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Thomas Cook collapse a big threat to Spain’s tourist industry

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Staff at Thomas Cook’s largest subsidiary in Spain say they are the biggest victims of its demise “We have the hotels here, open and waiting – but the customers can’t get here,” says Ramón Estalella, head of Spain’s leading hotelier association.The sudden collapse last month of one of Europe’s biggest…

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Thomas Cook collapse a big threat to Spain’s tourist industry

A Thomas Cook Scandinavia Airbus A330 plane at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain, 25 September 2019Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Staff at Thomas Cook’s largest subsidiary in Spain say they are the biggest victims of its demise

“We have the hotels here, open and waiting – but the customers can’t get here,” says Ramón Estalella, head of Spain’s leading hotelier association.

The sudden collapse last month of one of Europe’s biggest travel groups, Thomas Cook, ruined the holidays of 600,000 stranded tourists.

Hundreds of thousands more had trips booked when the news was announced.

But for parts of Spain’s tourist sector, Thomas Cook’s demise is also an existential threat.

The economic future of industry workers and staff at Thomas Cook’s local suppliers and subsidiaries is at stake.

The Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation has said that 1.3 million autumn and winter visitors will be unable to fly into Spanish destinations.

This will result, it says, in the shutting down of at least 500 hotels, generating losses to the tourism sector running into the hundreds of millions of euros.

Spain’s government has announced a package of measures worth €300m (£260m; $330m), including emergency credit lines and a reduction in airport fees, particularly for hubs in the Balearic and Canary islands, plus plans to spend €500m in improving tourism infrastructure.

Closed doors in the Canaries

Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago is preparing for its high season as a popular winter sun destination, but the Spanish government calculates that 400,000 Thomas Cook travellers will not be reaching the islands after all.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Thomas Cook staff hug at an airport on the island of Majorca after word of the group’s collapse

The first hotel on the islands to close its doors as a result of the impact on tourism was the Fuerteventura Princess, which had an exclusive deal with Thomas Cook covering 95% of its 688 rooms up to 2023. Its 160 staff are to be laid off, a fate to be shared by at least 3,400 others in the sector, according to estimates.

For Mr Estalella from Spain’s CEHAT hotelier association, an immediate response is required to fill the hole left by Thomas Cook.

“They need to do something to get airlines to pick up the slack and take more slots by slashing costs. We need to take a bigger risk. Meanwhile, it’s unfair that hotels are having to pay VAT on bills charged to Thomas Cook and its subsidiaries which they know they’ll never be paid.”

Majorca staff working in limbo

More than 700 staff at Thomas Cook’s largest subsidiary in Spain say they are the biggest victims of the travel giant’s crash, having not been paid since the summer and now finding themselves in a legal limbo.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHotel owners in Majorca are worried about what the collapse of Thomas Cook means for their livelihoods.

The In Destination Incoming agency, based in Palma, Majorca, went into liquidation days after Thomas Cook ceased operations, reportedly announcing debts of a €57m.

“We have no guests in any resorts, but due to Spanish law we have to present ourselves at work every day to complete our 40 hours,” one worker from Palma told the BBC on the condition of anonymity due to what she described as “ongoing legal proceedings”.

“If we do not go, they will take it as our resignation instead of an official dismissal or redundancy, and we won’t be able to claim anything at all,” she added.

Pep Ginard, of the CCOO services sector union in the Balearics, confirmed that staff at In Destination Incoming faced a “long and difficult process” to claim back pay and a redundancy package which, under Spanish labour laws, should be worth at least 20 days’ wages per year of service.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Thomas Cook’s Palma Beach hotel in Spain

“We are in no man’s land and have just been left. Part of our job was dealing with deaths, rapes, assaults and serious illness. We have worked extra hours with no extra pay as Thomas Cook didn’t follow the new labour laws this year. All of this is for nothing,” the worker said.

Revamping Spain’s tourist industry

Beyond the immediate impact of the Thomas Cook crash, some Spanish tourism sector leaders say there is some soul-searching to be done regarding the future of the country’s biggest industry.

After six years of record international tourist arrivals, reaching 82.8 million in 2018, the negative impact from Thomas Cook’s collapse may lead to stagnation, with growth up to August reaching only 1.5%, according to government figures.

