Tag Archives: African travel

AFRICA: Travel and tourism in focus

Photo by Africa Travel Association
Photo by Africa Travel Association

One of a series

This year’s ATA Congress in Uganda highlights the challenges of the ebola scare and the emergence — or re-emergence — of great destinations and investment possibilities.

The annual congress of the Africa Travel Association, the pre-eminent organization promoting travel and tourism across the Mother Continent, is underway in Kampala, capital city of Uganda.

Hundreds of stakeholders and decision makers from government and the private sector are taking part in the four-day session that runs Nov. 11-16. And if we use the issues facing African travel and tourism, they will be busy.

Start with the ebola outbreak — and just as important, the media-driven hysteria over it in the West.

The former has cost some 5,000 lives since the outbreak was identified at the end of last year. The later has cost African nations millions of dollars as travelers have cancelled both vacation and business travel — despite the fact that their destinations were thousands of miles from any country caught up with this viral scourge.

This is hardly the first time that the mainstream media in the United States and elsewhere — which I sometimes refer to as “the mainstream fear machine” — has beset Africa with needless grief and sowed unjustified fear outside the continent.

What is needed is a cooperative, comprehensive and long-time effort among Africa’s 54 nations to provide a counterpoint, to use mass media to educate the world about Africa in a more balanced, nuanced way.

It may not be easy to organize, but if African travel and tourism are to reach their full potential, without being constantly whipsawed by Western media frenzy over the next crisis du jour, this eventually must happen.

Meanwhile, Africa’s travel and tourism picture is hardly all gloom, for in the face of fear-mongering and year of faltering global economies and uncertain recoveries elsewhere, African travel overall has grown.

Airlines are adding routes to the continent. A hotel building boom is underway. Not only that, but even as African tourism ministries and private tourism trade groups aggressively seek from travelers from Europe and the United States, the Mother Continent is reaching beyond those traditional markets to the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — as well as the Middle East.

Once this latest ebola outbreak is beaten back, there is no reason for anyone to doubt that all of this will continue.

The fact that this year’s ATA congress is being held in Uganda highlights one of the continent’s resurging regions for leisure and venture travel.

If all you know of Uganda is Idi Amin and the raid on Entebbe, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

And that’s next.

NOTE: Greg Gross is a founding member of the San Diego chapter of the Africa Travel Association.

AFRICA: The high cost of flying

 © Gordon Tipene | Dreamstime.com
© Gordon Tipene | Dreamstime.com

Air travel to Africa isn’t expensive. It’s just being taxed and surcharged to death.

I know a lot of people who would love to visit Africa, but they won’t. Not because of ebola, but because of the high cost of travel there, starting with the four-figure airfares.

But that’s only fair, right? I mean, Africa’s a long way from North America. Yes, I know, Senegal is a mere seven hours or so from the East Coast, about the same time to fly from New York to Paris — and in some cases, less.

And yet that NYC-Paris flight, if you made it about two weeks from now, would cost you at the high end of $800, while the flight from JFK to Dakar, Senegal’s capital, would cost you more than $1,200.

The answer to your next question — Why? — becomes all too clear when you closely examine that JFK-DKR fare, flown in this case by Royal Air Maroc, the national airline of Morocco.

For an airfare of $1,1221, you get not only a flight from New York City to Dakar, but a layover each way in Morocco’s capital city, Casablanca — 15 hours on the trip to Dakar and a whopping 30 hours on the return, more than enough time to take in the sights in a fascinating North African capital.

Not a bad deal, right? But we haven’t started the fare breakdown yet.

Start with the base fare each way between NYC and Dakar — $236. That’s $472 round-trip. There are folks who will be paying more than that to fly from NYC to LAX. And yet the total airfare to Dakar is $1,221, for a single passenger.

So where does that other $749 come from?

It comes from 17 different taxes, fees and surcharges imposed on top of that $472 base fare. Seven of these are levied by the US government, six by Senegal and three by Morocco, for the cost of airport security, immigration, customs and agricultural inspection fees, airport improvements. Altogether, they total $258.

All of which pales in the face of the $491 fuel surcharge tacked on by Royal Air Maroc.

No need to give “the side-eye” to the Moroccan airline when it comes to that fuel surcharge. They all do it.

I’d seen international airfares burdened with a dozen or more add-on charges that added up to hundreds of dollars, but it was the first time I ever saw the add-ons add up to more than the base airfare.

I randomly checked a dozen more airfares from North America to various destinations in Africa, to see if that Royal Air Maroc fare to Dakar was some sort of aberration. It wasn’t.

The number of add-ons varied slightly — a few more on this fare, two or three fewer on that one — but the results were always the same. The base fares were spectacularly cheap, and the add-ons invariably blew up the final price.

One Emirates flight from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Addis Ababa(ADD) in Ethiopia cost $880 round-trip — a pretty reasonable fare, relatively speaking. The base fare — $50 each way. That’s not a typo, people — five zero.

It adds up to $100 in base fare and $780 from nine add-ons, of which Emirates’ fuel surcharge accounts for $688. The seven taxes imposed by Washington and the one from Ethiopia make up the remaining $92 — chump change by comparison.

I also checked airfares between Canadian gateways and African destinations, just to see if our northern neighbors were getting a break from this nonsense. They’re not.

