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Alaska buys Virgin, New Museums, and a Ferrari Tour: The View from AFAR

Plus: Four Seasons expands to Cabo, the importance of letting go

Another week, another battery of big acquisitions in the travel world. This week’s headline grabbers: Alaska Airlines, which bought Virgin Atlantic for $2.8 billion, and AccorHotels, which snatched up onefinestay for a lot less (and in euros). There was other travel news, too—some as wild and wacky as it was worthwhile. We present our weekly roundup for you here. As always, if you have questions or comments about anything you read in this column, please tweet us at @AFARmedia. And please share with friends!

Alaska Air buys Virgin America

Two of the most popular airlines in the United States became one this week when Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America for $2.8 billion. The boards of both companies unanimously approved the transaction, which was the first successful U.S. airline merger since U.S. Airways and American Airlines combined in 2013. With this merger, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines will become the fifth-largest airline in the country and will be able to dominate air travel in the Western U.S. with new hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles

Both companies blitzed social media with excited announcements, but while some fans cheered the move, others panicked, fearing the acquisition could water down Virgin’s vibe. Richard Branson, the outspoken founder of Virgin Group, posted a letter about the deal on the company’s website, saying he was sad about the sale but that there was “nothing [he] could do” to stop it. Alaska officials have not yet outlined strategies for blending the two brands, but they did note that the airline could pare down to a single aircraft type after Virgin's equipment leases begin to expire in 2020. Before any of that can happen, however, the airlines must focus on getting government approval. According to an article on BBC News, once the deal is approved, the companies expect to complete the transaction by January 1, 2017.

AccorHotels buys onefinestay

In other acquisition news, AccorHotels bought the home rental company onefinestay this week for €148 million. As part of the move, AccorHotels also announced that it was setting aside an additional €64 million to expand the business internationally and add properties in 40 new cities over the next five years. (Currently, onefinestay has properties in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, and Rome.) The acquisition marks the latest in a series of moves by AccorHotels to understand and explore the vacation rental space. Earlier this year, the mostly European hotel operator nabbed minority interests in two other vacation rental brokers, Squarebreak and Oasis Collections. According to an article on Tnooz.com, onefinestay will remain an independent business unit within AccorHotels Group and its current management will remain in place.

New museums

The world welcomed two new museums this week, and each of them is eccentric in its own special way. Here on domestic soil, the newbie was the pop-up U.S. Pizza Museum, which debuted as part of the inaugural Chicago Pizza Summit at the Chop Shop restaurant in Wicker Park. The museum was created by pizza enthusiast and collector Kendall Bruns and includes vintage pizza advertisements, toys, buttons, and records as well as more recent artifacts, such as pizza boxes and menus from some of the most famous parlors in the country. The “museum” closed after just two days but likely will travel around the country later this year. 

Overseas, a new museum on England’s Isle of Wight pays tribute to a very different subject: poo. The National Poo Museum opened this week at the Isle of Wight Zoo and features excrement from animals such as elks, lions, and a human baby. It also displays fossilized poo dating back 140 million years and owl feces containing bones and teeth. In case you’re worried about the smell of the exhibits, most of the poop is on display in basketball-sized resin spheres. The museum was created by members of an artist collective named Eccleston George, and it will stay at the zoo until the fall, then tour the U.K. 

Tour operator news

Two different operators rolled out new tours this week, offering luxury travelers new and exciting ways to see Italy and Alaska. In Italy, luxury hotel operator Salviatino Collection has partnered with Red Travel to launch the three-day “Italy Full Throttle” experience, which allows guests to drive themselves around Tuscany in Ferraris. The tour leads travelers from the Il Salviatino resort in Fiesole to its sister property, Palazzo Victoria, in Verona. The excursion is considered “self-drive” but not “self-guided”; guests are actually guided through the route by a tour director via a mobile radio system. Highlights along the route include stops in the Mugello area (site of the Moto Grand Prix of Italy), balsamic vinegar tastings at Villa San Donnino, and a visit to Maranello, home of the Ferrari museum and store. The price: €5,750 per person plus a €10,000 deposit for the car.

Closer to home, adventure tour operator Cox & Kings announced a new trip in Alaska: the eight-day, seven-night Alaska Wilderness Adventure. The trip includes stopovers at the remote Winterlake Lodge in the Alaska Range and at Tutka Bay Lodge in Homer, as well as kayaking on Katchemak Bay, fishing in Cook Inlet, and bear-watching on the Katmai Peninsula. The trip begins and ends in Anchorage, where participants will visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center. The price: $12,970 per person.

Four Seasons expands into Cabo

There aren’t many major tourist destinations that lack a Four Seasons resort. Los Cabos, in Mexico, is one of them, but the luxury hotel brand announced this week that it will build a new property in the Costa Palmas resort community, on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. The 145-room resort on a two-mile swath of beach along the Sea of Cortez will have multiple pools, five restaurants, a Robert Trent Jones II–designed 18-hole golf course, and a members-only beach and yacht club as well as a private marina with slips large enough to accommodate 250-foot yachts. According to a piece in Robb Report, the resort is currently slated to open in early 2018; when it does open, it will be Four Seasons’ third property in Mexico, joining hotels in Punta Mita and Mexico City.

 The Park, T-Mobile Arena open in Las Vegas

Las Vegas sure knows how to stage an opening. This Wednesday, Wayne Newton and The Killers took the stage together at the new T-Mobile Arena to christen the venue and kick off a new era of Sin City entertainment. The debut of the 19,000-seat arena dovetailed with the launch of The Park, a 22-acre approach that connects the arena to the Strip. In addition to restaurants and fountains, The Park is lined with public art—a rarity in the gambling capital of the United States. Vegas locals hope the arena will also eventually become home ice for a National Hockey League expansion team. Until then, the venue will be booked with concerts, fights, and other festival-type events.

Good reads

You don’t have to be an inveterate wanderer to understand that travel can change your life if you allow it to. But Tal Abbady’s recent op-ed for The New York Times is a good reminder that it’s not just our fears of flying or being out of our element that can hold us back. In the piece, Abbady writes about Americans’ hang-ups about germs and makes the case for throwing yourself into new experiences, especially those that might scare you. Her perspective is touchingly poignant and raw. We can all use reminders to let go a bit more.

No, Kimberley Lovato’s recent feature about coastal Louisiana isn’t new—it was published in the August 2015 issue of American Way. But the story won a big award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors this week, so we figured now was time to give it another read. The piece presents a comprehensive and colorful picture of life on the coast 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. It will leave you hopeful for the region’s continued recovery and totally jonesing to experience the area for yourself.

Meditation retreats can be about more than drum circles and vision questing, as Jodi Ettenberg explains in her debut feature for The Guardian. The story spotlights the author’s recent trip to Vipassana, in New Zealand, where she spent 10 days learning how to address anxiety and manage her mind. The story does a great job of explaining the structure of meditative retreats. The best part: A section in which Ettenberg faces her fear of spiders head-on. 

We don’t usually list more than three good reads per week, but Andrew Evans’ essay about witnessing the Aurora Borealis on a recent trip to Greenland was too good to ignore. The post, which appeared on Evans’ “Letters from Earth” blog, offers a wonderful snapshot of a memorable night. While the author’s description of the Aurora is gripping, his honesty about the directions in which the spectacle takes his mind is also refreshing and new. You’ll never read another Northern Lights piece like this one. Guaranteed.

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications includingTIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association, and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.