Vienna tops Melbourne as world’s most liveable city: Economist survey


VIENNA (Reuters) – Vienna has dislodged Melbourne for the first time at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index, strengthening the Austrian capital’s claim to being the world’s most pleasant city to live in.

The two metropolises have been neck and neck in the annual survey of 140 urban centres for years, with Melbourne clinching the title for the past seven editions. This year, a downgraded threat of militant attacks in western Europe as well as the city’s low crime rate helped nudge Vienna into first place.

Vienna regularly tops a larger ranking of cities by quality of life compiled by consulting firm Mercer. It is the first time it has topped the EIU survey, which began in its current form in 2004.

At the other end of the table, Damascus retained last place, followed by the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and Lagos in Nigeria. The survey does not include several of the world’s most dangerous capitals, such as Baghdad and Kabul.

“While in the past couple of years cities in Europe were affected by the spreading perceived threat of terrorism in the region, which caused heightened security measures, the past year has seen a return to normalcy,” the EIU said in a statement about the report published on Tuesday.

“A long-running contender to the title, Vienna has succeeded in displacing Melbourne from the top spot due to increases in the Austrian capital’s stability category ratings,” it said, referring to one of the index’s five headline components.

Vienna and Melbourne scored maximum points in the healthcare, education and infrastructure categories. But while Melbourne extended its lead in the culture and environment component, that was outweighed by Vienna’s improved stability ranking.

Osaka, Calgary and Sydney completed the top five in the survey, which the EIU says tends to favour medium-sized cities in wealthy countries, often with relatively low population densities. Much larger and more crowded cities tend to have higher crime rates and more strained infrastructure, it said. London for instance ranks 48th.

Vienna, once the capital of a large empire rather than today’s small Alpine republic, has yet to match its pre-World War One population of 2.1 million. Its many green spaces include lakes with popular beaches and vineyards with sweeping views of the capital. Public transport is cheap and efficient.

In addition to the generally improved security outlook for western Europe, Vienna benefited from its low crime rate, the survey’s editor Roxana Slavcheva said.“One of the sub-categories that Vienna does really well in is the prevalence of petty crime … It’s proven to be one of the safest cities in Europe,” she said.


Gov’t to Offer Microloans to Tourism Sector SMEs


Bali tour viwers

(Photograph by Tour Viewers in Kuta Beach, Bali)

Jakarta. The government will start disbursing subsidized loans to micro, small and medium enterprises by end of this month to increase revenue from the sector and boost the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The government previously only allocated such loans towards migrant workers and SMEs in the trade, agricultural, service, manufacturing and fisheries sectors. It has earmarked Rp 120 trillion ($8.3 billion) for SMEs this year, or 12 percent more than last year.

“We expect SMEs in tourism to encourage optimization of the development of the sector, especially in the 10 priority tourist destinations and 88 national tourism strategic areas,” Iskandar Simorangkir, deputy for macro-economic coordination and finance at the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, said at a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday (08/08).

Tourism contributed around $16.8 billion to Indonesia’s foreign exchange last year, second only to the palm oil sector. The government seeks to increase this by 20 percent to around $20 billion this year.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration has been promoting new tourist destinations in Indonesia, known as the “Ten New Balis.” These include Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Jakarta’s Thousand Islands; Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Tanjung Kelayang in Bangka Belitung; Tanjung Lesung in Banten; Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara; Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java; Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara; Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi; and Morotai in North Maluku.

The loans will be disbursed by 41 banks and nonbanking institutions and carry an interest rate of 7 percent. In comparison, state-controlled lender Bank Rakyat Indonesia charges 17.5 percent interest on unsubsidized microloans, while its peer, Bank Mandiri, charges 18.75 percent.

Businesses such as travel agencies, art studios, souvenir centers, tour guides, tourism transportation services, food and beverage providers, accommodation establishments and handicraft industries can apply for loans of up to Rp 500 million under the program.

