Monday, June 30, 2014

News Update: Fourth of July Travel is Up, Travelers Focus on Leisure Most and Southwest Airlines Says Goodbye to its Co-Founder

Fourth of July Travel Rises

USA Today - June 27, 2014

Fourth of July Infographic © AAA
If you're traveling for the Fourth of July holiday, you're not alone. According to auto club AAA, 41 million people will travel – by road, sky and other – this weekend. That is a 1.9% increase from the 40.3 million that traveled over Independence Day in 2013. About 34.8 million people will travel by car, the highest level since the pre-recession holiday in 2007. Air travel between July 2 and July 6 is expected to jump 1% to 3.1 million travelers from 3.07 million last year. 

As far as prices go, rental car costs have remained consistent with last year's, while hotel rates have risen 15% for AAA Two Diamond hotels and 9% higher for AAA Three Diamond hotels. Airfares are a little harder to decipher. AAA says prices are 5% lower on average than a year ago, but other analysts claim they have increased nearly 6% from April to May. Gas will cost more this year, as the national average is about 20 cents more a gallon than it was on July 4, 2013. 

#MyTake: People are ready to travel. The high traffic on Memorial Day kicked off the summer season, and with the kids out of school, even more people are packing their bags and hitting the road. The sting from the long, brutal winter can still be felt, and people are eager to get in their much deserved vacation time. Also, with the fourth falling on a Friday – automatic three-day weekend for most – more people are inclined to extend their trips by either taking Thursday or Monday off to get the most out of the holiday. The long weekend has also made it easier for people to take a trip during the holiday, as opposed to when it falls in the middle of the week, which would force people to take two or more days off for a vacation.

New Cruises Cater to Winos

USA Today - June 30, 2014

A new cruise in the Pacific Northwest offers a new way to tour the wineries of the region. Un-Cruise Adventures, a small-ship line, introduced four wine-themed sailings on the Columbia and Snake Rivers that combine scenic cruises with stops at nine wineries. The cruises will take off from Portland, OR, and visit vineyards throughout Washington and Oregon. Passengers will be accompanied by a local wine expert who will lead presentations and tastings on board. Fares start at $3,695 per person.

#MyTake: It's one thing to offer local wines on board a cruise, but quite another to take passengers to the vineyards where they were created. More tour companies and cruise lines are offering experiential travel opportunities, allowing people to really experience the places they are visiting. This gives guests the chance to not only taste the wine, but see where it came from, the local scenery and the culture. It offers immersion into a region that many people may not know very well.

Americans Interested in Fitness-Related Trip Activities, But Relax Instead

Hospitality Net - June 30, 2014

It seems that Americans aspire to have fitness-focused vacations, but tend to engage in more relaxing, leisurely activities instead. A new survey from Room Key found that nearly one in two individuals expressed that fitness-related activities would dictate their travel plans, such as learning a new sport or fulfilling an extreme goal (i.e. skydiving or bungee jumping). About 57% of Americans said they would choose one hotel over another based on fitness-related amenities. However, when asked how they would actually spend their summer vacation, 74% said they would forgo fitness for more leisurely pursuits, like sightseeing, laying on the beach or by the pool or attending a yoga class or visiting the spa.

#MyTake: Travelers always express certain expectations or ambitions ahead of time, claiming they'll do this, that and the other. But when it comes down to it, vacations are meant to be an escape, a time to relax and kick back after months of hard work and crazy schedules and stress. So, while the idea of going hiking and taking a scuba diving class may be on their minds, they might decide to forgo those activities once they check in and see that a massage or a lazy afternoon by the pool seems more appealing. However, if they do decide to get some fitness in, at least they will have picked a hotel that offers those amenities.

Royal Caribbean Starts Tour Company

Travel Pulse - June 27, 2014

Royal Caribbean created a new company called TourTrek that develops, markets and sells land tours in over 90 countries. Details on the new company are few and far between, but I expect the offerings to be unique to each port stop, and offer travelers a completely new experience.

#MyTake: Cruises have a lot to compete with, from amusement parks to conveniently priced hotel packages, not to mention travelers who are wary of taking a cruise given some of the recent incidents that have taken place. In order to become more appealing to both veteran and first-time cruisers, Royal Caribbean has expanded their offerings to give people more exposure to the places where cruises dock. Usually, cruises are all about being on the boat, but these excursions are becoming more and more popular as people seek out new adventures and experiential opportunities.

