New Years 2014

New Year’s Eve customs: 10 ways in which the world celebrates the New Year

One of the most significant moments of the year is how you bring in the new year. It is not uncommon to find that people all over the world take this time to celebrate new beginnings, pray for prosperity and symbolically get rid of the old patterns.

From weird and strange to funny customs, people all over the world have unique traditions to bring into their lives in the coming year plenty of love, happiness, wealth, health and good fortune. Here are some customs that caught our eye:

1. To bring in good luck, Romanians toss coins into the river.
2. Another tradition to bring in good luck and happiness can be found in Spain where when the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes (each grape representing one month) are eaten. This tradition dates back to 1909 in the town of Alicante. In Chile, lentils are eaten at midnight to ensure a successful year ahead.
3. In Talka, Chileans spend the night before the coming year in the cemetery, near their deceased loved ones. This is a relatively new tradition which holds the belief that the new year should be welcomed in surrounded by dead relatives. Classical music and dim lighting set the ambiance in the cemetery.
4. Carols or janeiros as they are locally called in northern Portugal; are sung by children. Very similar to trick-or-treat in the US during Halloween, the children visit houses where they are given money and treats.
5. Latin American countries, including Mexico, hang a wool toy lamb from the front door to call in good luck.
6. In Paraguay and Colombia misfortune is kept at bay by the burning of an effigy called the “Año Nuevo at midnight with fireworks.
7. Armenians hold a ‘Ritual of fire’ to symbolically mark the end of all their troubles of the outgoing year.
8. Many South American countries such as Brazil and Bolivia hold the tradition of wearing colourful underwear at midnight. Not only does this herald good fortune, but also the finding of a partner. The colour red signifies a healthy love life whereas yellow relates to the desire for money and wealth.
9. In the Philippines, all round shapes is a reminder of the roundness of coins and prosperity, which is why many don clothing decorated with round shapes such as polka dots.
10. In Puerto Rico buckets of water are thrown out of windows on the eve of the new year which signifies ‘cleaning out’ the outgoing year. Homes are also cleaned and decorated that symbolizes the cleansing of the spirit.

While the manner in which people all over the world celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another may differ, there are common themes such as praying for prosperity, health and love that are universal and that bring us together. Whatever your tradition or belief on New Year’s Eve, we wish you a whale of a wonderful time and all good things in the coming year.

Marmaray tunnel

After a 150 year wait the underwater Marmaray tunnel finally comes to fruition to change the face of Turkey

A 150 year old plan initially put forward by an Ottoman Sultan in 1860 has finally come to fruition. Turkey recently unveiled the underwater Marmaray railway tunnel, effectively connecting Asia to Europe. The unveiling of the tunnel coincided with Turkey celebrating its 90th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.

Turkish officials and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attended the ceremony. Japan has been instrumental in the construction and financing of the Marmaray railway tunnel project with an investment of $1bn of the $4bn total cost of the project.

“I wish from God that the Marmaray that we are inaugurating will be a benefit to our Istanbul, to our country, to all of humanity,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the official ceremony. “Today we are realizing the dreams of 150 years ago, uniting the two continents and the people of these two continents.”

This is the world’s first underwater railway tunnel to link two continents. The tunnel more than 55 metres deep and according to Turkish officials is 13.6 kilometres in length, including 1.4 kilometres running under the Bosporus Strait – the connecting link between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

It is hoped the Marmaray tunnel, dubbed by Erdogan as the project of the century, will help alleviate Istanbul’s chronic traffic. Officials see a1.5 million passengers, who would normally traverse two heavily trafficked bridges daily, utilizing the services provided by the tunnel. And it is hoped the tunnel will eventually serve high-speed and freight trains.

“While creating a transport axis between the east and west points of the city, I believe it will soothe the problem” of congestion, said Istanbul’s mayor Kadir Topbas.

Responding to raised concerns that the newly built railway tunnel could be vulnerable to earthquakes in an area known for its high seismic activity, Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said that the Marmaray tunnel is designed to withstand a massive 9.0 magnitude quake. He went further and called it “the safest place in Istanbul.”

The underwater portion of the tunnel was dropped in sections to the sea bottom using the immersed-tube method used around the world. The tube sections features flexible joints built to withstand shocks.
The Marmaray railway tunnel is part and parcel of Erdogan’s grandiose plans for Istanbul. A former mayor of the city himself, Erdogan has in his sights a separate tunnel being built under the Bosporus for passenger cars, a third bridge over the strait, the world’s biggest airport, and a massive canal that would bypass the Bosporus.

