Travel industry battered by world crises says CNN

CNN reports that the travel industry is suffering due to recent world events. A recent report from CNN says that the spate of world crises that have occurred in the first three months of the year has hit the travel industry especially hard. Natural disasters and political unrest have left many travelers rethinking their plans or cancelling trips altogether as they scramble to avoid a host of issues across the globe.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, coupled with fears of radiation and a potential nuclear meltdown in power plants there, has significantly reduced demand for travel to that country. It has gotten so bad that Delta Airlines has announced that they are cutting capacity to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport by as much as 20% through May, and suspending flights to another regional airport altogether.

Similarly, travel to Northern Africa and the Middle East has also dropped significantly as political upheaval has spread across that region. It hasn’t just been the airlines that have felt the pinch however, as disruption in travel to Bahrain, Tunisia, and most importantly Egypt, has put a dent in the cruise industry too. According to Carnival Cruise Lines more than 280 of their cruises have seen a change in their itineraries thanks to issues in the Middle East. They estimate a loss of $44 million so far, and the region hasn’t stabilized just yet.

The Middle East unrest has brought another unwelcome side effect to the travel industry as well. Any threat to the distribution of oil means an increase in prices, which is always passed on to the consumer. Soaring oil prices has led to an increase in the cost of airfares, and the dreaded term “fuel surcharge” has reared its ugly head once again too. With the busy summer travel season still ahead, it seems unlikely that oil prices will be coming down again anytime soon.

2011 is certainly off to a turbulent start. If the first few months are any indication, we could be in for one very memorable, but chaotic, year. Has any of the recent global calamities caused you to change your plans? Are you now going elsewhere because of recent events? Worse yet, have you canceled your plans to travel this year altogether?

Tourists returning to Tunisia

tourists returning tunisia

If they haven’t already begun doing so, tourists will soon be returning to Tunisia. Travelmole reports today on renewed interest in traveling to Tunisia following the uprisings that first rocked the north African country in December.

The key fact behind this development is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s decision last Friday to lift its warning advising against all but essential travel to Tunisia. The FCO is the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To say that the FCO’s travel warnings are trusted would be an understatement. Tripadvisor saw a 19 percent increase in interest in Tunisia in the days following the warning revision.

Several big UK tour operators announced earlier this week that they would resume selling package vacations to Tunisia in the days following the warning revision. First Choice, Thomas Cook, and Thomson will reestablish normal flight schedules by the first week of March at the latest. This development will do much to comfort prospective tourists that Tunisia is a safe place to travel.

But even as the FCO officially deems Tunisia to be safe and UK tour operators opt for a return to normalcy, caution prevails elsewhere. Disney decided to cancel Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney sea and land packages to Tunisia earlier this week.

[Image: Flickr | ahisgett]

Marseille’s Noailles quarter: a taste of Africa, in Provence

The Provencal port city of Marseille has historically been associated with bouillabaisse, and, to a lesser extent, whores, thieves, and the usual debauchery that goes with being a sea port. Things started to turn around about a decade ago, and today it’s a safe, vibrant, thoroughly charming city whose cuisine and culture reflect its past as a colonial trading port with North Africa.

When France acquired Algeria in 1830, Marseille, the second largest port in Europe, saw a major influx of immigrants from North and West Africa that continues to this day. You can even take a ferry to Tunisia, 550 nautical miles away.

I was in Marseille researching a bouillabaisse story when I serendipitously discovered the Noailles, the city’s Arab quarter. It’s located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Marseille’s bustling, bar-and-restaurant-lined waterfront, off of the main artery of La Canebiere. It was like stumbling upon a Moroccan souk: narrow, cobbled streets lead away from a central square that is home to a daily outdoor produce market. Small, dark, cluttered shops sell tea sets and spices; markets carry everything from meat and seafood to Middle Eastern pastries, dates, pistachios, glass-like, crystallized whole fruits, and tubs of olives and harissa, a fiery red North African chile paste. It’s the ideal place to pick up edible souvenirs or picnic fixings.

Men in djellabahs sit at outdoor cafes, talking loudly over bracingly strong demitasse’s of coffee, while women draped in sifsaris paw through bins of vegetables. The quarter is a kaleidoscopic mélange of colors, sounds, and smells: rotting produce, incense, sizzling kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the comforting aroma of baking flatbreads and sugary almond cookies. My favorite part of this untouristed neighorhood, however, are the tiny Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian food stalls and bake shops that specialize in mahjouba–giant, rectangular-folded crepes filled with sautéed tomato, red pepper, onion, and harissa.

The takeaway shop Le Soleil d’Egypte makes a particularly delicious version, as well as selling a variety of North African flatbreads that are baked fresh throughout the morning. Mahjouba are a satisfying, inexpensive (under two dollars) snack–I was so besotted, I even took a couple on the train to Cassis with me. But they’re also special in that they’re a nod to the Marseillaise love of street foods.

All over the city, particularly near the port, street food vendors sell everything from croque monsieur and pissaladiere, to panisses–delicate, fried chickpea flour cakes. I love them all, yet visiting the Noailles for mahjouba is my pick. They’re a quintessential–if little known–Marseillaise treat: a melding of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, classic French cuisine, and North African culture.

For a harissa recipe, click here.

[Photo credits: man shopping, Flickr user Trilli Bagus; buildings, Flickr user Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie; rooftops, Flickr user cercamon]

Travel Q&A with author & cook Tamara Reynolds

Tamara Reynolds is a the co-founder (with Zora O’Neill) of The Sunday Night Dinner, an Astoria, Queens-based supper club. The Sunday Night Dinner, which continues to thrive, was well ahead of what has become a supper club trend. Out of the Sunday Night Dinner came a fabulous cookbook, Forking Fantastic, which Reynolds co-authored with O’Neill. Travel is key to Reynolds’ imagination as a cook. She shops for food in the international food markets of Astoria and travels to countries with great food traditions.

