Lacking Tourism Workers, Croatia Recruits Abroad

A waiter serves clients on a terrace in the city of Rovinj, on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, on June 11, 2022. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC / AFP)

 

Tourists are flocking back to Croatia after the pandemic decimated its vital travel industry, except the Adriatic nation has a problem: it lacks workers to cater to the legions of visitors.

Faced with a chronic shortage of tourism workers, Croatia is recruiting people in neighbouring Balkan countries and as far as Asia to fill the gap.

It is a problem that other top tourist destinations in Europe — France, Spain and Greece — have also experienced since the lifting of Covid restrictions.

But it is an issue that Croatia — famous for its idyllic coast line dotted with more than 1,000 islands and islets — already struggled with for years and has worsened since the pandemic.

The tourism industry could be short of 10,000 workers this year, according to official estimates.

“The situation is alarming,” said Stanislav Briskoski, owner of a restaurant in the tourist hotspot of Rovinj, in northern Istria peninsula, and head of Istria caterers and tourism workers guild.

Croatia is primed for a tourism rebound: it has already hosted nearly three million visitors in the first five months of the year, nearly triple the number from last year, which bodes well for the peak summer season in July and August.

The country of 3.8 million people greeted a record 21 million visitors in 2019.

“The desire for travel is big … tourists will come,” the head of the Croat tourism association, Veljko Ostojic, said.

Tourism is a major source of revenue for Croatia, accounting for one-fifth of its economy.

Ostojic said the industry could break its 2019 record, unless the war in Ukraine escalates.

But the sector needs workers.

AFP

South African Train Makes Safari Trip, But Never Moves

A game ranger from the Kruger Shalati hotel drives an open safari truck during a game drive through the park in Skukuza, Kruger National Park, on April 3, 2022. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

 

 

Baboons weave their way under the carriages of a train on a bridge. A hippo wades in the river below, while a lone leopard prowls, sniffing for an antelope to make its dinner.

In the middle of the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s most celebrated wildlife reserve, this luxury train takes passengers — but it never moves.

Converted into a boutique hotel, the train provides a gilded lookout from which guests can gaze over the animal kingdom from the golden sunrise until the Milky Way spills across the nighttime sky.

A small platform added to the bridge holds a small round pool, where groups of humans gather at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) for high tea, with a pleasant late summer breeze.

A loud grunt silences the chirping of birds. “It’s a hippo,” a waiter quickly assures, as guests lean over the railing, hoping to spot it in the muddy Sabie River below.

Two round ears stick out from the water.

“Adorable,” whispers Karen Lane, 56, who came from Johannesburg to celebrate 30 years of marriage to her husband, Rich.

“It’s such an experience,” says Chichi Mudau, a 36-year-old sales rep with a smart manicure and a Gucci bucket hat.

“The place, the service is immaculate. Like a dream come true. I love everything about it.”

Moments later, the group will leave in open safari trucks to drive up close to giraffes, elephants and dazzles of zebras in their natural habitat — chewing grass, playing in water, and sometimes erupting into fights.

The bridge suspended over this dreamy landscape was abandoned for decades. The hotel won a tender in 2016 to transform it into posh accommodation, with a train that never moves but always has bird’s-eye views.

In the 1920s, this railway line was the only way into Kruger. But the last locomotive came through in 1979, and the railway fell into disuse.

– Monkeys are players –
“We went to a train graveyard to find the carriages,” said Gavin Ferreira, 39, executive manager of operations.

“They were pretty dilapidated. Some had been looted,” he told AFP.

Repurposed into hotel rooms, the carriages offer “a step back into time,” he said.

Walking through the cars, they’re numbered to 25, but follow the old hotel superstition whereby number 13 is skipped.

Each carriage has only one room, with a massive bed covered in fresh sheets and overstuffed pillows. Sunlight spills through windows above the tub and sink, for gazing over the river while you brush your teeth. A silk bathrobe waits nearby.

The small balcony beckons, but don’t forget to close the door.

“Monkeys here can get pretty aggressive,” warns the butler, and they can come swooping in.

When the little grey primates climb onto the bridge, they peer through the panes, looking curiously at guests lying in bed. They’re cute, but don’t be fooled.

The Kruger Shalati initially expected to cater to Westerners. But when it opened in December 2020, the pandemic prevented them from travelling. South Africans booked it up instead.

