Original 1f219add12d43ce6a8d49ead085ad1e7.jpg?1457653485?ixlib=rails 0.3

Death Valley ‘Super Bloom,’ a New Museum in Whistler: The View from AFAR

Plus: Marriott sources locally and new Chinese culture theme park

This week in travel brought us “Super Blooms” and domestic towels. Of course there were other developments too, and we’ve summarized all of the most important tidbits for you here. As always, if you have questions or comments about our coverage in this column, please Tweet them to us at @AFARmedia. 

Death Valley super bloom in full effect

Carpets of wildflowers have sprouted across the hillsides in California’s Death Valley National Park, a phenomenon known as a “Super Bloom.” Blooms like this year’s are incredibly rare, usually occurring once every decade or so and usually only after heavy rains. There’s no telling how long the spectacle will last, but many experts—including one quoted in a great article by Harriot Manley for Visit California—say that if you want to check it out, you should go now. The most important tip from that article: Get out of your car. The views might seem spectacular from the comfort of your cushy seats, but they’re even more incredible if you explore on foot. The National Park Service sponsors free guided walks from the park’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Click here for a schedule of upcoming tromps.

Marriott to switch to USA-made towels

It’s not unusual to see Presidential candidates championing products “Made in America.” But this week, Marriott International brought the issue into the travel industry when the company announced that all the towels for its nearly 3,000 hotels in the United States will be manufactured here. Previously, Marriott used towels and bath mats made in Jordan. Now Marriott will partner with Standard Textile (which has factories in Thomaston, Ga., and Union, S.C.) to produce the towels and bath mats with cotton grown in the USA. As Nancy Trejos wrote in an article for USA Today, Marriott expects to produce 2.6 million bath towels and 4.9 million hand towels over the course of the next year. This works out to roughly 5.6 million pounds of textiles, enough to stretch from Anchorage, Alaska, to Dublin, Ireland. (In case you’re curious, Trejos posted some great videos from an exclusive Standard Textile factory tour on her Instagram.) To our knowledge, Marriott is the first big hotel chain to make the switch to “Made in the USA” products; ironically (but maybe not surprisingly), most of the towels at Donald Trump’s hotels are made overseas. Will Marriott’s move kick off a new travel trend? Stay tuned. 

Other hotel news

Marriott wasn’t the only hotel brand with news this week; two other international chains also grabbed headlines. First, Best Western Hotels & Resorts announced plans to expand their properties in South Africa, saying it would add 13 hotels across the country over the next 12 months. The deal hinges on a partnership with South Africa’s largest international hotel chain, Orion Hotels; most of the “new” Best Westerns will actually be refurbished and rebranded Orion properties. These include the three-star Magoebaskloof Hotel and the four-star Velmore Hotel Estate, as well as the three-star Hotel Promenade, which will both be added to the Best Western Plus portfolio.

Second, Hilton Worldwide  turned heads with the latest milestone in its partnership with the Japanese airline ANA. For a limited time, executive chefs at the Conrad Tokyo and Conrad New York (both Hilton properties) will be offering special dishes on flights between Tokyo and the United States. The dishes, like parmesan and rosemary-crusted beef tenderloin and Mediterranean-roasted branzino, will be available on ANA flights departing from Narita to all U.S. destinations through May 31, and on ANA flights departing from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Narita between June 1 and August 31.

Myrtle Beach building Chinese culture theme park

South Carolina’s most popular beach town soon will get a unique spin on Chinatown: a sprawling theme park dedicated to Chinese culture. Earlier this month, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes announced that the city has a $100-million commitment from Chinese investors to build an Epcot-style theme park. The park, which would celebrate Chinese culture, should be completed by the end of 2017. Rhodes didn’t offer more details on the new attraction except to say that the theme park is representative of the Chinese government’s interest in growing tourism as well as opportunities for investment in the Myrtle Beach area. 

Airline happenings

Two items dominated news out of the airline industry this week. First, Alaska Airlines altered the flight plan and flight path of an Anchorage-to-Honolulu flight so that passengers could witness Tuesday’s solar eclipse from the sky. The flight, No. 870, departed Anchorage 25 minutes early, and pilots changed the route slightly to ensure good viewing conditions. So why all the fuss over this particular eclipse? For one thing, it was the only total solar eclipse that will be viewable this year, and for another, it was only visible from a few locations in Indonesia and the South Pacific. Alaska has been keeping a great blog about the event; they even shared some video taken from the flight.

Elsewhere in the industry, American Airlines announced it would begin nonstop service between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Hong Kong International Airport starting September 7. Currently, American’s only nonstop service to Hong Kong is from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. According to a press release, the Hong Kong flights will be operated as part of American’s joint business with Japan Airlines. 

Whistler Art Museum opens this weekend

Whistler, B.C., a town known for world-class ski resorts, is getting another big-time attraction this weekend: A new art museum. The privately funded $30-million facility, the Audain Art Museum, sits at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and is scheduled to open this Saturday. The 56,000-square-foot museum is named after local developer Michael Audain and will house his nearly 200-piece private art collection, including many First Nations artifacts and two-dozen paintings by Emily Carr. The facility also incorporates a high-ceilinged exhibition space for temporary exhibits; the first installation there will be works by a group of Mexican Modernist artists known as Los Trés Grandes. 

Good reads

Food-oriented travel stories are a delicate art form, requiring a careful balance of detailed description about product and place. Author Matt Goulding achieves this beautifully in his recent article for Roads and Kingdoms, travel and food-focused website affiliated with Anthony Bourdain. Goulding’s piece is about okonomiyaki, a pancake-like delicacy from Hiroshima, Japan. The author gives a nourishing narrative about this unlikely treat that makes us want to hop on a plane and try it for ourselves.

The best kind of travel will change the way you look at the world, and Heather Greenwood-Davis give a unique take on how that happens in her recent essay for Smarter Travel. The piece, titled, “Traveling while Black: Becoming Beyonce,” chronicles some of the author’s personal experiences with locals in faraway places and explains how her race often provides her with an opportunity to communicate and connect. Her take is refreshing and humble. Definitely check it out.

 Travel misfortune doesn’t have to lead to disaster. That’s the takeaway from Ken Budd’s recent personal essay for National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog. In the piece, Budd shares the story of learning about his mother’s death while he was on the road and explains why he still had a good time on the trip. The best part of Budd’s piece is his original reporting on how we improve upon bad travel moments by turning them into good tales. The gist: “Heightened emotions create stronger memories.”

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.