Maine resort provides services to physically challenged

While the majority of resorts make a point of taking care of their physically challenged guests by providing them with additional services, a resort in Maine has been running a programme that has been helping handicapped people to enjoy the thrill of physically-demanding sports.

The resort, Sunday River, in Maine, has been adapting to the needs of disabled people who want to ski. The resort has adapted its facilities to the changing needs of various kinds of skiers, and it is now commonplace to see people of all abilities skiing in the area. Even those with severe disabilities, like blindness, have been able to ski in the resort, thanks to programmes that are specifically designed to assist them. The area’s skiing programme has been adapted to the needs of skiers of all abilities for more than three decades.

Judy Sullivan of Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, said, ‘It serves so many people in so many ways. It’s not just a physical activity, it’s a social activity, a family type program. Once you’re here, you feel like family. You have lots of friends, lots of support. Cancer, amputee, MS, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, visual impairments, hearing impairments, the range is huge.’

The programme, Maine Adaptive (maineadaptive.org), which is available at the resort, relies on the services of more than 400 volunteers and a roster of approximately 300 skiers. They advise and assist skiers who are disabled. However, disabled skiers that wish to enrol need to obtain their doctor’s consent.

Organisers are offering the cost of the lift pass, lessons, equipment and even some items of specialised ski clothing, free of charge. Skiers do, however, have to arrange for their own hotel accommodation, and with the resort becoming so popular with people of different abilities, several properties in the area have rooms that are accessible to the physically challenged.

 

Malaysia tops survey of Muslim-friendly tourist destinations

Malaysia has become the top nation for Muslim-friendly tourism services, according to a survey.

The nation has been rated as the world’s top Muslim-friendly holiday destination in a recent survey. Nations including Egypt, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Singapore were runners-up. The survey was conducted by Singapore-based Muslim travel consultancy, Crescentrating. The survey ranked countries on how well they cater to the growing number of Muslim holidaymakers seeking halal, or Islam-compliant, food and services.

The survey covered a variety of criteria, including the level of safety for tourists in a country, the ease of access to halal food and prayer facilities and accommodation that is specially suited to the needs of Muslim guests. On a scale of one to 10, Malaysia came top with a grade of 8.3. The survey covered 50 nations.

Egypt was in second place with a score of 6.7, and it was followed by the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, both of which had scores of 6.6. Saudi Arabia was in fourth place with a score of 6.4 and Singapore was fifth with 6.3.

Commenting on the outcome of the survey, Crescentrating said that it was taken from the point of view of the traveller, not locals.

The company said, ‘Malaysia is one of the few countries where you can find a prayer place in almost every location, be it a shopping mall or the airport.’

The survey’s findings are intended to be useful to tourists looking for Muslim-specific services in a range of nations around the world.

 

Missoula Summer festivals to be boosted by grants

Two popular summer festivals in Missoula, Montana, USA, are to be boosted with the issue of grants from the Montana Office of Tourism’s Special Events Grants.

The office provided Missoula’s International Choral Festival with USD10,885. The money is to be used to extend the marketing of the city’s July event. Similarly, the Missoula Celtic Festival was awarded a grant of USD7,800 to help run the annual event in Caras Park. Authorities said that the grant would help the organisers to market the festival to a much larger area.

One of the organising committee’s top official said, ‘It opens up the opportunities to market to a lot of new markets, in Idaho and Washington. We didn’t have that budget in place (for that extended marketing). It’s huge for us because we want to bring in as many audience members as possible. It’s just great to have the ability to market, as this festival should be marketed. We’re a non-profit and we have to raise all the money. Usually (marketing) is focused closer to home, but really this is an international event and people come from all over. It’s just really nice to have that money to do it. We’re not going to be limiting ourselves.’

The new funding is expected to help the event’s organisers to undertake promotions in main markets, including eastern Washington and northern Idaho. In addition, the festival will reach out across Montana.

The Choir festival brings choirs from around the world to Missoula for five days of concerts, and this year it is to be held from July 17 to 21. Choirs from several countries including Argentina and Zimbabwe will be involved. Festival organisers are hopeful that with the funding, even more tourists will visit the event than the usual 25,000.

