Saturday 30 September 2017

Shortcomings In Passenger Airport Charges

International Air Transport Association (IATA) calls on the European Union to significantly strengthen economic regulation of major European airport monopolies by focusing on the interests of passengers.

Enforcing greater cost-efficiency at Europe’s airports will feed through into cheaper air fares, stimulate travel and enhance European competitiveness. In turn, this will support jobs and grow the economy.

The case for stronger airport charges regulation is seen in how European passengers have been denied the full benefits of cheaper air travel, as illustrated over the period 2006-2016 in a just-released IATA study:

- The average cost of an air ticket remained virtually the same,including all ancillary charges such as hold bags.

- The revenue portion of the ticket price for airlines fell from 90% to 79%

- The portion of the ticket price taken by the airport doubled. Passenger taxes also doubled

- Had airport charges remained constant over the 2006-2016 period consumers could have benefitted, on average, 17 Euros per one-way trip. That price stimulus of nearly 10% of average tickets costs would have improved Europe’s competitiveness, and potentially generated an additional 50 million passengers.

In turn that would have unlocked 50 billion Euros in European GDP and created 238,000 jobs.

Airlines, like all competitive businesses, are in a constant struggle to improve efficiency.

Europe’s airports however are largely insulated from competitive forces.

Europe’s light-handed Airport Charges Directive has failed Europe’s travelers and its own competitiveness by letting airport charges rise.

Tighter EU regulation is needed to stop airport monopolies from taking money from the pockets of travelers to reward investors.

The goal should be economic regulation of airport monopolies that is an effective proxy for competition—promoting efficiency while protecting consumers.

In that regard the voice and interests of airlines – airports’ main customers – should be carefully listened to.

This will ensure effective regulation that will broadly balance the interests of travelers, investors, citizens and economies, said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The trend of increasing private ownership of European airports adds urgency to the situation.

Since 2010 the number of European airports in private hands has almost doubled.

In many cases privatization has failed to deliver promised benefits to passengers and the local economy often suffers the results of higher costs.

The balancing role of effective and strong economic regulation is essential, said de Juniac.

Airport regulation in Europe has not responded adequately to the changing landscape in the airport sector.

The share of fully privately owned airports in Europe increased from 9% to 16% between 2010 and 2016 while the share of mixed ownership models increased from 13% to 25% over the same period.

Where publicly-owned airports may be considered as benign monopolists, often pursuing economic and social goals to support their local region, this is not the case with privately-owned airports who are driven by investor returns.

Increasing private ownership of airports in Europe has not been combined with appropriate regulatory oversight that drives airports to increase cost efficiency and ensure that airports are responsive to consumer demands.

Between 2006 and 2016 the average all-in cost of an air ticket bought to fly from an EU28 airport remained broadly flat, increasing by just 2% in nominal terms from €216 in 2006 to €220 in 20161.

However, the distribution of revenues between airlines, airports and governments changed significantly.

Average airline revenue per passenger fell from €194 in 2006 to €173 in 2016 and shrank from representing 90% to less than 80% of the all-in ticket price.

At the same time, both airport passenger charges and taxes have more than doubled, with average charges increasing from €16 to €33 and average taxes from €6 to €14.

The increased demand for air travel would have provided a significant boost to the European economy.

Lower airport charges would have benefited European businesses through lower travel costs and increased competitiveness, stimulating additional tourism and lastly encouraging the continued development of the European aviation sector.

Economic modelling carried out by IATA suggests that the economic boost from cheaper air travel could have unlocked an additional EUR50 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) and supported the creation of an additional 238,000 jobs across the EU28.

In its Aviation Strategy, the European Commission has rightly identified the need to boost the efficiency of airport services and has engaged in an assessment of whether and how the Airport Charges Directive needs to be reviewed.

IATA fully supports the urgent finalization of this assessment under the leadership of Commissioner Violeta Bulc and of her team.

Tourism Observer

UNITED KINGDOM: Aprirose Takes Over QHotel Business For £525 Million

Aprirose, the UK-based real estate investment company, has completed the acquisition of the QHotel business from Bain Capital Credit and Canyon Partners for £525 million.

The portfolio includes 26 five and four star regional hotels.

The portfolio’s assets, which comprise 3,680 beds, are located throughout the UK and in major cities including Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.

The QHotel portfolio is made up of a variety of hotels including spa hotels, golf resorts and luxury hotels.

The acquisition of the QHotel portfolio marks the largest hotel transaction this year.

The deal was funded by Aprirose and their roster of international investors.

Manish Gudka, CEO at Aprirose, said: “We are pleased to have completed on this exciting and unique portfolio.

This was a complicated deal, which had a lot of interest shown in it from the market, but owing to our investors, contacts and transactional experience we were able to get it done in quick time.

The 26 hotels, spread throughout the UK, will add a new dimension to our asset diverse real estate portfolio and also offer us opportunities to further develop the portfolio to increase the number of beds available.

Gary Jones, COO at Aprirose, said Our strategy is to double the value of assets under management, while at the same time exiting from maturing transactions. This acquisition is part of a wider strategy and takes our portfolio to circa £1.7bn of assets under management. We have the resources to continue to grow our balance sheet and we remain very keen to purchase further UK real estate over a variety of asset classes that will show good returns to Aprirose and our investors

Aprirose have appointed Redefine|BDL Hotels, the UK’s leading hotel management company, to manage the 26 hotels continuing an already successful partnership.

The acquisition of the QHotel portfolio follows Aprirose’s purchase of the 73 asset M&B pub portfolio, which has been named Milton Pubs & Taverns.

Aprirose was advised by Colliers, West Ridge, KPMG and Dentons and Bain Capital Credit and Canyon Partners were advised by Eastdil Secured, Deloitte, DLA and Jones Day.

Tourism Observer

Friday 29 September 2017

BELARUS: Minsk Is A Wonderful Place To Visit, Beaware Parking On Pedestrian Lanes

Memorial Church Of All Saints In Minsk
Minsk is not only the capital and largest city of Belarus, it's also the capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Situated on the Svislac and Niamiha rivers, from 1919-1991 it was the capital of the former Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The city was 80% destroyed during World War II and as such was rebuilt in the 1950s to the liking of Stalin. Large, Soviet-bloc style buildings make up a large portion of the heart of the city.

For this reason, Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union. Come quickly, however, as modern apartment buildings and developments are rapidly being built in the suburbs and along desirable riverfront property.

Minsk, is the capital and largest city of Belarus, on the Svislach and the Nyamiha Rivers. As the national capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblast) and Minsk raion (district).

In 2013, it had a population of 2,002,600. Minsk is the administrative capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and seat of the Executive Secretary.

Minsk is located on the southeastern slope of the Minsk Hills, a region of rolling hills running from the southwest or upper reaches of the river Nioman to the northeast that is, to Lukomskaye Lake in northwestern Belarus.

The average altitude above sea level is 220 metres (720 ft). The physical geography of Minsk was shaped over the two most recent ice ages.

The Svislach River, which flows across the city from the northwest to the southeast, is in the urstromtal, an ancient river valley formed by water flowing from melting ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age.

There are six smaller rivers within the city limits, all part of the Black Sea basin.

Minsk is in the area of mixed forests typical of most of Belarus. Pinewood and mixed forests border the edge of the city, especially in the north and east. Some of the forests were preserved as parks,for example, the Chelyuskinites Park as the city grew.

The city was initially built on the hills, which allowed for defensive fortifications, and the western parts of the city are the most hilly.

Minsk has a warm summer hemiboreal humid continental climate, owing to its location between the strong influence of the moist air of the Atlantic Ocean and the dry air of the Eurasian landmass. Its weather is unstable and tends to change often.

The average January temperature is −4.5 °C (23.9 °F), while the average July temperature is 18.5 °C (65.3 °F). The lowest temperature was recorded on 17 January 1940, at −40 °C (−40 °F) and the warmest on 29 July 1936 at 35 °C (95 °F), and on 3 August 2014 at 35 °C (95 °F).

This results in frequent fogs, common in the autumn and spring. Minsk receives annual precipitation of 690 millimetres (27 in), of which one third falls during the cold period as snow and rain and two thirds in the warm period.

Throughout the year, most winds are westerly and northwesterly, bringing cool and moist air from the Atlantic. Similar climatic regimes are found in Stockholm, Sweden and in Halifax, Canada.

Minsk was annexed by Russia in 1793 as a consequence of the Second Partition of Poland.In 1796, it became the centre of the Minsk Governorate.

All of the initial street names were replaced by Russian names, though the spelling of the city's name remained unchanged. It was briefly occupied by Grande Armee during French invasion of Russia in 1812.

Throughout the 19th century, the city continued to grow and significantly improve. In the 1830s, major streets and squares of Minsk were cobbled and paved. A first public library was opened in 1836, and a fire brigade was put into operation in 1837.

In 1838, the first local newspaper, Minskiye gubernskiye vedomosti or Minsk province news went into circulation. The first theatre was established in 1844. By 1860, Minsk was an important trading city with a population of 27,000.

