Tuesday. 5/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Gabriel Leigh

Hope springs eternal

It might not feel like it yet but there could soon be a whiff of optimism in the air when it comes to travel. As vaccine vials arrive at logistics centres around the world, many locked-down would-be voyagers are projecting new hopes onto this year. I expect to see a flood of impatient travellers heading out into the world as soon as restrictions begin to lift and infections (hopefully) wane. But just what might that look like?

During the course of last year many people planned ambitious trips for the future – making up for lost time and getting away properly. When the time comes, that will also mean spending more money. One less-discussed aspect of the pandemic is that among those who were able to keep their jobs (or those on paid furlough), lockdowns and border restrictions have left some bank accounts looking quite a bit healthier than usual. For the well-off, some of that extra cash will go towards upgrading their next sojourn. Add in lingering fears of infection in an only part-vaccinated world and many will be happy to rent properties in remote places, plump for more spacious seats or even make the jump to flying private. High-end, small-scale operators, such as Antarctic cruise firms, are reporting very good advanced bookings a year out.

Some people also seem to be seeking meaning and a grander purpose in their trips. Speciality tour providers such as Black Tomato are promoting new travel packages with this in mind – from swimming with whales in Iceland to riding a slow riverboat down the Nile. They call these “big trips with stories at their heart”. People will also be looking to visit family as well as take the whole gang on the road, the potential pitfalls of sprawling family reunions in a foreign city notwithstanding.

Should this all come to fruition, I wonder whether airlines and other travel providers will be able to cope. Fleets have been parked, staff have been furloughed and terminals shuttered. If demand comes back in a rush, it might be difficult for airlines to offer the capacity needed. We shall see. In any case, 2021 will keep everyone in the travel industry on their toes.

Infrastructure / Sri Lanka

Foreign exchange

Sri Lanka’s nationalist government is reportedly ditching two substantial Japanese-funded infrastructure projects for Colombo: a light rail transit system (LRT) and the East Container Terminal (ECT), a joint venture with Japan and India. Although the agreements were signed by the previous government in 2019, officials have abruptly shelved the plans. Rumours swirl about China’s influence: at one time Japan was Sri Lanka’s largest development partner but China now occupies that role and the ECT sits next to a lucrative Chinese-run container port. Nikkei Asia reports that the LRT might also be offered to China. Still, observers are scratching their heads. The terms of Japan’s loan for the LRT were favourable: $1.8bn (€1.46bn) at 0.1 per cent interest. By contrast, China’s loans have come with an average interest rate of 3.3 per cent. Sri Lanka says that it wants to rely less on foreign loans and more on public-private investment. But disregarding international commitments might cost the country more in the long run.

Diplomacy / UN

Life of service

Brian Urquhart, the second person to be hired by the United Nations in 1945 and a long-standing force at the global institution, has died aged 101. A principal adviser for five secretary-generals over 41 years, the British diplomat’s personal motivations stemmed from experiences in the Second World War.

“He was very well aware of the incredible cost of conflict,” Edward Mortimer, former director of communications for UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “He saw the appalling conditions resulting from Nazi atrocities there, so he really thought that the most important thing was to prevent any more wars like that.” Urquhart (pictured) helped the UN to endure some difficult periods in its early years and his penchant for pragmatism was particularly useful during the cold war. His importance was underlined by current UN secretary-general António Guterres, who said, “Urquhart’s imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the organisation’s history.”

Urbanism / Hong Kong

Sizing up

Ever squeezed for land, Hong Kong’s government has eased building regulations in recent years, laying the foundation for the construction of more than 5,000 nano flats (apartments that are no larger than 24 sq m) since 2016. It’s a situation that the land-use group Liber blames for a fall in living standards in the city; in a newly released report it condemned the relaxation of policies that allowed for the proliferation of tiny apartments with little natural light and even less room for living. Beyond condemning the government, Liber says that it should be ensured that small apartments are made to be liveable by introducing minimum-size requirements and removing building rules that allow for windowless bathrooms and open kitchens. If Liber does manage to get a hearing with the government’s development bureau, we’d suggest adding access to outdoor space and views over greenery to the list of requirements.

Cinema / Sweden

Lone act

The formats of public events everywhere are being rethought this year to adapt to physical distancing rules and reduced audiences but the Göteborg Film Festival is taking the concept to the extreme. The organisers of Scandinavia’s largest movie jamboree have put out an open call for a film enthusiast to spend a week on the remote island of Pater Noster (pictured) to watch the 60-film selection alone in a cinema in the island’s lighthouse. “It’s an experiment in seeing how people react to films differently in such a dramatic and desolate location,” the festival’s artistic director Jonas Holmberg tells The Monocle Minute. Two other applicants will have iconic Gothenburg locations to themselves: one will watch the films at the Draken cinema and the other at Scandinavium, an indoor arena. For those not lucky enough to win a spot, the programme will be streamed online from 29 January to 8 February, including video diary check-ins with the Pater Noster castaway. “Being alone opens a door to a more existential and reflective side to people,” says Holmberg. “That’s something I’m interested in looking at more closely.”

M24 / The Chiefs with Tyler Brûlé

Best of 2020: part two

Tom Edwards guides us through a curated selection of highlights from 2020’s impressive catalogue of interviews. From CEOs to city mayors, presidents and beyond, Monocle’s Tyler Brûlé sat down with those at the top to talk leadership and strategy in a year like no other.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, this book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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