January 2019 Newsletter
Lift or not
The ‘” will they, won’t they’” (ever) build a second gondola lift at Bulgaria’s Bansko ski resort is the sort of story that would be considered as being “too stupid to make a bad TV series’” out of. A farce is a farce no matter which country one is sat but the pendulum of ‘” yes they will’” followed by ‘”no they want’” almost turns the story into pantomime material. For the uninitiated the gist is this; Bansko grew in an uncontrolled manner around a decade ago and is now arguably the largest ski resort in Europe: this can be qualified if necessary. The bed stock and numbers of people using the resort is too high and dense for A) the area of the piste and B) the initial uplift capability onto the mountain side. The obvious solution to those of a rational composition would thus be ‘” build an additional lift. That, however, is the issue!
Anyone who knows the Balkans will no doubt know that in any economic decision that requires political input, interference will ensue as vested interests and opportunism kicks in. Welcome to the Bansko lift saga. In an almost amusing scenario the people in and around Bansko want the second lift to be constructed and those city dwellers who probably don’t ski, object to it. A situation not dis-similar to the hunting arguments that ensue in certain Western European countries. As it stands and with some degree of closure, it seems the Green city dwellers have found five non-skiing judges from the country’s top court who side with them. Except that in this part of the world, final is never final, is it?
Before readers feel that these comments are too one-sided and take capitalism over conservationism that is far from the point. All skiers we are sure, want to see forests protected along with their habitat and the protection of biodiversity. How do countries such as France, Austria and Switzerland manage their natural surrounding yet make it both available for people to enjoy it through skiing and hiking etc. and at the same time drive huge extra income into their home economies? Are these countries different to Bulgaria? Not really except perhaps they think logically and have all of its people pulling in the same direction. The mountainside of Bulgaria can be managed adequately if the right brains are brought it. It shouldn’t require a massive legal battle to build one set of chairs and an outhouse (building with a roof) to house these chairs. Would a first aid hut or emergency mountain refuge be banned from being built because they too would be construed to be breaching building rules
The devil is in the detail and if the country can’t work towards something that would benefit all then what chance has it got in appearing organized, logical and welcoming to investors in other economic aspects?
Americans still horsing around
One of our favourite topics from last year was again in the news this month: Emotional support animals! Anyone who missed the reoccurring theme last year should lock themselves in a dark room and read our back copies regarding some American travellers obsession with being downright stupid. Anyhow back to the present and United Airlines is joining rival airline Delta in changing its emotional support animal policy whereby such pets will not be allowed on flights over 8 hours! The carrier will no longer let kittens or puppies under 4 months in the cabin. Miniature horse, which are also and still allowed on board, were not mentioned in this last press release – yes we are serious on this!
Stupidity again pays its toll
Sometimes the local media start with a story but leave the ending ‘empty’ which itself yields more questions to the story than the article sought to address. At the end of last year, the Bulgarian Cabinet announced a reorganising of the Bulgarian motorway network. In short, they re-classified which motorway was which and where it started and ended. Part of this also included designating the Lulin Highway as a part of the Struma Motorway that runs down to the Greek border (although most people thought it was anyway!). The most intriguing part though was the announcement that consideration was being made to explore the possibility of charging a toll on the Sofia Ring Road.
Just how on earth anyone could consider that beggar’s belief. One can imagine peak our queues at toll booths that stretch back to Pernik or Plovdiv and parallel cart tracks running across fields near the toll booths. Charging a ‘” congestion fee’” as some cities do in city centre’s is one thing but charging people to use the roads that have been created to reduce the flow of traffic through the central streets of Sofia is challenging to the mind of those with logic.
Money bags airline Qatar has taken a stake in one of China’s main airlines; China Southern Airlines.
The stake will be added to other investments in British Airways (20%), LATAM (10%), Air Italy (48%) and Cathay Pacific (10%).
The investment in the Chinese airline could prove to be a very interesting one when one factors in the continued expansion in travel within, across and to China from all across the globe.
Robots given the boot
In the real world, only lip service is given to the appreciation of the human and the tech nerds always seem to win hands down when it comes to giving us what we really don’t want. Absolutely everything these days involves robots and avoids humans. “It’s cheaper” we are told, which may be the case, though that’s also open to doubt, but despite the myth, there is no substitute for face to face human contact: period. Are we coming to the point where soon, if we want to talk to a human at the bank, at the government office, at the railway station, airport or hotel, we will have to pay extra? It almost feels like it. Are though the innovators in this world starting to realise the errors of their ways?
In Japan, one hotel with a reputation for being innovative brought in 200 robot staff to do the job of humans: after the novelty wore off and their severe limitations became apparent, half of them were shown the scrap heap.
The limitations of the pieces of metal included not being able to deliver luggage, being unable to operate the photocopy machine and even trying to answer a guest who was, in fact, snoring in his room.