There was a construction boom that led to the building of 2 and 3-story brick and stone houses in Upper Town.

Minsk's development was boosted by improvements in transportation. In 1846, the Moscow-Warsaw road was laid through Minsk. In 1871, a railway link between Moscow and Warsaw ran via Minsk, and in 1873, a new railway from Romny in Ukraine to the Baltic Sea port of Libava or Liepaja was also constructed.

Minsk became an important rail junction and a manufacturing hub. A municipal water supply was introduced in 1872, the telephone in 1890, the horse tram in 1892, and the first power generator in 1894. By 1900, Minsk had 58 factories employing 3,000 workers.

The city also boasted theatres, cinemas, newspapers, schools and colleges, as well as numerous monasteries, churches, synagogues, and a mosque. According to the 1897 Russian census, the city had 91,494 inhabitants, with some 47,561 Jews constituting more than half of the city population.

Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944, during Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944.

Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk's population was reduced to a mere 50,000.

After the Second World War, Minsk was rebuilt, but not reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares.

Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation.

Since the 1960s Minsk's population has also grown apace, reaching 1 million in 1972 and 1.5 million in 1986. Construction of Minsk Metro began on 16 June 1977, and the system was opened to the public on 30 June 1984, becoming the ninth metro system in the Soviet Union.

The rapid population growth was primarily driven by mass migration of young, unskilled workers from rural areas of Belarus, as well as by migration of skilled workers from other parts of the Soviet Union.

To house the expanding population, Minsk spread beyond its historical boundaries. Its surrounding villages were absorbed and rebuilt as mikroraions, districts of high-density apartment housing.

Throughout the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, the city continued to change. As the capital of a newly independent country, Minsk quickly acquired the attributes of a major city. Embassies were opened, and a number of Soviet administrative buildings became government centres.

During the early and mid-1990s, Minsk was hit by an economic crisis and many development projects were halted, resulting in high unemployment and underemployment.

Since the late 1990s, there have been improvements in transport and infrastructure, and a housing boom has been underway since 2002. On the outskirts of Minsk, new mikroraions of residential development have been built.

Metro lines have been extended, and the road system including the Minsk BeltWay has been improved.

Owing to the small size of the private sector in Belarus, most development has so far been financed by the government. In January 2008, the city government announced several projects on its official website.

Among them are the refurbishment of some streets and main avenues, the construction of more up-to-date hotels,one near the Palace of the Republic and Independence Palace on the shore of Lake Komsomolskoye, the demolition of the out-of-date Belarus hotel and the erection in the same premises of a complex consisting of sport facilities, swimming pool.

2 hotel towers and one business centre building with the help of potential foreign investors and the construction of a modern aquatic park in the outskirts of the city.

On 8 September 2007, the city of Minsk celebrated 940 years since its founding.

Throughout its history Minsk has been a city of many languages. Initially most of its residents spoke Ruthenian which later developed into modern Belarusian. However, after 1569 the official language was Polish.

In the 19th-century Russian became the official language and by the end of that century it had become the language of administration, schools and newspapers.

The Belarusian national revival increased interest in the Belarusian language – its use has grown since the 1890s, especially among the intelligentsia.

In the 1920s and early 1930s Belarusian was the major language of Minsk, including use for administration and education both secondary and tertiary. However, since the late 1930s Russian again began gaining dominance.

A short period of Belarusian national revival in the early 1990s saw a rise in the numbers of Belarusian speakers. However, in 1994 the newly elected president Alexander Lukashenko slowly reversed this trend.

Most residents of Minsk now use Russian exclusively in their everyday lives at home and at work, although Belarusian is understood as well. Substantial numbers of recent migrants from the rural areas use Trasyanka, a Russo-Belarusian mixed language in their everyday lives.

The most commonly used and understood foreign language in Minsk, especially among the younger generation, is English.

There are no reliable statistics on the religious affiliations of those living in Minsk, or among the population of Belarus generally. The majority of Christians belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus.

There is a significant minority approximately 20 percent of Roman Catholics.

Currently, there are approximately 30 churches of various denominations in Minsk.

Minsk is the economic capital of Belarus. It has developed industrial and services sectors which serve the needs not only of the city, but of the entire nation. Minsk's contributions form nearly 46% of Belarusian budget.

According to 2010 results, Minsk paid 15 trillion BYR to state budget while the whole income from all other regions was 19.9 trillion BYR.

In the period January 2013 to October 2013, 70.6% of taxes in the budget of Minsk were paid by non-state enterprises, 26.3% by state enterprises, and 1.8% by individual entrepreneurs.

Among the top 10 taxpayers were five oil and gas companies including two Gazprom's and one Lukoil's subsidiaries, two mobile network operators MTS and Velcom, two companies producing alcoholic beverages Minsk-Kristall and Minsk grape wines factory and one producer of tobacco goods.

In 2012, Gross Regional Product of Minsk was formed mainly by industry (26.4%), wholesale (19.9%), transportation and communications (12.3%), retail (8.6%) and construction (5.8%).

GRP of Minsk measured in rubles was nearly 120×1012 (trillions or millions of millions; BYR 120 trillion ≈ USD 12.76 billion), or 23.7% of Gross domestic product of Belarus.

Minsk is the major industrial centre of Belarus. According to 2012 statistics, Minsk-based companies produced 21.5% of electricity, 76% of trucks, 15.9% of footwear, 89.3% of television sets, 99.3% of washing machines, 30% of chocolate, 27.7% of distilled alcoholic beverages and 19.7% of tobacco goods in Belarus.

Today the city has over 250 factories and plants. Its industrial development started in the 1860s and was facilitated by the railways built in the 1870s. However, much of the industrial infrastructure was destroyed during World War I and especially during World War II.

After the last war the development of the city was linked to the development of industry, especially of R&D-intensive sectors,heavy emphasis of R&D intensive industries in urban development in the USSR is known in Western geography as Minsk phenomenon.

Minsk was turned into a major production site for trucks, tractors, gears, optical equipment, refrigerators, television sets and radios, bicycles, motorcycles, watches, and metal-processing equipment.

Outside machine-building and electronics, Minsk also had textiles, construction materials, food processing, and printing industries.

During the Soviet period, development of the industries was linked to suppliers and markets within the USSR, and the break-up of the union in 1991 led to a serious economic meltdown in 1991–1994.

However, since the adoption of the neo-Keynesean policies under Alexander Lukashenko's government in 1995, much of the gross industrial production was regained.Unlike many other cities in the CIS and Eastern Europe Minsk was not heavily de-industrialised in the 1990s.

About 40% of the work force is still employed in the manufacturing sector. Over 70% of produced goods are exported from Belarus, especially to Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

However, the recent industrial revival did not lead to updating technologies and equipment as FDI was discouraged, therefore much of the local industry is not highly competitive by international standards.

Major industrial employers include:

Minsk Tractor Plant – specialised in manufacturing tractors. Established in 1946 in eastern Minsk, is among major manufacturers of wheeled tractors in the CIS. Employs about 30,000 staff.

Minsk Automobile Plant – specialising in producing trucks, buses and mini-vans. Established in 1944 in south-eastern Minsk, is among major vehicle manufacturers in the CIS.

Minsk Refrigerator Plant also known as Atlant – specialised in manufacturing household goods, such as refrigerators, freezers, and recently also of washing machines. Established in 1959 in north-west of the city.

Horizont – specialised in producing TV-sets, audio and video electronics. Established in 1950 in north-central Minsk.

Official statistics quote unemployment in Minsk at 0.3%. During 2009 census 5.6% of Minsk residents of employable age called themselves unemployed.The government discourages official unemployment registration with tiny unemployment benefits (70 000 BYR ≈ $7 per month) and obligatory public works.

English is rarely spoken, and tourism is not a priority in Minsk. It would be wise to learn some key phrases in Russian which is the default language, but Belarusian may also be spoken or understood.

There are more than 400 travel agencies in Minsk, about a quarter of them provide agent activity, and most of them are tour operators.

Visa on arrival - You normally must get a visa prior to entry from the Belarussian embassy or consulate in your country. However, if travelling by plane, you may be eligible for a visa on arrival.

Obtaining a visa on arrival costs double the normal price and you must have all your paperwork in order. Detailed price list is available from the Belarus Foreign Ministry website.

If your travel is arranged with a Belarusian travel agency, the procedure may be well planned for you: the original of the tourist invitation letter will be delivered to the Minsk Airport Consulate and carry with you one passport size photo!. Sometimes the Consulate people speak several foreign languages, sometimes - none at all.

Visa-free - Since January 9, 2017, depending on your country, you might be able to enter Belarus visa-free through Minsk Airport for up to 5 days.

Visa-free entry will apply to citizens of 39 European states, including all EU countries, as well as to Brazil, Indonesia, the USA, Japan, Korea and other states.

To enter Belarus visa-free, foreigners need to have a valid passport or other travel document, a certain sum of money equivalent of 2 basic amounts, or 42 Belarusian rubles, for each day of stay, a medical insurance valid in Belarus.

