Cab strike hits Greece during holiday season

ATHENS: Greece is going through an exceptionally tough summer: Severely squeezed by its debt crisis, it is now in the grip of a high-profile taxi strike at the height of the busy tourism season.

The country – and by extension, all visitors – has been deprived of taxi services since mid-July from a walkout by cab owners who oppose a government deregulation drive demanded by Greece’s international creditors.

In addition to refusing to carry passengers, the strikers dealt further damage by blocking highways and disrupting access to airports and harbours around the country in the first round of their action.

They later toned down the picketing but are threatening to return to the offensive if the government refuses to satisfy their demands.

“I can’t control these people,” union leader Thymios Lyberopoulos told Alter channel this week, adding that he got “goosebumps” when thinking about what irate cab owners might do to resist the reform which they say will put them out of business.

The strikers changed tactics last week, letting drivers through highway toll booths and opening ticket offices at the Acropolis and Olympia to let tourists in for free, but this costs the cash-strapped state valuable income.

The sector is generally despised in Greece for constantly demanding higher fares while failing to offer improved services. It has taken authorities years to get cabbies to give receipts and stop smoking in their cars.

And the protesters made no friends in Piraeus Thursday after they tried to block tourist coaches exiting the harbor, dropped oil on the road to fend off police, and threw stones at a private television station.

The strike began after a new transport minister appointed in June ditched an earlier draft reform agreed by his predecessor with unions that would have capped the number of taxi licences based on population in each region.

Talks at the ministry Friday failed to break the deadlock.

“The minister heard our demands but gave no reply. The strike will unfold as planned until we get a pledge [from the government],” Lyberopoulos said Friday.

Taxi owners argue that full liberalisation will cause a cabbie glut and sink the value of their operating licenses, which used to change hands for six-figure sums.

About 8,000 taxi owners protested in Athens Tuesday according to police estimates. One of the banners they raised in front of parliament was a direct threat of last-ditch resistance to Prime Minister George Papandreou.

“Mr Prime Minister, we got [our taxis] with blood, you will only take them back with blood,” it said.

More than 1.2 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in revenue has been lost at the main port of Piraeus which was blockaded in the first week of the strike, forcing cruise ships to cancel tours and seek alternative ports, Greek media reported.

A Greek trader lobby group said that although tourist arrivals were up this year, the taxi strike had already significantly affected takings.

“There is a 10-15 percent increase in arrivals but there is also a 10-percent fall in tourism spending,” said Vassilis Korkidis, head of the Greek confederation of commerce.

“I just came back from Rhodes where many tourists are stuck in their hotels,” he told AFP.

The government has sought to play for time, offering further talks with the taxi owners’ union in return for a summer truce.

Papandreou this week appealed to the strikers to “be conscious of the negative effects of their mobilization during a critical period for tourism, the country’s economic life and citizens.”

And the government avoided another labor front opening in the nick of time.

Air traffic controllers this week threatened to strike in August over four months of unpaid overtime, threatening disruption at regional airports.

Senior officials rushed to settle the issue and the mobilisation was called off, for the time being.

Greece’s travel sector, which makes up around a fifth of the economy, needs extra revenue from foreigners this year.

Because a recession fuelled by crash austerity measures has bitten into Greeks’ spare income, domestic tourism is down 20 percent this summer according to Greek tourism and hotel operators.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have demanded sweeping deregulation in various Greek labor sectors in exchange for loans needed to save Athens from defaulting on its debt.


Get a taste of Greece in London

GET a taste of Greece at Westfield Shopping Centre in west London from March
19 to 27.

The cast of hit stage musical Mamma Mia! will be putting on live performances.
The centre will also showcase Greece’s attractions, from wines and cocktails
to archaeology, and serve delicacies prepared by Greek chefs. See eugreeka.com/visit-greece-at-westfield-london.


THE first tourists to visit Tunisia following the revolution are arriving
home. All seems to have gone well.

Thomas Cook – first to initiate a rescue programme to evacuate holidaymakers
in January – were the first tour operator flying back there.


FAMILIES are booking their main holidays in August – but they could save up to
772 if they went in the May half-term, a new report has found.

