About That Virus

I wish I could offer a wise overview on the future of travel, but the news comes in almost minute-by-minute: France, Italy, Denmark, Germany and others close their borders; US airlines say they’ll be insolvent by the end of May; Alitalia is nationalized; North Carolina’s Outer Banks shut down to tourists; restaurants are mostly shut down in Illinois, Mississippi, and many other places; the San Francisco area decrees “shelter in place” and the mayor of New York City suggests that’s a possibility for his city, as well.

In short, the travel landscape changes constantly.

Meanwhile, passenger counts have plummeted on airlines that have slashed fares (and destinations served), and advice on flying varies depending on whom you ask and when you ask. (Cruise lines, of course, are pretty much grounded for at least the next two months.)

You don’t need another person to tell you to wash your hands. You don’t need another email from an airline, cruise line, hotel, or restaurant telling you about their more aggressive cleaning regimens. If you’re elderly and have underlying health issues, it’s a good time to stay home. And the federal government suggests everyone stay home.

At MaxaTours, we’ve cancelled some upcoming tours and placed guests on later ones or refunded deposits. And we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding late summer. You may want to do the same.


Tip O’ The Week

As I write Monday evening, the long phone waits to reach US airlines’ reservation agents have largely ended. I only waited four minutes to reach a Delta agent.

“I think most everyone,” Delta’s reservationist told me, “has cancelled their reservations now.”

But if you’re having difficulty reaching a US airline, fire up Skype and try calling an airline’s overseas’ number. You might have to dig around the web, but you’ll find foreign numbers. For example, United Airlines’ international numbers can be found here. Keep in mind, overseas phone lines may not be manned around the clock.


Would This Coax You To Visit Oklahoma

Just before the Coronavirus news hit, the tourism folks in Oklahoma unveiled a new state slogan to attract visitors: “Imagine That.”

The point is to promote Oklahoma as the last place in the US where you can “still imagine the American dream.

The state gathered 200 local designers and paid a Canadian consulting firm more than $250,000 to decide on this slogan that the state hopes will put to bed it’s former clunker, “Oklahoma Is OK.”

The best I can say is that “Imagine That” is a tad better than Nebraska’s slogan that I thought was last year’s worst entry: “Honestly. It’s Not For Everyone.”


Short Takes

  • W Hotels partner with Rent The Runway folks (who loan women’s outfits every month to regular subscribers) to provide four items of clothing for women when they check into a W. Price: $69. You’ll make your clothing choices through the W website a week or so before you travel. Then wear them at your destination and leave them in your hotel room’s closet at check out. Trial runs at W properties in Aspen, LA, DC, and Miami were successful, so W is rolling the option out to other W hotels.
  • When will Boeing’s 737MAX return to service? It’s anyone’s guess. Boeing last said mid-2020, but that’s looking less likely. Heck, no planes maybe flying by then.
  • Norwegian Air, Europe’s third-largest, low-cost carrier, laid off 90% of its work force and says it may have to close down in several weeks if it doesn’t receive assistance from the Norwegian government.
  • Hyatt postpones introduction of a new off-peak and peak point redemption chart that was planned for March 22nd. Free-night redemptions will be at standard rates for the rest of 2020.
  • Marriott announces the lay off of tens of thousands of employees and the closing of hotels. Reportedly, employees will retain health insurance benefits but will receive no pay while they’re furloughed.
  • Hilton offers 500 bonus points per day at participating Alamo, Enterprise, or National locations worldwide. Good for rentals up to nine days through the end of the year. Reserve your car through Hilton’s website here.


Brad Who? Lonely Planets Low Key Owner Has Some Land to Sell

Ever wonder who owns the Lonely Planet publishing empire? So did I. It’s tobacco billionaire Brad Kelley. Ever heard of him? Neither had I.

Kelley made his fortune with a discount cigarette business that he sold 19 years ago to Houchens Industries (a convenience and grocery store company) for about $1 billion.

And Kelley likes to buy land. Big chunks of land in West Texas and New Mexico. And now he wants to sell. A parcel of his Texas ranches covering 500,000 acres is on the market for $404 million. A 50,000-acre New Mexico ranch is also on the market for $96 million. All that is only about half the land he owns, making him the eighth-largest landowner in the US according to Land Report.

Footnote: Five of those seven Texas ranches equal half the size of the state of Rhode Island, suggesting you might need a Lonely Planet guide to navigate.

This Is What Brilliant Travel Writing Looks Like

An elderly campesino in a battered hat and scuffed boots was stumbling in the bleak high desert, in the sighing emptiness of the Mixteca Alta In Oaxaca state. He was alone on the track that leads from the remote village of Santa María Ixcatlán to the crossroads, miles away. Obviously poor and struggling along, he seemed to me an iconic Mexican figure, emblematic of the life of the land. He could have been a hungry farmer headed to the market, a hopeful worker looking for a factory job, a migrant setting off for the border, or someone seeking help. Whatever his destination, he was on a rough road.

We stopped the pickup truck and told him to hop in.

After an hour of bumping along we arrived at the crossroads. The man offered his hand and said, “Many thanks.”

“What is the name of this pueblo, señor?”

It is San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca,” he said.  “See, the old convent.”

“What is the meaning of ‘Coixtlahuaca’?”

El llano de las serpientes.”

The plain of snakes.

–Paul Theroux’s new book on travels in Mexico, On the Plain of Snakes