“The first months, we were fully booked,” said reservations manager Ella West. “We need international guest rates for a place like this to get going.”

Now the train lures more Americans, the voyage made easier by an airstrip just four kilometres (three miles) away, she said.

When night falls, the train gently sways with its guests inside.

“It’s a natural movement,” Ferreira said. “It comes from the expansion and retraction of the metal structured bridge.” The heat of the day makes the metal expand, while the cool nights make it contract.

“Our clients compliment us on the way it reminds them of a train in movement,” he said. “It’s a very subtle movement.”

Turkey Tourism Recovery Hurt By Russia Invasion Of Ukraine

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 20, 2022, people sit at a cafe in the northern part of Cyprus’ divided capital Nicosia, in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  (Photo by Birol BEBEK / AFP)

 

Every Sunday Noori Sani welcomes his old friends around a bountiful Turkish breakfast in Istanbul. But surrounding him now are empty tables on his terrace at his restaurant by the Blue Mosque.

“On a day like this, we should be full,” the owner of Serbethane restaurant said in the city’s historic district.

Within a few days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Ukrainians and Russians cancelled reservations for trips, disastrous for Turkey where tourism represented 10 percent of GDP before the pandemic.

There had been high hopes for a tourism revival in 2022 and the sector was in desperate need of a boost after the Turkish lira lost significant value last year and inflation soared to over 50 percent in February.

Visitors from Ukraine and Russia made up over a quarter of all tourists who arrived in Turkey last year, usually opting for the turquoise beaches on the Mediterranean and Aegean, according to tourism ministry figures.

“Russia and Ukraine are very important markets for us,” Hamit Kuk of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB) said.

Read Also: Putin Threatens Ukraine ‘Statehood’ As Moscow Sanctions Tighten

Around 4.5 million Russian and two million Ukrainian tourists descended on Turkey last year.

TURSAB expected seven million Russians and 2.5 million Ukrainians this year, but Kuk said it would “likely have to review these figures”.

“The war between Russia and Ukraine is making everyone nervous here. Both from a human and commercial point of view,” Kuk said.

“Normally, there would be a rush of summer reservations in March. But the demand has stopped,” he added.

– Sanctions pain –

“If it goes on like this, there will be a very serious problem,” warned TURSAB president Firuz Ballikaya.

“We try to wait as calmly as we can.”

In front of the Hagia Sophia mosque, Russian tourists were rushing to follow their guide, ducking their heads and refusing interviews.

There were even a few Ukrainians, including a young couple from Kyiv who “arrived as tourists and became refugees” and who were now tearfully looking to leave for a third country.

“Maybe the United States?” they asked, wishing to remain anonymous.

The situation is tricky for Turkish travel agents like Ismail Yitmen because of Western sanctions against Russia.

In his office opposite the Hagia Sophia, Yitmen despaired.

“Travel agencies like mine working with Russia are really suffering right now. Taking into account the deposit amount I have paid for hotels, my loss is more than 11,000 euros ($12,000) so far,” he said.

If more groups cancel, he could lose between $65,000 and 76,000.

“A group was supposed to arrive in Turkey in two months, but we couldn’t receive the money, so it’s cancelled. It’s because they stopped SWIFT transfers. We had already paid for the hotels.”

Several Russian banks were cut off from the SWIFT messaging system, which allows banks to communicate rapidly and securely over transactions.

Despite being a NATO member, Ankara did not sanction Russia and unlike many other countries, Turkey has not closed its airspace to Russian planes.

– Safety fears –

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism sector was recovering after multiple terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 scared tourists away.

On the edge of the Middle East, the country had suffered in the few years from the impact of wars in Syria and Iraq, both on its southeastern border.

“When the war started in Iraq and then in Syria, European and American tourists stopped coming. They thought we were too near,” said Hassan Duzen, sitting with his friends at the back of his deserted carpet shop.

He was convinced the same thing would happen after the invasion.

“When they look at a map, they will see the Black Sea and think we are very close,” Duzen lamented. “Why would they take a risk?”

The Ukrainian couple had the same fears.

“We can’t stay here, this place isn’t safe, it’s too close. Their missiles can hit you,” the young man said, his eyes clouded with anxiety.

