Could LAX to Tehran Soon Be a Reality?

Pigeons in The Masjid-i Jami, Isfahan, Iran. Against sunset background.
Getty Images/Vetta

A direct flight to Iran? According to the Iranian airline Asseman, it’s possible, if relations improve. The airline’s managing director, Abbas Rahmatian, points out that because the airline recently transported President Hassan Rouhani to the United Nations meeting, it was requested to open up flights to the United States and Canada. Apparently the airline has 33 planes in operation and are completely capable of overhauling them.

While direct flights between the United States and Iran seem a little far off, it’s not surprising that Iran’s airline industry would want to look outwards; currently more than 60 percent of Iran’s total 220 planes are grounded because of technical and logistic issues. “Iranians airlines are facing great losses due to the low price of domestic flight tickets,” Sirous Baheri, managing director of Airtour Airline, which also operates in Iran, said, as reported by the website Skift. “They are currently having difficulties competing with foreign airlines.” Things are so bad that the deputy transport minister recently called for 16 of the country’s airlines to merge because they were in bankruptcy.Open Iranian airlines up to foreign markets like the United States and Canada, maybe they will have the potential for competing again. Of course that will depend on diplomatic relations improving. There’s the usual strict U.S. State Department travel warning, and because the United States does not have diplomatic relations in Iran, you can’t expect any consular services while there (although you could go to the Swiss embassy who handles all that stuff for the United States). And of course you need a visa.

So while you wait for those direct flights to open up, you may want to consider a few other methods of travel.

World Tourism Day Promotes Energy Awareness With Photo Contest

World Tourism Day

World Tourism Day is coming up on September 27 and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hopes to raise awareness about the role of tourism within the international community. Showing how tourism affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide, this year’s theme puts a spotlight on the role of tourism in a brighter energy future.

If the United Nations has its way that will be a future in which the world’s entire population has access to modern, efficient and affordable energy services. To raise awareness, the UN hosted a photo contest looking for pictures that captured new ideas to increase energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy and photos showing how tourism is bringing modern and clean energy to local communities.

%Gallery-166318%With a record 467 million tourists traveling in the first half of 2012, international tourism is on track to reach one billion tourists by the end of the year. That means there are one billion reasons to focus on a tourism industry committed to using energy responsibly. On cruise vacations alone, a record 20 million people took a cruise last year, an increase of almost 2 million, according to the latest industry figures.

As much of an impact as the global tourism industry has on the environment, those visiting destinations around the world can have a huge impact by focusing on being eco-friendly travelers, as we see in this video:


Maldives Social Media Campaign Backfires

When the Maldives Tourism Board urged fans of the islands to help make their tourism slogan, “The Sunny Side of Life,” a global trend on Thursday, the campaign backfired. Instead of spreading positive words about the tropical paradise, tweets about police brutality and political illegitimacy spread like wildfire.

The social media campaign, which aimed to make the hashtag #SunnySideofLife a global trend, kicked off on the tourism board’s Twitter account, @myvisitmaldives, with this simple tweet: “Maldives has been awarded as the Most Romantic Destination in the World #SunnySideofLife.”

Readers, most of whom seem to be Maldivian citizens, shot back with some words of their own. Here is a sampling of some of the choice words they had:

  • #SunnySideofLife where a resort owner withhold staff salary, but spends millions to BUY a seat in parliament!!
  • Evening plans? I’m joining the protest after work.. can’t stand to watch fellow citizens being beaten by the police #SunnySideofLife
  • #Maldives not paradise for its people. Brutal coup regime suppressing our rights to freedom of expression & assembly. #SunnySideofLife
  • ThankU Coup Government of Maldives for #SunnySideofLife event. We’ll make sure to pass your acts of brutality to Twittersphere.
  • #SunnySideOfLife: Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear lagoons filled with blood of its citizens who are fighting for democracy
  • Visit the only place where ur tourism dollar will facilitate coup makers to persecute its people in the #sunnysideoflife

Other tweets included pictures of alleged victims of police brutality, participants in political protests and more. Most of the tweets were aimed at the current government, which was installed after President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted last February. Nasheed, one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party who is well respected by the people of the Maldives, claims he was forced to resign at gunpoint and is calling on his successor, Mohamed Waheed, to resign immediately and hold elections.

