By Adnan R. Khan - Monday, March 18, 2013 - 0 Comments
Will the country one day be better known for tourism than terrorism?
To anyone who’s tried, it is the best skiing experience they’ve ever had: pristine powder snow and wide-open terrain, breathtaking vistas in every direction and the thrill of being the only person to carve through these slopes in decades. The azure lakes in the distance such a deep shade of blue they appear to have been painted into the landscape by some celestial brush. At the bottom of the mountain, there’s the collection of yurts of the base camp, the warm glow of a campfire flickering golden yellow.
Perhaps the skiers will have heard a strange rumbling in the distance, like thunder—only denser. Then a dull sound like popcorn popping, followed by a plume of smoke rising up from the slopes of another distant mountain. But then there are the attack helicopters, trained to fly in formation, twisting and turning in unison, the dull thuds of the chopper blades a stark reminder that this, after all, is Afghanistan, and no amount of mountaintop isolation can guarantee a complete remove from the other reality.
“From the outside, it looks like chaos everywhere,” says Gull Hussian Baizada, 29, the founder of Rah-e-Abrisham Tours, based in Bamiyan province, an island of peace in north-central Afghanistan. Baizada set up his tour company in January 2011 and has already taken 75 foreign tourists out to ski on the treeless peaks of the Hindu Kush range. The provincial capital, also named Bamiyan, boasts a ski rental shop and guest houses to accommodate the growing trickle of tourists. In the summer months, Baizada takes trekkers to the province’s remote mountains and valleys. Multi-day trips are common, including treks to the otherworldly scenes at Band-e-Amir—the system of pristine, high mountain lakes and caves have been designated Afghanistan’s first-ever national park. Colossal Buddha statues once stood in the region before they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
By Ashifa Kassam - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
Travellers help the homeless by signing up for tours of the rougher side of town
His thick black eyeliner smudged and long dirty-blond hair in a ponytail, Karim holds a yellow umbrella high in the air as he walks through an unlit park in downtown Prague. He points to a group of men, barely visible in the dark. Heroin addicts about to shoot up, he explains to the group of tourists following him. After turning their attention to a few prostitutes on a corner, Karim opens up about his experience of living on and off the streets for more than 20 years.
Since August, the homeless transsexual and former prostitute has been leading one of the hottest tours of Prague. Similar tours, led by homeless or once-homeless guides, have popped up in London, Amsterdam and San Francisco. Billed as alternative views of the cities, they have been praised for converting tourist dollars into employment for homeless people and criticized for turning homelessness into a tourist attraction.
The past decade saw an explosion of poverty tourism in developing nations, with visitors traipsing through the slums of Mumbai or the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Now it seems that poorism, as critics call it, has found a market in industrialized nations. Continue…
By Blog of Lists - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
You’ll need deep pockets if you plan to spend a night or more in these luxurious hotel suites. (Prices vary according to season. High-season prices listed.)
1. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alta.: $12,000 per night in the Marquis de Lorne Suite. Overlooking Lake Louise, this sprawling suite is named after the fourth governor general of Canada, husband of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise. Kelly Ripa and her husband were the most recent in a string of celebrities to vacation there. Continue…
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Friday, July 20, 2012 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
Forget queues: Why not drink good coffee, walk through flower markets, and get up close and personal with some street art?
London is a city so crammed that walking down the street on any given day is like a game of human pin-ball. Olympic London will be worse: as in, waiting-in-line-all-day-to-get-into-the-Tate Modern worse. Wouldn’t you rather avoid the masses and see the city like a stay-cating Londoner? Sure you would. Here’s an unconventional guide to sightseeing in London:
Wake up and what’s on your mind? Coffee, of course. There’re lots of great coffee shops in London but only one where you can learn latte art from a World Barista champion between your sips of flat white. A few years ago, Gwilym Davies was running his coffee cart in East London when his friends entered him in the World Barista Championship competition on a whim. When the flat cap-wearing Yorkshireman won the title in 2009, the charming cart was soon overrun and Davies opened Prufrock’s, a laid-back café and learning space. You can just sit and sip in the café or, as the café’s namesake poem suggests, dive in and measure out your Saturday with coffee spoons: Prufrock’s offers three-hour classes in Brew Methods, Coffee Tastings and Latte Art, among others.
