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Travel Goes Members-Only



International travel had been a major part of Paul Brinkman’s life for years. Mr. Brinkman, 47, his wife and their four children spent months meandering through Europe, flew to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria with relief supplies, and, this past February went to Kenya and Tanzania. While away from home, the family would frequently stay in Airbnb or Vrbo home rentals, sometimes up to 60 nights per year.

But with the onset of the pandemic, the evaporation of international travel and the increasing importance of health and safety protocols, Mr. Brinkman, chairman of the board of Brinkman Construction, found himself signing up for Exclusive Resorts, a membership-based club that owns about 400 private residences and villas. While Exclusive had been on his radar for years, the value proposition — on-site concierge services, flexible cancellation fees and now, new partnerships with both a private jet operator and a private medical service — was suddenly more appealing. The family now plans to spend Presidents’ Day weekend in February at an Exclusive property in Real del Mar, Mexico.

“You have an ambassador that helps you with anything, like your own private travel agent,” Mr. Brinkman said of Exclusive. “When you rent a house through Airbnb or Vrbo, you’re at the mercy of owners. Many of them are doing a great job, but it’s on you to ask, and to assess, which is a lot more work.”

The ability to take care of things is a part of the promise of membership travel, even if the ask has shifted from an exclusive dinner reservation to an option for medical evacuation. Club benefits often center on easing the burden of planning and uncertainty; now, safety is an essential part of that. Those benefits vary, of course, and are largely tied to the cost, and type, of the club you’re joining. A membership to the international jet-setter’s Soho House grants you access to private clubhouses outfitted with restaurants, work spaces, pools, hotel rooms, and more, around the world — so long as you’re deemed a “like-minded creative soul” and your application is approved. Newer luxury clubs like Manifest Travel offer carefully curated, small-group trips, with private air travel.

These don’t come cheap: For Exclusive, after an $150,000 initiation fee, members must book a minimum of 15 days per year, which at $1,395 per night, translates to an annual cost of at least $20,925. Even the more affordable timeshare model, which brokers in the promise of flexibility, spacious accommodations and familiarity, require an average initiation fee of $20,000.

Privatized travel, in all of its forms, has been booming in a year where much of the industry is grappling for a lifeline. With international travel on hold and the future of flying uncertain, travelers are cashing in on those timeshares, buying into second-home communities boasting exclusive perks and joining luxury travel clubs in unprecedented numbers. This, in part, is because membership models may be particularly suited to pandemic-era travel — Exclusive, for example, swaps in new pillows after each stay — but their proliferation raises an interesting question. Is health and safety only a guarantee for those with an “in” and money to burn?

The splashiest news regarding membership-centric travel came this summer, with the announcement that the Chateau Marmont, the celebrity-favorite in Hollywood, would be transitioning to a members-only hotel.

Before the pandemic, approximately 70 percent of hotel guests were repeat customers and the top 100 guests generated the majority of room revenue, according to a press representative for the Chateau Marmont.

“In all but name, we’re already more of an exclusive membership community than even outright membership-based models,” said the owner André Balazs. “I prefer to think of it as a members’ hotel.”

The new concept centers on members owning a certain portion of the Chateau and additional properties, which may include locations in London, New York, Milan and Paris. Many other details remain unknown. Mr. Balazs said that the shift is still in the planning phases, but shared that a membership fee would likely not be required, and that members might be invited by invitation. The transition is expected to take place sometime next year.

Some questions have been raised regarding the motivations behind the decision. According to the Hollywood Reporter, some believe the shift is meant to break up an attempted employees union; the article also brought up allegations of misconduct and abuse from Mr. Balazs and hotel management. A press representative for the Chateau Marmont dismissed those claims.

News of the Chateau’s shift stands out in a year of constantly shifting travel, but membership-based luxury travel options are nothing new. Exclusive Resorts was founded in 2002, by the brothers Brent and Brad Handler. Both left the company to found Inspirato, another luxury membership-based travel club, in 2011, which instead of owning properties, as Exclusive Resorts does, the company signs long-term leases of private homes and hotels. This, the company says, allows for a wider array of properties, a less pricey membership based on monthly fees and a larger membership base — though still for those with very high net worths. The cheapest membership begins at $600 per month, with a $1,200 initiation fee, and does not include accommodation fees.

