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Sizing Up the Rural-Urban Travel Divide: Who’s Up and Who’s Down

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The pandemic has been hard on travel. According to the U.S. Travel Association, it has caused $386 billion in cumulative losses, but the pain hasn’t been evenly distributed. Cities, which are largely reliant on business and group travel, have suffered more compared to rural and outdoor destinations where it is easier to fulfill social-distancing needs. That sense of safety in extra space has tempted many leisure travelers to venture out on vacation.

Lodging results attest to the urban-rural divide. Short-term rentals were most popular in remote rather than city destinations this summer. According to the hotel benchmarking analysts STR, Inc., urban hotels are worse off compared to accommodations elsewhere, with occupancy down more than half in August nationally compared to August 2019. As a result, high-profile city hotels, from the Hilton Times Square in New York City to the Luxe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., have closed.

“Leisure travel has been the demand driver that has returned more quickly,” said Patrick Mayock, the vice president of research and development at STR, noting that urban hotels “are more reliant on group and business travel.”

The rural-versus-urban contest for leisure travelers is still a losing game for most contenders; for example, rural places consider being down 20 percent a sign of relative health.

Expect the rivalry to intensify, even as most states maintain restrictions on gatherings. In the eighth of a series of surveys, the travel marketing firm MMGY Myriad recently found 42 percent of the 1,200 Americans surveyed — the highest since the pandemic — are likely to take a domestic leisure trip in the next six months. Cities are now rolling out staycation programs, discount incentives and safety assurances to try to claim a bigger share of that traffic.

The following is a look at some of the destinations hit hardest and those that have bounced back.

Some of the biggest convention cities are suffering the most, including Las Vegas, where year-over-year visitor volume was down more than 60 percent to 1.4 million in July, and where the airport was off about the same amount in August, the most recent months for which figures are available.

Conventions, which have been scratched for the last six months, drew 6.6 million of the city’s 42.5 million visitors in 2019, generating $6.6 billion. With gatherings limited to 250, football fans are shut out of the new stadium built for the Raiders, the N.F.L. team that moved to Las Vegas from Oakland, Calif., this season.

With a tack to leisure travel only, hotels and tourism operators are reframing their approaches. MGM Resorts, which operates some of the best-known resorts on the Strip, including the Bellagio, began offering work-from-hotel packages, called “Viva Las Office,” starting around $100, including Wi-Fi and some food and beverage credits. The company is also gambling that visitors will appreciate smoke-free casinos; its Park MGM and NoMad Las Vegas hotels, which occupy the same building and reopened Sept. 30, are smoke free.

“Everything was convention-based and now it’s changed and we have to adapt,” said Donald Contursi, the founder of the local restaurant tour company Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which launched Finger Licking Foodie Tours, self-guided outings to three restaurants ($79).

Ever the chameleon, Las Vegas continues to develop its leisure appeal, even though the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that several casinos on the Strip were the leading sources of possible Covid-19 exposures this summer. At the end of the month, the new Circa Resort & Casino, with the city’s largest sports book spread across three stories, is expected to open. The new art and event space AREA15 recently opened, requiring free reservations to control capacity, for visitors to its art installations.

Another popular city for meetings and events, Miami has come a long way since April, when 85 percent of tourism disappeared. In addition to losing business travel, Miami suffered when the United States border was closed — the city is popular with South Americans, in particular — cruises were shut down and cases of Covid-19 spiked over the summer. Now, hotel sales are about half compared to last year, thanks to the uptick in leisure travel.

“A big part of our tourism recovery has been to ask people in our own backyard, people within Florida, to drive,” said Rolando Aedo, the chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The bureau’s marketing campaign has focused on the city’s outdoor attractions, which include three national parks within an hour’s drive of South Beach, uncrowded beaches on Key Biscayne and kayaking amid the mangroves of a river estuary. Dozens of hotels are offering “Work & Learn” packages that offer rooms as day-use offices with access to resort amenities such as pools.

Back in January, when Dallas resident Murphey Sears, 38, planned to mark her 10th wedding anniversary, she and her husband discussed going abroad, or to Hawaii. By July, the parents of four secured grandparent babysitters and settled on a two-night staycation at The Joule Dallas hotel downtown.