Idiotic to start with
Air France are, at best, conservative and whilst the landscape of aviation across Europe has been changing at a rate of knots, the ultra-left French have always seemed like they were chasing windmills when it came to innovation in its aviation sector (contradictory, the French unions are quite innovative in the way they can shut down Europe’s travel system). Thus, the announcement in 2017 that Air France it was starting a subsidiary that was (quote) ‘’not low cost but a lifestyle brand and a state of mind’” called Joon, was met with both raised eyebrows and laughter. Few gave it any chance of success, not least because it seemed like the French Unions would also battle against it. Fast forward a couple of years and it came as no surprise that the airline has announced it is binning the brand! The reason given by the airline’s management who clearly have also binned the MBA Graduates that thought up the nonsense idea in the first place was that ‘” the brand was difficult to understand by the customers, investors, the employees and for the markets’”. Translated, no-one had a clue what it was or where it was going: which is nowhere.
Sounds similar to one of those fringe French films that no-one outside France understands?
To charge or not to charge? That is the question!
Not so long ago, hotels were able to pull the wool over their guest’s eyes by conjuring up 101 excuses why they had to charge for Wi-Fi. Relatively quickly, this was ‘seen through’ and nowadays everyone expects Wi-Fi in hotels to be like hot water and air conditioning i.e. free. Airlines have taken over the mantle of making money out of mid-air Wi-Fi access, or should that be they are making it an ‘” additional profit centre”, much to many people’s annoyance, although there is a sound argument anyway against allowing Wi-Fi onboard aircraft in the interest of people’s privacy. However, the fact of the matter is that more and more airlines are rolling out Wi-Fi to their passengers and are charging for it. Will though the announcement by Norwegian that it will be the first airline with free Wi-Fi on its long haul route, cause a rethink amongst its rivals?
The answer is probably not immediately but airlines are very sensitive to moves by rivals that may dilute interest in their own services and if they see passengers moving to a rival that offers free Wi-Fi, you can be sure they will imitate.
Alternatively, they will join together and try force their rival out of business!
Good time for a holiday?
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis will visit Bulgaria from May 5 – 7ththis year. The visit will take in Sofia and the town of Rakovski; the latter being a town where a large percentage of the country’s Catholic population lives: Apparently.
The date of the visit coincides with the national holiday of St George’s Day which also acts as the Day of the Armed Forces. The Vatican Church must like Bulgaria as Pope Jean-Paul II visited the country in 2002. After Bulgaria, the Pope will visit Skopje.
May 6this usually a popular time for Sofia’s residents to visit their towns or cities of origin or travel to Greece etc., maybe this year’s rumpus will give them extra encouragement to vacate the capital.
The supposed tender for the 35-year concession to operate Sofia Airport has once again been extended, this time to February 5th. This is the third time the deadline for bids has been postponed in this particular process. The very first attempt was made in 2016 before being scrapped in 2017.
The political opposition have tried in vain to have the entire process scrapped arguing that the facility was of key importance to the national security! The courts ruled against the suggestion.
One wonders what is so important about Sofia Airport and national security when hundreds of key airports across the globe are operated quite successfully by private operators! There have also been claims by politicians that the airport is profitable so why privatise it? The retort to that might be to ask those suggesting this to use the airports already dilapidated parking facility, the broken lifts and toilets and use the inept shops airside that must be the most sparse of any capital city airport in Europe.
There is nothing that several million Euro’s can’t fix (though it should have been done properly in the first place!) and professional management put into place. Both these, however, are lacking locally.
Improvement on the roads
The final result is: 609. That’s the number of people who died on Bulgaria’s roads in 2018, some 73 people fewer than the previous year.
Bulgaria has the second worst road accident fatality rate in the EU (until recently it was the ‘’worst’) and whilst the fatalities are declining, they are not declining as fast as the rest of Europe.
Just for the record, Romania is the country edging out Bulgaria at the bottom of the pile.
Air fatalities in 2018
2018 was far from being the best year in terms of air safety with a total of 555 deaths occurring from 16 airline accidents. This compares with 2017 which was lauded as being the safest year ever for air travel with no deaths on commercial aircraft though there were 44 deaths on other airlines.
Despite the set back last year, one should have in mind that 4.5 billion passengers flew on 45 million flights during the past year, so in effect, driving on Bulgaria’s roads is infinitely riskier.
Electric race gets plugged in
British firm Rolls Royce hopes to have taken to the skies with the world’s first all-electric aircraft by 2020. Their initial plan envisages a zero emissions plane that can travel at 300 mph (483 kmph) and travel a distance of 200 miles (321km). The current record for an all-electric plane is held by Siemens who powered a plane to fly at 210 mph(338kmph) back in 2017.
Whilst the current and short term targets appear less than impressive at first glance, there will undoubtedly be a race to be both the first user of an all-electric plane as well as being the provider of the technology that will drive that plane. Once these initial breakthroughs are made then the rate of technological development in this field is likely to accelerate at a rate of knots not seen previously.
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