The Montana Office of Tourism’s Special Events Grant Programme has awarded around USD200,000 worth of grants to 17 different tourism-related events across the state this year.

 

Ryanair Claims Safety is behind One Bag Rule

Ryanair, an Ireland-based low cost airline, has announced that its newest policy of allowing only one cabin bag per passenger is part of its safety policy.

In response to criticism from some MEP’s regarding its baggage allowances, the company has claimed that passengers routinely carry a cabin bag weighing 10kgs on its flights, and that practice means that the overhead bins are always full. One cabin bag weighing 10kgs is allowed free of charge for the airline’s passengers, although baggage that is checked in requires a payment.

The airline head of communications, Stephen McNamara, said, ‘The inaccurate claims made by some MEP’s yesterday that Ryanair’s free of charge carry-on bag policy was designed to ‘generate revenues’ were absurd and untrue. The purpose of Ryanair’s free of charge 10kgs carry-on bag is to allow passengers to avoid our checked in bag fees. 75 percent of Ryanair’s 80 million passengers now travel without paying any checked in bag fees, while availing of our 10kg free of charge carry-on bag facility. This reduces Ryanair’s revenues (and our costs).

Ryanair’s 1 carry-on bag rule cannot be changed for safety reasons. It would be helpful if these MEP’s made some basic attempt to understand Ryanair’s safety and low fare policies before making false and inaccurate claims in the European parliament.

The idea that Europe’s only ultra low fares airline, which has pioneered low fare travel and continues to promote free of charge carry-on bags (when other airlines are increasingly charging for carry-on bags) and lower prices than any other airline, is somehow an example of ‘capitalist greed’, is as absurd as some of these MEP’s claiming to care about consumers, while travelling on high fare airlines at the taxpayers’ expense. Ryanair’s 1 bag rule is a safety rule, not a revenue rule.’

 

Choice Announces Nine New UK Hotels

Choice Hotels International, a US based hotel brand, will be opening nine new Choice Hotel properties in the UK.

The company has entered into a franchise agreement with UK-based Akkeron Hotels Group Limited, to open the nine hotels in the UK, which will increase the brand’s presence in the country by around 25 percent.

The new agreement will see the transformation of five Akkeron hotels in Bristol, Bury St. Edmunds, Colchester, Peterborough and Kings Lynn, to be re-branded as Quality Hotels, and another four hotels located in Winchester, Darlington, Ringwood and Stevenage will be re-branded under the Clarion Collection name.

Duncan Berry, the chief executive officer for Choice Hotels Europe in the UK¸ said, ‘We are delighted to have entered into this relationship with Akkeron Hotels Group Limited. Akkeron is a strong hotel operator and an ideal company for Choice Hotels Europe to work with and grow its presence in the UK. The agreement initially will focus on re-branding nine hotels with the opportunity to discuss re-branding further Akkeron hotels in the future.’

Matthew Welbourn, the managing director of Akkeron Hotels Group Limited, said, ‘Our relationship with Choice Hotels is about developing a long term strategy of increasing UK market share for both companies. It is clear that Choice Hotels is prepared to invest in the UK market in terms of brand and distribution. Alongside the change in brand comes a significant investment into the nine hotels to reposition those businesses along with the conversion to the Clarion Collection and Quality brands.’

The company currently operates hotels in more than 17 destinations in the UK, with its brands including Comfort, Quality and Clarion. The company has franchised around 500 hotels in Europe.

 

Flybe Announces UK Job Cuts

Flybe, a UK-based airline company, will be cutting jobs as the company struggles to improve its financial position.

As a part of the financial restructuring plan, the airline intends to reduce its workforce by around 10 percent in the UK, which will result in job cuts for around 300 employees. The majority of the redundancies will be at the airline’s hubs in Exeter, Manchester and Newcastle.

The airline chief executive, Jim French, said, ‘Today’s restructuring plan for the airline has clear, two year profit targets which we believe are deliverable and realistic. A new, slim line business model for UK scheduled services underpins a turnaround, which I expect will deliver a GBP3.00 per seat profit target in the medium term.

Today’s announcement of a turnaround strategy for the UK business is a clear indication that Flybe has a plan not only to address the challenges we face, but also one to exploit the opportunities available, particularly in Europe.