This year 85 per cent will take their main holiday in August, a study of more
than 17,000 bookings by Co-operative Travel shows. Many families have to
take their holidays during school breaks but by switching it to the
half-term, those with school-age children could save 193 per person.

Trevor Davis, from The Co-operative Travel, said: “With this research, we’re
helping families to make an informed choice to get the most for their
holiday budget.”


Central Holidays takes their agent training program on the road

Tour Operator to Italy and the Mediterranean, Central Holidays continues to enhance their training programs for traditional and home-based travel agents with more in-destination familiarization opportunities than ever. The company recently hosted nearly 200 travel agents on a variety of familiarization trips in cooperation with the Italian tourist offices of Piedmont, Como, Brescia and Mantova.

“At Central Holidays, we truly feel that there is no better way to acquire insight about a destination than experiencing it hands-on,” said Fred Berardo, Chairman and CEO of Central Holidays. “We are thrilled to further demonstrate our commitment to the travel agent community by making it easier than ever for them to acquire insight about the destinations we so passionately serve via this highly effective form of training.”

Working closely with the various tourist offices of the regions showcased on each itinerary, Central Holidays chartered a NEOS 767 that traveled from New York’s JFK to Milan Italy and back from June 19-24. Travel agents then divided into seven groups to explore and enjoy the unique itineraries developed for them by Central Holidays’ destination specialists. The groups were accompanied by seven Central Holidays staff including several of the company’s top-level executives: President and CEO Fred Berardo, Chief Operating Officer Gianni Miradoli, Director of Marketing Ester Lorusso, and Vice President of Groups Department Sergio Bigini.

Four of the groups, including approximately 150 agents and 10 travel journalists participated in an extensive program throughout the blossoming region of Piemonte where Central Holidays announced an alliance with the town of Sordevolo. As part of the alliance, Central Holidays has been named the key tour operator partner for upcoming events of the acclaimed “Passione Di Cristo” of Sordevolo, the renowned passion play (similar to Germany’s Oberammergau) performed every five years in Sordevolo, Italy with its next events in 2015 – four times a week from June through September). During the alliance announcement event, Central Holidays officially unveiled its newest DVD, showcasing the Passion of Christ in Sordevolo that travel agents, group planners, and religious group leaders can request as a sales support tool. Additionally, the town of Sordevolo’s Mayor and Minister of Tourism announced the town’s commitment to creating a strong presence in the USA, Canada, Central America and South America and their plan to establish a dedicated office to service these markets.

Fam participants to Piedmont were able to experience the virtually limitless range of features that this emerging travel destination offers… Amazing Gastronomy – from its famed wines Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, and Asti to delicious regional cuisine including its acclaimed white truffles, hazelnuts, chocolate, cheeses, rice varieties and more; Captivating religious and pilgrimage sites such as Sordevolo and the Sanctuary of Oropa with its iconic Black Madonna; Cultural and Experiential offerings including cooking class programs, wine tastings in centuries old cellars, opportunities to explore castles, museums, and more. Ideal for couples, groups of friends and family, as well as larger groups, agents who joined us on this trip can now share their excitement for the region of Piemonte to increase their sales to this fascinating region.

“Our goal is to make doing business with Central Holidays easy and profitable for agents, as such, we offer an ongoing range of training opportunities and a comprehensive array of travel programs – All commissionable to agents,” said Berardo. “As we continue to deliver the high quality, value-packed travel programs that fulfill your travelers’ wishes, our product development team is busy developing and introducing new programs in line with feedback from customers and industry trends, and aggressively negotiating with suppliers to help agents boost bookings.”

Beyond the recent trips, Central Holidays coordinates a number of other familiarization opportunities for agents each year. Agents can look forward to hearing about Central Holidays’ upcoming educational familiarization trips to Italy and Greece, Greece, Turkey, Spain, European River Cruises, and more. The company’s dedicated Travel Agent Sales Team also conducts a series webinars online and seminars for travel agents in cities across the U.S., and participates in travel industry trade shows to help agents gain the most knowledge about the destinations they offer, benefits of working with Central Holidays, and ways they can maximize their earnings.

