Category Archives: Int’l Tourism

Bucket List Blog

My friend Karen Berger has launched a new travel blog, cleverly named BucketTripper, essentially an anthology of interesting experiences in interesting places around the globe that might be on your bucket list. I’ve been to a number of these places — and others certainly are list of places to see, to visit, to experience.

The site delivers on the seductive teaser on the home page: “Photographing lions in Ngorongoro Crater? Check.  Diving the Red Sea? Check. Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Check. Wandering the ruins of Petra? Check.  Learning to cook in Italy? Check. Our writers go there, do that, and bring you back the real deal.” She recruited “a team of experienced professional travel writers from all over the world” to provide content (alas no, I’m not one of them), and the adventures they recount are of interest to travelers who want some insight into slightly off-the-beaten-track but still accessible experiences. Check it out.

World Tourism Day Today

September 27 is World Tourism Day

It seems that September 27 is World Tourism Day, and that would be today. It has been such  ever since the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) bec cane unto being as a UN specialized agency in 2003.  The theme, “Tourism – Linking Cultures,” is supposed to “highlight tourism’s role in bringing the cultures of the world together and promoting global understanding through travel,” according to a press release.

We could only wish. It seems increasingly difficult to link cultures within many countries these days, let alone across borders.  eecause it is so much in the world news these days, consider the situation in the so-called Holy Land, whose unholy and unending conflicts between the Israeli occupiers of the West Bank and the indigenous Palestinians who want to be an independent nation.

Closer to home, consider the collateral damage to the tourist industry in Mexico from the violent drug wars. Cruise ships have curtailed their visits to Mexican ports, and American travelers, disinterested in “understanding” the drug gangs, are staying away from our neighbor to the South. The “official} World Tourism Day celebrations are taking place today in Aswan, Egypt, a ountry whose visitation has eroded since its otherwise-welcome revolution.

 

US Proposes Complicated & Intrusive Passport Application

Is the US Department of State trying to make the country a prison without walls?

Or is more about building walls than bridges? Sometimes it seems that way.  First, American citizens were being required to carry a passport for travel to (or perhaps technically re-entry from) Canada and Mexico. Then, passport fees were raised for initial applications, renewals and even extra pages — and might be raised again.

And now, the Department is proposing a snoopy, intrusive new “Biographical Questionnaire”  (officially Form DOS-5513) for “some” passport applicants without stating just which applicants will be required to do this. Have the Birthers invaded the State Department, or has that agency simply lost its collective mind? Among the questions: all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to and one year after your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of your birth and such. Also “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application,” say the bureaucrats.

State guesstimates that the “average” respondent could compile this information and fill out the 5-page form in 45 minutes, which seems impossible except for a very young person with minimal employment history, no siblings and parents who have lived in the same place since his/her birth. The “religious ceremony” question is plain creepy. And the question about “the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth” is disturbing — and also impossible for many people. The only person I know to have been present at my birth was my mother, and she passed away some years ago.

I’m not immediately seeing anything about this proposed form on the American Civil Liberties Union website, but I can’t imagine that they aren’t taking a stand. Meanwhile, citizens can take their own individual stands by clicking here or E-mailing GarciaAA@state.gov to submit a comment. Problem is, you have only until 11:59 p.m. EDT Monday, April 25 to do this. I don’t know how long the comment period has been open, but it’s ironic that the deadline is right at the end of Passover and Holy Week, so some people who would normally comment might have been distracted recently.