Game reserve

Fourth largest game reserve for Mpumalanga in the pipeline

In a collaborative effort, the fourth largest game reserve to be established in Mpumalanga is in the pipeline. The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) and other interested parties have come together to look into a project that aims to boost eco tourism and job creation in the area.

The proposed plan sees a 120 000 hectare central escarpment game reserve that would make it Mpumalanga’s fourth largest game reserve.

“Although the idea is still in its very early days, MTPA is entertaining the possibility of making this reserve a reality,” said Brian Morris, senior manager for protected areas expansion and establishment.

“The reserve would boost eco-tourism and job creation. There is more than enough space to accommodate animals and everyone is supportive of the initiative,” said Philip Owen, the chairman of the Houtbosloop Environment Action Link, “a lot of footwork still needs to be done though”.

He added that the central escarpment game reserve would be distinctive – integrating features of the Lowveld, Middleveld and Highveld.

A provisional objective was to create an enclosure around the entire proposed area so that suitable numbers of game such as impala, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland and giraffe can be introduced.

“The absence of larger herbivores has led to areas which are wildly overgrown and almost inaccessible, so these animals will need to be introduced to make way for the Big Five,” said Oscar Osberg, manager of Sudwala Lodge, who contributed to the development of the proposal. He said that the idea was for the Big Five to be brought into the reserve eventually.

“Such a proposed reserve is a massive undertaking, which can only be successful if all landowners and stakeholders in the potentially affected area support the initiative,” Osberg said. Local residents and other interested stakeholders were canvassed for their comments and input about the proposed plan to establish the central escarpment game reserve in the area.

Currently, the area designated for the new game reserve is utilized for a number of purposes such as tourism, forestry and farming. This does not hamper the proposed plans as Osberg points out, “The proposed reserve will be managed to accommodate all these diverse forms of current land use by utilising mitigation measures such as fencing and using technology to monitor and manage potentially dangerous game”
The MTPA’s priority list does not include the development of the central escarpment reserve at just yet.

“Savannah conservation areas are already well-established, and at the moment we are focusing on establishing protected environments in the threatened grassland and wetland ecosystems in the Highveld of the province, which are under-represented,” said Morris.

Blue Flag beach

Blue Flag status for 8 Cape Town beaches and 2 marinas

If the unstinting beauty of Cape Town beaches is not a good enough reason worth a visit, here is more motivation for you says the municipality – clean, safe, secure and adhering to international safety and tourism standards have earned beaches in Cape Town the distinguished Blue Flag status. The accreditation was awarded to 8 beaches and 2 marinas in the Mother City on Tuesday, the 8th of October 2013.

Cape Town beaches boast the highest number of Blue Flag accreditation in South Africa. In 2012 the city of Cape Town was the first in Africa south of the Mediterranean with marinas receiving the Blue Flag status.

The Blue Flag accreditation is a major tourism advantage and attraction as both local and international visitors can be assured of the stringent safety and security features characteristic of the awarded Blue Flag beaches and marinas. The status promises that the beaches are clean, safe and environmentally friendly.

Belinda Walker, mayoral council member, expressed delight saying, “The city is very pleased at this acknowledgement of our commitment to maintaining world-class beaches.”

The 8 beaches in Cape Town awarded Blue Flag status is: Bikini, Mnandi, Strandfontein, Muizenburg, Llandudno, Camps Bay, Clifton 4th and Silwerstroomstrand; with the 2 marinas being Granger Bay Water Club and False Bay Marina.

In more good news for South Africa’s tourism and hospitality industry in the Cap region, Port Elizabeth along the south eastern coastline also received 2 Blue Flag certificates – Kings Beach and Humewood in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality area.

“For a beach to get a Blue Flag status it has to follow strict guidelines and put systems in a place to make sure that the beach commits to environmental management, water quality improvement, safety and security,” said spokesperson for the Port Elizabeth municipality Roland Williams.

The Blue Flag status is awarded for a season and should the condition of an awarded beach or marina change for the worse, then the accreditation would be cancelled.
Close to 4 000 beaches and marinas in 44 countries spanning Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean are awarded Blue Flag certificates every year.

Four criteria have to be met with in order for a beach or marina to receive a certificate. These include water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management; and safety and services available.

The popularity and success of the Blue Flag campaign can be attributed to economic development opportunities presented for the hospitality and tourism industries which local authorities are keen to take advantage of. The campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of beaches entering the campaign.


