WIT Agent in Thailand: Part 1, Bangkok & Ayutthaya

2

WIT Travel Agent Lindsay went on a FAM trip to Thailand last month, in order to inspect various accommodations, tour guides, and tours. WIT only works with tour providers who offer the highest quality of service. Here is Lindsay’s report, Part 1. 

Call us to arrange your own unique tour to Thailand! 503-224-0180 or email inquiry@wittravel.com. 

monks-1822569_640

Photos from Lindsay’s Trip to Thailand

First Day

Our driver picked us up in mercifully air-conditioned vans, complete with leather seats and even a Nespresso machine. Our first stop was a restaurant by the river, where we dangled our feet over the water. We filled our bellies with a gigantic bowl of noodles, and a dozen small dishes served family-style. Still recovering from jet lag, my stomach wasn’t quite ready for Thai food–but the chicken satay and soup proved delicious and flavorful.

food-1022674_640

Our hotel, Sala Ayutthaya, was just a few doors down from the restaurant. The staff greeted us with elegant flower pieces and butterfly pea tea, a sweet, vibrantly purple drink. Rooms here were open concept, with glass walls that divided the bathroom from the bedroom, and a bathtub enclosed with the shower.

That first day, we tried our hands on a local treat that was like a pancake wrapped around Thai version of cotton candy. I was quickly learning how much Thailand loves their sweets! We also learned to make fish mobiles from bamboo, before sitting down for the evening welcome meal, complete with delicate dancers.

dancer-1807516_640

Rice Farm Tour

The next day, we started with a tour of a local organic rice farm, quite unique in that it was both organic and grew rose-colored grains. We learned about the history of rice farming, as well as the actual practice of growing rice. After the farm, we enjoyed a light meal of traditional Thai dishes–including succulent, freshly grilled river prawns–and after that, it was time to explore the ruins of Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand for 400 years.

agriculture-1822446_640

Bangkok

Next, it was off to Bangkok for a couple different river cruises. Our first stop was at Baan Dvara Prateeip, to a meditation retreat in Koh Kret, where we learned about meditation and traditional Thai flower arrangement techniques. Lunch was delicious and interactive, we learned to cook noodles and had a wide variety of Thai dishes and sweets. The second half of the river cruise included a Thai massage, before we finally arrived at Avani Riverside hotel, with its endless river views from each room. The rooftop bar had spectacular view of the night market across the street, a Ferris wheel and food carts. Our dinner was an international buffet at the Anatara resort: delicious grilled seafood, sushi, Mac and cheese for home’s sake and of course Thai dishes as well. They truly make you feel welcome here, with nightly dance performances (they even invite guests up to join them).

grand-palace-1822487_640

Tune in Next Time, Lindsay’s Trip to Thailand, Part 2!

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Thailand

WIT Agent in Thailand

WIT Agent Lindsay recently went on an investigative trip through Thailand. And she brought back her photos that we’d like to share with you post-holiday.

Tune in next time when we’ll hear her full report!

IMG_20181107_135658

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 1.24.06 PM

Street food market in Yodse area

IMG_20181109_235946_943

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 1.24.02 PM

24hour flower market

IMG_20181110_000447_403

Reclining Buddha at Wat Po (short name for full name, also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddha), next to Grand Palace

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 1.23.57 PM

Sitting Buddha from Wat Kanlayanamitr

Just wanted to let you know I made it safely and the welcome dinner was so beautiful. Dancers, music, activities, beautiful dishes and such lovely people. The farmer’s house was so special and they were very welcoming. It has been a great first day. Ayutthaya is very relaxed and peaceful right on the river. Looking forward to seeing the contrast of Bangkok!

More about Thailand on our Blog: 

Shopping in Thailand

Mekong Cruise

Ayutthaya

Mekhala Cruise on the Chao Praya

Thailand with Vexplore

Reading List: Thailand

Chinese New Year

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Thailand, Travel by Holiday, Travel by Taste

Thanksgiving with Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, Africa

WIT (4)

Happy Thanksgiving Week, friends and clients! Here at Willamette Intl Travel, we are so thankful for an amazing year of adventures and arranging dream trips for clients all around the world!

In this week of thanksgiving, we’d like to give a few sweet updates from our friends at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, Africa. 

What is the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust?

This conservation project is dedicated to the protection and preservation of Africa’s Wilderness, particularly endangered species like elephants and the Black Rhino.

Willamette Intl Travel regularly organizes meaningful trips to Africa for clients, and 1-2 a year, the owners escort an exclusive group throughout Kenya, Namibia, South Africa or other African countries. It’s those meaningful connections with people and wildlife that make wild Africa one of our favorite destinations. 