Citizens of Vietnam, Haiti, Gambia, Honduras, India, China, Lebanon, Namibia, Samoa must also have a valid multiple visa to any EU member state or Schengen country with a mark about the entry into their territory, as well as tickets confirming leave from Minsk National airport within 5 days from the date of entry.

Visa-free travel does not apply to persons coming to Belarus with flights from Russia and intending to fly to Russia.

All flights arrive at the National Airport Minsk formerly known as Minsk-2, 37km north-east from the city. If you are applying for a visa in Minsk Airport or just landing there, it is important to know several tips about insurance, visa office and passport control

In 2014, the airport underwent a major refurbishment and has mainly lost its grim feel from the USSR period. Just before the passport control, you will find a cash machine; more are available inside the arrivals.

Approach the passport control with a smile and already filled-in landing card unless you are a Belarusian or Russian citizen.

Straight after that, you can collect your luggage and follow to the customs control. Even if you choose the green corridor, you may be stopped for questioning.

It is a routine practice and shouldn't make anyone anxious: only large sums of cash, luxury products, alcohol and cigarettes will attract the custom officers attention.

The Arrivals hall has few small kiosks with Belarusian souvenirs, alcohol, newspapers and wi-fi cards; also ATMs, currency exchange, car rentals and train/bus ticket machines,more are at the bus stop outside the airport building.

The Departure hall on the third floor has a 24/7 restaurant, several cafes, souvenir shops, bank and post offices.

Free wi-fi is available at the Prime Time cafe, otherwise the whole terminal is covered by decent wi-fi from Beltelecom, an access card is required which is very cheap, available from the Belsajuzdruk newspaper kiosk in the departure hall.

Upon check-in, you will be advised on the sector number for the custom and passport control - allow 15 to 20 minutes to pass them. Several duty-free shops and bars are available just before the boarding gates.

The number of Flight connections to Minsk is constantly growing. Belavia operates regular flights to many capitals across Europe, as well as Israel and Central Asia; to major cities in Russia and Ukraine.

Other airlines, such as Aeroflot, Lufthansa, Austrian, LOT, Ukrainian International Airlines, Air Baltic, Air China and Etihad provide good connections to Minsk from across their networks.

Although low-cost airlines do not serve Minsk, most of the available carriers offer cheap tickets every now and then.

Alternatively, Vilnius has become a popular base for visiting Belarus. A train journey to Minsk takes less than three hours. Also, Moscow and Warsaw are used by some frugal travellers, but a journey time and price are much longer and higher compared to Vilnius.

Minsk National Airport is located 42 km (26 mi) to the east of the city. It opened in 1982 and the current railway station opened in 1987. It is an international airport with flights to Europe and the Middle East.

Minsk-1 opened in 1933 a few kilometres to the south of the historical centre. In 1955 it became an international airport and by 1970 served over 1 million passengers a year.

From 1982 it mainly served domestic routes in Belarus and short-haul routes to Moscow, Kiev and Kaliningrad. Minsk-1 was expected to be closed in 2008 because of the noise pollution in the surrounding residential areas, but in the mid-2010 it is still functioning.

The land of the airport is planned to be redeveloped for residential and commercial real estate, currently branded as Minsk-City.

The airport is served by bus no. 300э running every 30-50 minutes less frequently late in the night from/to Centralny bus terminal, next to the main railway station the Minsk Pasazyrski. The bus stop is clearly visible from the main airport exit - slightly on its left.

For the timetable, see the airport website,Minsktrans website or check at the airport bus stop.

At the Centralny bus terminal, tickets are sold at the ticket office. At the airport, they can be bought from the bus driver for cash or from a ticket machine inside the bus stop shelter and by the main exit from the airport building - paid by debit/credit cards.

Price is BYN4.14 + luggage BYN0.46.

In about 30 minutes after leaving the airport by 300э, the bus stops at Urucca metro station. Ticket to this stop costs about 2/3 of the Centralny bus terminal ticket. Many passengers leave here to continue by metro and other means of public transport.

If travelling to the airport from Urucca, leave the metro station through the front exit, turn right, and find the outermost bus stop. There is a small, well-hidden plate with a timetable.

If you travel to the Autazavod area - Mahiliouskaja metro station - you may prefer taking bus 173э to Sokal suburb and changing for 112с at the same bus stop. Bus 173э, however, has a very infrequent service - see timetable.

In 2014, a train service to/from the airport was launched. The service was discontinued in April 2017 without an announced date to be resumed.

For car from the airport, there are several options. The official airport transfer service National Airport Minsk has a good reputation with short number 7373.

But the official airport transfer service has several important shortcomings: Chinese cars, non-English speaking drivers, low quality of service in general. If you looking for higher level of service you can use private transfer services like Autotransfer or Minsk Airport Transfer.

It should cost about €25-30 and transfers can be ordered in advance using online booking form. Taxis are available at the airport although drivers generally will not speak English, please have the name of your destination written in Belorussian or Russian and be prepared to pay in cash.

There's also Uber in Minsk now. If you have a cell phone, this is probably the easiest and cheapest option – a ride into town can be as cheap as €10.

The width of the train tracks is different in Poland and in Belarus, so if you choose to arrive by train please be prepared for long wheel changing. However, if you are arriving from say, Kiev, Moscow, or Lviv you need not worry about this. Plus as an added bonus, the prices are substantially cheaper from CIS countries.

The direct Sibirjak train from Berlin was withdrawn in December 2013, but Minsk can still be easily reached from other major cities including Kiev, Warsaw, Vilnius and Moscow.

There is a daily train leaving Tsentralnyi Vokzal (Central Station). It departs city around 9 pm and get you to Minsk next morning at around 8 am. Ticket fares are 1100, 1850 and 3500 UAH for different sleeping car types.

There are two options - Direct, and Cheap The Direct trip is about 10 hours. There is Two trains a day -

First departs from Central Station at 21 which arrives in Minsk around 08:00. costs about 70Euro (270 Polish Zloty) Second one departs from Gdanski train station about 16 and arrives in Minsk about 02:00, direction Moscow.

Cost about 150Euro - 600 Polish Zloty To Dworzec Gdanski - Gdanski Train station you should use Metro Blue Line or First Line from Central Station, 3 stops - Direction Mlociny

But there is much cheaper way. 15-25 euro for single Ticket. You must split the trip for 3 trains/busses

First of all you must get to Belarusian Border. The border split cities, Polish city called Terespol and Belarusian city called Brest. You can buy Direct train to Terespol from Central Station or Warszawa Centralna or take a bus to Terespol from Main bus Station situated at Eastern Train Station at Warszawa Zachodnia.

Cost is about 50 Polish Zloty - 11 Euro. Maybe the best way is the train from Central station that departs at 07:00

Secondly, in Terespol there isn't possibility to walk across border, you can take a train to Brest or try to be pick-uped, and cross border by car. You have to get to Brest Central, so train is better option. Train to Brest costs 3Euro, but you have to pay in Polish Zloty.

The passport check is very long, so be in Terespol at least 40 minutes before train departs. Three trains for day, first is departing 11:25. Okey, you passed 200 km.

And the last train is from Brest to Minsk, Which costs 60 000 BYR - About 5 Euro. There are 5-8 trains a day, so easy. At ticket office ask for Kupeyny. The Belarusian trains has numbers like train no XXXX, so just write train number, ask for kupejny and give your passport.

Be aware that trains station in Brest is splited. There are Warszawska Strona or Warsaw Side and Moskevskaja Strona or Moscov Side. Train to Minsk departs from Moscow Side. it is funny that on Polish side you have to pay 11 euro for 200 km, and on Belarusian side you will pay 2-4 Euro for 400Km .

From Vilnius, Lithuania, the train takes about 2.5 hours and runs three times per day - early morning, late afternoon, evening plus there is one or two per day more expensive Kaliningrad–Moscow train at night; see timetable at Belorusian railway website.

The train from Vilnius costs around €15-20 one way if bought in Lithuania or you can buy them in advance for nearly the same price at Belorusian railway online-booking website.

You have to walk to last platform and walk through Schengen passport and customs control and than board a train with selected doors,the conductor checks your tickets. Trains are quite modern with US English voice announcing the stations and border control procedures.

If you are non-belorusian citizen you will receive from a conductor a migration card with two sides to fill out; if the conductor won't give you one, ask for bumazka.

Later, the Belorusian customs service will enter the train, asks you if you have alcohols and cigarettes above the limit and fast-check your baggage. Later the border control with big computer on the neck will came and ask you for your passport and filled bumazka or migration card.

Sometime they can ask for a insurance, letter of invitation or whatever else as everywhere in East Europe: more supporting documents prepared – better for you.

The guide will check everything, stamp your passport and migration card,please do not loose it you will need it in hotels and while leaving Belarus and wish you good luck in Belarus.

Moscow is connected with Minsk via several Belarusian Railway and Russain Railways trains daily, both daytime and overnight. Travel time varies from 8 to 10 hours please see the timetable on BCh or RZD official website.

