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February 2020 Newsletter


A couple of weeks ago, a short article in this newsletter on the Coronavirus story was envisaged. What that shows is how fast the world can change in a few short weeks. Even as the finger taps the keyboard, the fluidity of the virus is such that tuning to the news feeds has become almost an obsession. As these fingers do their work, the virus has now reached 30 countries and claimed almost 3000 lives. Just by comparison, the last similar bout of hysteria in 2003 which surrounded the SARS virus, noted only 773 deaths. Hence, as the virus would still appear to be in its infancy, the outlook is not pretty and even that is an optimistic appraisal.

The fact that the world revolves around travel means that any illness can spread in just a few short hours as people cross from continent to continent. A hundred years ago people moved around on ships, these ships obviously took weeks to complete long journeys and in so doing, often quarantined any virus that was being carried by its passengers. These days, anyone can go from one side of the world to the other in less than 24 hours; that incudes whatever they are carrying in terms of viruses.

Only time will tell how this scenario plays out but already, companies are imposing blanket travel bans on their employees, not just to Asia but also within Europe.  Hardly an hour goes by without another company jumping on the travel ban bandwagon.

At this juncture one should also look at the role Social Media has played and continues to play. Social media has, without doubt, created a culture of panic and hysteria across the world. On the other side of the coin, it has also stopped countries from hiding the problem and created awareness where on another day, if something else was more newsworthy, then the spread of the virus would have been buried well down the pages. Just to set some balance on the situation as it is, 5000 people died in the USA in January alone from normal flu symptoms.  The current strain of flu gets at the weak and infirm just like normal flu: in that, the virus is the same as any similar one.

The bigger picture is, as yet, unclear; business travel is and will continue to be affected for several weeks as travellers are told to ‘wait and see what happens’. However, what about the hotels and people who depend on tourism in the likes of Venice or indeed any city or destination that lives off tourism. What about the airlines and its employees, both who may already be operating on a knife edge financially?

The world seems to take two steps forward and one step back. The fear this time around is that whatever it is that was created and found its way into the human chain, might this time result in two steps forward and three steps back.

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

Jamadvice Travel | BCD Bulgaria

More flight offerings

The range of flights offered from Bulgaria in general continues to expand year upon year. Sofia of course gets the bulk of these but both Bourgas and Varna Airports have also experienced significant expansion in recent times. Low Cost Airline Wizz is one of the prime reasons why the flight offerings have mushroomed and once again they continue to expand with the opening up of flights from Sofia to London Gatwick to compliment their multi daily Luton flight. London is the most popular destination of all for travellers from Bulgaria and the buoyancy of the route is proven by the fact this new flight will operate daily when it commences in June. Just for the record, Wizz carried some 23% more passengers in 2019 than it did the previous year with profits from last year expected to be around 350 million Euro’s. Looking ahead, Wizz is opening a base in Abu Dhabi during this year, a move which could really shake up the world of Low Cost flights for mid haul travel (flights of around 5 hours).

Whilst of the subject of what’s happening locally, an interesting development is taking place at Polish National Carrier LOT who have opened a second base in Budapest. Flights from Sofia direct to Budapest will commence at the end of March and operate six times per week. Aside of the connectivity to Budapest which already exists via Wizz Air flights, LOT will be focusing their attention on offering connections across Europe through the new Budapest hub.

Where’s the hammer?

On top of aircraft manufacturer Boeing’s existing worries and the doubts over its ability to make safe and reliable 737 aircraft, reports now abound that debris (FOD) has been found in the fuel tanks of ’several’  737 Max aircraft.

The word debris probably doesn’t give the story credit because the expression FOD stands for Foreign Object Debris and can in fact refer to spanners, screwdrivers or indeed any such tool!

So let’s get this straight: several ‘tools” were inadvertently left in the fuel tanks of an as yet unidentified number


Gone with the wind

The recent blustery weather that effected much of Western Europe also produced a record for the fastest sub-sonic flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

A British Airways Boeing 747 made the New York to London Heathrow flight in just 4 hours and 56 minutes, arriving in London 80 minutes ahead of schedule. The plane reaching speeds of 825 mph/1327 km/h. However due to the speed of the actual jet stream which the pilot rode on, which was around 260 mph/418km/h, the plane would have felt to be travelling much slower than it was and passengers may have found the actual journey very smooth.

The fastest ever crossing of the Atlantic was by a Concorde in 1996 which did the journey in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds, hitting a top speed of 1`350 mph/2172 km/h.


No show bonus

A Japanese mother and son have been arrested for running a scam which is reputed to have costs various hotel chains millions of dollars. The scam revolved around booking multiple hotel rooms but then not showing up at the hotel. Then then claimed reward points on the fake bookings.

Initial enquiries show they made some 3200 such bookings and used fake names and fake profiles. They then made numerous same day bookings but never showed up. If a hotel forgets to cancel the booking as a no show cancellation, points are still awarded.

