Friday, February 24, 2012

The Coming Aviation Trade War

It pales in seriousness next to the showdown between Iran and the West, to be sure, but there is another war brewing. This is of the non-shooting variety. It is a trade war between the 27 member nations of the European Union on one side and the United States, Russia and China on the other.

The trigger is a carbon tax that the EU has slapped on all airlines flying into, out of, and around the EU.

The Europeans say the tax is needed to offset rising atmospheric emissions from civilian airliners that contribute to global warming. Everyone, they say, has to pay their fair share.

Opponents of the tax, which formally went into effect 1 January, 2012, counter that it amounts to an extraterritorial power play that extends EU authority over non-EU airlines. Additionally, they say, it will prove ineffective, as solutions to a global problem have to be global, too.

The EU counters that counter-argument by holding that the aviation industry has been foot-dragging for years, and we have to start somewhere.

The threat of a trade war comes in, in the event that the U.S., Russia and China - which has forbidden its airlines to pay the tax - decide to retaliate against the EU, whether targeting its airlines for punishment or retaliating in some other way.

Commercial aviation accounts for just 2 percent of the world's carbon-heavy emissions and is superceded by trucks, cars and other sources. Moreover, the aviation industry has made great progress in recent years, building lighter, more fuel-efficient planes that pollute less than did their predecessors. Nevertheless, aviation's share of emissions is expected to rise to 3 percent because the fast- increasing number of flights is more than off-setting the savings on individual flights.

And there the matter stands, with both sides trying to stare down the other and international diplomats trying to come up with a, well, diplomatic solution that will allow all parties to back away from the brink of a trade war and save face. Just how to do that remains a mystery.

Personally, I can see the points being made by both sides. The Europeans are right that something has to be done and it needs to begin ASAP. Critics of the tax are right, too, in that the aviation industry is getting greener - albeit under pressure from environmentalists and regulators. The industry, as represented by groups such as the U.S.-based Airlines for America (A4A) and the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA), are right in saying solutions have to be global. Emissions, like airplanes, fly across national borders, oceans and continents.

What to do? Can we split the difference? It's hard to see how. Modern-day Solomons, please step up. And do it soon. The clock is ticking.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

News From Oz

My trip to Australia this week and last was my fifth or sixth time Down Under. I've always had a good time but none better than this.

Surroundings had something to do with it. I stayed in posh resorts in gorgeous locales - all members of Luxury Lodges of Australia ( most of the time. When I wasn't doing that, I was in a chic city hotel: Blue Sydney, a Taj Hotels, Palaces and Resorts property right on the water ( Everywhere I went, the hospitality was sterling, the food was toothsome, the wine was great. What's not to like?

I'll have detailed accounts and reviews on this blog in the weeks ahead, as well as links to my published articles on paper and on the Web. In the meantime, just a few observations about travel in Oz:

Australia is still very friendly and safe for international visitors, yet there are fewer of us right now than in recent years. There are several reasons for this, led by the lousy economies in Europe and the United States, which are causing people to stay home.

Another problem is the strong Australian dollar (AUD), which trades at $1.08 USD - way up from 64 U.S. cents just a few years ago. China is buying all the coal the Aussies can dig from under their mineral-rich land, and the booming mining export sector has driven up the value of the Aussie dollar. The takeaway for travelers: This once-affordable continental country is now pricey.

The inbound arrivals numbers tell the story. U.S. visitors were down 4 percent in 2011 from 2010, British travelers declined 11 percent, Japanese tourists dropped 16 percent and arrivals from the continental countries of the European Union plummeted by a jaw-dropping 40-plus percent. This, as reported in the national newspaper The Australian.

The weather isn't helping. This year's Southern Hemisphere summer has been a bust in some of the most tourist-friendly parts of the country. Friends and associates in Sydney - the main gateway from North America - told me it's been humid and rainy all summer. "Bucketing,'' as they say of heavy rain in Oz. Indeed, the city was muggy, foggy and showery when I arrived - though it was comfortably warm, dry and sunny the day I departed. That allowed Sydneysiders to go back to being their outdoor-loving selves, if only briefly.

