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.
Nothing better illustrates this than the front page of the New York Times travel section on July 12. In an article covering the entire front page with more inside, titled “The Best Days of Our Lives,” the Times describes the desire of an ordinary young American couple to enjoy a three-week honeymoon in Italy, “the most romantic country in the world.”
Their trip would begin in Venice, go on to Tuscany and end in Sicily. In several thousand words describing all the facilities they used (hotels, restaurants and rental car), the article never once mentions the cost of any of these facilities (other than a single reference to a $3 glass of wine).
So did our typical American couple land at the airport in Venice and then take a public motorboat to their hotel, like almost all normal tourists do? You bet they didn’t. Their travel agent, who arranged the entire honeymoon, had ordered a private motorboat and hotel official to meet them and whisk them to the Belmond Cipriani Hotel, one of the most expensive in all of Italy, the place where George Clooney had his recent wedding.
The New York Times fails to mention that although the Cipriani sometimes is slightly “discounted” by hotel aggregators, its standard rates go up to $1,600 per room per night and to $2,200 per night per suite.
From Venice, our honeymoon couple travels by train into Tuscany, where they rent a car for further touring. But do they simply go to Auto Europe, Hertz or Avis for that transportation? No, their travel agent apparently has booked them with a company called Zephyrus Classic Car Rental so they can tootle along the roads outside Florence in a 1981 Fiat Spider Convertible, for which the newlywed husband is given gloves to wear and his wife a dramatic scarf. You can imagine how economical that car rental was (the New York Times spares us the details).
There follows one deluxe hotel and historic manor house stay after another, like the Palazzo Avino in Ravello, whose rates often approach $600 per room per night. And though one of two other hotels used by our couple charges a “budget-level” $340 per night, those appear to be a case of occasionally slumming it. The couple’s restaurant choices are similarly selective, consisting always of top-ranked Italian prize-winners.
Though it’s impossible to estimate the total cost of this three-week honeymoon, given the Times’ refusal to cite actual expenditures, I’d say that $30,000 (including airfare to Italy) is a conservative stab. And the actual tab might have been even higher.
How many American couples are able to spend $30,000 for a honeymoon? How realistic is it of the New York Times to describe such a fling in an article meant to encourage other honeymoon couples to consider a similar blow-out, Italian-style?
The appearance of such travel advice in a respected newspaper is bad enough. But it is equally discouraging to realize that the lyrical travel piece about a glamorous Italian vacation is typical of many other such fantasies appearing in big and prominent journals.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.