The Ministry of Tourism is optimistic that it will meet its target of attracting 17 million foreign visitors to Indonesia this year, especially with international events such as the 2018 Asian Games and the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Jokowi asked ministers last month to seek ways to develop the tourism sector across the archipelago as part of efforts to narrow the country’s current-account deficit and bolster the rupiah.

The currency has lost 6.21 percent of its value against the greenback since the beginning of the year as investors leave emerging markets due to higher US interest rates and a looming trade war between the United States and China.

Bank Indonesia has spent approximately $13.6 billion of its foreign exchange reserves between February and June to defend the currency. Its foreign exchange reserves stood at $118.3 billion in July.

(Jakarta Globe)

After an Indonesian Island Hit by Multiple Earthquakes, Tourism Expected to Recover


(The New York Times)

“Travelers are panicking” after Lombok, an emerging tourism destination, was hit by multiple earthquakes. But should they?

After the Indonesian island of Lombok was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that has killed at least 90 people on Aug. 5, aftershocks have continued to shake the island.

The New York Times reported that  the quake followed a 6.4-magnitude on July 29, which killed 17; the island, home to hundreds of resorts, has been under various states of emergency since late July. Residents are slowly readjusting to the new normal as they have to pick up the pieces — in some cases literally — of their lives and rebuild. The damage to the island’s growing tourism industry is less clear.

Tourism is an increasingly important part of Lombok’s economy, and while the island doesn’t get the numbers of neighboring Bali, it has been earmarked by the government as an emerging destination. Last year President Joko Widodo identified 10 places around Indonesia’s 17,000 islands to target as the next Bali, among them an integrated resort development in South Lombok called Mandalika. The earthquakes, though, may have temporary disrupted those plans.

“Travelers are panicking,” wrote John Konstantinidis, general manager of Authentic Lombok, a tour operator based in the popular, west-coast beach area Senggigi, over email; he has lost 50 percent of bookings since the July 29 earthquake, he added. “A lot of people are also canceling because their hotels are damaged.”

Supratman Samsi, who has run Adventure Lombok, an outfitter also based in Senggigi, since 2006, said his bookings have dropped 20 percent, even though large sections of the island were not damaged by the quakes. “People are scared — it’s the first word they write in their emails,” he said. “For sure the people here need to recover from the trauma but we also need the media to tell everyone how beautiful Lombok is, how amazing it still is. The areas affected were the east, north and west.” Gili Trawangan, where images and video of stranded tourists massed on beaches have gone viral, is off Lombok’s northwest coast.

“Here in Senggigi many tourists have left, but some have stayed, saying that this can happen anywhere,” Mr. Samsi continued. “And I don’t think the effects will be forever.”

Hotels in parts of the island have closed as owners and management assess damage. The Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort evacuated guests, many of whom chose to leave the island. While the property had no known reports of injuries to hotel guests or staff, it is not accepting bookings for now, as it assesses its structural integrity, according to a spokeswoman.

The Aruna Senggigi Resort & Convention has also closed its main building “for tests,” said Indah Puritiara, the resort’s marketing communications assistant manager, adding that some online travel agents have canceled about 50 percent of their bookings because of the quake. “Our building is still safe but we want to check it and all the rooms,” she said.

The Golden Palace, a four-star property in Mataram (the capital of West Nusa Tenggara, Lombok’s province) that welcomes mainly Indonesian guests, is also closed for safety checks while the luxury resort Oberoi Lombok, on the northwest coast near the Gili islands, is closed because of damage. Other properties in the northwest couldn’t be reached by phone, their lines out of service or permanently busy.

Air carriers have also reported cancellations. A spokesman for Singapore Airlines Limited, parent company of SilkAir, one of two airlines that flies to the island from outside Indonesia (the other is AirAsia), confirmed the cancellations, but declined to give exact numbers.