Trains crossing the border between Russia and Belarus do not stop there for passport check, therefore an overnight train travel from Moscow to Minsk offers a good sleep in a 4-berth or 2-berth compartment.
There are several bus routes from Vilnius central bus station to Minsk central bus station. The coach service takes 4-5 hours,0.5-1.5 of which is spent at the border, depending on the traffic.

Driving in, while possible, requires knowledge of the border system. This is a border of the European Union, so control is very strict. Crossing it can take 2 hours. They may check your bags. Without knowledge of Russian, Belarusian or Polish, this can be very hard.

There is a very long queue of cars at every border crossing. However, if you have passport, VISA and car registration papers prepared, act honest and helpful and arrive as a tourist in a personal car, the border crossing can go very smoothly and be over within 45 minutes.

Sometimes it takes 3 hours. If you will ride from Polish Side, from Warsaw, you can see the Truck queue, just pass it, and go direct to Polish City TERESPOL / BREST (Belarussian).

Be Carefull! When you are in Poland and you are 30km near border, The Customs, or Border control have this same rights as Police. Green Cars - Straz Graniczna, So drive slowly, and carefully

Use of two state languages, Belarusian and Russian, across the transport system in Minsk may pose inconvenience for visitors. Effectively, the same stop, station, street or square may be known and referred to by two names, in Belarusian and Russian.

For example, one of the metro interchange stations is known to the Russian-speaking majority, but maps and announcements in metro refer to it in Belarusian.

Transliteration of geographical names on streets, stations etc. into Latin alphabet is done from Belarusian according to the new system.

Learn it as it is used across Minsk metro and on many other signs already. Elsewhere, you will see plenty of examples of the geographical names transliterated from Russian, e.g. Loshytsa, rather than Belarusian Losyca.

Get around by using bus, tram, Metro (subway) or rent a car. All are cheap and reliable. The subway is noted for being clean and safe. All public transport in Minsk operates c. 05.30-00.30; taxis are 24/7 naturally.

A panoramic English-language map of the centre of Minsk that shows every building individually is widely available from bookshops and kiosks.

It also has a conventional map showing more of Minsk and some tourist information. It is worth buying a copy as early on in your visit as you can because it makes getting around on foot easy and fun.

There is large network of buses, trolleybuses and trams in Minsk. Thanks to this system of more lines, there is a direct connection between many places, but the intervals are longer.

The ticket for a single trip costs 0.55 BYN (0,30 USD) while bought in advance or 0.60 BYN (0,32 USD) from a driver. Don't forget to validate your tickets after entering the bus, even when you bought them from a driver!

Timetables are available at public transport operator websites in Russian, or there is Android app in English with connection search, maps and timetables everything offline as well.

The Minsk Metro, is the most reliable transport system around Minsk. Additionally, each metro station is decorated uniquely and the oldest stations of the red, Maskouskaja line, are listed architectural landmarks.

For instance, the station at Kastrycnickaja Plosca or Kastrycnickaja Square is decorated in the theme of the Communist Revolution.

The station at Plosca Pieramohi or Pieramohi Square is decorated in a victory theme, and the Plosca Lienina or Lienin Square station includes a bust of Lenin and a host of hammer and sickle reliefs.

Plošsca Jakuba Kolasa or Jakub Kolas Sq renderes Belarusian folk themes in ceramics beautifully all over its station.

The Metro consists of two lines crossing at the very city centre, the red line runs known as Maskouskaja from the northeast to the southwest, while the blue line Autazavodskaja runs from the the west to the southeast.

All the stations have numbers for example the interchange stations, Kastrycnickaja i Kupalauskaja, are 116 and 216 - in addition to their proper names - for easier reference, they are listed on all new metro maps; however, it is a very recent innovation and the majority of locals are not aware of that yet.

Use stations' proper names if speaking to locals. Train depart every 3 min at rush hour and are almost never late. You can buy tokens at a window inside the station. One ride costs BYN0.60, but if you speak no Belarusian or Russian, just give some money and say: Metro. For those staying for a week or longer, a 10-day or a 14-day pass may be a good option.

You may also rent a car to travel around the country. Rates depend on period of hire and start from USD20 a day. There are offices of Europcar, Avis, SIXT and other rental companies.

Regional trains from Central Station are also cheap. A trip from Minsk to Gomel (5h) with a cabin for 4 cost BLR20,000 and almost never full.

National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus 20 Lienina St. (Kastrycnickaja or Kupalauskaja subway stations). Wednesdays to Mondays, 11am-7pm. Admission BLR50,000 additional fees for photography. Excellent overview of fine arts in Belarus. Many art objects are labeled in English.

The first few rooms cover 18-20 century Russian art; the most interesting part of the collection covering 16-20 century Belarusian fine arts is in the back gallery on the first floor. Until 10 July 2014, the Museum hosts Ten Centuries of Art in Belarus , the largest ever retrospective of Belarusian art (BLR30,000).

The museum has a cafe accessible only to the ticket holders. A tiny shop on the right hand from the entry has a good selection of relevant postcards, books, DVDs and other souvenirs.

Belarus National Museum of History and Culture, 12 Karla Marksa St. Admission BLR7,000. Open Th-Tu 11:00-19:00. There is plenty to see here, sadly there is only Belarusian explanation panels.

Palac Mastactva or Art Palace, Vulica Kazlova 3. Admission Free. Open Tu-Su 10:00-19:00. Several exhibition spaces showing modern art, second hand books and antiques stalls.

The Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War , Victory Park. Open Tu-Su 10:00-18:00. Evidently much improved since it moved a visit proved most interesting. The halls are well laid out and very modern, featuring an array of military vehicles, weapons, tales of various resistance/partisan fighters and the war for the Eastern Front,All with good labelling in both Russian and English, Eight roubles.

Mastacki Salon, Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci 12. Open M-Sa 10:00-20:00. An art gallery with local artists exhibitions and some overpriced souvenirs.
Museum Miniland, Praspiekt Niezaliezhnasci 25, Minsk.

Open. If you're only going to visit Minsk and none of the other cities in Belarus, be sure to check out the Museum Miniland. Located in the House of Labour Unions it houses 18 and growing models of famous and well-known places in Belarus.

An adult pays 14 BYN and gets access to a very interesting audio guide and of course the models themselves. 14 BYN or ±7 euro.

St Mary Magdeline Church or Tsarkva Svyatoj Maryi Magdaleny, Vulica Kisialiova 42 (Metro: Niamiha). It was built in 1847 in the Russian revival style - with a pointed octagonal bell tower over the entrance.

Saint Peter & Saint Paul Church, Vulica Rakaŭskaja 4 (Metro: Niamiha). Built in 1613 and restored in 1871, it is the oldest church in Minsk. It is very worthwhile to go inside.

Former Residence of Lee Harvey Oswald, Vulica Kamunistycnaja 4 at the bottom left apartment. Lee arrived in the Soviet Union in December 1959 willing to renounce his US citizenship and was sent to Minsk.

He changed his name to Alek and married a native woman, Marina Prusakova, with whom he had a child. The young family left for the United States on June 1, 1962.

KGB Headquarters, Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci 17. This impressive building, on one of the main shopping streets of Minsk has a facade that belies what's found within. It is somehow appropriate that in a country like Belarus, the KGB should be located in a landmark building in the centre of the capital.

If you have ten minutes to spare at the Minsk Airport, in front of the main building you will find five or six old USSR-era planes on display.

You might be willing to hire a private guide when staying in Minsk or another major Belarusian city. Please note that private guides are licensed by the National Tourism Agency - and you can check the list of their names on the official website of the Agency List of private guides in Russian.

A licensed guide in Belarus must always wear a special badge Badge of a licensed guide in Belarus.

Minskaje Mora or Minsk Sea is an artificial reservoir 5km north of the city centre. There's a free public beach, and pedal-boat and catamaran rental. Buses leave the central bus station regularly. Suburban trains go there - they leave from a special platform to the right of the central train station; no need to enter the main building, just head to the right to arrive at three little platforms (22-24) with their own ticket booths.

To get there by car, head north along the P28 and lookout for signs after Ratamka village.

Ice Skating Rink infront of the Palac Respubliki. In Winter there are crowds of people ice skating here. It is open from 8AM to 10PM, and a pair of skates should cost 3000-5000 rubles to rent.

Skiing resorts located at Silicy and Lahojsk are the most popular place to have a rest in Minsk. Located not far from the city they provide wide range of winter activities: skiing, snowboarding, skating, tubing etc.

Woven and embroided linen goods are the most typical presents Belarusians take abroad.

They can be purchased in specialist shops and any large department store. Souvenirs made of straw, wood and leather are traditional to Belarus too not Russian Matryoshka, though, as well as hand-made pottery. Womens housery Milavitsa is widely known across former USSR.

Belarusian vodka isn't as well marketed as Russian or Polish, but can easily compete with those on quality and is traditional to Belarus too; look for well-designed bottles and packaging and the price can generally be a reliable guide to its quality.

