Travel desk: fireworks in Valencia, optimising your flight booking and Scotland's 134-mile walk

News, deals and holiday inspiration


Luring Chinese tourists to Ireland
Ireland has had a good month in its efforts to attract a greater share of Chinese tourists. The “greening’ of several Shanghai landmarks for St Patrick’s Day is a nice coup, as is scooping the top spot in the category of “Destination with the most potential for Chinese travellers”, at an awards ceremony hosted by China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip, which has over 90 million members. Tourism Ireland’s stated aim is to grow the number of high-spending Chinese visitors from 17,000 (2012) to more than 50,000 a year by 2019. This poses a challenge to hoteliers to cater to the specific needs of Chinese tourists, such as Mandarin-speaking staff, Chinese foodstuffs on their breakfast menus, and other culturally sensitive touches, like avoiding too much white and anything to do with the number four (bad luck). Bowls of oranges and tangerines, on the other hand, are considered good luck. Conversely, the Chinese National Tourism Administration is doing its bit for cross-cultural relations and has issued a seven-point directive on how to behave abroad. Top of the list of things to avoid are littering, spitting in public, pushing in queues and defacing cultural monuments.

151 is the magic number
Want to know when is the best time to book a flight? 151 days before departure, if you’re flying in Europe. This is according to online booking agent, which released the findings of its exhaustive, year-long survey of four million trips, tracking prices from 320 days ahead of departure right up to the day before. The window varies from continent to continent. In North America it’s 54 days before flying, 129 for Asia, 166 for Africa, 80 for the Middle East and 101 days if you’re flying in the Caribbean. The findings also make it abundantly clear that the old chestnut about the best prices being available at the last minute is completely wrong. Irrespective of where you are in the world, booking the day before will result in the highest charges.

Five hotels in Valencia
Valencia goes fireworks mad today with the start of Las Fallas – a festival of bonfires, effigies, music and all-night partying that runs until March 19th. But Spain’s third-largest city is a treat to visit at any time of the year. Here are five great hotel options in town:

Caro Hotel
A 19th-century Gothic palace sitting on nearly 2,000 years of historical ruins – and all of it has been incorporated into this sumptuously modern hotel, where contemporary elegance rubs up against medieval walls and historically themed touches. Calle Almirante 14;; rooms from €140.

Melia Plaza
A grand, 19th-century hotel with an unbeatable location right on the main square, near the cathedral. Inside, it’s thoroughly modern, with neat rooms specifically designed to cater to a largely business clientele. Plaza del Ayuntamiento 4;; rooms from €88

Hospes Palau de la Mar
A stone’s throw from the chichi shopping streets of Sorní and Cirilo Amarós, this is another successful example of an elegant conversion of a 19th-century merchant’s house. The style is low-key modernism, the service is excellent and the spa is considered one of the best in town. Calle Navarro Reverter 14;; rooms from €110.

Vincci Palace
There’s more than a touch of boudoir-chic at this handsome palace hotel, which has 76 modern rooms with all the trimmings. The rooftop solarium is perfect if you fancy some urban sunbathing. Calle La Paz 42;; room from €200.

Pension París
If you can climb stairs and can handle a shared bathroom (only a few rooms have their own facilities), then this spotless, family-owned two-star is the perfect option for the budget-minded visitor. Calle Salvá 12-1;; doubles from €28 (€36 en suite)

Who pays wins
It used to be simple: clock up the miles, get the frequent flyer points. But Delta has announced that from 2015 its Sky Miles programme will award points based exclusively on the price of the ticket rather than the distance flown.

The financial incentive model is already used by low-cost airlines such as Southwest and Jet Blue, but Delta is the first of the major airlines to announce the shift – and it’ll not be the last, as airlines adapt to the fact that airline loyalty is a thing of the past and most economy passengers book based on fare alone. Delta is part of the 19-strong Skyteam alliance, which includes Air France/KLM and Alitalia: it will undoubtedly follow suit and the skies will be even more divided between economy fare-chasing travellers and business passengers who will pay more and get all the perks.

Ryanair changing its stripes
First it was a promise to be nicer. Then it was the introduction of designated seating. And now, after 10 years of limiting passengers to booking exclusively through its own website, Ryanair has signed a deal with global distribution system Travelport that will allow third-party agents (online and high street travel agents) to quote for and book Ryanair flights. Why the u-turn? Ryanair says it’s all part of a strategy to double its passenger load by 2019 (to over 110 million) . We’ve no doubt that it’s true, but it’s also a reaction to arch-rival Easyjet, which has been part of distribution systems such as Travelport for some time and has been successful in attempts to win low-fares passengers that would otherwise have flown with Ryanair. In the end, it’s appears being nice will win the war.

In the steps of John Muir
Scotland’s newest national pathway is the 134-mile John Muir Way, which opens on April 21st as part of a festival to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the conservationist and founder of the US National Parks system. The pathway stretches from Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar on the East Lothian coast across central Scotland to Anglesborough, on the mouth of the Clyde. Highlights include Blackness Castle on the Firth of Forth and the Stoneymollan road between Balloch and Anglesborough. See

Micro-guide: Bangkok
Stay Chakabrongse Villas (396 Maharaj Road, Tatien;; room from €110) Wonderful country-style boutique hotel with waterfront location in the middle of town.
Eat Sala Rattanakosin (39 Maharat Rd, Rattanakosin Island;
See Jim Thompson House (Thanon Rama I; Six traditional Thai houses created with aesthetic care by the American, who mysteriously disappeared in 1967.

Deals of the week
€899 10-night eastern Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Jade, including return flights with Aer Lingus to Rome. Departing April 23rd. See
€1399 Three nights at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in New York and five nights all-inclusive in Viva Wyndham Maya, Cancun, Mexico, including all flights, taxes and charges. Departing in May.
€1999 Seven nights at the five-star Kempinski Seychelles Resort and three nights at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Dubai, including flights with Emirates.
For travel between May 1st and June 30th. See