractions without leaving a written review.
Despite much debate, the south-east is no closer to getting the extra air capacity airlines believe it needs. Options including “Boris Island”, a Thames Estuary hub, and extra runways at Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow and Birmingham have been discussed, but the coalition looks set to remain opposed to expansion.
WiFi goes underground
The London Underground unveiled free Wi-Fi access at dozens of stations, bringing some much needed modernity to the capital’s historic subway.
Free Wi-Fi in hotels – something Telegraph Travel has long campaigned for – is slowly becoming the norm, and Accor, one of the world’s largest international hotel groups, announced in August that it would scrap Wi-Fi charges at 500 of its properties. But many hotels are continuing to charge guests for access – with rates as high as £8.50 per hour and £20 per day.
Oliver Smith Telegraph.co.uk