Southwest Airlines Bids Farewell to Co-Founder Rollin King

USA Today - June 30, 2014

Rollin King, who, along with Herb Kelleher, launched Southwest Airlines, passed away on Friday at the age of 83. His vision to create a low cost, better-service airline spurred a major shift in the airline industry, and has since created one of the most successful airlines in the country. King and Kelleher came up with the idea back in 1967, according to sources, and the airline launched only in Texas in 1971. The company has taken off – pun intended – developing a reputation for low fares, good service and no fees.

#MyTake: This is a true loss for Southwest, but King has left the company in capable hands, as the airline continues to deliver good numbers, excellent customer service, on-time flights and low fares. King built an innovative airline that has made a lasting impression on the industry and he will be missed.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Foodie Friday: Dining in Venice

Italian food has always been a favorite of mine, and when I lived in Rome and traveled all over the country, I made sure to get my fill of everything authentic Italian. But one dish I failed to try while in Venice was sardèle in saòr–apparently a must-try. I had never even heard of it before seeing an article on Condé Naste Traveler's website claiming it was something you couldn't leave Venice without trying. I missed the gondola on that one, I guess.

So, what is this unmissable delicacy? The fancy version: a type of cicheti (Venice's take on a pre-dinner light bite) that includes fried sardines marinated in white onions, vinegar, raisins and pine nuts. The plain version: sardines. I'm not a big fan of sardines, but I believe in trying everything once, and the way this is prepared makes it sound like it could be palatable.

There are other kinds of cicheti, according to the article, including baccalà mantecato (dried salted cod cooked in milk and served on toasted bread or a wedge of polenta) or polpette (small, fried meatballs). The pre-dinner dishes are best eaten as they are prepared (no special requests) and enjoyed with wine, cocktails or beer.

On my next trip to Venice–whenever that might be–I plan to sit along the canals and enjoy a nice plate of sardèle in saòr (or another cicheti) and flute of prosecco as the sun floats slowly toward the horizon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The World Cup in South Africa

Four years ago, my fiancé (then boyfriend) and I traveled to South Africa with my family for the World Cup. We spent two weeks in Durban, watched five matches, explored the city and it's nightlife and took two days to embark on a safari. It was an incredible experience. Educational, eye-opening and flat-out fun! In honor of #ThrowbackThursday, here's a few of my favorite pictures from that trip. If you want to read more about trip, check out my post on Durban and how the World Cup brought everyone together.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wanderlust Wednesday: Hitting the Courts at Wimbledon

Everyone has World Cup fever right now – and who could blame them! But there's another major sporting event that got underway this week, and it's one I've been dying to attend ever since I picked up a racket over 20 years ago.

Wimbledon Logo. © Wimbledon
Wimbledon. The oldest tennis tournament in the world, and arguably the most popular of the four Grand Slam tournaments. The major has been held at the All England Club in London since 1877. Every June, I remember my parents turning on Wimbledon first thing in the morning, eager to see who would advance to the next round. For two weeks, we'd cheer and scream at the television as the sport's best athletes took to the grass in the hopes of raising a trophy at the end of it all. I've watched from a distance for years, tuning in when I can and envying all those lucky fans sitting in the stands, and even the ones able to watch on the grass hill outside the grounds.

I have actually been to the All England Club, but it wasn't during the tournament. My aunt and uncle used to live in the neighborhood, and I visited them when I was very young. I don't even remember what it looked like, and I'm sure a lot has changed since then. If I can't manage to get tickets to the event itself, I would definitely be interested in visiting the grounds again and taking a tour of the facility. What a great way to get a behind-the-scenes look at where it all happens, where the players prepare to take the court, where the crowds watch in silent anticipation during every point. It seems almost magical to think about.

