Tag Archives: tourism

NYT | Chinese Tourism in Vietnam

A good one for travel agents to take note of, this fits under the category of “we’re all connected.” I’m always treated to great visuals when I read From Swerve of Shore and always learn something through this blog. Hope you do too!

from swerve of shore

AJS Chinese Tourism Danang

A few weeks back, I shot a really interesting story with Mike Ives (among the top writers in this region in my opinion) about the drop offs in Chinese tourism in central Vietnam. We spent a few days in Danang speaking with tourism officials, hotel managers, and the handful of Chinese businessmen we could find. What was just a few months ago a city with a heavy reliance on tours from all over China, has now seen nearly 100% of those tours cancel, and hotels are reeling and travel agencies are wondering what the future holds. And I’m wasting my time writing anything about it, when really you should just be reading the article (and watching the slideshow): China Tensions Choke Off Tourism to Vietnam.

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Game Plan For Super Bowl Sunday.

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC

Aire Ancient Baths in NYC.

While New York City has more than its fair share of football lovers, culturally we’re not a football town. I mean, when you think New York City, football isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

That’s about to change when football fever descends here next week in anticipation of Super Bowl XLVIII, co-hosted by New York and New Jersey.

From a tourism perspective, it’s great news. And while I certainly appreciate getting excited over a sport, when it comes to football I’d rather watch paint dry.

I’m not alone here, there are plenty of men—yes, men—and women who share my disinterest. There’s no shame in it, but it’s going to be a little hard to avoid all of the madness when it comes to town.

But there’s no need to lay low. Since the fans will either be on their couch, or in a bar, or tailgating in the winds of another polar vortex gearing up with pre-game anticipation, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy some alone time or take advantage of the lull that’ll blanket the city on game day.

Count me out.

Count me out.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for anyone in or around NYC looking to avoid any football festivities or criticism over giving the game a cold shoulder.

Eat & Shop
Let’s face it; one of the best things about living or visiting NYC and its surrounding boroughs is the exposure to some of tastiest food and shopping on the planet. Life gets even better when you can get it all under a warm roof and that’s what you’ll find when you visit Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg. Known as a fortress of food, fashion, antiques, art and lots of other cool stuff, this weekend market has become a top attraction for locals and visitors, offering a unique alternative to the boring, big-box retail store experience.

Show Time
For anyone who still enjoys the experience of sitting in a movie theatre with a bucket of popcorn, here’s your chance. With the Oscars just around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on any films you might have missed without the crowds.

Pamper Yourself
Who doesn’t love a massage? Take advantage of the desire to escape by indulging yourself in a body or facial treatment.  Better yet, get a gang together.  Depending on where you live, I bet there’s a spa in your neighborhood or at a fancy hotel that’ll have what you’re looking for and without a TV screen in sight.

An easy place to while away the day.

Looks like a good plan to me.

Weekend Getaway
With everyone either heading towards New Jersey, this is the perfect weekend to travel in another direction. And with the recent snowfall, you couldn’t ask for a better time to hit the slopes. If being active isn’t your thing, no sweat. The arctic chill is the perfect excuse to hole up by a roaring fire with the Sunday paper or that book you’ve been meaning to read. The best part is, with some of the great options for winter getaway transportation you don’t have to worry about driving.

Go Downhill
The word on the street is that from next Wednesday until Saturday, Broadway from 34th to 47th streets will be transformed into Super Bowl Boulevard. With businesses in full swing, this already crazy and busy stretch of Manhattan will morph into a 14 block, open-air football festival. Yes, it will showcase all things NFL but it will also have a 180-foot toboggan run. Any excuse to hop a sled works for me, so I may have to suck it up and check it out.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

A rendering of Super Bowl Boulevard.

There may be those who succumb to the fever and just need to grab a pitcher and a chicken wing. So on game day, for anyone whose idea of a good time is not sitting in the stands and freezing your butt off, there are plenty of bars that have a warm seat waiting for you. If your goal is to stay cozy and be part of the festivities, the NFL Host Committee has done a nice job of laying out Fan Favorite Sports Bars in NJ and NY. Although since pretty much any bar worth its margarita salt will be showing the game, I’d say you’re covered.

As for me, I intend to huddle up in my cozy apartment, read, bake, eat and enjoy my own pre-show festivities in anticipation of the next episode of True Detective.

Whatever you’re doing, stay warm and enjoy.

Tales from the Wadi Rum.