Yet among the gloom some travel analysts and observers see reason to be hopeful. “The observation I have made is that one would think increasing terrorism would put a dampener on business travel, but we have found this to not be the case, business travel is increasing,” said Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director for International SOS, a medical and travel security company. “If terrorism doesn’t have an impact on travel, then I am not sure this earthquake would have an effect.”

He is quick to point out that the earthquake does present real dangers. “In addition to the seismic activity, the rubble, the physical trauma, broken bones, there is lots of dust in the atmosphere and this can exacerbate underlying conditions,” he said.

People on the ground in and around Lombok note that the reality on the island is more nuanced than the viral images suggest. In some sections of Lombok, business continues as if nothing happened. At Sempiak Villas on the south coast, the rooms are full and the resort continues to receive inquiries from travelers that have left devastated areas. Erik Barreto, who is based in Singapore and a founder of Rascal Republic, a parent company that has hospitality projects around Indonesia, including Lombok, described the general situation in the south as stable.

“There are people in affected areas that can’t get food and water. But we have a site in the south where we are building villas and a hotel called Samara Bay and there was no physical damage,” he said over the phone from neighboring Bali. But that doesn’t mean resumption of normality will happen quickly. “Places usually fully recover in two to three years” after major natural disasters.

Others are more sanguine. Steven Moloney, who owns the boutique hotel Rascals Kuta Lombok (no relation to Mr. Barreto’s company), on the island’s south coast, said his property is at full occupancy. “People in south Lombok felt the earthquake like a tremor — there was a little bit of shock, and then everything went back to normal,” he said. “Some travelers who were staying in the north have now come down to Kuta. The restaurants here are full. People forget about things like this in two or three months.

Jakarta Globe reported a magnitude-6.2 earthquake occurred onshore on the northern part of Lombok Island in West Nusa Tenggara on Thursday afternoon (09/08), while the search for victims of Sunday’s deadly quake continues.

The quake occurred in North Lombok district at a depth of 12 kilometers, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). No tsunami warning has been issued following the quake, which was also felt in nearby Bali.

The quake caused Lombok residents, who have been staying in shelters following Sunday’s mangnitude-7 quake, to panic and rush out of their tents, KompasTV reported.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said there has so far been 355 aftershocks following Sunday’s quake.

“Residents panicked and ran from their shelters. Several buildings were further damaged,” Sutopo said.

The BNPB said 168 bodies have so far been found following Sunday’s quake. More than 2,000 people were injured.Search and rescue operations are ongoing to remove victims from the debris.

(The New York Times, Jakarta Globe)

For Paris pedestrians, life turns into ‘dodgeball’

474599FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a dock-free electric scooter Lime-S by California-based bicycle sharing service Lime displayed on their launch day in Paris


PARIS (Reuters) – Strolling along elegant boulevards is one of the pleasures of visiting Paris. But these days pedestrians and tourists need to keep an eye out for speeding scooters, hoverboards, Segways and bicycles, as well as the sights.

Over the past year the number of ways of getting around the city has blossomed.

Besides on foot and via Velib, the decade-old bike-share scheme now getting an overhaul, there are three other bike-sharing firms, three electric scooter operators and hundreds of people riding single- and double-wheel hoverboards.

But the proliferation of transport comes with a downside: a walk beside the Seine or down the broad sidewalks of the Champs-Elysees can involve dodging an onslaught of commuters zipping along at speeds of up to 28 kph (17 mph).

While many ride on the roads, others feel safer on the pavements, which means pedestrians need to be on their toes. As the city, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, fills up with foreign visitors during the summer, it can be a serious obstacle course for the uninitiated.

“I use electric scooters every day to go to work or meet clients. They are faster than Uber, taxis, the metro, everything,” said Benjamin, 28, a commercial manager in Paris.

“I can’t lie, scooters are dangerous,” he said, saying it was the case for both riders and pedestrians. “We have no helmets and the roads can be unsafe.”

An elderly couple from the U.S. state of Georgia said they couldn’t believe how fast scooters went. “They don’t watch the pedestrians at all,” said the woman, declining to give her name.

