When I was in India I took an elephant ride. It’s an attraction that is offered tourists in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The elephants were decoratively adorned with colorful weavings. I sat over the shoulders and rocked with the movement as the elephant walked up a hillside toward a temple. It was a thrill to be on the back of such a big, wonderful animal that was generously allowing me to ride on his back. I felt gratitude and friendship for the gentle giant.
I admit, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It was just a few moments of one day on a 10-day tour. I took the ride, enjoyed it, and then moved on to the next thing on my itinerary. Then one day I met Stephanie Shaw, the corporate liaison for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and I realized what should have been obvious to me in the first place. Of course. Why did I ever think that an elephant would work a day job carrying humans around on his back constantly of his own free will, hour after hour, day after day?
When I learned the story behind the elephant rides, I felt ashamed of myself for being so insensitive to the animal. I was sorry for having participated in it, for helping to perpetuate the practice of selling elephant rides, which requires a kind of captivity and treatment I can hardly bear to imagine.
I assume others who take the rides are like I was. They saw the elephant ride attraction and went on it, not thinking that much about how it came to be that the world’s largest land animal would be submitting itself to serving as a taxi at a tourist attraction Read the rest of this entry »
Ever true, tried and trusty, Longwoods International continues to monitor the changes in demand for travel with its latest survey, COVID-19 Travel Sentiment Study – Wave 46, published last week. The snapshot, taken a year and a half into a grisly pandemic, indicated that consumers have now settled into a “new normal” in regard to travel.
The study was conducted Sept.15. Longwoods surveyed a national sample randomly drawn from a consumer panel of 1,000 adults, ages 18 and over. The sample was tailored to match Census targets for age, gender, and region to make the survey representative of the US population.
About the best thing you could say about the results is that “it could have been worse.” And it certainly could have been. Just recall how it was before the vaccines came on the scene.
But with the recovery we saw gaining strength at the beginning of summer stalled by a resurgence in Read the rest of this entry »
There are many ways to look at Cuba. From a strictly-business point of view, it’s a sad story. There’s never been any question that there has been huge pent-up demand by Americans to travel to Cuba. After more than half a century of being prohibited by their own government from traveling to what used to be considered one of the hottest vacation destinations in the world, of course there is demand. It’s 90 miles from Florida, a heavenly tropical Caribbean destination. But for practical purposes it’s blackened off the tourist map.
There’s never been any situation that compares to it. Americans can travel pretty much anywhere. Americans are not dictated to by their government as to where they can travel. They can travel to America’s Cold War nemeses, Russia and China, even to Vietnam. But not Cuba. Read the rest of this entry »
I noticed recently that Expedia is using the slogan, “It matters who you travel with.” I found that to be a curious choice for the mega online travel agency. I agree with the statement wholeheartedly, but applying it to Expedia is a mismatch. It would be appropriate if you applied the slogan to the American Society of Travel Advisors.
ASTA used to use the slogan, “Without a travel agent, you’re on your own.” And it was, ironically, Expedia who taught me the truth of that statement. It was a hard lesson.
It’s surprising to me that after so many years Expedia still has customers. I have to think that the people who still book with Expedia have never had anything go wrong on a trip. Because if you book with Expedia, and something does go wrong, you really are on your own. At least that was the case in my experience. Read the rest of this entry »
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” said Juliet Capulet, according to William Shakespeare. Times change, names change. Peking became Beijing. We got used to it. It doesn’t really matter.
Bombay is now Mumbai. Canton is now Guangzhou. Saigon is Ho Chi Minh City. St. Petersburg became Petrograd, then Leningrad, and now is St. Petersburg again. Constantinople is Istanbul. Natal province in South Africa became KwaZulu-Natal. New Amsterdam became New York. Cross Keys, Pennsylvania, became… Intercourse? I swear. It did. Look it up.
Now travel agents are known as travel advisors. Or travel advisers, depending on what you are reading. The reason for the change in nomenclature was, of course, to break from the past and emphasize that travel retailers don’t just turn over tickets for airlines Read the rest of this entry »
After a year of being locked down, it’s understandable that people may want to double up on their bucket list trips to make up for lost time. But Africa and Antarctica in the same trip? That seems a stretch.