“There is an unsustainable level of saturation in sunshine and sand tourism, and we have to start competing on another level, in long-distance travel,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, speaking at an event in Madrid earlier this month.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionStaff in emotional farewell with passengers

Spain saw non-European arrivals grow by close to 14% in the first half of this year, but Mr Samaranch claimed that much more could be done, especially to attract visitors from China in search of cultural experiences.

According to Rafael Gallego, president of Spain’s CEAV travel agency association, the Thomas Cook debacle should jog policymakers into realising that increasingly few travellers merely sign up to a package based on a destination’s climate or vibes.

“People travelling today don’t go so much to a place, but rather to do something specific,” he told the newspaper El Mundo.

Nowadays, he argued, tourists were looking for a product. Either active holidays such as playing golf, paragliding and diving, or more leisure-based breaks involving nature, gastronomy and cultural tourism.

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The 9 Best Sex Toys to Give (or Receive) in 2019

In the midst of whatever holiday excitement you may be feeling (or not!), it’s good to also celebrate more intimate moments with a partner—or on your own. In the spirit of giving and receiving, I’ve rounded up my favorite sex toys of the year that can be enjoyed solo, with others, or both. Pick up…

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The 9 Best Sex Toys to Give (or Receive) in 2019

In the midst of whatever holiday excitement you may be feeling (or not!), it’s good to also celebrate more intimate moments with a partner—or on your own. In the spirit of giving and receiving, I’ve rounded up my favorite sex toys of the year that can be enjoyed solo, with others, or both. Pick up a gift that everyone will enjoy this season and well into the new year.

Fun Factory Manta stroker

manta stroker


The Manta is hands-down the most innovative new sex toy for people with penises, especially for boosting masturbation or receiving oral sex. The stroker’s tip is contoured to grip and encircle the shaft of a penis for a tailored massaging effect, and its lubricant-friendly ridges keep liquid contained to enhance the glide.

Aneros MGX Trident massager

aneros trident

This prostate massager is a necessity if you’re ready to explore deeper sensations for the first time (or whenever, really). The Aneros’ “T” shape fits your or your partners’ body with arms that sit along the perineum and an insertable stem for G-spot or prostate stimulation—which is amazing, because sex that accounts for the P-spot can unlock incredible orgasms, even surpassing those that come with straightforward ejaculation.

Unbound Bender vibrator

bender vibrator unbound


The updated rerelease of Unbound’s popular Bender vibrator is stronger, thicker, and better than ever. The new version features an improved battery life and a stronger motor. The durable seven and a half–inch toy is flexible enough to reach the deepest reaches of your or your partners’ G-spot areas, and it can be used flat or bent into a curved shape for internal and external pleasure—whatever you prefer, or, of course, both. It comes in two cute colors—mint green and quartz pink.

CalExotics Packer Gear stroker

packer gear stroker

This is the ideal toy for transgender men who are looking for a stroker specifically designed to maximize physical pleasure after taking T. The stroker grips and uses suction on your or your partners’ genitals. The toy offers maximum genital coverage designed to emulate squeezing and massaging along the lines of masturbation, and it’s especially effective with a water-based lube.

Lelo TOR 2 ring

lelo tor

$115 (on sale, usually $139); Lelo

This sophisticated cock ring is a stellar companion toy to elevate the sensations of penetrative sex for everyone involved. It’s designed to fit over a dildo, strap-on, or bio penis, making it a great gift for people interested in changing things up without having to learn all new moves or techniques. Its six pleasure settings range from soft vibrations to intense pulsation to benefit both the TOR’s wearer and their partners.

Maude vibrator

maude vibrator

Maude’s personal massager is discreet, silky in texture, water-resistant, and aesthetically pleasing. Given its unique shape—it looks kind of like an expensive cone-shaped paperweight in someone’s fancy office—this 100 percent silicone vibrator may have you wondering, How exactly does this work? The answer: exactly like most other vibrators, except stronger than most other vibrators, despite its innocent looks. This toy is especially recommended for travel (and even comes with a travel mode)—the TSA won’t know what it is, either. A note: This toy, for all its benefits, should not be used with silicone- or oil-based lubricants, which will degrade the silicone in the toy.