Add to these inflated fares the cost of visas for each country you wish to visit and you begin to understand why African travel seems financially out of reach for many people.

You also begin to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.

African Union hqs, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

AFRICA: The hotels are coming

Western tourists may be staying from Africa because of ebola, but the world’s hoteliers are rushing in. That bodes well for the future of African travel.

The Africa Hotel Investment Forum is an annual two-day meetup of African governments, business leaders and hotel operators. This year’s event was held last week in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.

This isn’t one of those conventions held mainly to give business people an excuse to party. Deals get done here. And the deals coming out of this year’s forum were major.

Nine hotel corporations signed to build 41 new hotels across Africa over the next six years, nearly a dozen in the next three years.

We’re talking Wyndham, Inter-Continental, Accor, Marriott. Also in the mix, Best Western, Starwood (the folks who own the Sheraton brand), W Hotels, Carlson Rezidor (the folks behind the Radisson Blu hotels) and Hilton Worldwide.

All of them household names among the world’s travelers. All of them heavy hitters in the hospitality industry. And all of them looking to step up their game on the Mother Continent.

Meanwhile, you now have multiple African nations all but climbing over one another in hopes of hosting this forum next year.

This is part of an ongoing hotel building boom across Africa. There were more than 200 hotel projects — to create some 40,000 new rooms — in the works even before last week’s deals became public.

If I sound excited, it’s because I am. While there’s no guarantee that all of these places will actually get built, enough of them will to perhaps change the face of African travel and tourism.

Clearly, the world’s hoteliers are looking past the current ebola outbreak and are making plans for the long-term. That in itself is a good thing.

Most of these new hotels are being built with business travelers in mind, as well as MICE tourism.

(MICE has nothing to do with rodents. It stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events.)

Business types aren’t the only ones who need nice places to stay. So do diplomats. The African Union has its headquarters (seen above) in Addis Ababa, where this year’s forum was held. And several of those hotel deals were for new hotels in Addis.

So what does any of this hotel boom have to do with you, the potential Africa visitor who’s not looking to swing business or political deals?

Potentially, a lot.

Currently, the top form of African vacation travel by far is safari travel. Has been for decades. The best safari operators have it down to a science, an art form, and it annually draws travelers from around the world.

But not everyone interested in Africa is necessarily interested in safaris. And those who aren’t often forgo Africa for other destinations.

The other reasons to visit the Mother Continent are almost too many to list — history and heritage, music, art, food, fashion, film, education, adventure, culture, religion.

But the travelers looking for those things need places to stay, preferably in the cities where they’re most likely to find what they’re looking for.

For this kind of traveler, even the most luxuriously appointed safari camp out in the bush probably won’t work.

Having more and better hotels means that African countries will be able to offer travelers more lodging in their urban centers. Keeping those rooms filled — and adding more of them — will give those nations incentive to do something they have long needed to do — diversify their attractions for the leisure traveler.

African travel and tourism will never reach their full potential until they can offer the traveler a broader range of options and attractions. Building new and better hotels could be an important first step toward achieving that.

© Illuminativisual | Dreamstime.com - Ethiopian Airlines Photo

AFRICA: Ethiopian and United hook up

United logo

The new codeshare agreement between Africa’s largest airline and North America’s third largest promises smoother connections for air travelers between the United States and nearly the whole of Africa.

Little by little, the handful of Africa’s transcontinental airlines are reaching toward the US market. And America’s airlines, slowly and quietly, are reaching back.

The latest gesture came last month, when Ethiopian Airlines signed a codesharing agreement with United Airlines.

Ethiopian is the largest airline in Africa and has a solid reputation among international airlines. United is one of largest airlines in the world, one of the few remaining “legacy airlines” in the United States, and one of only two us airlines flying to Africa (Delta being the other).

Both already were members of the Star Alliance when they signed the agreement.

When two or more airlines agree to codeshare, they are agreeing to let the other airline(s) in the agreement list flights in the name(s) of the other airlines(s).

Essentially, my airline actually makes the flight in your name, under your flight number, while your airline pockets the airfare. And vice versa.

This enables United to sell tickets to African destinations without having to use its own aircraft and flight crews. Ethiopian can do the same for its customers wanting to fly to more US destinations than Ethiopian is now allowed to serve.

(As we’ve talked about before here on IBIT, our FAA allows African airlines access to extremely few US airports. As of this writing, only one of them, Los Angeles, is west of the Mississippi River.)

The new agreement means that Ethiopian will run flights on behalf of United between Washington Dulles (IAD) and a dozen African destinations, from Addis Ababa to Zanzibar.

United, in return, will operate flights for Ethiopian between IAD and 22 US cities, nearly half of which are in Midwest or western states — all the way to Honolulu.

So what’s in it for you as a traveler?

For one thing, it gives you seamless connections between your home airport and your African destinations. It also means that the frequent-flier miles you amass on either airline will be good on both, as well as many, if not all, of the other Star Alliance airlines.

And the Star Alliance just happens to be the world’s largest airline alliance, with 27 member airlines serving 192 countries.

Short form: This is a good thing.

AIRLINES: Know your alliance, Part 1
AIRLINES: Know your alliance, Part 2

Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles

AFRICA: Go North, East or South

Does the ebola virus outbreak make you nervous about visiting West Africa? That still leaves you with a whole continent to explore and treasure.