Obviously, my biggest goal is to make it there during those wonderful two weeks of tennis bliss, and take part in all the excitement. I would love to enjoy some traditional British strawberries and cream and a Pimm's Cup (although I could make that at home). But mostly, I'd just love to be in the crowd, take in the energy of the event and experience a true piece of British and sports history.
Aerial View © Bob Martin/AELTC
Day Two of Tournament © Chris Raphael/AELTC

Aerial view of Grounds © Bob Martin/AELTC

View of Grounds © Tom Lovelock/AELTC
It has long been a dream to attend Wimbledon, and I know one day I'll make it there. But for now, I'll settle for experiencing it through the television. I'm curious to see if Andy Murray can defend his title from last year, and by the looks of his performance so far, he's going to be tough to beat. But I think he'll have some intense competition, so it should make for some very entertaining tennis. On the women's side, I don't really have a favorite in mind to win, but I'm keeping my eye on Petra Kvitova (Czech) and Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland). We'll see who makes it to Centre Court and ultimately raises the silver gilt cup (men) and the "Rosewater Dish" (women).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trending Tuesday: The Airbnb Threat

The internet has opened up a world of sharing. It began with early social media outlets like MySpace and Friendster, was taken to the next level with Facebook and Twitter, and then it exploded with hundreds of other online platforms and mobile apps that let us share everything. The "sharing economy" was born, and soon it became more than just sharing photos, your status or your location: the internet made it easier to share your material items, including your car and your home.

Enter Airbnb, the Silicon Valley startup that allows people to list their spare rooms or their entire homes for leases online. More often than not, these rentals allow travelers to book a room or house for far less than what hotels, and even hostels, price them at. It's also a nice perk for homeowners who can earn a little extra cash from renting out rooms.

So, how big of a threat does Airbnb, and other websites similar to it, have on the hotel industry? According to reports, particularly one from hotel consulting company HVS, hotel executives aren't all that concerned...but maybe they should be. The common belief about Airbnb properties is that they aren't the highest quality, they are inconsistent and they don't have all the amenities that a hotel offers.

Airbnb listing for New York City/ Airbnb
However, if you delve a little deeper and do some legit comparing, it's easy to argue that. Many Airbnb listings offer large spaces, clean living conditions and a variety of perks for the same price or less than hotels touting standard room sizes. When I searched for listings in New York City over Labor Day weekend, I found a duplex loft in the Flatiron District of New York (complete with kitchen, bathroom, Wi-Fi and TV) for $225 per night for two people. Compare that to a 650-square-foot executive suite at a nearby hotel that ranges from $220-$350 per night. Which one would you choose? If the price is basically the same, I'd go with the apartment, and I think many others would agree.

It's not just the cost or size that should be a cause for concern for hotels. People are looking for a true local experience, and Airbnb offers just that. Hotels have made great efforts to add local flair to their properties, customizing each one to fit in the city it is located. But it's just not the same, there's still a sense of detachment from the city, still a feel of being a tourist. Travelers are interested in experiential trips and want to be immersed in a city's culture. Hotels can offer that to a certain extent, but renting out properties encourages people to explore the area on their own, rather than stick with what a hotel concierge suggests.

Bottom line, Airbnb and other alternative accommodations have a certain je ne sais quoi quality about them that's very appealing to travelers these days. According to the HVS study, hotels need to have "awareness of the increasing quality, availability, and economy of lodging options offered through Airbnb." This industry isn't slowing down, and its market share will continue to grow as more people seek out unique travel experiences.

Thanks to for featuring the HVS study on their website!

Monday, June 23, 2014

News Update: UNESCO's New World Heritage Sites, Tauck's Loft-Like Cruise Suites and the A380 Might Come to America

(c) Department of Archaeology, National Museum & Library, Be Be Stupa, Sri Ksetra - Pyu Ancient Cities (Myanmar)

UNESCO Names New World Heritage Sites

CNN - June 22, 2014

Over the weekend, UNESCO added a number of locations to its World Heritage List, including the first-ever site from Myanmar. The Pyu Ancient Cities in Myanmar were added to the list, along with dozens of others, extending it to more than 1,000 cultural and natural treasures. Other sites added include the vineyard landscape of Piedmont in Italy, the Grand Canal in China and the Pergamon and its cultural landscape in Turkey.

#MyTake: The list of World Heritage Sites has grown significantly since it began in 1978, and UNESCO is expected to add more to the list in the following days. This is an indication that more countries are taking the time to protect these cultural sites and acknowledge their value. Not only that, but they hope to use this status to promote themselves as desirable destinations, touting the fact that they have such wonderful, historic and outstanding attractions.