Founded in 1972, Central Holidays offers superior travel programs, value and service to enchanting destinations throughout Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, plus dozens of Mediterranean and European River Cruise itineraries and worldwide Ski programs.


Travellers to Greece warned to check insurance as disruption continues

Holidaymakers going to Greece this summer should check with their travel insurer that they are covered for expenses incurred because of wildcat strikes and other protests.

In the past two months, Athenians have held several strikes and protested on the streets against austerity measures designed to set the country’s economy back on track, and following the bailout measures announced last week it is possible these will continue.

Although the protests have not affected holiday bookings to the country, Rochelle Turner, head of research for Which? Holiday said people planning to travel there during the next few weeks should double-check with their insurance companies that they are covered in the event of anything going wrong.

She said: “If insurance companies feel that something has been going on for a long time, it becomes a ‘known event’ – people need to check whether they will be covered if they can’t get to hotels because of a strike.”

Cruise companies had been having trouble getting taxi drivers to take their travellers off ships, she said, while backpackers had found they could not get ferries because of strike action.

“You might be able to argue that wildcat strikes were not expected on the islands, because it hasn’t happened there previously. But if you are in Athens it’s perhaps quite predictable. Holidaymakers need to be aware that they might not be able to claim for expenses when they get back home,” she said.

Bob Atkinson of price comparison site Travelsupermarket said people taking package holidays which included transfers by ferry or some other form of public transport should be protected by the Atol travel insurance scheme and their tour operator should make alternative arrangements if necessary.

But those who have made their own travel plans need to read the small print on their policies.

For example, not all policies pay out for missed inbound flights to the UK as well as outbound ones. “Many only cover missed departures from the UK, not back,” he said.

Even those who are covered should check with their insurer before committing to any extra expense: they especially should not try taking pre-emptive action, such as staying the night in a hotel near the airport, without checking with the insurer first.

“Imagine if the strike didn’t happen,” said Atkinson. “Even if it did, you will have to prove there was a strike and get confirmation from the ferry company that it wasn’t operating.

“It’s better to ring the 24-hour number and saying ‘this is the situation, this is what I would like to do, can you authorise it?’. Make sure you take down the time, what was said and who you spoke to for verification later on.”

Aviva, one of the UK’s biggest insurers, agreed, saying that provided you are travelling by public transport to the airport, and so long as you did not know about the strike before buying the policy, you should be covered for the cost of missing an international departure.

Esure spokesman Adrain Webb said: “So long as [the holiday] is not booked via a tour operator, it will be covered up to £800 under the mis-departure section of the policy and we’ll pay for any reasonable hotel costs too.”


Holidays 4 U: latest in a long line of failed holiday firms


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Timeline of recent collapses among tour operators.

August 2011 Administrators are appointed to Holidays 4 U. The airline, which specialised in trips to Turkey and turned over £35 million last year, leaves 12,800 holidaymakers abroad, with a further 50,000 people thought to have bookings with the company. Ian Oakley-Smith, joint administrator and director at PricewaterhouseCooper, said the company’s failure was triggered “as a result of the economic downturn”.

July 2011 Hertfordshire tour-operator Dream Holidays ceases trading after general strikes in Greece cause a sharp fall in bookings. The collapse of the company, which also flew to Cyprus and Egypt, affected over 2,000 customers, 525 of whom were on holiday at the time.

August 2010 London-based operator Flight Options and its main trading arm Kiss Travel collapse, affecting around 70,000 customers who had booked flights to the Mediterranean and leaving 13,000 holidaymakers overseas. The administration of Flight Options came only a week after Birmingham-based operator Sun4U went bust owing to “sustained poor trading” as a result of volcanic ash, affecting some 10,000 people.

July 2010 Medium-sized operator Gold Trail Travel became the 11th holiday firm to collapse that year when it left around 16,000 holidaymakers abroad and cancelled a further 110,000 bookings. Specialising in low-cost holidays to Turkey and Greece, the Surrey-based operator had been accused in a BBC report of supplying customers with substandard accommodation and collapsed in what the Civil Aviation Authority called “a highly unusual failure”.

