Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement: Wheelies, wheelchairs & windy city

3-year-old Lucy Forck was traumatised by the TSA in St Louis

3-year-old Lucy Forck was traumatised by the TSA in St Louis

First off, Travel Extra’s March 2013 issue (Travel Awards issue) is now online (iphone & android compatible) http://www.travelextra.mobi. Enjoy.

The unwelcome video star of the week was an over-officious American TSA agent at Lambert airport in St Louis, Missouri. The agent threatened and traumatised 3-year old wheelchair bound spinal bifida victim Lucy Forck, and confiscated the little girl’s cuddly toy, “lamby”. Lucy and her parents were passing through security before boarding a flight to Orlando on February 9. After versions of the video achieved 2m views, the TSA apologised, but the initial apology was only to retract the agent’s contention that it was illegal to video the security checkpoint.

Cycle tourism did a few wheelies this week. As has been speculated since November, the 2014 Giro d’Italia will start with three Irish days in Belfast, Armagh and Dublin, our first big cycling start since the Tour de France in 1998, and the first start abroad for the Giro under new UCI rules. The announcement took place in the Titanic Centre on Wednesday after negotiations with tourist boards were brokered by Darach McQuaid (check out his Italian), brother of UCI President Pat. The Giro is expected to cost €4.6m to host, including a substantial tourist board contribution, but is expected to attract around €11.5m worth of international media exposure. This will be the 11th start outside Italy for the Giro: 1965 San Marino, 1966 Montecarlo, 1973 Belgium, 1974 Vatican, 1996 Greece, 1998 France, 2002 Holland, 2006 Belgium, 2010 Holland, 2012 Denmark.

Iberia’s first of three planned strikes turned nasty when police clashed with strikers at Madrid’s Barajas airport. Further strikes, in protest against job cuts proposed under the airline’s Transformation Plan, are scheduled for Mar 4 to 8 and Mar 18 to 22, although there has been a response to calls for mediation and Gregorio Tudela, a professor at Madrid’s Autonomous University is to act as mediator. The Centre of Aviation Policy remarked that Ryanair, easyJet and Air Europa will be enjoying every minute of watching the strikes deliver more passengers to them. CAPA’s research suggests that Aer LIngus is one and half times more efficient than Iberia and Ryanair eight times as efficient. Coincidentally Iberia took delivery of the first new A330-300s last week and showcased revamped interiors in both business and economy. Seven more are scheduled to join the airline’s fleet from now to March 2014. From May, Iberia’s fleet of A340-600, which it uses on flights to Latin and North America and Angola, will be upgraded to feature the new cabins.

Participants on the Aer Lingus press trip to Chicago pictured on the viewing deck of the Hancock Tower, Philip Nolan of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Eoghan Corry of Travel Extra, Clare Weir of the Belfast Telegraph. Declan Kearney of Aer Lingus, Katie Byrne of the Irish Independent Weekend magazine, Bernice Harrison of the Irish Times, Carlton Baxter of the Belfast PR agency Carlton Baxter communications and Adrienne McGill of the Ulster Newsletter.

Aer Lingus, who are increasing their services to Chicago to double daily this summer (EI123 at 11:25 and EI125 at 15:45), brought a group of journalists to showcase the highlights of a city that has been promoted by Choose Chicago since the local tourist agency was relaunched last July. The windy city was more like the wind-chill city for the visit, with temperatures of minus 10 augmented by a bitter winter wind that caused Travel Extra editor Eoghan Corry to don an unaccustomed jacket (see pics). The group were accommodated with lake views in the Drake Hotel, a classy venue centrally located between the lakeshore and shopping-magnet Michigan Avenue – you know it is classy because there is a couch in the elevator. On their first morning the group was greeted to breakfast by the hotel’s Irish-born catering manager Ann O’Riordan from Clane.

Attraction visits included the Shedd Aquarium complete with a close encounter with a precocious p-p-penguin whose principle party piece proved the promulgation of projectile poo, and the Art Institute of Chicago, which had just launched its new in-gallery tour app. Signature paintings include the “American Mona Lisa,” American Gothic, (recognisable from countless parodies, not least the opening sequence in Desperate Housewives) and many famous creations amidst the second largest collection of impressionist paintings in the world.

The group sampled high-rise experiences on the Hancock Tower, where the views extended for more than 50 miles on one of the clearest nights that hostess Jennifer Hessler could remember, and Willis Towers, where the host was Randy Stanick, who first conceived the 103rd floor glass sky deck. Since the deck was installed, visitor numbers at Willis have gone from 1.1m to 1.6m a year.