When all is said and done, the tourism board did reach their goal of making #SunnySideofLife a global trend. Tweets featuring the hashtag are still filtering in, but few of them actually boast about the redeeming qualities of the islands. What’s more, the campaign just-so-happens to coincide with a United Nations hearing that centers on the status of human rights in the Maldives.

Readers, weigh in; do you think the tourism board should have thought out the timing of the campaign’s launch a little more? And does anyone who has been to the Maldives recently have something to share?

[Photo by muha..., Flickr]

Grounding Of Costa Concordia Brings New Rules For Cruise Travel

Costa ConcordiaAfter the grounding of Costa Concordia in January, the governing organizations of the cruise industry ordered an Operational Safety Review both in response to the troubling Concordia grounding and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures. Now, the review is complete and has resulted in three new policies that promise to address safety concerns.

These three new policies, which go beyond international regulatory requirements, address safety issues related to passage planning, personnel access to the bridge and lifejackets. Each of these three policies will be reported to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) for consideration at their next session in May.

“As highlighted by these wide-ranging policies, we continue to take proactive measures to improve the safety of passengers and crew across the globe,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in a Wall Street Journal statement.

The three policies answer questions asked about specific topics concerning the Costa Concordia grounding:

Passage Planning – The topic of “passage planning” came up concerning reports that the captain of Costa Concordia had chosen to take the ship off course as a salute, a show of respect, for a retired captain that lived ashore.

Under the new policy each passage plan is to be thoroughly briefed to all bridge team members well in advance of its implementation and it is to be drafted by a designated officer and approved by the master.

Personnel Access To The Bridge – At one point in the investigation of the Costa Concordia grounding, it was believed that unauthorized personnel were on the navigational bridge at the time of the incident.

To minimize unnecessary disruptions and distractions on the bridge, the new policy states that bridge access is to be limited to those with operational functions during any period of restricted maneuvering or when increased vigilance is required.

Lifejackets – Although there were plenty of lifejackets on board Costa Concordia, the nature of the accident caused some passengers and crew members to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not have one.

Under the new rule, in addition to the statutory requirement of carriage of lifejackets for each person onboard, cruise lines have adopted a policy of carrying additional adult lifejackets.

The number of additional adult lifejackets to be provided must not be less than the total number of persons berthed within the ship’s most populated main vertical fire zone. This ensures that the number of lifejackets carried is far in excess of the number of persons actually onboard the ship.

These three rules are in addition to a new emergency drill policy requiring mandatory muster for embarking passengers prior to departure from port. That new policy was released previously and also consistent with the industry’s announcement January 27 of a complete safety review in response to the Concordia grounding and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures.

The Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council, and the Passenger Shipping Association put forward the new policy with the support of their member cruise lines.

Under the new muster policy:

  • A mandatory muster of all embarking passengers will happen prior to departure from port.
  • Late arriving passengers will be promptly provided with individual or group safety briefings that meet the requirements for musters applicable under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
  • The policy is designed to help ensure that any mandatory musters or briefings are conducted for the benefit of all newly embarked passengers at the earliest practical opportunity.

The Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review also included a comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety. The industry’s efforts also are consistent with the framework and spirit of the International Safety Management Code.

“We look forward to working collaboratively to identify any additional operational issues that will achieve our longstanding goal of continuous improvement and innovation in shipboard operations and safety,” added Duffy.

[Flickr photo by darkroom productions]

10 Volunteer Programs For Budget Travelers

thailand Pay to volunteer? While many people assume volunteering is always free, going abroad to participate in community service projects often costs money. I realized this the first time I volunteered abroad teaching English in Thailand. After doing weeks of research, I found there are a lot of companies charging a small fortune ‒ sometimes thousands of dollars ‒ to have travelers come over and spend their time helping other communities.

Every program is different. Some are completely free but offer no housing or meals. Others may charge a program fee but set you up with accommodation and a local chef. Sometimes programs will also include orientations, airport pickup, language courses, cultural activities and 24/7 support. Keep in mind what you want to get out of your experience while browsing the following list of budget-friendly international volunteer programs.

