The loneliest island

I’m lucky to have visited one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands twice. Ascension lies in the middle of the Atlantic, roughly halfway between Africa and South America – and the only reason I’ve been there is because of its runway: if you’re flying from one side of the planet to another, Ascension is…

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Jordan Pass – don’t pass on it

Yesterday – oddly, yesterday in the late evening, Jordan time – I spotted, by chance, this Facebook status by Adel Amin, director of marketing at the Jordan Tourism Board. It announced the Jordan Pass, a unified ticket for many of Jordan’s historical sites that is an attempt to help revive the country’s desperately struggling tourist trade. Looking…

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Jordan visa changes – update

A brief update to my post yesterday on Jordan’s visa changes. The Minister of Tourism, Nayef Al Fayez, tweeted me shortly after I posted to say the changes will come into effect between this month (May) and September 2015: Thank you @matthewteller some will come into effect this month and all by September. And there will…

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Jordan changes visa regulations

Jordan changes visa regulations

Yesterday (May 4th, 2015) Jordan announced it was changing regulations surrounding tourist visas and taxes. On the face of it, this is very welcome – Jordanian tourism is in a terrible state, and Jordanians are suffering because of it. However, the changes raise some questions, which as yet remain unanswered. Here is a link to the…

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Stories from Qatar

Stories from Qatar

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be in Qatar, on assignment for the British Airways inflight magazine High Life. It was for an idea I’d pitched to them, trying to give a bit of insider perspective to the way Doha is usually covered in the Western media – which tends to be either PR-driven…

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New unique tour of Jordan

I’m really delighted to announce my latest venture, a unique tour of Jordan, led by yours truly and promoted via the Daily Telegraph here in the UK. Click the links for more. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, and there is full extra detail and the complete itinerary on the Mosaic Holidays site (they are the ones handling bookings – apologies…

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Amman’s new hotel

Amman’s new hotel

This week saw the launch of what is being touted as the first new hotel in Downtown Amman since 1927 – the Art Hotel. Can that claim be true? I guess it depends how you define a hotel (as opposed, perhaps, to a hostel). The Art Hotel is calling itself three stars – which would…

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Jordan visa fees rise for 2014

I’ve had it confirmed to me from several independent sources today (March 31 2014) that Jordan’s government has decided to double the cost of a tourist visa to enter Jordan with immediate effect – from 20JD to the new price of 40JD (which equates to £35 or US$60). The new, higher rate applies from tomorrow, April…

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EasyJet drops Amman, favours Tel Aviv

EasyJet drops Amman, favours Tel Aviv

EasyJet is pulling out of the Jordanian capital Amman. The route, which launched in March 2011 with flights from London Gatwick, will be withdrawn in May 2014, with the last flight departing Amman on Sunday 4th May. It was the only route easyJet maintained to Jordan. UPDATE: Venture, a Jordanian business magazine, covers the story…

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The beauty of ice

The beauty of ice

I was blind. Alone. Before I started I knew it might be bad. People were saying the buses weren’t running. When the bus drivers can’t make it, it’s bad. Petra is high. But every road out of Petra is up. To the north and to the east, you have to climb to the crest of…

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The Round Trip

The Round Trip

I’m not sure when I first read Yuval Ben-Ami‘s travel writing. It was almost certainly on a recommendation from my friend Lisa Goldman, who I met one motor-mouthed evening at a pavement café in a mildly hipster part of Tel Aviv during the pre-hipster autumn of 2009. I was there to research this story for the…

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CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

CNN, Anthony Bourdain and me

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain launched the new series of his ‘Parts Unknown’ travel cookery show on CNN this week with an episode titled ‘Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4uvwiYbRgw&feature=youtu.be It’s had pretty positive reviews. The Washington Post thought it was “so good“. The Open Zion blog called it “groundbreaking reporting“. Amer…

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CNN’s Israel-Palestine travel intro

See backstory here. . 10 Things To Know Before Visiting Israel and Palestine (original) By Matthew Teller – my original below, CNN’s version here . The Holy Land makes for inspiring, depressing, fascinating, confusing travel. To some, the chunk of territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is all Israel. To others, it’s all…

