Brought to book
The famous roadside booksellers of Mumbai (above), who have been popular with tourists and travellers for almost half a century, are to be evicted from their stalls along Veer Nariman Road. The area, close to the city's Gothic-style, Victorian-era university, has been expecting a clean-up since 2003 when legislation was introduced to create no-hawking zones. With thousands of books on offer, from reference works for students to antique volumes to cheap local editions of international bestsellers, Veer Nariman Road was one of the city's most unusual and interesting tourist attractions. All may not be lost, however, because the booksellers are lobbying the government to set up a new area similar to the nearby 'Fashion Street' on Mahatma Gandhi Road, where street trading is still permitted.
British travellers who want to take their pets on holiday can sign up their cats, dogs and even ferrets on a new frequent-flyer programme with Virgin Atlantic. Under the Flying Paws rewards scheme, 'paw prints' are awarded for each journey and can be exchanged for items such as handmade feeding bowls and Burberry, Gucci and Prada pet apparel. For the trip, cats receive a toy mouse, while dogs get a flying jacket and collar tag. Alternatively, the paw prints can be added to owners' frequent-flyer air mile accounts. While this sounds cute and cuddly, there is a serious side to the flying pets business: airlines in the United States are now required to collect data on the numbers of pets that die in their custody. Proponents of the move say it will encourage carriers to take better care of airborne animals, although official figures seem to suggest little cause for alarm. Two million pets a year fly within the US, but last year only four reports of mistreatment were made to the Transport Department. Flying pet mortality rates will soon be posted at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/reports.
Flights and packages to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius have always been comparatively expensive for Hong Kong travellers, but a new move by the Mauritian government to turn the place into a duty-free zone should make it a better-value dest-ination. Taxes on fabric, clothing, jewellery and electronics have already been cut by 80 per cent, and plans are afoot to implement a blanket duty-free policy on all goods within the next 12 months. Mauritius is a popular shopping destination for European travellers, who head straight for places such as the Caudan Waterfront in picturesque Port Louis in search of international brands and designer boutiques.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has introduced a 'best-rate guarantee' on its recently renovated website, presumably in a bid to outdo online hotel-booking agents, which have become a headache for international hotel groups. If you find a rate cheaper than that offered by Shangri-La within 24 hours of your booking, they will match the price and give a further 10 per cent discount. There is, however, some small print to deal with. For example, 'the competing rate must be available for booking with the exact matching booking requirements as the original Shangri-La online booking, that is, same hotel, same number of guests, same room type, same arrival and departure dates'. Nonetheless, this seems like a fairly straightforward way to find the best rate if you're planning to stay at a Shangri-La property.
Tourists visiting Tokyo have been shuttled around the city by the Hato Bus Company since the early 1950s. Cheerful, uniformed female guides and their running commentaries were, in those early days, the only introduction tourists, domestic and foreign, were likely to have to the Japanese capital. Today, tin-toy Hato buses from the era are valuable collectors' items. Hato suffered some stiff competition during the 90s, but in recent years has upgraded its services after customer research revealed that, among other things, Japanese passengers like to be seated higher than those in other tour buses to give them a sense of superiority. Hato subsequently spent millions of yen raising the seats on all its vehicles by five centimetres. Less subtle was a recent move, in co-operation with Sanrio, to spray some buses pink, emblazon Hello Kitty characters along the sides and put a large stuffed Kitty in the front passenger seat of each vehicle. If you're heading to Tokyo and are interested in sightseeing, take a look at the easy-to-use, English-language Hato website at www.hatobus.co.jp/english. A wide selection of tours is available, including walking tours, which can be booked online and include a hotel pick-up. An eight-hour tour of Tokyo, including lunch, costs about $700.
Deal of the week
Although Singapore's Raffles hotel has succumbed to the rigours of mass tourism over the years, with its turbaned concierge immortalised on fridge magnets in the gift shop, and the Long Bar little more than a peanut-shelled alcoholic theme park, its Palm Court Suites remain some of the best accommodation in the city. Tucked away in the quietest part of the hotel (right), well away from gawping non-residents and the street noise that plagues many other rooms, these suites are reminiscent of the hotel's decadent heyday. Tiglion Travel is selling a package that includes two nights in a Palm Court Suite for $5,490 a person, twin-share, valid until the end of August. (Raffles' online price for the same suites is about $3,500 a night.) Round-trip, economy-class flights are with Singapore Airlines and breakfast is included. For a look at the hotel visit www.raffleshotel.com, and for package details and reservations call Tiglion Travel on 2511 7189 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting package ID 2826.