Criticized Or Applauded, Presidential Travel Is One Great Job Perk

presidential travel
ep_jhu/Flickr

This week, President Obama and family fly to Africa for what has been described as both “frivolous spending” and a trip that brings “a great bang for our buck.” The estimated $60 – $100 million trip comes at a time when Americans face a decidedly different flying experience caused by government furloughs and cutbacks. Approve or not, presidential travel and moving the first family around the world is in no way inexpensive.

Traveling to sub-Sahara Africa from June 26 to July 3, the Obamas will be accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and staff, adding to the cost of transportation and accommodations. Still, this is the leader of the free world and protecting him, his family and staff is not going to be a cheap road trip no matter how they do it. When President Clinton visited Africa the price tag was said to be $42.7 million plus the cost of Secret Service protection.

As the trip to South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania gets underway, a reported 56 vehicles ranging from limousines to trucks full of supplies will be flown in via military cargo planes. When the Obamas are on the ground in Africa, U.S. fighter jets will be ever-present in the airspace directly above them. That’s in addition to the cost of operating the President’s ride, Air Force One, estimated to be slightly less than $200,000 per hour.
“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said in a RT.com article.

But the cost could have been higher. The Obama’s original plan called for a Tanzania safari, which would have required a team of sharpshooters to protect them from wild animals. But President Obama, the first sitting president to visit Cambodia and Myanmar, is visiting African countries that reportedly need attention.

“Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Hill, reports RT.com.

Still, let’s keep these numbers in perspective. The expense of flowers for the White House alone run up a tab estimated to be $252,000 per year. The Presidential limousine is a $300,000 Cadillac that is clad with 5 inches of armor, has its own oxygen supply, a blood bank of the president’s type and can shoot tear gas and smoke grenades.

10 Interesting Facts About Air Force One

Airline Flight Mix-Up Sends Couple To The Wrong Continent

Deanster1983, Flickr

Imagine hopping on a plane to go on vacation in Africa, taking a nap and waking up to find yourself in Bangladesh. That’s exactly what happened to one couple after an airline mixed up their flight bookings and flew them 7,000 miles away from their intended destination.

Sandy Valdivieso and her Husband Triet Vo had wanted to fly from LA to the African city of Dakar, Senegal, but mistakenly ended up on a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh. It turns out the mishap all came down to the three-letter airport code airlines routinely use when making bookings or entering information on baggage tags. Instead of entering DKR (for Dakar) in the computer system, the airline representative entered DAC (for Dhaka), sparking the intercontinental travel nightmare.The couple, flying on Turkish Airlines, transited in Istanbul before joining their connecting flight to what they thought would be Dakar. They told the LA Times they didn’t notice anything was wrong, because they went by the flight number on their tickets. And the similarity in city names didn’t help matters. “When the flight attendant said we were heading to Dhaka, we believed that this was how you pronounced ‘Dakar’ with a Turkish accent,” Valdivieso said.

It was only after seeing a route map several hours into the flight showing their plane hovering over the Middle East that the pair realized something was wrong. Upon landing, Turkish Airlines actually tracked down the voice recording of the couple booking their flight to Senegal to confirm the bungle was in fact the airline’s fault, before finally putting the couple on a flight to the right city.

Survey Ranks ‘World’s Most Unfriendliest’ Countries

Have you ever been to a country that just seems to give tourists the cold shoulder? Now, there are some figures behind those unwelcome feelings; the World Economic Forum has put together a report that ranks countries based on how friendly they are to tourists.

The extensive analyses ranks 140 countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries. But one category, “attitude of population toward foreign visitors,” stands out.

According the data, Bolivia (pictured above) ranked as the most unfriendly country, scoring a 4.1 out of seven on a scale of “very unwelcome” (0) to “very welcome” (7).

Next on the list were Venezuela and the Russian Federation, followed by Kuwait, Latvia and Iran (perhaps when visiting one of these countries, you should try your best to not look like a tourist?).

On the opposite side of the scale were Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco, which were ranked the world’s most welcoming nations for visitors.