“We needed to get away not only to celebrate ourselves but also to find some rejuvenation,” said Ms. Sears, a nonprofit development officer. “We felt so far away, even though it was 15 minutes from our house.”

Once a weekend afterthought, staycations are now viewed as a lifeline for urban tourism as cities from Boston to Los Angeles are encouraging residents to travel responsibly by staying — and spending — locally.

“We’ve had to shift to really focus on leisure travel until the meetings industry stabilizes,” said David Whitaker, the president and chief executive of Choose Chicago, which promotes travel in the city, adding that conventions normally drive 40 percent of hotel business.

In a weekly survey of 1,200 Americans published Sept. 28, the marketing firm Destination Analysts found that interest in leisure travel in local communities was at 44.5 percent, the highest it had been since mid-March, partially driven by a fear of flying.

While the 1,544-room Hilton Chicago, a large convention hotel, is currently closed, on weekends, the 180-room Viceroy Chicago has been filling nearly 80 percent of its rooms entirely with regional residents who self-park, as valet service is suspended. The rooftop pool, where capacity is restricted to 25 for two-hour slots, has been a big attraction.

“We have adjusted some of our strategies and we’re just super thankful to see there’s that much leisure travel going on,” said Nienke Oosting, the hotel’s general manager.

Locals are a critical market in cities like Chicago and New York City that have extensive quarantine lists for out-of-staters, deterring nonresidents. In New York state, as of Sept. 29, visitors from 34 states and territories are advised to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

The tourism office NYC & Company is encouraging New Yorkers to explore the city’s neighborhoods with incentives that include up to 40 percent off rooms at the Benjamin hotel in Midtown and 20 percent off Harlem Heritage Tours, which offers walking trips. Amal Daghestani, 43, of Brooklyn, who works in meeting and event planning, chose the Mondrian Park Avenue hotel for a weekend stay with her family as a change of scenery and an expression of civic pride.

“New York City has enriched my life so much and doing a staycation was also my way of giving back,” she said.

In July and August, Denver International Airport said it was the busiest airport in the country, relatively speaking, pointing to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint figures that showed traffic was down 57 percent, versus 71 percent on average elsewhere.

But arriving passengers didn’t necessarily go to Denver, where the current hotel occupancy rate is about 40 percent; last year at this time, 78 percent of rooms were booked. Instead, cities like Denver, along with Las Vegas, often serve as gateways to more distant vacations. Though visitor figures are down in both cities, Priceline found that Denver was also the top city for car rentals this fall, followed by Las Vegas; the pre-pandemic top cities were Orlando and Los Angeles.

“It’s important to understand that Denver is the gateway for the whole Rocky Mountain West,” said Cathy Ritter, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office. Since early March, travel spending in Colorado dropped to $5 billion, compared to $12 billion for the same period last year. “The activity in mountain resorts over the summer created almost an illusion that tourism had recovered in our state,” she added.

Colorado captures the deceiving nature of tourism spending. Though they loom large, the state’s celebrated mountain towns like Aspen and Crested Butte account for just a quarter of tourism spending. Sixty percent remains in eastern communities, including Denver and smaller cities that attract business and event travelers.

Given the slowdown, tourism officials in Colorado Springs consider themselves lucky to be down about 22 percent in July and August. A “Get Out Spread Out” campaign publicized lesser-known hiking trails to ensure social distancing.

“Coloradans were here, but so were Texans, Arizonans, Californians,” said Doug Price, the president and chief executive of Visit Colorado Springs, naming residents of states subject to quarantines elsewhere. “Where a spike was happening, people wanted to get out. Colorado never had restrictions or quarantines on people coming to Colorado. It helped us.”

Some of those Denver arrivals may have traveled to Breckenridge, about 80 miles west, where the town’s taxable sales were behind 18 percent relative to last year, “much better than expected,” said Lucy Kay, the president and chief executive of the Breckenridge Tourism Office.

Most of those who have taken a vacation since the pandemic chose rural over urban areas for their getaways. Signs point to this pattern of fleeing population centers continuing. In a recent survey, Destination Analysts found nearly 40 percent of respondents who planned to travel this fall planned to visit small towns or rural destinations.