AFP

2021: Year Of Space Tourism, Flights On Mars, China’s Rise

Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard lifts up from the launchpad, at the Europe’s Spaceport, the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on December 25, 2021. PHOTO: JODY AMIET / AFP

 

 

From the Mars Ingenuity helicopter’s first powered flight on another world to the launch of the James Webb telescope that will peer into the earliest epoch of the Universe, 2021 was a huge year for humanity’s space endeavors.

Jeff Bezos receives astronaut wings from Blue Origin’s Jeff Ashby, a former Space Shuttle commander, after her flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas.

 

Beyond the science milestones, billionaires battled to reach the final frontier first, an all-civilian crew went into orbit, and Star Trek’s William Shatner waxed profound about what it meant to see the Earth from the cosmos, as space tourism finally came into its own.

 

Here are selected highlights. 

 

– Red Planet robot duo –

NASA’s Perseverance Rover survived its “seven minutes of terror,” a time when the craft relies on its automated systems for descent and landing, to touch down flawlessly on Mars’ Jezero Crater in February.

Since then, the car-sized robot has been taking photos and drilling for samples for its mission: determining whether the Red Planet might have hosted ancient microbial life forms.

This handout received from the Beijing Planetarium via the China Academy of Sciences on November 26, 2019 shows a rendering by artist Yu Jingchuan of the accretion of gas onto a stellar black hole from its blue companion star, through a truncated accretion disk. PHOTO: Yu Jingchuan/Beijing Planetarium via the China Academy of Sciences/AFP

 

A rock sample return mission is planned for sometime in the 2030s.

With its state-of-the-art instruments, “Percy,” as the helicopter is affectionately known, can also zap Martian rock and chemically analyze the vapor.

Percy has a partner along for the ride: Ingenuity, a four-pound (two kilogram) rotorcraft that in April succeeded in the first powered flight on another celestial body, just over a century after the Wright brothers’ achieved the same feat here on Earth, and has performed many more since.

“Perseverance is sort of the flagship mission, it’s doing a long-term detailed investigation of this fascinating area of Mars,” Jonathan McDowall, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

By contrast, “Ingenuity, is one of these cute, small, cheap little technology demos that NASA can do so well,” he added.

The insights gained from Ingenuity could help scientists develop Dragonfly, a planned thousand-pound drone copter, to search for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Titan in the mid-2030s.

 

 

– Private spaceflight takes off –

An American millionaire became the world’s first space tourist in 2001, but it took 20 more years for the promise of private space flight to finally materialize.

In July, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson faced off against Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to be the first non-professional astronaut to complete a suborbital spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson(L), with Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders, cheers with crew members after flying into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021. PHOTO: Patrick T. FALLON / AFP

 

While the British tycoon won that battle by a few days, it was Blue Origin that raced ahead, launching three more flights with paying customers and celebrity guests.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX entered the fray in September with a three-day orbital mission around the Earth featuring an all-civilian crew on Inspiration 4.

“It’s really exciting that finally, after so long this stuff is finally happening,” said space industry analyst Laura Seward Forczyk, author of the forthcoming book “Becoming Off-Worldly,” intended to prepare future space travelers.

But it was William Shatner, who played the swashbuckling Captain Kirk on the 1960s TV series “Star Trek,” who stole the show with a moving account of his experience.

“What you’re looking down on is Mother Earth, and it needs protecting,” he told reporters.

A Russian crew shot the first feature film in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021, and Japanese tourists made their own visit there on a Russian rocket.

For a few minutes on December 11, there were a record 19 humans in space when Blue Origin carried out its third crewed mission, the Japanese team were on the ISS along with its normal crew, and Chinese taikonauts were in position on their station.

The sight of wealthy elites gallivanting in the cosmos hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, however, and the nascent space tourism sector triggered a backlash from some who said there were more pressing issues to face, such as climate change, here on Earth.

 

– Globalization of space –

During the Cold War, space was dominated by the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Now, in addition to the explosion of the commercial sector, which is sending up satellites at a dizzying pace, China, India and others are increasingly flexing their space flight muscles.

China’s Tiangong (Palace in the Sky) space station — its first long-term outpost — was launched in April, while its first Mars rover, Zhurong, landed in May, making it the only the second country to achieve such an exploit.

This screen grab made from video released by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV shows Chinese astronauts outside China’s new Tiangong space station in orbit around Earth on July 4, 2021. (Photo by – / CCTV / AFP) / 

“In the past 20 years since China finally decided to go big on space, they’ve been in catch up mode,” said McDowall. “And now they’re kind of there, and they’re starting to do things that the US hasn’t done.”