Don’t want to work so hard for your cup? Full Stop Café is great to watch weekenders browse Brick Lane market. Bonus: it also serves handcrafted ales from Redchurch Brewery, made just up the road.
Coffee buzz kicking in, you’d probably like to do some shopping. You don’t need a red toy phone booth and under no circumstances should you buy a reusable Harrods bag. The Columbia Road Flower Market is capable of giving you that souvenir experience we all hope to find when we travel and it will put your senses to work. There’s that rainbow of blossoms lining the street, the strong sniff of hollyhocks from the stall next door, and then there’s all that yelling. Men with gold chains and cockney accents holler things like ‘Lilies fer a fiver! Buy ‘em for your wife, buy ‘em fer someone else’s wife!’ You’ll feel like an extra in Guy Ritchie Presents London! with blooms instead of bullets. Don’t forget your camera – this place is rich in photo-op gold. On your way out, pick up some irises to brighten up your hotel room. Go around closing time to get the best deals. Sunday 8 am – 2 pm.
Most art galleries in London are free and the streets, spilling over with graffiti, are no different. London is known for its incendiary street art—this is, after all, the land of Banksy. And there are many pockets across town where you can witness a slice of the London art scene as it happens – amazing artists paint the walls in the sunken ball courts at Stockwell Park Estate almost weekly in the summer. The Leake Street tunnel by Waterloo station is easily accessible and was the site of Banksy’s 2008 Cans Festival, an urban street art party where artists from around the world came to beautify the tunnel. Brick Lane and Old Street is street art central in London. Curtain Rd, Holywell Lane and Rivington St. are packed with so many stencils, posters and coats of spray paint, you’ll feel like Alice in graffiti wonderland.
London is an old city. And sure, sometimes those ancient buildings can make you feel like you’re in an open-air museum. But most main streets have some combination of 30 chain stores, like Carphone Warehouse,Tesco and Willam Hill betting shops, giving them a terrible cookie-cutter effect. You’ll need a pretty good imagination to feel the spirit of Swinging London in Soho or the refinement of the Edwardian gentry in Kensington. But Highgate Cemetery on the north end of town looks utterly frozen in time. The sprawling cemetery, packed with crooked headstones and weeping stone angels wrapped in dense ivy, is a morbid and beautiful monument to the Victorian obsession with death. It’s the resting place of Karl Marx, poet Christina Rossetti and writer George Elliot, among others. Go on a misty day for full effect. The West Cemetery can be viewed only by tour and it’s worth it – you’ll feel like you’ve time travelled.
Instead of Googling a restaurant online (and scrutinizing the menu beforehand so you know exactly what you’ll be ordering), The School of Life has a more innovative idea on how to dine. The resource centre, originally set up as a school to get through the school of hard knocks, not only offers classes with philosophical titles like “How to be Creative” and “How Necessary is a Relationship,” but they also host intimate meals where diners are encouraged to weigh in with their own ideas and experiences. Think of it like a diner’s salon. Gone are the ‘what do you do for a living’ banalities and other cocktail-hour platitudes. At these dinners, you’re likely to intimately relate to how someone feels about the concept of guilty pleasure or how to best develop compassion before even knowing their name. Next month, they’re hosting a Picnic with Thoreau in a secluded London park. Sip Pimm’s and nibble potato salad while discussing self-discovery and purpose, with strangers!
If that’s too intimating, The Holly Bush in Hampstead is the most charming pub in London. You’ll get standard English fare like beef & ale pie with Eton mess for dessert. Walk the Hampstead streets and admire the chocolate box houses, as you digest.
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM - 0 Comments
A Czech company is hoping political corruption will be a lure for tourists.
Canada entices tourists with its natural beauty. Italy leans on Tuscany’s gorgeous landscapes. In the Czech Republic, one tourist outfit is banking on something different entirely: political corruption.
