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The Evolving Travel ‘Experience’: Virtual, Actual and In Between



Guided excursions have long been at the heart of travel, but like everything else, the pandemic disrupted such experiences, and many went virtual. But as travel begins to tick up, existing tour companies are adapting to social distancing in other ways.

Some are complementing virtual experiences — for instance, guided chocolate tastings with chocolate shipped before the tour — and tailoring closer-to-home actual adventures, like kayaking and hiking. Others are making groups smaller or private and moving outdoors.

This fall, a new player, Amazon, took a deep dive into the strictly virtual model with the start of its Amazon Explore platform, which offers everything from online shopping tours in Peru to tango lessons from Argentina.

Even in destinations that are reopening to international tourism, some operators are waiting for travel to rebound before switching entirely from virtual to actual. Since Panama reopened to international travel last month, Jerin Tate, the owner of Panama Day Trips, has guided just a few in-person tours and plans to continue offering free virtual birding tours in Soberanía National Park near Panama City into December.

“We’re crossing our fingers and hoping, hoping, hoping there’s some semblance of normalcy then,” he said.

In the meantime, the trend reflects a continuum from virtual to actual, as seen below.

The online retailer Amazon applies its shopping prowess to the sourcing of souvenirs with the new platform Amazon Explore. In one-on-one sessions, armchair travelers can visit a leather maker in Seattle ($20), vintage shops in Tokyo ($49) and a Norwegian department store ($90), accompanied by local guides. In many cases, relevant items are available to purchase during the experience — via Amazon, of course.

Not every experience is shopping related. Amazon offers tango lessons with an instructor in Buenos Aires ($90) and a voodoo and cemetery tour in New Orleans ($90). A category devoted to creativity, including a class in Mexican salsa making ($39) and in the Japanese tie-dye style known as shibori ($40), often includes a list of items to have on hand to work alongside an instructor.

“Amazon Explore is designed to complement, rather than replace, traditional travel,” the company stated in an email.

Though Amazon has long threatened small retailers, the new platform uses its size and distribution power to link customers to small businesses around the world. Currently, Amazon Explore is offering 175 experiences, ranging from $10 to $168.

“Shop owners, guides, teachers, chefs, stylists, artists, and artisans can get access to millions of customers on Amazon while setting their own prices and hours,” the company stated.

To test the system, I signed up for a shopping tour of Kappabashi Street ($25), the “kitchen town” of Tokyo filled with shops selling kitchenware. In a quick 45 minutes, Giulia Maglio, a guide with Ninja Food Tours, used a hand-held camera to take me to three shops in the neighborhood where we discussed the different styles of chopsticks (fat and flat for tofu, ribbed for ramen), how to hold a rice bowl by the pedestal and the preponderance of lifelike plastic food restaurants use to signal what’s on the menu.

“The purpose is also to make you hungry,” she said.

Beware the temptation of browsing abroad. I ordered two rice bowls for $20, which cost an additional $20 to ship. But Amazon made it seamless — it charged the credit card I used for the tour in a matter of seconds at the end of the session — and I doubt I’ll forget how I acquired them.

With travel curtailed, Americans sought real-life diversions outside of their homes, according to Peek, a booking management platform for small businesses offering experiences from farm tours to kayak rentals.

This summer, it saw a shift to what it calls “daycations,” or excursions close to home. In June and July, 70 percent of bookings were from people residing within 150 miles, compared to 50 percent at the same time the year before.

Trending activities included wild mushroom foraging in Santa Cruz, Calif. ($90) and nighttime boat tours in St. Augustine, Fla. ($31). A Peek user, Tanaka Farms in Irvine, Calif., adapted its farm tours as drive-through events, including an upcoming holiday lights festival (from $49 a car).

“People have been stuck indoors and wanted to find things to do in real life,” said Ruzwana Bashir, the founder of Peek, noting that the company set a record for October bookings.

The San Francisco-based chocolate maker Dandelion Chocolate, another Peek client, adapted its experiences online, now offering chocolate tastings ($70) and truffle making ($100) that include shipments of chocolates to participants in advance for a blend of virtual and real elements.

