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Friday 5 December, 2008  

Good morning

The year is coming up the home straight to its certain conclusion, and the malls are filling with people who don't seem to be enjoying Christmas cheer at all, but rather are looking harried and tense while they race around buying gifts for people who many times they'd rather not buy things for, and, in turn, are anticipating getting gifts they don't want from people they don't much like.  Ah - such is the spirit of modern day Christmas.

As for me - ha!  I'm off to Budapest later today to join this year's Christmas Markets Cruise.  26 readers and I will be enjoying ourselves and experiencing an uplifting traditional Christmas season in the towns and cities along the Danube, climaxing with a lovely stay in beautiful Prague.  The Europeans seem to still be able to imbue Christmas with a positive spirit of happiness, true enjoyment and community fellowship.

This means there'll be no newsletter next week - but please do think of me, sipping a mug of gluhwein and enjoying some 'Christmas cheer', somewhere on the Danube.

On a similar topic, I've an early Christmas present for you this year.  Actually, I have 68 of them, each one worth $500-700.  Do keep reading, because this is an amazing opportunity.

I'm offering 68 of Amawaterways' 2009 cruises, all with a discount of at least $500 per person off their published prices.  In addition to my gift to you of $500 per person, you might also get a further $100 discount for being an AARP member, and yet another $100 if you're a past Amawaterways passenger.

And - here's the really good part.  This isn't some nasty last minute special on a cruise no-one wants.  This includes cruises on all 16 of their itineraries, across the European river system and extending to Russia and over to Istanbul as well.  There are cruises pretty much all year from the start of the season in April through December 2009.  No matter where you might want to go and when, there's a good chance there's a cruise saving for you!

I've prepared a lengthy page listing all the different discounted cruises, and with links to the Amawaterways site for more information.  But - please remember - to get these discounts, you have to book through me.  Amawaterways won't give them to you.

These are available for a limited time only, and there are not a lot of cabins at these prices.  So go have a look at the huge list of discounted cruises now and decide which one should be your special Christmas treat to yourself and your significant other.

I'm experimenting with a new internet service called Twitter.  If you already use Twitter, please consider 'following' me.  And if you don't already use Twitter, you're welcome to try it (it is free) and see if it is of interest.

Basically it seems to be a way of sending short text message type messages to people who may be interested in what one has to say - sort of the next step of  evolving informality beyond blogging; I'll be using it for thoughts and experiences during my travels over the next twelve days.  And I'll use it for quick preview comments on things that either don't make the weekly newsletter or to give advance notice of things prior to the newsletter.

I'm as yet undecided if it is a gimmick or a good idea, but it seems harmless enough to try.  My ID on Twitter is davidrowell - here's a direct link.

This week's feature article, on Harrison Hot Springs in Canada, spans four web pages and totals 9726 words.  To put this into perspective, it is six words for every man, woman and child living in the small town!

I was initially attracted to the town by a misunderstanding - I had wrongly thought it had hot springs all around the place, as the name implied, and as the names of many of the hotels/motels implied too, rather akin to Rotorua in New Zealand.

This turned out to be a misunderstanding.  There is only one spring, and its water is owned by the major resort in town, which gifts some of the water to a public pool, but nowhere else.  Worse still, the water is filtered to remove a lot of its mineral distinctiveness, and then it is chlorinated (yuck).

But if you're looking for an underdeveloped and unsophisticated getaway not far from Vancouver or Seattle, this is a good choice that you probably wouldn't otherwise have thought of.  And so, here is :

This Week's Feature Column :  Harrison Hot Springs, BC :  It's a sleepy little town, in a beautiful natural setting, and conveniently close to Vancouver or Seattle to make for a great weekend getaway, or an easy extension to a visit to either place.  Here's absolutely everything you'd ever want or need to know about the town.

I got a great new gadget in the mail yesterday.  Those of us with iPhones know that a big problem is its short battery life.  It is often difficult to get through a single day without needing to recharge the phone.  The newer 3G iPhone can consume its battery life even faster, particularly if you're using its high speed internet.  The inability to carry a spare charged battery and swap batteries if needed just makes things even worse.

