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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Volcanoes and Oil Spills and Boycotts, Oh My

Apologies for the extended absence from posting, especially in light of all the news stories wreaking havoc on the travel industry. Take the volcano and the euro and the oil spill....please.
Add in nasty political machinations in Thailand and Arizona, and the hot mess that is Greece, and it might all seem to add up to a big "Don't Go."

But it doesn't. Travelers will go. And as many economies will suffer from the bad news, some will benefit. To wit, that blasted Icelandic volcano is proving a godsend to, well, Iceland. Southern European countries well out of the way of its emanations may end up winning over visitors who might otherwise have headed to Ireland, Germany or other northern'ish countries in the eurozone. Speaking of which, the shrinking euro means bargains for Americans who do venture forth to the 16 nations contained within that economic union. So, despite the volcano, there might be some hope for the Continent this summer after all.

While we are across the pond, we must not neglect the tragedy that is Greece. With the Grecian economy in ruins, the tourism industry there is in a hellish situation. Tourism is the major source of foreign exchange for Greece, but visitors are cancelling right and left. However, between the declining euro and the slashing of bed prices in the cradle of democracy, Greece is offering some Olympian deals this summer for bargain bottom feeders.

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, politics and BP are muddying the waters for several state tourism industries. While Arizona is not exactly a hot spot for summer tourism due to the fact that it is, well, a hot spot, the developing boycott will have both short and long-term repercussions. Tourism is one of the state's top industries, as visitor spending accounts for $18.5 billion in income and hundreds of thousands of jobs. But as tourists trade planned visits to the Grand Canyon for visits to grand national parks in California or Utah, and as meeting planners cancel conventions slated for the Grand Canyon State in 2010 and beyond, an already fragile Arizona economy may soon be heading over the borderline. Meanwhile, cities with convention facilities of a similar size are hoping that Arizona's cancelled meetings business may migrate to them.

As for the tourism industries along the Gulf shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, fear is spreading through the air as the oil slick proliferates. After all, who wants to visit white sand beaches covered in gunk? The Gulf states are already complaining that East Coast communities are trying to take advantage of the disaster by poaching the sea and sand trade. But the fact is, due to the possibility that a loop current could carry the oil around the tip of Florida to the Atlantic coast, even those places south of the Mid-Atlantic are not out of the danger zone. Then what's the situation? Jersey Shore, anyone?

Finally, Thailand. What a mess. You might think that, since the action is centered in Bangkok, other parts of the country might still be okay for tourism. But the problem is, the country's main international airport is in Bangkok, and said airport has already been under siege this year. For those planning a visit to Southeast Asia this summer, Vietnam, ironically, might be a much more peaceful bet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Bee Story/A Sting Operation/To Bee or Not to Bee

Have you heard the buzz about the Marriott Magnificent Mile in Chicago? Well, honey, let me tell you all about it.

You see, recently, Myk Banas, who acts as the hotel’s executive chef and director of food and beverage operations (he’s a busy bee) was pondering ways of expanding his property’s F & B philosophy. Said philosophy is to make food from scratch whenever possible.

His brain swarming with ideas, he decided he needed a little fresh air (or thus the story goes, as warped though my mind). So, he wandered up to the roof of The Richard J. Daley Center (the skyscraper with the abstruse Picasso sculpture in front of it). For reasons unbeknownst to him, the roof was filled with bees and their cribs. Suddenly, his mind was pollinated with the nectar of a new idea. “What if,” he thought (and again, I take the liberty of creative license in paraphrasing his thoughts--sorry, Myk), “I bought some bees and put them to work making honey? Wouldn‘t that be a sweet idea?”

Banas searched far and wide for the licenses that would allow him to place a bunch of bees on his hotel’s roof. Interestingly, however, there was no red tape to be found. So, Banas found an abbondanza of Italian five-striped honeybees and moved them to his rooftop in 2009.

These Italian stallions worked hard, producing more than 200 pounds of the golden stuff last year. (In this city of big shoulders and big unions, I wonder if these industrious worker bees have labor representation). After a winter in hibernation, Banas expects even more honey for his money in 2010. That money--a $2500 total investment in Italian bees, hives, honey extracting equipment and protective bee suits (made by Armani?).

So, you may wonder, what does the hotel do with a tenth of a ton of honey? Banas brews Rooftop Honey Wheat Beer, he bakes up honey-kissed pastries, and he sticks his honey on the breakfast buffet.

For now, dear reader, I won't drone on further, as I simply can no longer wax poetic on this subject. For more on this story, check out my article in the May issue of Hotel F & B (http://www.hotelfandb.com/).