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Airline timetables online

Airline timetables online

Inspired by this fine post on the Travel Lists blog by Alastair McKenzie, bemoaning the apparent demise of the route map on airline websites – at which point, a hat-tip to David Whitley at Grumpy Traveller for his own immortal homage to KLM’s map (click to enlarge) – here’s an extra plea. Timetables (or, if…

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By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

By The Lemon Tree – a B&B in Amman

I met Guido Romero for the first time 3 or 4 years ago, on a drive out of Amman with a mutual friend. Guido is from an Italian family inextricably linked with the 20th-century development of Amman. His grandfather, Dr. Fausto Tesio, founded Jordan’s first hospital, in 1921, and Guido’s mother, author, artist and gallery-owner…

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Postcard from Qena

Postcard from Qena

The Independent‘s sister paper, the i, has a daily “Postcard From…” strand. A month ago I wrote a short “Postcard from Qena” (a city in southern Egypt) for them, with a mini-profile of the dynamic but controversial local governor. I heard nothing back – and what with all the, er, changes in Egypt I thought it had…

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Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

Hope Floats – a cruise up the Nile

“Hope Floats” is the title Wanderlust have given to my article about the revived ‘long cruise’ along the Nile between Cairo and Luxor, published in the current issue (July/Aug 2013). I’m posting the text below – but they’ve done a beautiful job on layout, with lots of striking images, spread over 12 pages. Here’s a…

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Discontent on the Nile

Discontent on the Nile

On the back of my recent visit to Egypt, BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent programme recently ran a piece I wrote from Minya, a town in Middle Egypt newly opening up to foreign tourism. Click here to listen to the audio from BBC Radio 4, or click here to download the podcast (MP3 file: 13MB),…

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New flights to Jordan (from the UK)

I know this looks like link promotion, or a hamfisted attempt at DIY SEO, but it’s really not – there have just been some recent innovations on flights to Jordan from the UK, which I thought I’d highlight. Nothing in this post earns me a penny. For years, two aspects of air travel from the…

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Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

I just got back from a cruise up the Nile in Egypt. These have long been a common tourist fixture in the south, between Luxor and Aswan, but it’s been almost twenty years since cruise ships have been seen in Middle Egypt, between Cairo and Luxor. So when people on the banks caught sight of…

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Is Egypt safe for tourists?

Is Egypt safe for tourists?

[UPDATE – 3 July 2013: Since May, when I wrote this post, the situation in Egypt has changed for the worse. However, I’m not providing updated info on this page. Read on for a general overview of travel safety in Egypt, but also follow the news, ask travel companies and check your governmental travel advisory…

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End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

End of the “Israeli stamps” issue?

For years, Israeli passport stamps have bedevilled “Western” tourists visiting the Middle East. It seems, though, that a new Israeli policy – apparently only just launched – could signal more freedom (for some) to move around the region. [NOTE: All of this applies only to holders of “Western” passports who are exempt from applying for…

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First hotel for Jordanian town

First hotel for Jordanian town

This overly optimistic local news piece from Jordan last December – based on this press release – seems to have been accurate. Jordan’s Arabic papers are reporting today that the lovely old Ottoman town of Salt, west of Amman, is about to get its first-ever hotel. This can only be good. Anything that draws visitors…

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BBC World News interview

Last night I was on BBC World News and BBC4 in the UK, interviewed by Philippa Thomas on the aftermath of the Luxor balloon disaster and its immediate impact on the Egyptian tourism industry. Video here and below:

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Rough Guide to Jordan

Rough Guide to Jordan

A shade late (sorry about that), this is to say that the new edition of my Rough Guide to Jordan is now out, buyable anywhere in the world as a printed book (yay!) – ask for ISBN 978-14053-89792 – or downloadable as an e-book (boo!) here. Rough Guides (in fact, the amazing Martin Dunford; how many…

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A tourism revolution

A tourism revolution

Last weekend I was invited to speak at Destinations, an annual consumer-facing travel show in London. My subject was “Reshaping Middle East tourism” and, gratifyingly, if rather amazingly, something like 100 people came to listen – a vote of confidence in the idea of going on holiday to the Middle East, at a time when…

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Free to you. But not to you.