And so, inevitably, there's an after-market solution now available.  Called a 'Mophie' this is a sleeve into which you slide your iPhone.  The sleeve contains an external battery pack that doubles the battery life of your phone.  Simple, effective, ingenious.  It is $100, and available from Amazon and doubtless elsewhere too.  Note the Amazon link also shows a lower priced unit from Kensington, which is not as functional or well designed and doesn't add as much extra charge, but might be adequate if you're searching for an emergency top-up unit.

In addition to these battery extenders for iPhones, they're designing them for iPod Touch players too, and hopefully they might also come up with units for other battery-challenged phones like the T-Mobile G1.

As you may have noticed, battery life is currently precariously balanced between, on the one hand, new devices which require more battery power to drive their larger brighter color displays and faster CPUs, and on the other hand, battery technology which is only slowly moving forwards and struggling (not always successfully) to keep pace with the increasing power needs of the latest and greatest gadgets.  The last big 'breakthrough' - Lithium powered batteries - have now become a relatively mature technology, and until the next big breakthrough occurs, there will be an increasing need for clever devices such as this Mophie battery extender sleeve.

Mind you, let's not take the advances that have occurred for granted.  I got a new camcorder yesterday, in time for the upcoming cruise (what's next - Travel Insider videos on YouTube? - wait and see.....) and, as I always do, marveled at the increased miniaturization and sophistication of the unit.  This latest unit, with tiny sized batteries that last an amazingly long time, has as its major claim to fame the ability to record its video onto flash cards.  It doesn't use tape, and neither does it use a hard drive.  This allows it to be much smaller, and saves a lot on battery life, too.  The only moving parts now are the optics.

I still remember the sense of pride in my first ever camcorder - it was one of those ones you hefted onto your shoulder to use, and its battery packs alone were larger and weighed much more than a complete camcorder does today (while providing dismayingly short battery life - one had to travel with three or four for a day of intermittent use).

One last gadget thing - I am eagerly looking forward to my flights today, because I think I've found a game changing new set of noise cancelling headphones that promise to knock the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones off their 'best of breed' perch.  If you're considering buying some high end headphones for yourself or someone else this Christmas, wait until I have a chance to comment on these amazing new Sony MDR-NC500D Digital Noise Cancelling Headphones.  Their new twist on the noise cancelling concept is to use a digital signal processor rather than an analog feedback loop.  My testing on the ground suggests them to be extraordinary, but the acid test will come on the flight this evening.  I'll post a twitter message as soon as I'm off the flight on Saturday summarizing my findings.

And what a change that will be for me.  My usual headphone review runs maybe 2000 words or more.  A Twitter message is limited to 140 characters.  I might have to cheat and split my review summary into two Twitter messages!

Blast from the Past :  Appropriately enough, this time in 2001 I was writing a review of the Bose Quiet Comfort noise cancelling headphones.  They've now been superseded by the significantly improved Quiet Comfort 2, and Bose has also come out with a different design Quiet Comfort 3 (on the ear rather than over the ear) headphone, although I feel it to be not quite as good as the Quiet Comfort 2.

In 2002 I was talking about the threat posed by man-portable surface to air missiles, a threat which remains in place to this day, but which mercifully hasn't manifested itself in a tangible reality.  Yet.

And in 2003 I offered a Christmas Gift Giving Guide - I'd hoped to do one this year but somehow a time warp compressed the time between 'too soon for a gift guide' and 'too late for one'.  Sadly, all the items suggested in 2003 are either obsolete or no longer products I can recommend, so I'm not even going to link to that, but if you use a bit of cleverness, I'm sure you could track it down if for some strange reason you wanted to.

A question to you :  I've been offering these blasts from the past for a month or so now.  Do you like them?  Let me know and I'll either continue them or stop them.

Please simply click on the link below to let me know one way or the other, and if you've no strong feeling either way, simply don't bother responding.  Clicking on the link will send me an empty email with your answer automatically coded into the subject line.

Yes, please continue your Blasts from the Past
No, please focus on today's issues, not those of 5, 6 and 7 years ago

Dinosaur watching :  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Or, in airline terms, which is driving the other?  The airlines' capacity cuts, or the drops in passenger numbers?  Seems to me they're both chasing each other at present, and - surprise, surprise - the airline's pride at their 'clever' move of reducing capacity so as to force people to pay higher fares is being exposed as the nonsense that it always promised to be.

