Airlines, hotels, travel & tourism

The Chinese are packing their bags

It is not so long ago that the Chinese found it difficult to get a passport. Now there are 140 countries on the approved list and 38 million citizens went overseas to visit them in the first half of this year. In 2011, they spent $US73 billion, third only to the high-spending Germans and Americans.

Naturally, countries are competing for a share of this massive Chinese spend. America claims it has processed 1 million visas since October 2011, 43% more than in the previous year. Chinese spend a healthy $US6,000 per trip in America. While 1.2 million went to France, only 147,000 went to Britain, prompting plans to simplify the visa process and to triple the number of visitors from China by 2015. The small details are important, for example, Australian hotels have introduced Chinese TV channels and congee for breakfast.

Not all Chinese are travelling overseas. Foreign visitors to China will find they are exploring China with Chinese tourists. During Golden Week, a national week of holidays, 302 million tourist trips were enjoyed. The numbers are startling: one journalist mingled with around 20,000 Chinese tourists to visit Yellow Mountain. He commented how moving it was to see “how the Chinese pay their respects to beauty”.

Only five or ten years ago, many Chinese would not have expected to go on holidays. So no wonder they are so excited by their own country and its heritage. Tourists will see how traditional, hard labour exists beside modern technology to keep people in work. One Chinese phenomenon is preserved villages, such as Wuzhen, where the population has been moved out to make way for tourists. The difference between old and new can be blurry in China.

The State Council considers tourism to be a ‘pillar industry’ and is trying to get the people to take holidays at different times in the year, rather than all at once. They are also grappling with the damage that tourism can do, as well as the value that comes from it. Even so, it seems highly likely that the Chinese will continue to pack their bags, particularly given the welcome available to them overseas.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 1 September 2012, 'Have yuan, will travel'., The Guardian (UK), 17 November 2012, 'On holiday with the Chinese: Mass tourism'. M Woollacott.
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Search words: Chinese, domestic tourism, middle class, Golden Week, Yellow Mountain, preserved village, Wuzhen, Confucius, ‘pillar industry’, Great Wall, Germans, Americans, Tourism Australia, Britain, France, visa.
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Boutique hotels made inside the box

CitizenM is a new type of hotel for the moneyed mobile – and it’s 90% made at a factory near Luton, UK. The company starts from the room up. Each of the 192 rooms of its London hotel are prefabricated and then trucked to Bankside and stacked, ready to be placed on the foundations and first floor. According to Concrete Architectural Associates, which designs them, there isn’t much more to do. They simply clean them, make the beds and connect them to electricity and water (and free wifi, of course). Construction takes only about eight months in total.

While prefabrication is hardly ‘affordable luxury’, like the hotel, what goes inside is what counts. CitizenM offers free movies on demand, a “powerful rain shower”, Skype phone rates and a socket for most plugs. Each room also comes with a MoodPad, a touchscreen that lets you control the TV, blinds, temperature, coloured lighting and wake-up alarm themes.

Modular design of the rooms is a type of lean manufacturing and cuts down waste too. CitizenM now has a stockpile of rooms for other hotels, perhaps even New York. After all, mobile citizens are everywhere.

Ref: Wired Magazine (UK), July 2012, 'Hotels that arrive prebuilt'.
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Search words: CitizenM, London, prefabricated, modular, lean manufacturing, room, Amsterdam, Bankside, New York.
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Summer camps go upmarket

We remember summer camps where you took your own tent, sleeping bag and a knife, fork and spoon. Today’s summer camps are more like pricey academies where children can go to sing, dance, cook, swim, shoot arrows, do graffiti art and climb walls (to save their parents from doing it). Meanwhile, wealthy parents can send their kids to sports academies in exotic locations, run by celebrity sportsmen who will coach them just like the professionals.

Super Skills Travel, which offers a cricket and rugby academy at Forte Village, Sardinia, costs 4,599 UK pounds for a family of four, including two hours’ coaching for two children on five mornings. It is a wonderful opportunity for sports fans – and a valuable form of PR, and perhaps income, for the sportsmen themselves. We can imagine how the other kids at school might feel when they hear their classmates have been coached by Martin Johnson (rugby).

In Britain, Super Camps charges 38 pounds and Camp Energy charges 33 pounds per day. This sounds like a lot, but babysitters charge at least six pounds per hour and they don’t offer graffiti art. Some 250,000 kids attend summer camps each year.

In America, it has long been a staple for over 10 million children and there are many specialist camps, for example, robotics fans, diabetes sufferers or autistic kids. They are also a marketing opportunity. Nike sponsors US Sports Camps, which brings in revenues of nearly $30 million each year. It is trying to break into China, but Chinese parents don’t have the same pressure to pay for babysitting: they are more likely to have four grandparents available for each child.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 11 August 2012, 'Camps for scamps', Financial Times (UK), 28-29 April 2012, Skills and thrills. B Viner.
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Yacht goes round the world with the sun

The idea of a solar-powered catamaran sailing right round the world made sense – after all, there is plenty of sunshine available. Less certain was whether it would handle the demanding conditions at sea. PlanetSolar, the largest solar-powered boat in the world, was designed by a New Zealand company and built in Germany. It cost about $US26 million, is 31 metres long and holds 10 tonnes of lithium batteries.

In May 2012 it became the first ever solar electric vehicle to go round the world and with minimal trouble. It lost only three solar panels (from 530 square metres of them) because a person fell on them! As salt and sand could obscure the panels, they had to be washed if there was no rain, every two weeks. Only five of 1,200 electrical connectors failed because of corrosion.

For comparison, 90% of goods are shipped by sea and, while the method is mostly efficient under full load, the world’s 15 largest ships release as much sulphur dioxide as the world’s 760 million cars. PlanetSolar was completely emissions free. It will be interesting to see what other vehicles can run on solar power. Why not cars?

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 21 April 2012, 'Solar-powered yacht conquers the globe'.
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Spaced out high-end travel

If you have a spare $US95,000 – and it seems at least 900 people do – you can take a trip into space. Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures and Excalibur Almaz are all exotically named to take people on, well, high-end travel. You will need a medical beforehand and all companies expect you to undertake training beforehand as part of the space flight experience. As you might expect, insurance is available for all these high-risk trips.

Alan Watts, from London, will be the first frequent flier in space, having cashed in 2 million air miles with Virgin.

Most flights will be sub-orbital, meaning they do not have enough speed to go right round the world. Virgin Galactic will fly six people in a craft called SpaceShipTwo carried by a plane called White Knight Two to 15 kilometres. At this point, the plane releases the spaceship and you hurl into space. Space Adventures will launch two passengers at a time using a vertical rocket, with no pilot on board. They and Excalibur Almaz include more racy rocket trips to the International Space Station, the moon and near-earth asteroids.

A spaceport will look much like an airport, with terminals and ID checks. Spaceport America expects 200,000 tourists to visit at the end of 2013 and Spaceport Sweden offers tourists space experiences, without actually going there. If prices fall below $US50,000 in the next 10 years as predicted, more people will want to try the real thing.

Passengers will enjoy the feeling of weightlessness for several minutes. XCOR won’t allow passengers to unstrap, but Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures will. Of course, everyone has a window seat. In spite of the price, there will be no nuts and alcohol served and, because you will be wearing a pressurised suit, you can’t go to the toilet. Hopefully, it’s the last thing on your mind.

Ref: New Scientist (UK) 13 October 2012, Hey you, astronaut. S Cruddas.
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