Under the slogan, “Best of the worst,” Prague’s Corrupt Tour takes visitors to places touched by the country’s many corruption scandals, which include lucrative government contracts awarded to single bidders, and others that required hefty bribes. One of their most popular tours, “Safari,” takes visitors to the massive estates of business people alleged to have inked shady deals. “Our target is to get Czech corruption on a UNESCO list of the world’s cultural heritage,” organizer Pavel Kotzya told Reuters of his tongue-in-cheek tourist campaign.
Anna Grzymala-Busse, an expert in post-Communist politics, told The Economist the Czech Republic, which ranks among the world’s most corrupt countries, has experienced “state capture,” where the ruling elite governs in its own interest. That’s good news for Corrupt Tour, at least: it seems they’ll continue to have a lot to showcase.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Hunting the animals is perfectly legal in Alberta
It appears wild bison will roam in Banff once again, now that federal Environment Minister Peter Kent’s proposal that the four-legged bovines be reintroduced to Banff National Park has been accepted by federal officials. Bison are a popular tourist fixture of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, which may be one reason why our government is keen on bringing them back to their old stomping grounds in Banff: some say their presence will increase interest in the park. There is, however, a good reason why they were removed in the first place, and why their reintroduction isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In 1997, Banff’s captive herd never got a chance to “flourish” as intended because its paddock interfered severely with the migration patterns of other wildlife in the area. The bison were removed from the park as a result, then auctioned off. And back in the 1970s—it seems the bison have an extensive history of bad luck in the region—a group of 30 Jasper-based bison wandered out of the park and were killed (some presumably shot by hunters to be made into bison burgers). Hunting is a big concern for bison lovers, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them as a “near-threatened” species, but hunting the animals is not entirely illegal in Alberta. According to Maurice Nadeau, former president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, “Any hunting opportunity [in Alberta] would be welcome, particularly an animal with the size and stature of a bison.” So while it appears that Banff’s only prospect of a successful bison resurrection will be of the free-range variety (i.e. paddock-free), Alberta’s burger-hungry hunters may cause Peter Kent to reconsider his policy.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:05 AM - 5 Comments
The Japan Tourism Agency will offer 10,000 free round-trip airfares to foreigners to visit the country next year
Seven months after an earthquake devastated its Pacific coast, Japan plans to boost its ailing tourism industry with a lucrative offer for foreigners: come to Japan for free. The Japan Tourism Agency will offer 10,000 free round-trip airfares to foreigners to visit the country next year to ease international fears of spreading radiation. Tourism in Japan plummeted by 50 per cent in the three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Authorities lifted evacuation advisories for five towns just outside the plant’s 12-mile evacuation zone on Sept. 30, although citizens with radiation-monitoring equipment continue to report small radiation hot spots as far away as Tokyo.
The tourism project will cost about $14.6 million, roughly 10 per cent of the tourism agency’s 2012 budget request. Successful applicants selected by the agency must pay for their own accommodation and other expenses, and will be asked to write a report about their trip to be published on the Internet. If the project is approved, the agency will start accepting applications from would-be travellers in April 2012.
By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 8:35 AM - 0 Comments
A Japanese town is recruiting women willing to practice the traditional art
Shimoda wants more geishas. Three decades ago, the seaside tourist resort had 200 working in its tea houses. Now only five part-time professionals remain. Worried that the traditional art was in peril, the Japanese city, located around 130 km southwest of Tokyo, is spending around $70,000 worth of government employment subsidies to recruit and train three new geishas. They want to bolster tourism as well as ensure the centuries-old skills are passed down to another generation. “I am grateful for the support,” Tsuyako Kashiwaya, a spokesperson for the city’s geisha management office, told Asahi.com. “I hope the project will contribute to Shimoda’s revitalization.”
The successful applicants will be paid around $400 a week for six months to sing epic songs and learn classic dances, how to play musical instruments, and the delicate art of conversation. Tourists will even be allowed to observe the five-day-a-week lessons, which will take place in a historic building. After all the lessons are complete the geishas will perform regional dances and songs at cultural events. Asahi.com reports that a local favourite is Tojin Okichi (Okichi, mistress of a foreigner).