The airlines had earlier claimed that the reason they were not profitable was because there were too many flights and too many unsold seats on these flights, forcing them to discount their fares to get people to fill the planes.  And so, their solution was to reduce the number of flights they operated, believing this would force people into paying higher fares (that was the bit I never understood or accepted, and was based on the airlines' persistent refusal to accept that passengers will buy more travel if fares are low, but less travel if fares are high).

Before looking at the success of their strategy (or, should I say, abject failure), let's just keep in mind that at the same time the airlines were complaining about too many flights, their flights were departing with more sold seats than ever before in aviation history.

Anyway, this year has seen regular reductions in airline capacity, and matching reductions in passenger numbers, without any clear lifts in average fares sold, other than that brought about by air fare increases.

The latest results fail to show much good coming from this 'shrink to succeed' philosophy.  For November, American Airlines reported a 19.3% drop in domestic revenue passenger miles and a 15% drop in capacity, with a resulting load factor of planes averaging 77.7% full.

United had a similar result - an 18.3% drop in domestic RPMs and a more closely matching 17% drop in capacity, for a 79.1% load factor.  Continental also was closely the same - a domestic drop of 15% in RPMs and a 12.4% reduction in capacity, making for a 80.6% load factor.

Even Southwest had a bad month, with a drop of 8.3% in passenger numbers on unchanged capacity, making for a much more comfortable 63.2% load factor.  But this 8.3% drop is about half the drop at AA, CO and UA - even in bad times, Southwest continues to pull ahead of the pack.

Things are a little better in Canada.  Air Canada had a mere 4.4% drop in RPMs (and a 7.3% cut in capacity), and rival airline Westjet reported a massive 14% increase in RPMs, with a matching 14% increase in capacity too.

So, what does this tell us?  Empirically, the airlines with the biggest capacity cuts lost the most passengers, more or less matching their capacity cuts, while those with the least capacity cuts (Southwest and Air Canada) had the least drops in passengers, and the airline that added extra flights experienced matching increases in passenger numbers.

Okay, so I'm massively oversimplifying things.  Of course there's more at play than a simple and direct correlation between capacity cuts/increases and matching passenger losses/gains, but it does suggest the airline's 'Anti Field of Dreams' concept (ie 'If we close down a ball park, people will pay more to go to the other ball parks') is as flawed as it intuitively always seemed to be.

Here's a simple lesson for the airlines - high fares and fewer flights discourage passengers from flying.

Airlines should be laughing all the way to the bank at present, and airfares should be at historic lows.

Oil is now below $50 a barrel, at prices the lowest of any time in the last four years, and is continuing to drop further.  At the same time, the airlines have massively improved their cost structures.  Fewer staff are employed, those that remain are necessarily working harder but earning less, reducing airline labor costs (which along with fuel are the two biggest costs for any airline).

With planes operating with substantially more passengers on each flight than ever before, the airlines are enjoying the opposite of a 'perfect storm' - their fuel costs are way down (AA is expected to save $3.5 billion on its fuel bill next year, and similar numbers will apply to the other airlines), their staff costs are way down, their efficiencies are way up, and - let's not forget - they're now providing fewer free services than ever before, and charging outrageous sums for everything that was formerly free.

So get ready for humungous profits from the airlines - at least in theory.  At present the airlines don't have a single thing to complain about except dwindling passenger numbers, and with all the other positive factors above, a few less passengers either doesn't matter, or can readily be brought back by adding flights and dropping fares.

And, can I mention again, can we please see those fuel surcharges dropped?  Every fuel surcharge added over the last four years should now be zeroed out.

A similar request should be made to the cruise lines, too; who are showing themselves to be no more eager to give back their fuel surcharges than the airlines.  They're responding to the drop in fuel by converting the money you pay in a fuel surcharge to a 'ship board credit'.  Am I alone in wishing not to have to pay this at all, and then being free to decide how many overpriced tours and drinks I buy on board, or not?

As an aside - my good friends at Amawaterways never added a fuel surcharge, and similarly never added an exchange rate surcharge either - not even in the darkest days of July when oil was $150 and the Euro was $1.60.  That shows a rare high-mindedness that should be honored by us if/when we choose to take a European river cruise in the future.

Travel agents fight back.  In the US, when airlines started cutting back on travel agent commissions in a series of steps that ended up in their virtually complete elimination, travel agents weakly protested, but ineffectually and with no result.  The result now is the massive inequity that travel agents get paid nothing by airlines for selling their tickets.

