Tourists warned to avoid Bangkok as waters rise

Rising floodwaters has meant British holidaymakers have been warned to avoid all but essential travel to the Thai capital, prompting a mass evacuation from the city.

 

Evacuation orders have been sent to tens of thousands of people in the capital following changes made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice. This is in response to the large volume of floodwater that is expected to hit the capital later this week.

 

More than 350 people have been killed from floods as a result of heavy rainfall causing widespread disruption in the worst flooding Thailand has seen in 50 years.

 

On Tuesday Bangkok and 20 provinces announced a five-day holiday giving people the chance to escape the rising waters.

 

Authorities are scrambling to try and pump water from the Bangkok region, however the risk of flooding has increased due to record-high water levels in the city’s Chao Phraya River, especially if heavy rain returns when the tide is high.

 

Bangkok’s second biggest airport Don Muang was forced to close yesterday until November 1 due to surrounding water in the area making access difficult for passengers and staff.

 

Residents of Don Muang and Bang Phlat districts have been told by Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra to leave for their own safety.

 

He said: “This is the first time I am using the term ‘eviction’, the first time I’m really asking you to leave”.

 

Thailand’s main airport Suvarnabhumi has not been affected because it was on higher ground. Thai Airways however, announced flights may be reduced because of staffing concerns.

 

The FCO website states: “We now advise against all but essential travel to the city of Bangkok and the 26 provinces in Thailand affected by flooding”.

 

“Our advice against all but essential travel does not include transit through Suvarnabhumi international airport. Flights to destinations elsewhere in Thailand (the resorts of Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Koh Samui) continue to operate normally”.

 

Customers due to travel within the next few days should contact their airline or travel provider for the latest information.

 

By Charlotte Greenhalgh

 

Want an in depth view of the stunning polar regions?

The Foreign Office has published new Polar Regions pages on the website to complement the BBC series Frozen Planet.

The pages are designed to tell you more about the UK’s many and varied interests and activities in the polar regions: from cooperating in international science in the Arctic, to governing the British Antarctic Territory, the UK’s largest Overseas Territory.

A stunning and varied part of the world, some of which is changing rapidly.

Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said:

“The UK is rightly proud of its long and rich history of polar exploration and scientific discovery. Today the UK continues to make a positive contribution in the polar regions, for example through our world-class polar science programme. I hope you enjoy learning more about our work in these unique and important regions.”

First space tourism experience launched

Spaceport Sweden has collaborated with the ICEHOTEL, Kiruna Airport and Scandinavian Airlink to launch an exclusive space tourism experience that will allow clients to get an even closer look at the magical and mythical northern lights.

”Space tourism is no longer a dream but a new industry being developed here and now. At Spaceport Sweden our mission is to provide space related experiences for all; on the ground, in the air and in time to space and we are very excited to now launch our first product. The Northern Light Flights offers our customers an exclusive experience to get closer to and view this natural space phenomenon of the northern lights from a front row seat”, says Karin Nilsdotter, CEO at Spaceport Sweden.

The Northern Light Flight experience starts at ICEHOTEL with a short presentation about the northern lights and a transfer to Spaceport Sweden where an airplane with seats for nine passengers each with a window will take clients above the clouds. The flight will last approximately 1 hour.

The premier flight takes place on the 15th January 2012 and there will then be three more flights on the 5th, 12th and 19th of February. The flights can be booked via icehotel.com as of 19th of October 2011. There are three types of package deals to choose between: a standard, deluxe and a charter package deal that is bookable all days between 1st of January and 15th of March 2012.

The Kiruna region is situated within the aurora zone and has among the best prerequisites in the world to see the northern lights. There are several climate zones in the region that together with good weather conditions increase the chances of seeing the northern lights. The solar activity, which causes the northern lights, peaks every 11 years, so the aurora borealis tends to be more frequent and intense at these times. Additionally, the years following a peak see increased northern lights activity – this winter, we are now reaching the peak and the next two winters are expected to be very active and exciting.