Womanizer touchless stimulator

womanizer

The Womanizer, which emulates oral stimulation with soft bursts of air against a person’s genitals (and especially their clitoris), has been rereleased on its five-year anniversary in a chic white design. A claw shape provides suction and massaging air waves to send targeted sensations directly to your or your partners’ most sensitive areas for touch-free pleasure. You can literally sit back and let this waterproof toy do all of the work.

b-Vibe Rimming Petite vibrator

b-vibe rimming petite

The slightly higher-tech toy Petite does double duty to simulate a rim job: Its vibrating head can be inserted anally for prostate or G-spot stimulation, and the rotating beads at the bottom sit against the nerve endings at the base of your or your partners’ anus. A remote control allows you or your partners to cycle between five different speeds/intensity levels as you go. Use a water-based lube with it—and feel free to take it into the bath or shower with you.

Doc Johnson Crystal Jellies double-ended dildo

jellie dildo

Twist, bend, suck—use this double-ended dildo any way that you see fit to enjoy double penetration alone or with your partners. This jelly toy is firm, but soft enough for safe, easy vaginal or anal entry, and its multi-textured 12 inches create wave after wave of excitement as you go—whether you’re sharing it with a partner, or one of you is taking it all for yourself.

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Lufthansa scraps 1,300 flights in 48-hour strike

Image copyright EPA Image caption The union has warned that further strikes could come “at any time” Lufthansa has cancelled 1,300 flights after it lost a last-minute legal bid to halt a strike by cabin crew.The two-day action over pay and conditions began at midnight local time. About 180,000 passengers are set to face travel…

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Lufthansa scraps 1,300 flights in 48-hour strike

Flight attendants take part in a demonstration at an airport in Munich, Germany,Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

The union has warned that further strikes could come “at any time”

Lufthansa has cancelled 1,300 flights after it lost a last-minute legal bid to halt a strike by cabin crew.

The two-day action over pay and conditions began at midnight local time. About 180,000 passengers are set to face travel disruption.

The UFO union said it would hit all Lufthansa flights from German airports.

Flights by Lufthansa’s other airlines including Eurowings, Swiss, Austrian Airlines, and Brussels Airlines are not affected, the airline said.

Lufthansa has cancelled 700 flights on Thursday and 600 on Friday, amounting to about one-fifth of its planned flights over the 48-hour period.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Thousands of passengers are set to face disruption

It said it regretted the inconvenience caused, adding: “We will do everything we can to minimise the impact of this massive strike on our customers.”

On Wednesday, a Frankfurt labour court rejected Lufthansa’s application to prevent the strike, which is part of a long-running dispute at the airline.

Lufthansa has said passengers travelling between German airports can exchange their tickets online for rail tickets. Other passengers will be offered alternative flights.

The union’s vice-president, Daniel Flohr, has warned that further strikes could come “at any time”.

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‘I was kidnapped and now only travel by train’

Image caption Mannir Awal Addo refuses to travel by road after his kidnapping ordeal To avoid Nigeria’s notorious kidnapping gangs thousands of commuters pack on to trains each day between the capital, Abuja, and the city of Kaduna.Mannir Awal Addo, a trader in Abuja who has family that he visits every weekend in Kaduna, was…

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‘I was kidnapped and now only travel by train’

Mannir Awal Addo

Image caption

Mannir Awal Addo refuses to travel by road after his kidnapping ordeal

To avoid Nigeria’s notorious kidnapping gangs thousands of commuters pack on to trains each day between the capital, Abuja, and the city of Kaduna.

Mannir Awal Addo, a trader in Abuja who has family that he visits every weekend in Kaduna, was kidnapped on the Abuja-Kaduna highway earlier this year and held for five days.

He told the BBC that he paid his abductors $1,300 (£1,000) for his freedom: “It was a traumatic experience.”

He was affected by polio as a child and said he could not run away when kidnappers attacked the vehicle he was travelling in.

“Since then, honestly I don’t use car transport because I am afraid of the road. It’s better for me to take the train because of its safety.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Armed police officers accompany the six-carriage trains

By road the 150km (93-mile) journey between the two cities is cheaper and shorter, but it has become a matter of life and death as dozens of travellers are kidnapped along the highway – and many are killed.