In India, the major Indian airlines have just announced they will stop paying Indian travel agents a 5% commission on ticket sales.  But the Indian travel agencies aren't taking this lying down.  Instead, they have announced they will refuse to sell tickets on the largest of the Indian airlines, Jet Airways.  Being as how travel agents represent something like 90% of all ticket sales for Jet Airways, and right around 90% of all travel agencies have agreed to honor the boycott, it will be interesting to see what happens next.  More details here.

Good on them - I wish them luck.  It has always struck me as ridiculously unfair that travel agents are not paid for all the work and hassle they go to on behalf of the airlines to sell airline tickets.  What other industry fails to pay the key retail outlet of their product/service?

Here's an interesting strategy :  Nevada is struggling with the impacts of dropping tourist numbers.  Fewer tourists not only mean less revenue for the hotels and casinos (and restaurants, bars, taxis, airlines, airports, and so on all the way through the Nevada economy) but also mean less sales tax and gaming tax receipts for the state.

Six days before Nevada's annual tourism conference was to be held - an event that you'd think would be of increased importance this year - the state decided to cancel it.  Officials felt it wouldn't be prudent to hold the conference at a time when money was tight.  More details here.  Politicians seemed unanimous in agreeing this was a good idea.

As for me, I think it to be criminally stupid and short sighted.

Airline mergers continue apace.  Lufthansa's board has agreed to the purchase of Austrian Airlines, and - having had its offer for Alitalia spurned - is also creating its own Italian airline too.

Lufthansa's acquisition streak also includes Brussels Airlines and BMI - when it has completed the acquisition of all these carriers it will become Europe's largest airline, surpassing Air France/KLM and British Airways.

Except that BA isn't just sitting back and watching LH grow.  Currently BA is trying to create some sort of vague 'tie-up' with American Airlines, plus it is attempting to buy Spain's Iberia.  And then, this week, immediately after the Australian government said it would lift the cap on foreign ownership of Qantas from 25% to 49%, BA announced a desire to merge with Qantas, too (interestingly, prior to that announcement, Qantas had an appreciably larger market capitalization than BA).

BA said it wished to consummate all three deals, and that they weren't 'either/or' scenarios.  But apparently Iberia is now feeling a bit unloved, because it publicly told BA that it must choose between either itself or Qantas, claiming it would be too complex to pursue both deals.

That's strange reasoning from Iberia, and if I were them, I'd not force BA to choose between me and Qantas.  My guess is that BA would sensibly seize Qantas in a nanosecond if it had to choose between the two carriers.

Qantas and BA have enjoyed an on-again/off-again relationship and ownership link for years.  For a while in the late 1990s/early 2000s BA owned 25% of Qantas, then successively sold if off, and for the last four years has had no equity interest, preferring instead to partner with Qantas through the Oneworld alliance (Iberia and American are also Oneworld members).

Another on-again/off-again deal is Ryanair's desire to buy Aer Lingus.  While it is common to describe Aer Lingus as a rival to Ryanair, there's really not a lot of direct competition, and if Ryanair were to buy Aer Lingus, rather than eliminating a competitor, it would instead be adding an entire new dimension to its route system, including flights to the US, which is something that Ryanair likes to posture about seeking, while doing nothing to actually further its expressed desires.

Ryanair's earlier offer to buy Aer Lingus was greeted with horror and alarm by both the airline and its current 25% owner, the Irish government.  Ryanair's earlier offer of 2.80 a share, made in 2006, did not succeed, with Ryanair withdrawing its bid and the EU finding that Ryanair buying Aer Lingus would be anti-competitive.

However, Ryanair did get 29.8% of Aer Lingus, and now has offered 1.40 a share to buy the airline.  The airline is negative about it, but the Irish government isn't quite as negative about the offer as it was last time, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds.

Lastly on the topic of airline mergers, here's an amusing case of what surely must be the pot calling the kettle black.  Delta, fresh from completing its merger with Northwest, is now complaining about Continental wishing to work more closely with United Airlines.

While I'm not keen on further collusion between airlines that are supposedly competitors, it is surely the height of hypocrisy for recently merged DL/NW to complain about CO attempting to weakly copy some of the same strategies.

Some interesting mini-facts.  After US Airways started charging $15 to check a first bag, the number of bags checked dropped by 20%.  At American, the result was similar, with a 17% drop in checked bags.

