Saturday, January 12, 2008

Awkward Encounters in the Hollywood Trenches

Brooks Barnes writes for the New York Times Dec. 31, 2007:

The captains of most industries do not mix socially with the rank and file, but the people on opposite sides of this bargaining table often send their children to the same elite schools, dine at the same fashionable restaurants and attend the same holiday parties.

Only a rarefied circle of writers, of course, has the ability to truly mingle with Hollywood’s corporate royalty. The vast majority of writers are average folks who manage a middle-class existence or are unemployed in their chosen profession at any given moment. The union says the average income for a member is $60,000.

But the union also counts as members dozens of creators of hit television shows, who can take home upwards of $5 million a year, and writers who command fees of $1 million for a screenplay or more.

As the strike enters its ninth week, some of the people from both sides are sunbathing elbow to elbow at the Four Seasons Hualalai pool in Hawaii, one of several luxury resorts where Hollywood’s upper echelons jet for winter vacations.

To hell with the garden, head for the tropics

Amy Stewart writes:

A little over a month ago I was in Miami, drinking mojitos on the beach after midnight. I had brought along a sweater, which is the sort of silly superfluous thing that people from Northern California do when they visit a beach. We simply can’t hold the idea of a reliably warm, tropical coastline in our minds long enough to leave a sweater at home. New Yorkers shed their overcoats at the Miami airport with the confidence of someone who knows how to trade in a cold place for a warm one, but not Californians. We cling to the idea that any ocean could turn cold and unfriendly. We come prepared.

So there I was, with my unnecessary sweater and my even more unnecessary $15 mojito, coming to a gradual appreciation for the concept of wintering in a place like Miami. Sure, it is a glittering, false, unsustainable and incomprehensible jumble of half-empty, subprime-financed skyscrapers that look to be at risk of sliding into the reliably warm and ever-rising ocean. Yes, the place is populated by people who have little in common with me except for the fact that they, too, like to drink a mojito on the beach at midnight, or at least go to bed early knowing that they could have. But then again, these weeks of shortened days and colder nights make me realize that there is something utterly reasonable about the idea of just skipping winter altogether. Why not? Who needs winter, really?

I’m not the only one who feels this way. If you live in Humboldt County but can afford not to, you’re probably already making a seasonal pilgrimage to some warmer climate. Sidestepping winter is a secret little vice that gets discussed in hushed tones around these parts. Just last week, a friend pulled me aside and muttered that he was taking the family to Hawaii after Christmas. “It’s insane to spend that kind of money,” he said, “but you can snorkel in that water.” He said it with the incredulity that comes from living near a body of water that would just as soon kill you as allow you to float atop it for an hour or two.

A compilation of hot spots, lists and statistics for 2008 travel

From the Canadian Press:

U.S. Tour Operators Association: For the fifth straight year, Italy placed first as the most popular international destination for vacation packages and tours, according to an annual informal poll of USTOA member companies. Croatia, followed by China, were the hottest up-and-coming countries for tours and packages.

Yahoo Travel: Yahoo Travel's biggest domestic "Movers & Shakers" - destinations that got the biggest increase in page views in Yahoo Travel Guides - were Lancaster, Pa., Ocean City, N.J., South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Wildwood, N.J., Helen, Ga., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

Lonely Planet: Top 10 destinations for 2008, according to a survey of the guidebook publisher's U.S. staffers, are the U.S., with an emphasis on national parks and Hawaii; Mexico, with an emphasis on Mexico City and the Pacific Coast; Argentina; Japan; India and Canada (tied); Australia and China (tied); Spain and France.

JWT top travel trends: Top trends identified by JWT (formerly J. Walter Thompson), the largest ad agency in the U.S.: "Staycations," where travellers stay closer to home and take long weekends instead of weeks away; cruising; volunteer vacations; climate sightseeing (visits to see phenomena threatened by climate change); couch-surfing (using the Internet to find strangers who will put you up in their home when you travel); medical tourism; babymoons (where couples take a vacation before their first baby arrives); and "trans-entertainment" (Wi-Fi transportation making it easier to watch videos or surf the web while travelling).

National Parks: The National Park system received 223.7 million recreation visits January-September 2007, a 1.3 per cent increase or 2.8 million more visits than in 2006. The biggest gains were seen in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (in California, up 437,000 recreational visits); the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (in eastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, up 281,000 visits); Lincoln Memorial (in Washington, up 324,000 visits); the National World War II Memorial (in Washington, up 245,000 visits); Yellowstone (in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, up 284,000 visits) and Yosemite (in California, up 234,000 visits).

Save on winter travel by vacationing during 'dead time'

Molly writes:

Planning a vacation to a popular destination this winter? You'll pay less and have smaller crowds if you can travel during "dead time"—the week after New Year's. That's when you can slip through the window of affordability that opens after holiday travelers have returned home and closes as school vacations and spring break begin.

Early January is the perfect time to hit winter hot spots like Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. Even though winter is technically high season in those destinations, the drop off during this period prompts many providers to lower their prices. Depending on the provider, you may have a few days to several weeks of lower prices.

