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A Primer on Japanese Etiquette and a New Train to DIA: The View from AFAR

Plus: Marriott expands on two continents, the ethics behind “dark tourism”

While Prince wasn’t renowned for writing songs about travel, his music was revered all over the world—at nightclubs in Ibiza, lounges in Tokyo, raves in Rio, and hookah parlors in Dubai. It was hard to party anywhere without hearing one of his tunes, and we mourn his untimely death with music lovers everywhere. Independent of this sad news, the world of travel had its own share of headlines this week, and we’ve rounded up the best of those for you here. If you have any questions or comments, please tweet us at @AFARmedia

Marriott unveils expansion strategy for the Middle East and Africa
Fresh off its Starwood acquisition, Marriott International generated buzz again this week when the company unveiled expansion plans for the Middle East and Africa. Marriott plans to nearly double the number of properties it has in the region, growing from 150 to 245 hotels by 2020. As outlined in an article from TravelPulse, the company is already on track to open 17 new properties in the region this year.

In a statement, Alex Kyriakidis, Marriott’s president and managing director for the Middle East and Africa, said much of the expansion will take place in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Kyriakidis noted that 10 new Marriott properties with a total of 4,600 rooms are scheduled to open across the two nations during the next two years, with 21 new hotels slated to open in Saudi Arabia by 2025. Qatar is on the growth list, too, with a 300-suite Marriott Executive Apartments slated to open in Doha in 2019. Marriott is also looking into building its first hotels in Iraq, Gabon, Rwanda, Tunisia, Benin, Kenya, Libya, and Mauritius. 

Japan tourism organization publishes etiquette primer
Every traveler has fluffed, tooted, or bottom-burped at a crowded tourist site. Now, thanks to a regional government in Japan, we have a bit of insight as to how we should handle those kinds of uncomfortable situations. The organization in charge of marketing Hokkaido Island recently published an etiquette guide for visitors, explaining more about the nation’s “Spirit of Wa,” or harmony. Most of the tidbits in the document are perfectly understandable—reminders about never speaking too loudly in public, lining up in orderly queues, disposing of rubbish in proper receptacles, and not wearing “roomwear” like bathrobes and slippers in public areas of hotels. Others, like the one about silencing flatulence in public—well, let’s just say that one made us giggle kind of uncontrollably. In all seriousness, the document is as much a study in Japanese culture as it is a behavioral guide. And we have to admit, if every traveler abided by the suggestions in this pamphlet, the entire world would be a better place.

Claus Meyer launches Kid’s Table in NYC
Claus Meyer, the co-founder of Noma, Copenhagen’s top restaurant, knows a thing or two about good food. Naturally, then, when he rolls out a plan to revolutionize the kids’ menu, people listen. Such was the case this week when Meyer brought his Kid’s Table concept to New York. The project is something Meyer has been doing in Denmark since 2011, and according to an interview he did with Parade magazine, the goal of the effort is simple: To get kids ages seven to 14 to broaden their horizons and experience meals unlike any they’ve had before. Accordingly, this past Tuesday roughly 260 kids had the opportunity to sit down at 13 of New York City’s most celebrated restaurants for 90-minute, kids-only three-course meals. (Parents had to wait outside.) Participating restaurants included Blue Hill New York City, Del Posto, Franny’s Brooklyn, Per Se, Telepan, and Untitled at the Whitney Museum. At each place the kids tried dishes that included turnips, lamb, and rhubarb. Tickets sold for $30 apiece, and part of the proceeds benefitted Meyer’s Brownsville culinary school project while the rest went to local nonprofits. So far there is no word on if or when Meyer will do another Kid’s Table in the United States.

Denver’s new airport train starts service
Ever since the current iteration of Denver International Airport opened in 1995, locals and travelers alike have complained about the traffic between the airport and downtown Denver, 23 miles away. Last week that journey got a whole lot easier with the opening of the Denver Airport Train. Officially known as the University of Colorado A Line, the train departs DIA every 15 minutes and takes passengers to Denver’s Union Station in a brisk 37 minutes—much faster than the trip would take in a car or bus on I-70. The fare: $9 per rider. According to an article in USA Today, the train makes six stops between downtown and the airport, carrying up to 180 riders on each trip. The same story noted that train cars were designed to accommodate travelers with luggage and have power outlets to charge cell phones. To say this development was “overdue” would be an understatement. Now let’s hope the city sees the ridership it expects.