Four Seasons Invests in Adventure Travel

TravelPulse - June 23, 2014

Four Seasons Hotels is a well-known name in the luxury travel market, but it's doing more to cater to younger travelers taking long haul trips and seeking experiential travel. In Asia, the hotel brand has turned to its activities to provide special experiences to travelers, showing they can have luxury and an authentic trip at the same time. The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi in Malaysia features a Mangroves & Eagles Safari that takes guests on a wildlife adventure through a maze of limestone cliffs, rock formations and mangroves. The Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa in the Maldives is considered a top surfing destination, and the resort caters to thrill-seekers with its new series of chartered "surfers," which use a seaplane to go from one break to the next so surfers are guaranteed to catch the next wave. The hotel brand also features a number of other tour packages, as well as special adventures for children.

#MyTake: Luxury travel has made a comeback in recent years, even with a somewhat slow economic recovery. People are eager to travel again, but they don't just want to sit on the beach all day at a luxury resort (though that might be nice for some people), they want to experience a destination to its fullest. This is especially true of Millennial travelers, many of which are coming into their own financially and want to treat themselves to something unique and special. It's not just about going to a destination anymore, it's about immersing yourself in the culture and the environment to a greater extent.

Travel Weekly - June 23, 2014

The Tauck travel company christened its newest ship, the Savor, which features loft-like suites in the hard-to-sell lower-deck cabins. The Savor, along with sister ship Inspire (which set sail in April), are part of a new class that ushers in this new suite concept. The cabins feature high ceilings and a raised seating area along windows that can be opened. This is far from the standard lower-deck cabin with just a porthole window. The 130-passenger Savor will sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.

#MyTake: Tauck acknowledged that lower-deck cabins are often tougher to sell. Rather than continuing to find new verbiage to promote these cabins, they decided to engineer something more appealing. While upper-deck suites might be more popular, this certainly introduces something different and exciting for people to experience, and travelers are always curious about new features. Not only that, but it allows Tauck to more easily sell these once overlooked cabins.

TSA Increases Traveler Fees

TravelPulse - June 19, 2014

On July 1, 2014, the Transportation Security Administration fees, which are added to airline ticket prices, will increase. The TSA fee will rise from $2.50 for a non-stop flight to $5 for a trip with a layover and a flat rate of $5.60 for each leg of a trip. Now, however, the TSA said it's looking to charge an extra $5.60 fee for each leg of a flight where there's a connection of more than four hours. This basically means the TSA has changed the definition of a round trip, and travelers with super long layovers will be forced to pay a little more. The move is not being taken lightly by the travel industry, and it will take public comment for the next two months.

#MyTake: Aviation security is still a big concern, and there needs to be funding for it, and I don't think many people would argue with that. However, this additional note in the Federal Register is unfair to travelers and to airlines. It might seem like a small fee, but it can add up, and most frequent travelers don't have endless sums of money. At the same time, airlines could be blamed by travelers who are unaware of where the fee actually comes from, but it's the government that's implementing it. This could cause more customer dissatisfaction, unless airlines make it clear in their pricing what fees are for what. And lets face it, most people aren't going to research it or take the time to read every detail, they'll just get angry at the increase in fees.

BusinessWeek - June 23, 2014

Rumor has it that Airbus's A380 superjumbo jet may be making its way stateside. According to Mark Lapidus, the chief executive officer of the aircraft leasing company Amedeo, Delta Air Lines will be the first U.S. carrier to fly the A380. Delta has denied any interest in the plane, saying it doesn't fit the needs or scope of the airline. However, the larger aircraft, which is mostly flown by Middle East, European and Australian airlines, does hold some potential for the U.S., and Lapidus believes it would be a good move for the one of the North American airlines to bite. 

#MyTake: The A380 isn't really suitable for an American fleet, just because it's too big for most of the networks. U.S. airlines bank on less seating, therefore making it easier to charge more for limited spots on frequent routes. The A380 seats 600 people, and that wouldn't work for the U.S. airlines's profit margins. However, the aircraft could make it easier to offer segmented cabin space, which has experienced a gain in interest from travelers, especially global business travelers willing to spend a little more for extra leg room and additional amenities, but not the full amount for first or business class. For now, the rumors will stay just that. But I'll definitely keep an ear to the ground - er - sky on this one.