Rival airlines clips Flysafair’s wings as judge grounds new South African airline

Two rival airlines have initiated the grounding of South Africa’s new budget airline FlySafair before it even got off the ground. The Pretoria High Court accepted the application by Comair and the newly licensed Skywise Airline to prevent the airline from taking to the skies.

Judge Neil Tuchten has restricted the new airline from beginning its operations as a domestic passenger air service provider when he granted the interim order. Safair which was due to launch in October is accused of failing to meet the terms of legislation designed to ensure air services were controlled by South African citizens. It is alleged that 75 percent of the voting rights or active control of the airline was in the hands of holding companies in Ireland and Belgium.

Furthermore the rival airlines challenge the validity made by FlySafair that one of its three shareholders, Hugh Flynn, resided in the country as stipulated before the Air Service Licensing Council.

The judge found that the evidence presented before court proposed a strong likelihood that Safair knowingly hid the truth in its application before the council.

“The probability is that Safair designed and implemented a scheme which created the illusion that Safair in fact had brought itself within section 16(4) of the Act while in truth it had not. Where, as in this case, a strong likelihood has been established that, if the administrator had appreciated the true facts, the decision would not have been made in favour of the respondent, a court should… lean towards forthwith putting an end to such illegal conduct,” said Judge Tuchten.

Comair was tasked the responsibility of ensuring all Safair passengers in possession of tickets would be accommodated on the dates noted on their tickets at the sole cost to Comair without being able to add on any additional charges for this service.
In addition, Comair had to make it known to the public the details of the court order “by all reasonable means’ at its own cost.

Skywise Airline which has been only recently licensed is still waiting for its operator’s certificate in order for any of its aircraft can be airborne.

For those Flysafair ticket holders who did not care to reschedule their flights, Flysafair has undertaken to refund the tickets. “Following negotiations with all the major banks and having provided guarantees to the Air Services Licensing Council, passengers are guaranteed that their money will be refunded,” said Safair.

Find cheap domestic flights

Daocheng Yading Airport

China’s record breaking Daocheng Yading Airport becomes the world’s highest airport

The highest-altitude civilian airport, China’s Daocheng Yading Airport stands at a staggering 4411m above sea level and is located in the Sichuan region, in remote Tibet. It is believed that the airport will effortlessly ease the lengthy two day road journey from the Chengdu, the provincial capital, to the Yading region by reducing the journey to a comfortable 65 minute flight.

The airport is part of China’s multibillion-dollar plan to reap the economic benefits of tourism in the region. Additional infrastructure projects to be introduced along the Tibetan Plateau are a seventh airport, a Swiss inspired tourism town and a 4.7 billion USD theme park.

At the cost of $258 million Daochen Yading airport which took two years to build, will be able to accommodate 280 000 passengers a year and will provide easy access to the Yading Nature Reserve. This locale is well known for its unspoilt natural beauty. China’s state news agency touted this eastern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau as the “the last Shangri-La” and “the last pure land on the blue planet.”
For now the airport will begin operating routes to Chengdu with the addition of Chogqing and Maerkang County by the beginning of October. More routes to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi’an will be incorporated in 2014.

Daocheng Yading Airport is the latest of six airports in the Himalayan region of China and points to the country’s firm commitment to boosting and promoting tourism in the region with the target of 15 million tourists and $327 million in tourism revenue in the next two years. In addition the Chinese government sees these development projects as employment creation opportunities and uplift the poor communities in areas.

The airport may earn its claim to fame by being the current highest civilian airport in the world, yet it does not evade controversy. A one way fare between Chengdu and Daocheng would cost the equivalent of 260 USD. This puts the facilities in the hands of the wealthy and out of reach by the poorer local population.
There remains some concern that the airport was built with a dual purpose in mind. The region is often under tight Chinese control and the argument is that the facility will provide easier access to military troops in times of conflict between the Chinese government and the local population.

Alistair Currie, spokesman for the campaign group Free Tibet, was quick to point out to The Telegraph upon hearing of the opening of Daocheng Yading Airport that, “What China does in Tibet, it does for China, not Tibet.

“More than 95 percent of visitors to Tibet are Chinese, and business interests are dominated by Chinese immigrants or existing Chinese companies. The economic benefits of these kinds of developments almost always flow out of Tibet.” He further added, “For China, Tibetan culture and landscape is a resource to be exploited.”

The Daocheng Yading Airport overtook Bangda Airport in Qamdo, Tibet as the world’s highest civilian airport beating it by 77 metres.