Desert Highways, Wadi Rum, Jordan.“Hard to believe there’s a war going on next door,” said my travel companion. It was 2007 and we were sitting around a small campfire in the Wadi Rum desert. It was a trip we’d hooked on to an event I’d managed in Egypt. We’d chosen that country because we weren’t sure how many years would be left for Americans to travel there before it all went pear-shaped.

After Egypt, the idea was to take advantage of being in the region so we set our sights on Jordan. Through shuttle arrangements we made our way into the desert and the land where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

The Wadi Rum is otherworldly and we were happy to be there. A handsome, young Jordanian guide, Ra’ed, met us along the Desert Highway. We hopped into his jeep, driven by a shy, Bedouin, teenage boy and within a few minutes were off-road, traveling through desert red sands. The world we knew disappeared, and aside from the clink and clank from his truck, there wasn’t another sound. We made out way through mountain rockscapes in various hues of crimson. There wasn’t a soul in sight and for this city girl, the empty space was liberating.

Wadi Rum

Not a soul in sight.

Eventually, a long rectangle Bedouin tent came into view and our driver swung a long arc around it and parked. We met the chef, an Egyptian, and then we proceeded to make ourselves at home.

Out came the hookah pipe. I find the sweet smoke a bit nauseating but when in Rome, right? So we sat around and exchanged the typical questions like, “Where are you from?” and “Why did you come here?” but we made quick work of that superficial talk and dove deeper, seeing as it was just the five of us. A group of tourists who’d been in camp earlier in the week had kept to themselves and barely acknowledged them. Frankly, I don’t see how it would be possible to ignore the people who were responsible for getting you in and out of Wadi Rum, feeding you and providing you a tent for sleepy time. The chef smiled and excused himself because he had to get cooking.

Wadi Rum campsite.

Making camp.

Back in the truck, Ra’ed took us through desert. We all raced up sand dunes and slid down them. Gazing around at its natural architecture, the Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is hypnotic. The sunset reveals deeper shades of red on the rock walls.

Wadi Rum desert.

Not so easy as it seems.

A few hours later, they laid out a banquet table decorated with candles and tray upon tray of food. There were falafel, stuffed grape leaves, couscous with raisins, salads, pita bread, dips of hummus and baba ghanoush, rice with lentils, platters of vegetables, and lots more. I couldn’t imagine how they thought two people could make a dent in it. Ra’ed told us to enjoy the meal. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Where are you going?” He told us that they’d eat when we had finished. There was no way that was going to happen. We explained that it was extremely uncomfortable for us to dine without them and after much persuading they joined us.

Dinner in the Wadi Rum.

Midnight at the oasis.

Stuffed and satisfied, we sat around on massive pillows, passed the pipe again and gazed at the stars and the shadows the mountains made across the dark sand. A full moon had risen and the chef suggested we build a fire. So we dragged our pillows into the sand around the pit he’d made. There we were, an American, a Brit, an Egyptian, a Bedouin, and a Jordanian. Through broken English, translated through Arabic and a mishmash of a few other languages thrown in, we all got on like a house on fire. There was lot of giggling, talk of what music we liked, and of what America is really like. We did indeed find it hard to believe that Iraq was next door and being made a mess of.

Eventually, things got quiet until the silence was broken by the unmistakable sound of Bill Withers singing, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” followed by Ra’ed giggling. It was the ring tone on his cell phone and he entertained us by playing it over and over. That night we slept in a pup tent they’d set up and made comfortable for us.

Wadi Rum breakfast.

Breakfast.

The next morning we watched the sunrise bathe the desert mountains gold. Afterwards, we all shared a breakfast of tea, fruit, boiled eggs and biscuits. Then we hopped back in the jeep to explore, hike, and absorb as much of the Wadi Rum’s energy as possible.   They let us take turns driving and we passed camels and a goat herder. Walking, I came across a small bouquet of delicate white flowers growing out of the sand and other small wonders. Back at the tent we took pictures, exchanged hugs and were sorry to leave our new friends but we were moving on to Petra, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Wadi Rum tour guides.

Our great hosts.

Jordan remains a safe and attractive place to travel. The Bedouins, whose lives have changed over time, and the Jordanians are well-known for their hospitality and tourism contributes a huge percentage to the country’s GDP. Wadi Rum attracts visitors from around globe, yet despite its popularity its pleasure for me was the sweet feeling that it existed purely for my own experience. The new friends, and Bill Withers, were the icing on the cake.

Got an itch to go somewhere? Go. And don’t forget to write.

 

Sorry About Your Vacation But We’re Closed.

You're joking...right? (Photo credit: Laura Morales.)

