News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Italian teenagers drinking alcohol (file image)

Rising binge drinking is forcing changes to Italy’s relationship with alcohol

Milan has banned the consumption and sale of alcohol to young teenagers in an effort to curb binge-drinking.

Parents of children under the age of 16 caught drinking wine or spirits will be liable to heavy fines of up to 500 Euros ($700;£450).

A third of 11-year-olds in the city have alcohol related problems, it says.

In a country where for centuries wine has been part of local culture – and prohibition would be unthinkable – the ban has come as a shock.

But the authorities are deeply concerned about the increase in consumption of alcohol by children as young as 11 in the country’s industrial and financial capital.

So as an experiment, supplying alcohol – either wine or spirits – to youths under the age of 16 in bars, restaurants, pizza shops and liquor stores will be banned.

Heavy fines will be imposed on the parents of offending children and on shopkeepers or bar owners who serve them.

A national law banning the sale of alcohol to under-16s is only loosely enforced, as Italian families are used to sometimes giving young children a teaspoon of wine as a family party treat.

In past centuries, Italian children would sometimes even be given wine to drink in preference to water which was often polluted.

There has been a storm of protest by bar owners who refuse to act as alcohol police for young people.

But changing social customs mean that old easy-going attitudes towards consumption of alcohol in Italy will have to change.

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September 18, 2008

Have Your Say

Global markets crisis: are you concerned?

Global financial markets have suffered a week of bad news and turbulence. Have you been caught up in the crisis?

European stocks opened higher in cautious trade as Lloyds TSB’s takeover of UK lender HBOS dispelled some of the gloom hanging over financial markets.

Asian shares had earlier fallen sharply on fears that more companies could fall victim to the global financial crisis.

There has also been feverish speculation about the future of two other leading US banks – Morgan Stanley and Washington Mutual.

On Thursday the Bank of Japan injected another 1.5 trillion yen ($14.4bn) into money markets, as Asian shares continued the global trend downwards.

Are you concerned about the wider implications of the crisis? Are you an employee of the companies affected, an investor, or a shareholder? Or are you worried about mortgage lenders like HBOS? How do you think this will affect markets all over the world?

Send us your comments

September 14, 2008

Talks over sale of Lehman resume

Talks over sale of Lehman resume

Lehman Brothers headquarters

Lehman is the fourth largest US investment bank

Negotiations have restarted to find a buyer for troubled US investment bank Lehman Brothers, before a Sunday evening deadline.

Bank of America and UK lender Barclays are said to be the main candidates to buy all or part of the company.

Lehman is up for sale after it reported a $3.9bn (£2.2bn) quarterly loss last week amid concerns over its long term financial viability.

The firm’s share price has plummeted as fears over its future have mounted.

‘Rescue package’

The talks to sell Lehman are being led by senior officials from the US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

Graph

It is understood that the US government wishes to arrange a bailout package under which other US investment banks – such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – would contribute funds to a rescue deal which would see Lehman’s balance sheet cleaned up before its sale.

Although this is expected to cost the banks many millions, the alternative would likely be a sharp fall in their share prices if Lehman was to fail.

A number of sources report that US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is determined that no tax payers’ money will be used to help Lehman.

‘Difficult decision’

Former Federal Reserve boss Alan Greenspan said the US government faces “very difficult decisions” over Lehman if it cannot secure a rescue deal that does not involve public funds.

” “They [will then] have to make a very difficult decision as to whether or not they allow it to liquidate or they support it,” he said.

Yet Mr Greenspan said it would be “unsustainable” for the government to bail-out every US bank that got itself into difficulty.

Predicting that Lehman would not be the last to require rescuing, Mr Greenspan added that this would not necessarily pose a problem.

“The ordinary course of financial change has winners and losers,” he said.

Bad mortgage woes

Lehman could be sold off as one company, or else broken up into parts and sold separately.

While the firm got itself into financial difficulty due to extensive bad mortgage debts, its fund management business is in relatively good shape, analysts say.

Neither Bank of America or Barclays have made any comment.

