June 20, 2014

Bad news for those of you who wanted to hike solo around natural wonders like Swargadwari Danda (Heaven's Hill) in Nepal.     Photo: travelwayoflife/Flickr

New Rules for Trekking in Nepal

Local guides now mandatory

Ever since the April 18 Everest tragedy, when 16 Sherpas died in an avalanche, the Nepal Tourism Board has been grappling with how to make extreme tourism safer within the country.

After months of active discontent from local entrepreneurs, the board has made decisions about how to monitor foreign recreation, trekking in particular.

The unrest ended yesterday with news outlets reporting that protesters' demands had been met: an ousting of Subash Nirola, the board's chief and active CEO; management of a workers' welfare fund; and a new rule stating that all foreign trekkers must be accompanied by local guides.

In addition to safety concerns, those within the tourism industry were concerned about financial irregularities within the board and Nirola's possible abuse of authority. A probe into the board's finances began Thursday.

The Joint Tourism Coordination Committee, headed up by Ramesh Dhalama (also president of Trekking Agents Association of Nepal), has agreed to stop campaigning for change within the board.

Three senior directors are taking over the board, which is resuming services today. Although this is good news for Nepal's tourism industry, it won't make up for financial losses due to an early end to the spring season.

More coverage of Nepal's tourism industry from Outside

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Can't do this yet? Today's the perfect day to start learning.     Photo: EpicStockMedia/ThinkStock

Catch a Wave on International Surfing Day

Events held worldwide for holiday's 10th anniversary

Summer lovers and beachgoers everywhere have reason to rejoice today, as June 20 marks the 10th anniversary of International Surfing Day. The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves, and beaches, puts on ISD every year and will host more than 140 events across the globe to celebrate.

Originally founded by Surfing Magazine and the Surfrider Foundation, ISD features events ranging from beach cleanups and concerts in North Carolina, Argentina, British Columbia, and California to surf contests in France and Taiwan.

The International Surfing Association says it hopes the weekend's festivities will showcase surfing's worldwide popularity and help in its quest to make surfing an Olympic sport.

If you thought this weekend couldn't get any better, prepare to be blown away: Today is also National Flip-Flop Day, and June 21 is the Summer Solstice. Break those feet out of the lace-bound prisons you've held them in all winter and head to the beach for some surfing on the longest day of the year.

In honor of ISD, here a few of our favorite surf videos from this year:

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Armstrong's lawyers argued the Postal Service benefited from the exposure it gained from his cycling team.     Photo: Hase/Wikimedia

Armstrong Headed to Court

Judge denies cyclist's request to dismiss lawsuit

It looks like Lance Armstrong’s courtroom battles are not quite over: a federal judge has declared that the whistleblower suit filed against him by the U.S. government—which was instigated by former teammate Floyd Landis—should proceed.

Last year, Armstrong’s lawyers asked a judge to dismiss the $100-million civil action, which alleges that the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the U.S. Postal Service was an act of fraud that warrants massive financial restitution. Government lawyers say the Postal Service was deceived into paying $40 million to the team from 1998 to 2004, including nearly $20 million to Armstrong personally.

Armstrong’s attorneys argued that the case was too old to bring under the six-year statute of limitations. They also claimed that the government probably knew about Armstrong’s doping, but turned a blind eye because of all the positive publicity he and the Postal cycling team generated at the time.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins brushed these arguments aside. According to Reuters, Wilkins said complaints brought by the government were “rife with allegations that Armstrong had knowledge of the doping, and that he made false statements to conceal the doping and the attendant obligation which would have resulted if the government had known of the doping.”

In an 81-page document, Wilkins wrote:

There could possibly be documents in the government's possession suggesting that it had reason to know the cycling team was doping, despite the findings of the investigation by the French authorities. If so, there may be force to the defendants' argument that the government should have conducted its own investigation sooner, and that if it had undertaken such an investigation, it would have uncovered doping. But the Court cannot make that determination based on the present record and based solely on the allegations in the complaint, as required when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the Court denies without prejudice, the defendants' motion to dismiss the government's action as time-barred.

As USA Today reports, the government is seeking $32,321,821.94 in damages. Under the False Claims Act, damages can be increased—in this case up to nearly $100 million.

Read more of our ongoing coverage of the greatest scandal in cycling:

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Despite its beautiful appearance, France is known for its mean streets and (allegedly) mean locals.     Photo: Sergey Borisov/ThinkStock

French Make Effort to Stop Alienating Tourists

Be nicer, ministers request

Remember how kind the locals were when you visited Paris? No? Well, the French government is hoping to make "nice" mean more to its citizens than the name of a city.

Yesterday, ministers unveiled a new strategy for boosting tourism at the end of a national conference on the matter, with the biggest takeaway being a need to "recover a sense of hospitality," according to commerce minister Fleur Pellerin.

"The logic is simple," finance minister Laurent Fabius said. "An unhappy tourist is a tourist that never comes back."

France hasn't had a problem getting people to visit. The trouble, it appears, has been making their visits worth it for the host country. A 2013 United Nations study found that France attracted more foreign visitors than any other country in 2012. However, the study showed that visitors don't buy much while wandering through parks, boutiques, and cafes; France came in behind the top 10 most-visited countries in terms of money spent per visitor.

Apart from making mental notes to hold doors and smile, France's strategy for getting (and retaining) tourists includes opening shops on Sundays, making visas easier to acquire, and renovating Paris's Gare du Nord, the reportedly dismal-looking rail station that greets France-bound British visitors.

Why such a big to-do about a rail station? The British-French rivalry has been more prominent lately. In January, Le Figaro reported that London is the most-visited European city, stripping Paris (15.9 million visitors a year) of the honor. Apparently, Gare du Nord pales in comparison to the British station at the other end, and France is looking for any means to strengthen its claim to tourism superiority.

The tourism ministry's blatant directive to be nicer follows a 2013 issuance of "politeness manuals" by the Paris Tourist Board. It seems follow-up was needed.

The French are aiming for 100 million tourists annually by 2015, with particular interest in Chinese visitors. This is a big step up from the roughly 83 million people the country currently attracts.

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