How Others Are “Un-Welcomed” Into the US

Intrusiveness into American citizens’ lives aside, the US government has been aggressive at making it difficult or unpleasant for foreigners to enter the United State, sometimes with miles of red tape but more often just by  hassling them. Among the hasslees I know personally (and I’ve apologized to them all for my country’s behavior):

  • A middle-aged Austrian couple, he a civil engineer whose company specializes in water projects and has traveled throughout the Middle East, and she a school teacher who once accompanied her octogenarian mother to Iran to see the glorious Persian architecture of Ishfahan. They used to vacation in the US every two years, renting a car and traveling around. They were detained in Cincinnati for hours once, and they now visit Canada instead or don’t bother crossing the Atlantic at all.
  • A female Ph.D. anatomy professor who had been working in Canada until her retirement and then returned to to live in England, where medical care will not bankrupt her. She was detained in Charlotte for hours and her passport held until she left the US because some Department of Homeland Security functionary decided that she had been entering the US too often. She is in a relationship with an American in his mid-70s, and sometimes he goes to England, sometimes she comes to the US (or used to) and sometimes they travel elsewhere altogether. But now, when it comes to day-in, day-out living, they are a couple separated by both an ocean and a sea of red tape.
  • And just last week, in Fiji, I was chatting with a couple who live in Australia and go to England every year or two. They used to like to stop over in California or New York to shop and sightsee, but they had two consecutive unpleasant experiences and no longer do.
  • For a number of years, my husband I acted as a host family for a series of exchange students at the University of Colorado. Most were scientists from Germany, and we are still in touch with a number of them. Back in the ’90s, they used to finish the academic year here in May and traveled around the US before returning to Europe in September for the start of classes in October. Post-9/11, their visas expired shortly after the school year ends here. Without the opportunity to experience more of the US, fewer have been studying here. Their  loss — and ours too.

Comment Submission Followup

Using the comment like above, I submitted mine in opposition to this ill-conceived application form. Here’s the auto-generated reply:

“When will my comment appear online?

“Your comment has been sent to the appropriate agency and will be available on Regulations.gov once it has been processed. Given certain regulations may have thousands of comments, processing may take several weeks before it can be viewed online. We value your comment, and encourage you to contact the agency directly for additional questions related to your specific comment.

“How do I find my comment in the future?

“The best way to find your comment in the future is to enter your Comment Tracking Number in the search field on the homepage. You can also search by keyword or submitter name.”

Our tax dollars at work, but I hope enough people go through the process in order to make this questionnaire go away.

Egypt: What a Difference Two Years Make

Revolutions might inconvenience travelers, but they change nations

The pyramids at Giza near Cairo have endured through the ages, and they will survive the current instability too.

If you really want to go somewhere, my advice is: go while the going is good. Egypt had been on my to-visit list for a long time  before I grabbed the opportunity to visit exactly two years ago. I left the U.S. on January 29, 2009, and arrived in Cairo the following day. Now, I am glued to CNN, watching history unfold as Egyptians unleash a tidal wave of discontent with their government.

In 10 jam-packed days with Society of American Travel Writers colleagues just two years ago, I spent time in Alexandria, Cairo and on the Nile. Fabulous sites and sights, but an undercurrent that all was not right in overcrowded cities and with so many people struggling economically.  The undercurrent has now boiled over, and Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities are filled with protesters pressing for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for some 30 years. His rule has been marred by unsustainable population growth,cronyism, pollution, overcrowded cities, high unemployment, a region where religious extremists have political power and human rights abuses — and now, a crackdown on communication with the Internet all but shut down. Protesters protested, opportunistic looters looted and the government imposed a curfew and unleashed the army.  It has been a toxic political mix that is affecting not only Egyptians over the long haul, but also visitors right now and will impact tourism for some time to come.

I favor the right of citizens to break the shackles of dictatorships everywhere and to enjoy personal freedoms. I hope that Egypt can find a quick resolution to present situation and an end to violence. I hope that Egyptians can experience and the the world can witness the installation of a non-dictatorial, non-extremist government. Beleaguered and perhaps soon former President Hosni Mubarak has imposed a curfew, cut off Internet and cell phone service. The government has been trying to control what he surely views as an insurrection, but that its moves have just served to further enrage protesters and outrage the world. Supporters of Egypt’s protesters have gathered in Washington, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. Still, this blog is not about geopolitics, but about travel. But just as Egypt’s antiquities have survived power shifts over the millennia, I hope that when things settle down again, visitors will once more be welcome and feel comfortable seeing the country’ s wonders.