Lehman’s shares lost 80% of their value last week, and its quarterly loss was the largest in its history.

The firm is the fourth-largest US investment bank.

Concerns over the fate of Lehman follow the bail-out last weekend of mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The lenders were thrown into financial difficulty after the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market.

September 13, 2008

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

The collapse of the UK’s third largest package holiday group has left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad.

The decision to place XL Leisure Group into administration has also left thousands of staff facing the axe.

Chairman Phil Wyatt said he was “totally devastated” by the failure which has grounded XL’s 21 planes. The company flies to about 50 destinations.

There are 67,000 stranded who booked directly with XL, and another 23,000 who booked via other companies.

The Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) also said the firm had 200,000 advance bookings.

‘Sad day’

CAA EMERGENCY HELPLINE
Customers abroad: +44 (0) 2891 856547
Customers in the UK with advance bookings: 0870 5900927

“We’ve made every effort, myself and my fellow directors, to find new funding for the business – and it’s a very sad day for me personally. I am totally devastated,” XL chairman Phil Wyatt said.David Clover, a spokesman for the CAA, said it was making arrangements to help customers of the four tour companies within the XL group.

“In respect of people who are currently abroad we’re making arrangements and working very closely with the travel industry to organize repatriation flights.

“Clearly though, with XL Airways no longer operating, we’re having to bring in substitute aircraft to bring people home.”

He said package deals are covered by the CAA’s Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing (Atol) scheme and those customers will be offered repatriation flights or their money back if they have an advance booking.

Struggling

However, those who booked directly with the airline or XL.com – who are in the minority according to the CAA – will face a fee.

Anyone yet to take their flights should check their insurance policies, and with their banks or credit card companies about refunds, he added.

XL – which carried 2.3 million passengers last year – is the latest travel business to face financial difficulties, as the industry struggles with high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

But an agreement has been reached whereby Straumur investment bank has acquired XL’s German and French subsidiaries, which Straumur considers to be financially viable and sustainable businesses.

They will continue operations as separate commercial entities.

Share prices in holiday firms TUI Travel and Thomas Cook were up 6% and 7% following the collapse of their rival.

Economic downturn

“As the travel industry matures in Europe, there was always going to be pressure on those operating in the mid-market,” said Lastminute.com chief executive Ian McCaig.

A statement on the XL group’s website said: “The companies entered into administration having suffered as a result of volatile fuel prices, the economic downturn, and were unable to obtain further funding.”

XL COMPANIES
XL Leisure Group
XL Airways UK
Excel Aviation
Explorer House
Aspire Holidays
Freedom Flights
Freedom Flights (Aviation)
The Really Great Holiday Company
Medlife Hotels
Travel City Flights
Kosmar Villa Holidays

BBC travel correspondent Tom Symonds added that the industry would be facing an “enormous challenge” as it deals with the fall out of XL’s collapse.

“XL wasn’t just an airline it was a fundamental link Britain’s package holiday industry,” he said.

“Getting these people to and from their holidays will be an enormous challenge not least because of the shortage of aircraft caused by so many airline collapses in recent weeks.

“XL can’t use its own airliners for among other reasons it has no insurance now.”

The CAA said it was working with the travel industry to bring stranded holidaymakers home, and denied it had been responsible for the grounding of XL’s planes.

Airlines BA, Easyjet, BMI, Flybe and Ryanair have offered to fly some of the stranded passengers home.

Easyjet chief executive Andy Harrison told that its fuel efficient planes had helped it cope with the high cost of aviation fuel although on Thursday it said it would cut up to 60 jobs to remain competitive.

Fuel pressures

Mr Wyatt added that spiralling oil prices had increased the firm’s costs “year-on-year by over $80m”.

“So where many people have been making hay with high oil prices, this is the repercussions of that hay – 1,700 people potentially out of work today in the UK,” he said.

Rival TUI warned that rising fuel costs meant that “airlines with less than robust business models” – such as XL and Futura – were now failing.

It added that the government should take steps to ensure all holiday companies must belong to the Atol scheme, which offers package holiday makers financial protection.