By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Brown water in the cabins, mattresses on the floor, and karaoke
For tourists who have gone everywhere and done everything, North Korea has launched the next must-do opportunity: a unique cruise down its scenic eastern seaboard. The trip starts from the economically depressed Rason economic zone near the northern Russian-Chinese border and meanders southward for 21 hours before the tourists are dropped off at the scenic Mount Kumyang resort. The inaugural media launch last week featured a choreographed dance, lots of kids waving fake ﬂowers and even some ﬁreworks. The menu featured plenty of local cuisine, especially dried fish, and karaoke was the entertainment, but the rest of the cruise amenities were a tad spartan.
On the first official sailing of the cruise ship—a rusting former ferry—some cabins were furnished with mattresses on the floor, while most below-deck bathrooms lacked water, which ran brown in other cabins. Still, officials of the secretive, impoverished nation hope the cruise will be so successful that next year they can rent a bigger and better ship.
By Anthony A. Davis and Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 8 Comments
Known for ecotourism, Costa Rica may actually be a paradise for poachers—and murderers of expats
The body of 53-year-old Canadian Kimberley Ann Blackwell was discovered on the morning of Feb. 2, high in the lush, hot, tropical rainforests of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, where she had lived for almost 20 years. She had been shot the night before, execution-style, and lay sprawled on blood-soaked dirt near the gate to her home and cocoa farm. Maurico Valerin Jimenez, a 25-year-old warden with the Ministry of Environment and Energy, found her. “It was the first time I’d ever seen a body,” says Jimenez, who had arrived on Blackwell’s remote jungle property with several other wardens to begin a 15-km patrol of adjacent Corcovado National Park, a wonderland preserve of jaguars, monkeys, parrots and pumas.
Many locals here—especially campesinos, Costa Rica’s poor subsistence farmers—loathe the wardens, who interfere in a rural tradition of poaching and eating bush meat. “It’s Deliverance out there,” an expat friend of Blackwell’s says of the area, a densely treed, hilly region strung together by badly rutted roads and dotted with cattle, coffee and cocoa farms. For wardens like Jimenez, Blackwell’s property was a sanctuary. The animal lover had moved to the Osa, located just above Panama in southwest Costa Rica, 18 years earlier from the Yukon, and regularly let the wardens camp on her land, serving them coffee and soups. “It was like going to a restaurant,” says Jimenez.
Almost seven months after Blackwell’s death, authorities have still laid no charges in the slaying, even as rumours about why she was murdered and by whom multiply. The mystery of her death only deepens Blackwell’s mystique as a maverick among mavericks in the Osa, a gathering place for off-the-grid nonconformists who scrape refuge out of the untamed jungle and wild surf. Sir Francis Drake, the 16th-century privateer, once buried treasure here. Among locals, Blackwell is every bit as much a legend—a fiery, uncompromising hippie who inspired deep loyalty in her friends despite a penchant for decking them during fits of rage.
By Richard Warnica - Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Gloomy weather in B.C. is taking its toll on tourism
While most of Canada has sizzled in recent months, it’s been downright gloomy in B.C. There were only seven days above 22° C in Vancouver between May and July (normally, there would have been about three weeks’ worth already). In fact, 2011 could be Vancouver’s coldest spring and summer on record, says David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment Canada. Making matters worse, it’s wetter than usual, too; the city has been drenched with 94 days of rain in the last four months. Victoria has also been colder and greyer than average.
Added up, it’s bad for business. Frank Bourree, a B.C. tourism industry analyst, says many restaurants have suffered because of the slowdown. Patios have been sitting empty and some proprietors have been forced to close. While the weather isn’t solely to blame, experts say it is giving potential tourists—especially Americans on the West Coast looking for a weekend getaway—second thoughts. (The plummeting U.S. dollar isn’t helping matters, either.)
B.C. relies heavily on U.S. tourism, and the industry had been hoping for a big year. While Tourism Victoria says the number of U.S. visitors to that city is up slightly from last year, the total is still down considerably from pre-recession levels. And things aren’t looking much brighter in the near future. The weather forecast for August: more of the same.
