Several months ago, when Carnival Cruises announced that it would soon begin offering cruises to Cuba, it did so in the strangest way. Instead of promising a standard cruise program, one that would visit several Cuban ports and allow passengers to tour the highlights of those locations, it characterized its program (perhaps inadvertently) as consisting of one long volunteer vacation. On arriving in Cuba, passengers presumably would engage in work activities of benefit to indigent Cubans, performing unskilled labor in several Cuban industries or activities.
In travel news of some importance, a fair number of travel commentators have recently discovered that both domestic and international airfares, economy class, are now running from 12 percent to 20 percent below the levels of last year. The decline is undoubtedly due to the sharply reduced price of aviation fuel, though some of it also reflects a slight drop in the number of Americans traveling to Europe. While fares are supposed to recover next year, the price of air transportation currently has lowered the cost of vacations. Let’s hope that oil remains below $40 a barrel.
To the U.S. travel industry, now is the “election year curse” – a time when both domestic and international travel slow perceptibly. And this year, that sluggish trend apparently has been made worse by the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 and the terrorist attacks in Brussels in early March 2016. Though it’s too early to make a firm prediction, it’s possible that trans-Atlantic travel may decrease by 5 percent this year, and domestic travel by almost as much.
I’m sad to report that there no longer seems to be any doubt that travel to Europe has been hurt by the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels. Trans-Atlantic trips from the U.S. currently are down by about 5 percent, and though the biggest drop has been to Belgium, most other popular destinations also have been affected. The result of that fall-off? It appears that some persistent folks are finding bargain-priced flights to Europe when they consult the Internet; one traveler I know was astonished to secure a $700 round-trip ticket between New York and London on a major carrier in the peak month of May.
The tragedy of terrorism in Brussels is what comes to mind, unfortunately, when we now think of the Belgian capital. Recently, about 35 people were killed and more than 311 were injured by bombs set off at the Brussels airport and one of its subway stations.
Among the major recent events in travel, illustrating a larger trend, has been the continued sharp decline in the value of the Russian ruble. Two years ago, that currency enjoyed an exchange rate of 33 to the U.S. dollar, and then plunged last year to a level of 65 to the dollar, which most observers felt to be its bottom value. Lo and behold, the ruble has now plunged again, to about 80 to the dollar, and consequently, the cost of a stay in Russia for the American tourist has become quite low. All this has occurred, of course, because the Russian economy – almost totally dependent on the sale of oil, has been battered by the current price of oil averaging $30 a barrel. If you have ever felt curious about life in Moscow and St. Petersburg, you now have the best-ever conditions for a stay there.
Few American cities are enjoying greater and more continuous growth than Miami and Miami Beach, Florida. In a recent column, I expressed my own surprise at the enormous expansion of cultural activities, the new museums and art galleries, the constant opening of new and superb ethnic restaurants, the building of more and more hotels and condos, that I witnessed on a recent stay.
This is the season for travel lists – the “10 best” of this and the “10 best” of that. Travel journalists disclose their “10 best” travel destinations for the year ahead, or their “10 best” unknown travel gems, usually places of which few Americans have ever heard, or places so expensive that few Americans would choose them. One well-known travel firm has named Botswana in Africa as its No. 1 favorite for the year ahead, without disclosing that Botswana probably is the single most expensive safari destination in all of Africa.
Airbnb has become a household name in travel. Most Americans are aware that the bearer of that name is valued at billions of dollars, and that its inventory of low-cost apartments for short-term rental is, perhaps, larger than the world’s total number of hotel rooms. Multitudes use Airbnb for their accommodations when they travel, and large numbers of people owning apartments now earn a sizable yearly income from renting them out to transient visitors.
We are about to reach the slowest days of the European off-season, which starts as we approach the month of November and continues until mid-March. It is then that European hotels search for guests, the cost of vacationing in Europe declines and the smartest of all American travelers choose to cross the Atlantic.
Now is precisely the time for a road trip through New England, which will be immersed in the magnificence of fall foliage. The definitive summary of sights and attractions at that time is found in the current issue of Yankee Magazine, now celebrating its 80th anniversary. That remarkable travel publication is found wherever magazines are sold, or you can visit its website to subscribe.
The overwhelming number of tourists to Western Europe go there with cultural visits in mind. For Europe itself is like a vast, open-air museum – a treasure house, first, of art, music, drama, dance, literature, science, philosophy and architecture – whose many museums, theaters, historic homes, structures and schools are alone a reason to visit.
Having unsuccessfully attempted to contact the top executives at America’s several leading tour operators to China, I’ve concluded that they are all on the way to China to learn how they can reduce the prices of a trip there even below current levels. A representative for one such company indicated that this was, in fact, the case. China’s recent devaluation of its currency, the yuan, has led to predictions that a tour to China, which already is one of the world’s least-expensive travel destinations for Americans, soon will become cheaper. All this is in line with the obvious effort by the Chinese government to increase its export industries (with incoming travel being the same as an export).
If you haven’t yet made your summer or fall vacation plans, you might want to note that a sort of world’s fair will continue operating in Milan, Italy, throughout September and October. Called Expo Milano 2015, it’s all about unusual and better methods of growing and producing food (like innovative vertical gardens) and the most enticing preparation of meals (in over 150 different restaurants maintained on the grounds). The world’s most imaginative architects (like Sir Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano) have designed several of the expo’s pavilions, and countries (including our own) have sent their most awesome chefs to prepare meals for visitors. Don’t say you weren’t advised.
With its currency currently selling at a breathtaking 125 to the U.S. dollar, Japan has become a moderately-priced nation for American travelers. Instead of paying $450 for a double room at a top-quality, first-class Japanese hotel, as was once the case two years ago, we now pay as little as $300 for a luxurious accommodation, and far less (even below $100 a night) at so-called business hotels in Japan.
The travel sections of several leading American newspapers seem to engage in an alternating pattern of reality and nonreality. For months on end, they devote pages to recommending ultra-deluxe hotels that no normal American could possibly afford, and then – when called out by critics – they spend a week or two on realistic expenditures before reverting to glamor and luxury.
A significant recent development in travel has been a decision by the low-cost, trans-Atlantic Norwegian Airlines to greatly increase the number of flights it offers between London’s Gatwick Airport and both New York and Los Angeles. That airline entered the trans-Atlantic market rather gingerly in past months, testing the demand for cheap trans-Atlantic prices, and apparently the response has been so positive that it is now taking a plunge into greatly-increased trans-Atlantic services.
Frequently in the world of travel, an airline announces a new rule that is so much to its advantage, so productive of extra revenue for them, that you know for a certainty that every other carrier soon will adopt the same rule. That has just happened on the part of Delta Airlines.