Cairo's Tahrir Square. Its neighbors include the old Egyptian Museum, the American University in Cairo, the Arab League headquarters and such international hotels as the Shepheard, the Hilton and the Intercontinental.
Tahrir Square now. "Tahrir" means Liberation, so it is no surprise that protests are centered there in this move toward liberation from a 30-year dictatorship. Of Alexandria's two sweeping harbors, this is the eastern one with the beautiful, sweeping Corniche. Its name reflects the French influence during the city's international years.
Of Alexandria's two sweeping harbors, this is the eastern one with the beautiful, sweeping Corniche. Its name reflects the French influence during the city's international years.
Current protests have been sweeping Alexandria. (Assyrian International News Agency photo)

The Egypt Ministry of Tourism, if it is functioning right now, is laying low about visits to the country, 11 percent of whose revenues come from tourism, which is of course in jeopardy right now. According to new reports, tourists in Cairo are being warned not to leave their hotels and especially warned not to attend any political gatherings or demonstrations. EgyptAir and some other airlines (and I don’t know which) have reported suspended Cairo flights, as others are trying to readjust their schedules to accommodate a government-imposed curfew. The international airport is crowded with travelers trying to get out of the country. Cruise ships are aoviding the popular port of Alexandria and shifting their itineraries. For travelers, asll this, so far, is an inconvenience. For Egyptians, it is no less than a revolution — not the first in its long history. Now, I’m going back to CNN.

Addendum: According to a January 30 report in The Telegraph (also reported elsewhere, “group of nine men broke into the Egyptian Museum, which is on the edge of Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests, searching for gold.  They broke into ten cases to take figurines. When they discovered that the figures did not contain gold, they dropped them and the items broke. They then seized two skulls of the 2,000-year-old mummies and fled.

“Dr Zahi Hawass, the director of the museum, said: ‘Demonstrators in collaboration with security forces stopped the thieves and returned the relics to the museum – but they were already damaged. Only their heads were intact. Egyptologists described the smashing of the irreplaceable artefacts [sic] as “devastating”.

Ironically, a new museum has under construction and scheduled to open in 2013 at Giza. If it were already open, it and its irreplaceable teasures would much less accessisble to mob action than the present museum near Tahrir Square.

Israel Bulldozes East Jerusalem Hotel

Provocations, one after another, test Palestinian patience  — and challenge tourists to visit

Once again, the peace process has become fragile.

When I was in the Palestinian Territories/West Bank/Palestine last June, I tried to keep my feelings about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians measured as I wrote about my experiences and observations. I believe in the principles of the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism, which is “dedicated to fostering and facilitating tourism initiatives which contribute to international understanding and cooperation, an improved quality of environment, the preservation of heritage, and through these initiatives, helping to bring about a peaceful and sustainable world.” Palestine could, should and hopefully will be the poster child for bringing this about.

 I witnessed among the Palestinians a longing for their own state — no less so than Israel itself when it was carved out of Palestinian lands more than six decades ago.  Faith-based travel is growing, and much Christian travel to the  Holy Land  should include important West Bank sites, not just Israel (Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Galilee) and preipherally to Jordan. But the Israeli government kneecaps the Palestinians at every turn, discouraging tourism and even prevening Israeli Jews (other than settlers) from visiting another part of what is still legally part of their own country. IMHO, the Israeli government does not want its secular citizens to see how it is mistreating and humiliating Muslim and Christian Palestinians on the West Bank.

Most incidents, a few of which I witnessed and an arbitrary checkpoint holdup that I epxerienced last June, are minor and are unreported in the world media. But recent ones again are shining the international spotlight on the situation. The two-state solution, which had again seemed closer, is being torpedoed by a barely restrained Israeli military. Young Israeli soldiers with their UZIs slung over their shoulders remind me of farm boys in the woods, ready to shoot at anything that moves. Tensions rise, and with every bullet and every dose of tear gas, the opportunity for tourism to help bring peace fades again.

