Russia’s Siberian Extremities are Becoming More Accessible to Travellers

Who goes on holiday to Siberia? Well, according to recent statistics from Russia’s Tourism Board, a greater number of people every year. While the remote Russian back country may not feature on the standard North Asian travel itinerary, hundreds-of-thousands of tourists are treating themselves to a holiday in Siberia, eschewing the traditional sunny beach in favour of the world’s best scenery.

Just ten years ago, travel throughout Russia’s far eastern regions was virtually unheard of. Access roads offered limited travel within the area, although those without four-wheel drive vehicles were often left stranded in the region’s dangerously rough scenery. However, with the region’s famous railway serving record customers annually, the world’s backyard is undergoing a renaissance.

Travel industry experts have pointed to Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round motorcycle series for the region’s new found success, while others have insisted that the increase in tourism is simply a natural development. Given the truly wonderful scenery and nature on offer within Siberia’s more accessible regions, it appears that one of the world’s last true gems has been exposed to the world.

Most travellers opt to use the region’s railway system, combining a classic holiday idea with some of the area’s top natural attractions. Lake Baikal and its surrounding shores are a popular point for many European tourists, with a growing number of people visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site every season. Fresh fish and local products are popular souvenirs, each competitively priced.

While it seems unlikely that Siberia will win praise from the beach-and-resort crowd, the region is one that’s almost completely unspoilt by mass tourism. Given the relative expense of holidaying in Moscow or St. Petersburg, a railway trip through some of Russia’s undiscovered back country may be the best option for this year’s Far Eastern getaway.

Disney Increases Prices: Are the Resorts Still Worth It?

Disney has announced a price increase for its Anaheim and Orlando theme parks. The Disneyland and Disneyworld resorts will see an across-the-board price increase of approximately five percent, bringing the theme park pricing in line with that seen at other California day parks. Disney claims that the price hike was introduced to increase revenue and refurbish the parks more consistently.

The price increase could be a timely and strategically intelligent move for Disney, as significantly more Americans begin to travel domestically. With the cost of international travel out of reach for many debt-ridden American families, the cost effective alternative of a domestic vacation is often the only available alternative. Disney’s parks offer a simple, well-branded vacation opportunity.

Disney’s pricing strategy has always been fairly intelligent, particularly on the corporation’s side of the equation. Tickets to Disneyland and Disneyworld are typically purchased in advance using the park’s website, separating the cost of the ticket from the experience at the park. It’s a classic sales trick, and it’s one that appears to have been highly successful for the company’s theme parks.

However, residents of Anaheim and nearby Los Angeles have voiced complaints about the price hikes, claiming that they should not be an annual occurrence. While Disney has traditionally raised prices in line with inflation and higher earnings, this year could be the first year that sees a price increase alongside a major recession.

Patronage at Disneyland has increased following the opening of the park’s new Disney California Adventure section opened in 2004. While the parks are currently popular, attracting thousands of tourists and California natives daily, Disney plans to increase patronage further by refurbishing the park’s historic ToonTown and Adventure World sections. The price increases will go into in effect in early August at both Disneyworld and California’s Disneyland.

Exploring Tokyo — The World’s Biggest City — on a Backpacker Budget

There’s no city quite like Tokyo. The Japanese capital is both the biggest city in the world and one of its most culturally interesting, combining three-hundred-year-old temples and skyscrapers, rich cultural gems with cutting-edge technology. When it comes to experiencing high-tech Asia, there’s truly no real alternative to a quick trip through Japan’s mega-metropolis.

But Tokyo has a semi-deserved reputation for expense, particularly for travellers. Ranked as one of the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates, the megacity is often thought of as a destination for those with Herculean budgets. We don’t think so – with the right spending strategy and a bit of calculated frugality, the Japanese capital can be a good budget travel destination.

Where to start? Pick a hotel that’s outside of the city centre. Tokyo has the world’s most effective public transport system and it’s pointless to ignore it by booking into a central hotel. Provided your room is within walking distance of a train station, it’s no less convenient than one in Shibuya or the Shinjuku business district.

Don’t eat out, eat up. Tokyo’s ground floor restaurants tend to be overpriced and disappointing, with basic plates of ramen attracting five-star prices. Find better prices and better quality by walking up a floor or two. Third and fourth-floor restaurants in Tokyo tend to be less expensive, more friendly, and less crowded, giving you a better travel experience and better food.

Finally, learn basic Japanese. Tokyo is expensive and impersonal at first, but with a basic collection of Japanese phrases on your side it quickly becomes a manageable city. Arm yourself with a concise phrasebook and take note of some simple Japanese sentences, particularly ones related to housing or eateries. Japanese people love to help you out, provided you’re willing to put in some effort first.

High-End Flyers: Luxury Airlines See Bookings Increase

While the recent recession certainly hurt the travel industry, several of the world’s largest and most luxurious airlines appear to be on the road to recovery. New figures from a variety of travel industry bodies have demonstrated an increase in the number of people booking international flights, with a noticeable increase in the proportion of tickets booked on high-end airlines and ‘luxury’ carriers.

From 2007 onward, a number of smaller low-cost carriers have reported increased patronage and higher revenues, largely due to limited consumer travel spending. Travel industry experts theorized that the increase was relative rather than absolute, with a greater number of budget travellers opting to fly overseas during the recession, aiming to take advantage of low-cost hotel rooms and tours.