When I first learned that two tour operators, Wilderness Safaris and White Desert, joined forces to offer two trips that combine an African safari with an Antarctic expedition, my reaction was that the combination was incongruous at best. In my mind, they seemed to be two separate worlds, almost like two opposite poles of experience. But, when I looked closer, I found that it makes perfect sense. Read the rest of this entry »
Richard Branson, still cutting a charismatic figure at 70, flew to space and made it safely back again with his space tourism company Virgin Galactic. It was another milestone for Branson, who first made his fortune in the record business with Virgin Records in the early 1970s.
It’s been a long time since Branson embarked on his space enterprise, founding Virgin Galactic in 2004. In February 2007 I attended a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at which 45 Virtuoso travel agents were certified as Accredited Space Agents, after completing Virgin Galactic’s training regimen.
Anything to do with Branson is going to be done with top notch PR, and holding the event at Cape Canaveral was a brilliant stroke. Having dinner under a giant Saturn 5 Rocket created a heady atmosphere for travel agents tasked with introducing space flight to the public.
It gave the event a great boost to connect with the US space program Read the rest of this entry »
As a guest of the US Tour Operators Association at one of its “Wednesday s At One” seminars, Tom Jenkins, the CEO of USTOA’s European counterpart, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), recently gave a Zoom presentation about the prospects for recovery of the travel industry in Europe.
Though no one is in possession of the proverbial crystal ball, Jenkins always has canny observations to share. A shade contrarian by nature, he picks out contradictions embedded in current conventional wisdom, and he provides insights that others may miss.
From his vantage point in the UK, Jenkins gave a quick Read the rest of this entry »
Everything is opening, almost all at once. I see flashy banners on restaurants saying, “We are open!”—which didn’t used to be a big thing. Now it’s huge. It’s great news. The great pleasure of being able to get out among people again is gushing out all over. It’s a vast explosion of joy. But… well. It’s complicated.
There is an underlying uneasiness. We were all holed up for a year, living in our own little caves. Going back out into the world is a new kind of adjustment. It’s not just a matter of flipping a light switch and the world comes back again, just like it was before COVID forced us into lockdown. Read the rest of this entry »
After a year of being pent up, the Great Release is upon us, and now it seems sudden. Things are opening faster than predicted just a few months ago.
In March 2020, the COVID pandemic submerged us in the exponential growth of new infections and, before we could comprehend what was happening, we were virtually imprisoned, taking shelter to save our lives. We settled in and got used to being confined. Now the release is happening all around us. And it seems to be happening faster than almost anyone expected.
The demand for travel is, unsurprisingly, going through the roof. But to say “it’s complicated” is to vastly understate the circumstances. World travel now is an extremely tangled web. Read the rest of this entry »
The travel industry has long been a leader in environmental protection, because it’s an industry that has a major stake in preserving the environment. As the environment is degraded, the tourism product is destroyed. Every year that terrible disaster called climate change gets more in your face.
The acceleration of extreme weather events in recent years has made believers out of many who previously stood on the sidelines. Climate change is real, and very serious. It’s not an exaggeration to talk of it as an “existential crisis” for life on earth, at least for the kinds of life human beings care for.
So, what are we supposed to do? Read the rest of this entry »
As the world moves unsteadily toward eliminating the threat of COVID-19, navigating the world can seem like moving across a map on which all the countries are different colors. The pandemic has been global, but the response to it is highly fragmented. There is no standard international code for how to create a safe environment while COVID continues to be present. Every country is going about it in its own way.
That’s great for the spirit of independence, but it creates a whole lot of annoying complications for travelers who, a couple of years ago, used to cross many international borders with ease. For Dan Austin, president of Austin Adventures, an operator of tour programs on several continents, it has become like an endless series of changing conditions Read the rest of this entry »
Las Vegas is hiring. The seismic rumble of a big comeback is roiling underfoot on The Strip.
Las Vegas’s KSNV TV recently reported that job fairs by the big casino operators are picking up steam in Las Vegas, signaling that the casinos are preparing for an abrupt turnaround as the vaccination rate reaches critical mass.
Casino owner Derek Stevens recently held a drive-through job fair, making offers to applicants in their cars. Caesar’s Entertainment recently held a job fair virtually. Now people are starting to worry about a possible labor shortage. Read the rest of this entry »
COVID-19 has clearly pushed the curve of technological evolution, changed society irreversibly and sent it off on a new course. Where it goes, nobody knows. But we can be sure that we will see a wave of innovation.