From the Adirondacks to northern Wisconsin, tourism authorities reported business doubling this summer over last. Even so, few will make up for the months of shutdown.

In the Greater Zion region in southwest Utah, which covers more than 2,400 square miles and includes Zion National Park and four state parks, room taxes are down $1.5 million from a year ago, though the last three months have been busier than usual, according to Kevin Lewis, the director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office.

“In the past, leisure travel has been thought out and strategic about planning a big national park vacation and spending three to four days here,” he said. “This seems a little more reactionary, wanting to find space but doing it at the last minute.”

Beaches were top destinations over the summer as demonstrated in Panama Beach City in the Florida Panhandle. There, traffic was back to pre-pandemic expectations in June and July. August and September surpassed 2019 results.

“We feel it will continue next year,” said Dan Rowe, the chief executive and president of Visit Panama Beach, predicting that socially distant vacations will remain the norm.


By: Elaine Glusac
Title: Sizing Up the Rural-Urban Travel Divide: Who’s Up and Who’s Down
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/06/travel/rural-versus-urban-travel-pandemic.html
Published Date: Tue, 06 Oct 2020 09:00:22 +0000

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Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival

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Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude sickness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and began to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a few dizzying hours alongside hundreds of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene began to unfold before us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it seemed to be covered in confetti, each tiny speck representing a huddled collection of tents and people.

The altitude sickness began to overtake every inch of my body. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated through the throngs of people trying to take in every sight and sound.

Each year in late May or early June, thousands of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback through Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their way up the mountainous terrain — for the religious celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, once the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced annually for hundreds of years, the celebrations mark the start of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a prominent cluster of stars, return to the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic festival, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.

Climate scientists say that glaciers in the tropical Andes have been reduced by nearly a quarter in the last 40 years. Some scientists predict that such glaciers could disappear entirely by 2070.

These changes have not only affected agricultural practices in the Andes, but also, as witnessed by Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims, cultural ones, too.

Although the ukukus now carry only wooden crosses back down the mountain, they’re still met with great jubilation — a testament to human resilience in the face of destruction caused by climate change.

By: Danielle Villasana
Title: Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/travel/qoyllur-riti-snow-star-festival-peru.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:00:33 +0000

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British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food

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British Airways have been offering an extremely abbreviated on board service during the pandemic. Only passengers in first class received hot meals, with everyone else relegated to cold food. The interim catering has received a mixed reaction, especially as other airlines continue to offer full on board service.

All of this was wrapped in the safety banner, to reduce touch points and protect people. While perhaps admirable in its intention, frequent flyers have pointed the finger squarely at cost cutting, due to various inconsistencies in the approach. Either way, things are now moving back towards normality.

Updated Interim Catering

Hot food is back on British Airways long-haul services. First class continue to have theirs, and now everyone else on the plane gets to experience it too. That means business class passengers flying Club World, premium economy World Traveller Plus and economy World Traveller people can all chow down on something a little more fitting.

The Club World meal will be hot and served on a meal tray with a table cloth, with the second service a chilled item delivered the same way. The second service will come in a box as it does now on some return catered flights.



Those at the back of the bus will also get a hot meal, served on a half tray for the interim catering period. The second service will be chilled and be issued in a box or bag, depending on how lucky you are.

What About European Flights?

There are no changes to the current interim catering for European flights. This means that Club Europe continue to get a meal in a box or bag, and EuroTraveller customers receive a small complimentary on board snack.



The previous buy on board menu from M&S won’t be coming back, as the agreement expired this year and is not being renewed. A replacement British retailer is in the process of being recruited, so we will see a totally new buy on board menu on BA in due course.

Overall Thoughts

It is great to see some changes in the long-haul interim catering offering at British Airways. Not too soon either! Emirates return to their usual pre-Covid service on board from 1 November for example, so competition is afoot.

No doubt we will see further changes from BA as time passes on. Until the catering changes, I see no value in booking a flight with BA in a premium cabin. All my future travel is booked in economy with BA, as the value proposition for me in the higher classes has a lot to do with the food and drinks, which anyone who has read a flight review of mine will well know.

What say you? Are you happy with the improvements to the interim catering at British Airways? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
All my flight and lounge reviews are indexed here so check them out!