September 2008 XL, Britain’s third largest tour operator, collapses, affecting more than 285,000 holidaymakers. Despite securing a financial rescue package earlier in the year, the West Sussex-based operator went into administration with 85,000 people at 50 destinations in the US, the Caribbean and Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURTRUSDnews) .

August 2008 Zoom, set up in 2002 as a low-fare transatlantic airline, goes into administration. The long-haul operator blamed the “unprecedented increase in the price of aviation fuel and the economic crisis” for the collapse, which affected 40,000 people.


Boost for TUI as holidaymakers opt for all-inclusive deals

TUI Travel said more holidaymakers were opting for packages that included meals, which are perceived as offering better value. They accounted for 46 per cent of its sales so far in 2011, compared to 44 per cent the previous year, according to a trading update yesterday.

The number of summer holidays booked by UK customers were down 2 per cent since its last update in May, but the company said this was a “particularly pleasing” performance, given the weak consumer sentiment. And its average selling price was up 4 per cent, driven by the rise in all-inclusive deals.

UK consumers have been cutting back on holidays in recent months amid the financial gloom. Rival Thomas Cook has warned on profits three times in the past year and chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa resigned earlier this month.

TUI’s overall sales in the three months to 30 June were up 13 per cent to £3.8 billion while underlying profits rose 57 per cent to £88 million, as it benefited from the later Easter this year.

The group was also helped by weaker comparatives against the previous year, when flights were disrupted by the Icelandic ash cloud.

However, the north African market was taking longer than expected to recover after the recent uprisings, TUI noted. The firm has focused more on holidays to destinations such as Spain, Greece and Turkey, as an alternative.

As well as choosing more all-inclusive holidays, UK consumers are also reducing the length of get-aways to save on cash.

The firm reported a 24 per cent rise in ten- or 11-night stays, while one-week trips were up by 4 per cent. It also said sales of its exclusive holidays, which can only be booked in its shops or on its website, were up 15 per cent.<!—
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Brits pay up to £4725 for a hospital visit abroad

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Maddy to romance Bipasha in Greece

Maddy is in no hurry to sign movies. The actor takes a lot of care in choosing the roles and pens his name on the dotted lines only if he can do justice to the role given to him. His last film in Hindi, ‘Tanu Weds Manu,’ a romantic comedy saw him sharing screen space with Kangana and was a blockbuster, thereby garnering good reviews for the actor as a solo hero in Bollywood.

Maddy has now signed another Bollywood flick titled ‘Shadhi Fast Forward’ and Bipasha Basu will be Maddy’s lover girl in this film. Directed by Ashwani Choudary the team will soon travel to Greece to begin shooting.

This is the first time that Maddy and Bips will be getting together to play leads, and with an unpredictable subject for a story, the film is bound to get interesting as it progresses.

Meanwhile back home, Maddy’s upcoming Tamil film ‘Vettai’ is gearing up for a Diwali release. Directed by Linguswamy the film will see Maddy, Arya, Sameera Reddy and Amala Paul in the film. Cinematography is by Nirav Shah and music is by Yuvan.

The recently released ‘Vettai’ trailers that showcases Maddy as a cop has received tremendous response…


Summer’s-end travel deals to grab while you can!

(CBS News)

With the economy faltering, many Americans are cutting back on vacations.

But as summer draws to an end, there are great deals to be had at home and, especially, abroad, where the dollar is strong.

On “The Early Show” Friday, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg pointed the way to travel bargains for the cost-conscious.

He says, “Many people either have already traveled for the summer, or the recent economic hits have forced many to cancel trips. law of supply and demand has kicked in, and with many school systems starting back in august, there’s a lot of sudden excess capacity out there.”

AIRLINES

AirTran‘s fall sale ends today, but if you want to fly to Florida, you can fly from Tampa to San Francisco from $134 each way; Sarasota to San Francisco from $147 each way; and Fort Myers to San Francisco from $151 each way.

American Airlines‘ European sale is going on until August 31. Depart August 14 – October 27, 2011, and return by November 24, 2011. Mid-week departures and a Saturday-night stay may be required.

Sample rates:

Boston to Heathrow, September 14-21, 2011 is $643 including all taxes and fees.