Free to you. But not to you.

It was clear, and unambiguous. On 13th September the Jordan Tourism Board posted on its Facebook page: In celebration of World Tourism Day on September 27th, entry to tourist sites in Jordan, including Petra, will be free of charge to ALL visitors (NO entry fees on September 27th & 28th). They linked to this article…

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Egypt: a response to Arthur Frommer

Arthur Frommer, founder of Frommer’s Travel Guides, has posted a short blog advising US citizens not to visit Egypt, because of – for want of a better name – the embassy riots. He says “the government of Egypt’s President Mohammad Morsi has whipped up anti-American sentiments among the Egyptian population” and has been “silent” on…

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Why a rough guide is better than none

First, the campaigning political journalist Nick Cohen decided to lay into Lonely Planet for their supposedly expedient politics. So I wrote this response, explaining why Cohen is wrong. Next stop: Michael C. Moynihan for this desperately muddled libertarian froth. Jason Clampet already had a go. Wish me luck. Better still, anyone else like to step in? UPDATES (24/08/2012): UPDATE 1:…

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Flag carrier

Flag carrier

A couple of months late (sorry about that), here’s news of the latest Middle East aviation start-up – or perhaps that should be restart-up. After many years of inaction, Palestinian Airlines have begun flying again – just one route for now, linking the West Bank and Gaza. However, since neither territory has a functioning airport,…

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Mad and bad

Mad and bad

Mad (and bad) tourism news out of Israel, talking about a mammoth proposed development on their side of the Dead Sea, encompassing an unstated number of new hotels and spas. Read it and weep. A couple of points. The Dead Sea is collapsing. Because of the desperate shortage of water in the Middle East (Israel’s…

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Overguiding: notes from a gilded cage

Overguiding: notes from a gilded cage

Digital was supposed to liberate travel. Once, travel was about putting yourself out there. You went to a new place, and you figured stuff out. You got things wrong. You paid too much. Maybe you carried a guidebook – but they were sketchy at best. Hand-drawn maps. Skimpy on the detail (the 1987 Lonely Planet…

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Independent travel in Israel

Independent travel in Israel

After my piece on independent travel in Palestine, published last month in Wanderlust (UK), here is my follow-up article on Israel. You can click on each page to see a close-up version. I meant the two articles to be read in tandem, and I tried as best I could to match experiences in both places…

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Independent travel in Palestine

Independent travel in Palestine

I was lucky enough, last year, to be asked by Wanderlust magazine here in the UK to write two features for them on independent travel in the Middle East – one on Palestine, the other on Israel. The Palestine one has just been published; here it is, scanned from the printed pages. The Israel one…

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Grand Hotels of Egypt

Grand Hotels of Egypt

Just a brief heads-up about a new book due out shortly. Grand Hotels of Egypt looks like an absolute stunner – large format, packed with photos, and written by a genuine expert. Journalist and writer/editor Andrew Humphreys (who, I’m delighted to disclose, has commissioned numerous stories from me for numerous magazine titles over the years)…

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Power and responsibility

Power and responsibility

There’s a firestorm over on David Whitley’s industry-leading travel blog Grumpy Traveller, where he savages bloggers involved in the ongoing Visit Jordan social media campaign that’s been running all year (2011). David’s post is here, but also read the comments – they’re a fascinating glimpse into the travel blogging mindset. After what I wrote there, Nathan…

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Gospel truth

Gospel truth

Here’s a story of David and Goliath. In 2007 and 2008, US outdoor adventure specialist David Landis and Israeli tourism entrepreneur Maoz Inon developed the Jesus Trail, a 65km walking route linking Nazareth – the town where Jesus grew up – to sites of pilgrimage around the Sea of Galilee. David and Maoz, with David’s…

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Green green grass

Green green grass

Pioneering guidebook writers Di Taylor and Tony Howard have done it again. After their amazing work over almost thirty years in the Wadi Rum deserts of southern Jordan, and their expertise trailfinding long-distance paths in Palestine – and Tony’s record-breaking conquest of the Troll Wall, Europe’s tallest rock face, back in ’65 – plus countless more achievements…

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World first for Martin Randall?