Featured image by Rafael Luiz Canossa on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
With thanks to Inflight With James.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: British Airways updates interim catering with – gasp! – hot food
Sourced From: travelupdate.com/british-airways-interim-catering/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 13:03:17 +0000

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4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020

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Dark skies, bright stars are every stargazer’s main attraction spots. All around the world, people travel to experience the best spot the world has to offer. To most city dwellers, their experience with stargazing is bumping into the latest celebrity at the mall or grocery store checkout line thanks to air pollution and the city lights.

But there is nothing as magical as looking up into the dark skies dotted with constellations, planets, and shooting stars. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) recognizes over 130 spots that preserve the most star-filled skies. UNESCO recognizes several starlight reserves on its Astronomical Heritage sites list. These spectacular spots offer stargazers an opportunity to reconnect with the planet and learn more about the universe.

We believe you deserve to know the top spots that will give you the most magical experience, yet.  Here are 4 top places to visit in 2020 for stargazing.

The Best Stargazing Places to Visit

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Located in the remote Lake Powell of Utah, Natural Bridges was the first to be certified by the IDA as the international dark sky park. The IDA is the leading organization in combating light pollution, it is a big deal. The designation recognizes areas with some of the darkest and clearest skies in the world. It acknowledged darkness as a resource worthy of conservation and protection and appreciates the efforts extended to achieve this. The main attraction of the dark skies of Natural Bridges is a phenomenon that rises over the natural rock formation of Owachomo Bridge creating one of the most spectacular Milky Way you have ever seen. The bridge forms some sort of a window to the sky by beautifully framing thousands of stars, all of which are visible with the naked eye.

Plan to camp here overnight to have the full experience. Night photographers do get some of the most marvelous shots at the Natural Bridges National Monument, but always remember artificial sources of light for photography are prohibited.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States

Located about 2,500 miles Southwest of California, Hawaii has evolved to be one of the leading astronomy destinations. The high volcanic peaks offer some of the most spectacular sceneries around the world.

Mauna Kea Summit is perhaps the most popular stargazing spots in Hawaii.

13,803 feet above the town of Hilo and close to Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Observatory, the largest of its kind in the world. It is a major astronomy hub.

What’s more, is that it is one of the few places on earth you can drive nearly 14,000 above sea level. Just make sure you check-in at the Visitors Station to acclimatize. You don’t want to experience altitude sickness. Still, the journey is magical with starry rewards. Make sure to bring the best telescopes as from this spot you get to see the celestial wonders of the Northern Hemisphere from bands of Jupiter to the constellations of Orion. Also because Mauna Kea is close to the equator, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere are visible, too. This means that over 80% of the earth’s stars can be seen from Mauna Kea.

Photographers have been known to capture the rare lunar rainbow from Mauna Kea. Lunar rainbows are essentially lit by the moon and not the sun, and occur under precise conditions.

Pic du Midi, France

Located in the Pyrénées Mountains of France, Pic Ddu Midi is good enough of a spot for NASA to take photos of the moon surface in preparation for their missions; it’s good enough for you.

A cable car from the La Mongie will get you to the summit, where an observatory is perched right above the clouds.

Also, the reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a major French national park. Plan to book an overnight stay to experience an unforgettable night under the stars.

Los Angeles, California

It is primarily known for another kind of star, the Hollywood star, and smog that is ever-present. To many, Lost Angeles does not come off as an ideal place to go stargazing. But those that have visited the iconic Griffith Observatory will tell you otherwise. Perched atop Mount Hollywood, it is one of the most astronomically intriguing places to visit. Depending on the time of the year, from Griffith Observatory you can observe assorted double stars, nebulae, Jupiter, and Venus. And with powerful telescopes, the incredibly detailed view of the Moon’s craggy surface can be visible.

The stars are accessible from most places and to everyone but some locations can get you the most from a night sky. Add these spots to your bucket list and start ticking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to an amazing view few people will even get to see.

The post 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020 appeared first on Travel Experta – Family Travel Blog.

By: Marina Villatoro
Title: 4 Top Stargazing Places to Visit in 2020
Sourced From: feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheTravelExperta/~3/uLPw0ytsHf8/4-top-stargazing-places-visit-2020.html
Published Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:30:03 +0000

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