Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign


From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to news.com.au about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told news.com.au.

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.



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Mask restrictions to ease, dancing to return


The mask mandate will end, dancing will return, and visitor and gathering limits will be eased across Greater Brisbane from 1am on Friday, after weeks of tight restrictions.

The move comes just two weeks after the city was plunged into a three-day lockdown in a bid to curb any community transmission of COVID-19 after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive to the highly contagious B117 strain.

Both she and her partner spent a number of days in the community while unknowingly infectious, prompting a “short, sharp” lockdown followed by ten days of tight restrictions before the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster bottomed out at six cases.

But, with the confirmation on Thursday morning that no other cases had been detected in the community in the last 14 days, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Brisbane residents they could “go back to our road map from December”.

She thanked the people of Brisbane, Logan, Redlands, Moreton Bay and Ipswich for their success in stopping the spread of the new strain.

“Brisbane was Australia’s first battleground for this new strain,” she said.

“We have come through together, we have come through it stronger and we’ll continue to do that every single day.”

As of 1am on Friday, masks will no longer be required at gyms and other indoor locations, however the chief health officer said they should still be worn “wherever you can’t social distance.”

Wedding and funeral guest limits will return to 200 people, private gatherings at homes will be capped at 50, and open-air stadiums will return to 100 per cent capacity.

Indoor venues including cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs, places of worship, libraries and art galleries will be able to host one person per two-square-metres, and private gatherings for up to 100 will be allowed in public spaces.

Ticketed venues including cinemas, theatres and live music venues will return to 100 per cent capacity.

And, just in time for the weekend, the dance ban will be lifted at all indoor and outdoor venues, subject to the one-per-two square metre rule.

All hospitality industry businesses must continue to comply with electronic contact tracing requirements.

Ms Palaszczuk said it was unlikely there would be any further easing of social restrictions “until the vaccine.”

Dr Jeannette Young said she wanted Queenslanders, particularly those in Greater Brisbane, to continue to come forward to get tested if they have “any symptoms at all”.

In the last 14 days, 103,549 people in Queensland came forward to get tested. Only 38 cases were detected in that time, all in hotel quarantine.

Queensland recorded just one case of COVID-19 on Thursday, an Emirates flight crew member who has already left the country.

More to come.



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Yearender 2020: 5 ‘workation’ destinations that became the new travel trend amid Covid-19 – travel


In the rat race of career making and personal life juggling, the last thing we expected was a dent on our unwinding travel plans but Covid-19 mercilessly hit our outings with loved ones, below the belt. The months of isolation and never-ending work-from-home rule not only brought out our creative sides but also made us figure a way out of the boredom by giving birth to the trend of workation.

Yes, you read that right. Even as Covid-19 turned our being travel plans topsy turvy, we could still kick back on a hammock on a sunny beach or sip coffee in the mountains while keeping our laptop and phone close and attend to mails and calls on the go.

That’s how work with leisure or work plus vacation gave birth to the trend of ‘workation’ and we are happily carrying this 2020 trend, forward to the New Year 2021. Since the virus with its new mutant is here to stay for some time, travel enthusiasts were seen hitting the road while keeping socially distant, soaking in the picturesque landscapes and still making money by working from the scenic destination of their choice.

As the lockdown lifts locally, domestic travel vibes kick in and the off-beat destinations like Spiti and Bir in Himachal Pradesh or Sandakphu in West Bengal attracted the touristy lens. The flexibility of work-from-home offered office on the go if you have good Internet connectivity.

Here are 5 off-beat scenic places you can add to your workation bucket list:

1. Sandakphu

 

While Sandakphu might not be a famous tourist destination, it is the highest peak in the Indian state of West Bengal and the highest point of the Singalila Ridge in Darjeeling. It promises spotting of a rich abundance of birds and animals, over 600 varieties of orchids and a glimpse of the highest peaks of Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan along with the Three Sisters all in a single stretch and needs to be added to travel bucket list on priority basis.

2. Palampur

From tea plantations and art galleries to serene temples and quaint monasteries, Palampur has much to offer as an offbeat tourist destination. There is something magical about sunrises in the mountains that make all stress evaporate in a jiffy and a village walk in Palampur, which is beautifully set against the alluring Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas, promises just that.

 

Palampur’s trekking trails are lined by forests of pine and deodar while paragliding awaits adventure lovers at Bir-Biling which is 35 kms away. On one edge, the dramatic Neugal chasm and the Bundla stream cut across.

3. Bir

 

The picturesque Bir-Billing near Baijnath town of Kangra district is famous for hosting paragliding events as it is among the world’s top ten paragliding sites. Located at 1525 meter above mean sea level, Billing serves as the take off site while landing site is at Bir village, a small hamlet famous for its sprawling tea gardens and Tibetan monasteries.

4. Spiti

As Shimla received the season’s first snowfall, the New Year cheer among residents and hoteliers is too contagious to not lift up your spirits and the tribal district of Spiti is no different. While the Spiti Valley Road is arguably one of the India’s most dangerous roads, it offers an immersive experience beyond the well known places of common hill stations.

 

Situated 414 kms away from Shimla and approximately 202 kms from Manali, Spiti is located along the Indo-Tibetan border, is the land of ragged and snow-capped mountains that reach out to the clear deep blue skies. It offers visual treats of some of the most beautiful canyons, the most unusual clay and rock formations along the river bed and in the mountains, numerous waterfalls and glaciers, including one of world’s largest non-polar glaciers – Bara Shigri, some thousand year old Gompas (Buddhist Monasteries) and Tibetan art and also the mummy of a monk who meditated to death.

5. Ghogla Beach

With less crowd, clean water and clean surrounding, the Ghogla Beach with its calm tides, provides a relaxing atmosphere. Located in the north of Diu town, the Ghogla Beach hosts gentle waves and is perfect for those preferring to stay aloof and away from the cacophony of the town.

 

As one of the least explored places, it is well maintained and excellent for water sports like parasailing, surfing and banana boat. It can be called a separate island since it is situated approximately 15 km from the main town.

Whether heading out solo or with loved ones while working in the lap of nature, a rustic backdrop, remoteness of woods, valley view or beach in sight, workation is becoming the go-to travel option for not just the millennial but older generations as well, apart from offering a ray of hope to the revival of tourism industry. Which travel destination will you be crossing out from your bucket list in New Year 2021?

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