Latest News from the Wildlife Trust

ei (1)

photo courtesy of Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

MEET MERRU

On September 1, a calf was discovered stuck down in a quarry. His finders were divided; some wanted to claim him for bushmeat, while others were sympathetic to his plight. The latter group prevailed and got word to the KWS, who rushed to keep the baby safe until we arrived.
.
The road to recovery for Merru, as we named him, has been difficult. For his first week at the Nursery, he was unable to sleep, instead pacing in circles. We persevered and, thanks to round-the-clock care and the moral support of the other orphans, Merru at last seems to be putting his traumatic past behind him.
LUALENI BECOMES A MOTHER
It’s a girl! We’re delighted to announce the birth of Lulu, Lualeni’s first baby — and our 30th “grandcalf” born to wild-living orphan. The new mum arrived at our Ithumba stockades last week with her little one in tow, clearly brimming with pride and excited to introduce us to her.
We’ve known Lualeni since she was just four months old, when she was abandoned. Although she wasn’t able to grow up in the wild alongside her mother, we’re thrilled that now — 14 years later— things have come full circle and she has the opportunity to raise her own family in the wild.
Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 4.32.42 PM
SAVING A SNARED CALF’S LIFE
Our five Mobile Veterinary Units save hundreds of wild lives each year. This calf, treated by the Mara team, is one such patient. He had become entangled in a snare, leaving it caught between his jaws, wrapping around his head and slicing into his ears. Not only did this cause excruciating pain, but it also restricted his ability to feed.
The Unit’s KWS veterinarian cut away the braided wire, treated the wounds, and sent the pint-sized patient back to his herd with a positive prognosis. He had been living with the snare for at least a week, so we can only imagine his relief at being freed at last.
Keep up to date with the goings-on with the Wildlife Trust at their website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Kenya

Survive Thanksgiving Travel with your Sanity Intact: Tips from WIT Agents

Important! WIT Holiday Office Hours: November 22-25 closed for Thanksgiving weekend. 

WIT (2)

Want a stress-free holiday this Thanksgiving? Of course you do! Here are some of our best tips and tricks to surviving the holidays with your sanity intact.

Before Your Flight 

  • If you’re traveling domestically, be sure to check in online within 24 hours of departure. Most airlines allow check in 24 hours prior to a flight, and depending on your status, you may even get 48 hours. Go online on the airline’s website, check in, pay any domestic baggage fees if necessary, and, if you can, print your boarding pass. This can greatly reduce wait times at the airport and settle any possible seat issues early.
  • Travel with as little carry-on luggage as possible. This frees up your arms and allows you to stay mobile and stress-free.
  • Arrive 2-3 hours prior to your flight. This ensures ample time to check in your luggage, collect your boarding pass and pass through security.
  • If you’re bringing any gifts, be sure to leave your presents unwrapped while they are in your luggage, on the chance that the TSA may want to inspect your bag.
  • Fully charge your cell phone before leaving home. Keep your charger in your carry-on bag. Don’t keep your cell phone with your credit card, in case you misplace one. Many phone cases include sleeves where you can keep your cash and cards, but we advise you not to use these, as cell phones have a chance of being stolen.
  • If your flight is cancelled and you are directed to a re-accommodation line, get in that line ASAP. If your agent at Willamette Intl Travel issued your ticket, call us ASAP and we will help you handle it.
  • Unfortunately, luggage has a risk of getting lost these days. If you’re traveling with someone, divide everyone’s items over the bags, so if 1 bag goes missing, everyone still has a change of clothes. Also be sure to keep a change of clothes in your carry-on bag, together with toiletries and medications, each packed in their own respective see-through plastic bag.
  • Dress in layers as temperature can vary in airports or aircraft cabins. 

airport-731196_640

During Your Trip

  • Be aware of your surroundings and people around you, especially in crowded and busy locations.
  • Keep your purse or day pack on you; a cross body bag is excellent since you can pull it in front of you and anchor with your arm and hand.
  • Think before setting your bag somewhere in public. Is 100% of the bag visible? Keep it in your sight. A bag under your chair can be taken behind your back.
  • Traveling with others? Always have a meeting place defined before you split up in airports, cities, stores. 
  • Be aware of hotel scams. Do not give your credit card information over the hotel’s phone line—always go down to the front desk. Scammers often call people in hotel rooms posing as hotel staff to collect your sensitive info. Read our post for more possible travel scams.
  • If you misplace your room key at a hotel, don’t ask for another key. If they make a copy, the old key is still floating around and cab be used to enter your room. Ask the hotel instead to reset the lock and issue you a new set of keys. 

wine-1761613_640

For those traveling with Alaska Air and bringing wines, we have a few tip for you: 

Wines Fly Free from 29 cities on Alaska Air

The Wines Fly Free program from Alaska Airlines is available on nonstop domestic flights to 29 cities in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

While it’s limited to members of the Alaska Airline frequent flier program (Mileage Plan), it’s free to become a member and includes the potential for other perks.