“We’re able to reach more people now,” said Cynthia Jonasson, the head of education for Dandelion, who said private bookings often celebrate a birthday or other milestone with attendees from various locations.

Adventure outfitters are booking locally, too. Traffic to 57Hours, a site launched in 2019 that links travelers to outdoor adventure guides, picked up over the summer as users, primarily locals, turned to outdoor adventures for socially distant diversions, especially in private bookings.

Guide services start at $80 for a half-day of hiking or surfing and average $200 to $300 for a full day of climbing or backcountry skiing.

“A lot of guides who normally are doing international trips or working in the Swiss Alps are now home and have to market themselves for the first time,” said Perica Levatic, a co-founder of the company.

Greg Hill, a professional skier and 57Hours guide based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, champions the “300-Mile Adventure Diet,” which he writes about for the site, espousing trips within a tank of gas as a way to travel more sustainably and appreciate what’s close by.

“Often, the romanticism of what’s far away kind of blinds you to what’s in your own backyard,” he said. “I find that if you stay within a radius of home you’re going to see those rivers and mountains again and again and then your trips will resonate longer than a mountain in Pakistan, because you’ll never see it again.”

Even the culinary company Traveling Spoon, a network of cooks who open their homes to travelers for meals, has found ways to resume in-person operations, including moving outdoors with barbecues in Manila (from $74), picnics in the Azores islands (from $76) and cooking classes in an outdoor kitchen near Florence ($170).

For those ready to take a city walking tour but eager to avoid other travelers, including guides, Sherpa Tours uses avatar narrators and augmented reality technology on itineraries downloaded to a mobile app.

GPS technology directs users from site to site where an avatar appears on your smartphone screen, discussing the landmark from scripts developed by local experts including historians, professional guides, architects and writers.

After a disappointing walking tour of Quito, Ecuador, with a dull guide, Michael Suskind, a private investigator based in Chicago, dreamed up Sherpa, which launched in 2019 and now has more than 150 tours in 80 cities globally.

“I wanted to come up with something that removed the risk of getting a bad guide,” he said.

Having tried the Sherpa tour of Millennium Park in Chicago, I found the contactless excursion a socially distant way to tour — we were able to stand well apart from other park-goers and still enjoy the narrative — with the high-tech novelty of following a virtual person at an affordable price (most tours cost $4.99).

“It’s very flexible,” said Bori Korom, a guide, writer and editor based in Budapest who has written three tours for Sherpa. “If someone likes to be spontaneous, you can stop and check out a museum or get a bite to eat, and then come back to the tour three hours later.”

For 17 years before the pandemic, Context Travel linked travelers with very specialized guides, including architects, historians and artists on private and small group tours, recently in more than 70 cities globally.

When the pandemic shut down travel, the company quickly moved to virtual tours online in a series called Context Conversations, featuring live 90-minute lectures on cultural subjects — such as the music of Ireland and the Hindu festival of light called Diwali — with its experts (from $36.50).

“Our key points of difference are offering scholarly tours for the intellectually curious or lifelong learners,” said Evan Frank, the chief executive of Context Travel.

Online, the Conversations — about 600 to date — often use location as a springboard to investigate topics like the women of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural history of Japanese green tea and portrait painting as propaganda used by the Tudors in 16th-century England.

Compared to in-person guiding, “It’s a little more professorial,” said Marie Dessaillen, an art historian and Context guide in Paris. “You can’t read the clients to know if they are understanding, but you get that in Q. and A. at the end.”

An expanded offering called “Courses” features a series of lectures, including a recent two-day, eight-hour exploration of the Trans-Siberian Railway with a Russian historian ($175).

Henry Lummertz, a lawyer based in Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, has taken the Trans-Siberian course among more than 250 Context Conversations since they launched in March.

“Traveling and learning are very important to me and I lack that now,” he said. “This is a way to interact with people from a place I would like to visit.”

By: Elaine Glusac
Title: The Evolving Travel ‘Experience’: Virtual, Actual and In Between
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Published Date: Thu, 12 Nov 2020 10:00:16 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?




People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
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Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?




The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?




There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.

Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? 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 N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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