JFK to Brussels, September 8-15, 2011 is $859 including all taxes and fees.

Continental‘s Latin America sale includes fares like Chicago to Cancun for $365.53 from September 13-20, 2011; Orlando to Puerto Vallarta for $537 from September 12-19, 2011.

Delta has deals to Europe if you purchase by August 15, 2011. Fly from Atlanta to Frankfurt from $469 each way or New York to Heathrow from $339 each way. Travel must begin August 22-October 28, 2011 and be completed by November 28, 2011. A 14-day advance purchase and Saturday-night stay is required.

CRUISES

The Celebrity Millenium is sailing for four nights from Miami to Key West and Cozumel from only $329 per person, departing October 4. Or sail the same ship for five nights from Miami to Roatan and Cozumel on October 17 from only $299 per person (even the balcony room is affordable, from $499 a a person).

NCL‘s four-night Bahamas cruise from Miami starts from only $207 per person, up to about $349 per person throughout the months of September and October on the Norwegian Sky.

If fall foliage is on your mind, you can save by sailing mid to late October. Royal Caribbean‘s seven-night Canada/New England cruise starts from about $850 per person in mid-September, but drops down to a very reasonable $579 per person departing October 15, and $549 October 22. Since you’re sailing as far east as Halifax, Nova Scotia, you’re still going to see the great fall colors for a lot less.

Even luxury cabins are on sale. MSC Cruises is offering a 50 percent savings for a second guest on seven-night European cruises if you book a Yacht Club suite. Book the MSC Splendida or MSC Fantasia by August 31, 2011 for sailings through November 6, 2011. Cabin rates start at $2,969 for the first guest and $1,484.50 for the second guest, plus $100 shipboard credit for each person. The Yacht Club suite include 24-hour butler service, a 24-hour concierge, free alcohol, and access to a private lounge and private swimming deck.

HOTELS

Look for a hotel package that includes more than just a room to sleep in. Don’t just go for the published rate. Ask about value-added extras that aren’t advertised but the hotels might throw in — can my kids stay or eat free? At city hotels, ask them to throw in free parking. if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Travaasa Austin has a special offer through September 15, 2011. Weekday rates start from $189 a night and include accommodations, daily breakfast, and all on-site activities such as cooking classes, horseback riding, nature hikes, an Outward Bound course, and more.

Fairmont Resort Hotels is discounting across the entire brand this fall with value-added amenities and activities built into the price. At the Fairmont Turnberry Isle in Miami, pay $159 a night and get accommodations, free golfing, and free meals for kids 5 and under, through September 30. At the The Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, $299 a night gets families daily breakfast, a cooking lesson with a resort chef, and a one-hour boat tour with an ecologists. A four-night minimum stay is required through December 17, 2011.

Save up to 45 percent at the beachfront Sonesta Maho Beach Resort Casino or Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort Casino if you book by September 30, 2011 for stays through December 17, 2011. Rates start from $116 a night, and the discounts increase the longer you stay: two nights, get 35 percent off; three nights is 40 percent off; four or more nights is 45 percent off. Kids ages 12 and under stay free.

Florida’s LXR Resorts Hotels are offering fall discounts from $79 a night, including $75 dinner credit, a bottle of wine, and 20 percent off spa treatments at hotels in Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Sanibel-Captiva. A two-night minimum stay is required for travel between September 1-November 2, 2011. Participating hotels include: Sundial Beach Golf Resort, Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort, and Seaside Inn on Sanibel Island (all from $129); Bahia Mar Beach Resort Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale from $79 per night; Miami Beach Resort from $89 per night.

WHERE THE DOLLAR IS STILL KING

Even though the dollar is taking a beating against the euro and the pound, there are travel bargains abroad. There is a lot of volatility. Italy, Portugal and Greece are just a few countries that are having economic problems and that present opportunities to travelers who can afford it. Hotels, airfare and tourist attractions are discounted to attract people who can afford to travel.

As a contrarian, I always say that the best time to visit a destination is after a major disaster or economic meltdown. And we certainly have a few to choose from this year.