Wines Fly Free has been so well-received that the coverage has continually expanded, including new 18 cities earlier this year.

The complimentary wine “bag” check can be claimed by adding a valid frequent flier number to the flight reservation and Alaska Airlines will issue a $25 fee waiver to check a case of 12 bottles of properly-packed wine. Appropriate shipping containers are available at participating wineries or mailing services.

When checking in, guests should notify Alaska Airlines customer service that wine is being checked and it will be marked fragile.

Wines Fly Free airports include:

  • Eugene, Medford, Portland, and Redmond in Oregon;
  • Burbank, Fresno, Los Angeles, Monterey, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Rosa in California;
  • Boise, Idaho;
  • Bellingham, Pasco, Pullman, Seattle, Spokane, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima in Washington.

Read more at Alaska Airlines: https://blog.alaskaair.com/travel-tips/how-to-check-a-case-of-wine-for-free/

luggage-933487_640

EXTRAS

PLUS… Top Travel Destinations for 2019, for designers lovers from Architectural Digest. 

Check out our Thanksgiving Reading List

Have an Emergency or urgent need concerning your travel plans? Call 503-224-0180 and our after hours service can connect you to one of our agents if needed.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, Europe, USA

Travel News: African Tourism Board Created

WIT (3)
More American tourists heading to Switzerland
Switzerland Tourism reported the number of nights Americans spent in Swiss hotels in the summer season 2018, from May through September, was up 11.3 percent compared to the same period in 2017, based on data from the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics. The Bernese Oberland saw the biggest growth from the U.S.. Since 2010, Switzerland has reported an increase in overnights from the U.S. every year, for a total of almost 50 percent. “A good summer was to be expected, based on reports we received from tour operators, travel agents and other industry partners,” says Alex Herrmann, director North America of Switzerland Tourism. “But the actual growth rate of over 10 percent beats our expectations.”If this trend continues, Switzerland will most likely celebrate its best year in at least 25 years in terms of U.S. travel to Switzerland.” 
African Tourism Board created
A new, multinational body to promote the travel and tourism sector in Africa was unveiled during World Travel Market in London. Created by the International Coalition of Tourism Partners, itself based in Seychelles, Brussels, Bali, and Hawaii, the Africa Tourism Board will seek to enhance and promote the sustainable growth, value, and quality of travel on the African continent.With a steering committee formed, the African Tourism Board goal is to convert this initiative into a stand-alone organization by April 2019. The vision is to have ATB be based in every member destination and in every source market. This will create a global network for Africa, and enables every base to interact with every other base. Organizers made every effort to assure African countries that the Board does not intend to take over national tourism initiatives or policies. To learn more, see African Tourism Board


Delta begins flying Airbus A220 — with a window in some restrooms!
Delta airline’s new Airbus A220 aircraft is gearing up with some exciting new features. The airbus will start by flying LaGuardia to Boston and to Dallas Ft. Worth, then Detroit, Houston and JFK, among others. 
– three restrooms on each plane, one at the front and two at the rear, and there will be a window in one of the two rear bathrooms
– Gogo-powered 2Ku Wi-Fi
– each passenger will have personal power ports
– Economy class passengers will have 18.6-inch-wide main cabin seats, the widest among any narrowbody aircraft.
– overhead bins are a bit roomier, the windows are a bit larger, and there is ambient LED lighting throughout the plane as well. 
– Of the 109 seats on board, 12 will be in the First Class cabin and 15 will be designated Delta Comfort Plus seats. 
– First Class seats will benefit from extra-large seatback screens
– Delta Comfort Plus seats will have additional legroom compared to the main cabin. 
architecture-3076685_640
 