A longstanding, widespread ignorance about Africa in the United States predisposes a lot of would-be visitors to a hysterical view of events on the Mother Continent. And when it comes to Africa, mainstream media always stand ready to deliver hysteria in abundance.

The latest example is the current outbreak of the ebola virus that now affects a total of six African nations.

Five are in West AfricaLiberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and most recently, Senegal. The sixth is the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

As a virus that creates deadly infections and has no cure, ebola certainly is no joke, but a little perspective may be in order here.

As of this writing, ebola has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa since the outbreak was first recognized as such in February of this year.

Across the African continent, malaria will have killed more people than that by the end of the day, maybe even before you finish reading this. It’s been that way for centuries.

Yet malaria somehow has never stopped people from traveling to Africa for business, education or leisure.

A little more perspective. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed 50 million people worldwide, some say as many as 100 million, more than were killed in World War 1. Did the world stay home after that? I think not.

Ebola is scary. Terrifying, in fact. So if you’d rather wait until West Africa gets the current outbreak in hand before returning the region to your list of must-see destinations, that’s perfectly understandable. And at this point, it’s highly unlikely that the DRC was on your must-visit list, anyway.

Africa flags

Meanwhile, allow me to point out something that mainstream media will not tell you: Africa is a continent of 54 nations, 48 of which are utterly unaffected by ebola.

At least nine of those nations are in West Africa, but you’ve written off that entire region for the time being, right? So what does that leave us?

It leaves us the northern, eastern, central and southern regions of the world’s second largest continent to see, explore and treasure.

In North Africa, it leaves Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Yes, Egypt. You remember Egypt, right? Cairo. The pharaohs, the pyramids, ancient history and culture that predate the birth of Christ.

There are no State Department travel alerts or the more dire travel warnings in effect on Egypt. None. Not on Morocco or Tunisia, either.

Most travelers associate the Nile, ones of the world’s great rivers, with Egypt…and only Egypt. In fact, the Nile is not just a river, but a river system shared by 11 African countries — Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

To see where that system begins, and what it means to life in nearly a quarter of the African continent, you’ll have to go south of Egypt and into East Africa.

The first thing you’ll find out is that the Nile has more than one source. The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The White Nile has as its mother the far larger Lake Victoria, whose shore is shared by three East African nations — Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

This also is where you find out that Lake Victoria is one of the Great Lakes.

That’s right: North America is not the only continent in the world with a Great Lakes region. The North American version has five lakes in all. Africa’s boasts 15.

Cross-border incursions from Somalia by the jihadi terrorists of al Shabab might make some folks a bit nervous about visiting Kenya these days, but Tanzania and Uganda have no such issues.

And no ebola, either.

So what do they have? Start with great natural beauty. Tanzania has 13 national parks, Uganda 10. Thirty percent of Uganda is covered by water, not bad for a country that is 100 percent land-locked.

Tanzania has Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and one of the world’s Seven Summits. In the entire world, there are 700 mountain gorillas; 400 of them live and can be seen in Uganda.

Another good place to see the beauty of nature and the majesty of the mountain gorillas is Rwanda. Indeed, TripAdvisor can show you a list of 62 different things that make Rwanda worth a visit.

Kenya has worked hard to give the world the impression that all the Maasai people live within their borders, to the point where they’ve practically become a living symbol of the country, a very tall national brand.

But if you’re skittish about visiting Kenya these days, you can still get to know the Maasai in northern Tanzania, one of the 125 different ethnic groups that live in the country.

Uganda, a country no bigger than Oregon, has 56.

(NOTE: You’ll be hearing more — a lot more — about Uganda on IBIT in the coming days and weeks.)

Keep going south and there’s South Africa. Its wildlife. Its cities. Its wine country. Its coastline. Its history. A whole nation still sorting itself out, post-apartheid, post-Nelson Mandela.

But as you look south, you’ll soon realize there’s a lot more to southern Africa and just South Africa.

Angola. Zambia. Malawi. Mozambique. Botswana. Zimbabwe. Namibia. Each with its own charms, its own attractions, its own layered, complex past.

Off the eastern coast of southern Africa, a short cruise or even shorter flight from the mainland, you have the islands — the Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles.

Speaking of islands, there’s a lovely set of them off West Africa, untouched by ebola — the Cape Verde Islands. They even have their own airline that connect to the United States via Boston.

So as you can see from all the above, if you want to visit Africa without exposing yourself to major hazards, be they natural or man-made, it really isn’t all that hard when you’ve got most of a continent to work with.

All you have to do is turn off the hysteria of the mainstream media and do some research of your own.

Then find yourself a good, knowledgeable travel agent and start making plans for journey of a lifetime.

Some links to help jump-start your research. Let me emphasize that this is just to get you started. If you encounter a problem with any of these links, leave a comment or send me an email:

North Africa
Morocco (in French)

East Africa

Southern Africa
South Africa

African islands
Cape Verde
Comoros (in French)

In addition to guidebooks and Web sites, make a point of seeking out expats from the African countries you wish to visit. Let them know of your interest and ask questions.

LAX to Africa?

Boeing 787 Dreamliner of Ethiopian Airlines
Imagine courtesy of Boeing

Ethiopian Airlines could become the first African air carrier to connect the Mother Continent to the US West Coast.

This time next year, you may be able to fly to Africa from the West Coast of the United States — on an African airline.