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
A Flying Wallenda’s fight to walk across Niagara Falls
High above the stage, under the glare of a spotlight and 800 sets of unblinking eyes, Nik Wallenda’s mother is perched on a chair. The chair looks like it might have been borrowed from a farmhouse kitchen, and it is teetering on a metal bar fitted at each end with padded brackets; the bar, in turn, rests on the shoulders of her son and a 21-year-old Canadian named Jonah Finkelstein.
Wallenda and Finkelstein, meanwhile, are seated on bicycles with rubber-free wheels, which balance precariously on a length of cable strung between heavily anchored towers of steel. The whole ensemble soars about two storeys high, with nothing but the cable between themselves and the floor. This is the so-called “Chair Pyramid,” the crowning manoeuvre of the Fabulous Wallendas’ thrice daily show at the Missouri theme park Silver Dollar City, and a trick as familiar to the team as brushing their teeth.
But today something seems to be going wrong. As his mother lifts one foot to the seat of her chair, the balance bar Wallenda holds to maintain stability bobs erratically. Wallenda’s movements grow increasingly frantic, and as the spectre of calamity grips the crowd, his voice fills the room: “Watch it, Mom!” Then, as quickly as it started, the crisis has passed: the men regain their balance and Delilah Wallenda—58 years old, grandmother of four—tucks her feet underneath her and stands upright on the chair. She holds the pose a few seconds, then sits back down as the men pedal to a platform at the end of the wire. A round of thunderous applause.
Later, still drying perspiration from his bristly orange hair, Wallenda cops to a secret: “I tell my mom to ‘watch it’ in every show. When I look like I’m off balance? Moving my bar like crazy? All to build drama.” Asked whether he might regret pulling back the curtain quite so far, Wallenda nonchalantly shrugs. “People understand that we’re entertainers. That’s where our skills come in, and believe it or not, it’s the hard part of what we do.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 12:38 PM - 5 Comments
Canadian Tourism Commission leaves out the capital on its list of recommended travel sites
The nation’s capital is nursing a bruised ego today as bloggers and citizens dissect why Ottawa was snubbed by a new Canadian Tourism Commission program. Ottawa was not included among the 48 “Signature Experiences” recommended by the CTC on a new list designed to tempt the business of high-end international travellers. The list includes experiences such as visiting Fort Henry in Kingston, Ont., touring wineries in Niagara, scouring for polar bears in Manitoba and touring Granville Market in Vancouver. “I can’t imagine the U.S. equivalent; leaving Washington off, or the U.K. equivalent leaving London off,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. But as it turns out, Ottawa may still have a shot. The CTC has noted that they received 200 applications in the initial stages of the program, and they hope to expand the list to 100 places by the end of the year.
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
In this pleasantly backwards Balkan nation, Yugoslav submarines have been replaced by luxury super-yachts
On a mild June morning, the medieval city of Kotor in Montenegro seems a place lost in time. A maze of worn cobbled corridors swirl inward from the walled town’s three stone archways, opening onto a string of courtyards. The main square is filled not with shoppers and Starbucks latte guzzlers but old men drinking muddy Balkan coffee, playing chess and throwing back fiery doses of rakia, a regional fruit liquor. Female merchants lean in the doorways of their shops, sucking on hand-rolled cigarettes and gossiping in Serbo-Croat across the narrow cobbled laneways. If it weren’t for the smattering of tourists, mostly German and Russian judging by the gutteral noises in the air, it could be a regular morning in 17th-century Europe.
Until you notice the cruise ships, that is. This week there are two enormous, floating hotels docked in this secluded nook in the Bay of Kotor on the country’s northern coast. With the deepest fjord in the Mediterranean, the bay is one of the few still-rustic locales that can accommodate both full-size cruise ships and the international elite’s expanding fleet of super-yachts, many of which require $200,000 for fuel tank fill-ups (marina fuel in Montenegro is sold duty-free). In addition to tax breaks, the country offers heartbreaking scenery: steep, scrub-dotted mountains plunge dramatically into the pristine Adriatic Sea. The incongruity of these monolithic floating energy-guzzlers transposed on such unspoiled natural beauty provides a visual metaphor of the extraordinary transition gripping one of the world’s youngest and smallest democracies.