Here’s the recent news — and I write about these incidents not to discourage visitation butactually to encourage it. Not only is the West Bank a key part to the Holy Land and an area rich in archeology and history, but I believe it provides visitors a rare opportunity to spend a few days on the cusp of history — with awareness of what is happening.  I never felt in personal danger — and I suspect that if were there today, I wouldn’t feel I was in harm’s way either.

One Week; Four “Incidents” Resulting in Palestinian Deaths

Now, when much of the watching world had hoped for a real chance of peace, the Israelis are at it again. The four incidents below happened within just one week; the dates might be off by a day due to the time zone between the Middle East and the US. I’ve been clicking back and forth among websites, so I hope I embedded the correct link for each incident. Each one is another nail in the coffin of the peace process.

On January 1, Israeli troops fired what was described as a “massive” amount of tear gas to put down what they called “”a violent and illegal riot” but was probably the weekly demonstration protesting the security wall in the town of Bilin. A 36-year-old, asthmatic Palestinian woman died from tear gas inhalation. Israeli authorities are investing. — Reported in the New York Times, Agence France-Presse and elsewhere

On January 2,  Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man early after he  approached soldiers “from an unauthorized lane” at the Hamra checkpoint northwest of the city of Nablus. He allegedly tried to attack troops with a bottle and ignored orders to stop as he approached the soldiers. The Palestinian  had a bottle. The Israeli soldiers had guns. Israeli authorities are investigating. — Reported in the Christian Science Monitor, Agence France-Presse and others

 On January 7, Israeli troops made a pre-dawn raid on an apartment in Hebron to arrest suspected Hamas members. Problem is, they stormed the wrong apartment and killed a a Palestinian man who was asleep in his bed. He was variously reported to be 65, 66 or 67 years old, but reports agree on the rest of the story. Israeli authorities are investigating. Reported by the Associated Press,  the New York TimesCNN and elsewhere

On January 8, Israeli soldiers shot and killed another Palestinian man, again at the Hamra checkpoint. According to a CNN report, “a Palestinian man made his way toward Israeli security personnel yelling “God is great” in Arabic while carrying a ‘suspicious object’ in his hands, a spokesman for the Israeli military told CNN. Soldiers began an ‘arrest procedure’ and yelled at the man to stop and fired warning shots, but the man did not stop advancing, the spokesman said. ‘The soldiers were left with no choice but to fire at him,’ the spokesman said. The Palestinian had a “suspicious package.” The soldiers had guns. I suppose Israeli authorities are investigating. — Reported by CNN and elsewhere.

If you search the ‘Net for “Nablus” or “or checkpoint. or “Palestinian killed,” you find incident after incident reported by the international media. Sometimes the Israelis say they found explosives or weapons or something. Often, they don’t bother explaining anything at all. After all, thee’s always another incident to investigate. Untold thousands of Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with human rights organizations alarmed at accusations of torture and abuse. But these watchdog groups are powerless in  country whose government pays scant attention to any critics. A search for “Palestinians in Israeli jails” brings up thousands of links. Wikipedia’s summary  is as good as any.

Shepherd Hotel Being Demolished

What kicked off this post was a report earlier today that Israeli bulldozers began knocking down the historic Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem to build yet another illegal Jewish settlement. The European Union reminded Israel that settlement building on occupied Palestinian territory is illegal, but the conservative Israeli government has never paid much heed to international law when they are breaking it. The hotel was vacant, but that is not the point, is it?

 US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called it a “disturbing development” that “undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution.” United Nationals Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said that “inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem” undermined prospects for addressing the city’s status.

First Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton said, “I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace….The EU does not recognize” the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel and again expressed concern for recent violence and growing tension. The Israelis have a habit of pushing the Palestinians to the breaking point and then retaliating harshly. — Reported by The New York Times, Reuters and elsewhere

When I was there in June, Israeli bulldozers knocked down more than 20 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem to make way for an amusement park of some sort, so this latest demolition project does not surprise me, but it still saddens me. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations haven’t totally broken down, but they can be described as being at a standstill. KAIROS Palestine, an interfaith peace initiative of the dwindling Christian population on the West Bank, is still supporting it.

