Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.
More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not
Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding on Everest (and an understandable desire to grow the industry) has encouraged officials to open up new mountains.
The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation is expected to make a decision about whether to approve expeditions on the new mountains at its annual summit (geddit?) this October.
If the new climbs are approved, increasing tourist numbers along the way, it’s not clear how well the country’s main airport will cope. Nepal’s civil aviation authority recently wrote to airlines using Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu, asking them to stop landing wide-bodied aircraft there. It’s thought heavier planes could be to blame for the cracks and potholes discovered on the ailing runway in recent weeks.
Blingy ringy thingies
With plenty of time left to run, an inventive Kickstarter campaign called Sesame Ring has smashed its fundraising target. The idea? To create wearable rings that act like Oyster cards, saving passengers the trouble of ever losing their travel passes. A nice twist is that the rings are created using 3D printers, making them super easy to customise.
But the thought of being married to one transport network, with a ring and everything, doesn’t sit easily with me. I can imagine promising myself to the London Underground, and then throwing the ring away to have an illicit affair with Bangkok’s Skytrain.
For anyone who travels a lot, the only alternative would be to wear a different ring for every city. As I still value the use of my fingers, I think I’ll stick to having a wallet full of travel passes.
Art or porn?
Scandinavian hotel chain Nordic Choice has stopped giving its guests access to porn through on-demand TV stations. Yes, apparently that’s still a thing.
The chain’s owner, Petter Stordalen, reportedly reached the decision after getting involved with a Unicef campaign to help children affected by trafficking and sexual exploitation. “It’s a natural part of our social responsibility to not support an industry that contributes to trafficking,” he said.
Guests staying at the chain’s 171 hotels will instead be offered access to “high-end contemporary video art”. It’s a smart move, distancing Nordic Choice from a controversial industry. But with free, in-room wifi so widespread, it’s hard to imagine this kind of ban changing guests’ viewing habits.
Summer is ending and tour operators are already hard at work, trying to sell us winter breaks. Buried by the latest flurry of wintry PR was the news that fledgling Norwegian airline FlyNonStop will soon be launching flights from London City to Alta, in the far north of mainland Norway.
As well as being a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights, the Arctic town has a rich Sami culture and thousands of prehistoric rock carvings on its doorstep. Best of all, the town’s sheltered location on the edge of a plunging fjord keeps temperatures mild. Well, for the Arctic.
Now for the bad news: the flights are not quite as direct as the airline’s name suggests (there’s a touchdown en-route at Bodø), and they are only available as part of a pricey package that includes a stay at the Sorrisniva igloo hotel.
Trips start in January. For information and prices contact The White Circle.
Disneyland in Africa
Hyperinflation and unrest scared tourists away, but Zimbabwe is hoping to win them back with a £193m theme park near Victoria Falls. The attraction, described by Zimbabwe’s tourism minister as “Disneyland in Africa”, is likely to include hotels, restaurants and conference facilities. Plans are still vague, but making anything manmade look good beside a natural wonder like Victoria Falls could be tricky.
New Year in North Korea
Tourists making the trip to North Korea usually arrive on flights from China, but new routes to the country could soon be opening up – including some from Europe.
Jo Song Gyu, director of the state-owned International Travel Company, promised new flights as part of a “bright future” for tourism in the impoverished country. The news follows an announcement by Koryo Tours, a British-run company based in Beijing, stating that North Korea is now open to foreign visitors all year round, including the previously ‘closed’ period between December and January.
Before you get carried away with plans for a wild New Year in Pyongyang though, remember that visitors still have to spend their trips in the company of government minders.
Lastly, here’s a gorgeously shot video reminding us that modern jet planes are incredibly graceful machines, capable of bringing people together – or tearing lives apart.