Spaceport Sweden is a pioneering initiative to establish space tourism in Sweden and become a world leading spaceport and hub for commercial human spaceflights and cross-industry innovation. Located in Kiruna, Swedish Lapland, Europe’s premier space city since 1957, Spaceport Sweden offers unique world class experiences through the northern lights and under the midnight sun, further supplying launch infrastructure, R&D facilities and high-tech expertise to commercial space operators. www.spaceportsweden.com

ICEHOTEL is the world’s first hotel built entirely of ice and snow. ICEHOTEL being designed by artists means that the creations are protected by the Swedish copy write law, that is also what differentiates ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi from copycats around the world. The company develops sensuous, inspiring, and unique experiences in art, nature, accommodation and gastronomy. ICEHOTEL is a part-owner of Spaceport Sweden. www.icehotel.com

Only 1 in 5 people feel informed about the aid given by the UK Government to developing countries

 

Latest results from IDS’ UK Public Opinion Monitor (UKPOM) suggest that low levels of public awareness of how aid is spent is damaging public support for UK Government aid spending. Survey results reveal only 21% of people consider themselves informed about UK aid, yet the Government has committed to increasing aid spending to 0.7% of GNI from 2013 onwards.

Published today, the research also finds that overseas aid is the most popular good cause for UK public charity donations, with respondents indicating that they give more regular donations to overseas aid and disaster relief charities than to any other good cause.

The importance of awareness

Awareness of aid and poverty issues clearly has a big impact on the public’s views about aid. For example, when asked about the UK Government decision earlier this year to continue to provide £280 million per year in aid to India, 58% of people thought the UK should give no aid to India at all. Reasons given for this include people’s perceptions of India’s space programme and the number of rich people in its population.

However, just 4 out of 10 people knew that India had more poor people than any other country in the world, and more than the whole of Sub Saharan Africa combined. Once informed of this, 30% of the previously unaware respondents changed their view and decided to support the £280 million India aid commitment.

Professor Lawrence Haddad, IDS Director said:

‘It’s heartening to see that the public hasn’t lost its appetite for giving, with a positive response to recent humanitarian disasters, and with overseas aid standing out as the most popular charitable cause to donate to.

‘But this research makes clear that improving public awareness and understanding of aid would really help encourage public support. At a time when the Government is committed to protecting the UK’s aid spend, it’s more important than ever that we communicate the experiences faced by poor people around the world, and the success stories of aid having a positive impact on people’s lives.’

Other key findings

The research also examines the public’s views about three humanitarian crises: the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan floods and the current Horn of Africa famine. The analysis appears to show that complex humanitarian crises that unfold over longer time periods (e.g. famines) provoke less public support than sudden crises (e.g. earthquakes). Respondents expressed more extreme concern about the Haiti earthquake in its immediate aftermath than they expressed over the Pakistan flood at the time of the disaster or recently over the current Horn of Africa famine.

People also claimed they had given the most in charitable donations to Haiti, in comparison to Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. This is supported by data from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) that show that the Haiti earthquake was the second most popular appeal in the DEC’s history, with the Horn of Africa ranking third and Pakistan floods fourth.

Winter sun and summer sun all wrapped up in one travel insurance policy

With summer in the UK coming to an end and the economic gloom persisting, many great offers on winter sunshine breaks are coming on the market, to beat the seasonal blues and tightened budgets.

The travel industry seems to want to stretch the horizons of people seeking a winter break, with the availability and popularity of more remote, unspoilt getaways being heavily promoted. Alongside the traditional Spanish sun seeking destinations, there are great offers for Africa, the Indian Ocean, Asia and the Caribbean.

Travel insurance specialist, World First Travel Insurance is also encouraging holiday makers to re-think how they book their travel insurance too. Rather than taking insurance for a single trip, they are encouraging people to consider buying an annual multi-trip policy as it is often much more cost effective. Turning a single trip policy into an annual policy may cost less than £30, so it is always worth asking your insurer to quote for both. If you decide to take advantage of the many exotic holiday offers the cost of insurance certainly won’t hold you back. Worldwide annual policies with World First Travel Insurance start from £50

Martin Rothwell, Managing Partner at World First Travel Insurance says, “In the current economic climate getting value for money is essential for consumers.  With travel insurance, very often the best way to save money is to think ahead and anticipate when and where and with whom you might travel so you can buy an annual policy.”