The increase in high-end flight bookings, on the other hand, represents a more ‘complete’ recovery for the travel industry. The ‘bread and butter’ of consumer travel – holidaying families and package tour travellers – appear to be returning to the air en masse, inspired by reasonable fares and visible promotional efforts from major airlines and international carriers.

Singapore Airlines is one of several high-end airlines to see increased demand, largely due to the gradual recovery of economies in the region. Singapore’s economy was damaged more severely than many others throughout the financial crisis, as the city-state depends on its financial services sector and heavily export-driven trading industry for income, employment, and prosperity.

For high-end airlines, the surge in bookings is likely to be accompanied with a smaller surge in the price of international flights, as airlines have a history of complementing demand with raised fares. Travellers aiming to maximise the value of their ticket are best off booking flights independently as soon as possible, before price hikes and the elimination of low-cost package tours occur.

More Than Just Strange Costumes: Exploring Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park

Snuggled into Japan’s fashion capital in Harajuku is Yoyogi Park – a large relaxation area offering all a tired traveller could need. Known internationally for the bizarre costumes on display and the public martial arts classes, the park is thought of as Tokyo’s natural fashion runway. Every Sunday, without fail, the park is filled to the brim with cosplayers and wannabe fashion models.

It’s an occurrence that, outside of Japan, would inspire bizarre stares and a bevy of cameras. But in this strange pocket of cosmopolitan Tokyo, walking through the park in a gothic costume is normal to the point of being bland. Yoyogi Park is truly an sight to behold, with a sea of creative costumes on display for the entire city – boasting a popular of over thirty million – to see.

But there’s more to the Yoyogi area than just unusual costumes. The district is part of Japan’s large fashion industry, housing cutting-edge brands and the country’s more classic houses such as Issey Miyake. While Akihabara represents the centre of Tokyo’s gigantic technology markets and vibrant computer culture, Yoyogi is the nation’s capital of fashion and bizarre visual innovation.

It’s also the home of Japan’s first flight, performed in 1910 by the country’s early military. Now it’s a reminder of Japan’s difficult economic past – throughout the edges of the park, a series of camps are erected, offering residence to Tokyo’s large and almost completely accepted homeless population. In a city renowned for its wealth and productivity, Yoyogi is a reminder that things can sometimes fail.

If the city has become too much for you, think of Yoyogi Park as an alternative to a lengthy trip to the outskirts of Tokyo. It’s central, yet remarkably fresh and tolerable. Given the bizarre costumes on display throughout the weekend, this is one destination you can’t afford not to see while in the world’s most exciting and interesting capital city.

Blade Runner Berlin: Night-time Sights in Germany’s Best City

There’s no doubt that Berlin is one of Europe’s top cultural destinations. Alongside an immense collection of classical relics, the megacity is home to some of the world’s most interesting and immaculately preserved Cold War reminders. From the small remnants of the wall to the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, there’s little about Berlin that isn’t steeped in historical significance.

But there’s another side to Berlin – the Blade Runner, night-time intensity side. Underneath the city’s undeniable charm and beautiful scenery is a beating heart that’s rivalled by few places in Europe, particularly other major cities within Germany. We’ve surveyed Berlin’s best nightspots, finding the best places for a quick (or slow) drink and a pre-sleep midnight meal.

The city’s best bars are located around the Prenzlauer Berg district – a large entertainment and shopping area that becomes packed with locals and tourists alike from ten onwards. Most of the city’s early nightspots are built around the classic German beer bar template, drawing in visitors from across Europe and local workers from the inner city and its surrounding suburbs.

Interested in going clubbing? Berlin has one of Europe’s best club scenes, boasting a selection of late-night party districts that are rivalled by few other global cities. Take a cab to Mitte and browse the selection of nightclubs and late-night bars, most of which stay open until the early morning. A standard evening in Berlin kicks off around midnight, with parties lasting until the early morning.

Uninterested in music, beer, or cocktails? Take to the city’s streets and capture some of the amazing night-time environments. As one of Europe’s architectural centres, Berlin is a stellar city during the day and even more exotic at night. Budding photographers should check out the city’s ageing train network – one of the most eerie and photographable locales in Europe.

£9 USA ‘Entry Fee’ Attracts Criticism from European Travellers

For the last few years, the United States has been trialling an electronic visa system designed to eliminate excess paperwork and simplify the immigration process. The system, which is currently essential for those travelling from the UK or Europe, has been largely successful, saving time for those with specific travel plans and eliminating lengthy wait times in United States airports.

It’s also been, up until now, a completely free system. The economic and cultural ties between the United States and most of the European Union have made immigration between the two countries virtually seamless, helping the economies of all involved and ensuring simple travel. However, a new £9 ‘entry fee’ could bring the entire process to the ground, starting with UK-US immigration.

Starting from the 8th of September, United States authorities will levy a £9 charge against travellers entering the country from a United Kingdom airport. The move is targeted primarily at UK citizens and residents who use a compulsory Esta online booking system, and it’s been subject to immense criticism from residents of Britain and other European Union countries who travel frequently.

The fee is payable online and lasts for two years, giving UK residents unlimited entry to the United States within its period of validity. While several media outlets have reported that the fee is required before every entry to the United States, official releases have suggested that it is a one-off cost to be applied before every twenty-four months of entry into the country.

Will it cause an inconvenience for UK-based travellers? Undoubtedly. Will it be the major disaster that many are predicting? Unlikely. With a sustained tradition of USA-UK travel and cultural ties, it seems highly unlikely that a small regulatory change will cut down on EU-US travel. Registrations made before September 8th are not subject to the fee, and are recommended for frequent travellers.