COVID has been the harshest Mother of Invention in a lifetime. And now, as the dust clears and we begin to pull our way out of this colossal pileup, we can begin to assess not only the damage, but also the benefits from the innovation that was forced by the global emergency.
We’re seeing some of the resulting innovations unfolding now, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a steady stream of them for a long time. It’s going to be an interesting ride, because I don’t think anyone expects our world to return to what it was pre-COVID. Read the rest of this entry »
Lindblad Expeditions made an announcement recently that company founder Sven-Olof Lindblad is stepping down from his role as CEO. To anyone who has observed Sven Lindblad for decades and seen his single-minded dedication to his work, the announcement may have been disorienting. Could Sven Lindblad actually be retiring?
The thought crossed my mind, but upon thinking about it, it was just inconceivable that Sven would be backing away from the work to which he has devoted his life. It is not hyperbole to say that, for Sven Lindblad, his work is not merely a job or a livelihood, or even just a business enterprise, it really is a mission. Read the rest of this entry »
The jobs report from the US Department of Labor on Good Friday was a great Easter present, with job growth way outpacing projections, pointing to a resurrection of the economy. Dow Jones was expecting 675,000 new jobs. But we got 916,000, the largest number since last August. Unemployment dropped to 6 percent, down from 14.7 percent in April 2020.
Not surprisingly, the gains were led by the same sector of the economy that took the biggest hit from COVID: the hospitality industry.
According to CNBC, “Leisure and hospitality, a sector critical to restoring the jobs market to its former strength, showed the strongest gains for the month with 280,000 new hires. Bars and restaurants added 176,000, while arts, entertainment and recreation contributed 64,000 to the total.” Read the rest of this entry »
As we see the dissemination of anti-COVID vaccines into the population at a rate of millions of doses per day, and the relevant numbers are trending in positive directions, it seems appropriate to take a moment to thank the scientific community for producing these wonder drugs with unprecedented speed and effectiveness.
The vaccines are changing the world. Just as COVID-19 transformed the world drastically, the anti-COVID vaccines are changing it again. Not back to what it was, but to something new.
As we gradually recover our mobility as a nation, some aspects of our previous life will resume. In essence: life will begin again. The previous “normal” is not in the cards. But I’m pretty happy about the one that is taking shape. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in the late 1970s, when airlines were deregulated under President Jimmy Carter, the airline business was opened to the free market. This was supposed to unleash competition, to create diversity in the marketplace, and expand choices for consumers. It didn’t quite go as planned.
Gradually, the big airlines gobbled up the smaller ones, and the number of airlines dwindled; until, by 2017, four airlines controlled about 80 percent of U.S. passenger air traffic. It sounds more like the description of an oligopoly than a free market.
Of course, in the late ‘70s no one knew what to expect. It had never been done before. It was all brand new territory. Read the rest of this entry »
I tend to imagine progress as a straight line of development that always proceeds in an upward direction. But then, occasionally, I confront evidence in the real world that reminds me that progress, such as it is, takes place at best in fits and starts with a lot of lateral motion, if not outright regression.
I’ve seen more evidence than I would have wished that supports the theory of the rock and roll band Devo… that the human species is not progressing at all, but is actually “devolving.” Hopefully not, but one example of an area that seems to have regressed is supersonic passenger jet travel. Read the rest of this entry »
When I first heard about the South Pole as a child, I imagined a real pole. Soon my error was corrected and I learned that the word “pole” in this case refers to the end of the axis on which the earth rotates.
Well guess what? It turns out there really is a pole at the South Pole. It looks like a barber pole about three feet high with the red spiral stripe on it, and a blue disc and a chrome globe on top.
No, I’m not joking, and I’m not quoting a Dr. Seuss book. This is for real. I know about the pole because I’ve seen it in a photo of Geoffrey Kent, the founder of Abercrombie & Kent, standing next to the pole. Read the rest of this entry »
New technologies coming online now will greatly speed up our momentum in the battle against COVID. That was one of many striking points made by Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in a webinar she conducted last week for the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA).
The COVID emergency sparked a wave of innovation worldwide, and now new things are emerging that are impressive and inspiring.
Besides the record-time rollout of vaccines that we’re seeing, scientists and inventors all over the world have been focused on the problems of the COVID crisis. And one year after the pandemic hit the US, good things are beginning to materialize. Read the rest of this entry »