Standard annual policies can cover travel abroad for up to 31 or 62 days at a time and the number of trips you can take is unlimited.

There is still plenty of flexibility if you a buy an annual travel policy and your plans change. You can add different regions to you policy mid-term, if, for example you start with a Worldwide policy excluding the USA, Canada and Caribbean but then decide to travel to the States, this can be added at any point.  You can increase your cover according to what you plan to do, such as adding scuba-diving and watersports to a policy.  Or similarly, if the value of what you might take with you increases, for example you want to take your laptop so you can stay in touch with friends and family back home while you are on your remote island getaway, you can increase your cover.

An annual policy provides peace of mind and one less thing to do whenever you decide to take a break, knowing that you have your insurance sorted when you book trips in advance or decide upon a quick getaway during the year.

British Red Cross launches appeal for homeless quake survivors

The British Red Cross has launched an appeal to help tens of thousands of people left homeless by the recent earthquake in Turkey.

Volunteers and staff from the Turkish Red Crescent – one of the Europe’s best-equipped earthquake response organisations – have been working around the clock for three days to help survivors.

Funds from the British Red Cross appeal will be used to support the work of the Turkish Red Crescent, and help provide thousands of survivors with temporary shelter, including tents and blankets.

“Hundreds of people have been confirmed dead, thousands are injured and tens of thousands of people have been made homeless,” said Katy Attfield, British Red Cross head of disaster management.

“The area affected is mountainous, it’s freezing, and making sure survivors have protection against the elements is vital for keeping them safe.

“The Turkish Red Crescent is doing an incredible job, and as the scale of the disaster becomes clear, there is an important role for us to support them financially and with supplies as they respond to this tragedy.”

To donate to the British Red Cross Turkey Earthquake Appeal, go to:

www.redcross.org.uk/turkeyearthquake  or call 0845 054 7202

Ryanair boss plans to double the size of the airline

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has revealed expansion plans that would make the company one of the biggest airlines in the world, introducing routes to Scandinavia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

 

The budget airline chief executive has unveiled ambitious expansion plans that could see the amount of passengers double and stretch its reach across Europe.

 

Mr O’Leary announced in an interview with the Financial Times that he wants to increase passenger numbers from 72 million to between 120 – 130 million within the next decade.

 

The airline is currently in talks with US, Chinese and Russian plane manufacturers over plans to buy over 200 new aircrafts.

 

He wants the delivery of the new aircrafts to happen between 2015 and 2021, insisting they would only be purchased at ‘cheap prices’.

 

Between 2010 and 2011 the Dublin-based airline carried 72.1 million passengers, these plans could see their fleet of around 270 aircrafts double.

 

These new plans would allow the airline to use 50 of the new planes to fly passengers to and from Scandinavian destinations. Another 100 aircrafts would fly to new routes in the Baltic Sates, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

 

Mr O’Leary added that the difficult economic conditions will allow the company to increase its share in the short-haul market as the demand for low-cost travel increases.

 

The outspoken Irish man’s cost cutting suggestions have been at the centre of controversy, where incidents have included: charging to use the toilets on planes, removing a toilet, space for standing passengers and scrapping the co-pilot role.

 

Their most recent announcement was that passengers will soon have to pay for flights using their pre-paid payment method if they want to escape card charges.

 

From November, the only way customers will be able to avoid extra fees will be by using the ‘Ryanair Cash Passport’, costs could mount up to £48 for a family of four buying return flights.

 

By Charlee Greenhalgh

Ocean cruises generate billions of Euros

It almost goes without saying ocean cruises these days generate some pretty hefty bucks – in fact, billions of Euros annually, to be exact. And there seems little sign the continued growth of the industry, year-on-year, is in any way, shape or form likely to slow down any time soon, despite the economic hardships being experienced across the world.

Last month, the cruise industry was held up as an example of “European excellence”, with passenger numbers reportedly up by nearly 10% over the last year, and market share during the same period increasing by a staggering 30%, generating more than €35 billion worth of economic benefits.

European Cruise Council chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, speaking at the Seatrade Europe Cruise & River Cruise Convention in Hamburg, Germany, hailed the excellence of the European cruise industry in terms of growth and economic impact.