As established EU countries like Greece, Spain and Ireland continue to struggle through the sovereign debt crisis, this tiny Balkan nation (population 660,000, and landmass only 14,000 sq. km), is enjoying an awakening. According to data released earlier this year from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and Oxford Economics, Montenegro is expected to be the most rapidly expanding travel and tourism economy in the world over the next decade, with regard to that sector’s contribution to employment and GDP. At present, tourism is worth 16 per cent of its economy, a figure that’s expected to rise to 36 per cent by 2021, when it will have a projected value of $2.5 billion. For a country with a population smaller than New Brunswick’s, that’s a significant cash infusion.
By Cigdem Iltan - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Beirut’s luxury hotels had only just stolen the spotlight back from bombed-out ones when…
Beirut’s luxury hotels had only just stolen the spotlight back from bombed-out ones when Arab Spring uprisings and trouble on Lebanon’s domestic front dealt a debilitating blow to the city’s tourism industry this year. After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, the city’s reclamation of its hedonistic reputation and “Paris of the East” moniker was made official in 2009 when the New York Times named Beirut the top place to visit in the world. And the numbers followed: in 2010, Lebanon set a new tourism record with more than two million visitors, exceeding pre-civil-war numbers. But tourism dropped 15.5 per cent in the first four months of this year, while Beirut’s hotel business has dropped 40 per cent. Dozens of restaurants have shuttered, while many that remain open have laid off employees or cut their salaries. Business owners also blame Lebanon’s precarious political situation: after more than five months without a government, the country finally got one on June 13, albeit an administration dominated by militant group Hezbollah. The fast-deterioriating situation in neighbouring Syria is no help, either, as the country is an important land route for tourists travelling from Jordan and Turkey.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Unimpressed with the conduct of past visitors, the Polish city is cracking down on stag parties
It’ll soon be stag season in Krakow, and this year, police are vowing to control the herds—not of deer, but of boorish British bachelors and their mates as they descend on the Polish city. Krakow is a popular getaway for raucous, weekend-long bashes for soon-to-be-married Brits, thanks to no-frills flights, cheap beer and numerous strip clubs. But, unimpressed with the conduct of past visitors, Krakow police are increasing patrols and threatening unruly partiers with fines and stints in the drunk tank.
While the income is a boon for the city’s hotels and nightclubs, many locals are losing patience. “We recently had one man who just stood up and took off his trousers, and then others did it,” a restaurant manager told Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper. “We had to ask the entire group to leave.” Bar owners aren’t confident the fines will deter the wild behaviour—at $15, most tourists can afford to pay up and carry on. Past efforts by proprietors to curb the rowdiness have included a ban on kilts, after a rash of flashing incidents. In 2008, a Brit partying in Riga, Latvia, another popular party spot, spent five days in jail after urinating on a public monument.
By Michael Petrou with Erica Alini and Julia Belluz - Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 11:02 PM - 44 Comments
A staggering 35,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since December 2006
The Plaza Sendero shopping mall on the outskirts of Acapulco has a fabric store, a shoe shop, and a movie complex, screening Tron: Legacy, The Tourist, and Gulliver’s Travels. A red-eyed dog lies asleep in the shade of the mall entrance, and nearby a man sits on his haunches, awake but equally motionless. The parking lot is scattered with bright orange shopping carts. Across the adjacent highway, shanties cling to an eroding hill, where the scorching sun has singed off almost all greenery. Smoke drifts upward from a cooking fire or burning rubbish.
A pedestrian bridge spans the highway. On it someone has pasted a flyer for a local church that promises salvation for those who suffer from vice, broken families, curses, or sicknesses with no known cause. Fifteen bodies were dumped here in January, most with their heads cut off and bodies mutilated. Six more were found stuffed into a nearby taxi. Their hands and feet had been bound. Two police were shot and killed the same day.
Handwritten posters at the crime scene link the murders to one of the drug cartels in the midst of a war for territory and export routes in Mexico. The victims almost certainly belonged to rival gangs. They are among more than 1,000 murdered over the past year in Acapulco, a popular vacation spot for Canadians.