Both companies hit a hard pause back in March, refunding members for trips previously planned. Since then, they have seen an almost extraordinary surge of interest when they resumed operations in May and June.

“We shut down our whole portfolio from March 30 to May 15. And in July, we came roaring back,” said Mr. Handler. “We saw our highest occupancy ever — near 90 percent.”

“This past August, we saw the highest level of demand since 2013,” said James Henderson, the current chief executive of Exclusive Resorts. “We signed members in August that have been in our database as prospects 10 years ago and decided now, at this time, they wanted the security and trust that we can offer.”

Examples of rapid, unusual interest abound across the luxury space, including membership clubs that operate based on the more traditional ownership model.

“We are seeing incredible growth,” said Mike Wilcynski, the general manager of Moonlight Basin, a home ownership-based destination community and members club in Big Sky, Mont. “On Dec. 1, 2019, we had 384 members. This December, we’re on track to have around 480.” Purchasing a home site on Moonlight Basin’s property, which generally go for a base of $800 to $1,900 per square foot, allows members access to a private lodge, golf club, social events and a dedicated staff. (Initiation fees for a comprehensive membership cost $100,000, plus annual dues of $13,000.)

Brittanny Havard, the director of marketing of the Alpine Mountain Ranch & Club, also cited, “literally unprecedented sales. We’ve sold out of all our remaining inventory,” she said.

The 1200-acre ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which is similarly based on owning a home on the property, offers various membership tiers which may include everything from intimate events, like a Basque-style, wine-paired dinner centered around a whole roast lamb, to access to the adjacent golf club and a private, slope-side club at Steamboat Springs ski resort. Homes in this community tend to clock in at around $5 million.

“We believe it has to do with the trend of luxury buyers fleeing dense, urban centers, kind of combined with a do-or-die mentality,” Ms. Harvard said. “Covid has taught us, if nothing else, life is short. Instead of waiting to retire in five years, do it now … build your dream home!”

Jason Gamel, president and chief executive of the American Resort Development Association, the timeshare industry’s trade association, noted that while timeshare developers are seeing slightly slower growth from new customers, current owners are spending more thanks to familiarity, available space, and the drivability of many timeshare locations.

“There’s a desire for more space, professional management and cleanliness standards that far exceed the norm,” he said. “Right now, current owners want to buy more: more units, more time, bigger accommodations.”

Wyndham Destinations is one of the world’s largest time-share companies. At its Wyndham Vacation Clubs, which include four different brands, 900,000 owners, 230 Wyndham club resorts and 4,300 affiliated properties, online bookings for Club Wyndham (the flagship of the four brands) were up 18 percent in July, and 80 percent of resorts were seeing longer stays from guests, according to Noah Brodsky, chief brand officer of Wyndham Destinations. Mr. Gamel speculated that, in lieu of bigger, international trips, timeshare members are opting to splurge on travel within their clubs, instead.

Newer membership companies are making health and safety factors a core part of their pitch, if not the entirety of it. Manifest Travel opened its doors in August, centering on high-end, small group trips based out of local chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Phoenix and Denver. All of the club’s curated itineraries are to nearby, domestic destinations and include travel via private plane (Jeff Potter, the founder, conceived of the idea pre-Covid, but acknowledges that the model is particularly appealing).

Again, safety and security don’t come cheap. A Manifest membership is $2,500 per year, plus individual trip costs, which may range from $5,000 to $7,000.

The ability to pay for membership, and therefore, a kind peace of mind, is and has always been a privilege. But it’s a highly appealing one in uncertain times.

“In the short term, I think this focus on safety has increased the profile of clubs like ourselves,” Mr. Henderson said. “But I don’t necessarily think that this is the only way people are going to travel in the future. We have very specific types of offerings and we’re not looking to change that. Plus, our members also join for a sense of community.”

By: Lauren Sloss
Title: Travel Goes Members-Only
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Published Date: Fri, 23 Oct 2020 09:00:25 +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.

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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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