You’re joking…right? (Photo credit: Laura Morales.)

Yesterday my boyfriend asked me, “How pissed would you be if when we’d gone to Egypt they’d told us ‘sorry, the pyramids are closed today’?”  I don’t think I really have to answer that question.

But that’s how it’s gone this week for millions of tourists across the United States because of the federal government shutdown.  National parks, museums, and other famous institutions that draw visitors from across the U.S. and abroad are shut out from some of the most inspiring, natural, awesome, and thought-provoking experiences this country has to offer.  For the folks doing the traveling it’s been a major disappointment.  Sure, there are some who’ve made lemonade from the lemons of our government’s internal affairs, but for others the plans they’d had to visit the country’s federally run attractions have turned out to be a bust.

Travel advisors and tour operators who are politically aware may have had a jump on things by having a Plan B up their sleeve for their customers.  I hope so, anyway.   But for travelers who like to go it alone, what started out as an eager vacation has most probably turned into a frustrating experience and a poorer view of our government.  This especially holds true for any foreign visitors.

As of today, the government is in day four of its shutdown but there’s strength in numbers. Travel agents, the travel industry as a whole, and U.S. citizens can do something about it.

How?  All you need to do is write your federal representative.

Tell them how you feel.  Especially for anyone in the travel industry whose livelihood depends on tourism.  It’s that easy.

Power to the people, and to travelers.

Island Hopping.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

One of the gifts of working in travel is the wide network of colleagues you meet along the way.  Across air, car, cruise, destinations, hotels, travel advisors, tour companies, and event specialists—we’ve cumulatively traveled the globe!  So it’s always a treat when you run into each other because chances are someone will have just returned from a trip.  One of the features of Ports Are Calling will be a Q&A with industry insiders—or people who have a thing for travel—to spread the word, share a moment or shine a light on a particular destination or travel experience.   I recently caught up with Catherine Reilly, Managing Director, Brendan Vacations, Ireland.  When she’s not crisscrossing her motherland, Miss Reilly can often be found hiking near Lake Como or exploring a new destination experience.  Because she’s blessed to travel so much, she considers herself a “privileged delinquent” and it was good to learn about her recent visit to Easter Island.

Rapa Nui view from the top.  (Photo credit:  Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Rapa Nui view from the top. (Photo credit: Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Q:   What inspired you to travel to Easter Island?
A:   I’ve visited South America several times, places like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Galapagos  Islands, the Amazon Rain Forrest, Iguassu Falls, and the wonderful cities of Santiago, Quito, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and more. I love this continent and this time a visit to Easter Island fitted nicely into my travel plans.

Q:  So you obviously have a thing for South America.  What is it about that continent that attracts you?
A:  Reading about South America as a child I think I was first attracted by the wonderful place names, Paraguay, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Lake Titicaca.  Now as a traveler I am inspired by its ancient civilization and culture, that’s what draws me back again and again. 

Q:  Do you think that might have something to do with the ancient history that’s in your bones as an Irish woman?
A:  In Ireland all around us we witness our ancient civilization.  At Newgrange for example we have a structure built thousands of years ago that remains today. At Machu Picchu the ancient civilization of the Incas is powerfully presented to us and through the statues on Easter Island we learn about the ancient Polynesians.  The debate continues as to whether these structures, temples, monuments were built to venerate their dead or worship their Gods, or were there other reasons? That said, the fascination is with the people who built these amazing places and things with such engineering skills, knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and respect for their environment. Today we visit, stand in awe and remind ourselves they didn’t have metal yet!

Unfinished Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

Unfinished Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  What about Easter Island surprised or fascinated you?
A:  The locals refer to their island as Rapa Nui and you visit to see the Moai (not statues). Interestingly, ‘Rapa Nui’ is the name of the country and the local language and ‘Rapanui’ refers to the people.  The island is so small, about 26 miles long. The biggest attraction is, of course, the Moai, there are so many of them and they are all over this little island and they’re so big.  They’re not protected in any way, so the island relies on the visitor to treat these treasures with respect. What’s fascinating is not just the monumental stonework and the amount of effort it took to build the Moai, there is also the mystery of why the islanders toppled them all over.

The Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

The Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  They’re statues but the Moai sound like more of a presence?
A:  Oh, absolutely, yes, the energy on the island is amazing.  It’s like when I walk around some places in Ireland, I feel like I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.  There is a presence on Easter Island and when you visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where there’s something like 400 of these statues still there in various stages of carving, some are half-finished and some are just heads, it’s like one day, the people making them just all up and left.

Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Easter Island. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Aside from the Moai, were you drawn to any particular part of the island?
A:  My favorite place on the island was the Rano Kau, a crater shaped like an amphitheater. When I arrived at the crater it was clear just how remote it all is, truly wonderful, you’re just surrounded by the big, blue ocean.  The island is Ireland green, and the ocean around it is all different kinds of blue and turquoise, and every time you look at it you can see a different color.

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  A. Reilly)

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island. (Photo credit: A. Reilly)

Q:  How’s the island hospitality?
A:  It’s fantastic, super friendly.  The population on Easter Island is approximately 5,500.  It’s governed by Chili and 60% of the islanders are Rapanui, and the rest are from the mainland. Most of our guides were Rapanui and they were all very proud to share their stories.  The islanders are extremely welcoming. The post office will even stamp your passport with a Rapa Nui stamp!

Q:  Where did you stay?
A:  I stayed at the Explora lodge, which is five miles from Hanga Roa, where 95% of the population lives and the only place on the island with electricity and running water. There are hotels, restaurants, mini markets and the usual souvenir shops. The local currency is the Chilean peso but you can easily use US dollars. 

Q:  How’s the local cuisine?
A: The food was excellent, great variety, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. It was all very tasty and healthy. 

Q:  Any interesting experiences?
A:  One of the traditions on the Island is a triathlon with the difference being that it takes place during the Tapati festival in February. It’s only open to Rapanui men, and one of our guides participates each year so it was interesting to hear about it from his perspective. It’s a race that requires extreme stamina. The contestants paddle across the lake 650m in canoes made out of reeds. They then pick up enormous heads of bananas and run one and a half times the circumference of the lake. They then swim and surf across the lake atop a reed surfboard. The men are very scantily clad for this competition.

Q:  How many days do you recommend to visit and what time of the year is the best to go?
A:  I travelled there with LAN, a South American Airline from Santiago.  The flight was just under six hours and there’s daily service. I travelled in the off-season in April, there was some rain but I was able to see the Moai practically alone. It’s quite remote, the island is situated in the Pacific Ocean, half way from the coast of Chile and Tahiti, three full days are a must. The Tapati Festival happens in February and that’s peak time to visit.

Q:  Most people over pack for trips, what do you recommend for an Easter Island visit?
A:  You’re visiting a special place that so few others have ever set foot, so bring an open mind.  After that, all you need is casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes—something closed toe is good, not flip-flops or sandals. High season is January through March but the weather is fairly good for the remainder of the year, so I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat.  Pack a light rain jacket for an off-season trip.  It’s an island so there are beaches where you can swim, and for divers there are caves to explore.  Make sure you have plenty of memory card space and batteries for your camera.

Q:  Why should people visit Easter Island?
A:  Because it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world with a unique history and archaeological wealth greatly disproportionate to its size. A visit to the island will unlock some of the mysteries associated with Rapa Nui, sort out the facts and fiction.  

Q:  Do you recommend hooking a visit to Easter Island onto any other destinations?
A:  For sure—Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  Chile and Easter Island for example.  Chile is home to some of the most beautiful and exotic scenery in the world, from the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park in the Extreme South, not far from Antarctica, to the beautiful city of Santiago and the nearby vineyards—the itinerary choices we can design here are as diverse as they are endless.  Brendan’s team, Boutique Journeys, creates amazing South American itineraries and extensions to Easter Island.

Empire of the Incas, Peru.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Empire of the Incas, Peru. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Easter Island is considered something of a “bucket list” destination.  How popular is it for Brendan customers?
A:  It used to be difficult to get there but flights have increased and it’s becoming more popular for us each year. When you consider that only a total 4,000 travelers visited the island in 1989 from all over the world and in 2012 that number increased to 85,000.  That’s still a small number in global tourism terms, but when you think of the size of the island and the number of inhabitants a different picture emerges.  If tourism continues to grow, they’re going to have to protect the island in some way because it’s a heritage site. They will probably have to restrict visits, like they do on the Galapagos and on the Inca trail. It’s not a place that you can get to easily so the folks who book with us tend to have a traveler, not a tourist, mindset. They’re not looking for the creature comforts—they’re looking for an experience.  The Brendan team does an excellent job in managing expectations and matching the needs of the customer with the experience

Q:  So it sounds like the ideal thing would be to figure which South American country you’d like to explore and build Easter Island into the itinerary.  If anyone is interested in booking a trip with Brendan to discover Easter Island, what should they do?
A:  That’s easy, they just talk to their travel agent!