Ethiopian Airlines has announced plans to begin flying out of Los Angeles (LAX) to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa (ADD).

The LAX-ADD flight would make a European stopover in Dublin, Ireland (DUB).

This is not just huge. It’s historic.

Currently, the FAA allows only six African airlines to fly to and from the United States. Ethiopian will be the first to touch down anywhere west of the Mississippi.

The airline already flies to ADD out of Washington Dulles (IAD).

It’s but one in a series of ambitious moves signaling the intent of Ethiopian to be recognized as a major player in the air travel industry.

(NOTE: Skytrax, the British airline rating Web site, gives the airline three stars out of a possible five, putting it on a level at least equal to that of most US-based airlines. The highest rated African airline flying to the US is South African Airways, with four stars.)

Ethiopian already is Africa’s largest airline.

For the last several years, it’s been expanding its route map to Europe and Asia, and gone to Boeing for jumbo jets with extended range, including its new state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner.

In 2017, another long-range specialist, the Airbus A350-900, will join Ethiopian’s fleet.

Its arrival at LAX will definitely raise its profile among international travelers, especially in the US, and could pave the way for the arrival of other African air carriers to the US.

But they aren’t stopping there.

The airline also is looking to open new routes to Madrid and Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Clearly, these guys are serious about taking the Ethiopian Airlines brand — and by extension, Ethiopia’s national identity — to almost every corner of the world.

When Boeing was catching hell for the teething pains of its new 787, from being three years late on its first deliveries to a series of problems with its lithium-ion batteries, Ethiopian Airlines stood strong behind both Boeing and the Dreamliner, even as other airlines delayed or cancelled their orders. That loyalty may have helped save the Dreamliner program.

A Dreamliner of Africa
AFRICA — The air game changes
The “Wings of Nigeria” reach the US
AIRLINES: Africa extends her reach

woman in wheelchair on the beach flashing a double victory sign.

Travel for the dis…enabled

woman in wheelchair on the beach flashing a double victory sign.
© Mauricio Jordan De Souza Coelho | Dreamstime.com

For those with physical disabilities, travel remains a challenge. But there’s now a global industry devoted to helping disabled travelers see the world.

Since I started writing about travel, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about Africa, but the one I got recently at the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show was one I never saw coming:

“Do you have any information on wheelchair access in Morocco?”

The question came from a man in a wheelchair.

Funny how it never occurred to me that people confined to wheelchairs by injuries or illness might be just as interested in seeing the world as everybody else.

Actually, it’s not funny. I should’ve known better. So I started looking into the possibilities.

I’ve seen enough on my own travels around the world to realize that accessibility for travelers with handicaps is, to put it mildly, uneven, spotty, hit and miss — in developed as well as developing countries.

Lots of public buildings with stairs and escalators, but no elevator. Curb cuts, supposedly to enable wheelchair users to safely cross streets, that were barely wide enough to handle two skateboards side by side.

Public restrooms with doors and stalls so narrow that a physically unhindered person could have a tough time using them.

Not long ago, I saw a place using a piece of corrugated iron laid over a set of stairs as a wheelchair ramp. It was steep enough to use for an Olympic ski jump and barely wide enough to accommodate a child’s tricycle, much less a wheelchair.

And that was in Los Angeles.

Still, I reasoned, there had to be some tour operators out there specializing in accessible travel.

In fact, there’s an army of them, specializing in creating independent tours for individuals, family trips or group tours to virtually every major region of the world. Cruises, adventure tours, you name it.

The first one I looked at had already run tours this year to Alaska, Chile and Argentina, with more upcoming to Amsterdam, Italy, Peru and South Africa.

I found others offering “wheelchair holidays,” as well as guidance and suggestions for independent disabled travelers, in Quebec, London, Ireland, Rome, Barcelona, Beijing, Thailand, Bali, Vietnam, Ecuador, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Jamaica, Greece, Portugal, Iceland, Egypt, Switzerland.

And yes, Morocco.

That’s only a fraction of the destinations where you’ll find people working to offer accessible travel. I even came across an outfit that specializes in safaris in southern Africa for the disabled.

If you can do a safari from a wheelchair, there aren’t many places in the world where you can’t go.

Noir is it all about those confined to wheelchairs. Dialysis patients are no longer tied to static locations. An IBIT reader who happens to be both a good friend and a dialysis patient passed along these links to share with you (thanks, kimmers!):

There’s also a non-profit organization devoted to advocating for accessible travel. It’s called SATH, the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality. It provides a lot of good advice to disabled travelers and looks as if it could be a pretty good resource for travel agents with disabled clients.

A ton of challenges remain for disabled travelers, and those who must deal daily with the realities of wheelchairs and braces and oxygen and dialysis are far more aware of the full extent of those obstacles than I.

Also, the sheer number of travel providers for the disabled, in the United States and worldwide, almost guarantees that there may be a few wolves lurking among the sheep, looking to rip off the unwary travel planner.

So you need to check out such companies as thoroughly as you can before committing your money — not to mention your health and safety — to traveling with them. SATH might be able to help with that. So too can the Better Business Bureau and TripAdvisor.

But the fundamental fact remains. Disabilities and all, you can still see the world, and have a grand time doing it.

And if you’re a travel agent, this is a market you need to take seriously.

