From the FTC going after hidden resort fees to the near-completion of a new arena in Las Vegas, this was a busy week in the world of travel (and we didn’t even touch upon the outbreak of Dengue Fever in Hawaii). Here’s a rundown on the most important news. If you have any questions or comments about what you read here, please Tweet us at @AFARmedia. And please share the roundup with friends!
The FTC targets hidden resort fees
Most travelers dislike having to pay those mandatory resort fees that don’t appear in advertised hotel rates. Finally, it seems the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is prepared to do something about it. Last week, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urged Congress to draft new legislation to fight the fees instead of having the consumer protection agency investigate hotels on a case-by-case basis. Ramirez suggested such legislation in a letter to 10 U.S. representatives who had called the fees “a deceptive and unfair trade practice.” The Los Angeles Times reported on the story early this week. Ramirez was quoted as saying her agency has warned individual hotels that they must display notice of the fees prominently and early in the booking process. To be fair, the article checked with the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group for the nation’s hotels, which said the number of hotels that charge mandatory resort fees is on the decline—only 7 percent of member hotels in 2014. We’ll keep tabs on this issue as it develops.
So long, Ahwahnee. Hello, Majestic Yosemite. Say what?
We live in peculiar times. How else to explain the news this week that, due to an ongoing legal dispute with a departing concessionaire, the National Park Service (NPS) will change many of the most famous names inside Yosemite National Park. Perhaps the most egregious (and, in our opinion, ridiculous) change: The Ahwahnee Hotel, which dates to 1927, will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Among other changes: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be known as Yosemite Valley Lodge; Curry Village will be renamed Half Dome Village; the Wawona Hotel will be known as the Big Trees Lodge; and Badger Pass Ski Area will become Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. (Thankfully, the name "Half Dome" can stay.) The outgoing concessionaire, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., had trademarked many of the names over the past 13 years, prompting the Park Service to rename the sights before the new vendor takes over March 1. According to a (fantastic) report in Outside, the NPS must not only change the names on buildings but also on directional signs and in marketing materials. Technically, DNC also trademarked "Yosemite National Park" for merchandising purposes, but it was unclear whether the park service would have to change the wording on T-shirts, playing cards, and other merchandise. This year marks the centennial of America’s national parks, and celebrations will abound. To have to alter the names of so many iconic places in one of the system’s oldest parks now is a development only a trademark attorney could love.
Istanbul bombing could reverse the tide of Turkish tourism
Terrorist bombings are becoming a regular feature in this column. The latest one, in Istanbul, killed 10 and wounded 15 in the busy Sultanahmet area of the city, a neighborhood that is usually crawling with tourists who have come to see the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia (a former Christian basilican turned mosque turned museum). Istanbul is the fastest-growing destination city in Europe, according to MasterCard’s Global Destinations Cities Index, attracting nearly 13 million tourists in 2015. But government officials told USA Today they feared the attack might deal a blow to the country’s tourism industry. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—these attacks are loathsome, but just because they happen does not mean you should stop traveling. Be vigilant. Be aware. But keep exploring.
New hotels and new cancellation charges
Two new hotels in faraway places will soon begin checking in guests. The Four Seasons Hotel Bogota opens in Colombia’s biggest city April 1 and started taking reservations this week. The 64-room hotel is situated in the heart of the Zona T district, Bogota’s nightlife center, and will feature a Japanese restaurant with both sushi and a Robata grill. It joins the Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota as the only Four Seasons properties in Colombia. On Grand Cayman island in the Caribbean, the Seafire Resort & Spa is taking reservations now for its November opening, which will mark the Kimpton chain’s first foray into the international market. The 266-room hotel sits on the popular Seven Mile Beach, about a mile away from the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. The resort will also include 62 condominium residential units next door. In other hotel news, Travel Weekly reported that Hilton has completed a two-month trial in which the company charged guests of 24 selected hotels a $50 fee for reservations canceled anytime after they were booked. Reports indicate the fee is a direct response to the proliferation of apps that specialize in last-minute hotel deals—apps that often result in guests canceling reservations they had previously made. Hilton spokespeople declined to say whether the company’s cancelation policy would be changed formally in the months ahead.