Up the east coast, Queensland is still recovering from last year's typhoon and disastrous floods. The inevitable government inquest is looking into the failure of a dam and I got the feeling someone is bound to lose his job over that.

So far, so dismal. But Australia is never down for long. It remains an amazing destination, with its unique flora and fauna, dramatic landscapes, dynamic cities and the aforementioned friendlies, food and drink.

I'll be highlighting the pleasures of the places I visited: Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa (, a luxury retreat in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney owned and managed by Emirates Airline; The Louise, a charming countryside compound surrounded by vineyards in the wine-producing Barossa Valley ( northeast of Adelaide; The Saffire, a drop-dead gorgeous waterside getaway on the East Coast of Tasmania (; and the Blue Hotel Sydney.

Much more to come on all this, mate.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

2012 Travel Guide to California

Toronto company Globalite Travel Marketing Inc. has published its 2012 Travel Guide to California, which includes my feature story on California cities, headlined "Where the Action Is.'' The piece, found on pages 14 through 19 of the 168-page print version of the guide (price: $6.95 USD), is also available online at It begins like this:

"Famous for its beaches, mountains, deserts and vineyards, California has yet another treasure that makes the Golden State shine: its cities. In cities, culture meets commerce, producing world-class dining and world-renowned movies, music, television and digital media - not to mention major arts venues and major-league sporting events. Nowhere are these attractions on more engaging display than in California's most traveler-friendly cities: Los Angeles, San Jose, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento.''

If you are interested in Caalifornia travel, the glossy, color-splashed guide is worth checking out. Dining and wine, family fun, guides to the mountains, deserts, and destinations such as Yosemite, Big Sur, Death Valley and Lake Tahoe are covered by a variety of California-based travel writers - accomplished pros, all.

Wise Words

When I visit Hong Kong, I always steal at glance at Apple Daily, the brash, color-splashed tabloid newspaper published by the brash, colorful entrepreneur Jimmy Lai. I don't read Chinese, so it's strictly a visual experience for me, but still worth it, as enough vivid energy comes through to make the paper entertaining.

Traveling in Australia this week, I came across an interview with Jimmy Lai in The Australian, the national newspaper Down Under. As usual, Lai was interesting. Among other things, he had this to say - wise words I thought I'd pass along:

"Nothing is ideal. The world is destroyed by people who have ideals more than by pragmatists. The dreamers are mostly devils in disguise. People who want to be saviours want to play God. And we all get into trouble then, because God is jealous.''

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Off to Oz

I'm heading back to Australia tonight, for travel-writing purposes. It will be my first return to Oz since last April. I'll be staying at - and writing about - a cluster of fine resorts, all of them members of Luxury Lodges of Australia. Watch this space, and Twitter and elsewhere, for details about my trip, and for leads you may find useful for one of your own.

My SF Chronicle London Feature

Check out my London before the Olympics Sunday Travel section cover story on paper in the 5 February San Francisco Chronicle, or online at

"This is London: Yellow construction cranes tower over inner-city building sites; popular gathering spots rumble with earth-moving equipment, along with the usual heaving masses of shoppers and sightseers; venues for the 2012 Olympic Games pop up around town like mushrooms on a wet cricket ground, from rebuilt Wembley Stadium in the west to 'starchitect' Zaha Hadid's glassy aquatic center in a resuscitated part of the East End.

"Not since the slow-motion reconstruction of London after World War II has the British capital undergone such widespread physical change ...''

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Vancouver Airport Marriott Review

This was posted 1 February on

"Happily for frequent fliers, the dark, dank, cramped, downright depressing airport hotel is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Oh, places like that still exist, of course, especially in smaller markets. But in major markets of the developed world, global hotel brands are providing major upgrades in consumer choice.