CRUISE: Autism at sea


Coming to San Diego: America’s biggest travel show

The Embarcedro, where cruise ships dock in San Diego.  ©IBIT/G. Gross
The Embarcedro, where cruise ships dock in San Diego. ©IBIT/G. Gross

The arrival of Unicomm’s Travel & Adventure Show series shows the travel industry is starting to recognize California’s second largest city as more than just a destination.

Every year, Unicomm’s Travel & Adventure Show series is the largest travel trade show in the United States. Over a winter weekend in a handful of the largest US cities, veteran travelers and travel dreamers alike get to soak up tips from experts and see what’s available from scores of tour operators and travel providers, all under one large roof.

For Southern Californians, your only chance to get in on this has been the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show, held annually in Long Beach.

Two weeks from now, that will change. That’s because the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show will be held March 29-30 at the San Diego Convention Center on San Diego Bay.

Fans of the wildly popular San Diego Comic-Con are already well familiar with this venue. Now, you have a reason to come back.

For those up in the Los Angeles-Orange County area who missed the Long Beach show, it means you get another shot at it, and a lovely little drive or train ride down to San Diego in the bargain.

For San Diegans, it means not having to schlepp up to Long Beach and back to immerse yourself in a world of travel possibilities.

But for those of us who follow the doings of the travel industry, it means that, at long last, “the trade” is starting to recognize this region as a two-way market.

And if you call this area home, that could be a very good thing, indeed.

With its seemingly endless beaches and almost sinfully perfect weather, San Diego has long been recognized as a great tourist destination year-round, especially by anyone who’s ever had to shovel several hundred pounds of winter snow just to find their front door.

But in justifiably hyping it as a cool place to visit, it often feels as if the travel industry forgets that San Diego also is a place where a lot of folks live.

Los Angeles may have the largest population in California with 3.8 million people, but the 3.1 million of San Diego city and county aren’t that far behind. And San Diego area residents like to travel as much as anyone else.

The arrival of America’s biggest travel expo to “America’s Finest City” would suggest that at least some in the industry are starting to recognize San Diego as a two-way travel market. And that’s all good.

Coming on the heels of — and in such relative proximity to — both Unicomm’s Long Beach show and the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, several of the big-name speakers who highlighted those two events won’t be in San Diego.

That means no Rick Steves, the PBS European travel guru. Likewise, CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg. Even more significant by their absence, Arthur Frommer, the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” and his equally well-traveled and insightful daughter, Pauline Frommer.

Another significant absence will be Ethiopian Airlines, which is a shame, because too few Americans know about what just might be the best airline in Africa.

So what’s in it for you if you go? A lot, actually.

The Travel Channel will “represent” with two of its more popular show hosts, Don Wildman and Samantha Brown.

Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” also will there. Not one to rest on past publishing, Patricia likes to update her books for her travel show audiences, which makes hearing her “must-sees” a must.

But it’s some of the not-so-famous speakers who may offer the greatest value at this show.

There’s Jorge Meraz, host and director of the KPBS San Diego television series Crossing South. His focus is northern Baja California — the attractions you know, the ones you thought you knew and the ones you’ll want to know.

Jorge comes across not as some sort of haughty “I’m-Jorge-Meraz-and-you’re-not” expert, but as a cool, curious, fun-loving guy who’s willing both to learn and to challenge his own fears.

In other words, the kind of guy you’d love to have riding shotgun on your own travels.

Beth Whitman, founder and editor of Wanderlust and Lipstick, will be offering tips for safe, successful solo travel for women.

In the mainstream news business, they call topics like this one an “evergreen,” because it never gets old. There’s always interest and there are always questions.

Beth figures to have a lot of the answers.

Angel Castellanos of AngelsTravelLouge.com will have two sessions of travel tips and tricks, including one devoted to how to use your iPhone and other personal electronics to your advantage when you travel — without bankrupting yourself.

If you know what “roaming” to your cellphone bill, you’ll want to hear this guy.

Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to Europe? Gary Scott of Right Path Adventures will be talking about the attractions of a region of Europe still largely unknown to most Americans, the Dolomite mountains, including Croatia and Slovenia.

And Chris Liebenberg of Piper & Heath Travel will be addressing a subject close to my own heart, “The Conservation and Social Value of Travel in Africa.”

There will be cooking demonstrations hosted by Cuisine Noir, “the first food and wine lifestyle magazine for African-Americans,” as well as dance performances representing cultures of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And that’s all on the first day.

But you’ll want to save some time during your day for the exhibitors. There are more than 100 of them, representing travel in virtually every major region of the world, including Africa.

That last point is important, because more American leisure travelers to Africa come from the West Coast than any other part of the country.

It’s one of the reasons why the Africa Travel Association, the leading organization promoting travel and tourism in the Mother Continent, also will be on hand in San Diego. Sop be sure you stop by and meet their reps.

And if you’re there on Sunday, stop by the ATA booth and say hello to IBIT.

The San Diego Travel & Adventure Show

San Diego Convention Center
111 West Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA

Saturday, March 29

Sunday, March 30

COST (per person)
One day — $10 online before March 28, $12 online after March 28, $15 at the door.
Both days — $16 online before March 28, $18 online after March 28, $24 at the door.

NOTE: If you’re coming down from Los Angeles, Orange County or northern San Diego County, there’s an alternative to battling Southern California’s notorious freeway traffic — the train.