It is a matter of great regret that many valued and hard-working colleagues may leave the organisation and it was a decision I and the board have not taken lightly; it’s one we have tried to avoid and it is the first time in almost 30 years of business that we have had to take such action. However, faced with the brutal impact of a 160 percent rise in Air Passenger Duty (APD) over the past six years and the consequent 20 percent decline in domestic traffic over the same period, we have to recalibrate the business.

There is no escape from the GBP68M per annum APD tax burden, which Flybe has to pay as a result of increases successive governments have levied on the industry. Flybe now pays more than 18 percent of our ticket revenues to the government in APD, whilst other UK based carriers who operate a greater proportion of their business outside of the UK pay less than 6 percent.’

With the revised workforce, the airline intends to implement a modified strategy focusing on its scheduled services business in the UK, and the European contract flying market.

 

Airlines shirking responsibility for passenger compensation claims

According to research carried out by claim agency, Flight-delayed.co.uk, airlines are continuing to ignore European laws that were introduced to ensure passengers were adequately compensated for time lost due to flight delays.

Flight-delayed.co.uk compiled its report using information taken from 10,000 claims filed by passengers from across Europe that had experienced delays. The report appears to reveal that despite European legislation ruling that air passengers are entitled to compensation if their flight is delayed by three hours or more (unless the delay is due to extraordinary circumstances outside the airline’s control, such as strikes or bad weather), claimants face numerous obstacles to having legitimate claims successfully resolved.

The most common excuse offered by airlines following a delay is that it was due to ‘technical difficulties.’ 40 percent of claims were denied for this reason. Raymond Veldkamp, spokesman for Flight-delayed.co.uk, believes that in many cases this is not the real reason for the delay, which was far more likely to have been brought about by financial considerations rather than technical ones, but the delayed passengers face an impossible task in disproving the airline’s version of events.

Veldkamp said, ‘The European Court ruled that technical defects are part of an airline’s operational responsibilities and do not exempt them from their obligation to compensate passengers in the case of a delay, unless the defect could have reasonably been prevented or predicted. As a result, airlines use this legislative loophole to their advantage by blaming every delay on the catch-all excuse of ‘technical defects’. Airlines are also aware of the public’s fear of crashes, meaning they need only mention a potential defect to lull their customers into waiting for hours on end.’

For years, the main excuse for not paying passenger’s compensation claims was that there was no legal ground to do so, but following extended legal debate between the airlines and the European Court, most airlines have finally stopped using this argument.

Veldkamp commented, ‘For the most part, airlines finally realise that they have lost this battle. As a result, some airlines do compensate more now than they did before, while others stopped responding at all after October 23.’

Airlines are also guilty of complicating the compensation process as much as they can. In one such instance, an airline allegedly drafts its own complaint form, and only accepts compensation requests if they are filed using this form. As a result, many customers have had their letters sent back to them unanswered, forcing them to send the same information twice, but in a different format. Veldkamp said, ‘The airlines know consumers are easily scared off by legal lingo, thick dossiers and lawsuits, and use these things to intimidate the passenger and discourage them from seeing their claim through ‘till the end.’

The experiences of 10,000 claimants were studied for the report; of those only 846 had received compensation immediately following the first request. On October 23, 2012, the EU’s Court of Justice reaffirmed the law in favour of passengers. The study showed that of all passengers that have filed a claim since that date, only 24 percent received a response from the airline within the legally set timeframe of 6 weeks. Before October 23, the figure was 45 percent. The largest shift between the period before and after October 23 can be perceived in claims filed with British Airways. Where previously, BA responded within 6 weeks in 60 percent of all cases, this number dropped dramatically to 17 percent in the period after October 23.

Raymond Veldkamp said, ‘The numbers speak for themselves: airlines ignore the legally set response time or fail to respond altogether. If they do respond, they almost always reject the claim straight away. The reason that is given for rejecting claims varies greatly. What’s also remarkable is that there are huge differences between the results of different airlines. What this means is that the chances of successfully claiming for compensation are highly dependent on which airline you’re facing. This conclusion by itself is unacceptable.’

It is estimated that only 7 percent of consumers are aware of their rights as air passengers.