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Uber and InterContinental Partner up, Pico Iyer Questions “Authentic” Travel: The View from AFAR

Plus: Ireland gets ready for Star Wars tourism

We’re back after a hiatus for Thanksgiving, and are delighted to catch you up on the latest and greatest news from the travel industry. As always, if you have any questions about what you read in this column, Tweet them to us at @AFARmedia.

State department issues worldwide travel alert

With the world still reeling from the attacks in Paris last month, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert about the possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. There’s no question that the strongly worded alert was the right thing for the government to do. Still, as we’ve stated in this column before, a call for extra caution should not deter us from traveling at all. Almost immediately after the alert, AFAR’s cofounder and CEO, Greg Sullivan, wrote a stellar essay in these very (virtual) pages about what we should consider as we determine if it’s wise to travel now. The piece is short, sweet, and to the point. We won’t spoil it for you here. Just read it.

’Tis the Seasons

Another week, another new Four Seasons—at least, that’s how it feels these days. The latest FS property to debut: Four Seasons Dubai International Financial Centre, the brand’s second property in the super modern Middle Eastern city. Technically, the 106-room hotel doesn’t open until April 2016, but it started taking reservations this week. Word from Qatar is that the views of Burj Khalifa from the sky bar are almost unbelievable.  In other Four Seasons news, the Four Seasons Lanai, in Hawaii, is slated to reopen March 1, 2016, after a multimillion-dollar renovation that has modernized all 217 rooms. The new property, which also has started taking reservations, now boasts rooms with warm, wood-accented design, and will have additional dining experiences such as NOBU Lanai, a renovated spa, retail boutiques featuring Missoni and Jimmy Choo, and a new luxury transfer fleet. Room prices start at $960.

 New accommodations for thrill-seekers

Olas Verdes, a LEED-certified boutique hotel in Nosara, Costa Rica, opens this weekend on Playa Guinones, one of the most popular surfing spots in the Americas. The property comprises 17 suites spread across five different buildings situated amid Guanacaste trees in a protected inland jungle. Accommodations include air-conditioning, free WiFi, and efficiency kitchens; in common areas the resort has a restaurant and a yoga deck. Most notably, Olas Verdes will operate Nosara’s only formal surf school, Surf Safari. Room rates at Olas Verdes start at $135. On the other side of the world, in Africa, luxury safari operator Elewana was selected by the Loisaba Conservancy to partner in the development of a luxury tented camp on the conservancy’s 56,000-acre preserve in Kenya. Opening in March 2016, Loisaba Tented Camp will offer four spacious double tents, one tent suite, and two family tents, as well as a standalone family residence. The camp, which looks out across the Laikipia Plains toward Mount Kenya, also will have a bar, a restaurant, and an infinity pool. Rates start at $555 per person for shared rooms.

 Air New Zealand launches kid-tracker

Unaccompanied minors got a little safer last month when Air New Zealand rolled out a new child-tracking wristband, dubbed Airband. The device, which is embedded with a microchip, enables parents and guardians to follow their precious cargo through every journey. Travelers between the ages of 5 and 11 receive the band at check-in when they’re flying alone. Flight attendants then scan the band during key stages of each trip. With every scan, the device triggers text notifications that are sent out to up to five designated contacts back home. The Airband service will be free until February 3, 2016, after which point it will cost $12 per child for each one-way domestic (in New Zealand) journey or $35 per child for each one-way international journey.

 IHG and Uber announce partnership

Getting around from InterContinental hotels in certain cities got a lot easier this week as the parent company, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), launched a partnership with Uber through which IHG Rewards Club members can request Uber rides right from the IHG app. Officials at the hotel company said the move represents an effort to simplify ground transportation for loyalty club members. Next year, also as part of this partnership, IHG Rewards Club members will be able to leverage the IHG app to arrange Uber rides from certain destination airports to IHG hotels. In order to take advantage of these efficiencies, IHG guests must be members of the IHG Rewards Club and be signed up with Uber. Members who are new to Uber can sign up with promo code "IHG" to receive $20 off the first ride. New signups with Uber also will earn 2,000 IHG Rewards Club points.


Ireland gearing up for Star Wars tourism

Parts of the new Star Wars: Episode VII movie were filmed in Ireland, and the tourism bureau for the island country says it expects the cameo to contribute to a record-breaking influx of more than 8 million visitors in 2016. The predictions, reported last week in the Irish Examiner, estimate a record 8.2 million visitors next year—a number that ultimately would generate a €4.4 billion ($4.8 billion) boon to the Irish economy. The story quoted Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons as saying that he expects Star Wars fans to be particularly interested in the island of Skellig Michael, a UNESCO Heritage site in the eastern part of the country where key scenes in the upcoming films were shot. Gibbons added that the country plans to capitalize on this interest by launching a new advertisement in January highlighting “Ireland’s Ancient East.” 

Great reads

It’s a challenge to write one-of-a-kind material about Las Vegas, arguably the most manufactured place on Earth. Friend and fellow writer Michael Shapiro was up to the task in a recent piece about a poker pro’s favorite parts of Las Vegas. The raw and honest story, which also profiled Antonio Esfandiari, appeared in Inspirato, a magazine for members of American Express’ luxury travel club. If you’re planning a trip to Sin City this year, consider it a must-read (even if you don’t plan to push all-in). 

Another must: Pico Iyer’s recent essay about the quest for “authentic” travel experiences. The piece, which appeared in T magazine, from the New York Times, tackles an important issue—one with which many travelers grapple regularly. Iyer directs most of his prose toward understanding what constitutes reality when traveling abroad. Ironically, the essay appeared in the same issue that published David Brooks’ account of a portion of a $120,000 around-the-world luxury trip.

 Kangaroos are the subject of Paul Kvinta’s latest for Outside magazine—a searing piece of reportage from Australia about how the cuddly creatures have become the targets of both public ire and government-sponsored sharpshooters. No, the piece isn’t really a travel story, but it serves up great knowledge that will inform any upcoming trips to Oz. The beginning of the piece also offers a great example of in medias res—the approach of starting a narrative by dropping readers right in the middle of an action scene.

 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 including TIME, 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.