European Capital of Smart Tourism Awards
The winners of the first edition of the European Capital of Smart Tourism competition were awarded on 07 November at a ceremony in Brussels. The occasion was European Tourism Day, the largest annual meeting on European tourism. Representatives of Helsinki and Lyon received trophies on behalf of their cities. The objective at EU level is to foster the sustainable development of tourism by showcasing innovative solutions from EU cities in tourism. In addition, four cities received 2019 European Smart Tourism Awards for their outstanding achievements in the four categories of the competition: Málaga (Accessibility), Ljubljana (Sustainability), Copenhagen (Digitalization) and Linz (Cultural Heritage & Creativity). In order to become a European Capital of Smart Tourism, a city needed to demonstrate exemplary achievements as a tourism destination in implementing innovative and intelligent solutions in all four award categories: accessibility, sustainability, digitalization, cultural heritage and creativity. Cities of more than 100.000 inhabitants were eligible in the first edition of this competition. 38 cities from 19 EU Member States applied, but Helsinki and Lyon stood out for their innovative tourism measures.
New FAA legislation could mean lower seat pitch, and more
At first glance, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Reauthorization Bill that was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week, looked like it was a win for travelers tired of being sandwiched into ever-shrinking airplane seats. But, according to consumer advocate groups and airline industry analysts, not only could the bill ultimately do little to change the status quo when it comes to the size of airplane seats, it could even result in seats getting more cramped. The bill’s primary purpose was to maintain the FAA’s funding, while at the same time establishing some new guidelines for airline regulations. One of the bill’s provisions requires the FAA to issue regulations that would establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats on aircraft, something it does not do currently. The concern is that the FAA could set a requirement for minimum seat pitches as low as 27 or 28 inches. 
App for checking LGBTQ safety in regions worldwide
The first-ever neighborhood-level LGBTQ Safety ratings category on a smartphone app was launched yesterday. LGBTQ travelers will for the first time have unlimited access to real-time safety ratings on more than 30,000 neighborhoods worldwide. The “Top 5 Safest Global Urban Neighborhoods for LGBTQ Travelers” app by GeoSure provides safety ratings ranging from 1-100 – the lower the score, the safer the neighborhood. Utilizing machine learning, AI, sentiment analysis, and predictive analytics, ratings are based on analysis of thousands of sources daily to provide and continuously update its suite of comprehensive travel safety solutions. The Top Five Safest Global Urban Neighborhoods for LGBTQ Travelers are named as The Castro District in SFO, Berlin’s Schoneberg area, Amsterdam’s Centrum neighborhood, Barcelona’s Eixample vicinity, and Tel Aviv’s City Center/Florentin region. GeoSure is available on the App Store and Google Play. The company defines its LGBTQ Safety category as rating “Likelihood of harm or discrimination against LGBTQ persons or groups and level of caution required at location.”
prague-3010407_640
Most travelers do not purchase travel insurance
More than half (54 percent) of consumers have never purchased travel insurance and two thirds (65 percent) of those who have never purchased it have never even considered it, according to a survey by TravelInsurance.com. This despite the fact that 76 percent of survey respondents have experienced a flight delay in the past, and nearly half 48 percent have had their luggage lost or stolen. Another 35 percent have experienced either getting sick or traveling with someone who has gotten sick during a trip. The survey also showed that 47 percent of respondents don’t know whether or not their health insurance provides coverage while traveling, especially when traveling abroad. Willamette Intl Travel agents always recommend travel insurance. We are happy to provide package options to you provided you have booked your travel arrangements with our agency. 
 
Singapore Airlines Is The World’s Best Airline For 2019
AirlineRatings.com chose the list. The flag carrier of Singapore ousted five-year champion Air New Zealand, which has held the coveted title since 2014 and which still claimed second place this year. In comparison, not a single European or North American carrier made it into the Top 10 roster. The Perth-based website stated that “Singapore Airlines came out number one in many of our audit criteria” during the AirlineRankings.com. Annual Excellence Awards Tuesday. The audit, annually conducted by the publication’s seven editors, involves a detailed process that evaluates 12 major factors including fleet age, passenger reviews, profitability, investment rating, product offerings and staff relations. This year, Singapore Airlines edged out runners-up Air New Zealand, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways for its “industry-leading in-flight service” as well as its new fleet additions, such as the world’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350-900 ULR. Singapore Air also earned praise for its updated interiors, for its commitment to operation safety, and for its relaunch of the longest commercial flight in the world: non-stop service between Singapore and New York.
 
hong-kong-1990268_640
Two US airports allow non-travelers to go past security
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is introducing a new SEA Visitor Pass that will allow non-travelers past security for the first time since 2001. According to the Seattle Times, Sea-Tac is starting a trial of the program that will allow up to 50 non-travelers a pass to go through security in order to eat at one of the restaurants, shop in the terminal, or say goodbye to friends and family at their gates. The trial period will end Dec. 14. If all goes well, Sea-Tac will make the program permanent. Pittsburgh International Airport last year became the first major U.S. airport since 9/11 to allow non-travelers through its security gates with its myPitpass program. At each, non-travelers have to go through security checkpoints and meet all TSA requirements before heading through. Sea-Tac does not expect the new program to increase wait times at security – only 50 passes will be available and visiting hours will be restricted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. All non-travelers wanting to participate in the program have to sign up online before 1:30 p.m. the day before they want to use the pass. Approved participants will get an email from the TSA, which will direct them to pick up their passes at Sea-Tac with a photo ID.