The UAE placed a probe into Martian orbit in February, becoming the first Arab nation and fifth overall to reach the planet.

Russia meanwhile launched a missile at one of its own satellites, becoming the fourth country to hit a spacecraft from the ground, in a move that reignited concerns about the growing space arms race.

Washington slammed Moscow for its “reckless” test, which generated over 1,500 pieces of large orbital debris, dangerous for low Earth orbit missions such as the ISS.

 

– Coming soon… –

The year closed out with the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion marvel that will make use of infrared technology to peer back 13 billion years in time.

“It’s arguably the most expensive, single scientific platform ever created,” said Casey Drier, chief advocate of the Planetary Society.

“To push the boundaries of our knowledge about the cosmos, we had to build something capable of accessing that ancient past,” he added.

It will reach Lagrange Point 2, a space landmark a million miles from Earth, in a matter of weeks, then gradually start up and calibrate its systems, coming online around June.

Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard lifts up from the launchpad, at the Europe’s Spaceport, the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on December 25, 2021. Jody Amiet / AFP
Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope onboard lifts up from the launchpad, at the Europe’s Spaceport, the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on December 25, 2021. Jody Amiet / AFP

 

Also next year, the launch of Artemis 1 — when NASA’s giant Space Launch System (SLS) will carry the Orion capsule to the Moon and back, in preparation for America’s return with humans later this decade.

NASA plans to build lunar habitats and use lessons learned there for forward missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Observers are encouraged that the program launched by former president Donald Trump has continued under Joe Biden — even if he hasn’t been as vocal in his support.

Finally, sometime next fall, NASA’s DART probe will smash into an asteroid to kick it off course.

The proof-of-concept test is a dry run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth, as seen in Netflix’s new hit film “Don’t Look Up.”

AFP

Channels TV Signs MoU With UNWTO

 

The Chairman and CEO of Channels Media Group, John Momoh, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

He signed the MoU on Sunday in Cote D’ivoire.

 

(L-R) Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili, and the Chairman and CEO of Channels Media Group.

 

“This is like the icing on the cake for us. I love tourism, I like to travel a lot and then the fact that we have to reset the button for tourism around the world in the sense that global tourism has taken a hit, rising from the pandemic that happened last year, so, you can rest assured that you have a very good partner in us, Channels TV,” Mr Momoh said.

 

Chairman and CEO of the Channels Media Group, Mr John Momoh signing the MoU with the UN WTO on Sunday, September 26, 2021.

 

Secretary-General of the UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili, also announced the signing via his social media handles.

 

“Trust is critical to #RestartTourism, and relevant information is the key.

“Thrilled to launch our collaboration with @channelstelevision – together we echo tourism’s message across #Africa and to the world,” Pololikashvili said.

SpaceX All-Civilian Orbital Crew Completes Historic Mission


This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 crew spent their first day in orbit conducting scientific research and talking to children at a pediatric cancer hospital, after blasting off on their pioneering mission from Cape Canaveral the night before. Handout / Inspiration4 / AFP

 

Four SpaceX tourists returned to Earth safely on Saturday after spending three days in space, successfully concluding the first orbital mission in history with no professional astronauts on board.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule, whose heat shield allowed it to withstand descent, was slowed down by four large parachutes before splashing into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 7:06 pm (2306 GMT), according to a video feed by the company.

“That was a heck of a ride for us, and we’re just getting started,” billionaire captain Jared Isaacman, who financed the trip with a goal of making space a bit more accessible, said shortly after landing.

A SpaceX boat immediately retrieved the capsule, before its hatch was opened and the space tourists, smiling broadly and waving their arms in the air, exited one by one.

They were next headed for the Kennedy Space Center, where their mission had begun on Wednesday.

The stated goal of the mission, called Inspiration4, was to encourage the democratization of space by proving that the cosmos are accessible to crews that have neither been handpicked nor in training for years.

“Congratulations @Inspiration4x !!!” SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted after the landing.

The four space novices — Isaacman and three other Americans — spent three days orbiting Earth, traveling farther than the International Space Station (ISS), at an orbit of about 575 kilometers (357 miles) high, and circling the globe more than 15 times each day.