When, thanks to a $500m Chinese loan, the train line linking Abuja to Kaduna opened in 2016 people used it more for its novelty value, given that most the country’s railway system is a relic from the colonial era.

Brawling for tickets

But now it is hard to get a ticket for the four round-trips made each day, with 5,000 commuters packing on to them daily.

The demand is high because nine armed police officers are on board guarding the train’s six carriages.

A one-way ticket is sold for about $4 for economy and $8 for business class – and there are usually long queues to get them.

Many passengers miss scheduled trips because of the huge demand. Many of the civil servants who work in the capital live in Kaduna.

In August, users posted images of stranded passengers brawling over tickets at a train station.

Officials have also been accused of hoarding tickets and selling them at inflated rates in a racketeering scheme, prompting the government to say it is considering automating the process.

Those who have tickets but cannot find seats have the option of standing for the two-hour journey for the same fee.

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When I joined 600 passengers on the 09:45 from Abuja, more than 50 were standing in my carriage.

Others were squeezed into the spaces between the carriages and by the toilets.

Image caption

Many are happy to find foot space to stand for the journey

It is a choice many are happy to make rather than use what has been dubbed Nigeria’s most dangerous road.

The highway is bordered on each side by thick rows of neem and baobab trees, providing excellent cover for the armed gangs hiding in wait.

Kidnappers in Nigeria are not fussy. They abduct both rich and poor, often collecting ransoms of up to $150,000 and as low as $20 – sometimes killing those whose families fail to pay.

Image caption

The passengers feel safer on the train than risk being attacked on the road

“At its height, the road had 10 kidnappings per day with 20 different groups operating on the route,” says police commander Abba Kyari, who heads a special unit fighting kidnappers.

The true figures are likely to be higher, as some families, like that of Mr Addo, choose not to report to officials, deciding to negotiate with the kidnappers directly.

Train passenger and postgraduate student Idris Mohammed, who used to travel by road to Kaduna for the weekends, is happy to pay more for his safety as “the roads are too dangerous now”.

Why don’t people live in Abuja?

For most of the civil servants who work in the capital annual rents as high as $15,000 are just too expensive.

Many live to the north in Kaduna, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria, where housing is cheaper. A cosmopolitan city, Kaduna is very different to Abuja, bristling with divergent interests, but with simmering tensions over ethnic, political and religious issues.

By contrast, Abuja is a slow-paced, administrative city. It became Nigeria’s capital in 1991 and has grown up from a small village to become home to many diplomats and foreign NGO workers. It was chosen as the capital because of its central location – which means that many people come from elsewhere in the country to work there, so on weekends it really empties out.

And its fairly well-heeled daily and weekly commuters are prime targets for kidnappers.

Bus stations suffering

But the popularity of the trains is bad news for buses.

Despite buses charging at least six times less than the trains, many of the big bus stations, which used to be bustling with passengers and luggage, are now empty.

An official from the transporters’ union told me the safety the trains could provide was the main reason.

Many of those who still use the road do so in private cars and set off at mid-morning or early afternoon.

Image copyright
Nigeria Police

Image caption

The Abuja-Kaduna highway is now travelled by only a brave few

Those who travel later place their faith in the several police check-points along the road to try to deter kidnappers.

Though the police have recorded a few successes against the kidnappers, including the 2017 arrest in south-west Lagos of an alleged kidnap kingpin, some people still question the seriousness of security agencies in tackling the problem.

Image caption

The Rigasa station in Kaduna is the final terminal point for the Abuja train

For now the train is a welcome haven – and the only recent security issue has been over cattle.

In September last year, the armed police escorts fired live rounds into the air to disperse villagers on the outskirts of Kaduna who had gathered to attack a train after 50 cows were crushed crossing the track.

The train journeys have also become a meeting point for Nigeria’s rich and poor and they sometimes bring together those from feuding communities – now all fleeing one common enemy, kidnappers.

When my train finally arrived at Rigasa station in Kaduna, some passengers raised their arms and murmured a prayer: they had lived to die another day.

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