Leave a comment

Filed under Asia, Europe, News

Travel News: Luxury tourism in Ethiopia

WIT (1)

Luxury tourism in Ethiopia

Luxury is a word that one would rarely use to describe the current state of accommodations in Ethiopia. It is also one of the poorest nations in the world and for many Western tourists its image is tied to the devastating 1980s famine. There are many challenges to growing tourism in the country, but new projects are underway. I personally have friends who speak glowingly about the beauty of the country and its sights/sites, as well as the amazing history. To read about the effort to bring Westernized travel to the country, here’s an interesting article: A start on luxury tourism for Ethiopia 

Order food by app at Universal Orlando

For travelers visiting Universal Orlando, the theme park’s official app now allows guests to place and purchase food and drink orders from their mobile devices. The new Mobile Express Pick Up option of the Universal Orlando Resort App is now available at select dining locations in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, including Mel’s Drive-In, Richter’s Burger Co., The Burger Digs and more. Travelers create an account on the app, set up payments and tap the “order food and drinks” option under the main menu. The user then picks the restaurant they want to order from, confirms the order and proceed to check out. After placing the order, guests can take as long as they want on rides and attractions, as the eating establishments will not make the food until the user taps the “Prepare My Order” option in the app. Visitors can then check the order status page to see when their food is ready to pick up.

Qatar Air flies Thai cave rescue boys to Britain

In recognition of the team’s inspirational story of strength and survival, Qatar Airways proudly flew the Wild Boars football team, consisting of the 12 Thai children and their coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand for more than two weeks, from Thailand to London to take part in the ‘Pride of Britain’ 2018 awards ceremony. The group was accompanied by the two selfless British divers who were at the heart of their cave rescue. During their stopover at Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, the football team were met by Qatar Airways and Qatar Duty Free (QDF) officials, who presented the boys with gift bags from QDF consisting of signed football jerseys and baseball caps. The group also had the chance to experience the five-star hospitality of Qatar Airways’ home and hub, HIA, the award-winning airline’s gateway to the world. A multiple award-winning airline, Qatar Airways was named ‘World’s Best Business Class’ by the 2018 World Airline Awards, managed by international air transport rating organization Skytrax. It was also named ‘Best Business Class Seat’, ‘Best Airline in the Middle East’ and ‘World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge.’

Captain Marvel added to Disney sailings for early 2019

Travelers hitting the opens seas with their family will find that female hero Captain Marvel will be added to the 2019 edition of Disney Cruise Line’s Marvel Day at Sea. The popular Marvel heroine will take part in the cruise festivities for the first time ever, with passengers being able to interact with the superhero during the action-packed, day-long celebration aboard select Disney Magic sailings. Captain Marvel can be found on the Disney sailings departing between January 6 and March 8 from Miami. She will accompany other Super Heroes and villains on the voyages, including Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Loki, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and more. In addition to the chance for passengers to interact with their favorite characters, the Marvel Day at Sea event features a deck show spectacular, themed youth activities, special merchandise and unique food and beverage offerings.

A word to the wise: Water Shoes

Water shoes may not be the most attractive footwear while walking along the beach, but three female travelers wish they had been wearing them while visiting Negril, Jamaica. Two weeks ago, three travelers from Toronto  were like many other travelers on a Jamaican vacation – they walked the beach barefoot. However, by walking along the beach without any shoes, they contracted painful parasites called hookworms. Hookworms await in the beach sand (or soil) to infect their victims by burrowing inside their feet and creating blisters and swollen, itchy skin. Generally, hookworms develop by feces left by dogs or cats in vacation areas. Other parasites can be contracted in various places while on vacation like in hotel pools. 

Glacier Express starts Excellence Class in March

Glacier Express has announced the new Excellence Class, a premium class of coaches between St. Moritz and Zermatt. With lounge seating, each traveler has a window seat, along with a bar area, multi-course lunch and more. The coach seats 20 persons, and is a surcharge of 420 CHF/418 USD regardless of the class of ticket a traveler is holding. The maiden voyage will be on March 2, 2019.