"A good case in point is the Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel, located in Richmond, British Columbia ...''

If you're interested, go to For now at least, the story is flagged on the home page. Click on 'read more' and it will carry you directly to the review, or find it under "Hotel Reviews' downpage.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

5 Cool Things About Richmond, B.C.

There are more than five cool things about Richmond, British Columbia, of course. A city of 190,000 just south of Vancouver, Richmond is considered by many to be the most Asian-orientated city in North America. About half the residents are recent or long-established immigrants from Asia, especially Chinese Canadians. I recently visited Richmond to check out its vibrant Chinese New Year's celebrations.

You may know Richmond as the home of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). There is much more of note there than the airport, however. Here is my shortlist of five cool things, in no particular order:

Food Street - Formally, Alexandra Street, this is home to dozens of mainly Asian restaurants spread over several blocks and standing nearly shoulder to shoulder. B.C. residents consider Richmond Food Street to be the best place in this gorgeous western Canadian province to eat Asian food, and who am I to argue? I didn't try every place, of course, but one I particularly liked was the Jade Seafood Restaurant (8511 Alexandra Road, The cuisine, which included a whole fish the night I dined there with a group of 16, is intensely flavorful, imaginative and varied. You'll want to keep that tabletop lazy susan spinning your way if you eat at Jade Seafood. There's a good international wine list, too, a rarity among Chinese eateries, in China and overseas.

Parker Place and other Asian shopping malls - The dining, shopping, exploring and, again, eating, is fine in this most Asian of Richmond's indoor malls, which comes complete with an active Buddhist shrine in the parking lot. Inside are herbal, candy, trinket and butcher shops and a savory food court, where you can sample the likes of dragon beard candy (the rough equivalent of cotton candy) and sweetened bubble waffles. Parker Place (2035-4380 Hazelbridge Way, is far from the only Asian-influenced mall in town. Among the others: Yaohan Centre, with its enormous Japanese-style supermarket Osaka, Landsdowne Mall and Aberdeen Centre. Many of the malls are helpfully located near TransLink stations. Which brings us to ...

Trans Link SkyTrain - An automated, driverless, elevated light-rail system in Richmond and environs and a subway in Vancouver, SkyTrain is a wonderfully efficient and inexpensive (no fares from Richmond over $3.75 CAD) public transport network. It has three lines; the Canada Line joins downtown Richmond to downtown Vancouver via a pleasant, 20-minute ride. (

Richmond Olympic Oval - This is an architecturally stunning legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics held on B.C.'s Lower Mainland and centered in Vancouver/Richmond and Whistler. The $178 million CAD Oval hosted long-track speed skating competitions. These days, it is an expansive and well-used community sports and recreation hub. Situated on the banks of the Fraser River, the sparkling facility includes two Olympic-sized skating rinks, indoor soccer fields and basketball and volleyball courts. Oh, there's plenty of workout equipment, too. (6111 River Road,

No. 9 Restaurant - This nondescriptly named, 24-hour dining spot is indelibly local, reasonably priced, boasts an enormous menu and is popular with Asian Canadians who flock there for comfort food. I had breakfast at No. 9 and was able to finish at best a quarter of my huge bowl of chicken and mushroom congee. I sipped Chinese tea, then switched to a local specialty, called yin-yang - a hot drink (in winter, anyway) composed of roughly half coffee and half black tea and flavored with cream. It tastes better than it sounds and is a sustaining way to finish a meal.(812-5300 No. 3 Road,

For more information, contact Tourism Richmond, tel. 604.821.5474,

No Comment Dept.

This, posted 31 January by the London newspaper the Daily Mail, on its Web site

"TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officials have been blasted for "outrageous'' bungling after it emerged that they found two possible pipe bombs in a passenger's luggage at New York's LaGuardia Airport yesterday - but waited six hours before telling the police.

"The suspicious objects were kept in a public area used by hundreds of passengers and at one point were left casually resting on a radiator.''