And talking about bags, it seems that luggage scales are being subjected to increasing scrutiny everywhere in the country.  The latest airport to be tested was Tucson, with all the luggage scales at both Delta's and United's counters failing tests.  The last tests were in 2004, so perhaps this isn't astonishing.

As at other airports in other states, the Department of Weights and Measures declined to say if scales were favoring the airlines or passengers.  Why don't they tell us that?

Chris Elliott wrote an article 'Nine Ways to Tell if Your Travel Agent is Crooked'.  While I don't disagree that some travel agents are crooked (happily most aren't), I think his article over-simplifies some issues and don't accept all nine of his ways are necessarily valid.  If you're interested, you might like to match his article with my quick responses below, which only really make sense when read in conjunction with his article.

1.  A requirement for cash might be because the actual supplier of the travel items requires payment in cash from the travel agent.  There can be bona fide reasons for requiring cash, and when a travel agent makes perhaps a 10% commission, and a net profit of less than 1%, they can't afford to absorb a 3% credit card fee.

2.  Completely disagree.  Do you know how much your realtor stands to make when presenting you houses for you to potentially buy?  Does he disclose 'this house earns me 3% commission, but that house earns me only 2.5% commission, and this house over there gives me a $2000 cash bonus if I encourage you to make a full price offer'?  Do you know how much your mortgage broker makes on the loan he finds for you?  And when you go to buy something at a store, do you ask (and are you told?) what bonuses and incentives exist for the store salesman on the different brands of, eg, big screen tv that you're looking at?  Bonuses and overrides are many times required to be kept confidential by the travel supplier, who does not want the travel agent disclosing that information (I say this as both a former travel supplier and travel agent).  And, in many cases, individual travel agents don't know the details of commission overrides and bonuses that are negotiated by the agency owner/manager and suppliers.

3.  Anyone can join ASTA just by paying their fee.  An IATAN card is similarly offered to any travel agent who works close to full-time for an IATAN accredited agency (and the IATAN accreditation is a trivial once-off thing when an agency is first formed, and subsequently apart from requiring a slightly skilled agency manager, is not repeated).  Many of the other 'certifications' are laughably trivial in terms of their requirements to earn them.  A person who relies on paperwork to 'prove' their expertise is seldom likely to be as skilled as the person who exudes competence from every pore, based on actual experience.

5.  I agree, but add the rider to this that of course travel agents can't be experts on every destination, and it is naive to expect they are or could be (even though some travel agents claim to be such experts themselves!).  Either accept their limitations in terms of specific destination knowledge and use their skills for finding reliable suppliers and good prices, or use a different specialty travel agent for every place you go.

6.  The Better Business Bureau is a self-appointed arbiter of not very much, and having a 'rap sheet' (that's hardly a neutral term to use!) doesn't necessarily mean anything at all other than a company that refuses to be bullied by the BBB.

9.  I've never heard of an agent saying 'no need to read the insurance policy, it'll cover you', which is not to say it hasn't happened.  And while insurance commissions can sometimes be high (but often aren't), the reality is that travel agents must offer insurance to you to protect themselves.  I've known agents who have been sued by clients who say 'you never offered us travel insurance, and if you had, of course we'd have bought it, but you didn't, so we didn't, and now we have this $5000 (or whatever) cost that would have otherwise been covered, so therefore, you owe us the $5000'.  See my two part article on travel insurance for more discussion on this important topic.

From time to time, the concept of a flying car emerges, and here's another such recent re-appearance.

But let's not forget that, once upon a time, there actually were flying cars.  Okay, not many of them, but some.  And a few are still to be found.  If you'd like your own flying car, there's one of the original Aerocars currently available for sale on eBay.  However, it is, ahem, somewhat costly!

Oh dear - passengers stuck on a plane, on the tarmac, for nine hours.

What would you do if you were stuck on a plane for nine hours?  Usually we're never told that we'll be sitting there for nine hours.  Instead, we're spoonfed delays, half an hour at a time, so that we're all tricked into thinking 'it is silly to make a fuss now, if I'm patient for just another 30 minutes, we'll finally get going'.  Which is of course exactly what the airline wants you to think.

I've often wondered what I'd do in such a case.  My current 'best idea' is to fake a medical emergency.  If one suddenly starts feeling short of breath and having chest pains, but it subsequently turns out not to be a heart attack, well, I guess it was just a stress attack that left no signs.....

