Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers gets you up to speed with the latest travel news, including business-only flights to the USA and portable Nordic hotel rooms.
New airline is strictly business
Fed up with flying cattle class? Well a brand new airline is about to start running business-only flights to New York. And for now, at least, the prices are looking good. La Compagnie will begin flying between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Newark on July 11 this year, using one Boeing 757 with 74 lie-flat seats and no economy-class section. Passengers get free Wi-Fi and meals designed by a top French chef, plus use of a Samsung tablet.
At the time of writing, the airline’s English-language website was still not up and running. But a quick peek at the French site showed one-way fares going for as little as €500, including taxes.
Kazakhstan visa rules relaxed – for some
Last month I wrote about the increasing number of foreign companies investing in Kazakhstan, and the country’s fast-growing tourist economy.
Now it looks like the visa rules for many foreign visitors are about to be relaxed. From the July 15, tourists from ten selected countries including the UK and the USA will be able to travel around Kazakhstan for up to 15 days without needing to arrange a visa in advance.
As is often the case, there’s a diplomatic reason for the change. All ten of the chosen countries have a track record of investing in Kazakhstan and officials – understandably, perhaps – will be hoping to keep them sweet.
Sky-high high-speed Wi-Fi
Few people had heard of the British company Inmarsat until the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Then, routine ‘handshakes’ detected by the company’s satellites provided the best clues in a huge, international search that still hasn’t turned up any concrete answers.
Now Inmarsat is preparing to launch a new satellite in an effort to improve the speed of in-flight Wi-Fi on flights across Europe. British Airways is one of the first airlines to enter into discussions with the company, and by the end of 2016 passengers on its domestic flights could be streaming cat videos and posting selfies from the sky using a fast 4G connection.
No Man’s Land back on the map
No Man’s Land Fort, which was built in the 1800s, was originally designed to fend off French invasions but was never actually attacked. In recent years it served as a hotel and as a venue for private functions, before eventually falling into disrepair.
A company called Amazing Venues will now reopen the fort as a 22-bedroom hotel, complete with its own museum, gym and laser-tag playground.
The resort is scheduled to open this autumn but the position of Fort Ruler, advertised here, is apparently still up for grabs.
Hotel to go
The Nordic hotel chain Scandic has come up with a new way to provide accommodation in rural areas: a small, mobile hotel that can be transported on the back of a truck. Scandic To Go is a 6.5-tonne container kitted out with two separate hotel rooms, complete with TV, air-con, Wi-Fi and a proper bathroom. In a press release, Scandic said the mobile hotel, which sleeps up to four people and costs 2,500 SEK (around £220 or $370) per night, could be taken to “any location a guest desires”.
Sensing this might be a PR stunt, I contacted the company and asked if the idea was really practical – or profitable. Their answer was surprisingly honest.
“The transportation will cost [us] more than 2,500 SEK,” a spokeswoman said. “We are not doing this to make money out of it, but rather to attract a new customer base that might not have been interested in Scandic before.”
So there you have it: a genuine chance to spend a night or two in your own hotel in the forest, or next to a glistening lake. Just don’t expect to be dialling for room service.
Final call: travel goes pop
Rummage down the back of the Internet for long enough and it’s incredible what you can find. Somewhere in South Korea, there’s a whole 10-piece pop band called The Tourist, which writes and records songs about, well, being a tourist.
“We are all just people who love to travel,” explained producer Kim Dal-woo in an interview with the Seoul-based Korea Herald.
And this is not just a one-off concept album; this year, the band released its second full-length record full of travel songs. The Romantic Guide Book has 15 tracks with names like Arrival, Departure and Moonlight Campervan, plus plenty of aeroplane noises thrown in here and there.
Not convinced it’s real? Check out the video below, or have a listen to the album on Spotify. Bonus points from me if you can make it through the whole thing.