“One nearly ran me over.”

For walkers, obstacles are only likely to increase.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is intent on reducing emissions and encouraging new transport. In the coming months, another electric scooter operator will launch and another bike-share scheme, this time offering fast electric bikes.


Everything to Know About Bangkok



Here’s how to plan the best possible trip to Thailand’s culture-rich capital.


AMONG GOLDEN TEMPLES and glitzy bars, Bangkok fuses its past with a vibrant present, with world-class cuisine and nightlife available for everyone— no matter your budget. Because of the rapid expansion in the 20th century, modern skyscrapers stand tall next to food shacks and traditional wooden huts. Cars crowd the streets alongside motorbikes and bicycles in a chaotic buzz, but the noise and the activity rarely feel overbearing.

When to Go

Bangkok is popular year-round but it’s most comfortable between November and March. That’s when the temperatures (though still hot) will be more manageable for exploring the city. In the off-season, April to October, it’s still great to visit (especially for incredible hotel deals), but be prepared for regular rainstorms and a lot of humidity.


The annual Songkran festival, a celebration of the Thai New Year, takes place in April each year and usually marks the end of the tourist high season. During the three-day festival, locals and tourists alike throw water on one another. Some of the more festival-like areas, such as Silom, turn into giant water parties with people using water guns to make the most mess. Be prepared to get wet!

What to Eat

Beyond the tourist sites, Bangkok is perhaps best known for its street food markets and roadside vendors. Thai food classics such as Pad Thai (noodles with chicken or shrimp), Som Tam (papaya salad), and Tom Yum (hot and sour soup) are available just about everywhere. And despite the ban on street food vendors announced in April 2017, many still operate along side streets, and some specific markets have still been allowed to continue running.

Souvenir to Take Home

Be mindful of what souvenirs you choose to take home from Thailand. While many Buddhist temples are happy to accept visitors from any faith, billboards throughout the country (and even on the way in from Bangkok Sukhumviit Airport) will remind you to not buy souvenirs featuring the Buddha’s likeness, as it’s considered disrespectful to the faith. Instead, look for original art and fashion from Bangkok’s many independent shopping centers, especially the Chatuchak Market open every weekend.

Sustainable Travel Tip

Bangkok’s metro and Skytrain (the BTS) is an efficient and easy way to get around the city. Trains run frequently and connect riders to all of the most important hot spots. No matter the weather, it’s a useful way to get around and avoid Bangkok’s congested traffic.

Instagram-Worthy View

Take in spectacular panoramic views over Bangkok from the rooftop Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar, located 61 stories (198 meters) above the city. A former helipad, the rooftop offers 360-degree views with an elegant restaurant, though you can also opt to just grab a drink at the open bar. Note that there’s a “smart casual” dress code.

(National Geographic)

How to Watch the Longest ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse of the Century



(National Geographic)

Get ready for a celestial double feature unlike anything seen in decades: Mars is about to make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years—just as the full moon blushes red in the longest “blood moon” eclipse of the century.

Both the moon and Mars will dominate the overnight hours on July 27 and into the morning of July 28, traveling across the sky beside each other while appearing to be separated by only five degrees, equal to the width of three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

On the 27th, the red planet will swing the closest it has come to Earth since August 2003, allowing sky-watchers around the world to see our neighboring world about as big and bright it can ever get in our skies.

And while you shouldn’t expect Mars to look as big as the full moon, as many online hoaxes in past years have suggested, you will also get to see the actual moon painted red as it undergoes a total lunar eclipse.

During a total eclipse, sunlight shining through Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum as it is cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color when the eclipse starts to a reddish-orange color during totality.

Meeting Mars

At 1 a.m. ET (5:00 UT) on July 27, Mars will reach what astronomers call opposition. This is when the sun, Earth, and Mars are aligned in a straight path, so that Mars appears to rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west, making the sunlit side of the planet visible all night long.