By Kate Lunau - Monday, January 10, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
French luxury resort operator Club Med is betting big on the burgeoning ski industry in Asia
In November, Club Med opened its first holiday village in China: a ski resort in the northeastern corner of the country, 180 km from the closest major city, Harbin. With 18 ski runs, Club Med Yabuli offers the all-inclusive perks for which the company is famous, like gourmet buffets, spa facilities and nightly entertainment. It’s just the first of several new Club Med resorts planned for China. With the country’s burgeoning middle class, and an anticipated tourism boom, the French tour operator is staking its fortunes there.
As Club Med spent last year climbing out of the recession—its net losses were $20 million in 2010, compared to $71 million in 2009—China was a bright spot. Sales increased by over 40 per cent in 2010, with 32,000 Chinese tourists vacationing at Club Med resorts. Club Med’s year-end report predicted a much stronger 2011, largely due to success in China. Last year, it partnered with Fosun, the country’s largest private conglomerate, and now a major shareholder; Club Med plans to open four more Chinese resorts by 2015.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Mexico remains a developing country with an economy that still counts tourism as an important industry—an industry at constant risk as the death toll mounts
Tourists may be thinking twice about Mexico amid escalating violence linked to drug cartels, but the bloody war that’s claimed some 28,000 lives over the last four years hasn’t stopped investors from piling into the nation’s economy. The Latin American country recently sold US$1 billion worth of 100-year government bonds—the largest century-bond offer on record and the first to come out of the region.
For the Mexican government, it’s a no-brainer: a rare opportunity to take advantage of reduced borrowing costs at a time when developed countries are holding the line on record-low interest rates. But some observers are concerned investors are getting carried away, arguing the sale is evidence of a credit bubble in the making. For one thing, a lot can happen in 100 years, and economists say rising interest rates in developed countries will ultimately make the lower-quality Mexican debt less attractive. And while there’s ample evidence of continued investment in Mexico, which has benefited from the North American Free Trade Agreement and boasts a growing middle class, it remains a developing country with an economy that still counts tourism as an important industry—an industry at constant risk as the death toll mounts.
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Munich’s Oktoberfest, which was launched in 1810 to celebrate the royal marriage of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, has become a must-see event for anyone yearning for a good sausage and some tasty beer. The 200th edition of the festival, however, had a few royal mishaps worth forgetting. More than 30 people were injured in fights where the famous one-litre beer stein was used as the weapon of choice. One Canadian tourist was clocked in the head after getting into a fight with a 20-year-old Munich resident. Officials say the good weather was partly to blame, attracting a record number of visitors, and with so many people being intoxicated, “things can naturally increase,” said a spokesperson with Munich’s district attorney’s office.
Others complained about the new smoking ban that prohibited visitors from lighting up in beer tents, and one brothel grabbed headlines after accusing a competitor of paying taxi drivers upwards of $170 to bring customers to its establishment. The club’s manager, who said the competition tried to spread the word that his girls “were the ugliest in town,” said he’ll be better prepared next year.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Canada’s tourism industry wants its slice of this rapidly expanding group of travellers
About 100 million Chinese tourists will be leaving their country every year by 2020, the largest group of travellers on Earth, and Canada’s tourism industry wants its slice of the rapidly expanding pie.
After eight years of negotiations, Canada received “approved designation status” from China in June, meaning Canadian tourism agencies are now free to advertise in the country. “This is a very big deal,” says Michele McKenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. “We need to close the sale to draw them in.”
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Ottawa’s $1.1-million deal with a Quebec hotel sparks cries of favouritism
Havre-St-Pierre on Quebec’s North Shore is famous for its whale watching, though getting there is almost as much of a trek for tourists as it is for humpbacks. A 15-hour drive from Montreal, the town tends to attract only the hardiest of nature lovers.
Still, local businessman Daniel Dresdell recently opened up a 100-room, three-star hotel in the town—convinced, he says, that tourists will flock to the town of 3,280 if they have a decent place to stay. Apparently, the federal government is convinced as well: last December, the Conservative government financed 20 per cent of Dresdell’s project to the tune of a $1.1-million two-year interest-free loan, just one of the fiscal stimulus measures of its Economic Action Plan. “Tourism contributes significantly to the socioeconomic development of Quebec’s regions and the well-being of their residents,” said Conservative MP Denis Lebel at the time.
By John Geddes - Sunday, May 9, 2010 at 8:48 AM - 20 Comments
A massive renovation project shows the ugly side of Ottawa
The tulips were in fine form on Parliament Hill this week, blooms of red and white matching the flag snapping in the breeze atop the Peace Tower. Spring weather brought out a healthy crop of tour buses, too, marking the start of the busy season along what might be called the country’s main street. It’s no wonder the visitors flock: with its iconic copper-roofed architecture, bronze statues and monuments, Ottawa’s picturesque Wellington Street delivers a palpable sense of history in a stroll of only a few blocks.
But tourists are finding they must frame their snapshots carefully to avoid construction hoarding, scaffolding and shuttered buildings. It’s more than just inevitable upkeep in a historic precinct. Some of the unsightliness results from drawn-out political indecision over what to do with sensitive real estate. Some is the outward sign of tension over renovations among various branches of the government. That confusion recently drew sharp criticism from federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser. “We need to fix this,” she said, “and the longer it waits, the more the deterioration and the more it will cost.”
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 1:10 PM - 0 Comments
The underwear bomber’s trial could help Detroit
When accused underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried unsuccessfully to blow up a jet destined for Detroit on Christmas Day, it made the city the focal point for one of the year’s scariest stories. Many in Motown must have wondered, why us? Detroit has been handed more than its fair share of chilling news in recent years—though mostly of the economic variety. The bankruptcy filings of two of the former “Big Three” Detroit automakers last year capped off decades of industrial decline. Unemployment is soaring, and downtown office towers now sit ominously vacant. But is there a silver lining here for the hard-luck city?
If Abdulmutallab’s trial is held in Detroit, as many anticipate, it could ultimately give the local economy a badly needed shot in the arm. That’s because it promises to be a long affair that draws a mob of U.S. and foreign media—not to mention deep-pocketed lawyers—to the U.S. District Court in downtown Detroit, where they will stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants, and perhaps shop in local stores. Tourist experts say short conferences of even a few hundred people can inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into local economies; the Detroit auto show is estimated to pump $320 million into the region each year, despite running for just two weeks. The debate about whether to move the bigger Sept. 11 attacks trials out of New York City because of concerns about soaring security costs and local disruptions highlights the impact such high-profile events can have on local communities.
In the heyday of the U.S. auto industry, Detroit grew to become the country’s fourth-largest city with a population over 1.8 million. But a flight to the suburbs that picked up speed after the riot of 1967, coupled with the falling fortunes of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, left it with just over 900,000 residents. While the trial of an alleged terrorist is not going to reverse that trend, it could help provide a temporary financial lift for a city that sorely needs a little bit of good news.
By Martin Patriquin - Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 10:50 PM - 12 Comments
Charlottetown’s not a bad place to live, but it could be run better
It is the quaint home of history and reverie, the centre of a tourism industry based largely on a girl with red pigtails and freckles, the place where, in 1864, 23 important men bickered, ate oysters and hashed out a plan that would become Canada. Yet Charlottetown, the picturesque capital of the country’s smallest province, has now earned a more dubious honour: it comes in dead last in the first-ever annual Maclean’s Best-Run Cities survey.
First, the good news. According to the survey, conducted for Maclean’s by the Halifax-based think tank AIMS, Charlottetown is the safest city in the country. The city of 32,000 has governance and finance indicators that are near peerless in the country, and it is one of the more environmentally healthy cities among the 31 surveyed. Translation: it’s a great place to live if safety, governance and environment are your thing. Indeed, when it comes to safety and environment, Charlottetown handily beats out its closest neighbours at the bottom of the best-run cities list: Barrie, Ont., Windsor, Ont., Fredericton and Kingston, Ont. Continue…