In Portugal, hotels average about $114 a night, making Lisbon far more affordable than some other Western European cities like Paris and Rome.

Greece is also dealing with its economic crisis, which has translated into reduced prices across the board. Airfare can be expensive because there’s not a lot of competition (Delta is charging almost $2,500 JFK to Athens). But you can save by flying into another city, like Istanbul via Turkish Airlines for about $950, and take a low-cost flight between the two cities on Aegean Airlines.

Iceland is still reeling from its economic meltdown in 2008, and deals continue to abound. Icelandair has a deal where you can fly into Reykjavik from just $629 per person from Seattle, Boston, New York, DC, or Minneapolis, and they’ll also include a two-night hotel stay, daily breakfast, and a day-long Golden Circle tour of a geothermal area, a national park, waterfalls, and hot springs.

Take advantage of Icelandair’s stopover program, where you can fly through Reykjavik, stop over for 3-7 days, and then continue on to a different city in Europe.

Last but not least, Argentina and Thailand.


Some in Germany Want Greece to Temporarily Exit the Euro Zone

In fact, that is the sentiment that a growing number of reputable economists and other commentators, particularly from fully liquid Germany, have been expressing lately.

Greece, they say, should leave the euro zone for its own good, as well as the Continent’s. Some German economists argue that others in the 17-nation currency union, like Portugal or even Italy, might need to leave as well.

“It is better for all concerned, in particular for Greece, if the country leaves the euro temporarily,” Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the influential Ifo Institute at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, wrote in an essay published two weeks ago.

Continuing to throw money at Greece will only reduce incentives for the country to restructure its economy, he and other experts say, while pushing Europe toward a so-called transfer union, where strong countries must prop up weaker ones.

Meanwhile, Germany’s attitudes draw plenty of publicity in Greece and other stricken euro countries, where they feed stereotypes of arrogant, domineering Germans and stoke the resentments that are already deeply straining European unity.

There is no provision in European Union law for a member to be ejected, according to legal experts. Greece would have to withdraw voluntarily. But if the other countries cut off aid, it may have little choice.

Among European economists outside Germany, the idea that a country should be put under pressure to leave the euro zone is regarded generally as reckless and cruel. Greek banks would fail, the country would default on its debt and would lack a credible currency with which to buy essential imported goods like oil or food. The whole euro area, their thinking goes, would suffer as investors feared the disintegration of the currency union and perhaps the European Union itself.

“It’s very risky,” said Silvio Peruzzo, an economist in London for Royal Bank of Scotland. “It would set a precedent for other countries leaving the region. And the market would start to flirt with the idea that the euro as a whole doesn’t make sense.”

But in Germany, with its embedded fear of inflation and insistence that individuals should suffer the consequences of their actions, the idea that Greece should just leave is gaining wider currency, even in elite circles.

Otmar Issing, a former chief economist of the European Central Bank and one of the architects of the common currency, has implied that Greece should exit. Asked about his position by e-mail, Mr. Issing answered indirectly, saying that countries that break the rules of monetary union — as Greece did — should have to fend for themselves.

“If a country does not comply with the conditions agreed on, it should not get further financial aid,” he said. “A country which does not get further support has to decide what to do.”

Mr. Issing and Mr. Sinn are both extremely influential, and their thinking provides an intellectual foundation for opinions widely held by ordinary Germans. Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing intense pressure within her own center-right party, some of whose members are pushing for a special party congress to discuss the debt crisis.

Greeks, meanwhile, are as fed up with Germany as Germans are with Greece. As plumes of tear gas bathed the streets of Athens in June, for example, many protesters said they wanted the drachma back.

“We don’t care about staying in the euro,” said one protester, who gave his name only as Dimitris. “It would be costly, but at least with the drachma we would be able to control our own currency and our own future.”

Greeks have still not forgotten a cover on the German magazine Focus last year, which depicted the Venus de Milo raising a middle finger. “Cheats in our euro family,” said the headline, a reference clearly aimed at Greece.

“People believe Greeks don’t pay our taxes and we don’t want to work,” said Christos Manolas, a Greek businessman. “That’s a myth perpetuated by the Germans.”

Liz Alderman reported from Paris.