Isaacman, who paid SpaceX tens of millions of dollars, offered the other three seats to strangers: Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old nurse; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old professor; and Chris Sembroski, 42, a US Air Force veteran.

However, the exact price that the 38-year-old founder of Shift4 Payments and seasoned pilot shelled out for the mission has not been revealed.

The Inspiration4 crew bonded over the course of six months’ training, compared with years for professional astronauts.

During the flight, the members’ vital signs, including heart rate, sleep, blood oxygen levels and cognitive abilities, were monitored to study the effects of space on complete novices.

But they also enjoyed the view through a brand new observation dome fitted onto the capsule, spoke with actor Tom Cruise from the vessel, ate pizza and listened to music.

[READ ALSO]: ‘Experience Of A Lifetime’: Billionaire Branson Achieves Space Dream

 ‘Second space age’ 

This screen grab shows the first all-civilian crew aboard SpaceX’s Inspiration4 before splashdown during their return to Earth off the Florida coast on September 18, 2021. The four private space tourists aboard a SpaceX capsule are due to return to Earth on Saturday night, touching down off the coast of Florida after three days of orbiting the planet. Handout / NASA / AFP

 

“Welcome to the second space age,” mission director Todd Ericson said at a press conference after the landing.

With its completion, “space travel becomes much more accessible to average men and women.”

There was only one minor issue during the flight, with the capsule’s toilet system, but a solution was quickly found, Ericson said, without giving further details.

“Best ride of my life!” Proctor tweeted after disembarking from the capsule.

The mission served as a huge fundraiser for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, a leading facility in Tennessee. Arceneaux received treatment there as a child, and now works there.

The crew took with them various objects — including a ukulele, which Sembroski briefly played live from the vessel on Friday — that will now be auctioned off with proceeds going to the hospital.

The landing marked the third time that Musk’s company has taken humans to space and back, after the return of two NASA missions, one in August 2020 and another in May of this year. Both were bringing astronauts back from a stay at the ISS.

Unlike NASA astronauts, the members of the Inspiration4 mission did not go to the ISS but remained in orbit around the Earth.

The space adventure comes after a summer marked by the battle of the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to reach the final frontier. However their separate suborbital flights only offered a few minutes in zero gravity.

SpaceX is already planning further space tourism flights. In fact, “the amount of people who are approaching us through our sales and marketing portals have actually increased significantly,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of human spaceflight programs.

The next trip is scheduled for January 2022, with three businessmen on board.

AFP

Earth’s Richest Man Bezos To Blast Off Into Space

In this file photo Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos addresses the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. Mark RALSTON / AFP
In this file photo Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos address the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re: MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. Mark RALSTON / AFP

 

Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is set to join the astronaut club Tuesday on the first crewed launch by Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for the fledgling space tourism industry.

The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly besting the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

Blue Origin’s sights are, however, set higher: both literally in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard craft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spaceplane, but also in its future ambitions.

Bezos founded Blue Origin back in 2000, with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.

Today, the company is developing a heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander it is hoping to contract to NASA under the Artemis program.

“They’ve had 15 successful New Shepard uncrewed flights and we’ve been waiting years to see when they’re going to start flying people,” Laura Forczyk, founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, told AFP, calling it an “exciting time” for enthusiasts.

New Shepard will blast off at 8:00 am Central Time (1300 GMT) on July 20 from a remote facility in the west Texas desert called Launch Site One, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the nearest town, Van Horn.

The event will be live streamed on BlueOrigin.com beginning an hour and a half before.

Richest, oldest, and youngest

Joining Bezos on the fully autonomous flight will be barrier-breaking female aviator Wally Funk, who at 82 is set to be the oldest ever astronaut, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, the company’s first paying customer, who will become the youngest astronaut.

Rounding out the four-member crew is Jeff Bezos’ brother Mark, a financier who directs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.

The pair are best friends, and Jeff shared the moment he asked his younger sibling to join him in a viral video on Instagram last month.

Notably absent is the mysterious winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight, and has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.

After lift-off, New Shepard will accelerate towards space at speeds exceeding Mach 3 using a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine with no carbon emissions.

The capsule soon separates from its booster, and the astronauts unbuckle and begin to experience weightlessness.

The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman line — the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, at 62 miles altitude (100 kilometers), as the spacecraft peaks at 65 miles high (106 kilometers).

They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet — and the inky black of the rest of the universe — from large windows that comprise a third of the cabin’s surface area.