In the US, one flight from Orlando to Manchester managed to set off, while one bound for Gatwick was grounded. A source at the airport said accommodation was being found for the “distressed” passengers.

In the UK, air traffic control prevented three XL aircraft from taking off from Manchester Airport.

The XL group, which is based in Crawley, West Sussex, runs an airline and owns several travel companies, including Travel City Direct, Medlife Hotels Limited, The Really Great Holiday Company, Freedom Flights and Kosmar Holidays.

‘Going nowhere’

The company flies mainly from bases at Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports.

Travel writer Simon Calder warned that many thousands of XL customers hoping to fly to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK in coming weeks and days “simply won’t be going anywhere”.

Jim Duwaine, from Portsmouth, said he was given the news when he arrived at Gatwick where he had been due to catch an early morning flight to Menorca.

HELP OFFERED TO XL CUSTOMERS
Flybe – offering flights for 90 euros (£71.50)
BA– offering a one-way discount
Easyjet– flights offered for £75
BMI – provided aircraft to CAA for transport people home
Ryanair – has offered spare plane to CAA for transport

He said: “Absolutely devastated. Got up at midnight planning on going on holiday, but got let down, unfortunately. We’re here, just trying to get some other flights, but it’s not looking good. I think everyone else has got the same idea.”

Other holidaymakers have said they have been quoted vastly inflated prices for replacement flights.

Robert Spurgeon, of Norwich – an XL customer who had been due to fly to Tenerife from Gatwick – said: “We’ve not been told anything but my wife’s been quoted £2,000 for alternative flights.”

Also among those affected are a 130-strong choir on tour to Canada from Wales who were booked on Zoom and lost £50,000 when it folded last month, and then re-booked with XL.

XL is the current kit sponsor of West Ham United but football club said it would end the sponsorship deal and play on Saturday in an unbranded kit.


Are you struggling to make your way home from your holiday destination? Have you paid for a holiday that you may not be able to take? If you were an employee of XL what are your views? Send us your comments

September 12, 2008

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Spanish beach

Tour operators have been hit by soaring fuel costs

Package holiday firm XL has filed for administration after experiencing financial difficulties, reports say.

The firm is Britain’s third biggest tour operator and flies to 50 destinations, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

XL is the latest travel firm to face financial difficulties as the industry struggles with sky-high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

Low-cost transatlantic airline Zoom collapsed last month.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said the company currently continued to hold a license to operate as a tour operator and commercial airline.

He said: “It has not been confirmed to us that XL have filed for administration.”

Financial protection

The carrier had already cancelled its schedule of flights to the Caribbean.

If the firm were to collapse, package holidaymakers would be protected under the Atol scheme, a financial protection package.

Administrators might be able to help the company continue.

“But many companies have gone into administration and not survived, it’s a sign there is severe problems with the company’s accounts,” he said.

“Other airlines who have had similar problems have had aircraft impounded.”

If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry
Bob Atkinson, Travel Supermarket

Travel writer, Simon Calder, described XL’s airline operation: “A pretty large airline with 21 aircraft, [it] flies all over the world, the Caribbean; Mediterranean; North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK.

“It does most charter work, but also quite a lot of – effectively – no-frills, scheduled work.”

Bob Atkinson, of the price comparison website Travel Supermarket said XL’s troubles would be blow for the travel trade.

He said: “If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry, the British travel industry. They are a very large operator and this will send serious shock waves through the industry.

“And what it’s going to do more than anything, it’s going to highlight how precarious the airline industry is at the moment.”

XL customer Marion Foster of Thame, Oxfordshire, has a flight booked to Rhodes next week and was contacted by customer services on Wednesday to ensure her tickets had arrived.

She said: “At the time I thought it was a nice customer service touch to receive such a phone call but now I don’t know what to think.

“As I only booked flights with them it looks like I will lose my money which seems somewhat unfair.”


Are you affected by the issues in this story? Do you have a holiday booked with XL? Send us your comments and experiences

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