Serious anti-LGBT crackdown in Tanzania, especially region of Dar es Salaam

The regional governor in charge of Tanzania’s most populous city is ramping up an anti-gay crackdown. Governor Paul Makonda said last week that he’s forming a task force to identify, track down, and arrest gay people in Dar es Salaam, a region in the East African country with a major city by the same name that’s home to about 4 million people. He justified it by saying that homosexuality “tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians”. Makonda encouraged constituents to report on those they believe to be gay, and said officials had received more than 5700 calls or messages so far, naming about 100 individuals. The Tanzanian government has distanced itself from Makonda’s harsh policy in the wake of international pushback. Officials have said the crackdown is not official government policy and just Makonda’s opinion – although activists point out that Makonda was appointed by the Tanzanian president and is seen as a close ally of the current leader, John Magufuli. The European Union recalled its ambassador from Tanzania on Monday because of the “deterioration” of human rights and rule of law in the country. The US State Department issued a warning to US citizens traveling or living in the country and urged them to “remove or protect” social media images that “may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.” The anti-LGBT crackdown in Tanzania is part of a bigger, more alarming pattern. Tanzania has witnessed an increasingly aggressive targeting of gay people in the country in recent years under President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015, activists told RTE, an Irish outlet.

Favorite US Airports, according to AFAR readers

After AFAR Magazine reported on the JD Power 2018 North American Airport Satisfaction List, many readers didn’t agree with the findings – Las Vegas and Orlando had tied for first place. So, AFAR did its own survey. The top five in the surveyed categories came out to be: MEGA US Airports: Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit. LARGE: Portland (OR), Honolulu, Tampa, Orange County and Midway. MID-SIZE: RDU, Indianapolis, Charleston, San Jose and Cincinnati. SMALL: Palm Springs, Long Beach, Savannah/Hilton Head, Jackson Hole and Providence.

Facial recognition being tried at Narita Airport, and more

Passengers travelling through Narita International Airport in Japan will soon be able to clear customs using their face instead of physical identification documents, thanks to a facial recognition trial coming early next year. The facial recognition technology, courtesy of NEC, will be installed at the customs inspection area at the airport. Demonstration trials of the electronic customs procedure gate are scheduled to begin at Terminal 3 from April 2019. The “electronic procedure gate” will be installed at the customs inspection area that passengers move through after being admitted through immigration, NEC explained. Travelers’ identities will be confirmed at a kiosk terminal and at an exit gate equipped with the facial recognition tech. A smartphone app will also be available, expected to speed up electronic baggage declaration by enabling travelers to register baggage contents and passport information. Japan isn’t the only country introducing biometric capabilities at airports, with Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport last month unveiling self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance, and boarding powered by facial recognition technology. The rollout forms part of an ambitious country-wide rollout of facial recognition systems, with similar efforts already under way at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city. Similarly, some passengers traveling internationally from Australia via Qantas have been testing biometric technology at Sydney Airport since July, with the first stage using facial recognition for them to complete automated flight check-in and bag drop, gain access to the lounge, and board the plane itself.

AA: Request early boarding to wipe down seating area if you have nut allergies

American Airlines will allow people who suffer from peanut and tree-nut allergies to board flights early so they can wipe down areas where they will sit to avoid potential exposure to allergens. The change will take effect Dec. 12 when flight-service manuals are updated, American said in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Transportation Department. Complaints over the issue were filed against the carrier last year by Food Allergy Research & Education and a woman whose son has a life-threatening peanut allergy. “Customers with nut allergies who would like to board flights early to wipe down surfaces may ask to do so at the gate,” American said. While the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier doesn’t serve peanuts, it said it can’t guarantee customers won’t be exposed to nuts during flights. Delta Air Lines Inc. allows early boarding to travelers with nut allergies. The websites of United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. don’t mention an early-boarding option for people with food allergies.

Measles outbreak in Thailand…and Japan and Brazil

Clients going to Thailand soon should be advised to check that they have been properly vaccinated against measles! That’s because it has been reported that Thailand is trying to contain a measles outbreak in the country, particularly around its southern provinces. According to ABC News, there have been more than 1,500 cases reported since September 2018 and counting. There have also been 14 deaths so far. The main areas affected by the highly infectious disease include Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat as more and more people are rejecting the vaccines. Health officials said that the disease that’s made a dreaded comeback is mainly caused by misconceptions among the Muslim population in regards to the vaccines. In the Muslim-majority provinces, the community is rejecting the vaccines because manufacturers may use gelatin from pigs as a stabilizing agent. This has caused them to refuse to take the shots even though health officials have explained that Thailand has measles vaccine products that do not have porcine gelatin. The increase is worrying because Thailand’s Health Ministry said that measles has been on the rise with 3,000 cases last year. Other countries around the world including Japan and Brazil reported similar outbreaks, which should not have been an issue seeing as there are plenty of measles vaccines available.