Q: Sum up your professions in a few snappy words.

A: Cookbook author, cook for hire, cooking teacher, television show shopper, and Hostess with the Mostess of The Sunday Night Dinner.

Q: How did the Sunday night dinners come to happen? And how did Forking Fantastic emerge from the supper club?

A: SND began when Zora O’Neill and I met in 2002. We worked at Prune together and discovered we were neighbors and both loved to cook. We began cooking on Sundays for friends, and the next thing we knew, we were consistently feeding 15-20 people every Sunday. We began asking for donations so we could afford to keep doing it, and the next thing we knew, we were running an underground supper club.

We became convinced that the next step should be to write a cookbook, with encouraging words on entertaining, for real life. Zora and I felt that everyone was so hung up on the Martha Stewart perfection ideal that no one was actually cooking dinner for friends for the fun of it. Plus, we thought that if we wrote a kick ass guide to entertaining, detailing how we taught ourselves to cook and our many many mistakes along the way, maybe we would get invited to dinner more often.
Q: You told me that the fact that you’re based in Astoria has had a lot to do with the fact that the supper club took off.

A: It is funny, when we started our supper club, it was us and Ghetto Gourmet, a traveling club. Now I get a notice about every third day that another one is starting up, usually in Brooklyn. We remain one of the very few in Queens.

Queens is incredibly culturally diverse, but Brooklyn still seems to keep a headlock on “culinary coolness”. That said, I would never be the cook that I am or be able to feed people the way I do if I didn’t live in Astoria. I find the butchers and “old world” feel of Astoria’s food shops completely inspiring and refreshing. There are stores that only import Greek products, Italian products, Eastern European, North African, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, etcetera. Within a seven-minute walk from my house there are three butchers, all with whole lambs, goats and pigs hanging in the windows. These hanging animal carcasses aren’t decorative. People in my neighborhood cook these things on a daily basis. The produce markets burst with really excellent fresh produce, too. The first Long Island tomatoes and flat beans of the season just appeared last Friday and it looked like there was going to be a riot lead by the grandmothers of Astoria!

Q: Your Forking Fantastic co-author Zora O’Neill is also a travel writer. Did her perspectives on travel and food influence your own?

A: Absolutely. I went to grad school to be an opera singer; Zora went to grad school to study Classical Arabic poetry. Along the way we both learned to cook, but when I met her she had lived in Egypt and knew far more about Middle Eastern/North African cuisine than I did. I eagerly lapped up all of the information I could get out of her. She still travels far more than I do. My travel is mainly for pleasure while hers is for work. It is always nice to get a story of a great meal from her. It spurs my imagination.

Q: Where do you like to travel?

A: I feel like I am kind of done with Europe for now. I really want to concentrate on the US states I have not visited, North Africa, and Vietnam. February I am trying to put together a Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos trip. I think it is safe to say that I like to go anywhere where they are doing things differently than I do them at home.

Q: Have you ever traveled somewhere expressly to try a particular food?

A: You know, not exclusively, but I never go anywhere without considering where and what I will be eating, and cannot imagine traveling to a country with bad food. That said, I cannot wait to go back to Turkey to eat some more, and to Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Sicily, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos just to eat. I view sightseeing as a great way to burn off the last meal and get your body ready to eat the next one. I am also considering driving around the backwaters of Georgia in August to sample some Gullah specialties. I am fascinated the resilience of Gullah traditions.

Q: How do your travels influence your cooking?

A: People cannot cook without markets and grocery stores. Going into either can tell you so much about where you are, who lives there, and what happens in their kitchens. I love to visit grocery stores and markets in every town I am in, one-horse or otherwise. The fact that in other countries you can wander around and see meat sitting out in the open for hours and here we insist on shrink-wrapping everything is fascinating. Sometimes small observations can inform you that your accepted way of doing things at home is definitely not the only way.

Of course, places have particular smells. Every time I exit the airport in Phoenix, my hometown, it smells like home. The smells of cities often tell me what people are eating, and I love to try to recreate particular smells in my home kitchen.

Q: Do you have a favorite destination, secret or otherwise?

A: Secret? Are there any secrets left? Ha. I must say, I loved Ayvalik, a small town in Turkey. People were transporting goods through the cobblestone streets in the town in horse drawn wagons. And there was pickled watermelon rind everywhere. And the eggplant, tomatoes, melons and lamb were amazing. We took a boat from Mytilini, Greece to Ayvalik and stayed a few days on our way to Istanbul. I would love to return.

I also loved the plains of Portugal. I ended up there six years ago purely by accident; my drive down to the Algarve was scuttled by torrential rain, and we didn’t want rainy beach. So we ended up driving up and over from east to west: Evora, Elvas, Beja. So beautiful and so unexpected. We happened into an ancient Roman Meat Market that had at a later point been a Catholic Church and was now a local craft shop/art gallery. So many Roman Ruins and such beauty! For a few years I loved to say, “If you want to see Rome, go to Portugal!”

Gadlinks for Wednesday 12.9.2009

While some of you were catching some sick rides on the slopes, these pro surfers were riding mountain-sized waves on the North Shore of Oahu at the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational yesterday. Either way, I hope you all had a great start to the week. We’re in the thick of it now, and here are some cool travel stories to get you through the next few days.

‘Til tomorrow, have a great evening!

More Gadlinks here.