Lost and Found

Common and strange items left behind by guests in hotel rooms

The list of items left behind in hotels is altogether incredibly impressive and strange. Hotel guests seem to be notorious for leaving behind prized and personal possessions when checking out of hotels. This seems surprising considering the agony you go through in not forgetting to pack them in the first place. The lost and found department of hotels have seen employees left dumbfounded by the number of strange objects forgotten by travellers.

Most common items left behind are the ones we painstakingly try to remember to pack. These may be: phone or laptop chargers, clothes, underwear, jewellery, electric toothbrushes, toiletry bags, books, laptops or tablets, satellite navigational tools, mobile phones and suitcases. The question does beg asking – how do you leave a suitcase behind?

In one article by, 10 of the strangest items left behind included: false teeth, wigs, money, dogs, birds, adult toys, fish, wedding rings and car keys.

Seeing that books are regular items carried by travellers to while away the time on a long haul flight or extended stopover, it comes as no surprise that it is also an item easily forgotten. Here’s one astounding statistic for the history books: Travelodge notes that over 20 000 books were left behind in as many as 38 000 rooms with an astounding third titled ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by EL James.

In the drive to providing the oddest list of left-behind items on holiday, Travelodge seems to hover in the top spot. Their list of left-behind items includes:

• A winning EuroMillions ticket
• Keys to a Bugatti
• A stamp album worth £250,000
• A box of 200 Queen Elizabeth masks
• A valuable set of Olympics tickets
• A trunk of Cadbury chocolate bars
• A diamond encrusted wedding ring
• A Persian Chinchilla kitten worth £600
• A suitcase of vinyl records
• A set of false teeth with diamonds
• A Rolex watch worth £50,000
• A Tiffany engagement ring
• A pilot’s training manual
• A Kenwood Magimix worth £600
• Joseph’s Dreamcoat
• A pantomime horse
• 7,000 copies of Fifty Shades of Grey
• 76,500 teddy bears

A common cited reason for leaving behind personal possessions, be they expensive or extraordinary is the fast pace of life.

What happens to left-behind items

Travelodge has initiated a policy that has been in practice since January 2012 that such items as left behind by guests, if not claimed within three months, would be donated to Cancer Research UK charity shops across the UK.

South African passport

E-visas facilitates easier and cheaper travel says South African Tourism Minister

The 6th annual E-tourism summit takes place at the International Convention Centre in the city of Cape Town. The summit hosted by South African Tourism in partnership with Cape Town tourism, addressed interested parties within the local tourism industry and SMME’s. Speakers include delegates from Youtube, Facebook, TripAdvisor and Expedia.

“Travel needs to be less cumbersome,” says South African Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk while addressing interested stakeholders at the E-tourism summit. He also took the opportunity to highlight the global tourism industry’s exponential growth over the last sixty years.

The vital roles of digital and online destination marketing as well as the convenience of e-commerce contributed to local and international growth; and this favourable trend is set to continue.

As recourse to reducing the barriers to entry, the minister was quick to point out that, “We need to address the present outdated system of always having to go to embassies, filling in forms and standing in queues. In a few years times this will be non-existent”.

In a positive response to questions regarding the progress of the e-visa as proposed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) at the 2012 G20 meeting, Van Schalkwyk said, “I believe this is the way to go. Not only is it much cheaper and easier for travel but from a security point of view it is much more effective.” He further encouraged governments to address additional barriers to entry such as various taxes imposed in the travel industry. He urged that travel become more viable and accessible.

The tourism summit this year looks at trends and developments that are changing the face of tourism; with focus on the highly significant contributor – the rising and popular use of online platforms – to influence travel choices and decisions. Advice on the best ways to utilize online platforms to establish and grow a business was discussed.

CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers, Damian Cook sees the future of travel being influenced by promising online trends. “It’s exciting to see how the online travel world is evolving and where the new trends are emerging.

The e-visa system would boost the tourism volume to South Africa. One of the off spins would be the creation of new job opportunities in the tourism industry. Central to this innovative system is the facilitation of easier and cheaper opportunities to explore and experience new places and cultures.
Positive predictions as a result of preliminary research conducted by UNWTO and WTTC released at the 2012 G20 meeting point to tourism experiencing sustained development in the coming years with an astounding 1.8 billion international travellers in 2030.


Brazil celebrates its 191th anniversary of independence with aplomb

The 7th of September 2013 marks the 191th auspicious Independence Day of Brazil from Portugal in 1822. And in keeping in true Brazilian style of passion, partying and patriotic pleasure, this public holiday is the perfect excuse for flavourful parades, excitement and joy.