World first for Martin Randall?

In what (to my knowledge) is a world first, luxury tour operator Martin Randall Travel – known for running fully escorted cultural and historical tours on highbrow themes, chiefly to destinations in Europe – has announced a tour for March 2012 focused exclusively on Palestine. Click here for tour details. The eight-day tour’s key selling-point is that…

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Room at the inn

Room at the inn

A word of congratulation for the wonderful Fauzi Azar Inn, a guesthouse in the Old City of Nazareth, in northern Israel. Already lauded by every guidebook out there (Lonely Planet author pick: “One of the highlights of a stay in the region.” Bradt: “By far the best midrange option in town.” Jesus Trail: “The perfect base…Best budget…

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Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

I couldn’t resist the headline, sorry – even though I’m not crying and it means I’ve had two consecutive posts headlined with ‘tears’. Thrilled and delighted this weekend to have another piece on BBC radio’s From Our Own Correspondent, after ones earlier this year on Saudi Arabia and Cairo. This time I’m talking about Jerusalem’s…

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Get on the bus

Get on the bus

News via Alternative Egypt of an interesting little tourism start-up on Egypt’s south Sinai coast – the Bedouin Bus, run by a small group of community entrepreneurs who’ve clearly put their heads together, done some thinking and are ready to fulfil a need among their existing clients (both tourists and, intriguingly, locals) for decent, reliable…

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A minor gem

A minor gem

I was in Jeddah recently, and enjoyed a repeat stay at the Red Sea Palace Hotel. Built in 1959, and last renovated almost thirty years ago, this was for ages the only luxury hotel in the city (perhaps the whole country? The Khozama in Riyadh didn’t appear until 1978). No longer five stars – and of…

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News from the edge

News from the edge

A mini-roundup of some interesting news from the fringes of Middle East tourism. Iraq An interesting story by Gulf News mentions more than a million visitors a year to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, with the authorities targeting a Dubai-style five million by 2015. My favourite line? “The recent surge in arrivals is…

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Small country, big mistake?

Small country, big mistake?

Eco mayhem. A while ago we had Tanzania proposing to build a major highway straight through the Serengeti. That idea was quashed. Then we had Egypt proposing to build a hotel in a pristine wilderness. That might still happen. Now, up steps Jordan – a poor country with few natural resources and a faltering economy. 85%…

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Syria: the only way is up

Syria: the only way is up

Journalist Tom Gara recently wrote this article (registration required) for FT Tilt – a short piece which takes info from a blog post by Syria analyst Joshua Landis, which in turn digests 2008 figures from the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics. In summary: • Syria’s entire hotel industry employs just 11,224 people. This represents 0.05% of the Syrian population of 22.5 million. Even…

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Wadi Rum gains World Heritage status

Wadi Rum gains World Heritage status

On 25 June, UNESCO announced that Wadi Rum, a protected area of desert in southern Jordan, had been added to the list of World Heritage Sites for both its natural drama and cultural significance. For Rum background, click here, here, here and here. Few outsiders know Wadi Rum as well as British climbers Tony Howard and Di Taylor. Since their first visit 27…

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Dignity departs

Dignity departs

Rant time, I’m afraid. A few months ago in Tunisia, hundreds of people died and thousands more were injured during a popular revolution against a hated dictator. Now, it seems, the Tunisia tourism authorities regard all that as a subject for (literally) naked commercial exploitation. The image in that BBC story shocks me, and makes…

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Still not a correspondent

Still not a correspondent

If I was chuffed a fortnight ago to have my radio piece from Cairo aired on From Our Own Correspondent on BBC World Service, I’m even more chuffed today to have a follow-up piece aired so soon – and this time on the BBC’s domestic Radio 4 network as well. For my schizophrenic tale from…