Cruise accessibility and orientation for blind passengers becomes available

An innovative solution for accessibility and orientation of blind and visually impaired persons, developed by RightHear, will make cruises more accessible to blind and visually impaired passengers. The solution is based on lessons learned in successful implementation of RightHear’s technology in hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. The system will allow blind and visually impaired passengers to orient themselves independently across cruise ships. “The RightHear system provides accurate voice guidance to the blind and visually impaired, including a detailed description of the immediate environment in which they are located, voice guidance about where they are headed, and a description of obstacles to be avoided,” according to Idan Meir, RightHear’s CEO. The blind and visually impaired persons (as well as orientation challenged individuals) receive the real-time audio descriptions through their own smartphone. The voice notifications are based on information received from Bluetooth sensors located in the area. The sensors are installed by the on-site staff, who attach them to the wall with a sticker. In addition, the system includes an administrator dashboard, allowing the staff to program and control the system optimally, according to the needs of blind and visually impaired visitors. Founded in 2015, a RightHear solution has been installed in over 600 venues, mainly in Israel, including malls, corporations, universities, hospitals, municipalities, museums, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe

Travel News: No water shortage in Cape Town!

Copy of wittravel blog header.jpg

No water shortage in Cape Town!

A drought in 2017 brought Cape Town’s water supply to a dangerously low level and started a scare about Day Zero, the day when the city would theoretically run out of water if usage continued to outstrip the water supply. In the face of a water shortage, citizens, city and provincial governments, and the tourism sector rallied and launched a myriad of initiatives to change the ratio of consumption-to-replenishment of water supplies. The success of the initiatives went far beyond expectations. Today, after a combination of hard work and good luck, Cape Town’s water supply is no longer a pressing issue. Unfortunately, the news of the recovery has not traveled as fast as the news of the crisis did,and a city that relies on tourism for 7.5 percent of its GDP is still experiencing a reduction in tourism arrivals because of perceptions surrounding the water shortage of early 2018.”The scare had an impact on South African Airways’ business and on Cape Townbecause of the coverage in January and February,” said Todd M. Neuman, executive vice president, North America, for South African Airways. “But water continues to flow in Cape Town,” Neuman said. “Cape Town did not run out of water. Cape Town did a fantastic job with water conservation. It has been recognized worldwide how Cape Town made the effort to save water. The water is running, the hotels are running. We have had a wet winter in South Africa, especially in the Western Cape. The reservoirs are 65-70 percent full again. There is no shortage of water.”

New United flights offer only non-stop service between USA and Tahiti

United Airlines this week started the only nonstop service by a U.S. carrier to the Islands of Tahiti. The airline launched its first flight between San Francisco and Pape’ete, the capital of Tahiti. As part of its inaugural celebration, United also announced it is extending its Tahiti schedule to year-round service from San Francisco. United’s newest international flight offers service to Tahiti from San Francisco International Airport on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Beginning March 30, 2019, United will begin year-round service on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. United will operate the route with Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft throughout the year.

When oh when might Southwest start Hawaii flights?

Ever since Southwest Airlines announced in October 2017 that it intended to start flying to Hawaii, U.S. air travelers and investors have both been eager to learn more about its plans. Over the past year, there has been a slow trickle of information, but the carrier still hasn’t confirmed exactly which routes it will operate, how often it will serve them, and when the flights will start. The Motley Fool reports that during its recent third-quarter earnings call, Southwest Airlines provided the most detail yet on its Hawaii plans. The main reason why it is taking so long for Southwest Airlines to launch its Hawaii flights is that it needs to receive FAA approval for long over-water flights. This “ETOPScertification” process — which entails defining and documenting safety procedures, training flight crews, and then demonstrating the effectiveness of those procedures — typically takes 12 to 18 months. According to COO Mike Van de Ven, Southwest Airlineshas completed the documentation phase of the certification process. It still needs to do simulations for the FAA and then operate validation flights to receive the final regulatory sign-off. This suggests that Southwest is at least a few weeks away from achievingETOPS certification. Yet it does expect to complete the process before year-end. The first half of December now seems like the most likely time frame for receiving ETOPS approval. Southwest Airlines plans to publish schedules and begin selling tickets for Hawaii flights just a few days after that. Moreover, the first flight could occur as soon as a few weeks after ticket sales begin, which is a much shorter interval than normal. Nevertheless, all signs point to Southwest Airlines’ Hawaii flights beginning in early 2019.

Complimentary delivery and pick up for disabled traveler products

Special Needs Group, a provider of wheelchairs, oxygen, motorized scooters and other products for cruise lines, resorts and theme parks, has introduced a new delivery and demonstration service. This is available for multiple cruise lines at multiple ports. There is no additional cost for this service, and commissions are paid. See

Special Needs Group, White Glove Service for details.