Bigger events and shorter lines (?) in Sin City
It’s been years in the making, but the new 20,000-seat arena located between New York-New York and Monte Carlo in Las Vegas is almost ready for primetime. The $375-million facility, a joint venture between MGM Resorts and AEG, will be called T-Mobile Arena. A concert by The Killers is slated as the opening event, April 6. Locals expect the city to bid later this year for a National Hockey League franchise that will call the place home. Sources say the earliest the team would play in the facility would be the 2017–2018 season. Elsewhere in Vegas, three Caesars Entertainment properties this week rolled out self-check-in kiosks that verify IDs, take payment info, and either distribute keys or set up alerts that instruct you to return to the kiosk when your room is ready. Currently, the kiosks sit in the lobbies at Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, and The Linq. Similar machines will be unveiled at five other Caesars properties later this year. Could this development eliminate hour-long queues for check-in on busy weekends in Sin City? We sure hope so.
Airlines raise fares to start 2016
If it feels like you’re paying more for plane tickets in 2016, you are. According to a report from Travel Weekly, major U.S. airlines implemented a modest fare hike to start the year. Citing the website Seeking Alpha, the Travel Weekly story said the increase of $3 per one-way ticket is the first successful hike for U.S. carriers since last June. The article also mentioned a separate report on FareCompare.com that suggested the bump was launched by Delta, with Southwest, United, and American following suit. Curiously, this trend flies in the face (see what we did there?) of statistics from a report by Expedia and ARC released late last year. According to that document, at least as of November 30, the average domestic fare was down slightly less than 2 percent from a year earlier. We understand that airplane fares can vary widely—from week to week, day to day, and even hour to hour. The takeaway: Shop around and seize a good deal when you find one.
Asian visitors boost U.S. tourism
Tourists from China and South Korea are visiting the United States in droves. That’s one of the key takeaways from a recent look at visitor data by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Other critical data points: The total number of visitors traveling to the U.S. in the first six months of 2015 grew to 36 million, an increase of 4 percent over the same period in 2014. The biggest increases came from South Korea, with a 20 percent jump, and China, at 18 percent. The report indicated that these travelers can’t get enough of such destinations as Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and New York’s Times Square. (At least there’s a national park on the list.)
We’re big fans of family travel, and The Street (of all places) this week published an article on the subject well worth reading. The story, by Mia Taylor, looks at how travel can change a child’s life and starts with a great anecdote about a family from Georgia (the state) and their experiences with Arab culture in Morocco. The piece also quotes Rainer Jenss, AFAR’s family travel correspondent and founder of the Family Travel Association (I’m a board member of that group, too).
The remote Caribbean got a little closer with Christopher Muther’s recent article in the Boston Globe about the island nation of Guadeloupe. The story, published last weekend, shines a light on the French-speaking island and paints a series of detailed pictures with scenes from the beaches, restaurants, and more. One of my favorite parts of the story is when Muther describes the island itself: “On a map, Guadelopue looks like a ragged butterfly that’s lived a rough life.”
In the “quick read” department, this short Gizmodo piece provides a succinct summary of a fun new Tube map from Transport for London—a map that lists above-ground walking times between stops down below. Fittingly dubbed the “Walk the Tube” map, the resource was created by cartographers who thought it might be fun to inform passengers how much time they’d be saving if they eschewed the crowded subways and walked instead. Having lived in London, I can attest: It’s a great idea.
Spotlight from CES: ili
In last week’s edition, we promised we’d fill you in if we uncovered any other interesting travel technologies at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With that in mind, consider ili, the first wearable translation device. The tool, which you wear around your neck, automatically captures what your conversation partner is saying and translates it into English. It also translates what you say in response. Currently the device supports English, Chinese, and Japanese. More important: It does not need to be connected to the Internet to work. Granted, as Zach Everson wrote for Lonely Planet, the thing looks like a first-generation Apple TV remote. But it should make traveling abroad easier.
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.
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