London: the most visited city in the world. But where is the most visited site in the world?

Great to see that London is officially the most visited city in the world, although the Parisians seem to be disputing it (surprise, surprise!) – see http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/its-official-london-is-the-most-popular-destination-for-tourists-in-the-world-9063988.html

It’s wonderful news for the tourism industry and yet more reason to ensure we have a professional approach to tourism services, with an emphasis on youth, vitality and diversity (some of the key selling points for London).

London may be the most visited city in the world, but I believe the most visited site is the Kaaba in Mecca, the most holy place in Islam and one which all Muslims must visit at least once in their life-time. Over 3 million make the Hajj pilgrimage each year and many millions more do the Umrah (or ‘lesser pilgrimage’).

Is this really ‘tourism’? I believe it is. Until 200 years or so ago – when the Grand Tour became fashionable, and then later on when Thomas Cook got his excursions by rail going – pilgrimages were the main non-trade trips. Think of the Canterbury Tales for example: stories told by pilgrims to while away the outward journey to their destination. Just like tourism today, the pilgrimages generated a huge service industry: accommodation, transport, food, entertainment.

I was reminded of this last week when I went to Saudi Arabia to run a training course for English language teachers at the Umm Al Qura University just outside Mecca (or Makka, as it should be called). More than half the passengers on my British Airways flight to Jeddah, the nearest international airport to Makka, were pilgrims dressed in their traditional white robes in order to do the Umrah (it is not yet the time for Hajj). It was an impressive sight at Heathrow Terminal 5 and on the flight.

Non-Muslims are not encouraged to visit Makka, but by mistake I got to within a few hundred metres of the holy Kaaba. How did that happen, you may ask. Well, the drive from Jeddah to Makka involves two alternative roads, one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims. The former is a pristine super-fast highway, the latter involves stretches of poorly made road and super-scary driving. My driver took the wrong turning and we ended up driving through a checkpoint and into downtown Makka, right next to the square where the Kaaba is. Somehow I managed to get away with it, although there was one point when we seriously considered hiding me in the boot of the car!

The Umm Al Qura University is in effect the University of Mecca and is situated in the desert just outside the city. It operates on strict islamic principles and although it was strange not seeing a female at any point, I felt a great sense of beauty and spirituality.

I’m not a religious person, but in a way any trip is a kind of pilgrimage, even a sightseeing trip to London – not only the most-visited, but also the greatest city in the world!

Keith in Mecca

Keith in Mecca

First Fund-raiser of 2014!

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Shuffling off the excesses of the Christmas season and embracing those New Year resolutions about getting out more and feeding the intellect rather than the stomach, a group of 24 friends were taken on a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament on Saturday 4th January led by yours truly. We had people from exotic far-flung places such as Colombia, China, Switzerland, Japan, Texas, Finchley and Burnley. All ages as well. And they seemed to enjoy it, even the 14-year-old Chelsea fan said “it was OK” (articulate praise indeed).

Thanks go to Matt Morgan and Monica Carney, who are responsible for organising tours at the Palace of Westminster, for making it all possible and for waiving the usual entrance fee so that all the money donated (£250) goes straight to the ‘Go Make It Happen’ charity fund.

Anyone got any suggestions for the next charity fund-raiser?

Keith

 

New Year Greetings from the Captain

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Captain in Panama (Hat fact: all ‘Panama’ hats come from Ecuador – and always have done).

Dear Shipmates

I hope you’ve all had a jolly festive season. It’s been a bit breezy up on the bridge of the good ship GMIH, but all is set fair for the coming year. Inspired by Her Majesty’s Christmas speech I thought maybe it was time for some ‘reflection’, which, according to ‘Her Madge’ can be both backwards and forwards. So let’s review our co-ordinates and chart our voyage ahead…

Current location and co-ordinates:

  1. Five beneficiaries – and more to come we hope. Four of our beneficiaries are doing the London Blue Badge Tourist Guide training course. Denisa and Marija have their final exams in February 2014, Rob and Xiao have another year to go. Karolina, our latest beneficiary, is 20 years old and doing an Airport and Airline Management course at the University of West London. There have been other applicants but they haven’t worked out or materialised for one reason or another.
  2. New website up and running. It’s meant to be more of a forum for beneficiaries and interested parties, and everyone is welcome and encouraged to contribute. Rob and Xiao have recently posted interesting blogs about their course, and there will be more to come from them and the others. The plan is for the beneficiaries to drive the website. If you need guidance on posting a profile and blogs as well as other social media you can either contact me, or better still, our senior navigator (IT), Matt Ladd – matt.ladd@gmail.com
  3. A busy year for the tourism profession. London and the UK have had one of the busiest tourism years ever. It’s definitely the profession for young people to get involved in, so we want to continue to offer support wherever we can. I noticed how important the tourism profession is myself on a couple of work trips to Ecuador in my other role as an educational management trainer in ELT (English Language Teaching): It’s not just the Queen who gets to travel! (By the way, do you like the hat?). English is clearly the language of international business, travel and tourism, and so many of the managers and teachers I was working with in Ecuador are working in English for Tourism. (NB none of them new what a ‘TVP’ was!)  

Charting the voyage ahead:

  1. Focus on the world of guiding. We’ve had most success in recruiting beneficiaries who are interested in tourist guiding (not surprisingly perhaps, given that this is the area of tourism I’m most involved in). So we plan to build on this sector, with existing beneficiaries helping to spread the word. Of course, we’ll continue to accept other beneficiaries, and Karolina is a good example of that.
  2. An exciting new prize. We are planning to establish an annual ‘Sam Harding Prize’. More details of this will follow, but we hope it will be a publicity opportunity – publicising GMIH, and stressing the important role of young people in tourism, as well as a way for those who knew Sam to remember him.
  3. Fund-raising. Funds have continued to come in in 2013 (especially Pakefield chutney), but we need to have a few more events in 2014 – and remember, it’s about getting together and having fun as well as raising money. We’re starting with a tour of the Houses of Parliament in the New Year. It’s yet to be confirmed, but we did a similar event last year which was successful.
  4. Get together. A party or similar event for all our beneficiaries, probably in March or April.

So, what’s YOUR ‘Go Make It Happen’ new year’s resolution?

Happy new year everyone. To close, here’s a final reflection, a view from the Captain’s bridge (well, balcony), taken on Christmas Day 2013.

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Keith

Summer barbecue for the beneficiaries and others

Captain’s Log…

On Sunday 18th August with the wind set fair and the waters lapping benignly, we held a nautical feast upon the river’s edge at New Cal (the ‘Captain’s’ Rotherhithe base). A handsome crew were assembled.

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It was wonderful to see Denisa, our maiden beneficiary, and our two latest recruits, Rob and Xiao. Denisa is into the final half of the BBTG course now, still very much enjoying it and sounding very professional, as well as finding time to give useful advice to Rob and Xiao before they embark on the course in September. We also had Mary and Matt L and diverse other young of age and young of heart persons on board. All partaking of vittles and ale.

Like most of our GMIH events it was mainly a social occasion, an excuse to bring people together and have some fun as well as exchange information and advice. The weather was gorgeous, the view was delightful, and the food – courtesy of Keith and Julie, the Captain and his Mate – was delicious.

We must do it again soon!

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My first ever blog!

We’re always learning stuff. Even me! And I’m supposed to be the Captain. But this is my first blog. We’re in the process of re-launching the website, making it more of a social forum for the charity – for the beneficiaries, the trustees, and anyone who’s interested in what we’re doing at Go Make It Happen!