Mars reaches opposition only once every 26 months, when Earth manages to overtake the planet in its tighter track around the sun. But unlike Earth’s more circular orbit, Mars’s path around the sun is fairly elliptical. That means the distance between the two worlds varies, making some oppositions better than others.

Mars will make its closest approach to Earth for this year on July 31, coming just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) away. Such a close approach just a few days after opposition means the July 27 alignment will be your best bet to see the red planet shine its biggest and brightest until 2035.

The previous best encounter occurred 15 years ago, when Mars was a record-breaking 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) distant. Such an epic encounter won’t happen again until 2287.

In addition to offering beautiful views, opposition has traditionally set the stage for robotic invasions of Mars. Because of Mars’s proximity and alignment with our planet, the time around opposition is the best for sending spacecraft, saving travel time and fuel costs. For instance, NASA’s Insight lander launched on May 5 and is headed for a Mars landing this November.

Many keen-eyed onlookers may have already noticed the fiery planet growing brighter in our night skies the past few months, making it easy to spot with nothing more than the naked eye. To track down the warrior planet for yourself, go outside after dusk on any clear night and look for the bright beacon rising above the eastern horizon. Mars will glide high over the southern sky throughout the night, setting in the west by dawn.

Most of the time, Mars is not much to look at through a telescope, but that changes during opposition, when the planet becomes a disk filled with tantalizing features. Even a small telescope with about a six-inch mirror will be able to tease out surface details like the southern ice cap (where astronomers may have just found an underground lake) and distinct, dark regions that are windswept, rocky fields.

However, a colossal dust storm has been raging for the past two months on Mars and has enveloped most of the planet, which means telescope views have been a bit hindered. But you can plainly see the effect of all this dust with the naked eye: Mars currently appears to shine with a more yellowish tinge rather than its usual rusty orange hue.

Mini Blood Moon

Also on July 27, fortunate sky-watchers in South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia will get to see at least part of the longest-lasting total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The entire event will last nearly four hours, with the maximum eclipse lasting for one hour, 42 minutes, and 57 seconds from 19:30 to 21:13 UTC.

North Americans will mostly miss out on this lunar eclipse, as the moon will not have risen yet. But the lunar display can be observed in its partial phases rising over South America, western Africa, and Europe and setting over Eastern Asia and Australia. The entire eclipse will be visible from eastern Africa and central Asia.

Tips for Traveling Alone



(National Geographic)

Whether you’re single or married to a homebody, being a solo traveler on a group trip—where coupledom is often the norm—can leave you feeling like a third, or thirteenth, wheel.  But that’s changing as more travelers hit the road by themselves.

In 2009, 22.2 milli+on out of 170 million Americans traveling for leisure purposes traveled alone, according to the U.S. Travel Association. As a result, more travel companies are marketing to the solo crowd with offers on everything from dropping the dreaded “single supplement”—a surcharge on top of published double-occupancy rates—to matching single travelers up with like-minded companions.

Tauck World Discovery, for example, has more than 40 tours and cruise departures where the single surcharge is reduced. On top of saving anywhere from about 60 to 80 percent off the normal single supplement, the special pricing virtually guarantees that other solo travelers will be on those trips. Country Walkers offers private tours that can be made up of women only, many of whom are keen to avoid the meat-market mentality of some “singles-only” tours and cruises. Absolute Travel provides a service that pairs compatible clients who would prefer not to take a trip alone. Even adventure outfitters are gearing expeditions to solo travelers: kayak specialist H2Outfitters plans paddling excursions along the coastline of Montenegro for “like-minded singles.”

While many singles-only departures aren’t intended as matchmaking opportunities, some are. The important thing is to quiz the outfitter. Even for regular departures, a good company should be able provide you with a breakdown of the group by gender, age, singles, and couples. And if you decide to go it alone, ask the operator if it will match you with a roommate to avoid the single-supplement.


(National Geographic)

Exploring diversity in tourism