Oneworld, one itinerary for air fares

Smart Traveller

One-stop shop

Booking point-to-point air fares on the internet is a way of life these days.

Multi-stop flights take a bit more time but are generally manageable, although until now multi-airline, multi-stop flights were like space travel: something for the future. That's changed with the global airline alliance Oneworld introducing an online booking tool that allows passengers to plan and book multi-airline, multi-stop flights.

Qantas, one of the 10 members of the Oneworld alliance, has been driving the initiative. The Qantas general manager of sales and distribution, Rob Gurney, says both customers and the airlines will benefit from the new system as it simplifies the process of booking tickets as well as reducing carriers' costs.

Passengers can build itineraries and check seat availability. The booking tool, available on the Oneworld website with links on the Qantas site, also provides an instant price for the trip.

The multi-airline, round-the-world ticket, or Explorer as it is known, is Oneworld's most popular product. It generates the largest portion of the $US725 million ($1.02 billion) earned by the alliance.

See oneworld.com/ow/flight-info/plan-and-book-your-itinerary.

Twice as nice

Liverpool has handed over the title of European Capital of Culture to Linz in Austria and Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

The burghers of both cities are hoping their respective festivals will be as successful as Liverpool's in attracting tourists. More than $1.6 billion was deposited into the Merseyside city's coffers last year, courtesy of 15 million visitors - with 3.5 million of those people directly attributable to cultural events and festivities.

Cultural tourists will not need to look any further than Austria or Lithuania this year. Aside from the numerous events linked to the European Capital(s) of Culture title, Austria is commemorating the 200th anniversary of composer Joseph Haydn's death and Lithuania is celebrating its millennium, so there's barely a day free in the calendar.

Vienna alone has 1500 events planned this year to celebrate its famous son, the man regarded as the father of classical symphonies and musical quartets.

One sure-fire crowd pleaser will be the Haydn Masses, during which the Vienna Boys' Choir will perform, in the Hofburg Imperial Palace on selected Sundays through to June 21.

The reopening of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius on July 6 is a highlight of the Lithuanian Millennium Celebrations.

See austria.info/linz09, haydn2009.net, culturelive.lt/en.

Handy addition

And talking of saving time . . . Dreamworld on the Gold Coast has introduced a virtual queuing system for eight of its most popular rides.

The Q4U is a hand-held device that allows visitors to check when rides, such as the Motocoaster, are available and make reservations on them.

In use in theme parks around the world, including Legoland in Britain and Dollywood in Tennessee, the Q4U unit reminds users when they are due at the ride. Each unit is $10 to rent, plus an extra $5 a person, up to a limit of six.

See themeparksgoldcoast.com.au.

Counting the cost

Buckle your seatbelts; we're in for a rocky ride. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts a global industry loss of $3.6 billion this year, with Asia-Pacific carriers' losses more than doubling to $1.5 billion. The IATA's director-general and chief executive, Giovanni Bisignani, says airlines have done a remarkable job of restructuring themselves since 2001. "Non-fuel unit costs are down 13 per cent," he says. "Fuel efficiency has improved by 19 per cent and sales and marketing unit costs have come down by 13 per cent.

"But the ferocity of the economic crisis has overshadowed these gains and airlines are struggling to match capacity with the expected 3 per cent drop (the first since 2001) in passenger demand for 2009."

Starlight, star bright

It's the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and to celebrate you can indulge in a spot of star gazing at our national parks.

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is holding a series of tours named Starry, Starry Night at 20 national parks over the summer.

Expert guides lead the tours, which explore basic astronomy, indigenous astronomy and nocturnal Australian wildlife.

See environment.nsw.gov.au, astronomy2009.org.au.

River of gold

It's just one year shy of its 30th birthday but Sovereign Hill still packs them in. The Ballarat attraction, a 90-minute drive from Melbourne on the Western Highway, has been welcoming more than 3000 people a day during the school holidays.

Its latest attraction, the Labyrinth of Gold tramway, is hauling up to 1500 passengers a day underground through a maze of tunnels.

See sovereignhill.com.au.

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