Dining highlights included signature mid-west steak from Benny’s Chop House, deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Italian fusion from John Coletta’s Quartino Ristorante and chic gallery cuisine at Terzo Piano. According to Warren Wilkinson of Chose Chicago, Chicago is the most American of American cities, a “culturally deep destination” with a culinary dimension of 5,500 restaurants, many of them regulars on top ten lists. “The cityscape is unique. Water has such an influence on the city it has to be encountered close-up to appreciate it.”

Chicago O’Hare processed the passengers efficiently inbound and outbound. The airport anticipates 14pc growth this year, creeping back towards the 70m mark it last hit in 2008. Ireland provides O’Hare with 4.6pc of its international traffic. Aer Lingus Premier class showcased James Keaveney’s new menus and wine choice, including an amazing seafood pancake. Declan Kearney of Aer Lingus said that the overwhelming number of passengers to ORD (from the airport’s original location, Orchard Field) are transfer passengers and the airline wants to grow more destination traffic to Chicago.

Tripadvisor announced its readers’ choice top ten beaches in the world: 1 Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Italy; 2 Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos; 3 Whitehaven Beach, Airlie Beach, Australia; 4 Baia do Sancho, Fernando de Noronha, Brazil; 5 Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico; 6. Playa de las Catedrales, Ribadeo, Spain; 7 Lopes Mendes Beach, Ilha Grande, Brazil; 8 Horseshoe Bay Beach, Southampton Parish, Bermuda; 9 Eagle Beach, Aruba; 10 Rhossili Bay, Swansea, Wales.

The European top ten: 1 Rabbit Beach, Lampedusa, Sicily; 2 Playa de las Catedrales, Ribadeo, Spain; 3 Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Swansea; 4 Playa de ses Illetes, Formentera, Majorca; 5 Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon, 6 Elafonissi Beach, Elafonissi, Crete; 7 Iztuzu Beach, Dalyan, Turkey; 8 La Pelosa Beach, Stintino, Sardinia; 9 Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall; 10 St Pauls Bay, Lindos, Rhodes.

The Spanish Top 10: 1 Playa de las Catedrales, Ribadeo; 2 Playa de ses Illetes, Formentera; 3 Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian Donostia; 4 Playa de Bolonia, Tarifa; 5 Playa de Zahara de los Atunes, Zahara; 6 Playa de Cofete, Morro del Jable; 7 Playa Lanzada O Grove; 8 Cala Bassa Sant Antoni de Portmany; 9 Es Trenc, Majorca; 10 Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

The Irish Travel Agents Association is targeting 150 members by 2015 after signing up its 100th member this week, One Stop Touring Shop. The current members represent 162 locations and have a combined turnover of €1.25bn.

Clare Dunne of Travelbroker was re-elected as president of the ITAA unopposed for the second year of a two-year term (it is very unusual, but not unprecedented for the president to face a contest entering their second term). Martin Skelly of Navan Travel is unopposed for the position of treasurer at the ITAA AGM at Moran’s Red Cow near Dublin’s N7/M50 interchange on March 13th. The AGM will be preceded by a VAT seminar.

Ireland moved up a place to 18th in the Simon Anholt-GFK Roper global “brand rankings.” The survey was conducted from July 5th-24th in 20 countries and 20,378 respondents their perceptions of 50 countries on questions in six categories: Exports, Governance, Culture, People, Tourism, Immigration and Investment. The top ten national brands were (2011 position in brackets) were: 1 United States (1); 2 Germany (2); 3 Britain (3); 4 France (4); 5 Canada (6); 6 Japan (5); 7 Italy (7); 8 Switzerland (9); 9 Australia (8); 10 Sweden (10).

Fáilte Ireland reported that Dublin hotels occupancy had risen above 70pc, the best rate since the downturn began. At the annual briefing for the Dublin tourism industry in Croke Park they said sales of the Dublin Pass were up 7pc with 2m visitors to visitdublin.com, and 95,000 downloads of Dublin Insider Guide, 56,000 iWalks and 58,000 Visit Dublin Apps. Dublin attracted over 4m overseas visitors in 2012, and 1.5m million domestic visitors spending a total of €1.5bn.

A week after KLM said they would charge for checked baggage on European flights (from April 22), British Airways announced plans to offer “hand baggage only fares” to passengers who travel without checked luggage on flights from Gatwick to Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, Jersey, Tunis and Turin. Prices start at £39 (one-way to Amsterdam). BA said that, depending on the route, the fares are between £9 and £15 cheaper than usual. Understated as always, Ryanair said: “We welcome BA’s conversion to the Ryanair way”.

Research by travel review website Gogobot suggests chain hotels are more likely to impose the heftiest wi-fi fees. The London Hilton charges guests € 23 for 24 hour’s access, while Hilton in Belfast charges €17.25 and wi-fi is free at the Hilton in Dublin. The survey praised the Shelbourne in Dublin for offering free wi-fi. A survey of 8,600 travellers by Hotels.com that 34pc of travellers said free wi-fi was their first consideration in choosing a hotel and just 11pc of hotel guests are willing to pay for wi-fi.

