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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/).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Can It to Save the Planet

Sorry for my extended absence from posting. For the past month, I've been appearing on television stations around the country spreading the gospel of recycling aluminum cans for charity. Check out my most recent appearance: www.khou.com/great-day/gdh_042210_seg1-91823604.html

No, I'm not the bleached blonde near the beginning of the clip; you have to fast forward about six minutes in to see me. BTW, speaking of hair, my tresses were styled by a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. I think he did a great job. "He?" query my observant readers. Yes, friends. Said stylist was among the last class of male DCCs, circa 1968.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Flying Standby: An Easter Miracle

Imagine this scenario. It’s Easter Sunday. Planes are packed. You are holding a one-stop ticket involving a skinny jeans connection and an arrival at an airport nearly 60 minutes from your house. Your total door-to-door travel time will be six hours, if you make that connection.

When you get to the departure airport, you notice there is a non-stop flight to your home city leaving a few minutes before the first leg of your one-stop. Not only that, but it arrives at an airport just 20 minutes from home. Total travel time would be two hours and 15 minutes. A thought germinates. What a delight it would be to hop on that earlier flight. You start envisioning the possibilities and ask the desk agent for advice. She sprinkles on your Easter parade by telling you the non-stop is oversold. Nevertheless, she advises you to check at the non-stop gate which, coincidentally and conveniently, is adjacent to the one-stop gate.

Now, let me transition to the first person. For some reason, even though the news is downbeat, I roll through security and skip down the lengthy corridor to Gate A8 like an Easter Bunny who has OD'ed on caffeine. I bound up to A8 and dangle the carrot to the gate agent (let‘s call him Elijah). With a lighthearted lilt and a hint of a wink, I say, “I am hoping you can help me fulfill a fantasy.” I have his attention. I then proceed to egg Elijah on with the details of my desire--the even trade of the one-stop ticket to Nowheresville (Washington Dulles) for the non-stop to Mecca (Washington Reagan). Elijah seem to cotton to the idea and suggests that, although the flight is more than full, I return to the desk a few minutes before departure time.

In that interim, a second gate agent at A8 starts asking for volunteers to give up seats on the oversold flight to DCA. Then my original flight, leaving out of A10, begins to board. Imminently, I will have to make a choice: Give up my slim hope at A8 or risk losing my confirmed seat at A10. At the 11th hour, Elijah has a pow wow with the A8 ticket-taker. The request for volunteers is rescinded, as seven seats have magically resurrected. Six of those seats are taken by people who are ticketed for the non-stop, but without seat assignments. I, apparently, am the only other potential passenger who has burrowed my way into the proceedings. Elijah instructs all ticketed passengers to board and find any available seat. Any standby list seems to be passed over. I then catch Elijah's eye. He catches mine. His look says, “Come hither” and hither I come. It was like the Red Sea parting as I bunny-hop unimpeded down the jetway into a comfortable aisle seat near the front of the plane. No fuss, no muss, not a peep about money changing hands. The latter is amazing, considering that A) the non-stop flight was undoubtedly more expensive than the one-stop and B) airlines typically charge for any change of itinerary.

While I would like to attribute this success to my mad skills as a professional traveler, it might have been an Easter miracle. On the other hand, this wasn't the first time I've talked my way onto an oversold flight. So, maybe the moral of the story is that the idea of appearing at the airport with a friendly attitude, a humorous line, and overdone make-up (both walk-ons occurred after television appearances) isn't so hare-brained after all. So consider this strategy lent to you. It may be your ticket to pulling a rabbit out of a skycap.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Laura on TV

Here's my most recent television appearance. Learn all about finding travel deals for spring and summer. For more specific details, scroll down to the next blog post.

Travel Deals for Procrastinators

For all of you who saw me on NewsChannel 8 today (and even those who didn't), here is more information about snagging those last-minute travel deals. But before we get to that, if you have a chance, please go to http://www.hostourcoast.com/ today and tomorrow and vote for my video. (You have to scroll way down the page to find it). The winner gets to blog along the Delmarva coast all summer long.

General Information for Last-Minute Travel Planning

Spring is a good time to find last-minute travel deals…particularly once spring break is over. It’s also a good time to bargain shop for cheap summer travel deals.

Look for your best deals at standard vacation destinations (theme parks, beaches) during the week.

Look for special offers, like stay two nights/get a third free. Also, ask about packages.

April and May are still shoulder season at the beach, so bargains can be found oceanside.

Some current last-minute deals in Virginia:

Refuge Inn on Chincoteague Island
Book within 48 hours --20% off the entire stay. Or stay Sunday through Thursday--book two nights, get the third for $25. Call 800-664-6089 and ask for the Gotta Get Away Web Offer.

The Waterside Inn in Chincoteague has a stay two nights, get one free promotion through May.

The Homestead celebrates April Fools Day with a 48-hour sale. The "We Aren't Fooling" deal offers three nights for the price of two. The sale begins April 1. Book at http://www.thehomestead.com.

Lansdowne Resort, located near Virginia's Wine Country, is offering a spring break deal at $79/night (a 50% savings) through April 5. Call (800) 729-8400 and mention Easter 79 to receive the rate.

Get a Jump on Summer

Now is also the time to find bargains for the summer. If you don't wait until the last minute to book your summer vacation, you may get off cheap. To wit:

If you book an Ocean City June vacation by April 1, you'll get discounted rates or free nights. Check the June lodging promotions page on http://www.ocvisitors.com/ for deals like five nights for $500 at the Fenwick Inn and Princess Bayside, and 10%-25% room rates at half a dozen hotels.

Also in the book now category--airfares for summer travel, particularly for international flights.

All-business-class airline OpenSkies (a subsidiary of BA) starts service from Washington Dulles to Paris Orly on May 3. Seats on introductory flights cost as little as $815 one way.

Websites for Last-Minute Booking

I have found http://www.sidestep.com/ helpful for packages and http://www.priceline.com/ useful for those with flexibility and patience.

One of the newest trends in online travel is “Invitation Only”. Sites are offering private sales for luxury deals. Among them are http://www.tablet.com/ (for hotels), http://www.jetsetter.com/, http://www.ruelala.com/, and the private sale section of http://www.kayak.com/ (which offers a wider array of price points). Some of these invitation sites require an invitation from an existing member; others merely require an e-mail address.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of DC Cherry Blossoms, Maryland Crabs and Delaware Blue Hens

I think those little DC cherry blossoms are as tired of winter as the rest of us. As a result, they are coming out of hibernation early. Originally projected to bloom between April 3 and 8, they are now expected to come out as early as April 1. No April Fools. Either way, peak will hit during Washington's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, taking place between the end of March and April 11.

Speaking of the end of March, please vote for me every day through the 31st on every computing device you have at http://www.hostourcoast.com. The winner gets to spend the summer blogging about the pleasures to be found along the Delmarva Peninsula. If you enjoy this blog, you'll love Laura living large along the beach.