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Some Riyadh visuals

Some Riyadh visuals

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is famous (among other things) for two skyscrapers. The best-known is the Kingdom Tower, also known as the Potato Peeler – or the Vest – for, well, obvious visual reasons. It holds offices, malls, apartments, a hotel and a fancy restaurant at the top. People like to use it…

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No longer deserted

No longer deserted

Jordan doesn’t often get into Wallpaper, the leading international magazine on fashion and design. But this is an eye-opener, revealed in the last couple of days – a scheme for super-luxurious, environmentally sound lodges in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, designed by US architect Chad Oppenheim [profile] [website] for completion in 2014. Reading Wallpaper’s brief article,…

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Last Out, First In

Last Out, First In

Five weeks since I blogged. It’s a new world. Tunisia was amazing. Egypt is astounding. Bahrain boggles the imagination. Libya is off the scale. At the time of writing, none of those 4 revolutions is resolved. And there is also Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, even – staggeringly – Syria. Of a different character, but no less…

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From Black to Red

From Black to Red

Last week the Jordan Times reported that the tourism ministers of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey were proposing a common tourist visa valid across all four countries. From the Black Sea to the Red Sea, from Istanbul to Damascus, and from Ephesus to Baalbek to Palmyra to Petra, one visa would fit all. A great…

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Tunisia free – Brits moan

Tunisia free – Brits moan

This is a travel blog, not a political blog, so although there’s been intense activity over on twitter tracking the extraordinary Tunisian revolution, I’m not going to dwell on the implications here. Instead, I’m going to focus in on my own country’s unerring ability to miss the big picture in favour of pushing its own…

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easyJet opens up Jordan

easyJet opens up Jordan

After last week’s news about the swingeing increases in Jordan’s visa fees for independent travellers comes the startling announcement that easyJet – Europe’s second-largest low-cost airline – is launching flights to Jordan, starting on 27 March 2011. easyJet is intending to operate three flights a week from London Gatwick to Amman’s Queen Alia airport, with…

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Jordan decides to deter individuals

Jordan decides to deter individuals

From 1st January 2011, visa fees to enter Jordan as an individual traveller will go up. At the time of writing only the Jordanian Embassy in Australia has publicly posted this information officially; no doubt more will follow. The cost of a single-entry visa is doubling to 20JD (or US$30 equivalent; roughly £19). A new…

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Oman Air: “the challenge of being first”

Oman Air: “the challenge of being first”

Oman Air is quietly working wonders. From a standing start in 2007, when Oman pulled out of the then-multicountry Gulf Air to focus on developing its own national carrier, the airline has gained a reputation for excellence, even while facing down competition from the ‘big three’ Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways. Peter Hill,…

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Sixteen times round the world

Sixteen times round the world

I had the privilege last weekend to meet Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and a legendary figure in travel journalism. I was in Jordan and he’d stopped in for a couple of days – he did outline his week at one point: it ran something like Tokyo, New York, Amman, Mexico City, Los…

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Walking the line

Walking the line

Catching up after six busy weeks – and I just wanted to write a short post, to follow up my previous posts on walking in Jordan and Turkey, to talk about the Jesus Trail, a linked series of walks through northern Israel. The walk has been developed by Anna Dintaman and David Landis – lovely…

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On the sofa

On the sofa

Plenty to blog about – no time to do it. In the meantime, make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and have a giggle at me on the daytime TV sofa, talking about how wonderful Jordan is – David Symes of the Jordan Tourism Board in the UK recently commissioned a web TV show…

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Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions

Another bad news story out of Dubai – a British woman goes into a shopping mall wearing a low-cut top; an Emirati woman objects; in response the British woman strips down to her bikini and carries on walking through the mall; is arrested for indecency, then released, with all charges dropped. A tide of follow-up…

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Mett?

Mett?

This press release from Cooperative Travel has just arrived. I’m going to ignore the spurious nature of the “research” – no sample size given, no date of survey, no indication of sample selection or basis on which figures have been collated – and the meaningless use of random numbers to create a false impression. I’m…

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PR fail – or refreshing modesty?