Winter is not prime travel season to the Middle East. I hope that tensions will easy, the Israeli soldiers will be less trigger-happy and that when authorities say that they are “investigating,” they really are. And I hope that visitors will again be encouraged to see some of the Palestine/West Bank sites. My June visit certainly opened my eyes to the region’s history, faith, archeology, landscape and humanity.

"Overrated" Travel Sites Still on My Bucket List

Graduate-degreed people dis world sites that I still want to see

I live in Boulder, Colorado, which has again been named the “smartest city in America” — most recently by The DailyBeast and previously by Forbes. I sometimes think that I am virtually only person in town over the age of 25 without a master’s degree — or more. Now a website called OnlineMasters has come up with the six most overrated historical sites in the world.

Click on the link above to read their reasons, but meanwhile, here’s the list:

1. Stonehenge
2. The Colosseum
3. The Alamo
4. Machu Picchu
5. Petra
6. Angkor

The only one I’ve ever seen is the Colsseum, and that was during a long-ago, post-college European tour that featured a lot of capitals, including Rome. I’ve seen other, smaller more remote stone circles in the British Isle but never Stonehenge. I would like to visit San Antonio, and if/when I do, I will certainly go to the Alamo.

Boulder’s token dolt that I am, without a master’s degree — online or otherwise — Machu Picchu, Petra and Angkor are still I my bucket list.

Cancun Tourism in Trouble

Hard times at popular Mexican travel destination

Mexican tourism has taken well-documented hit after hit in the last couple of years (drug gang violence, weather, swine flu, global economic woes, you name it), and now, Cancun in particular has been slammed by malfeasance on the part of local officials. As Mexico City-based Jimm Budd reported under the headline “Cancun Broke”:

“Cancun – officially the Benito Juárez municipality – is technically bankrupt according to the governor on Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located. It seems the city treasurer, Carlos Trigo, has vanished and taken the treasury with him. His boss, Gregory Sanchez, resigned a few weeks ago in order to run for governor. Since then, Sanchez has been arrested and now is in prison awaiting trial on charges he was working with narcotics smugglers.

“Nor is Cancun doing well as a travel destination. The airport reports that the number of passengers served thus far this year is still nearly ten percent below the 2008 figure. Number for last year were so dismal as not to be considered.”

US Passport Fees Set to Climb

If your passport needs to be renewed soon, if it needs extra pages for future travel or if you don’t have  a passport but might need one (and now you do for neighboring Western Hemisphere nations), do whatever you need to before Tuesday, July 13. Post offices handle passport applications.

Passport Book

  • New passport, adult, $135 (up from from $100).
  • Renewal, $110 (up from $75). 
  • Youth under 16,  $105 (up from $85).
  • Extra pages, $82 (new fee). 

Passport Card

If you expect to travel only to Canada and/or Mexicom you can get a card instead of a book.

  • Adult, $55 (up from $45).
  • Youth, $40 (up from $35)

Reasons

  

No, the fee increases are not to help balance the budget. The US State Department says that passport fees cover the cost of actually producing the document but also but they also pay for emergency services provided to American citizens overseas by embassies and consular offices.

Palestine: Reflections

Headlines provide signs of hope that Israeli-Palestinian tensions will ease and that peace will prevail
As I was recounting my Palestine/West Bank travel experiences and observations, I made notes to myself about how I wanted to wrap it all up. After all, this wasn’t just a sightseeing trip featuring antiquities and sacred places. It was an experience that put me and my traveling companions on the cusp of “future history.” Through my membership in the Society of American Travel Writers, I became aware of, but I am embarrassed to admit, not active in a not-for-profit group called the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism.

