Smart Traveller

Along the Irrawaddy

Burma's tourism industry continues to grow apace. Arrivals at Rangoon Airport numbered 68,826 on organised tours between January and August, up by more than 10,000 on last year. Travel companies are likewise expanding in Burma. For example, Orient Express takes to the Irrawaddy River next year with the launch of a 50-passenger cruiser, the Orcaella, a namesake of the dolphins that inhabit those waters.

The Orcaella will host seven- and 11-night cruises between Rangoon and Bhamo and will also point its nose in the direction of the Chindwin River, and north to Homalin, less than 50 kilometres from the Indian border. On land, cruise passengers can tee off at the former colonial golf course of Kalay or visit caves containing 492 Buddha chambers carved into the hillside outside Monywa. Cruises depart from July and cost from $4960 a person.


Skiers on track

This European winter, skiers and snowboarders can make a quicker connection from London to the Swiss Alps and the resorts of Verbier, Zermatt, Saas-Fee and Gstaad using a new, weekly Eurostar service. Travellers depart from London's St Pancras station and connect to the high-speed TGV Lyria in Lille, arriving at Aigle (7hr 50min), Martigny (8hr 16min), Visp (9hr) and Brig stations (9hr 11min) for transfers to resorts. There's no extra charge for skis and snowboards on board. Trains will operate on Saturdays from December 22 until April 13. Return Eurostar-TGV Lyria fares cost from £189 ($234). See;

Still in Switzerland, Swiss Casinos Zurich next month opens its doors in the Haus Ober building (Upper House). Visitors can wager at more than 26 gaming tables and 400 slot machines.

Mobile way to fly

In unsurprising results, airline travellers want more self-service and mobile-based help, according to a recent SITA/Air Transport World survey. On the day the survey was undertaken, almost two-thirds of respondents used a self-service channel to check in, up from just over half using self-service last year. Of those surveyed, almost 90 per cent consider flight status updates delivered by mobile phone, as well as self-boarding, to be their top uses of self-service technology.

The chief executive of SITA, Francesco Violante, says nearly all respondents said they would welcome any queue-busting services. The survey of passengers from more than 70 countries was conducted in six international airports, including Abu Dhabi, Atlanta and Sao Paulo.

See www.sita/aero.

It pays to go solo

One can be the loneliest, and most expensive, number for the solo traveller who wants to join a group journey. With this in mind, one company has branched out, offering a service dedicated to pairing solo travellers so as to form niche groups. The founder of Two's a Crowd, Ken Morgan, says his company aims to keep costs down for solo travellers, with a zero supplement target and maximum of 30 per cent of the twin- share rate charged - without, for example, room sharing.

"Offering to pair up solos ... on a tour is hardly a great outcome," he says. "We couldn't think of anything worse than sharing with a stranger. Group departures are small, with an average of 15, maximum 20 people, with solos only, [so] no couples, no families, no big groups of 45." Morgan says members meet before departure. Tour destinations include European river cruising and Bali.


Steps to an education

The Smith Family Charity has China in its sights next year and has launched an 11-day fund-raising journey to take place along the Great Wall and in Beijing. The target amount for each person taking part in the fund-raiser is $3500. This equates to the education costs of one tertiary and one junior-school student for 12 months. The trip departs Sydney on May 31 and costs from $3899 a person, in addition to the fund-raising goal.

See /china.

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