Aussies slag a key city ... Book now to avoid holiday gouging ... India warnings
Folks everywhere love to bitch about their city's traffic or crime or what have you. But this one caught my eye the other day.
It seems a tourism official in Australia felt obliged to tell residents of a particular city to stop whining about the place and fall in love with it again. I can see this happening in, say, Darwin (not that I've been) or Canberra (ditto). But this salvo was aimed squarely at one of the world's favourite tourist destinations: Sydney.
Yes, the city of the Opera House and the gleaming harbour and stunning beaches and funky shops and great neighbourhoods is, apparently, some kind of hell-hole.
In her first comments since being appointed the first chief executive of Destination New South Wales (the state Sydney is part of), Sandra Chipchase said she wants to recruit state residents as "ambassadors" to help revitalise the tourism industry.
Geez, and we thought Toronto was something of a tough sell in this economic market.
Chipchase said she has had conversations with Sydneysiders in the past and that they'd "whinge" for 20 minutes. It's understandable, but she said such conversation can cause serious "brand damage."
Her words appear to be falling on deaf ears. Folks writing into the Sydney Morning Herald have criticized the city in no uncertain terms.
A fellow named Jay Hash told Chipchase to do her homework.
''What is there to fall in love with," he asked. "Unfriendly neighbours and people … crappy buses and trains … a road network that was designed during the time of the Romans … shops and restaurants closing early at night … hospitals with terrible staff … and only one airport.''
Of course, there are vast differences in living in a city and being a tourist in a city. I don't expect to take many buses in Sydney, and most of my time when I've been has spent walking. I don't remember stores or restaurants closing early at night. I found the airport to be just fine. I didn't go to the hospital so I can't comment on that. But I certainly don't see his point about unfriendly people. Aussies, by and large, are about as gregarious a race of people as exist on this planet of ours.
Destination New South Wales is aiming to double tourism spending in the state by 2020, which could be tough given the world economy. Apparently, like many folks, they're targetting China and India.
That they do. I've been to Sydney twice, and I'd have to rank it right up there with the great cities of the world. A harbour boat ride from the main ferry terminal, which is wedged between the Opera House and the famous Harbour Bridge, out to Manly Beach or any of the other beaches (see photo taken near Bondi Beach) is about as wonderful a tourist experience as anyone can get. Toss in great hotels, terrific food and wine, great shopping and a fabulous climate, and, yeah, you might say there's a fair bit to be positive about.
HOLIDAY PRICES ON THE RISE?
Here's a scary thought. I spotted an item this week that said every day you wait to buy a ticket for air travel around Christmas will cost you $5 per day.
Rick Seaney of FareCompare.com told a Wisconsin radio station the other day that airlines are upping prices for holiday flights around American Thanksgiving in November (not so much of a concern for us) and at Christmas.
"They've cut back seats," he said of North American airlines. "Fuel prices are up. That means they're going to try to pass alogn those fuel prices and that means tough sledding for holiday travelers."
His advice? Book. Right. Now.
"If you're traveling for the holidays, I have sort of a rule-of-thumb right now: add $5 to your virtual airline ticket every day you wait."
Airline experts often say it's bad to buy too far in advance, but Christmas might be an exception. As folks get closer to the big holiday, that sense of panic and "I need to visit my family in Saskatchewan this year" could cost you big-time.
I booked a ticket for my daughter the other day to come home from Halifax at Christmas. I think it was about $575 on Air Canada. Not cheap, but I don't feel totally gouged, either.
There are a billion sites out there - travelalerts.ca, expedia.ca, kayak.com - so check them out religiously and sign up for air-fare alerts. Be flexible about when you fly, if possible, and look for mid-week flights as opposed to weekends.
I went onto Expedia and, just for fun, found a couple reasonable deals for anyone interested in celebrating New Year's in New York City. One option to consider for budget folks is the Comfort Inn on Staten Island, with rooms from $116 from Dec.30 to Jan. 2. It ain't Manhattan, but you can take the legendary Staten Island Ferry to town for a few bucks and enjoy a nice ride, weather permitting.
The Days Inn in surging Brooklyn was listed at $168, while the Holiday Inn Express New York Wall Street was averaging about $294. As readers of Star Travel would know from a recent story we did, the financial district of New York is an increasingly fun and diverse spot, with plenty of good restaurants and hotels and tons of things to do in an area with a little more peace and quiet than other parts of NYC, especially on weekends.
As for holiday destinations, it appears Canadians are relying on many tried-and-true destinations. Cuba,the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico are big sellers, while folks with a bit more cash in their jeans appear headed to Barbados and St. Lucia.
I'm hearing a lot more these days about Central America, too. Costa Rica was the big spot for years, but more folks appear to be sprreading their wings and checking out places such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, which has a huge variety of cultures and landscapes if not the beaches of Costa Rica. Panama has been putting on a big push of late with a major international campaign, although I don't think much of the slogan "Where the World Meets" as it tells me squat about what I might see if I visit.
INDIA TOURISM WARNINGS
Given the importance of tourism and travel, it's not surprising to see government folks in India blasting Canada and other countries for warning their citizens about potential attacks during the country's coming festive season.
Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand - all key tourism markets for India - all have issued warnings ahead of the Indian holiday period, which runs from October til the end of January. Security has been increased in New Delhi (see photo at right) and several Indian cities amid media reports of increased risk from attacks, the CBC reported the other day.
India's tourism minister, Subodh Kant Sahay, is quoted as saying the alerts are "nothing but scaremongering."
"I have taken it up with the external affairs ministry and asked it to persuade these countries to withdraw the travel advisories immediately," he said.
Canada's alert says Canadians should be "particularly vigilant" on holidays and days of national significance, such as Diwali, "as militants have in the past used such occasions to mount attacks."
"I can assure them (would-be visitors) that India is still a very nice place and the weather is wonderful," Sahay said this week. "They should come."