Another authentic Belarusian alcoholic drink is krambambulia - a slightly sweet herbal infusion - hard to find. The Minsk Airport has reliable duty free shops with reasonably priced Belarusian alcohol, chocolate and souvenirs.

Shop assistants, however, advise the passangers with transfers in the EU airports not to take the purchased liquids into hand luggage as they may be confiscated by the airport security.

Ragna, 4 Suchaja St. (Frunzienskaja subway station), has a very interesting selection of Belarusian traditional crafts, mostly handmade, unlikely to be found in mainstread shops.

Podzemka, Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci 43. An underground bookshop-cum-art gallery.

Suveniraja Lavka, Vulica Maksima Bahdanovica 9. A souvenir type shop with straw crafts, wooden boxes, embroidered linen & Belarusian alcohol.

Centralnaja Kniharnia, Praspiekt Niezalieznasci 19. A bookshop with posters of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka.

Lianok, 46 Praspiekt Niezalieznasci. A shop specialising in fabrics, good selection of well-manufactured linen good and souvenirs.

Caution to Vegetarians & Vegans, Meat is always on the menu. It isn't considered a meal if meat isn't a part of it but, because of a love of the potato you should be able to get vegetarian side dishes.

Sometimes borsch is made with only potato and beetroot, but be aware that borsch is sometimes cooked with meat. Some golubsty are only stuffed with rice.

If you're a vegan you will have a very hard time trying to adequately feed yourself; buying fresh produce at the numerous markets might be your best bet. Often it can be a lot easier to try and find perhaps an Indian restaurant. Pizza restaurants usually have a meat-free pizza on the menu.

Belarusian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of Eastern Europe, particularly Russian and Ukrainian. Expect heavy potato dishes, mushrooms, soups and baked meat. There's plenty of Western food available in the capital, especially Italian, French and American.

The quality varies, but has improved dramatically in recent years. Note that many local restaurants will have entertainment during nights and weekends.

Pechki-Lavochki, Main Ave. Is a great Belarusian restaurant.

Vasilki, Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci (Independence Avenue), 16, A restaurant serving traditional local cuisine. Pleasant interior in a rustic style. Breakfasts from 8am. There are also restaurants at J. Kolasa str., 37, and Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci, 89

Beze, Main ave. Viennese style cafe with a great bakery and light snacks.

Gourman, close to Grand Opera Theater. Styled as an Italian trattoria. It serves Belarusian and European cuisine.

Freski Cafe, Niezalieznasci Square. Cafe with a large choice of main dishes.

Taj, vulica Brylieuskaja, 2. Wonderful North Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will find heaven. There should be an English menu available also. Vegetarian dishes start from around BR6,000 and mains from BR12,000. Open Noon-Midnight.

Tiflis, vulica Talbuchina 3. Quite solid Georgian food – get the classics here, including khachpuri, walnut salads and hearty soups, along with a variety of meat dishes. Around 20 BYN.

National Food, Trinity Suburb. Not the restaurant's real name but this place has "National Food" on the front in big English letters so should be easy to find. It has a large menu of traditional food available in English, including a couple of vegetarian options. Mains BR20,000 to BR30,000. The food really sticks to your ribs. They also sell honey-flavoured kvass.

News Cafe, Vulitsa Karla Marksa 34. Across from the UK embassy and a must try in Minsk. Order the El-Capone – wonderful veal.

McDonald's, at corner of Pr. Niezalieznasci and Vul. Lienina / corner of Vul. Niamiha and Vul. Ramanaŭskaja Slabada. The two prominent McDonald's restaurants in downtown Minsk are clear signs that Belarus has in fact changed a lot since the end of the cold war. There are also Sbarro, KFC and other Western chains aplenty in town.

A typical drink is Kefir, which is a sort of sour milk, similar to yogurt.

Krambambulia is a traditional medieval alcohol drink which you can buy in most stores or order in a restaurant. It's a pretty strong drink but its taste is much softer than vodka.

London, Pr. Niezalieznasci close to KGB headquarters, on the other side of the street. This friendly little cafe, in the shadow of the KGB headquarters, offers a wide range of teas, free wi-fi, seating outdoors with heaters and a small cozy room upstairs where it's possible to sit and talk in a relatively private setting.

Golden Coffee Cafe, Pr. Niezalieznasci, 18. 7a - 2a. This cafe is on the main strip of Minsk and one of the few that has both an outside and inside patio. The food is exquisite and they provide free wifi until 18:00 when it automatically goes off. Moderate.

Grand Cafe, Lenin Str., 2. 12-12. A high end restaurant on lovely Lenin Street. Great food and arguably the best service in Minsk. Try the roasted duck or Salmon with asparagus. They offer a no smoking section, menu' is in English and most of the servers speak good English, too. Making a reservation is recommended, especially on weekends.

Please note that a foreign guest must get registered with the local police department - Department for Citizenship and Migration within 5 business days. This means that you can arrive in Belarus on Tuesday and leave on Sunday without the registration stamp.

Most hotels process the registration automatically upon check-in while many apartment rentals might be reluctant to provide registration. Check if the rental service offers registration service and at what price.

Marx hostel, 8-99 Karla Marksa str., Minsk if you are going from the railroad station: go by Kirava str. than turn left on Valadarskaha str. till you reach K. Marksa str. From Kupalaŭskaja subway station: just go down by K. Marksa str. untill building #8. Remember: entrance to the hostel is from the side of building closer to building #10. Outside door code: 3+8. Cheap,quiet,central location.

Minsk Hostel of the International Relations Center, Karalia Str., 12. Unfairly overlooked by international tourism, this Minsk Hostel of the International Relations Center (Belarus Ministry of Education) is a well-located block of budget rooms that has few matches in budget quality/rate category. The hostel can only be booked by telephone. No English-speaking personnel.

Hostel Traveler, Haladzieda str. Opened in May 2012. Away from the center but in a fully-renovated house. Spacious rooms and facilities. English is spoken. Check the website of the hostel for more information.

Riverside Hostel, Staravilenskaja str. 14,. The Riverside Hostel is so named because it is situated on the left bank of the river Svislac in Trajeckaje Pramiescie, which is the most famous tourist area of Minsk.

The hostel has a spacious living room, kitchen, rooms for four and six people, and a double. Free wi-fi is available everywhere. The hostel occupies two floors of a three-floored building. Check the website of the hostel for more information.

EasyFlat Hostel, Aeradromnaja str. 40, app. 14. Stay in the city center enjoying calm and cozy atmosphere. Attractive price, comfort and high quality – this combination is to be found in hostel $15.

On the web you can find a lot of cheap offers to rent a flat. Average price is about 50 USD for the night. There is also a good rental service provided. They rent rooms in good quality in the center of Minsk. They also provide assistance for Visas.

You might receive a call to your hotel room late at night offering a massage. To avoid being woken up it is worth unplugging your phone.

40 Let Pobedy (40 Years of Victory), Azgura, 3. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. Nice rooms, decent location. No internet, few English speaking receptionists. $45/shared room.

Hotel Belarus, Staražoŭskaja, 15-201. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. Great location, clean Soviet hotel with very old school interior. Great indoor pool/hot tub and a gym, cost $10 extra. Free wifi in lobby. €35/single.

Hotel Orbita Praspiekt Puškina 39, a clean 208 room hotel with friendly but boring staff. There is a supermarket next door and Cash Exchange in the hotel lobby. The airport and train terminal are about 6km away. It is in the western part of Minsk not far from the Republican Exhibition Centre. it is near Pushkinskaya metro Station

Minsk Vacation Apartments and Vacation apartments for rent in central Minsk. Near major railway stations. 1-3 room flats. Rates: €30-200.
Apartments Service Minsk Comfortable apartments for short term stay. Studio, 1-bedroom, 2 bedrooms. Location in the center. Prices 50-170 euro.

Flats for rent,Furnished modern apartments for living in Minsk. Short-term rental of lodgings.

Apartments for Rent in Minsk Furnished apartments for rent in Minsk. Short and long term apartment rentals in Minsk, Belarus.

Planeta, Praspiekt Pieramozcau, 31. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. They have great services all within the hotel. Internet cafe is open till 8PM. Casino is open 24h.

Hotel Europe , Internacyjanalnaja str., 28. checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Exclusive five-star hotel situated in the historical and cultural heart of Minsk, at the intersection of Lienin Street and Internacyjanalnaja Street.

The beautiful 7-storey atrium-type building is carried out in Modern Style of early XX century. Late departure (till 11PM (24.00) is charged with 50% of the room rate. From €265.

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Kirava Str., 13. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. 5 star international hotel in the heart of Minsk. The hotel, with its unique architecture, is opposite the Minsk Dynamo Stadium and within walking distance from the Minsk Niezalieznasci Square.

Renaissance Minsk Hotel, Dzerzhinsky Avenue 1 E Minsk 220036 Belarus. checkin: 12; checkout: 12. 5 star international hotel in the heart of Minsk.Whether you are traveling in Minsk on business or leisure, Renaissance Minsk Hotel is an ideal place in Minsk to stay. Hotel is located on one of the main transport highway in close proximity to the city center.

Minsk is a very safe and clean city especially compared to neighbouring capital cities like Kiev or Moscow. Unlike most Central and Eastern European cities, there are very few homeless and drunkards wandering the streets.

Although locals might insist otherwise, Minsk is a city where you really must go out of your way to find trouble, even at night. If you are in need of assistance, there is a strong police presence in the city centre. However, their ability to speak English in most cases will be severely limited.

Be careful when photographing government buildings and the monument to Lenin at Independence Square. While you might be observed and kindly ushered away from the monument, photographing government buildings can lead to trouble with authorities and even arrest.

Be mindful of what you are photographing.

While not seen as frequently as in Kiev, be aware of cars or delivery trucks moving on sidewalks. In some areas of Minsk parking is limited forcing drivers to manoeuvre and park their vehicles onto pedestrian lanes.

Lake Narac is the largest lake in Belarus, located about 160 km north of Minsk.

Brest is a regional capital on the border with Poland and is rich with history from both the Soviet times and before. You can see a Brest Hero Fortress, perhaps the most impressive Soviet monument ever built. You can get there by train (~20 daily trains running from Minsk) at $5-20.

It takes 3-4 hrs by train. There are also overnight trains.

Hrodna is a border town in north-west Belarus, near 46 Kuznica-Bialostocka in Poland.

Mir is a Medieval castle about 85 km from Minsk. It once belonged to the Radziwill family, one of the noble families of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During WW2 it was used as a Ghetto by the Nazis for the local Jewish population.

Inside the castle is a museum containing artefacts from its history, including exhibits from Jewish life in the Ghetto and in the nearby village.

Nesvizh Castle or Niasvizh Castle is a residential castle of the Radziwill family which is located in Nesvizh, a town 30 km from Mir castle. In 1994, the castle complex was designated the national historical and cultural reserve. In 2005 the castle complex was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Minsk has the highest crime rate in Belarus – 193.5 crimes per 10,000 citizens.20–25% of all serious crimes in Belarus, 55% of bribes and 67% of mobile phone thefts are committed in Minsk.However, attorney general Grigory Vasilevich stated that homicide rate in Minsk in 2008 was "relatively fine".

Crime rate grew significantly in 2009 and 2010:for example, number of corruption crimes grew by 36% in 2009 alone.Crime detection level varies from 13% in burglary to 92% in homicide with an average 40.1%.

Many dwellers are concerned for their safety at night and the strongest concern was expressed by residents of Chizhovka and Shabany microdistricts both in Zavodski District.

The SIZO-1 detention center, IK-1 general prison, and the KGB special jail called "Amerikanka" are all located in Minsk.

Alexander Lukashenko's rivals in the 2010 presidential election were imprisoned in the KGB jail along with other prominent politicians and civil activists. Ales Michalevic, who was kept in this jail, accused the KGB of using torture.

Tourism Observer

SLOVENIA: Melania Trump's Hometown A Tourist Destination,Travelers Pay $90 For 5-hour Walking Tour

Melania Trump‘s new status as First Lady has put the small nation of Slovenia and the even smaller town of Sevnica on the world map as well as a famous tourist destination attracting many visitors.

Demands for tours of the First Lady’s 5,000-person hometown have increased 30% since the beginning of the year, around the same time Donald Trump was inaugurated.

It’s not cheap, A five-hour-long walking tour of of the town cost $90 for two people, and includes all the must-see stops of Melania’s childhood like her elementary school and the Communist-era apartment building she once lived in and the home of her parents.

It also includes the old factory where her mother designed children’s clothes,now known as a cultural monument.

A lot of people are coming from Europe, Japan, China and the U.S., Mayor Srecko Ocvirk says.

From an anonymous little town, we are now on the world tourist map, the mayor sasys.

Melania is the second foreign-born First Lady behind Louisa Adams, the sixth First Lady of the U.S. who was born in London and married President John Quincy Adams.

Born as Melanija Knavs and raised in Sevinca, the First Lady discovered an interest in fashion and glamor through her mother before she started modeling in Slovenian capital’s Ljubljana, and eventually Europe.

Melania was raised here, she used to be our neighbor, Ocvirk said.

Yes, she’s President Trump’s wife, and that’s what she’s known for. But we want to focus only on her.

The walking tour isn’t the only way the town is celebrating or capitalizing on the First Lady.

A local bakery now makes the “Melanija Torte” and the “First Lady Apple Pie.”

They include American flags with “Prva dama” — translated as “First Lady” — on top of them.

Tourism Observer

AUSTRIA: Bus Crash In Austrian Alps, A Hair's Breadth From Catastrophe

A quick-thinking French tourist has been praised for preventing a bus from plunging over a cliff in the Austrian Alps after the driver passed out.

The vehicle was travelling through the mountains in the Tyrolean Alps with 21 passengers on board when the driver, 76, collapsed, police say.

As the bus continued towards a steep cliff, the Frenchman was able to brake.

The bus crashed into a barrier at the side of the road and came to a stop.

Four people were taken to hospital.

The passenger, a 65-year-old Frenchman, was sitting close to the driver when he became ill near the city of Schwaz in western Austria on Saturday.

He then leapt from his seat as the vehicle crashed through the wooden roadside guardrail and applied the brake, leaving the bus full of passengers hanging over the cliff edge a short distance from a 100m (328ft) drop.

We were a hair's breadth from catastrophe, a local police spokesman said, adding it was incredible luck that the passenger's reflexes had managed to stop the bus.

In 2004, five tourists were killed when a coach left the road and tumbled down a 30m embankment near the village of Bad Dürrnberg, south of Salzburg, in Austria.

Tourism Observer

SOUTH AFRICA: "Police" Or Robbers Attack Elderly Dutch Tourists And Steal Their Possessions

A group of elderly Dutch tourists, who were robbed in South Africa on Sunday by men posing as police, have returned home to the Netherlands.

The 36 tourists were attacked while travelling to their hotel from Johannesburg airport, where they had just landed for a three-week holiday.

Their bus was stopped by a fake police car, and at least one of the robbers was in police uniform.

Police have apologised for the incident and promised to find the attackers.

The robbers tied up the bus driver and tour guide, assaulted some of the tourists and stole many of their possessions.

Most of the passengers are 70-plus.

People panicked and even got firearms aimed at them. In two cases, the trigger was pulled but the gun didn't fire, one tourist as said.

One tourist was taken to hospital for treatment to injuries.

We are safe now, but we are in shock and the fun has gone, one of the passengers said.

The Dutch ambassador to South Africa, Marisa Gerards, said the group had decided to return to the Netherlands because most of them had had all of their belongings taken.

She said it had been out of safety concerns that the group had arranged the organised tour, rather than travel independently.

South Africa is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations because of its beauty, affordability and variety.

But it also has one of the highest crime levels in the world,a concern not just for visitors but for those living in South Africa.

Visitors from the region have sometimes fallen prey to muggings in a similar way to the Dutch tourists and, as a result, some African embassies warn their citizens to make sure they are not being followed when leaving the airport.

The authorities are worried that the latest mugging may damage South Africa's image.

Tourism is a critical sector and sustains many jobs.

Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa said all South Africans should be concerned by threats to the industry.

South Africa's Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula, met the tourists on Tuesday and offered his heartfelt embarrassment over their experience.

He said he hoped they would return to South Africa in the future.

I condemn this robbery in the strongest terms and call for harsh punishment of those responsible, he said.

Tourism is one of our economic drivers and a provider of jobs for the youth. We must work hard to protect this industry, Mr Mbalula said.

It is not the first time robbers have targeted OR Tambo airport.

In March, armed thieves stole containers of cash from a restricted zone while dressed as police.

Tourism Observer

NEW ZEALAND: Bay of Plenty Tourism Earns $1.8 billion Up To August 2017

Tourism spend in the Bay of Plenty was estimated to be about $1.8 billion for the year to August, according to the latest monthly tourism figures.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's latest monthly regional tourism estimates released today show the Bay's tourism spend was up six per cent compared to the previous year.

Manager of sector trends Mark Gordon said the increase in spend was made up of $615 million spent by international visitors which was up eight per cent compared to August 2016 and $1.2 billion by domestic tourists which was up five per cent.

When it comes to the monthly expenditure, tourism spend in the Bay of Plenty for the month of August 2017 is up nine per cent compared with the month of August 2016.

The figures showed $113m was spent in the Bay last month.

The ministry developed the monthly regional tourism estimates in consultation with tourism industry representatives to create a better measurement of the value of tourism by region.

Visitor spending information for the regions helps inform investment and planning in the tourism industry by providing insight into where both domestic and international tourists are spending their money, Mr Gordon said.

Figures are based on card transaction data. Users can filter the data to get the information they need, including breaking it down by year, key areas within regions, country of origin, and tourism product groupings such as accommodation, transport and retail sales.

