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 »
The year 2020 was supposed to be Tauck’s banner year, its 95th Anniversary. The tour operator was founded by young Arthur Tauck Senior in 1925, when he put an ad in a New Jersey newspaper saying, “All I want is a congenial party…” and offered to take guests along with him as he drove around New England trying to sell banks on a coin tray he had invented that mechanically automated the counting process.
But in 2020 one nasty little virus stole the show, and Tauck’s 95th Anniversary didn’t get much attention. Flash forward to 2021, there are signs of hope in the struggle against COVID-19. And as that hope trickles day-by-day into the marketplace, Tauck is hearing the phone ring more than it has in a long time. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, ASTA put out a statement that was a distress call to everyone within range of its voice to recognize the dire state of one of America’s most endeared industries, to get the word to legislators that help must be included in the rescue bill now being run through legislative procedures. Otherwise, America could lose its retail travel industry.
So I am doing my bit to pass on the word, because America without its travel advisors would be a much gloomier place indeed. It would be like the transformation of Bedford Falls to Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life. That would not be a world many of us would want to live in. Read the rest of this entry »
I received an email in response to an article I wrote recently about the U.S. Tour Operators Association from a former head of a USTOA tour operator. He pointed out that my review of the history of USTOA’s $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program left out an important chapter of the story. And he had a point.
He was referring to the story of the Far & Wide Travel Corporation. It was an important chapter in the history of the tour operator segment of the travel industry.
But there was some logic to skating over that episode in a short summary, because Far & Wide was a big story in itself, one that could fill many pages. It would be challenging to do it justice in one column. The Far & Wide bankruptcy in late 2003 was a catastrophe. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a year that has forced innovation. The time of COVID will go down as the most challenging period ever for the travel industry. The restrictions on travel imposed by the virus are appalling. For the travel industry it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario but, no, let’s not tempt the fates.
The big question for the travel industry has been, how do you survive when travel itself is practically curtailed? The methods by which the individual companies have coped with this nearly impossible situation have been nothing short of heroic. And, we are still in it. It’s an ongoing drama with many heroes and heroines.
Delta Vacations, the wholly owned subsidiary that serves as the vacation packaging arm of the airline, is taking steps to reduce risk and increase traveler confidence. It is adapting its service for the needs of an extraordinarily difficult time. Read the rest of this entry »
I was having a conversation with a tour operator the other day who said this: “How many businesses can go a year with no income and still be on their feet?”
It’s a great question, at the moment a great unknown quantity. Then he followed with what seemed like a reasonable conclusion.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting down a deposit with any tour operator right now.”
I had to admit, he had a point. There’s so much uncertainty now. After such a disastrous year, it’s almost like we’re waiting for the shoes upstairs to start falling.
Yeah, it’s a little scary when you try to put your head around the economic duress out there across America, all the businesses that have had to shut down operations, or at the least radically transform their operations. Read the rest of this entry »
Every president has an era named after him. So powerful is the influence of the office, and so greatly does a president dominate the news and set the character of the period, that it’s always hard to imagine how the world will change when the next president takes office.
Perhaps that’s why we have the three-month period of transition when we can start to get used to the idea of America under the next president. But now we’re at the week of the actual transition when we will cross that cusp from one era to the next. It’s hard to predict the many ways the world will change, or particularly the ways the change will affect travel. However, there are a few things we can reasonably expect. Read the rest of this entry »