I Was Just Thinking…

. . . about hotels and how many will not be re-opening their doors in the wake of Covid-19. The Wall Street Journal, for example, reports 20% of the hotels in New York City are going out of business.

The reasons are no mystery. Fewer visitors from overseas. More business execs deciding they can do business just as well on Zoom as they can by flying to a face-to-face meeting. As the airline industry knows, domestic tourism can’t make up for the lost revenue of business travelers.

As a military brat, I traveled widely thanks to my father’s career as an Army officer.

But I rarely stayed in hotels; my father always seemed to know someone who had a spare bedroom or two when we were on the road. I still recall the excitement of staying once or twice in a Howard Johnson hotel on a turnpike. Banana ice cream at the always-adjacent HoJo restaurant, sometimes a vibrating bed for the cost of a quarter.

As a young adult—clearly rebelling against my father—I stayed in hotels beyond my budget just because I could. I grew interested in how hotels work, and I’m still impressed by how much a hotel staff usually reveres and respects a general manager.

And I love the back stories of hotels.

One of the best histories of a hotel was courtesy of one of my guests on my webinar last week. Luke Barr wrote a book titled Ritz and Escoffier, and it’s the story behind London’s Savoy hotel.

I didn’t know that prior to the opening of The Savoy in 1898 (right), hotels were not regarded in a particularly favorable light.

Women were not commonly guests in fancy restaurants let alone hotels, and “decent” women rarely entered a hotel’s bar.

But César Ritz, born a peasant in Switzerland, and August Escoffier, who started working in his uncle’s restaurant as a boy living near the French Riviera, designed a grand London hotel with electricity, elevators, and en suite bathrooms. Those were revolutionary luxuries at the time. Barr calls Ritz the “Ian Schrager of his day.” Along with Escoffier revolutionizing French cooking, the often contentious duo set the standard for luxury hotels some of us are still lucky enough to enjoy.

You can hear my conversation with Barr on YouTube here, and his book is a great read, too.


California Wine Country: The New Rules

If you’re considering a trip to taste wines in popular grape-growing regions in California such as Napa or Sonoma, there are some new rules you should know.

The first and most important is that you may need a reservation before you visit a winery for a tour or tasting. For the moment, the days of driving around northern California wine country and pulling into a winery at random to taste a few wines are over. Reservations allow wineries to control the number of people visiting. They also allow a winery to capture your personal information should tracing become necessary.

Many wineries require face coverings when touring a winery or even vineyards. Obviously those may be removed for tastings. If possible, wineries will offer tastings outdoors; if inside seating is required, you may be asked to remain in your car until your table is ready.

Plastic glasses may be used. Restrooms will be cleaned after every use. Groups may be limited to six guests.

Bottom line: It’s best to call ahead and learn details when making a reservation. And if you haven’t been to Napa or Sonoma in a while, you might be surprised that tasting fees have risen quite a bit. Take that credit card.


Short Takes

  • Effective today, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut require visitors from states with high rates of Covid-19 to quarantine for 14 days. At the moment, that includes visitors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah, and Texas.
  • Marriott joins other hotel chains in trying to lure guests back but not by offering bonus points for stays (Hyatt, triple points, IHG quadruple points after three stays) but by discounting award points needed for free nights. Many Marriott properties will be “priced” at off-peak levels for redeeming points for stays between now and the end of July IF you book by the end of June.
  • The United Arab Emirates says foreigners can return beginning July 7th, but you must produce or pass a negative PCR test (that determines if you’re carrying the Covid-19 virus) in order to clear immigration.
  • Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) proposes a tax credit to encourage Americans to travel. Her proposal would allow single filers a $4,000 tax credit ($8,000 for those filing jointly) for travel expenditures (lodging and entertainment) in the US and its territories this year, 2021, and 2022. The US Travel Association claims credit for the idea. Read the entire bill here.
  • The North American head of the Airports Council International, Kevin Burke, begs the federal government to mandate uniform Covid-19 safety standards at all airports. Currently each airport makes its own rules—Dulles and Reagan National require everyone to wear masks in those airports, but nearby Baltimore-Washington International doesn’t.
  • The Ace Hotel group that designs hip lobbies for hanging out opened its first Asian property in Kyoto, Japan. It includes an Italian restaurant as well as a taco eatery.
  • The Belmond El Encanto in the hills of Santa Barbara, one of the most romantic hotels in the world, re-opens today for business. Five White Elephant hotels on Nantucket are open now, too, but the sixth, the White Elephant Inn, opens July 1st.
  • A fake page on Facebook masquerading as Southwest Airlines’ page offered 500 free flights to anyone who provided personal information earlier this week. Too good to be true. Ignore a page called “Southwest Air.”
  • Americans are still on Europe’s “Don’t Invite ‘Em” list due to our big Covid-19 numbers, according to this New York Times article Wednesday. The guidelines change constantly, but I wouldn’t rush to buy an airline ticket.


Quotes on Switzerland

“The Swiss are not so much a people as much as a neat, clean, quite solvent business.”

—William Faulkner, writer

“The only interesting thing that happens in a Swiss bedroom is suffocation by feather mattress.”

—Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter & novelist


I’m lucky to have two show biz guests on my webcast today, Thursday, June 25th, at noon Pacific time. Join & participate!

We’ll discuss life on the road with Kurt Fuller, one of America’s best-known character actors. You may have seen him in “Midnight in Paris” or “Wayne’s World” and dozens of popular TV shows.

Derek Hughes is a comedian, magician, and was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent.” (Catch him on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” here.)

And just go here to register, and you’ll receive a reminder & code for entering the event.