PR fail – or refreshing modesty?

UPDATE: See the end of this story for an update. Pictured right is Khasab Fort, a small, 17th-century Portuguese-built castle that sits on the waterfront at Khasab, a tiny Omani town overlooking the Strait of Hormuz at the head of the Gulf. Last month Khasab Fort won the International Award at the 2010 Museums & Heritage Awards…

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Tourism is not the only way

Tourism is not the only way

I caught a report on CNBC’s Business Arabia show this week that Qatar has set aside $20 billion for tourism investment over the next three years. Sorry, but I couldn’t help thinking why. To replay some of the numbers – Qatar is the world’s richest country by per-capita GDP, according to the IMF. It is a…

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Wee shall overcome

Wee shall overcome

US airline Spirit Airlines has announced it will charge passengers who want to carry bags onto its aircraft that won’t fit under the seat in front $45 for use of the overhead bins ($30 if they pay in advance). Irish airline Ryanair has announced that it is pressing ahead with its plan to remove two of…

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Please take off your glasses

Please take off your glasses

In Britain, if you renew your passport within nine months of its expiry, they’ll add that extra time onto your allotted ten-year validity. My passport was due to expire this December, so I applied for a renewal a couple of weeks ago. This is the first time I’ve had a biometric passport, i.e. one that…

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“Five-star tourism is a blip”

“Five-star tourism is a blip”

Last month I was lucky enough to hear a talk at the Destinations travel show in London by Kate Clow, creator of the Lycian Way long-distance trekking route in Turkey. It was a great presentation. Kate is very passionate about discovering and preserving these walking routes through the hills, spending thousands (from her own pocket) on…

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Local talent

Local talent

A brilliant opinion piece in Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper by one of my favourite Middle East commentators, Sultan Al Qassemi (who blogs at Felix Arabia), remarking on how the United Arab Emirates – despite its name – lacks a unified identity, either in corporate branding or in many of the practical aspects of government….

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An old friend

An old friend

The last time I saw Toufoul was in Amman in 1998 – and, to be honest, I don’t really remember her that well. Back then I was washed up after a year in Jordan, suddenly single again, and she was one of a bunch of friends I was roaming around with, trying to keep real…

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Be Beirut

Be Beirut

Really enjoyed my return visit to Beirut earlier this month. I don’t really like cities, but Beirut is always memorable. At the time I tweeted: “Beirut is a great place to try & figure out how cities self-perpetuate (and prosper) despite lacking sane central authority.” That’s what it felt like: more than any other city…

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Brand Oman

Brand Oman

I’m not much into branding – especially for countries – but even I quite like this logo, devised to promote Oman and unveiled late last year. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t need any explanation: the swirls and shapes have an arabesque feel to them already, so even without the text you could…

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Premium-priced Petra

Premium-priced Petra

It’s been a(nother) phenomenally busy time. After a string of writing deadlines, which filled the Christmas/New Year break, I’ve just got back from ten days in Lebanon and Jordan to discover that work lined up for Jan and Feb which would have paid almost £3,500 has fallen through – and then today I’ve also had…

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Landmark achievement

Landmark achievement

Back in June I blogged about how a tour-guide friend from Jordan, Yamaan Safady, had been shortlisted for a major award – the Paul Morrison Guide Awards 2009, run by Wanderlust magazine in the UK. I was at the awards ceremony last night, at London’s Royal Geographical Society, and I can report that Yamaan took the Silver…

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Low-cost Middle East

Low-cost Middle East

Expect a price war on flights to the Middle East this winter. On 2nd November, easyJet launches a new route from Luton to Tel Aviv, joining a host of airlines including BA, bmi, El Al, Thomson and jet2 flying between the UK and Israel. More significantly, the highly successful UAE-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia has…

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Frankincense Trail: travel notes

Frankincense Trail: travel notes

I blogged in detail here about Episode One of the BBC’s travelogue The Frankincense Trail, where Kate Humble travels across the Middle East. Episode Two was, I thought, much better – an absorbing (and probably unique) hour of prime-time terrestrial TV devoted to showcasing Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination. There was, fortunately, much less…

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The age of the train

The age of the train

After a generation of inaction – and increasingly bad traffic congestion – the six GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have finally started to build decent public transport systems. Dubai’s metro opens in a few days’ time. Abu Dhabi’s metro is expected within five years, alongside an urban tram network….