The booster returns autonomously to a landing pad just north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes, and finally a thruster, to land gently in the west Texas desert.

Bigger prizes

Beyond the first flight, relatively little is known about Blue Origin’s future tourism plans.

The company has a history of secrecy, its existence only becoming public knowledge three years after its creation. It then pursued a policy of “self-imposed silence” until 2015.

Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin hasn’t officially started selling tickets — Daemen won his spot through the auction process. The company wants two more flights this year, then “many more” in 2022, it told AFP.

Forczyk, the analyst, said it will all depend on the level of demand that is generated by these early flights, and how well the industry recovers from accidents “which there inevitably will be, because spaceflight is inherently risky.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon, and is tying up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.

Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as NASA’s leading private sector partner, and sees New Shepard as “sort of the stepping stone and also the way to make money along the way for the greater ambition,” said Forczyk.

AFP

‘Experience Of A Lifetime’: Billionaire Branson Achieves Space Dream

Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the "experience of a lifetime" -- and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021. AFP
Sir Richard Branson speaks on stage with other crew members, after they flew into space aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism at Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021.

 

British billionaire Richard Branson flew into space Sunday aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism.

“Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far,” he said during a live feed as the VSS Unity spaceship glided back to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

It reached a peak altitude of around 53 miles (85 kilometers) — beyond the boundary of space, according to the United States — allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness and admire the Earth’s curvature.

The trip proceeded without drama, and touchdown occurred at around 9:40 am Mountain Time (1540 GMT), about an hour after take-off.

The mission’s success means Branson has beaten fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos in the race to be the first tycoon to cross the final frontier in a ship built by a company he founded.

Earlier, a massive carrier plane took off and ascended to 50,000 feet before dropping VSS Unity to complete the rest of the flight using its rocket-powered engine.

The spaceplane carried two pilots and four passengers, including Branson.

The ship then re-entered the atmosphere, lowered its flexible wings and glided back to the runway.

A smiling Branson hugged loved ones after the trip.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” the brash Brit wrote in a tweet earlier where he posted a video of himself biking to the base and meeting with his crewmates, all Virgin employees.

He also posted a picture of himself standing in a kitchen with SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who’d come to show his support.

Several tourists journeyed to the International Space Station in the 2000s, but on Russian rockets.

Branson’s official role is to evaluate the private astronaut experience to enhance the journey for future clients.

Space base

Branson, who founded the Virgin Group that today has interests in everything from commercial aviation to fitness centers, is known for his appetite for adventure and has set world records in hot air ballooning and boating.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space,” the 70-year-old wrote a few days ahead of his trip.

He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, but the dream almost came to an end in 2014 when an in-flight accident caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.

Since then, VSS Unity has successfully reached space three times, in 2018, 2019 — which included the first crew member who wasn’t a pilot — and finally in May this year.

Sunday’s flight left from Spaceport America, a huge base built in the Jornada del Muerto desert, around 20 miles southeast of the nearest town, Truth or Consequences.

Financed largely by the state of New Mexico, Virgin Galactic is the principal tenant.

Paying passengers in 2022?

After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two further flights, and then the start of regular commercial operations from early 2022. The ultimate goal is to conduct 400 flights per year.

Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries — including Hollywood celebrities — for prices ranging from $200,000 to $250,000.

And though, according to Branson, “space belongs to us all,” the opportunity for now remains the preserve of the privileged.

“When we return, I will announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become an astronaut,” he promised.

The competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent rise has been announced for years, has come to a head this month.

Bezos, the richest person in the world, is due to fly on July 20 on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Blue Origin posted an infographic Friday boasting the ways in which the experience it offers is superior.

The principal point: New Shepard climbs up to more than 60 miles in altitude, thus exceeding what is called the Karman line, the frontier of space according to international convention.

Bezos himself wished Branson “best of luck” in an Instagram post.

AFP

Two Shot Dead On Greek Resort Island Of Corfu

A file photo of Greece flag.

 

Two people were shot and killed on Sunday near a hotel on the Greek resort island of Corfu, police said.

“We got a report on gunshots being fired at 11:30 am (0830 GMT), near a hotel,” a police source in Athens said.

“The first information we have is that two people have been fatally wounded. It has yet to be confirmed by a coroner,” the officer said.

The incident occurred in the coastal resort of Dasia.