Tourism infrastructure, business travel appeal, sustainable development of natural resources and cultural resources were some of the key factors in the rankings. Data was compiled from an opinion survey, as well as hard data from private sources and national and international agencies and organizations such as the World Bank/International Finance Corporation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others.

The report also emphasized the need for continued development in the travel and tourism sector, pointing out that the industry currently accounts for one in 11 jobs worldwide.

All of the results of the survey can be found after the jump.

Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)

Friendliest

1. Iceland 6.8
2. New Zealand 6.8
3. Morocco 6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR 6.7
5. Austria 6.7
6. Senegal 6.7
7. Portugal 6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.6
9. Ireland 6.6
10. Burkina Faso 6.6

Unfriendliest

1. Bolivia 4.1
2. Venezuela 4.5
3. Russian Federation 5.0
4. Kuwait 5.2
5. Latvia 5.2
6. Iran 5.2
7. Pakistan 5.3
8. Slovak Republic 5.5
9. Bulgaria 5.5
10. Mongolia 5.5

Have you ever visited somewhere where they didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat? Alternatively, have you visited somewhere on the “unfriendly” list and had a great, welcoming experience? Let us know how your travel experiences compare with the survey’s ranking in the comments below.

[via CNN]

[Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse, Wikimedia Commons]

Africa’s Tallest Statue: The Monument To The African Renaissance

The Monument To The African RenaissanceFlying or driving into Dakar, the capital of Senegal, it’s impossible to miss this imposing statue.

That’s deliberate. The Monument to the African Renaissance is supposed to make a statement. At 49 meters (161 feet), it’s the tallest statue in Africa. In fact, it’s one of the tallest statues anywhere, beating the Statue of Liberty by several feet.

When it was completed in 2010, this giant statue caused a giant controversy. Feminists complained about the secondary status given to the female figure. Imams complained about her scanty clothing. Some complained about its Soviet artistic style, seemingly out of place in Africa, and the fact that it was built by a North Korean company. Lots of people, especially in the West, complained about its $27 million price tag.

Yeah, like the West never wastes money.

Sure, it’s brash, it’s bold, and it’s more than a little out of proportion, but it makes its point: Africa has a big future ahead of it. You see it in everything from Africa’s towering skyscrapers to its lively cafe culture, from its newly paved roads to its growing middle class. As a recent editorial by Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina stated, Africa isn’t like its international image, and big projects like this help the world see Africa differently.

Love it or hate it, this statue has become a major tourist site in Dakar. You can take an elevator up to the top of the guy’s head and look out over the city. People are even photographing it as they fly into town, or by flying a camera on a kite like Jeff Attaway did to take the photo below.

Hopefully the next major statement by an African government will be built by an African company.

Top photo courtesy Laurence Thielemans.

The monument to the African Renaissance

The music beat in Dakar: Another version of West Africa

Grant’s series “Into Dakar” brought back memories of my own travels there. For another intimate look into life in Dakar, check out, “The Songs of Senegal” a recent article in the New York Times. For me, reading the article was a trip back to an evening I spent in Farafenni, The Gambia, dancing to a live performance of Youssou N’Dour.

If you travel to The Gambia or Senegal without taking in the music scene, you’ll miss a vital part of each country’s vibrancy.

As Seth Sherwood, the article’s writer, points out, Dakar is one of the least touristed music centers in the world, but one of the most vibrant. This means for anyone traveling there, you can easily become immersed in a scene that is not meant for you.

Each year, the annual Africa Fête, a week long music festival that began on December 12 and ends on 19th, brings top notch groups together for a varied trip into Senegalese music landscape. The scenery is diverse. From folk style to pop to reggae, each music venue offers a unique flavor. If you have designs on a visit to Senegal, December is a terrific month to aim for. The rainy season is long gone, and the temperatures have yet to heat up to sweltering.

Sherwood’s article is an excellent place to begin a musical journey into Dakar even if your journey is not going to bring you much further than the music store closest to you. While you browse the West African music selection, imagine the images Sherwood’s words evoke.

For a taste of Dakar’s music scene, here’s a video of Youssou N’dour in concert. N’dour, however, could be heading your way. If you ever have a chance to see him and his musicians live, go.