Tourism Observer

JAPAN: Marianas Visitors Authority Joins JATA Tourism Expo

The Marianas Visitors Authority joined representatives of 1,310 groups from 130 other international countries and regions and prefectures of Japan at Japan’s largest annual travel show, called JATA Tourism Expo 2017, on Sept. 22-24, 2017.

The MVA’s booth was easily recognizable during the event due to its tall structure featuring the “Marianas 30 Treasures” images of renowned nature photographer Junji Takasago.

The number of attendees increased this year compared to last, exceeding 191,500 attendees.

The JATA Tourism Expo 2017 was held at the Tokyo Big Sight and attracted national tourism agencies, airlines, hotels, travel agencies, cruise companies, other tourism professionals and the traveling public.

The MVA joined other exhibitors in providing the latest tourism information to visitors and professional members of the travel trade.

This year, over 50,000 attendees joined the event on the professional travel trade days, while over 74,000 and 66,800 consumers joined the final two days of the event.

JATA Tourism Expo has always been the most important travel show in Japan, and the MVA continues to participate as we work to revive the Japan market, said MVA managing director Christopher A. Concepcion.

This year’s booth and delegation created a very active, festive atmosphere with several different activities, including the first participation of Marianas-chan.

This underscores our new image as the Marianas, and we will continue to work toward building a new base, a new generation of Japanese visitors who fall in love with Tthe Marianas.”

At the MVA booth, representatives of the Marianas distributed promotional information, answered questions, and allowed attendees to participate in coconut oil making and crafting.

Miss Marianas 2016 Peachy Quitugua, Marianas-chan, and Lily Pua performed on stage to the Marianas heartbreak classic Jet Plane.

Also, the new promotional video, The Marianas, and producer Yasunori Iwamoto presented on his filming experience on the islands.

The previous Miss Marianas, Jian Joyner, also graced the display booth with her presence.

Members of the Japan Saipan Travel Association and Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands also manned the booth and helped spread the word about the Marianas to attendees.

The event is organized by the Japan Travel and Tourism Association and Japan Association of Travel Agents.

The JATA Tourism Expo is internationally recognized as one of the largest travel events in the world and presents Japan as a tourism nation to the world, further developing outbound, inbound and domestic travel by bringing together the combined strengths of not only the tourism industry, but all industries in Japan and its local communities.

The JATA Tourism Expo provides opportunities for travel professionals to exchange travel information and conduct effective business meetings, while inspiring consumers through the power of travel.

Tourism Observer

INDONESIA: Mount Agung Eruption, Indonesia To Divert Flights To Ten Airports

Authorities in Indonesia are on standby to divert flights destined for the holiday island of Bali as increasingly frequent tremors from a rumbling volcano stoke fears an eruption could be imminent.

Yet the Balinese government has sent a letter to address the “people around the world”, pleading with tourists that Bali is still safe.
However the official advice on the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website says to exercise a high degree of caution.

It comes as Bali Nine member Scott Rush and 166 inmates at Indonesia’s Karangasem prison were evacuated amid fears Mount Agung could boil over.

Mount Agung, about 75 kilometres from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August.

But in recent days it’s threatening to erupt for the first time in more than 50 years, forcing more than 80,000 people to flee their homes.

Hands up who else on the Island feels anxious? One island expat wrote on her blog.

Tourists have also said they have been forced out of accommodation close to the base of the volcano.

I had been at a wedding in a remote village of Munti Gunung in the north of Bali, one tourist said.

Around 11.30pm asleep back in the diving town of Tulamben I was woken by my Indonesian brother in law and told to pack our things and evacuate the area immediately.

It was quite a worrying moment because it was at that time we realised everyone in our hotel had already left.

Family staying in another hotel were kicked out and made to find their own way to safety.

Karangasem prison lies 23km to the southeast of the volcano, which is outside of the exclusion zone, but no chances were being taken.

Evacuated alongside Rush was Sydney man Michael Sacatides, who is serving time on drug charges and Indonesian woman Noor Ellis, convicted of the murder of her Australian husband Bob Ellis.

Karangasem prison governor, Kusbyantoro, said all the prisoners had been evacuated.

Bali attracts millions of foreign visitors every year to its palm-fringed beaches and an eruption would be a major blow to its tourism-dependent economy.

Yet in a statement from Pemerintah Provinsi Bali, Indonesia’s National Disaster Agency urged tourists to continue visiting Bali.

Bali tourism is safe. Do not spread the misleading news that Bali is not safe because Mount Agung is on the highest alert status.

Please, come and visit Bali,A.A. Gede Yuniartha Putra said from Denpasar.

A Tourist who was staying in a resort away from the volcano said how he watched Mt Agung become more active.

We even experienced six tremors while diving. Two felt huge, he said.

Within three hours our hotel shipped us to our next destination early. They sensibly moved all guests to avoid the impending chaos and shut down the hotel as best they could.

They saved us trauma and anxiety. We feel so much for the workers who have lost their incomes.

Swift assurances were made in a follow-up statement, claiming 50,000-60,000 visitors were still flying in and out of the country on Wednesday.

The statement said the raised hazard level of Mount Agung could discourage tourists but because most tourist destinations were far from the exclusion zone, visitors should not be worried.

Visit Indonesia Tourism assured visitors Bali was open for business and business as usual.

The airport in Bali’s capital Denpasar has not been affected but several countries including Australia and Singapore have issued travel advisories warning travellers to exercise caution.

In anticipation of an eruption, Indonesia plans to divert flights headed for Bali to ten other airports, including on nearby Lombok and to the capital Jakarta.

The planes will be diverted to their nearest location or where it originally took off from, transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi said.

Airlines are watching the situation closely and 100 buses have been prepared to evacuate tourists.

Virgin Australia said it would be making an extra fuel stop in Darwin for some of its flights between Australia and Bali in case it is forced to turn back.

Singapore Airlines said customers travelling between September 23 and October 2 could rebook flights or ask for a refund.

Officials announced the highest possible alert level on Friday due to the increasing volcanic activity, and told people to stay at least nine kilometres away from the crater.

The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded almost 300 tremors Wednesday morning.

A thin column of smoke can be seen rising from the mountain’s summit.

Indonesia lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.

Meanwhile, a rumbling, belching volcano that’s threatening to blow had forced more than 7,000 people to flee their homes by Wednesday on an island in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

Authorities have declared an emergency on Ambae island, where activity at the Manaro volcano has increased recently, raising fears of a major eruption.

About 10,000 people live on the island, and villagers close to the volcano have been moved to schools and community halls on the island’s less vulnerable eastern and western regions.

Tourism Observer

HONG KONG: Hong Kong Airlines Launched Daily Service Between Hong Kong And Vancouver

Hong Kong Airlines is extending its network in Canada by placing its HX marketing code on WestJet-operated flights, after the two companies signed a codeshare agreement.

The carriers are building on an existing interline agreement put in place earlier this year.

Our newly launched daily service between Hong Kong and Vancouver has been a great success and this codeshare agreement with WestJet, which extends our network in Canada is the logical next step, Hong Kong Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Li Dianchun said.

Hong Kong Airlines’ daily Hong Kong-Vancouver service will allow guests to connect onto select WestJet flights from Vancouver to Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

We welcome Hong Kong Airlines as our newest codeshare partner and congratulate them on their inaugural service to Vancouver in June of this year, said Ed Sims, WestJet executive vice-president commercial.

This codeshare agreement provides guests on both sides of the Pacific with more choices and opportunities to experience excellent service and travel globally, he added.

Tickets can be purchased via travel agents or Hong Kong Airlines’ sales offices and call centers.

Established in 2006, Hong Kong Airlines is a full-service airline firmly rooted in Hong Kong.

Its wide destination network covers close to 40 major cities across the Asia Pacific region and North America.

Hong Kong Airlines is represented in Greece and Cyprus by Discover the World.

Low cost carrier WestJet and its regional airline, WestJet Encore, offer scheduled services to more than 100 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe and to more than 175 destinations in over 20 countries through airline partnerships.

Tourism Observer

GREECE: Greece Involved n Talks On Europe’s Tourism Strategy

Secretary General for Tourism Policy and Development Georgios Tziallas represented Greece during a high-level conference recently hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels and themed A European strategy to enhance the competitiveness of the tourism industry.

The conference focused on ways to attract investments, improve entrepreneurship and employment in the tourism sector.

Held on the occasion of World Tourism Day 2017, it gathered high-ranking officials of organizations from the EU’s 27 member states, MEPs and members of national parliaments.

Tziallas participated in the dialogue for the establishment of a united European strategy, which would improve competitiveness, create new jobs and further develop the skills of employees in the tourism sector.

During a round table discussion participants also focused on the role of innovation and digital economy in tourism and on ways to promote Europe as a destination to international markets.

Speaking at the conference, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani called for the closer cooperation of member states in order for Europe to receive more than one billion tourists by 2025.