Popular hotel brands add new features
Two different hotel brands have launched new features in the past month. This week, Loews Hotels announced a traveling speakeasy bar that will make its way to all 24 Loews properties in the country. Fittingly named “The Traveller Bar,” the zinc-topped watering hole was crafted from an old elevator car and has four seats, guaranteeing an intimate experience. Mixologists behind the rail specialize in classic cocktails, and the bar also will serve a select menu of beers and ciders. The Traveller Bar will be at Loews Chicago and Loews Chicago O’Hare through June 18, and then will make its way west, stopping in San Francisco and Seattle in July and August, respectively.

Meanwhile, the One&Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, announced a new 14,000 square-foot villa, new facilities and activities for the kids’ club, and new menu additions at on-site restaurants. The villa, dubbed Villa One, is without question the swankiest of the additions. The house has four bedrooms, an open kitchen, an outdoor terrace with an infinity pool, and a private screening room. It sits atop a hill and offers a commanding view of the Sea of Cortez. The price: $12,500 per night.

Star Wars–themed restaurant in London
The latest pop-up concept headed to London is a restaurant with a Star Wars theme. According to an article on Eater, the project will include seven dinners this June. Its name? The Fork Awakens, of course. At this point, the planned menu includes Hutt dogs (get it?), “special spacefood,” and Jedi lightsaber drinks from the canteen. Tickets, which are going for about US$80, include a cocktail, a four-course interactive meal, “set design,” and entertainment. Now we just have to hope that the acting at this place is better than it was in the first trilogy.

Spotlight: Cohica Travel
There’s a new sustainable travel company on the block, and it has charged out of the gate with itineraries and low-impact vacation packages to destinations around the world. The outfit, Cohica Travel, aims to make a positive impact on communities by promoting sustainable travel. The company is the brainchild of Ryan Matthews, a Bay Area native with an MBA in sustainable business, and Megan Hardesty, a marketing professional who just wrapped a five-year stint on Maui. In addition to itineraries and packages, Cohica also has travel-related projects like its Tees 4 Good program, which donates part of the profit from travel-inspired T-shirts to nonprofit organizations working toward social change in Peru, Morocco, and Hawaii. And the website also offers travel hacks and other advice. Currently Cohica is based in Sonoma, California, but Matthews and Hardesty plan to relocate to Valencia, Spain, next month.

Good reads
Why did author Terry Ward spend 112 days aboard a boat sailing to the Svalbord archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic? As she wrote in a piece for BBC Travel this week, “I did it for the human experience of living on an island, and to see what it was like to be part of a team as if my life depended on it.” Ward’s story about her journey, and corresponding photos, paint a vivid picture of a stark and spectacular landscape of ice floes and polar bears, walrus snorts and icy winds. The story’s only flaw is that we would have liked even more of it.

Robert Reid is the thinking traveler’s travel writer. Case in point: his recent piece for National Geographic about “Dark Tourism,” the phenomenon of visiting places associated with death and suffering. The story includes both great writing and great reporting; Reid provides dozens of examples that prove this type of travel existed long before people took selfies at Auschwitz. His takeaway: If you engage in dark tourism to heighten your understanding, good on you. If not, you might as well be a Kardashian.

It’s been a year since the 7.8-magnitude Gorkha earthquake rocked Nepal, and Sophy Roberts has commemorated the disaster in a recent article for The Wall Street Journal. Her story tells the tale of a three-night, 19-mile trek to the top of Pikey’s Summit—a hike the author completed with nine kids between the ages of 8 and 11. Jam-packed with colorful details about the scenery and the company, the feature also provides an update on “rebuilding” (or lack thereof) in Kathmandu. Consider it a must-read.

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.