Patriotic party parades
While the main parade is held in the capital city of Brasilia in the presence of the President, the city of Rio de Janeiro hosts a military-civic parade too, down Presidente Vargas avenue where thousands upon thousands of proud Brazilians gather in true festival fun. Men, women and children join in the procession’s proceedings.

The blending of armed forces, police, fire fighters, military schools and academies, civilian schools, and civil organizations demonstrate Brazilian pride in style. As part of the procession’s events, political leaders make use of the occasion to deliver speeches in which Brazilians are reminded of their nation’s proud history and heritage and projected future.

Such is the carnival atmosphere in the country that even the pavement is a good enough place to celebrate the historic day with aplomb. Thousands of Brazilians of all ages have a good time on the roadside dancing, singing and waving banners, streamers, balloons and flags.

This festive national holiday is celebrated with much fanfare; families, friends and neighbours all come together in the spirit of togetherness. And what would a party be without food? In homage to their Independence Day, Brazilians partake of traditional food and drinks. Piña coladas, empanadas, hangar steak, fried plantains, and fried pork are enjoyed.

Devoted flag flying fun
Independence Day seems to be the perfect occasion to wear the colours of the Brazilian flag. The national flag is also highly visibly displayed on homes and buildings. Dignified flag hoisting ceremonies and patriotic songs are fervently sung by both the young and old.

Festival fireworks displays
If the Independence Day morning is marked by exciting parades held across the width and breadth of Brazil then fireworks in the evening sees the close of celebrations. Hordes of people gather together in city squares and parks to see the fantastic fusion displays of colourful lights streak and explode across the night sky.

A mar on the celebrations this year was the loudly voiced and public demonstrations of anti-government sentiment from Brazilians unhappy with corruption, as protests erupted on the streets of three cities. Teargas, stun guns and pepper spray were used to contain protesters from disrupting the Independence Day military processions and a celebratory sporting event. Brazil hosted an international football game against Australia in Brasilia. Organizers do admit to the numbers of parade attendees being affected by the thought of violence and heavy police presence.

Zulu reed dance

The Royal Reed Dance celebrates Zulu culture in Zululand

In celebration of Zulu culture, traditional reed dancing is all about teaching morals and good behaviour to young girls. The local tourism industry in Zululand reaps rewards as thousands of visitors flood to eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma to the witness the centuries old event that is held over several days.

Mkhosi woMhlanga, as named in Zulu, is the colourful reed dancing ceremony – an annual event held every year at the beginning of September. The celebrations include young girls collecting and presenting their king with cut reeds from the riverbed in honour to their Zulu traditions.
In recent years this symbolic event has also been a draw card for the local hospitality industry in the province. Nongoma sees a massive economic boost with visitors congregating to the area and accommodation is fully booked out, even in the surrounding areas of Ulundi and Vryheid. This year alone saw the reed dance festivities attract a staggering 100 000 visitors.

This colourful cultural festival is an important rite of passage for young Zulu girls, includes singing and dancing; and is used to introduce the girls to their rich culture steeped in tradition. The young girls, who have to be virgins in order to participate, are schooled by older Zulu woman in the art of womanhood and in respecting their bodies. Celibacy until marriage is greatly encouraged. The opportunity is also used to highlight serious social issues that affect young woman including teenage pregnancy and HIV.

The ceremony sees the mass gathering of young girls from all over Zululand and from as far as Swaziland and Botswana attend the festivities of the traditional royal reed dance. Anklets, bracelets and necklaces worn by the girls exquisitely showcase the traditional beadwork of the Zulu culture. The girls also wear sashes with an assortment of colours that denote whether the girl is engaged to be married.

Central to the event’s festivities is the reed-giving ceremony. Zulu princesses lead the colourful graceful procession of young girls dressed in intricately-beaded attire who present to the king the longest and strongest cut reeds. Laying the reeds at the king’s feet is a symbol of respect and honouring the Zulu culture. The ceremony has Zulu men participating too by singing and engaging in mock fighting.

Visitors are welcome to bear witness to the reed dance ceremony. Having a guide on hand to indicate the symbols of the rituals is useful and also helps the visitor understand cultural sensitivities.

While the reed dance ceremony showcases the rich deep heritage of the Zulu culture, it is not all the kingdom has to offer tourists. Zululand houses renowned national parks and nature reserves (private and state-controlled) and is celebrated for its majestic unspoilt beauty as well as historic, cultural and coastal attractions.

A mild subtropical climate welcomes the visitor all year round. Golf, fishing and game viewing are among the popular activities visitors enjoy. For bird lovers there is an incredible diversity of over 650 species of birds on the Zululand Birding Route to be viewed.