Do you have any pet strategies to get off a plane that you're being held captive on, while an airport gate is tantalizingly visible, less than 100 yds away?

Let me know if you've any suggestions.

Oh - there's a bit of good news about being trapped on planes.  The Department of Transportation is considering making this something you can locally sue airlines about.  The airlines say this would be a big mistake, which makes me think it is probably an excellent idea.  Let's hope it comes to pass.

Remember when oil prices were way high, the airlines and various others including our political leaders had a stab at blaming 'speculators' for artificially inflating the price of oil.

I said, at the time, this was nonsense.  Now that oil is below $50 a barrel, those claims have quietened back down again, as indeed they should.  But here's a very interesting article about oil speculation which says there's more 'real' speculation in oil now than there was when it was three times today's price.

I guess, if you've got a spare storage facility that could hold a few million barrels of oil, now might be a good time to fill it.  Unless, of course, you agree with the projections that suggest oil could drop as low as $25/barrel before recovering.

This Week's Security Horror Story :  It goes without saying that you know about the terrorist attack on Mumbai last week.  And now, predictably, some commentators are proclaiming that up-market international hotels are a magnet for terrorists, and are calling for improved security measures at such establishments.  They've got some valid points about why hotels are indeed attractive targets for terrorists - for example, see this article.

But what about increased security measures at hotels?  Alas, it is dangerously naive to think this would be even remotely possible.  Unless we make hotels as secure (or more so!) than airplanes and airports, there'll always be the back door as well as the front door, and many other unsecured means of hotel access.  Staff will have to be screened as well as guests, and staff will have to be security checked before being hired.  Every shipment of anything, and every delivery to a hotel will have to be inspected.  Guest cars, taxis, delivery vans, etc, would all have to be stopped well short of the hotel entrance and carefully searched before being allowed to approach closer.  This would be a nightmare in every respect.

However, even if all this was rigidly enforced, it would be totally useless.  When the terrorists attacked the Taj hotel in Mumbai, they broke in through a back door, and quickly encountered a security officer and his dog.  It could be said that hotel security was effective in this situation.

But what did the terrorists do?  Surrender meekly?  Turn around and run away?  No.  They simply shot both the officer and his dog, and continued their attack.

Nothing - other than twenty heavily armed security people alertly guarding every entrance and vulnerable point - can realistically defend a hotel against a group of ten determined terrorists who don't care about being discovered, don't mind killing anyone who stands in their way, and who simply want to invade a space full of people and kill as many of them as possible before being, in turn, killed.

I've stayed at hotels with 'security', and am thinking in particular of the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul that I stayed at late last year.  To enter the hotel we had to go through a metal detector, and our carry-on bags had to be X-rayed, just like at an airport.  Sounds good and secure?  No, not at all.

Quite apart from all the unprotected access points, I'm not certain what sort of inspection, if any, was given to our main large suitcases!  And, having our carry-on items go through the X-ray machine?  A great idea in theory, but many times, no-one was watching the monitor screen to see whatever images might appear on the screen as items went through the machine!  Plus, if the metal detector did beep, you'd usually be waved on through without having to stop and submit to further searching.  Lastly, later in the evening, the security people would sometimes turn everything off entirely and abandon all pretense at screening people entering the hotel, especially if they recognized you as a current guest.

Don't get me wrong.  I agree that hotels are tempting targets for terrorists.  But I can't see anything that can effectively change that, short of turning them into oppressive prisons - complete with the high walls, barbed wire, and watchtowers manned by heavily armed guards and searchlights.

I don't want to be subjected to another layer of security charade that would be even more meaningless than those imposed on us at airports.  At least airports are moderately 'hardened', and have spent millions of dollars on securing their entire facility, and have reduced (but not eliminated) their vulnerabilities.  Hotels are none of these things; they've been designed to be open, easily accessible, well laid out for people moving in and out and through, and welcoming.

But, then again, I've less to fear than most of you.  I'm going to start making a point of taking my New Zealand passport when I travel in the future!

Enough gloom.  Particularly with the festive season upon us, here's a nice positive note to close on.

Please remember, there'll be no newsletter next week, while I'm in Europe.  But look for a resumption of normal newsletters the following week, on 19 December.

Until then, please enjoy safe travels, and keep smiling

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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