But he also appealed to industry, governments, NGOs and the public to pursue a “common objective” to help the cruise industry to continue to grow and lead the economic recovery at a time of economic difficulties.

He said, “Our common objective has to be to protect and nurture this European excellence, which is seriously challenged not only by one of the most serious economic downturns of our era, but also by several very serious threats.”

Mr Lefebvre d’Ovidio made a commitment that the European Cruise Council was determined to work with regulators to tackle the many current challenges to the cruise industry, from environmental issues to piracy. And he appealed for an “intensified dialogue” between the industry and regulators.

“We need Europe to remain a good place to do business, all cruise sector stakeholders – the industry, governments, NGOs and the public – should intensify the dialogue between themselves and with the legislators, in order to achieve the ambitious objective of sustainable growth.”

He concluded that “despite these many challenges that still need to be faced, we remain firmly optimistic that the cruise industry will continue grow in the years ahead and will continue to be an example of European excellence.”

Mr Lefebvre d’Ovidio, who is also chairman of Silversea Cruises, was appointed ECC chairman in 2010. The ECC, which has 30 cruise members and 34 associate members, aims to promote the interests of cruise ship operators within Europe and bring the benefits of cruising to a wider public audience.

Last year, cruise passenger numbers increased by 9.3%, with passengers spending almost €100 in each port visited. As well as generating €35.2 billion of goods and services, the cruise industry supported 307,000 direct and indirect jobs, an increase of more than 55% compared to the previous five years.

According to the ECC, 99% of the world’s cruise ships were built by European shipyards, and that, in turn, meant 99% of all supplies were bought from European manufacturers. The investment of €10.3 billion in new ships announced for 2011 and 2014 testified to the fact that the cruise industry was a key driver in maintaining a European shipbuilding industry.

 

Hurricane Rina has its eye on Cancun

Hurricane Rina is predicted to turn into a ‘major’ storm mid-week and hit the holiday resort in Mexico, Cancun.

 

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) has forecasted the weather system will reach the popular tourist area on Thursday after strengthening over the next 48 hours.

 

At present the thunderstorms are around 195 miles southwest of Grand Cayman island and has winds that so far reach 80 miles per hour.

 

A number of people have been reported killed by flooding and mudslides as the storm brushed over Nicaragua and Honduras.

 

The sixth named hurricane in the Atlantic in the last 12 months comes as he season draws to a close, meaning the possible damage is amplified as in many areas the ground is already waterlogged.

 

The NHC has told citizens and tourists in Belize and on the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to observe Rina’s progress.

 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also recommends British tourists to keep up-to-date with local radio and television broadcasts and follow orders given locally during a tropical storm.

 

The NHC have predicted that winds are likely to reach 120 miles per hour, making this a category 3 storm.

 

‘Rina is likely to intensify further during the next couple of days as it traverses the very warm waters of the northwest Caribbean Sea,’ the NHC said.

 

UK outlines robust measures to tackle piracy

Speaking at the British Chamber of Shipping, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham today outlined the UK’s ongoing commitment to tackle piracy off the coast of East Africa.

Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham said:

“This government is 100% behind a more robust response to piracy. I am pleased to announce that a UK-funded maritime intelligence and information coordination center will be set up in Seychelles. The FCO and Serious Organized Crime Agency are carrying out urgent work with the government of the Seychelles to take this forward.

“The new intelligence center will coordinate the tracking of financial flows and enforcement operations and will help collate the evidence needed to issue international arrest warrants and prosecute pirates.

“Pirate financiers are the kingpins of piracy, and targeting them effectively will have a huge impact on the ability of pirates to terrorize the high seas.”

In addition, Mr. Bellingham announced UK support for several of the UN’s projects to tackle piracy. This includes work in Somalia designed to prevent people from turning to piracy in the first place.

Mr. Bellingham continued:

“We have always been clear that the problem of piracy cannot be solved at sea when the causes of piracy lie on land. We must also help Somalia and its regions to develop their own capabilities to deter and detain pirates. I am pleased to announce that the UK will support work to ensure that this becomes a reality.”