Market specials... Vietnam's Mekong Delta is an Australian favourite.
Divorce at leisure
There are hotels for honeymooners and now there are hotels for divorcing couples. The Dutch entrepreneur Jim Halfens recently launched a business offering "an affordable five-star divorce" at hotels in the Netherlands, where couples spend a weekend (presumably in separate rooms and in sun lounges at opposite ends of the pool) while lawyers finalise proceedings.
The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.
All eyes on Vietnam
Travel to Vietnam by Australians has been surging for at least three years. Low airfares, cheap prices and the strength of the Australian dollar have contributed to the boom and there appears to be no let-up in the numbers.
According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, there were 218,000 short-term trips to Vietnam last year, up 14 per cent on 2010.
Intrepid Travel's general manager of global sales, James Thornton, confirms Vietnam has experienced a steep rise in popularity among travellers in the past three to five years. "We have increased the capacity of our 2012 trips
by 20 per cent to accommodate this growth," he says.
Cycling and food-themed trips are the most popular, as well as trips of less than seven days.
Among the popular short breaks are staying on a farm with a local family in the Mekong Delta and trekking in remote regions.
Tourism skills shortage
The strong dollar encouraging Australian holidaymakers to head overseas is not the only challenge facing local tour operators. Research shows they are increasingly worried about keeping good staff.
The shortage of skilled labour in Australia is revealed as a major concern in the latest Tourism Industry Sentiment Survey by the Tourism and Transport Forum.
"Tourism cannot compete with the wages being offered by the mining sector for staff including chefs, cooks and cleaners," the organisation's chief executive, John Lee, says. "There are thousands of unfilled tourism jobs around the country as a result."
However, from last Sunday, tourism businesses in some regions, including the Northern Territory and tropical North Queensland, have been allowed to employ seasonal labour from Pacific countries and East Timor.
Kiwis quick on the draw
Air New Zealand is at it again with a quirky new in-flight safety video fronted by American actor Ed O'Neill of Modern Family fame, and New Zealand-born Melanie Lynskey of Two and a Half Men.
The hand-drawn video also features sketches of Julia Gillard, Barack Obama, the rapper Snoop Dogg, the All Blacks rugby team and many others.
The airline has launched a competition where people who identify more than five of the celebrities in the video have a chance to win an round-the-world trip for two.
The new video starts screening on domestic and international flights this month.
The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour in NSW has lived up to its name, topping a poll as the favourite "big" attraction in Australia. Then follows the Big Pineapple in Woombye, Queensland; the Big Merino in Goulburn, NSW; and the Big Lobster in Kingston, South Australia.
The Big Rum Bottle in Bundaberg, Queensland, is among the most unusual to make the top 10 of 150 big things across Australia, while Victoria's Big Koala at Dadswells Bridge is regarded as the most Australian.
The poll of 1008 Australians was commissioned by TomTom, the supplier of in-car navigation products.
Sherlock cracks the case
Desmond Sherlock is a thorn in the side of Australian car-rental companies. About six months ago, he started tripcover.com.au, the first insurer to specialise in car-rental excess insurance.
"Our premiums are about a third cheaper than what you get with the rental companies," Sherlock says. "Their insurance rates are usually from $22 to $27 a day to reduce the excess to $300. Our rates start at $9.30 a day."
Sherlock says that some car-rental policies have excesses up to $6000. Of 6.8 million annual car rentals in Australia, between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of people opt to buy excess reduction.
He agrees many travel-insurance policies also provide car-rental excess reduction, but claims his company (managed by Allianz Global Assistance) is the only specialist in Australia and soon hopes to offer an annual policy and expand to New Zealand.
How much is tourism worth on a global scale? According to latest figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, it will directly contribute $2 trillion in GDP and 100 million jobs to the world economy this year.
When the wider economic impacts of the industry are taken into account, travel and tourism is forecast to contribute about $6.5 trillion to the global economy and generate 260 million jobs - or one in 12 of all jobs on the planet.
The figures were reported at the recent G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
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