The hotels should be the ones embarrassed here as clearly their operating systems same somewhat backward and also, isn’t a credit card meant to be used as a guarantee? Or so we in Europe have been educated to accept.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is easier to comprehend.

What next

The Qatar Airways Group has increased its share in the ownership of IAG; the owners of BA and Iberia. Their shareholding is increased from 21.4% to 25.1%. An increasingly larger chunk of the overall ownership.


Trains move in

The connectivity over land (or under) between the UK and Europe (note the separation in definition), is something that has the potential to grow exponentially as high speed trains become the norm rather than the exception. In April, direct trains will commence operations between Amsterdam and London, eliminating the need to go through passport control in Brussels on the way to the UK.

The route between the Netherlands and the Uk was launched in 2018 but has always required a change of trains and passport control in Brussels en route to the UK. The journey time is 4hours and 9 minutes which is clearly longer than a flight but when the travel time to and from the out of city centre airport locations is factored in together with the time required to negotiate check in and security, the total journey times will be pretty similar.

Initially two services per day will operate but this is expected to rise to four times daily fairly quickly.

Good year again for tourism

The number of tourists visiting Bulgaria totaled 9.3 million in 2019, a rise of 0.4% on the previous year. This increase comes despite doom and gloom forecasts generated by the demise of European Travel Giant, Thomas Cook.

The largest number of tourists came from Romania with 1.29 million followed by Greeks with 1.17m with Germans in third with 761,000 visitors.

What was also interesting was the 20.7% increase in visitors from the Uk with a total of 470,000; the interesting point with this is that despite the perceived importance of an Operator like Thomas Cook to the UK (or indeed any) market, the ability of people to travel using multiple alternatives such as Low Cost Carriers has changed the dynamics of how the travel industry works and it is no longer reliant on any one major or several major Tour Operators.

Costs rise for Boeing

We can’t let a month slip by without mention of the farce that surrounds aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the financial impact the faulty 737 Max plane has on the bottom line financials. The latest from Boeing is that the financial impact will be circa 18.6 billion USD, which is more than double the amount it first forecasted and before it realised it couldnt wash the episode under  the carpet.

The financial cost so far also doesn’t include potential pay outs for the families of the 346 people who died when travelling on the faulty plane.

Boeing expect that the 737 max will be cleared to re start operations in summer 2020 though false dawns have come and gone prior. There is also the question as to whether, initially at least, people will feel comfortable flying on such a plane.


Better late than never

Possibly, just possibly, the elephant in the corner of German Engineering efficiency, namely Berlins new Brandenburg Airport, may see its first customers in October this year.

The airport was due to open in 2011 but this was delayed due to opaque security and technical (or both) reasons that have never been adequately clarified. The airport so far is reputed to have cost 7.3 billion Euro to construct, three times the initial budget.

Some 20,000 volunteers are being requested to enable the airport operators to test the operational readiness ( or otherwise) of the airport before the new start date.

As a reminder, the airport has a Metro line that ghost trains use daily to keep the track systems working and a hotel was built on site in readiness for the 2011 opening. Hotels usually need a refurbishment after 10 years but we doubt the on-site Steigenburger Hotel will have had much wear and tear over the past decade. That said, it might be the hotels systems and indeed furniture might be outdated before even being used!

Expect a Berlin Airport car boot sale sometime soon.

Who wants what

For anyone who travels, his or her needs are often at odds with the aims and objectives of those who are responsible for the travel budget. The Procurement or finance people of an organization often see travel costs as an expense to red ink the bottom line as opposed to viewing it as a vital cog in making that ink black. To that end, the ‘” cheapest” possible is often perceived as the remit of those who pay the bills who are viewed as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing by those doing the travelling.

An interesting comparison of both sides of the fence was released shortly which identified the difference of importance for aspects of travel between those travelling and those paying for it (the buyers).


Travellers                     Buyers

Proximity to work location                     92%                              99%

Price                                                           85%                              94%

Proximity to restaurants etc.                 84%                              68%

Previous traveller reviews                     80%                              67%

Loyalty Programme                               70%                              64%

Hotel amenities                                      50%                              19%

Upgrades and added value add ons    74%                              62%

One wonders if those paying the bills or the contracting the facilities would think the same if they were, instead, the traveller?


Biggest again

Dubai International Airport has retained its place as the world’s busiest airport for the sixth year running. Last year, the airport welcomed 86.4 million passengers which is around six million more than second placed London Heathrow.

Strangely enough, these figures for Dubai were some 3.1% points down on the previous year with the blame attached to the grounding of the Boeing 737 max planes which Emirates sister airline Fly Dubai uses, the collapse of Indian airline Jet Airways plus one of its runways was closed for 45 days during the year for repairs.

The top destination for passengers from Dubai was India with 11.9 million passengers followed by Saudi Arabia with 6.3 million with the Uk following shortly behind with 6.2m passengers.

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