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Slow Track

Slow Track

So I’d unexpectedly been upgraded to business class on my return flight into Heathrow Terminal 3 a couple of weeks ago, and during the flight the steward had handed me a card authorising access to the ‘Fast Track’ channel at passport control. Great, I thought. On arrival, the immigration area was jampacked and heaving with…

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World’s five-star airline?

World’s five-star airline?

Something’s been bugging me about Qatar Airways. If you’ve ever watched any of the global English-language rolling news channels – chiefly CNN International, BBC World News or Sky News (all of which keep me company in hotel rooms around the world) – you couldn’t fail to have seen an ad or a sponsor’s message from…

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Last price

Last price

I recently came across this article, where the editor of Dubai-based HotelierMiddleEast.com bemoans the practice of bartering (aka bargaining or haggling). He’s making a serious point, about the madness of hotels’ imposing absurdly inflated “rack rates” on walk-in customers while offering cut-price “corporate rates” to agents, but I’m more interested in why one of the…

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Oryx tale soup

Oryx tale soup

Yesterday, twenty Arabian oryx – a kind of white antelope, native to the Middle East – were released into the wild at Wadi Rum in Jordan, as the latest step in efforts to reintroduce the animal to the wild after its near-extinction in the 1970s. A bit of background: oryx once roamed widely from Egypt…

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Taxes and charges

I hope the FT won’t object to my reproducing some of their premium subscriber-only content here – a comment piece from today’s newspaper ab0ut Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary that is spot on. Michael O’Leary is not someone to let an inconvenient truth obstruct a higher public relations mission. The “unacceptable face of capitalism”, as Mr…

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Squeezing Jaffa

First came this story, about how Israel’s UK tourist office approved a poster advertising tourism to Israel that included this map, which shows Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights as integral parts of Israel. Even in the most Israel-friendly reading, few could dispute the fact that there is at least some, well, uncertainty…

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On the waterfront

Another Middle East megaproject trundles on, this time the $10-billion Marsa Zayed (‘Zayed Harbour’) development in Jordan’s Red Sea resort city of Aqaba. For years Aqaba’s beaches played second fiddle to its port – which, during the 1990s, was the gateway for goods trucked to and from sanctions-bound Iraq. Since the creation of the low-tax Aqaba…

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Grand plans

What’s missing from this press release, announcing InterContinental Hotels’ investment in Oman’s Al-Madina Az-Zarqa (“Blue City”) development? Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there are no dates anywhere, other than a reference to Oman’s “Vision 2020” project. From what I understand, Blue City – a Dubai-style megaproject – has been hit unusually hard by the downturn:…

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Tourism 2.0

It’s the perfect venue for a revelation – St Ethelburga’s, a 15th-century church in the City of London which was partly destroyed by an IRA truck bomb in 1993 and which has now been rebuilt to serve as a centre for reconciliation and peace. I was there yesterday for a meeting about raising the profile…

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Walking the walk

It’s been a few days since I had a chance to blog – not least because I’m now away updating my Rough Guide to Switzerland (writing this on the TGV from Zurich to Basel). I’ve had it in mind to put down something about this BBC story profiling a group calling themselves the Jerusalem Peacemakers…

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Best airport in the Middle East

Best airport in the Middle East

Consultancy firm Skytrax surveyed 8.6 million passengers at 190 airports for its World Airport Awards 2009. Incheon (S Korea), Hong Kong and Changi (Singapore) led the list – but it was the regional award for best airport in the Middle East that caught my eye: Tel Aviv, followed by Bahrain and Dubai. Tel Aviv? Were…

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