North County residents can hop on the Coaster, while those farther north can take advantage of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Both stop at the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego.

From the station, jump on the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line. You’ll be at the Convention Center in two stops.

Travel to Africa…why you should

Second of two parts

Nature and Black heritage are perhaps the two best-known reasons for visiting Africa, but there are many more reasons to go.

In the first segment of this series, we looked at Africa in terms of safety and whether a traveler could feel reasonably secure visiting the Mother Continent. We found that, on the whole, the answer is Yes.

Having established that can, we’re now going to look at some of the reasons why you should.

Typically, discussions of African travel focus on two themes. The first is nature. That usually means safari tours, hunting and fishing trips, bird-watching outings, backpacking, bike or motorcycle tours.

On these travels, the stars are Africa’s flora and fauna, much of it found nowhere else on Earth, and much of it under threat from everything from habitat loss to rampant poaching.

The other travel theme most commonly brought up for Africa, especially among Black Americans, is heritage travel, taking an up-close, in-person look at the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade where it began, maybe tracing their own African origins with the aid of DNA.

Both of these are valid reasons for a trip, or several trips, to the Mother Continent. But Africa has so much more to offer to the senses.

Sight, you know about already. Egypt’s pyramids and monuments. The mountains, deserts and of Morocco. The vast, grassy plains of the savanna that covers nearly half the continent. Mount Kilimanjaro.Victoria Falls, shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia. the beauty of Cape Town in South Africa.

But what of sound? There may not be enough years in an average lifespan to get your head around all the varied richness of Africa’s music, both ancient and modern.

Modern popular African musical styles by themselves are enough to swamp you in a tidal of creative sound. Afrobeat. Afrojazz. Highlife. Hiplife. Makossa. Sakara. Zouglou. And dozens more, some of them a century or more old.

If, starting right now, you devoted a year to fully immersing yourself in each style of African popular music, you’d still be going at it 40 years from now.

And those are the purely African sounds. That doesn’t count imports like Jamaican reggae nor Black American gospel music, on which Africans are putting their own delightful stamp.

What about food? On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mother Continent may best be known for images of starving babies, thanks to our mainstream media. But the reality is that Africa has given the world many foods and many flavors we enjoy without even thinking about their origins. Coffee. Peanuts. The cacao bean that gives us chocolate.

But those are just starters, you could say.

The nations and regions of Africa produce a whirlwind of flavors, everything from pastilla and harira, thieboudienne, yassa, egusi soup and jollof rice from West Africa, wat and shiro in East Africa, Central Africa’s babute and piri piri chicken, seswaa and sosatie in southern Africa — along with a curried dish inexplicably known as “bunny chow.”

(Don’t worry. No cute and fuzzy bunnies are harmed in the making of this dish…)

You can already find culinary tours on offer in North Africa, West Africa and the Republic of South Africa, and as the interest grows, there will be more.

Religion? Nearly all the continent is a massive collection of sites and artifacts holy to Christians and Muslims, among them the rock churches of Ethiopia.

Interested in high fashion? There are major annual fashion shows in Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa.

What about film, cinematography? We all now know that India produces more feature films that any other nation. Who’s Number Two? It’s not Hollywood. It’s Nigeria. That’s right: After Bollywood comes Nollywood.

Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa even can lay claim to a growing medical tourism industry, and Nigeria is looking to get into the mix. It’s another growing trend in African travel.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about all the attractions listed above is that taken all together, they still comprise but the merest introduction of what Africa offers to the traveler. So start making your plans, saving your money, and get that passport.

The Mother Continent is waiting for you.

Travel to Africa…why you can
2014: Make your own Black History in West Africa
AFRICA: 2 rails, 3 trains, 5 stars


The Tuskegee Airmen proved that Blacks could fly as well as anyone. But it would take another 20 years before you saw a Black pilot at the controls of a US airliner.

When you board an airliner and the cockpit door is open, do you ever peer inside to see who’s sitting at the controls?

If the pilot is a Black man or woman, do you feel a small smile spread for just a moment across your face?

If your answer is yes, you have three men to thank for that, Marlon Green, David Harris and August Martin.

After World War 2, the United States knew that Black men could fly as well as anyone else. The Tuskegee Airmen had proven that.

However, not one Tuskegee pilot was ever hired in the United States to fly for any US airline. Among those denied was August Martin, who was flying B-25 Mitchell bombers at war’s end.

For nine years, all he could do was scrounge part-time flying jobs with various lines — including El Al in Israel. In between, he took odd jobs, everything from aircraft mechanic in New Jersey to stevedore on the docks of New York harbor.

Finally in 1955, he became a captain for a cargo airline. But flying passengers was still off-limits to Blacks.

Two years later, Marlon Green heard that passenger airlines in this country had made a public commitment to hire pilots regardless of race.

He very quickly found out just how much that promise was worth. As his ex-wife would later tell the Denver Post, Green “got doors slammed in his face all over the place.”

There was no doubting his qualifications. While in the Air Force, he had flown not only twin-engined B-26 Marauder bombers, but the Grumman SA-16 Albatross rescue amphibian.

If you can take off and land the same twin-engined airplane on land and water, you’ve got skills. If you were black in the 1950s, however, your skills didn’t matter.