WWOOFing

WWOOFing is one of the best networks to use for having a worthwhile volunteer experience on a budget. The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and allows volunteers to browse countries from all over the world to choose an organic farming project that most interests them. In exchange for labor, volunteers usually receive room, board and the chance to experience a culture from a local point of view. Opportunities can be anything from strawberry picking to working with animals to harvesting grapes on a vineyard and making wine. By participating in these types of projects, you’ll be contributing to positive ecotourism and helping to create a healthier planet.SE7EN

SE7EN is a free and low-cost volunteer opportunity network. Their focus is on social and environmental projects from around the world. What makes this option so affordable is that the middleman is cut out, as SE7EN simply lists the projects on their site and allows you to contact hosts directly. Usually, room and board is either provided or very cheap. Some project examples include:

volunteer International Volunteer Headquarters

I’ve used International Volunteer Headquarters many times and highly recommend them. Their placements are very reasonably priced, and are especially great for people who have never volunteered abroad before, as full-time support, an orientation and airport pickup are included. Instead of putting you in a fancy hotel, they allow you to stay with local families and in local villages to really get to know the culture and help the people. Furthermore, certain recreational activities are often included in the price. Their programs, which generally include room and board, are located all around the world and range from about $200-$2,300, depending how long and where your program is. Some placement examples include:

Peace Corps

If you’re really interested in doing community service abroad, have a couple years to spare and want to earn some money; Peace Corps may be for you. There are placements in 75 countries, and volunteers get the chance to work with a community in need for 27 months. The Peace Corps’ mission is to “promote world peace and friendship,” and areas of focus for programs include: health, education, youth and community development, business and information, and communications technology, environment and agriculture. What’s great about going overseas with Peace Corps is they provide you with language, cross-cultural, and technical training, so it can be great for your resume. There are also a lot of benefits, like possible deferment or partial cancellation of your student loans, a monthly stipend and $7,245 payment once the project is completed, free flights to and from the country, vacation days, free medical and dental care during the project and affordable health insurance for 18 months after. It’s more like having a very proactive job than the usual volunteer experience, and you won’t have to pay any kind of fees to participate.

volunteer VAOPS

VAOPS is a directory of free and low-cost volunteer opportunities, which allows you to save money by cutting out the middleman. Because everyone has different needs and wants, their programs vary in price, style, and what’s included. Some examples include:

United Nations

The United Nations is one of the most famous organizations in the world for helping communities in need and working to keep moral responsibility in check. What some people may not know is along with their staffed projects, they also host a volunteer program called United Nations Volunteers (UNV). Volunteers usually work for six to 12 months and can choose from placements in about 130 countries. Projects focus mainly on human rights, agriculture, education, health, information and communication technology, community development, popular, industry and vocational training. It’s free to volunteer with the United Nations and you’ll also be given a monthly stipend, medical insurance and annual leave.

favela Volunteer South America

Want to volunteer in one of the most naturally beautiful continents in the world? Volunteer South America is designed with backpackers and budget-travelers in mind. There are no middleman or agency fees associated with the programs, making them drastically cheaper than many others that exist. Although room and board will not always be included, being able to choose how you will live and eat for yourself can help you save a lot money, especially if you opt for a homestay. Some projects available include:

Winrock

While a bit more competitive than some of the other programs, Winrock places volunteers in diverse programs all around the world and even pays for airfare. When a volunteer position opens up, Winrock places the most qualified individual in the program. Some of their current volunteer opportunities include:

volunteerUBELONG

UBELONG offers one week to six-month volunteer opportunities throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia. While not free, their programs are very affordable and offer all accommodation and meals, orientation, 24/7 support and project supervision. There are also recreational and cultural activities included to help volunteers get to know the country better. Prices for placements range from $250 for two weeks in Peru to $4,320 for six months in the Galapagos, although most six month placements average around $2,300. Some program examples include:

Katelios Group

Located in Greece, the Katelios Group works to help sea turtles. The main objective of the group is to “protect the natural environment on the island of Kefalonia, Greece.” There is no program fee to participate, although room and board is not included. The organization does work to provide volunteers with low-cost accommodation and suggests that participants cook meals together to save money. To give you an idea of how much you will spend, accommodation is usually about $200-$250 per month, while food is normally about $40 per week.