It was a week of major announcements in the travel world, as we learned the end is near for a project that has spanned two centuries and yet another acquisition is on the horizon for one of the fastest growing travel agencies in the world. Other headlines revolved around new theme parks, new air routes, and new milestones/challenges for the sharing economy. As always, if you have any questions about what you read in this column, Tweet them to us at @AFARmedia.
La Sagrada Familia reaches final stages of construction
More than 132 years after construction began on Antoni Gaudi’s Barcelona basilica, La Sagrada Familia, the current chief architect announced to the world this week that the project has entered its final phase, and will be complete in 2026. According to a report published in The Atlantic, the architect said six new towers will be added in the next 10 years, bringing the total to 18. The building’s completion is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death (though finishing touches could take up to six additional years). When the structure is complete, it will be the tallest religious building in Europe at 564 feet. Be sure to put this one on your list.
Expedia to acquire HomeAway
In what analysts estimate to be a $4 billion cash-and-stock deal, online travel agency Expedia has agreed to acquire HomeAway, a technology company that facilitates home sharing and vacation rentals worldwide. The move is subject to regulatory approval, but spokespeople from both companies expect the transaction to close in the first quarter of 2016. HomeAway also revealed it will change its business model midway through 2016 and will add a booking fee for consumers. Up to this point in the company’s history, HomeAway charged fees to hosts but not to guests. With the two companies joining forces, it’s likely that all 1.2 million properties in HomeAway’s database ultimately would be available for booking on Expedia.com; some of the properties had been available on Expedia.com through a partnership dating back to 2013. Still, additional details about how the two companies will work together were unclear. Expedia has been on a bit of a spending spree in recent months, having bought Travelocity and Orbitz earlier this year. (In the interest of full disclosure, yours truly also serves as a senior editor on the Expedia Viewfinder blog.)
AirBnB survives Prop F vote in S.F.; looks to future
In other sharing economy news, San Francisco voters defeated Proposition (Prop) F, a measure that would have greatly restricted the power of AirBnB (and all other home-sharing services, including HomeAway) in the City by the Bay. The immediate repercussions of this vote were obvious: The sharing economy, led on this issue by AirBnB, had won. Still, the fight itself raised bigger issues about the future of short-term rentals in cities around the world. Especially as the cost of living skyrockets, how much longer will these services go relatively unregulated? An article on Wired magazine’s website came out the day before the election but put the big-picture issue into perspective nicely. As the author states in his conclusion: “In the broader conflict over how tech is reshaping cities, Prop F is just another skirmish. The battle will rage on.”
Two new theme parks on the horizon
You don’t have to be Clark Griswold to love a good theme park, and two new ones were announced over the course of this week. Just in time for the release of Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, an article on TravelPulse confirmed that Lions Gate Entertainment and AVATRON USA Development will team up to build a 700-acre, $750-million Hunger Games–themed park in Bartow County, Georgia. In addition to incorporating themes and characters from the Hunger Games movies (perhaps a Katniss Everdeen archery arcade?), the facility will feature a 200-acre amusement park, two hotels, a 300,000-square-foot retail center, and a 10,000-square-foot music venue. Developers expect the attraction to open in 2019. Another park, 20th Century Fox World Dubai, is coming, too. The park is expected to comprise special “lands” featuring attractions, rides, and retail outlets that will be connected thematically to Aliens, Titanic, Planet of the Apes, The Simpsons, and some of the studio’s other popular film and television franchises. The facility also will include the first Fox-branded resort. As of now, the park is slated to open in 2018. Until then, all Walley World jokes are welcome.
Cruising with zombies
Industry outfitters are always coming up with new trips, but one particular itinerary announced this week caught our attention: A “zombie” cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line co-branded with the television show, The Walking Dead. The three-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Pearl will go from Miami, Florida, to Nassau, the Bahamas, and back. The ship will be decorated like the set of a zombie flick, and passengers are encouraged to dress and act like zombies—so long as they don’t actually eat each other’s flesh. A number of regular actors from the show (including Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl, a fan fave) are scheduled to make guest appearances and interact with passengers along the way. (Spoiler-free side note: If you’re a fan of the spin-off show, Fear the Walking Dead, you will particularly appreciate the fact that this is a cruise.) Dates for the trip are January 15–18, 2016.
New flights from California
Two California cities are getting new flights to a handful of popular destinations next year. Wow Air, a low-cost airline to Iceland, this week announced that Los Angeles and San Francisco will be its fifth and sixth destinations in North America. Flights, scheduled to be aboard A330-300 planes, will land in Keflavik International Airport outside Reykjavik. As of now, Wow will offer flights between Los Angeles and Keflavik four times a week and flights between San Francisco and Keflavik five times a week, starting in the summer of 2016. Each flight will seat about 340 passengers; tickets for the new routes go on sale in January. Virgin America also touted new routes this week, between San Francisco and Honolulu and San Francisco and Kahului, on Maui. The Honolulu flights actually started Monday, November 2; the Maui flights will begin December 3. Currently the airline is offering an introductory rate of $199 each way for one-way travel. In case you’re wondering, that is a REALLY GOOD DEAL.
RelayRides rebrands as Turo, lands big bucks in funding
RelayRides, a peer-to-peer car rental marketplace, this week announced plans to rebrand as Turo, and landed $47 million in funding for the next phase. According to an article on Tnooz, company officials decided to make the name-change because the word “Turo” plays better in international markets where customers speak different languages. As of this writing, the company had vehicle inventory in 3,000 cities and 270 airports. The story also noted that the funding will be used primarily to expand internationally.
David Molyneaux has been covering the cruise industry for most of my adult life (and I turn 40 next week). That’s precisely why I appreciated his perspective on Fathom, the newish do-good cruise line from Carnival. The essay, which appeared as his monthly cruising column in the Miami Herald, details what passengers can expect on these cruises. Molyneaux also waxes philosophical, noting that despite dubious origins, any cruise that inspires passengers to think beyond themselves is worth taking.
Few articles inform travelers better than a well-executed service piece. Case in point: Robert Reid’s latest for National Geographic Traveler, a look at what to do around Yosemite National Park. The real strength of this piece is its reporting—Reid mentions off-beat places and activities that few travelers ever see or do. That his writing style conveys the information in a light and often humorous fashion is a bonus to savor to the end.
You can almost feel the icy water on your skin you as you read “True North,” author Terry Ward’s feature about a diving and sailing adventure in the Norwegian Arctic. The piece, which was published recently in Alert Diver magazine, offers chilling (pun intended) details about Ward’s recent trip to the land of Anna and Elsa—and about all of the wildlife and wild nature she experienced along the way. Yes, the piece is long. But the return on your investment will warm you from the inside.
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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