It seems the airlines were afraid back then that white customers would refuse to fly with a Black man at the controls, and that they would have too much trouble finding hotels willing to accept Black flight members in 1950s America.

When in 1957, he saw Continental Airlines hire five white pilots with less flight experience over him, Green decided he’d seen enough. He filed a complaint with the state of Colorado.

The state ordered Continental to enroll him in its pilot training class. The airline refused. The battle would last for six years and go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Green applied to ten other airlines. All ten turned him away. The whole experience took its toll, his brother, Jim, would say years later.

“He lost his dignity, his honor, his self-esteem, all of his savings, and he was reduced to menial work like cleaning milk cans. It destroyed his faith and his family.”

Finally in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled — unanimously — in favor of Marlon Green. But he would not get to be the first Black pilot for a US-based passenger airline.

That distinction would go to David Harris, who had been dealing with his own series of race-based rejections from the US airline industry.

In 1964, a year after Green’s court victory, Harris went to American Airlines and made a point of letting the interviewer know he was black. The interviewer’s response:

“This is American Airlines and we don’t care if you’re black, white or chartreuse. We only want to know, can you fly the plane?”

American hired Harris that same year. He would spend 14 years with the airline, retiring as a jumbo jet captain.

The following year, Continental put Marlon Green in the cockpit, backdating his seniority to 1957.

Capt. Green died in Denver in July 2009 at age 80. The next year, Continental named one of its Boeing 737 jets after him.

Capt. Harris remains active in the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, which is fighting to raise the number of Black airline pilots from its current level of fewer than 1 percent of the industry’s roughly 71,000 pilots.

But what of August Martin?

“Augie” Martin cared deeply about the newly independent nations of black Africa. During the 1960s, he used to spend his vacation time flying critically needed supplies up and down the Mother Continent.

During one such mercy mission in Nigeria in 1968, he was killed while trying to land on a highway during a driving rain.

Capt. Martin was 49 years old.

The stories of Marlon Green, David Harris and August Martin are among those now being told in the Black Wings exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

Black History Month is as good as reason as any to stop by and check it out.

Norma Merrick Sklarek, 1926-2012
Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams, 1936-2011
Black America: Taking to the skies

cuba flag

LA Travel Show: Cuba in the house for 2014

WHAT: The 2014 Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show

Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
300 E. Ocean Ave.
Long Beach, CA

Feb. 8-9, 2014, 10am-5pm

TICKETS (per person)
One-day: $10 online til Feb. 7, $12 online Feb. 7-9, $15 at the door
Two-day: $16 online til Feb. 7, $18 online Feb. 7-9, $24 at the door

The US may be edging closer to dropping the longstanding trade embargo that blocks Americans from traveling freely to Cuba, but not everyone is waiting. Africa, too, is representing this year.

When this year’s Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show kicks off next month in Long Beach, there will be an unfamiliar face among this year’s exhibitors.

It’s a face turned 90 miles south of Key West.

The exhibitor is — Cuba Travel Services, which, according to its Web site, “arranges weekly, non-stop, direct public charter flights between the United States and Cuba.”

It is but one of hundreds of travel companies and organizations that will be “in the house” at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, but it’s the one that just might have the strongest pull on my attention.

The company motto is “You’ve Waited Long Enough.”

That’s pretty much what I’d like to tell the US government about lifting its long-pointless trade embargo against Cuba.

It’s the embargo, imposed in 1960 after a revolution put Fidel Castro in power, that makes it a hassle for Americans to travel freely to Havana.

Something the rest of the world has been doing for the last half-century and change.

As an American, you’re not absolutely barred from traveling to Cuba under the embargo, but to do so legally, Washington makes you jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops, as needless as they are silly.

The biggest of them is the requirement that you obtain a license — yes, a license — to travel to Cuba, which means you have to fall under one of 14 categories.

Cuba Travel Services is an authorized travel provider to Cuba, license by the US Treasury Department, and arranges flights to the island from either Miami or Los Angeles.

A lot of Americans simply ignore the regulations and fly to Cuba on their own via Canada, Mexico or some other country. But if you want to go legally, you have to resort to outfits like this.

I’m guessing theirs will be among the more crowded booths at the travel show, if for no other reason than the justifiable curiosity of a lot of travelers.

The West Coast provides more recreational travelers to Africa than any other regions of the United States, so if travel to the Mother Continent is of interest to you, these African travel specialists will be on hand for you to talk to:

This looks to be one of the stronger African travel lineups at the LA Travel & Adventure Show in recent years.

At the other end of the spectrum, river cruising seems radically under-represented at this year’s show, a surprise given the explosion taking place in river cruise travel around the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

The one major river cruise operator that will be present is Ama Waterways, one of the few major river cruise outfits that offers river cruise tours in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Europe and Asia.

These are just a few of the exhibitors that catch my interest at next month’s upcoming show. You’ve got the whole world to choose from.

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.19.14

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel


Are Americans the most vacation-deprived people on Earth? According to the folks at Expedia, we’re one of them.

It’s long been known that we Americans tend to get fewer vacation days than those of almost any other developed nation. A lot of us even end up working on days when we could taking vacation time.

Paid vacation time we’ve already earned.

Now, a little research by the Expedia folks we’re doing even more of that now than before. In what they called a Vacation Deprivation Study, they claim that Americans on average who could have taken 14 vacation days last year only took ten.