A police manhunt is underway to locate the gunman, Greek media reported.

State TV ERT had earlier reported that a local man had fired on a French couple living permanently on the island, apparently over a private dispute.

Nigeria In Safe Hands Despite Security Challenges – Lai Mohammed

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, presenting a souvenir to the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye, during a courtesy visit to the Minister by the Royal Father in Abuja on Thursday.

 

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has assured Nigerians that in spite of the current security challenges,
the country is in safe hands.

The Minister, who gave the assurance while receiving the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye, on a courtesy visit to his office in Abuja on Thursday, urged Nigerians not to succumb to the apocalyptic or doomsday predictions about the country because such predictions won’t come to pass.

He appealed to leaders at all levels to give the people a message of hope instead of making comments that can only aggravate tension.

Alhaji Mohammed stressed the critical role of traditional rulers in the maintenance of peace and security, saying they cannot and must not be ignored, as the nation seeks to restore peace and security across the country.

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Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye, during a courtesy visit to the Minister by the Royal Father in Abuja on Thursday.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the Oluyin of Iyin-Ekiti, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye, during a courtesy visit to the Minister by the Royal Father in Abuja on Thursday.

 

He appealed to Oba Ajakaiye to work with his fellow traditional rulers, as well as the Government of Ekiti State, to ensure peace and security in the state.

Responding to a request by the traditional ruler to help put the tourist sites in the town on the national and global map, the Minister pledged his readiness to leverage the media and technology to showcase and popularize the historic ‘Esa Cave’ as well as the ‘Okuta Abanijorin’ (the rock that accompanies you on your trip), both foremost tourism sites in Iyin-Ekiti, in the Irepodun/Ifelodun local
government area of Ekiti State.

”Putting the tourist sites on the national and global map will attract tourists, which will, in turn, boost the economy of not just Iyin town but indeed the entire Ekiti State,” he said.

Alhaji Mohammed, therefore, directed the Directors-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), and the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) to undertake a working visit to the two tourist sites and report back to him.

In his remarks, Oba Adeola Adeniyi Ajakaiye said Iyin-Ekiti is blessed with numerous tourist attractions that have the potentials to bring the community to the national and global limelight and create jobs for its youths. He highlighted the need for the Federal Government to leverage on the tourism industry in its drive to diversify the economy away from oil.

Lonely Christmas In Santa’s Homeland As Tourists Stay Away

The Arctic Snow Hotel is pictured on December 17, 2020 in Rovaniemi. – In Finland’s snowy far north, international visitors normally flood the Santa Claus Village amusement park, in search of reindeer rides, snow castles and a meeting with the jolly, red figure himself. (Photo by Sam KINGSLEY / AFP)

 

In Finland’s snowy far north, international visitors normally flood the Santa Claus Village amusement park, in search of reindeer rides, snow castles and a meeting with the jolly man himself.

Under the pandemic travel restrictions, however, crowds in the Lapland town of Rovaniemi have dwindled to just a trickle and the joyful winter wonderland feels ghostly and abandoned.

“It’s been an exceptional and difficult year,” Santa tells AFP from behind a plexiglass screen installed in his grotto, adding that his visitors have appreciated being able to forget a tough year and enjoy the Christmas cheer.

Those who can’t make it to Lapland can still purchase a remote one-on-one with Santa, at 79 euros ($97) for five minutes, and the service has proven popular.

“People this year have most of all asked me for happiness, health and then a bit more happiness,” although the children still want toys and games, he says.

“Santa actually had time to chat!” Andrea Karjalainen, on a short break to Rovaniemi from southern Finland with her family, tells AFP.

“You would expect that there are thousands of people now, but we’re more or less alone,” adds Teppo, her partner.

– Livelihoods in danger –

Since the 1980s, tourism chiefs have marketed the Arctic Circle town of Rovaniemi as the “real” home of Santa Claus, helping Finnish Lapland attract a record 2.9 million overnight stays last year, especially from Europe and Asia.

This year, however, visits have plummeted to half a million, most from early 2020 before the virus hit.

“The local livelihoods are really in danger,” Sanna Karkkainen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi, tells AFP.

“We’ve already got news of the first bankruptcies and there’s going to be more.”

Santa and his elf, Vanilla, read letters separated by a plexiglass screen to slow the spread of coronavirus, on December 17, 2020. (Photo by Sam KINGSLEY / AFP)

 

With Finland effectively shut off to international tourists, the impact on Lapland has been stark: 5,000 jobs and 700 million euros in revenue have already been lost, a drop of up to 70 percent, Karkkainen says.

Many businesses have tried to stay open, such as the family-run Husky Park, whose current footfall is nothing like the normal 600 international visitors a day.

“But we’ve been positively surprised that there have been home-grown tourists, and the snow here has started bringing people in the south to Lapland,” chief of operations Kristian Erkkila tells AFP over the noise of 90 huskies barking.

Behind him, a Finnish family is being helped into a sled, lined with warm reindeer fur, which is then pulled away by twelve huskies following the shouted commands of the musher.

“We’re delighted to welcome everyone, but the whole time we’re thinking what we need to do differently to be able to survive next summer,” Erkkila says, but adds that the vaccine provides “some light at the end of the tunnel”.

– Waiting for decisions –

At the nearby Santa Park underground theme park, owners Ilkka and Katja Lantinen have opted to cut their losses and reopen in winter 2021.

Their staff of 400 seasonal and permanent workers has been slashed to just 36.

That number will now be cut even further as the pair’s luxury hotel, the Arctic Treehouse, will also close for the season after the government’s promised lifting of travel restrictions did not materialise.

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“We had the team in, everybody was in really high spirits about opening the season,” Ilkka tells AFP.

“It seems our government is only capable of making decisions one month at a time. Unfortunately, we can’t live like that,” Lantinen says.

Although the Lantinens’ takings are down 98 percent this year, winter 2021 bookings are “looking really good,” assuming that the virus situation allows.

– ‘Stressing doesn’t help’ –

Half an hour away on the shore of a frozen lake, Ville Haavikko and his team are putting the final touches to the Arctic Snow Hotel, using chainsaws to carve steps and stacking thick blocks of clear ice into a wall.

“We’ve tried to keep the business running and people at work because we have permanent employees with their own families and mortgages,” Haavikko tells AFP.

Usually there would be “hundreds of customers every day” who also stay in the glass igloos hoping to glimpse the northern lights.

But all rooms are currently empty and only a handful of bookings await.

With only the domestic market available they designed a half-size snow hotel with 11 rooms — each carved with intricate ice sculptures on themes ranging from Arctic forest to circus.

Back at his grotto, Santa and his elf, Vanilla, are reading through some of the many thousands of Christmas wishlists that, despite the pandemic, children around the world have sent him.

Won’t the border closures make it difficult to deliver all those presents?

“I have brilliant news for you,” Santa laughs, “Christmas is happening this year too.”

“So remember to be good, and enjoy it safely.”

Finland Relaxes COVID-19 Rules To Boost Tourism

FILE PHOTO: Medical personnel takes test samples for the COVID-19 coronavirus from drivers at a coronavirus testing station in Salo, Southern Finland on August 18, 2020. (Photo by Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva / AFP) / Finland OUT

 

Finland will allow holidaymakers to visit the country for up to three days in order to help the struggling tourist industry, ministers announced on Friday. 

Under the new measures, travel restrictions will be eased to allow visitors from Germany, Sweden, and other countries with fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past fortnight.

Arrivals from countries with higher levels of infection, such as France and the UK, will also be admitted without quarantine requirements if they are traveling with a charter flight or organised tour group and if their stay does not exceed 72 hours.

In recent years tourist numbers in Lapland, in Finland’s far north, have grown to record levels.

Among three million overnight stays in 2018, British tourists were the largest group.

Husky sled rides, seeing the Northern Lights and a visit to the “real” Santa’s grotto are among the most popular attractions.

The Finnish government has come under heavy pressure to ease travel restrictions to help businesses in Lapland, where tourism generated one billion euros ($1.1 billion) of revenue in 2018 according to the area’s regional council.

Currently, Finland’s tight border restrictions ban arrivals from all but a handful of EU countries in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila told a press conference on Friday that the new policy “will bring clarity to the business and tourism sectors.”

“The decision takes into account safety and the needs of business.”

An official told reporters the health ministry had been “critical” of the idea of loosening border restrictions.

But “these decisions have been made based on broad cabinet discussions,” health ministry strategic director Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki said.

The country of 5.5 million has registered 337 COVID-related deaths and around 8,500 cases, though there has been an uptick in infections after the summer.

AFP