In the Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles they spent the week pondering how much damage a dead body in the water tank might do to a hotel’s reputation, after a missing Canadian tourist, 21-year-old Elicia Lam from Vancouver, was found drowned in one of four water tanks. The residents, many of whom have lived there for years, are required to sign a waiver every time they enter the hotel. Now we know why.

A week after the Valentine’s Day marriage between AA and US Airlines, we are still coming to terms with a changed landscape in which 90pc of America’s domestic airline routes are in the hands of four carriers. New American will be the leading N American carrier on the Heathrow trans-Atlantic routes. The combined carrier’s 10 recognised hubs (in order of size) are: Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, Miami, Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington National, Los Angeles, New York La Guardia and New York JFK.

IRELAND IN THE SPOTLIGHT IN ITALY

BIT Milan concluded this week, the Tourism Ireland hoping to improve on the 252,000 Italians who visited Ireland in 2012, up 14pc on 2011. Picture shows Giuseppe Stroppa of Aer Lingus; Eva Schmid of Killarney Hotels; Clodagh FitzGerald of Irish Welcome Tours; and Siobhán Wright, Tourism Ireland, on the Tourism Ireland stand at BIT in Milan.

Sales: Aer Lingus announced a USA and Canada sale, book before Thursday next Feb 28, flights from €249 on www.aerlingus.com. Also ends Thursday Stena‘s spring sale €89 single for car and driver every day of week, and Irish Ferries spring sale, €89 travel Tues and Weds Dublin to Holyhead and Rosslare to Pembroke. JAL flagged a promotional business class fare from Dublin €2,200 with taxes. Tour America have a Caifornia sale day Monday February 25th. George Barter Travel Cork has a flash ski sale for 3 days starting Weds.

Dublin Airport’s parking plus product went on line this week and is available for purchase on the website at €999 (long term) and €1,999 (short term) per annum. See the brochure here.

Barberstown launch medieval banquet

Barberstown Castle in Straffan launched its programme of medieval banquets for invited guests last night, with owner Ken Healy and manager Paddy Cullen ion hand to greet guests from the trade and media. Tommy Monaghan performed as the 13th century castle founder Nicholas Barby. Denise Flynn of DAMHSA directed the show, with songs by Orfhlaith Flynn and dance by Neil Sullivan, Michael McHugh, Aoife Kennedy and Claire McDermott and music from piper Leonard Barry, bodhran player Philip King and Bernadotte Nic Gabhann. Seamus Cullen provided the local history for the script. The medieval banquet will be available to private groups of 30-170 people. See pics. Barberstown was a winner of the best castle venue category in the Weddingsonline awards at Clontarf Castle on Monday, a marathon event with 34 awards, selected after 28,000 brides and grooms nationwide voted for their top suppliers and venues. Algarve Wedding Planners were the weddings abroad supplier of the year. Provincial winners were Harvey’s Point, Mulranny Park Hotel in Westport, Thomas Prior Hall in Ballsbridge, Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, Radisson Blu Farnham Estate Hotel (Lakelands), and Ballinacurra House Kinsale (exclusive).

The advance publicity for BBC London’s new four-part series Holiday Hit Squad, made by Twofour and presented by Angela Rippon, Helen Skelton and Joe Crowley boasted it would combine “brilliant presenters, strong journalism and travel advice”. England’s travel agents say the show, which hit the airwaves on Wednesday, seems to focus entirely on holidaymakers who had booked direct and who were not properly insured.

Prizes & Winners:

Frances Grogan (Grogan Travel) won the travel agents booking incentive competition with US airways: flights for 2 to Philadelphia +3 nights at Radisson Warwick Plaza Hotel & $250 Philadelphia Premium outlets voucher. Picture shows Frances accepting her prize from Fiona Ryan (US Airways).

Ann Mullins (Donabate Travel) won the €100 one4allvoucher from lowcostbeds.

Travel blog competitions: the London backbacker show TNT Travelshow are offering a 6-day Oktoberfest trip for the best blog starting with words “I never knew a festival,” while LE Miami are offering a prize for “best up and coming blogger

Upcoming events of interest to the trade:

March 10: Thailand is hosing an event in the Westbury Hotel with 30 local hoteliers and ground handlers and a panel discussion. Thailand attracted 59,894 visitors from Ireland last year, making it our Number 3 long haul destination.

March 13 Kerala host an event at 6.30pm in the Radisson Blu Hotel inviting agents to meet the Kerala tourism team and hotel partners. Prizes include a trip for two to Kerala sponsored by Kerala tourism.

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