Further, those four vacations days left on the table were double the average left untaken in 2012. In all, 144 million working Americans left more than 500 million vacation days unused in 2013.

Are we nuts?

You can read the entire study here.


If you’re looking for new venues for cruise travel, you’re not alone. Princess Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines, are right there with you.

And they’re looking to Asia.

This May, Princess will begin running three-day and seven-day cruises to South Korea, out of Shanghai, China. Another Carnival-owned cruise line, Costa, has been sailing out of China since 2006.

Travel Weekly reports that this is all part of a major move by Carnival to target the Chinese market. But there’s nothing preventing you from taking the same cruises.


Since I founded this blog back in 2009, I’ve been telling IBIT readers to look seriously at short-stay apartment rentals as a more cost-effective alternative to hotels.

It seems that the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” Arthur Frommer, agrees with me.

Speaking yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, Frommer told the audience they not only can save money, but wind up with more space, more comfort and a better vacation overall.

Two of the Web sites he suggested for finding vacation rentals likes are familiar by now to regular IBIT readers, Airbnb and Homeaway. But he also mentioned a third — Rentalo, a site we’ll examine in depth in the coming days.

Meanwhile, why not play around a bit with all three sites. Pick a destination, here in the United States or anywhere else in the world, enter some dates and see if they find a vacation apartment that looks as if it would suit you.

The Godfather and I bet you will.

“I’ve learned it’s just as comfortable and just as interesting — most deluxe hotels are the most boring places anyway,” he said.

To read more of Arthur Frommer’s remarks and advice, check out the LA Times story here.


One of the more bizarre promotional gimmicks of 2013: The Breezes Bahamas all-inclusive resort in Nassau offered to pay their guests $100 if their legal first name (as it appeared on their passport) matched the list of hurricane names as designated by the National Hurricane Center.

Will they do it again this year? I don’t know yet, but just in case, here are the designated hurricane names for 2014. But the NHC actually has to give one of these names to an Atlantic storm for you to qualify:

Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.


And now, here’s The Digest:


from the New York Times
How to choose an air travel Web site. One size does not fit all.

from Travel Weekly
Do you have a constitutional right to fly? An Oregon judge says yes.

from Travel Weekly
United looks to reach deeper into China with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

from Travel Weekly
SCOOT, Singapore Airlines’ low-fair subsidiary, becomes the second Asian airline to add a no-kids section to its airplanes.


from the New York Times
The NYT’s annual list of the top 52 places to see in 2014 include three from Africa — including Cape Town as Number One — Nepal, downtown Atlanta and…the Arctic Circle?

from the Los Angeles Times
Hot new travel app sightings from Jen Leo.

from Travel Weekly
More cities are making a point of providing free wifi access at major tourist attractions and elsewhere. Hotels may not like it, but travelers love it.

from the New York Times
Yo! The Generation Gap rears its ugly head in travel. Give a shout-out to Yomads, adventure travel operators in Europe and Australia. Those over 40 need not apply.


from the New York Daily News
Stomach bug, possibly norovirus, hits Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands!

from Travel Weekly
The small luxury cruise ship Seabourn Pride is in its last season of sailings under the Seabourn name. In April, she will be re-branded, refurbished and re-launched as the all-suite Star Pride.


from CNN
Is London a better food city than Paris? British TV chef Gordon Ramsay thinks so — and there’s at least one famous French chef who agrees.



from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe’s Mount Nyangani is a beautiful hike, and easy enough for a child to do it — but a wealth of steep ravines mean it’s not for the careless.

from Biz-Community.com (South Africa) via allAfrica.com
Some non-standard attractions to freshen up your tourist itinerary in Cape Town.

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
After one of its university hospitals successfully performs a kidney transplant, a southern state on the Gulf of Guinea sets its sights on becoming Nigeria’s destination for medical tourism.


from the New York Times
Affordable adventure travel in northern Brazil. http://www.nytimes.com/video/travel/100000002535592/brazils-north-zones.html

from the Toronto Sun
Laid-back Los Cabos at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula has something for just about everyone.

from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com)
Excursion train trip through a California rain forest.

from Associated Press via ABC News
New travel reforms in Cuba has Cubans traveling abroad in record numbers, with no sign of mass defections or a “brain drain.”


from the New York Times
The H7N9 bird flu virus, which had faded away last March, is making a comeback in China, just in time for the Lunar New Year travel season.

from the South China Morning Post
Hong Kong braces for a tourist tidal wave, mainly from mainland China.

from CNNgo
The annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in northern China just might be the world’s most spectacularly artful expression of frozen water. Festival Web site.

from Voice of America
The gang rape of a Danish tourist once again turns an international spotlight on crimes against women in India. This time, however, it’s having an impact on Indian tourism.


from the New York Times
Paris as famed black American author and activist James Baldwin would have seen it.

from the New York Times
There was a time, not all that long ago, when if someone said “London” and “Underground” in the same sentence, the only thing that probably came to mind was a subway train. That’s starting to change.

from BBC Travel
A look at life in Milan, Italy’s fashion and financial capital, and one of its most multicultural cities.

from the Wall Street Journal
Is Paris, long heralded as the world’s most visited city, about to lose its crown to London?

from The Guardian (London UK)
The best places to eat in Britain for less than 10 pounds. At today’s rates, that’s $16. MAP

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below: