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The 2021 Shandong Conference on Tourism Development to be held in Yantai in late September

This conference aims to be a unique, high-level tourism event that combines universal participation with openness and sharing, achievement demonstration, exchange of experience, innovation and development, and publicity and promotion.

Yantai, China – The 2021 Shandong Conference on Tourism Development will be held in Yantai from September 22 to 24. This conference aims to promote the high-quality development of the cultural tourism of Shandong Province by focusing on the theme “Welcome to Coastal Wonderland – Enjoy the Hospitality of Shandong” and starting with the marine and cultural tourism projects. The conference is hosted by the CPC Shandong Provincial Committee and the People’s Government of Shandong Province and organized by the Shandong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, the CPC Yantai Municipal Committee, and the People’s Government of Yantai.

This conference aims to be a unique, high-level tourism event that combines universal participation with openness and sharing, achievement demonstration, exchange of experience, innovation and development, and publicity and promotion. The overall conference arrangements include four major activities: the opening ceremony, the large-scale cultural tourism show “A Solemn Pledge of Love for Yantai”, the working meeting, and the project observation in addition to four minor ones: the display of cultural tourism achievements made by 16 cities of Shandong Province, the Yantai cultural tourism experience activity with the theme of “Love for Traveling in Wonderland”, the 2021 International Coastal Leisure Tourism High-Quality Development Forum, and the Grand Yantai Carnival.

When the day comes, representatives of the cultural and tourism departments of some provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities), representatives of some coastal cities, key distributors, investors, trade association leaders, cultural tourism experts, foreign consuls in China, and the heads of relevant international organizations will be invited to attend the conference. The guests and attendees will participate in the conference both online and offline. The number of the offline participants will be strictly controlled and various epidemic prevention and control measures will be carefully implemented to ensure that nothing goes wrong.


SpaceX will launch four space tourists on a three-day trip in space. Here’s everything you need to know

Cape Canaveral, Florida (CNN Business)On Wednesday, four people — none of whom are professional astronauts — will strap themselves into a capsule atop a 200-foot-tall SpaceX rocket that will blast them past the speed of sound and up to 17,500 miles per hour. This mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is the first orbital mission in the history of spaceflight to be staffed entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts. Launch is slated for Wednesday between 8:02 pm and 1:02 am ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Florida, though forecasters are keeping a close eye out for storms that could impact the mission. The three-day journey will see the quartet free-flying through Earth’s orbit, whipping around the planet once every 90 minutes while the passengers float, buoyed by microgravity, and take in panoramic views of our home planet. To cap off the journey, their spacecraft will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splash down off the coast of Florida.And yes, for all three days in space, the passengers will all have to share a special zero-gravity-friendly toilet located near the top of the capsule. No showering will be available, and crew will all have to sleep in the same reclining seats they will ride in during launch.

This is far from the first time civilians have traveled to space. Though NASA has been averse to signing up non-astronauts for routine missions after the death of Christa McAuliffe, a New Jersey school teacher who was killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986, a cohort of wealthy thrill-seekers paid their own way to the International Space Station in the 2000s through a company called Space Adventures. American investment management billionaire Dennis Tito became the first to self-fund a trip in 2001 with his eight-day stay on the International Space Station, and six others came after him. They all booked rides alongside professional astronauts on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.This mission, however, has been billed as the beginning of a new era of space travel in which average people, rather than government-selected astronauts and the occasional deep-pocketed adventurer, carry the mantle of space exploration. But to be clear, we are still a long way from that reality, and this trip is still far from “average.” It’s a custom, one-off mission financed by a billionaire founder of a payment processing company, and though pricing details have not been made public, it likely cost upward of $200 million. (According to one government report, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule costs roughly $55 million per seat.)Here’s a rundown of what’s happening and why it matters.

The passengers: A billionaire, a cancer survivor, a geologist and a raffle winner

  • Jared Isaacman, 38, the billionaire founder of payment processing company Shift4, who is also personally financing this entire mission
  • Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor who now works as a physician assistant at St. Jude, the hospital where she was treated, in Memphis, Tennessee. She’ll be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, and she’ll serve as the flight’s chief medical officer. St. Jude selected Arceneaux for this mission as Isaacman’s request, according to a Netflix documentary, and, at the time, she said she was so unfamiliar with space travel that she asked if she would be traveling to the moon, unaware that humans have not set foot on the moon in 50 years.
  • Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and educator who was selected for a seat on this mission through a post on social media in which she highlights her space-related artwork and entrepreneurial spirit. She’ll be only the fourth Black woman from the US to travel to orbit.
  • Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Seattle-based Lockheed Martin employee and former camp counselor at Alabama’s famed Space Camp. He won his seat through a raffle he entered by donating to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, though he wasn’t the official winner. His friend snagged the seat and, after deciding not to go, transferred it to him.

Isaacman — who will become the third billionaire to self-fund a trip to space in the past three months and the first to buy a trip to orbit on a SpaceX capsule — is billing this mission as one that he hopes will inspire would-be space adventureres, hence the missions’s name, Inspiration4. He’s also using it as the centerpiece for a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, $100 million of which he donated personally and the rest he is hoping to raise through online donations and an upcoming auction. So far, a fundraiser has brought in $30 million of its $100 million goal.

How did all this happen?

Inspiration4 is entirely the brain child of Jared Isaacman and SpaceX.Isaacman began flying single-engine prop planes recreationally in the mid-2000s and developed an insatiable thirst for going higher and faster, eventually moving into twin-engine planes, then jets, then military-grade aircraft that can zip past the speed of sound.

Each of Isaacman’s fellow passengers was selected in a different way: He asked St. Jude to select a cancer-survivor-turned-healthcare-provider, and the organization chose Arceneaux. Proctor won an online contest specifically for people who use Shift4, the payment platform Isaacman runs. And Sembroski was given his seat by a person who won a raffle for people who donated to St. Jude. (Sembroski also entered the raffle but was not the original winner.)Isaacman told CNN Business that he sat down with SpaceX to hash out the flight profile. He specifically wanted the Crew Dragon to orbit higher than International Space Station, which is why the spacecraft will orbit about 350 miles above Earth — roughly 100 miles above where the space station orbits.

How risky is this?

Any time a spacecraft leaves Earth there are risks, and there are no perfect measurements for predicting them.But NASA estimates Crew Dragon has a 1 in 270 chance of catastrophic failure, based on one metric the space agency uses. For comparison, NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s to early 2000s ultimately logged a failure rate of about 1 in every 68 missions.Because of the inherent risks of blasting a spacecraft more than 17,500 miles per hour — the speed that allows an object to enter Earth’s orbit — Inspiration4 is more dangerous than the brief, up-and-down suborbital jaunts made by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

Apart from the many perils of the launch itself — in which rockets essentially use controlled explosions more powerful than most wartime bombs to drum up enough speed to rip away from gravity — there’s also the re-entry process. When returning from orbit, the Crew Dragon’s external temperatures can reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and astronauts can experience 4.5 Gs of force pushing them into their seats, all while the ever-thickening atmosphere whips around the capsule.During a Netflix documentary about the Inspiration4 mission, Musk described a capsule going through reentry as “like a blazing meteor coming in.””And so it’s hard not to get vaporized,” he added.After that the Crew Dragon then has to deploy parachutes to slow its descent and make a safe splashdown in the ocean before rescue ships can whisk the four passengers back to dry land.Despite the risks, a former NASA chief and career safety officials have said the Crew Dragon is likely the safest crewed vehicle ever flown.

The vehicle: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon

All four passengers will spend the entire missions aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, a 13-foot-wide, gumdrop-shaped spacecraft that detaches from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after reaching orbital speeds. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was developed by Elon Musk’s rocketry company for the specific purpose of ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, which it did for the first time ever in May 2020.

Since then, SpaceX has launched two additional Crew Dragon missions for NASA. SpaceX is allowed, however, to sell seats — or entire missions — to whoever the company chooses. Although NASA paid for much of the Crew Dragon’s development, under the terms of the deal between the federal agency and the company, SpaceX still technically owns and operates the vehicle and can use it for whatever commercial purposes it wishes.Crew Dragon’s missions in the near future also include a mix of NASA-commissioned flights to the ISS and space tourism missions.For this mission, the Crew Dragon will be retrofitted with a giant glass dome at the tip of the spacecraft specifically for the crew to soak in panoramic views of the cosmos.


Venice to demand tourists pre-book city visit on app to tackle tourist overcrowding

Authorities in the Italian city are testing airport-like turnstiles to control the flow of people. Should the number of visitors become too high, further tourists will be prohibited from entering.

Authorities in Venice are preparing to demand tourists pre-book their visit to the city on an app in a bid to tackle tourist overcrowding.

Officials in the Italian city are also looking at charging day-trippers between €3 (£2.58) and €10 (£8.59) to enter, depending on the time of year.

Airport-like turnstiles are being tested to control the flow of people and, should the number become too high, stop new visitors from entering.

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said his aim was to make tourism sustainable in the lagoon city, which is visited by about 25 million people a year.

“I expect protests, lawsuits, everything… but I have a duty to make this city liveable for those who inhabit it and also those who want to visit,” he told reporters.

City officials have already started tracking every person who sets foot in the city in a bid to tackle the issue.

With a CCTV network of 468 cameras, optical sensors and a mobile phone-tracing system, officials are able to tell residents from visitors and where they are travelling from.

They can also find out where people are heading and how fast they are moving, with authorities updated every 15 minutes on how crowded the Italian city is.

Information on how many gondolas are on the Canal Grande, whether boats are speeding and if the waters rise to dangerous levels are also passed on.

Residents, students and commuters will be exempt from the tourist tax, as will those spending at least one night in a Venice hotel, given they will have already paid the overnight tariff of up to €5 (£4.29) a day.

Mr Brugnaro added that authorities had yet to decide what the maximum number of people in the city should be and when the new rules will be enforced.

They were due to be implemented between next summer and 2023.

The scheme was first mooted in 2019 and then it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor’s plan is the subject of debate, with some worrying it will deter tourists from visiting.

Others, such as 50-year-old Stefano Verratti who sells Murano glass near the train station, backed the idea.

“I have been here for 30 years, and it used to be very different. Before Venice was really romantic,” he told Reuters.

“Now it’s just people rushing to buy a kebab, take a quick selfie on the Rialto bridge, and then rushing to take a train. I don’t know if they really enjoy it.”

A month ago, Italy banned cruise ships from Venice lagoon to defend its ecosystem and heritage, after the United Nations culture organisation UNESCO threatened to put the country on a blacklist for not banning liners from the World Heritage site.


Self-isolation changes: Relief for hospitality managers as ‘pingdemic’ ends, but ‘uncertainty’ not over yet

Managers at pubs and hotels, and the CBI, have warned that disruption could last for weeks to come with younger hospitality workers less likely to have had both vaccine doses.

Pub and hotel managers have hailed changes to self-isolation rules – which are set to mark the end of the ‘pingdemic‘ – but warned that uncertainty is not over for businesses yet.

From Monday, those who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to quarantine when identified as a close contact, signalling an end to temporary closures and huge staff shortages that have blighted the hospitality industry this summer.

However, managers have warned that with younger staff members – who are more likely to work in hospitality – still waiting to receive second doses, some disruption is still expected over the coming weeks.

Veryan Palmer, director of the five-star Headland Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, welcomed the changes, but added: “It’s not quite over for us yet”.

“Generally our older staff have been fully vaccinated, but if you’re young you still often haven’t yet had your second vaccination.”

Over recent weeks, the hotel has experienced mass disruption due to self-isolation, leading to bedrooms being closed and only one of its three restaurants being able to operate.

At one point, 51 out of its 227 staff had been pinged, although only one employee has tested positive for Covid after being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app.

“It’s been really tough and it’s been really tough for a lot of the staff. People want to work and they want to earn money,” said Ms Palmer.

She added that on top of having lots of staff under 25 who are yet to receive a second dose, there were fears that last week’s Boardmasters Festival, which was held in the town, could lead to an uptick people being told to isolate.

“I know a lot of young staff managed to get tickets. We’re hoping that it won’t have become a super-spreader event,” she said.

Disruption to the industry caused by people being asked to self-isolate after being pinged as a close contact could last for several weeks yet.

Those who are yet to receive a second dose will then have to wait two weeks until they are exempt from quarantine when contacted.

Martin Robinson, general manager at Ye Old Fighting Cocks, in St Albans – which claims to be the oldest pub in England – said the changes would make things “much easier”.

But, he added: “A lot of the staff are under 21, so it’s going to take a little while for everyone to get there.”

Amid the heatwave on 12 July, the pub was forced to close for 10 days after all 17 staff who were working that day were pinged.

“Not one of us tested positive. That was a real kick,” said Mr Robinson. “10 days, beautiful sunshine, and a bunch of healthy 20-somethings sat at home twiddling their thumbs.”

On Monday, the pub’s chef was isolating after contracting Covid, meaning there was no kitchen service.

But while Mr Robinson said it was important to keep people safe and to avoid further lockdowns, even small numbers of staff isolating caused big issues because the pub was operating on scaled-back staff numbers.

“You try to run as slim as possible because we’re coming out of financial hardship,” he said.

“When you’re running that tight, it only takes one person to say I’ve been pinged and it’s really tough to deliver a decent standard of service.”

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said the changes would come as “a long-awaited relief to businesses” and would “ease” the impact of the pandemic.

However, a spokesperson added: “for those sectors reliant upon younger works still awaiting their second jab, including hospitality, a critical part of the workforce still face the prospect of needlessly having to self-isolate.

“A practical test and release scheme could be a sensible alternative for those who are single-dosed to ensure that self-isolation remains properly targeted at those who risk spreading the virus.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) also said that while the new exemptions would provide “huge relief” to small business owners, a “well-functioning testing system” was also critical.


Space Tourism Is a Waste

Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk want to make “space tourism” a thing. This could jumpstart a pointless industry that’s totally unsustainable.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, will head into suborbital space on Tuesday. He’ll be the second billionaire to take such a journey this month, getting narrowly beat out by Richard Branson, who recently took an hour-long rocket trip to the edge of space. Next year, Elon Musk—who has traded the world’s-richest title with Bezos a few times this past year—will also head to space on Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane.

If these billionaires get their way, there will be more of these flights in the future. Virgin Galactic has said it already has $80 million in deposits and sales plunked down for its flights. All three of these men are gunning to make “space tourism” a thing. But it comes with a major cost to the rest of us.

For the super-rich, a few minutes spent experiencing weightlessness and viewing the curvature of the Earth could leave humanity footing an ever-larger carbon pollution bill. It also reflects the increasingly unsustainable levels of inequality and concentration of power, which, coupled with the climate crisis, will lock in suffering for billions. That’s nothing to celebrate.

Neither Bezos nor Branson has been particularly forthcoming about the environmental impact of their flights. But then that’s precisely the problem. The initial climate impact of an individual space tourist flight may be comparatively small, but they will add up. And each flight signals something more ominous to come.

We know those impacts can be large in part because they emit pollution directly into the stratosphere. Studies show this can deplete the ozone layer that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays and that the world has worked so hard to restore. (For its part, Blue Origin claims its effect on the ozone layer will be minimal.)

Then there are greenhouse emissions to worry about. The VSS Unity winged spaceship that Branson took to space runs on a combination of nitrous oxide andhydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB). HTPB is
made out of butadiene, which is a byproduct of using steam crackers to turn petroleum or natural gas into ethylene—a highly polluting process that releases emissions that are both toxic and planet-heating.

Bezos’ New Shepard rocket, made by his company Blue Origin, runs on a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.Though neither of those emit carbon when they’re burned, producing liquid hydrogen usually does. Compressing and liquifying the oxygen for the fuel is also an energy-intensive process that, if not done using renewables, results incarbon pollution.

Refining and burning these fuels isn’t just the equivalent of a tank of gas for your car. They’re not even necessarily equal to using jet fuel to hop a coast-to-coast flight.

“The Virgin Galactic flight carried six passengers and reached an altitude of 53 miles [85.3 kilometers], and from information provided by Virgin Galactic, we can estimate that carbon emissions per passenger mile are about 60 times that of a business class flight,” Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, adding that “more research is needed to understand the full climate impact.”

Branson has said that the emissions from his flight will be offset by investing in projects that suck up carbon elsewhere. But planting trees and encouraging regenerative agriculture doesn’t undo the damage of his joy ride. Forestry offset projects have also proven to be both ineffective and unjust. Blue Origin, meanwhile, has focused on how much less polluting Bezos’ flight will be than Branson’s was.

These flights to the edge of space will add to Bezos’ and Branson’s individual carbon impacts, which are already cartoonishly large thanks to their propensity for behavior such as regularly flying private. (A single private jet trip can emit nearly double the amount of carbon than the average American does in an entire year). But though infuriating, there aren’t that many of these flights taking off, so the overall environmental effects aren’t that big.

“Contemporary attempts to boost suborbital and orbital space tourism (such as those attempted by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin) are still at an early stage of development,” said Nikolaos Iliopoulos, a doctoral candidate in sustainability at the University of Tokyo who researches space travel’s environmental impact. “Thus, as of today, space tourism presents limited socio-environmental impacts as space tourism vehicles travel to the orbit and back.”

But in the near future, Branson and Bezos as well as Musk want that to change. Branson’s Virgin Atlantic wants to “open space to everyone.” Bezos’ Blue Origin wants to “increase access to space.” And Musk’s SpaceX wants to “make humanity multi-planetary.”

Though these companies all make it sound like the missions are for the masses, the price tags say otherwise. A yet-unnamed person, for instance, paid $28 million to be a passenger on Bezos’ Tuesday trip up to space. (They subsequently and improbably had a scheduling conflict, and an investment firm CEO’s 18-year-old son will take the seat instead.) Future Virgin Galactic flights are priced between $200,000 and $250,000.

Rich people are already responsible for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. Just 1% of the global population is responsible for half of the world’s commercial flight emissions. That doesn’t even account for the even more elite select few who can fly private.

“When you look at the aviation sector, private jets are so much worse on a per passenger basis than a regular plane full of economy class passengers just because fewer people are traveling on each one,” said Clare Lakewood, senior legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “You put just one or two people in a rocket, and you’ve got something orders of magnitude worse that would supersize the carbon footprints of people that already have the largest ones.”

Globally, individuals in the richest 1% are already responsible for 175 times more greenhouse gas pollution than the average person in the bottom 10%. If space tourism takes off, it could make these disparities even worse.

Don’t get me wrong, there are good reasons for space travel. Without it, we wouldn’t have satellites that help us track dangerous weather and our changing climate. Learning about other planets is important, too, not only for its own sake but also because it helps us understand our own. Observing Venus and Mars has helped scientists better understand the climate crisis on Earth. The search for life beyond Earth also can’t happen without sending probes out into the solar system. Space exploration can even help us understand the beginning of the universe, allowing us better understand our place in it.

But space exploration is not the same as space tourism. While the former is conducted for the worthy goal of understanding what’s beyond our atmosphere, the latter only serves the interest of the super-rich who want a thrill and the billionaires who own the companies that can provide it. It’s one of the most glaring illustrations of rising inequality. What’s more, it could widen the gap further by worsening the climate crisis and forcing the most vulnerable to suffer the impacts while the rich snap space selfies.

Even if we create truly clean fuels someday, using them for space tourism to enriches billionaires is still not sustainable. Concentrated wealth is concentrated power, and concentrated power is bad for the Earth. We’ve seen the democratic decay and the planetary danger posed by putting so much money in the hands of the few. Musk has ignored labor regulations and bullied California officials during the pandemic. (Hundreds of his employees got covid-19.) Bezos has pretended to give a damn about the climate with his venture capital fund—which will inevitably enrich him further—even as Amazon helps oil companies more efficiently extract fossil fuels. Lining the pockets of these men through space tourism will further corrode what we hold dear.

But couldn’t space tourism be the beginning of space colonization, helping us to ensure we have a livable future even if the climate crisis makes Earth uninhabitable? These billionaires want us to think so. SpaceX wants to colonize Mars as a space outpost for when life on Earth is no longer tenable.Bezos wants to build colonies orbiting Earth to support billions of people. But put simply, these proposals are absurd. They’re not going to come to fruition, and they’re certainly not going to create a sustainable alternative to life on Earth, a planet that has all the life support systems we need if billionaires would just stop wasting them.

“We are not going to build large-scale sustainable human civilization on Mars anytime soon, certainly not on any timescale remotely relevant to stopping climate breakdown,” said Kalmus. “It will be far easier to stop climate breakdown on Earth than it would be to build large-scale civilization on Mars, where there isn’t even air to breathe.”

Consider that at any given time, there are a handful of people in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station. Unlike, say, Mars, it’s a relatively protected part of space, located firmly within Earth’s magnetic fields, which makes it comparably safe from the radiation produced by gamma rays and cosmic rays as well as destructive solar winds. But it still takes thousands of workers on Earth and regular restocking trips to the ISS just to keep those few people alive.

“We don’t even pretend that the International Space Station is an independent system, and it’s protected by our magnetic fields. It’s got easy delivery to and from Earth, and it’s still hard to live there. We certainly couldn’t just cut it off and have the astronauts live there without a constant stream of resupplies,” Mika McKinnon, a field geophysicist (and former writer for Gizmodo), said. “This idea that we can colonize other places is just bullshit. Earth is easy mode, and we can’t even maintain livable conditions here.”

Leading climate scientists have made it clear that if we’re going to have a shot in hell at repairing Earth’s deteriorating conditions, we’re going to have to restructure society. As Sarah Diamond, associate professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and an author of one recent landmark report told me, that will require “a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature.”That means not wasting Earth’s resources on pointless spectacles that only serve the rich. It means not organizing our whole society in a way that enables a handful of people to accumulate stratospheric wealth, while everyone else suffers in economic and ecological disparity. We should be focusing all our efforts on securing a livable future on this planet—not celebrating flashy indulgences of billionaires at the edge of space.


European Commission moves closer Schengen visa rollout

The European Commission has outlined new rules for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

The move is considered an important step towards the entry into the operation of ETIAS by the end of 2022.

Once the system is in place, non-EU citizens travelling to the Schengen area who are exempt from the visa requirement will need to register and obtain authorisation before travelling.

This is likely to include travellers from the UK.

“The rules entering into force detail how ETIAS will work with other EU information systems it will query when conducting checks, namely the entry/exit system, the visa information system, the Schengen information system and a centralised system for the identification of member states holding conviction information on non-EU nationals,” the Commission said in a statement.

The system will cross-check travellers against EU information systems for internal security, borders and migration before their trip, helping to identify ahead of time people who may pose a risk to security or health, as well as compliance with migration rules.

The set-up of ETIAS forms part of the ongoing work to put in place a “state-of-the-art external border management system” and making sure that information systems work together in an intelligent and targeted way.

“ETIAS will not change which non-EU countries are subject to a visa requirement and will also not introduce a new visa requirement for nationals of countries that are visa-exempt,” the Commission clarified.

Visa-exempt non-EU nationals will only need a few minutes to fill in an online application which in a vast majority of cases (expected to be over 95 per cent) will result in automatic approval.

The process will be simple, fast and affordable, officials said.

The ETIAS authorisation will cost €7, which will be a one-off fee, and will be valid for three years and for multiple entries.


Virgin Galactic opens ticket sales for space flights

Virgin Galactic has opened ticket sales for space flights, with prices starting at US$450,000 a seat.

The move comes weeks after the billionaire founder of the company, Richard Branson, took a high-profile flight to the edge of space.

The space-tourism company confirmed it is making progress toward beginning revenue flights next year.

It will sell single seats, package deals and entire flights.

In June, Virgin Galactic received approval from the US aviation safety regulator to fly people to space.

Sales will initially open to a list of “early hand-raisers,” Virgin Galactic said.

“In the second quarter, we made meaningful progress towards commencing commercial service in 2022.

“We successfully completed two spaceflights from New Mexico, the latest carrying a full crew of mission specialists in the cabin and garnering an extraordinary global media and consumer response.

“In addition, we received FAA approval to expand our existing launch license, marking the first time the FAA has licensed a Spaceline to fly customers to space,” said Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic.

“Leveraging the surge in consumer interest following the Unity 22 flight, we are excited to announce the reopening of sales effective today, beginning with our Spacefarer community.

“As we endeavour to bring the wonder of space to a broad global population, we are delighted to open the door to an entirely new industry and consumer experience.”

Releasing its quarterly results, the company said it made a net loss of $94 million over the past three months.

This is compared to a $72 million net loss in the second quarter of 2020.

The company posted revenue of $571,000, barely enough to cover one seat on a future flight.


Cryptocurrency is taking off as a way to pay for those vacation getaways

You’ll probably have to use cryptocurrency to pay off that ransomware hacker who froze your laptop, but where else might you put all your bitcoin, ethereum and other digital coins to actual use?

Tesla may still be unsure about accepting bitcoin for its electric vehicles again, yet cryptocurrency holders can tool around in other ways now that travel suppliers are warming up to the idea.

Airfare website, Latvian carrier Air Baltic and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have long accepted bitcoin, and Berlin-based tours and activity booking site GetYourGuide started taking dogecoin, processed via BitPay, in June as part of its expansion in the U.S.

Cryptocurrency transactions “will really matter for travel” and his firm is looking at accepting other coins going forward, said Johannes Reck, CEO and co-founder of GetYourGuide.

“People want to put their crypto back into the system [and] travel is one of the biggest categories there is,” he added. “We take dogecoin now into the real world; you can apply it and actually get a real-world, kinetic experience.”

Cryptocurrency also appeals to younger generations of travelers, say industry players.

Alex Simon, co-founder and CEO of soon-to-be-released travel app Elude, said next-gen vacationers “are looking for modern ways to plan and book trips.”

“The ability to purchase your airline ticket or hotel through bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is inevitable,” he added. “Though the travel industry is antiquated, the new generation of travelers, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, will demand new forms of payments and alternative ways to purchase travel.” (Gen Alpha is generally thought to be comprised of those born after 2010, often the children of millennials.)

Other tourism players currently transacting in crypto include Nevada’s new Resorts World Las Vegas property, which takes it for select payments through a partnership with U.K. crypto exchange firm Gemini, and the Bobby Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, where guests can book stays and events with dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies via BitPay.

For its part, online travel agency giant Expedia stopped directly accepting bitcoin back in 2018, but 700,000 Expedia Group hotels and accommodations have been available via crypto-friendly booking platform since 2020. also partners with Tripadvisor-owned company Viator, to offer more than 400,000 bookable activities, as well as food delivery outfit Zomato.

At self-described “blockchain-based”, which accepts payment in its own native AVA altcoin as well 50 other cryptocurrencies, 70% of all bookings are now by digital coin, according to CEO Juan Otero. The firm said it is currently seeing more than $1 million a week in business.

“These are massive partnerships with some of the world’s biggest online travel brands, all of whom are embracing crypto,” Otero said. “Altogether, offers over 3 million travel products, making us not just the biggest crypto-friendly [online travel agency], but one of the largest overall.”

Is B&B now ‘bed-and-blockchain’?

The cryptocurrency model is also starting to change the travel industry itself. Otero said it’s at the core of Dtravel, which he described as a new decentralized home-sharing network, built on the blockchain model, that launched in June.

“There isn’t a single corporate board that makes all the decisions,” he said. “Instead, this new home-sharing network is driven entirely by its community through its ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ that any host or guest can partake in.”

Otero said the blockchain technology Dtravel is built on facilitates “smart contracts” between hosts and guests. The platform centers around TRVL, its native crypto token.

The token is provided to all registered hosts and any guest can purchase it; those who have TRVL are voting members of the Dtravel DAO. (More than $35 million in TRVL rewards were reserved for the first 100,000 hosts to register with Dtravel, said Otero. On July 21, Dtravel announced 200,000-plus properties in more than 2,000 cities had joined; the platform has set a goal of listing more than 1 million rentals in its first year.)

There certainly isn’t a secluded island where a bunch of crypto enthusiasts all travel to.

“Hosts can propose changes — for example, fee structure, organizational policy, usage of community treasuries — and vote, allowing [them] to control the destiny of the Dtravel platform to suit their evolving needs,” he said.

It all makes sense, said Otero, in a world of an estimated 100 million cryptocurrency holders where consumers spent more than $1 billion in crypto on the Visa network alone in the first half of 2021. An April 1 survey of 1,000 Americans found that 71% of respondents plan to spend more on travel than before Covid, and a surprising one-quarter say they will use crypto to pay for part of it.

Still, trafficking in crypto might seem to many the purview of a special subset of the population — say, the Elon Musks of the world. But, in general, people using digital coins at book everything from budget travel at online travel agencies to its luxury Concierge-branded products, said Otero, and their favored destinations don’t differ much from those reserved by people paying by traditional cash or credit.

“There certainly isn’t a secluded island where a bunch of crypto enthusiasts all travel to,” he added, although he noted that crypto adoption has been higher than the global average in’s second- and third-most-popular destinations, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. (The U.S. is the platform’s No. 1 seller.)

“With more people holding cryptocurrencies and more businesses accepting it for real-world things, travel is naturally a desirable experience to use crypto,” he said.

Of course, bitcoin and competing coins can swing wildly in value; that’s why travel suppliers tend to not sit on the volatile tokens but have third-party payment processors convert them to fiat value at time of purchase, says Otero.

Consumers reserve their options, too. “We generally see more credit card payments for travel when crypto prices are down versus when they’re sky-high,” Otero said.


France fines Google €1.1 million for ‘misleading’ consumers with its hotel rankings

France has fined Google €1.1 million for allegedly “misleading” consumers with their rankings of hotels and other tourist accommodations.

A 2019 investigation by the French consumer watchdog and finance ministry found the tech giant was guilty of “misleading commercial practice”.

Google Ireland and Google France have agreed to pay the fine as part of a settlement, after approval from the Paris public prosecutor, the ministry said.

Both organisations have since altered their practices, it added in a statement.

France’s Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) had launched a probe into Google in September 2019 after complaints from hotels.

Businesses had argued that the display of around 7,500 hotels on Google’s search engine was unfair, compared to the official classification issued by Atout France, the country’s Tourism Development Agency.

The watchdog found that Google had replaced the Atout France ranking with their own criteria, but had used an identical system of 1 to 5 “stars”, which was “highly confusing” for customers.

“This practice was particularly damaging for consumers, who were misled about the level of service they could expect when booking accommodation,” the authority stated.

“It was also detrimental to hoteliers whose establishments were wrongly presented as being lower than in the official Atout France classification.”

Since September 2019, Google has “corrected their practices” and reverted to the official classification issued by Atout France.

“We have now settled with the DGCCRF and made the necessary changes to only reflect the official French star rating for hotels on Google Maps and Search,” a company spokesperson told Euronews.

Google stated that their previous classification of hotels used a variety of sources, including Atout France, as well as feedback from hoteliers and other party sources.

The settlement with the DGCCRF does not affect users’ ability to rate and review hotels on Google.

In December, Google was also fined €35 million by France’s online data privacy watchdog for allegedly breaching rules on cookies.

The National Commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) said both Google and Amazon had automatically placed advertising trackers on users’ computers without asking for consent.


Scrap the front desk – Can hotels operate without a physical front desk?

The front desk: the emblem of hospitality. For years and years, we have been walking into a hotel to greet smiling faces behind the familiar desk. However, as technology evolves and continues to transform the hospitality industry, does the front desk continue to be a symbol of care and luxury, or is it transforming into a beacon of tedious outdated processes?

Many industries have already scrapped their version of ‘front-desks’ in favour of more modern and tech-based approaches. The airline industry, for instance, has widely adopted self-service check-in technology. Similarly, movie theatres are also opting to use technology to allow patrons to jump straight into the cinematic experience. Mobile banking began taking over transactions carried out by tellers as far back as 2007.

Recently, Amazon launched ‘just walk out’ shops where shoppers can simply scan a code on their Amazon app, shop, and simply walk out with the groceries. A combination of sensors, cameras and AI handles the hassle of checking out items, scratching billing desks off the books.

So, why is the hospitality industry defying all trends and hanging on to a physical front desk? A well-tailored change along with adopting the right tech solutions can ensure that the guests enjoy the true highlights of their journey without wasting their time on formalities and due process. Scrapping the ancient and rigid front desk can benefit hoteliers in more ways than one.

Tailored Freedom

A looming front desk by the hotel door is not always a welcoming sight, especially for worn-out guests arriving after a long flight, or the guests who want a speedy check-out to rush to a family emergency. A physical front desk freezes check-in and check-out processes to the spot, and this rigidity can backfire when trying to cater to the unique requirements of each guest.

Research into customer sentiments proves that guests value convenience in front desk operations. A study by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) revealed that 76% of guests believe that being able to check-in ahead of time would minimise potential frustration and 41% stated that they would be more likely to select a hotel that offers the convenience of advanced check-in via web or mobile device.

Without a front desk standing in the way, hoteliers can adjust processes to tailor to each guest. It can also allow the staff more opportunities to interact with the guests as they no longer have to stare at a screen punching in guest data.

Smarter and Safer

Amongst the countless changes brought in by the pandemic are the social distancing requirements and the need to reduce touchpoints. The traditional front desk may very well be a hub for contamination as every single guest encounters it. Not to mention the heightened risk to the front desk staff, since, while a guest may only interact with the desk once or twice during their journey, the staff will encounter several such contacts within the day, exponentially multiplying the risk.

However, McKinsey suggests that this is an opportunity to “make it better, not just safer”. They identified that many hotels are doing away with the antiquated check-in process, allowing guests to go directly to their rooms with keyless entry. The calls for reducing touchpoints can be used as an opportunity to adopt a tech-based approach to replace the physical front desk.

Allow Choice

This does not go to say that hotels need to scrap human interactions. The increasing use of tech from airports to vending machines means that some guests might be desperate for a friendly chat with a human. The pitfall of the world’s first robot hotel, the Henn-na Hotel in Japan, is an excellent example of the need for a balance. The inability of the robots to accommodate the nuances in guest behaviour and the breakdowns forced the hotel to remove 243 of its android staff.

The need to scrap the physical front desk is because it creates a barrier between the guests and the staff. Often, these large desks are a way of masking large computers hosting cumbersome tech ‘solutions’. Front desk operations are key points in creating a positive impression on the guest and forcing them through rigid archaic processes will be of little benefit to hoteliers. Adopting simple tech solutions that can run with minimal hardware not only declutters the lobby but, will also create more space for guest engagement.

Instead of a physical front desk, hoteliers can get creative with these processes. Tech-savvy guests can pre-check in and walk straight to their rooms. Others can walk into a cosy lobby where the hotel staff can sit with them and complete the check-in process through a tablet-based solution, while the guests sip on their welcome drinks. This provides an opportunity for hospitality organisations to maintain quality human interactions. Self-check-in kiosks can be used to eliminate waiting times in busier hotels.

41% of persons use a smartphone a few times every hour (Forbes), and 76% of travellers say their smartphone is the most important travel companion (Openkey). These tech-savvy guests are quite familiar with mobile and social media apps and emails. Imagine the impression an archaic desk with people punching data into a large computer will leave on such guests.

Incorporating mobile technology can achieve safer and smarter operations as opposed to a physical front desk. For instance, FX GeM, a contactless mobile solution designed by IDS Next, allows guests to check-in through their own devices with facilities to upload identity documents.

Also, IDS offers FX Mobile Check-In, a tablet-based solution to check-in guests, generate bills, and handle check-outs on the go. FX Roomate, an innovative in-room solution for guests to easily make room service and other requests, eliminates the need for a dedicated physical desk to accommodate guest requests.

Hoteliers today want to change to the future. However, technology vendors stand as a barrier. Your current technology vendor might not allow you to make a change even if you wanted to. That’s why it is important to partner with futuristic companies with mobile-first solutions.