Tourism Observer

Thursday 28 September 2017

GUAM: Kim Jong-un Destroying Guam Tourism

A new study reveals decline in tourism to Guam following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's threat to bomb Guam, home to a US military base.

A study by ForwardKeys reveals that the imposition of new UN sanctions, followed by the ratcheting up of hostile rhetoric between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on 9th August, triggered a decline in tourism to Guam.

In the five weeks that followed, arrivals of people staying between four and twenty-one nights (a typical tourist visit), fell by 9%, with arrivals from Japan, traditionally Guam’s most important origin market, falling 30%.

The fall in travel to Guam would have been much more substantial, were it not for a remarkable rise in enthusiasm for the Pacific island from South Korea.

Prior to 9th August, arrivals in Guam were up 11% but that was due to a 41% increase in travel from South Korea, off-setting a 13% decline in visits from Japan.

Looking deeper at people’s plans to travel to Guam by analysing travel bookings made to date for stays of the same duration), it is clear that after 9th August, overall bookings fell by 43%, benchmarked against the same period last year and bookings from Japan fell by 65%.

By comparison, bookings from South Korea fell by 16%.

Looking ahead, by analysing the state of current bookings made for travel to Guam up to the end of the year, the current situation is that overall bookings are 3% behind where they were at the same time last year.

Current bookings from Japan are 24% behind; from the USA, they are 17% behind; from Hong Kong, they are 15% behind and from China, they are 51% behind.

Only current bookings from South Korea are 14% ahead. The strong growth in bookings can be partly attributed to increased air capacity between Guam and South Korea.

From 13th September 2017, Air Seoul became the sixth carrier from Korea to provide direct services to Guam.

The initial schedule is a five times weekly operation but Air Seoul will increase this to daily operations in October.

Mario Hardy, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association, said we live in a world of constant volatility, uncertainty and political instability which is of great concern for many destinations around the globe.

The island of Guam is beginning to feel the impact of the war words between two nations’ leaders and reminds us of the fragility of the travel and tourism industry.

Olivier Jager, CEO, ForwardKeys, saidWhilst the stall in bookings for Guam is a concern, current bookings are a snap-shot as of now and it is still possible for the momentum to recover, if for example, the sabre-rattling has caused people simply to book later (ie: closer to the date of travel) rather than not to come.

One cannot be surprised that the escalating tension between North Korea and the USA has deterred visitors to Guam. What is interesting is the extraordinary extent to which the South Korean market is the white knight, bucking the trend.

I can only speculate that South Koreans have been enthused by Guam’s promotional claims that it is the perfect destination for romance – and by going there, are demonstrating they are much more interested in making love than war.

Tourism Observer

UAE: Etihad Aviation Group Tony Douglas As Group Chief Executive Officer

Tony Douglas
The Chairman of Etihad Aviation Group, His Excellency Mohamed Mubarak Fadhel Al Mazrouei, today confirmed the appointment of Tony Douglas as Group Chief Executive Officer, who will join the company in January 2018.

Mr. Douglas joins Etihad from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, where he has served as CEO of the Defence Equipment and Support department, responsible for procuring and supporting all the equipment and services for the British Armed Forces.

In the UK, he held senior positions with airport operator BAA, and as Chief Operating Officer and Group Chief Executive designate of Laing O’Rourke.

His roles under airport operator BAA included Managing Director of the Heathrow Terminal 5 project, Group Supply Chain Director, Group Technical Director, and CEO of Heathrow Airport.

Previously, Mr. Douglas held senior positions in the UAE, most notably as CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company and as CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports Company where he was responsible for the successful delivery of Khalifa Port.

Mr. Douglas will be supported by an experienced group leadership team which includes Ray Gammell, who will return to his position as Group Chief People & Performance Officer; Ricky Thirion, Interim Group Chief Financial Officer; Kevin Knight, Group Chief Strategy & Planning Officer; Mana Mohamed Saeed Al Mulla, Chief Group Support Services Officer; Henning zur Hausen, General Counsel; and Amina Taher, Vice President Corporate Affairs.

The divisional CEOs will report directly to Mr. Douglas, including Peter Baumgartner, CEO of Etihad Airways; Chris Youlten, Managing Director of Etihad Airport Services; Abdul Khaliq Saeed, CEO of Etihad Airways Engineering; Gavin Halliday, Managing Director of Hala Group; and Robin Kamark who joins as CEO, Airline Equity Partners in October 2017.

Tourism Observer

TURKEY: Turkish Airlines Awarded “Five-Star Global Airline”

Turkish Airlines, flying to more countries than any other airline, has been named a Five-Star Global Airline by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Official Airline Ratings.

The prestigious award, based on passenger feedback, was presented to Turkish Airlines at the APEX Award Ceremony at Expo 2017 in Long Beach, California.

This five-star ranking reaffirms Turkish Airlines’ position as a global leader in passenger experience and comfort.

Turkish Airlines won several awards from the industry’s most respected organizations with its service quality, on-board and on the ground catering, Business Class and lounges.

These include; the Best Airline in Europe for the 6 consecutive year starting from 2011, Best Business Class Onboard Catering in 2013, 2014 and 2016, and 2017 and the World’s Best Business Class Lounge awards in 2015 and 2017.

The global carrier also picked up the Best Business Class Lounge Dining for the third consecutive years according to this year’ survey results of Skytrax, another widely acclaimed airline passenger survey organization in global.

Commenting on the airline’s latest accolade, Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee of Turkish Airlines M. İlker Aycı said; We strive to provide the best travel experience to our guests and having been named a Five Star Global Airline by passenger votes is the most valuable recognition that we can have in return.

What differentiates us is that while connecting our guests with their loved ones, we turn great ideas into reality that result in a travel experience full of unique services and delightful differences.

Touching our passengers’ hearts is the key factor that earned us a series of awards. This is our most important advantage over our competitors.

The APEX Official Airline Ratings are the industry's first rating program based solely on passengers' verified feedback.

This innovative industry program gathers passenger feedback based on travel itineraries and provides an audited third-party analysis of the insights gathered.

Tourism Observer

Top Shopping Countries For Travelers

Bangkok, London, and Paris are the top-ranked international travel destinations for holiday shoppers, according to the annual Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index released today.

The Index is more than a ranking of the 132 top destination cities of today and tomorrow. Based on visitor volume and spend for the 2016 calendar year.

The in-depth analysis also provides a forecast for growth in 2017, insight on the fastest growing destination cities, and a deeper understanding of why people travel and how they spend around the world.

The global top 10 destination cities

Forecasts for continued growth in 2017 are also positive, and London is predicated to eclipse Bangkok’s growth (see table below). Travellers from USA and France represented nearly one quarter of visitors to London, with 2.32m and 1.99m visitors respectively.

City 2016 International Overnight Visitors Forecast for 2017

Bangkok 19.41 million visitors 4.0%

London 19.06 million visitors 5.0%

Paris 15.45 million visitors 4.4%

Dubai 14.87 million visitors 7.7%

Singapore 13.11 million visitors 2.6%

New York 12.70 million visitors (-2.4%)

Seoul 12.39 million visitors 0.4%

Kuala Lumpur 11.28 million visitors 7.2%

Tokyo 11.15 million visitors 12.2%

Istanbul 9.16 million visitors 0.9%

London’s importance as a global hub has once again been underlined because of its iconic landmarks, incredible architecture and arts scene, but also because of its world-class connectivity, in terms of getting to and within the city.

Yet London stands out particularly for its shopping, representing 46.7% of visitors’ expenditure, more than any other city.

81% of the visitors are for leisure, while the remaining 1 in 5 people are in London for business reasons.

People spend more on shopping while in London than any other city in the report.

It represents 46.7% of visitors’ expenditure. Only Osaka (43.4%) and Tokyo (43.1%) come close.

International visitor spent $16.09 billion in 2016, the highest of all European destinations, and significantly higher than Paris which came in second for expenditure with $12.03 billion.

Their expenditure was broken down as follows:

Shopping: 46.7%

Accommodation: 30.1%

Food and beverages: 16.5%

Local transport: 4.3%

Local services: 1.9%

Miscellaneous: 0.5%

Mark Barnett, President of UK, Ireland, Nordics & Baltics, Mastercard said London appeals to so many different passions of so many people.

It is one of the capitals for fashion and theatre.

Thousands of restaurants and countless Michelin stars make it a mecca for foodies.

Historic landmarks rub shoulders with futuristic towers but above all else it is the incredible diversity, energy and creative spirit that make it so special, so international and outward-looking.

That is why London is a true destination city and well positioned to benefit from increased visitor numbers and spending.

Andrew Cooke, Acting CEO of London & Partners which runs, said The enduring appeal of London means the city is consistently one of the world’s top destinations for visitors from around the world.

London is one of the most diverse and thrilling cities in the world with everything from historic palaces to leading exhibitions.

And now, according to MasterCard it’s the world’s leading city for shopping. Whether it’s browsing high-end luxury stores or bargain-hunting in quirky markets off the beaten track, London has something to offer every visitor.”

Tourism Observer