Looking at seven-day round-trip flights from Boston to Miami on Hotwire, I found Christmas week flights ranging from $380 to $453. After January 1, the price dropped significantly ($199 to $239) and then went up again during school vacation time in February ($216 to $490). It's the same with flights from Chicago to Cancun (Christmas, $530 to $846; dead time, $395 to $455; school vacation, $400 to $527).

Hotels may offer discounts or other deals as well. For example, the luxurious Peter Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands has a seven-night-for-the-price-of-five deal through January 31. At Atlantis in the Bahamas, you can save $175 nightly by staying the week after New Year's instead of Christmas week, and at least $25 nightly by avoiding school vacation time.

Spirit of travelers is alive and well

Bob writes:

"When there's a slowdown in the economy, travel only slows slightly," the Associated Press quoted Douglas Shifflet of D.K. Shifflet and Associates, which tracks travel trends. "The amount of time people spend on vacations and hotels is hit harder. They make tradeoffs; they stay closer to home or with friends and relatives."

Added Amy Ziff, editor-at-large of Travelocity: "They look for other ways to save, like taking a day or two off of their trip."

In a nutshell, it appears Americans will cope in different ways, but they will continue to travel. In very high numbers.

Local travel agents support this view. One said that business for the rest of the year "is very high. Particularly among trips overseas, with a number of long and high-end vacations planned."

Where are the international hot spots for 2008? According to the national survey, they include Beijing, Central America, Italy, Eastern Europe and Lisbon, Portugal.

Domestic travel is expected to benefit from the weak dollar and other trends that were evident this past year. Visits to U.S. national parks were up 1.3 percent from January through September 2007, as compared to previous years. Yosemite and Yellowstone parks added more than a quarter million visitors.

Hawaii, too, is expected to benefit from Americans choosing destinations other than overseas with the dollar as weak as it is. "Particularly if people get a good deal on trips," Lonely Planet spokeswoman Christina Tunnah told the AP.

Alaskans head to Hawaii to cure winter blues

From the Canadian Press:

HONOLULU - To some, a vacation in the tropics involves sipping mai tais poolside at a five-star resort. To others it's surfing lessons or snorkelling on a colourful, fish-filled reef.

To Francis Mitchell and Joanne Mehl of McGrath, Alaska, vacation paradise is the modest second home they have built atop a barren, windswept lava field on the Big Island, Hawaii's youngest and most volcanically active island.

The couple have lived for years in a remote cabin, without running water, in the wilderness of interior Alaska. Each year they, and thousands of other Alaskans, board flights bound direct to the Hawaiian Islands for a break from the cold and, in some places, absolute darkness of a northern winter.

"Hawaii balances Alaska because it is so soft and gentle compared to how hard Alaska can be," said Mehl, 56, who volunteers with rural firefighting crews in the summer and has worked a variety of jobs in her town of 320 people. "At this point, I couldn't live year-round in McGrath because of the cold and the darkness."

McGrath, about 355 kilometres northwest of Anchorage, is known for hosting dozens of dog teams during the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The community gets less than four hours of sunlight during the shortest winter days. Temperatures there can fall to minus 50 Celsius.

"I like the winter, and if it wasn't for Joanne, I'd probably be spending the winter in McGrath," said Mitchell, 70, who retired from the rural development program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "But we love Hawaii. We swim and snorkel and do quite a bit of hiking. There is a pristine white sand beach just two and a half miles from our place."

Tempting times for some as investors check into the timeshare property scene

From The Age, David Cohen writes:

"I'M SURE you already know this, as you're people who already successfully own their own homes, but rent stands for Return of Equity Never to the Tenant."

Chris Stedman was half-way through his 75-minute sales pitch aimed at persuading BusinessDay to buy a timeshare property in Hawaii.

"Renting is death," he said. "People purchase their vacations for the same reason they purchase their homes."

Mr Stedman (a "Master Sales Executive — Yellow Diamond", according to his card) made the idea of spending anything from $US23,640 ($A26,430) to $US250,000 on a Marriott timeshare on the island of Oahu the only sensible course of action.

BusinessDay resisted, but many others signed up. Timeshares are popular in the US and Europe, and are becoming more popular in Australia.

"Timeshares are propping up some small towns in Australia," says Laura Younger, general manager of the Australian Timeshare and Holiday Ownership Council.

...Overseas, Marriott has added 500 timeshare properties in the past five years, including a dozen in Hawaii. The company looks after half a million rooms a night.

The rooms Mr Stedman wanted BusinessDay to buy don't exist yet: they'll be in a tower being built at the Ko Olina Beach Club, a 30-minute drive from Honolulu.

A two-bedroom, two-bathroom 40-square-metre spread with a small balcony costs $US23,640. It will have mountain views instead of a beach vista and could be used every second year.

At the other end of the scale, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom ocean view 115 sq m penthouse available for a month at Ko Olina every year cost $US250,000.