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Travel highs and lows of 2014: From sporting successes to air tragedies

Dec 26, 2014

If you meet a travel executive on New Year's Eve, he or she is likely to be uncharacteristically cheerful. The average Brit travelled more in 2014 than ever. Most of us paid more, with package-holiday prices and airline profits rising. Good cheer, too, in Brazil, which welcomed the planet to a World Cup that proved successful from a travel perspective (if humiliating from a sporting point of view for the hosts and England). And the Tour de France put Yorkshire on the map.

Yet 2014 has seen some awful travel tragedies. For air safety, this has been the worst 12 months of the decade so far. One carrier alone, Malaysia Airlines, lost more passengers and crew than the total worldwide in any of the previous three years.

The loss in March of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has led to the biggest search in aviation history for the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board the missing Boeing 777. Four months later, another 777 on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine. MH17 was the worst air disaster of the year, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. Apart from the terrorist attacks on United and American on 11 September 2001, no airline has suffered two big disasters in such quick succession in the 21st century.

Tragedy struck in a different manner for the people of Kenya. The Foreign Office has long warned of a high risk of terrorism in the East African nation, and had marked swathes of the country as off-limits. In May, it made a small amendment advising travellers to avoid Mombasa Island. Britain's biggest holiday company, Thomson, evacuated holidaymakers and cancelled its programme for the rest of the summer. Even though the FCO advice had changed only fractionally, the erroneous impression took hold that Kenya had become much more dangerous.

Misconceptions swept across the world when the most serious recorded outbreak of Ebola took hold in three West African countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The disease has had a terrible effect on the people of those countries, and some of the courageous health-care professionals caring for them. Outside the region, the main effect has been to cause unwarranted panic.

Holidaymakers considered cancelling trips to Spain after a nurse who had treated Ebola victims in Madrid herself contracted the disease. Tour operators to East and Southern Africa reported a fall in business despite the huge distances between, say, Zanzibar or Cape Town and the affected areas. And eight hours after the government said it was following World Health Organisation advice not to impose screening, it announced a screening programme at a handful of UK airports.

If Ebola doesn't get you, some travellers seemed to think, Islamic State probably will. The spread of the jihadists through Syria as far as the Turkish border caused worries and cancellations among holidaymakers going to the Mediterranean coast, though there was no likelihood that the powerful Turkish army would allow an inch of incursion. To complete a miserable year for many communities dependent on tourism, chikungunya virus spread across the Caribbean during 2014. Many islands are affected by this most unpleasant virus, mainly spread by daytime-biting mosquitoes.

Yet despite these depressing trends, our appetite for travel is undimmed. While you would expect fast-expanding easyJet and Ryanair to report ever-growing numbers, a rejuvenated British Airways is experiencing its busiest festive season ever. In contrast, pilots at Air France and Lufthansa expressed fury at management plans to cut costs. They went on strike for several weeks in total, causing the cancellation of thousands of flights and losing their airlines hundreds of millions of euros.

One reason the "legacy" airline bosses are so keen to modernise is the soaraway success of easyJet and Ryanair. Monarch, which has been ferrying British holidaymakers around Europe and the world for decades, was unloaded by its owners, the Mantegazza family, who had spent a couple of hundred million pounds keeping it afloat.

Airports had mixed fortunes. Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester saw passenger numbers rise sharply, but their near neighbours suffered from concentration at bigger airports. Blackpool followed Manston into aviation oblivion. At home, the Shangri-La at the Shard in London brought high-altitude swimming to the capital. But it was a good year not to live in South-West England. Parts of Somerset spent the start of the year resembling a water park, while the main railway line from London and Bristol was severed at Dawlish in South Devon for two months.

More good news? The Girl with the Pearl Earring came home to The Hague, where she now resides in the ravishingly restored Mauritshuis. And Marlon Brando's private island in French Polynesia opened as an excellent place to dispose of excess income; the minimum stay of three nights for a couple costs just over €10,000.


Source: Simon Calder (The Independent UK)