Originally, I intended wrap up my thoughts and observations unfiltered by politicians’ spin and advocates for one side or another. I also was going to include links to IIPTT’s site and to peace organizations working specifically in the Middle East and more specifically on the Palestinian-Israeli situation, because I believe that tourism can be a valuable tool for peace — not just economically in troubled lands but also in allowing visitors to see a place and its people first-hand. This trip certainly was enlightening, even though we did not meet any overtly militant Palestinians or any Israeli Jews at all other than Army guards at checkpoints and security screeners at Tel Aviv Airport.

But today’s headline in the New York Times, “U.S. and Israel Shift Attention to Peace Process,” reports that “President Obama said Tuesday that he expected direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to begin ‘well before’ a moratorium on settlement construction expired at the end of September, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to take ‘concrete steps’ in the coming weeks to get the talks moving.”

Since I’m trying to restrain myself, perhaps I should not point out that in the past, Netanyahu’s “concrete steps” have taken the form of pouring more concrete for more settlements in the Palestinian territory. ‘Nuff said, so I’d rather express a hope that things might be better this time, and that perhaps neither side will provoke the other into escalating retaliation measures. This eye-opening trip beyond the headlines and the rhetoric pointed out the social injustice of the current situation. I mentioned to some of my traveling companions that I am shocked that Israel, a nation established because millions of its people were the victims of ruthless genocide, could treat other people so badly. One who is smarter than I pointed out that individual people who been abused often become abusers. The analogy was not lost on me or anyone else within earshot.

So I close this series with a wish that maybe, just maybe, the new talks will amount to something and the peace process will begin again — and maybe, just maybe, it will be honored by all sides and be longer-lasting than in the past.

Travel Industry to Tackle Climate Change

“Live the Deal” initiative emerges from Copenhagen conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference that wraps up tomorrow in Copenhagen has been in the news mainly for the estimated number of demonstrators, the number of demonstrators arrested and the heads of government who would or wouldn’t be attending, and if the were, when, and if they weren’t, why not. A travel-industry initiative called Live the Deal has emerged from Copenhagen. Let’s hope it helps people continue to travel while decreasing the environmental burden caused by those travels. We have already seen hotels go green, but lodgings are only a small part of the travel picture. International industry leaders are, of course, just beginning to talk, but as the old proverb says, “Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

 Below is the press release about those first steps:

Copenhagen, Denmark/ Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates/Madrid, Spain 16 December – “Live the Deal”, an innovative, global campaign to help travel companies and destinations respond to Climate Change, reduce their carbon footprint and move to the Green Economy, was launched this week during the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Announcing the new initiative, long time tourism green campaigner Geoffrey Lipman UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General said: “What Copenhagen represents is a new commitment by the world community towards sustainable low carbon growth patterns. The targets and mitigation actions that countries develop and negotiate through this process will be a new base for travel industry action. What we are providing is a very simple way to get behind the evolving government initiatives, to keep pace with changing patterns and to demonstrate that our sector is acting, not simply talking.” He added “We should not be ashamed to promote the growth of smart travel – clean green, ethical and quality – it’s the lifeblood of trade, commerce and human connection”.

“Live the Deal” follows the pattern established in the UN led Copenhagen Seal the Deal campaign by its single minded focus, its simplicity and its broad based engagement goals. It will seek to encourage the sector directly and through representative organizations.

It has been developed with the support of UNWTO, whose Secretary-General Taleb Rifai calls it “The kind of link between global policymaking and responsible tourism action that we are looking to inspire and encourage. Our sector fuels the economy, creates jobs and is one of the biggest development opportunities for the world’s poorest countries – and it can be a leader in the transformation to a green economy”.

The campaign will be underpinned by a simple carbon calculation tool that allows easy correlation with government targets and implementation measures, as well as a Think Tank and Annual Innovations & Investment Summit. The inaugural Summit will be in Abu Dhabi in the last quarter of the year. Live the Deal will be promoted by a multimedia video “We can take this Climate Change” from platinum album writer and singer Alston Koch which will be profiled around the world in 2010