Historic acqua alta in Venice

Venice was inundated by an exceptional high tide Monday, putting three-quarters of the famed Italian lagoon city under water as large swathes of the rest of Italy experienced flooding and heavy winds that toppled trees, killing four people. Friends of mine who live in Venice say it’s the highest acqua alta they have seen since they came there in 2003 and 2004, though news reports say since 2008. Rain-soaked tourists were asked to leave St Mark’s Square as water peaked at more than 5ft (61 inches) by the afternoon- something that has only happened five times in recorded history. The water exceeded the raised walkways normally put out in flooded areas in Venice, forcing their removal. Transport officials closed the water bus system except to outlying islands due to the emergency. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said a series of underwater barriers that are being erected in the lagoon would have prevented the inundation. The project, nicknamed Moses, is long overdue, beset by cost overruns and corruption scandals. Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia says flooding this week could reach the levels of the 1966 flood that struck both Venice and Florence. There are reports of Saltwater having damaged some historic sights.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor will not reopen until March 2019

The National Park Service (NPS) expects the USS Arizona Memorial dock repair project to be complete by March 2019, allowing visitor access to the memorial to resume. Access to the USS Arizona Memorial was suspended on May 6 when minor damage to the exterior of the structure became visible at the main point of entry. A more thorough examination revealed that the damage was caused by a failure of the anchoring system for the boat dock adjacent to the Memorial. This placed extreme pressure on the loading bridge that provides overwater passage for visitors from the boat dock to the USS Arizona Memorial. Access was curtailed immediately to ensure visitor safety and prevent additional. The design phase of the project was recently completed, allowing for the development of a more precise timeline for the repair process. Unfortunately, it will not be completed in time for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on December 7. “Not being able to welcome survivors and their families on the USS Arizona Memorial this coming December 7th is heartbreaking,” said Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, who oversees the memorial.

Emirates Air to offer ‘biometric path’ through the airport and onto the plane

Dubai-based Emirates airline is preparing to launch world’s first “biometric path” that will offer its passengers a smooth and seamless airport journey at the airline’s hub in Dubai International Airport. Utilizing the latest biometric technology – a mix of facial and iris recognition, Emirates passengers can soon check in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates lounge and board their flights, simply by strolling through the airport. The latest biometric equipment has already been installed at Emirates Terminal 3, Dubai International airport. It can be found at select check-in counters, at the Emirates Lounge in Concourse B for premium passengers, and at select boarding gates.

US Troops drain Reykjavik of beer, one local beer in particular

ETN reports that while it was only supposed to be a pit stop, some 7,000 US troops taking part in mass NATO drills nonetheless managed to deplete some bars and restaurants in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik of all their beer. The troops stopped in Iceland over the weekend while on their way to Sweden and Finland for a 300,000-strong NATO exercise. In total, some 50,000 of the forces participating are US troops. Apparently unconcerned about moderating their intake of booze just before Trident Juncture 18, thought to be NATO’s biggest military exercise since the Cold War, the troops plunged several bars in downtown Reykjavik into a state of emergency as they went nuts on their beer. US soldiers were not satisfied with just any beer and specifically requested the local one. So, Brewery Olgerð Egils Skallagrimssonar, which makes the popular Icelandic Gull, had to send emergency supplies to various bars, according to local news site Visir.

Hong Kong Peninsula introduces the Sunseeker Manhattan 60 yacht

The Peninsula Hong Kong has announced the arrival of a new Peninsula Yacht for guests’ enjoyment. The introduction of the yacht results in The Peninsula being the first luxury hotel in Hong Kong to offer a trinity of deluxe transportation options, complementing the existing fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms and a customized helicopter. The Sunseeker Manhattan 60 is an iconic 19 meter cruiser that will welcome up to 15 passengers each evening to enjoy a two-hour evening cruise featuring the ‘Symphony of Lights’ on the mesmerizing Victoria Harbor during the “Harbor Sunset Cruise.” The package includes canapés and unlimited consumption of house Champagne, wine and other beverages, available from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm nightly, at HKD 1,400/$ 180 USD net for adults and HKD 600/$78 USD net for children.

Italy to cease free museum entry on first Sundays

Italy’s government recently announced the end of a popular initiative granting free entry to the country’s prominent museums and monuments. Since July 2014, more than 480 cultural sites in Italy, including Pompeii, the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi, and the Colosseum, have welcomed visitors for free on the first Sunday of every month as part of a program known as Domenica al Museo, or Sunday at the Museum. According to The Local Italy, approximately 3.5 million people benefitted from the public initiative in 2017 alone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe