Ryanair Dispute Over Pay Demands Escalates as Employee Council Seeks Involvement

Chris Ratcliffe  / Bloomberg

Passengers queue to board a Ryanair aircraft at Dublin Airport. Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

Skift Take: Europe’s biggest discount airline requires its pilots to pay for their own hotels when they cannot return to their home base due to flight schedules. Thorny issues like that make a quick end to negotiations unlikely.

— Sean O’Neill

An adhoc pilot group at Ryanair Holdings Plc is set to detail its pay demands to other aviators as the airline’s management contains fallout from the cancellation of more than 20,000 flights.

The European Employee Representative Council, which is seeking to organize a company-wide negotiating body, outlined the proposal on Sunday, two days after Ryanair’s biggest pilot base rejected a company peace offering, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg. Ryanair’s London Stansted base voted 60 percent to 40 percent on Friday against raises of as much as 22,000 euros ($26,000), the company said.

The stand-off between pilots and executives has simmered since the airline was forced to cancel flights affecting about 700,000 customers due to a mess-up of rosters that left it lacking enough crew to maintain its schedule. The EERC, created after the cancellations last month, is seeking to establish a collective bargaining group across the carrier’s 86 bases.

Unreasonable Stand

“Please ask yourself one question: if our negotiating team could deliver the conditions and pay proposal, would you accept it?” EERC organizing member Imelda Comer wrote in the letter to pilots. “We promise that it will be very hard to see how any pilot could refuse it. Why not stand together and demand what we are entitled to?”

Ryanair will hire new pilots at the higher rates rejected at Stansted, a spokesman for the company said Friday, adding that Ryanair “will continue to engage with the London Stansted ERC to understand how it can address their remaining concerns.” The pay offer, which has been accepted at more than 10 bases, lifts salaries ahead of rivals Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA and Jet2 by about 20 percent.

Hiring Pilots

The Stansted pilots rejection follows a series of blows to Ryanair, including a call to strike by an Italian union and pledges of financial and logistical support from three major U.S. labor groups. Ryanair has said it will not recognize any union body, citing two previous failed efforts to organize its pilots in 2004 and 2012.

The company is hiring more staff to manage its rosters and has named Malaysia Airlines Bhd. Chief Executive Officer Peter Bellew to replace its former chief operations officer who left the company this month. Bellew, a former Ryanair executive, will rejoin on Dec. 1.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Benjamin Katz from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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FAA NextGen Can Be a Big Headache for Communities Around New Flight Paths

Ross D. Franklin  / Associated Press

In this September 28, 2017, photo Twila Lake pauses while talking during an interview as the noise from a passenger plane taking off from the Phoenix airport flies near her home in Phoenix. The Federal Aviation Administration is redesigning flight procedures at airports around the U.S. under a program known as “NextGen” to streamline routes for fuel efficiency. Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press

Skift Take: Flight-path changes associated with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen initiative meant headaches to people who find themselves directly below the revised routes. A federal appeals court ruled that the FAA, in its bureaucratic glory, didn’t really want to listen to complainants. There are no easy answers, but the FAA has to do better than this.

— Dennis Schaal

Airliners began flying over Twila Lake’s bungalow-style house in a historic district three years ago, taking off every one to two minutes from the Phoenix airport and roaring over her neighborhood. It was a sudden change after rarely hearing jets in her previous 13 years in the downtown neighborhood.

Now, “it’s all day and night long,” complained the 71-year-old retiree, who said she sleeps with the television on to drown out aircraft noise. Some neighbors sold their homes and moved after the aviation highway entrance ramp was routed overhead.

The Federal Aviation Administration started revising flight paths and procedures around the United States in 2014 under its air traffic control modernization plan known as “NextGen.” The new procedures use more precise, satellite-based navigation that saves time, increases the number of planes airports can service, and reduces fuel burn and emissions.

Noise complaints exploded from San Diego to Charlotte, North Carolina, to New York as flights were concentrated at lower altitudes, in narrower paths and on more frequent schedules. The new paths often reduce the number of people exposed to noise, but those who get noise get it far more consistently.

In Phoenix, redrawn flights over vintage neighborhoods like Lake’s affect some 2,500 homes, prompting a court challenge from historic districts and the city.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Aug. 29 agreed with their assessment that the FAA was “arbitrary and capricious” in revising flight procedures. FAA officials asked for an extension, and the court this month pushed the petition deadline to Nov. 16.

Local governments and residents in more than a half-dozen other areas – including Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood and California’s Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Orange County and Culver City – have similar petitions before the court.

Attorney Steven Taber, who represents several Southern California communities with complaints, predicted legal action over flight changes will be a continuing problem across the U.S.

Aviation experts said they don’t expect the Phoenix ruling to set a precedent for other cities, but it is forcing the FAA to be more responsive.

“We certainly view it as one of the most egregious cases of a lack of community involvement,” said Chris Oswald, vice president of safety and regulatory affairs with Airports Council International-North America. The FAA has since done more outreach elsewhere, he said.

Policy analyst Rui Neiva of the Eno Center for Transportation think tank in Washington said agency officials must find a middle ground.

“In some cases, they may have to settle on a path that is less efficient, or create several additional paths,” he said.

But David Grizzle, a former FAA chief operating officer, said it’s not possible to redesign procedures to address the problem and still reap NextGen’s technology advantages.

“There is an intrinsic issue of concentrating noise in particular places that comes with precision-based navigation that is inescapable,” he said.

FAA officials knew a decade ago some homeowners would suffer more noise because of the changes, but hoped their complaints would be offset by the people who benefited, Grizzle said. But those people haven’t spoken up.

The FAA said in a statement it is reviewing the Phoenix decision and working with residents near airports around the country through “noise roundtables” to balance community interests with needed improvements to the national airspace system.

In Phoenix, “simply reverting to previous air traffic control procedures is not viable,” the agency said. The new procedures are “interdependent,” and any changes to one would have a domino effect, it said.

FAA officials claimed a “categorical exclusion” for Phoenix, which they said allowed them to forgo the customary environmental assessment because any changes in flight procedures were not expected to have an adverse impact. When Phoenix filed a challenge, the FAA sought to have it dismissed, arguing it was not filed in a timely fashion.

The court ruled that by keeping people in the dark, the agency made it impossible for the public to submit views on the project’s potential effects – something the FAA is especially required to do for historic areas and parks.

People elsewhere also complain the FAA failed to adequately explain the planned changes or provide opportunities to comment. In some areas, people say they didn’t know changes were coming because the FAA advertised them in places people wouldn’t normally look, such as government webpages.

In the Washington metro area, Georgetown University and neighborhood groups complained the FAA left them out of the loop and failed to properly assess the effect of changes at Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Residents said that until spring 2015, departing flights traveled a straight line over the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and commercial areas of Rosslyn, Virginia. Now, a major departure path routes planes alongside historic Georgetown.

Roberto Vittori said he didn’t know about the FAA’s plans when he bought his home near Georgetown University’s medical school. Vittori wrote in a legal declaration last year that he spent $12,000 on soundproof glass for the home’s double-paned windows, but it was “still inadequate to muffle the noise.”

In Maryland, residents have complained about aircraft noise from Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently ordered the state’s attorney general to prepare a lawsuit against the FAA over routes he said were making families “miserable in their own homes.”

Santa Cruz, California, residents have complained of noise from planes headed to San Francisco International Airport but said they decided to work with federal officials rather than go to court.

For some 30 years, San Francisco-bound aircraft traveled over unpopulated areas, but residents were surprised last year when planes began flying closer to their homes, Denise Stansfield said.

Through the Save our Skies Santa Cruz citizens group Stansfield founded, a committee of residents, elected officials and FAA representatives began meeting to devise less obtrusive flight procedures. The process is ongoing, but residents are optimistic.

Initially, the FAA “didn’t consider the impact for people on the ground,” group member Vicki Miller said. “I think they are reassessing.”


Lowy reported from Washington.

This article was written by Anita Snow and Joan Lowy from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Video: Adobe and MGM Resorts On The Future of Personalization and Digital Transformation

Skift Take: Personalization is playing a growing role for today’s travelers, but it’s important to leverage technology to achieve authentic experiences without losing sight of the human connection.

— Dawn Rzeznikiewicz

“We’re entering into a new golden era of travel. At the click of a button, or tap of a screen, you can transform yourself.” Julie Hoffmann, head of industry strategy, travel and hospitality at Adobe, opened her presentation at Skift Global Forum 2017 by talking about the increasing accessibility of travel, and how it has the ability to change who we are and how we view the world.

Brands are catching on. She explained how brands in the travel space are starting to shift from focusing on transactional interactions with travelers to “uplevel” the experience and bringing back moments of joy. Fortunately, customers are willing to provide personal data to allow brands to bring this to life. However, it goes beyond technology. Vision, strategy, and the ability to anticipate what customers want is what takes an experience from good to extraordinary.

Lilian Tomovich, chief experience officer and chief marketing officer of MGM Resorts International, further explained how brands can achieve personalization in a non-personalized world. As Tomovich said, “Experience needs to be delivered by real people, and technology needs to be the enhancer of it.” As technology encompasses more and more of our everyday life, we risk the lost art of human connection. She shared what MGM Resorts is working on from a personalization perspective, and how the company leverages digital to drive better guest experiences, without losing sight of customer engagement and human interaction.

Watch the full presentation below.

At this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City, travel leaders from around the world gathered for two days of inspiration, information and conversation. In 2018, Skift will be analyzing travel trends around the globe with four Forums. Get the details now and register here.

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From Limited Access to Multiple Touchpoints: The Future of Mobile Engagement

Skift Take: Brands need to deliver the right information at the right time to the right device in order to succeed with today’s travelers. Those that are engaging with customer touchpoints throughout the entire travel journey are the ones making the most impact.

— Dawn Rzeznikiewicz

We recently published a new Insights Deck in partnership with Travelport, Mobile and the Next Wave of Digital Disruption: A Look at the Future of Traveler Experience, which explores how mobile and more recent technologies are shifting the way brands engage with travelers. Mobile is now present along every step of the end-to-end travel journey, from research and inspiration to return.

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Today, a travel provider’s mobile app isn’t necessarily analogous to their website. Travel brands are shifting away from simply focusing on making transactions over mobile, to building personalized, authentic relationships with their customers. Today, a travel provider’s mobile app isn’t necessarily analogous to their website. Travel brands are shifting away from simply focusing on making transactions over mobile, to building personalized, authentic relationships with their customers.

Travel providers are increasingly using their branded mobile apps to seamlessly integrate into the complete travel journey—not just when travelers are researching and booking trips. While the research and booking steps of the journey are of course an important part of the mobile experience, and likely always will be, travel providers are realizing that their mobile apps can help deepen the way they interact with travelers. Steven Ratcliffe, vice president, product at Travelport Digital, has witnessed this firsthand.

“Our clients were previously interested in replicating their websites on mobile devices, offering bookings, check-ins, and other transactional items. These offerings are obviously still available via mobile, but mobile can now illustrate what the brand can do for the customer, from scaling up customer service capabilities, to supporting travelers when things go wrong.”

The brands that are most successfully leveraging how travelers interact with mobile are the ones that understand all customer touchpoints, before, during and after the trip. They’re the ones putting in the work to truly understand their customer’s needs, and then offering solutions throughout the various stages of their travel journey.  As Fergal Kelly, chief commercial officer at Travelport Digital further explains, “The brands that are winning in this economy offer a seamless, mobile-first experience that clearly plot out the critical moments of the customer journey. They engage with the consumer, and provide highly relevant, personalized information and services they need at the right time.”

Personalization is at the heart of the engagement economy. According to a survey from American Express, 90 percent of travelers appreciate when a travel service company strives to customize their experience based on their preferences, while 76 percent of travelers agree that the level of personalized customer service they receive while traveling can really make or break their trip.

Delivering seamless experiences via mobile could mean providing on-demand customer service assistance with a flight cancellation through a mobile chat app, or offering a mobile coupon to a nearby restaurant, sending a weather forecast update, or sending ground transportation information to the traveler on arrival through a push notification. The travel brands that make use of each step throughout the journey, and then take customer feedback, social inputs, location, context, and user profiles into account to personalize the experience, are the ones that will have the best chance of winning customer loyalty, which is increasingly hard to come by.

Travel providers that work to deliver the right information at the right time to the right device, and emphasize personalization, convenience, and customer delight, will be the ones that truly deepen their relationships with their customers and succeed in this new world. To learn more about how mobile can help empower travel experiences, download the Skift Insights Deck: “Mobile and the Next Wave of Digital Disruption: A Look at the Future of Traveler Experience.”

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This article was created collaboratively by Travelport and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX. 

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Next Issue for Las Vegas Is Getting the Marketing Message Right After the Shooting

Anita Snow  / Associated Press

In this October 19, 2017 photo, T-shirts for sale with #VegasStrong hang at a gift shop at McCarran International airport in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has moved to rebrand itself after the October 1, 2017 shooting that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others. Anita Snow / Associated Press

Skift Take: Like other destinations have before, Las Vegas is grappling with how to get visitors to return to the city after a tragedy. Softer messaging to the most-likely visitors instead of national campaigns might be a fruitful place to begin.

— Dennis Schaal

As volunteers streamed in to donate blood, doctors tended to the wounded and investigators scoured the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Las Vegas tourism officials moved quickly to protect their valuable franchise in a city where branding is everything.

“What happens here, stays here,” the official slogan advertising agency R&R Partners developed in 2002, with a wink to naughty behavior, no longer seemed appropriate after the Oct. 1 attack that killed 58 people.

The city put that motto on hold, and the public agency charged with marketing Las Vegas went to work creating a new pitch for the tourist destination.

Initially, it unveiled messages that focused on how the community came together after the mass shooting, with average people joining first responders in helping victims.

A spot featuring a cityscape and the voice of Las Vegas native and retired tennis star Andre Agassi won praise for its sensitivity. “What is strength?” Agassi asks, playing off the #VegasStrong slogan that exploded on Twitter. “Strength is valet parkers who become medics, mothers who become emergency responders.”

The response has been more mixed to the TV ad that followed, showing just how difficult it can be for organizations to hit the right tone after a deeply tragic event. It also underscores how a message that resonates with fans can fall flat with others.

That spot – shown nationally starting late last week on networks including ESPN, Fox Sports, Bravo, TNT, The Weather Channel and Travel Channel – features real-life social media messages posted after the shooting.

“NO ONE and NOTHING will stop me from going to Las Vegas,” reads the first message.

“Will be there in 5 days,” writes another Las Vegas fan.

Paul A. Argenti, a Dartmouth College professor considered a pioneer in corporate communication, said he was taken aback by the advertisement, which he saw during a televised sports event.

“It’s a little too tacky to continue to promote tourism” two weeks after the attack, he said. “It’s really something for three months down the line.”

Argenti said organizations risk consequential mistakes if they don’t carefully consider messaging after tragic events. British Petroleum, maligned for its clumsy handling of the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010, continued ads touting its “green” record because they were already paid for, he said.

Instead of national advertising, Las Vegas should consider “hypertargeting” people most likely to return, focusing on fun and excitement while avoiding even subtle reminders of the shooting, said Eric Schiffer of ReputationManagementConsultants.com, which specializes in cleaning up reputations.

“People move away from pain much faster than they move toward pleasure,” he noted.

Top officials with R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said they were certain their most recent ad hit the perfect pitch, and seemed surprised it raised eyebrows.

The posts they chose featured people “speaking out with their hearts,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, the authority’s president and CEO.

Ralenkotter likened the fan’s insistence on returning to Las Vegas to people who won’t let fear change their lives after a terrorist attack.

“If you look at the social posts out there, there are a lot people saying things just like that,” said Arnie DiGeorge, executive creative director for R&R Partners. “That’s a pretty universal statement.”

“#VegasStrong” billboards and images of people donating blood were also recently included in a video assembled by a coalition of southern Nevada government officials and economic development agencies to demonstrate the city’s resilience while promoting the region as a potential site for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Las Vegas’ rebranding began shortly after a gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel casino opened fire on a country music festival below.

The visitors authority, charged with delivering nearly 43 million tourists to Las Vegas annually, quickly brainstormed with its ad agency for a new message to keep Las Vegas out front in a tasteful way.

“We felt it was still important for the town to have a voice,” DiGeorge said.

MGM Resorts International, owner of the Mandalay Bay, also immediately shelved a slogan it unveiled weeks before: “We are not in the hotel business … we are in the holy s — – business.” MGM changed its digital signs to #VegasStrong, and in his first public address after the attack, Chief Executive Jim Murren urged convention organizers to keep believing in the city.

Electronic billboards along the Strip that typically promote restaurants, concerts and a topless pool broadcast a phone number victims and their families could call to reach an assistance center. They expressed appreciation for first responders, casino employees and visitors.

“We’ve been there for you during the good times. Thank you for being there for us now,” one billboard message read.

After digital marquees throughout the city were briefly dimmed to honor victims, another new slogan appeared: “When things get dark, Vegas shines.”

Retailers jumped in, selling #VegasStrong T-shirts for $18.75 in airport gift shops. Proceeds from the shirts will go to an official fund to benefit victims, a shop salesman said.

In southern Nevada, where statistics show the leisure and hospitality sector accounts for nearly one-third of the workforce, government officials also embraced rebranding.

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, a Democratic candidate for governor, told reporters soon after the massacre it would be officially referred to as the “1 October” event. News releases and other county communications adopted that language, omitting the word “shooting” and calling it an “incident.”

Haemoon Oh, dean of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina, said he has no doubt the city will recover as long as it focuses on healing and refrains from aggressive marketing.

“One distinct characteristic of the hospitality and tourism people and industry is resilience,” he said. “The city will rebound, and people will regroup stronger.”

This article was written by Anita Snow from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Airline Garuda Indonesia Executes Cost Efficiencies In Aim for 2018 Profitability


CEO Pahala Mansury hopes to bring Garuda Indonesia to profitability by 2018. Bloomberg

Skift Take: From looking at deferred aircraft deliveries to cutting expenses, the new CEO of Garuda Indonesia is trying to get creative in pushing the flag carrier toward profitability next year.

— Dennis Schaal

PT Garuda Indonesia is targeting a return to profit next year after a loss in 2017 as the flag carrier works to reduce expenses and operations improve.

The airline is predicting a profit of $75 million in the second half ending December but won’t be able to post a profit for the 12-month period following a larger loss in the first six months of the year, Chief Executive Officer Pahala Mansury said. Losses in the first half totaled $284 million, he said.

The Indonesian carrier is boosting aircraft utilization by reducing flight turnaround time and cutting expenses, steps that will help Garuda turn in a profit next year, Mansury said. The executive, who took the helm six months ago, said Garuda aims to bring down its cost per available seat kilometer to 5.5 cents to 6 cents, from 6.7 cents currently.

“We have been increasing the utilization rate of our aircraft and will continue to do so,”  Mansury said in an interview in Jakarta on Oct. 18. “This will be the key factor to determine whether we are profitable in future and whether our financials improve.”

By comparison, cost per available seat kilometer across Singapore Airlines group, which includes budget carrier Scoot, was 6.83 Singapore cents (5 cents) in the latest fiscal quarter ended June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Garuda is in discussions with planemakers to defer aircraft delivery, Mansury said, without giving specific details. In 2015, the carrier committed to 60 planes from Boeing valued at $10.9 billion at list prices and 30 aircraft from Airbus valued at $9.1 billion, before discounts that are customary in the industry for large orders.

The company is restructuring its low-cost carrier Citilink and converting debt in the unit to equity, the CEO said. In addition, Garuda plans to boost revenue from other aviation-related businesses such as aircraft maintenance and its hotel subsidiaries.

Mansury said Garuda is leveraging on Indonesia’s geographic position to get more overseas customers. Revenue from international flights expanded almost 15 percent in the first half from a year earlier, while the share from domestic travel fell.

Garuda shares gained as much as 1.8 percent to 334 rupiah on Monday, trimming its year-to-date drop to 1.2 percent. That compares with a 24 percent gain in the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Airlines Index in 2017.

Starting next month, the airline will fly non-stop to London from Jakarta after years of setbacks, allowing it to tap around 700,000 passengers who travel between Australia and the U.K. each year on the so-called “Kangaroo route.”

The group is targeting a net income margin of 1 percent to 2 percent in 2018, compared with 0.21 percent last year.

“Garuda Indonesia’s situation has improved,” Mansury said.

–With assistance from Kyunghee Park

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Fathiya Dahrul and Harry Suhartono from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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New York Times Is Hiring a Reporter to Visit Its 52 Places to Go

Dennis Jarvis  / Flickr

Canada was the top place to visit on the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2017 list. Pictured is Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada. Dennis Jarvis / Flickr

Skift Take: Many avid travelers and destination marketers look forward to these where-to-go lists and the Times wants to make its list more engaging and relevant to its readers. Sending a reporter to 52 places in 52 weeks sounds like a stretch, but there’s no doubt many travelers will enjoy following the person who will have one of the world’s best jobs.

— Dan Peltier

The New York Times’ annual 52 Places to Go list, like similar lists, has become a highly anticipated franchise by many travelers and travel brands that look to it for inspiration on which destinations offer great reasons to visit in the coming year.

The list, which will mark its thirteenth year in 2018, has resonated with travelers to the extent that the publication is hiring a reporter to visit the 52 places that make the 2018 list.

This is the first time the Times has hired a reporter specifically to visit each place and make an itinerary out of them. The travel section’s “36 Hours” series, however, has been showing travelers’ destination itineraries since the series began more than a decade ago.

The Times was set to post its application for the job on Monday as its travel section brainstorms which places will make its upcoming list set to publish in January. Writers and editors are still fielding suggestions and narrowing the list, but the editorial staff plan to play it somewhat safe with this year’s list, said Monica Drake, the New York Times travel editor.

Drake said the 2018 list will probably be more conservative in terms of security.

“Before terrorists were attacking tourism destinations as soft targets, we might have said one place might have seemed a little risky but travelers accept a certain amount of risk,” said Drake. “We would never put a place on the list that the U.S. State Department recommends not to go to.”

The Times has always considered the overall safety of a place for travelers before recommending it. But Drake mused that her team is taking an even closer look at safety and stability in places this year in addition to the myriad of other factors that are part of the decision process.

That means if a place has a history of political instability and violence that has any chance of flaring up in the coming year, that place is less likely to make the cut, for example. “I have a feeling that this year won’t include many of those places at all, many people don’t have much of a tolerance for risk,” said Drake.

Travelers who prefer a safe vacation when they can kick back and relax might not go to some of these places, said Drake. But the list doesn’t typically include far-flung, currently violent places, anyway. The 2017 list, for instance, had Canada as the number one place to visit.

The feature usually includes a few surprises. Drake said people were mystified by Detroit making the 2017 list. “We probably picked a place that was already experiencing some kind of rise,” she said.

Each year’s list has its own tempo, said Drake, and the 2018 list might be a little more relaxed than past years’. “The list is driven by things that tourism boards would tout, but it’s also driven by the mood of the country and what people would really want to do there in the coming year,” she said. “Some years we’re more adventurous. Some years we’re more interested in cities. We try to have something for every person’s interests.”

Picking places that have mass appeal likely won’t be as important for 2018, said Drake. “We might be more focused than we usually are – and probably more than in the past few years – on appealing to certain types of audiences,” she said. “Each year we have destinations that tell us ‘Hey, we have something for everyone’ and we’ve thought that was ok.”

“We’re giving a little more leeway with choosing places as long as the audience that a place appeals to isn’t too narrow,” she said. “We’ll be looking at places that appeal to families too.”

Appealing to Current Travel Trends

The list has included 52 places for the past four years – one place to aspire to visit for each week of the year. “Behind the idea with this list is that this is increasingly the way people travel now,” said Drake. “They’re not necessarily taking a week-long vacation. People are taking a lot of short amounts of time off and structuring the time they travel. This feels very of the moment.”

Drake said the biggest challenge for the new reporter will be making it to all 52 places. “We’ve done this sort of thing before but not over the course of a year,” she said. “I don’t want to send this person to Paris and have them go to all the tourist attractions and say ‘I’m done.’”

She added: “The trip will be a real way of having the real-life version of the destination. I’m counting on this person to say yes, you can go to the Eiffel Tower but this is actually the best view of the tower. We need them to get beyond the landmarks and see if this is a feasible trip.”

The reporter will have some liberty in shaping the themes of itineraries that they create for each place depending on their own interests. Music, for instance, could become a recurring motif.

“There will be something common that they will do in each destination,” said Drake. “If there’s a different approach in each place it might not seem like part of the same project. There should be a common thread.”

Getting Readers Engaged

The Times wants the reporter to jell with its readers and engage with them every step of their 52 places journey.

Drake said the list will also look visually different than last year’s and take on new formats. Last year’s list featured 360-degree videos and had large photos and the 2018 format will look different but will still include words and images, she said.

The reporter won’t have a film crew with them, but they’ll need to be savvy with social media. “I’m a big proponent of having community engagement not just living on our platform,” said Drake. “We’re pretty excited to use this as a way to take content that may originally be social-first and taking a narrative and cultivating it for our own platform.”

Geographic and cultural diversity are also key features of the list, and making use of the popular channels in different countries will also be important for the reporter. “Different countries have different platforms and I do think it’d be cool to play around with them,” said Drake. “It’ll help the New York Times play around with different story forms.”

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5 Overtourism Solutions for Popular Destinations

bass_nroll  / Flickr

A cruise ship in Venice. Cities across Europe are struggling to cope with increased tourism. bass_nroll / Flickr

Skift Take: As destinations scramble to reduce the impact of tourism on their citizens, foundational work must still be done to create a repeatable framework and process for preventing overtourism.

— Andrew Sheivachman

The world is in an unprecedented period of tourism growth, and not everyone is happy about it. Arrivals by international tourists have nearly doubled since 2000, with 674 million crossing borders for leisure back then and 1.2 billion doing the same in 2016.

As the travel industry has ramped up its operations around the world, destinations have not been well-equipped to deal with the economic, social, and cultural ramifications. Cities have often made economic growth spurred by traveler spending a priority at the expense of quality of life for locals.

Europe has been perhaps hardest hit by the stress of increased travel and tourism. Barcelona, Venice, and Reykjavik are just some of the cities that have recently been transformed by visitors.

For the last few months, news reports have reflected the truth about the global travel industry: Not enough has been done to limit the negative impact of tourism as it has reached record levels in destinations around the world. Anti-traveler sentiment is seemingly on the rise.

“I would consider [these cities] to be canaries in the coal mine,” said Megan Epler Wood, director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The folks that have been protesting are from highly visited destinations and they don’t feel their lives should be interrupted by tourism.”

She continued: “They’re in a position of making a statement… something I’ve been discouraged about is the idea that people who are protesting are making a mistake. It’s important they make a statement because we need to hear from them and come to a new level of understanding of what this means. We need to very seriously find what their concerns are and figure out how to plan with those destinations and think about acting proactively.”

Why have some destinations thrown up their hands in helplessness in dealing with the deluge of tourists? And what have other destinations done to successfully limit the effects of increased visitation?

Skift has identified five solutions to overtourism, drawing from what destinations have done successfully to limit the influx of tourists, and we spoke to global tourism experts about their perspectives. We also looked at the ways in which travel companies themselves have been complicit and what more they can do to grow global tourism in a more sustainable way. We don’t argue that these are one-size-fits-all solutions for every trampled-upon destination, but they may serve as a solid foundation for beginning to tackle the problem.

Furthermore, we look to the future for ways in which the travel industry, in conjunction with local stakeholders, can better measure and limit the adverse effects of tourism.

If the travel industry can help connect the world and build bridges between cultures, why has it struggled to find a sustainable path forward?

1. Limiting Transportation Options

Travel has become more affordable over the last decade, particularly in Europe and developing economies in Asia with the rise of the middle class. Low-cost carriers have proliferated, while megaships from cruise giants have extended their reach around the world.

Various indicators show that more flights are taking place across Europe than ever before, particularly during the busy summer vacation season.

“[Increased travel has] been controversial in a way that is directly due to the fact that businesses arrive in a city and disrupt normal life and commercial activity,” said Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association. “In fact, cities are designed for tourism to disrupt normal activity, because tourists are not normal by definition in how they behave. They’re always disruptive and it’s always been controversial. Even if your city becomes rejuvenated, when you get foreigners arriving somewhere exerting financial influence over supply, you get a phobia.”

Why have some cities with pervasive tourism, like Paris, not had the same recent backlash as Barcelona or Berlin?

Jenkins notes that backlash against tourism is a consistent theme throughout European history; people said the same thing about the advent of railways and steamships warping the character of their cities that they do today about cruises and cheap flights.

Let’s take a look at Barcelona’s struggles with increased visitation in recent years. Data from IATA, MedCruise, and Visit Barcelona expose the massive influx of visitors to the city.

The increase in cruisers is particularly striking. Since Barcelona really hit the world stage thanks to the 1992 Summer Olympics, its cruise traffic has gone from about 100,000 cruisers in port to about 2.7 million in 2016. In the greater Mediterranean, the average number of passengers per call has increased from 848 in 2000 to 2,038 in 2016.

Top European Cruise Ports (in passengers)
2000 Passengers 2016 Passengers
1 Cyprus Ports .08 million Barcelona 2.7 million
2 Balearic Islands 0.6 million Civitavecchia 2.3 million
3 Barcelona 0.6 million Balearic Islands 2 million
4 Piraeus 0.5 million Venice 1.6 million
5 Istanbul 0.4 million Marseille 1.6 million
6 Genoa 0.4 million Naples 1.3 million
7 Naples 0.4 million Piraeus 1.1 million
8 Civitavecchia 0.4 million Genoa 1 million
9 Venice 0.33 million Savona 0.9 million
10 French Riviera 0.3 million Tenerife Ports 0.9 million
Source: MedCruise

The impact of low-cost carriers, along with the relative strength of the euro in recent years, has also played an important role. While there has been a major focus on the influx of U.S. and Chinese tourists to Europe, evidence suggests that the most frequent visitors are actually from European countries. Indeed, according to surveys from Visit Barcelona, European tourists comprise around two-thirds of those visiting the city.

It follows that if cities and tourism boards would work to make it more difficult to access their destinations, by limiting cruise ship tenders or the access of low-cost carriers to airport terminals, that fewer visitors would be able to come.

There’s also a bit of a contradiction here: Often residents of areas that have been built up and developed by tourism blame the travel industry, and not their politicians and city planners, for the changes.

Boorish tourists become a target for protests and outcries, instead of the local and regional forces that have more or less enabled their ability to visit a destination en masse.

“The moment you start meddling with things, you affect the economic pattern of the town, and all kinds of problems arise,” said Jenkins. “There is a quite startling depiction of giant cruise ships in Venice, but someone gave permission for that at some point. Someone is taking their money. Someone with power and discretion said, ‘You come and park here.’ Similarly in Amsterdam, the inhabitants are very resentful, but the visitors didn’t organize their red light district and permit cannabis shops to open. The residents did. It’s just bonkers and it’s a planning problem, not a tourism problem. It has a planning solution.”

Amsterdam has recently restricted new tourist shops in its city center, a solid first step. The city is still struggling to cope with the effect of rampant homesharing.

Urban dwellers across Europe have announced their anti-tourism sentiment in various ways. Stakeholders should be looking forward and planning to craft a more equitable environment for both tourists and locals, even if it means reducing tourism and those who have built successful businesses serving them.

An easy way to do that — well, nothing seems especially easy when it comes to this issue — is to simply make it harder to visit instead of creating restrictions when travelers are already in destination.

2. Make It More Expensive

Travel has become more of a commodity purchase for consumers than an occasional luxury in recent years, spurred by low-cost carriers and affordable homesharing services.

“[Managing tourism] is a good thing to be talking about because our industry is good at selling the virtues of tourism, but we’re not very good at being honest with ourselves about what we do well and what we don’t,” said Darrell Wade, co-founder of Australia-based Intrepid Travel. “In some ways, the industry hasn’t progressed at all. There are nice towns [all over the world to visit], and you look at places like Croatia where there are several hundred islands, towns, and villages. There’s lots of great stuff to do, so let’s get out of the tourist area in Dubrovnik.”

Countries that suffer currency devaluation are also extremely susceptible to a tourism rush, as in the case of Iceland. We’re seeing this now in London following the Brexit vote, as well.

In recent years, Iceland has moved to offer more luxury accommodations and experiences in a bid to attract higher-yielding travelers as the country’s currency has rebounded from a crash in 2008.

Even if mass market tourism slows down due to increased costs, dropping Iceland’s annual tourism growth rate from around 30 percent to 10 percent, the cool-down would be beneficial for locals struggling to deal with rising cost of goods and a hot property market in Reykjavik.

When Skift went to Iceland last year, the country’s top travel and tourism executives told us the most attractive way to slow down growth is to create more luxury offerings for higher-spending travelers. As gentrification hits major cities worldwide, this can sometimes happen as a result of investment and real estate speculation.

Adventure and luxury tour operators and cruise lines are better positioned to provide experiences outside of the traditional tourist areas in a destination.

“Most of our departures are to the remote destinations, but we have quite a bit of presence in some of that heavily trafficked area [in Europe],” said Trey Byus, chief expedition officer at Lindblad Expeditions. “We take a different approach to that. The east end of the Greek islands is one of the most overrun places in terms of tourism, so we don’t go there during the busiest of seasons, we’ll go on the shoulder seasons. You take a look at the islands and there’s the obvious places where the mass tourists go where we avoid, places where the Greeks would go to holiday….We’ve been in the Adriatic for many years and at one point many years ago we considered a turnaround in Venice, but even then we said we’re not going to go there. That’s going to provide an awful first and last experience for us, so we took that off the map.”

There’s also the question of demand management, which few destinations have embraced in a significant way. Similar to the way attractions like Walt Disney World charge more for tickets during peak periods, destinations can increase the ticket price to access areas when demand is the highest.

Barcelona is considering a tax on tour operators to make it more expensive for tourists to visit, for instance, and the city already taxes hotels, apartment shares, and cruise ships. Perhaps a more concerted legislative effort to make visiting more expensive can replace mass tourism with higher-spending and more respectful visitation.

This would, in theory, at least, not only generate more revenue for cities to deal with the myriad complications of overtourism, but condition tourists to visit during periods of decreased demand when their impact on locals would be more limited. Over time, perhaps, tourists can be trained to be more thoughtful about their travel decisions. At the very least, life for locals would improve.

“What you see looking forward is obviously demand seems to be growing exponentially and you see more and more pressure,” said Jenkins. “Can they tweak capacity in a way that things can be spread out, and that the demand can be managed and controlled through price? I’m absolutely convinced. We’re seeing a huge increase in capacity in some places, can they carry on doing so? They probably can, given there is demand for them and money to facilitate that demand.

“There’s also the scope for demand management. People think if the price goes through the roof, they won’t have to manage the attraction. People will have to get used to paying more to visit peak attractions at peak times. The way we price things [in the travel industry], there’s no incentive to alter your arrival at all. It’s all the same price.”

Many remote destinations do a form of this with permits, only allowing groups of visitors in a few times a day. The Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, and others have embraced this form of demand management for decades. Urban destinations could take a page out of their playbooks by limiting access to high-demand areas and increasing the price of access at the same time.

3. Better Marketing and Education

There seems to be one issue that few destinations have figured out: How do you keep tourists from wrecking the environment or crowding cities?

Better education, and more realistic marketing, can help. Gone are the days where famous historic monuments like the Spanish Steps or Kensington Gardens will be accessible without a horde of tourists, and travel companies selling affordable tours need to do a better job of letting tourists know what they’re really buying.

London, for instance, has laid out a plan into the next decade to manage tourism growth, and it includes marketing its outer areas to tourists instead of downtown or Westminster. New York City unveiled a similar plan last year, looking to capitalize on increased tourist interest in Brooklyn.

If tourism companies sell travelers vacations based on certain promises, like deserted beaches and town squares, it can be a problem if their experiences don’t match expectations.

“I see it as everyone’s problem; some organizations are the source, like national tourist authorities, airlines, and cruise lines,” said Intrepid Travel’s Wade. “Part two is the traveler, because they’re a little on the lazy side and they don’t realize the image they saw online of a destination has 100,000 people in it in real life. This isn’t great for our industry either, because it’s a terrible product. I walked around Dubrovnik [recently], and I’m not enjoying it. We want to empower people and change how they think about the world. We don’t want to be sending them to hellholes, it’s not in our long-term interest.”

From an education standpoint, travel stakeholders have to present their products more realistically. They also have to educate their customers on what they’re really getting into on a trip, and the acceptable ways to behave while in-destination.

If travel is really about experiencing a distinct culture, then travelers should be prepared to respect localities and traditions; travel can’t just be a commodity. Some travelers, though, just want to relax on a beach somewhere with a beer in hand for a few days, without having to deal with the complexity of another culture.

“One thing tour operators can do to help destinations is to help educate them about planning or being prepared and thinking through how they’re promoting themselves and who they’re promoting themselves to,” said Yves Marceau, vice president of buying and contracting for tour operator G Adventures. “It used to take years for a destination to become super popular. Now, with China on the move and with social media, a destination can go from unknown to top 10 list within two years. The reality is if the destination has limited capacity, it can be overrun very quickly. You look at place like Iceland and there’s more tourists than Icelanders. That happened very fast, and you see places where it is happening even faster.”

By limiting the numbers of licenses available to tour operators, or the the time of day they can operate in the most popular areas, destinations can limit the impact of overcrowding while providing a suitable experience for visitors. While tour operators often decide to stagger tour timings, regulations can help bring along those that don’t.

Expectations for access can also be set for tourists before they arrive, so they aren’t disappointed or disruptive upon arriving. Exclusivity, as we’ve seen time and again, is actually a major selling point for consumers.

Fueled by compelling global marketing campaigns and the frantic pace of social media, travelers now expect to tick a certain set of boxes while traveling. Destinations need to be aware that the image they present to travelers, and the demand created for access to certain experiences, simply can’t be provided sustainably.

4. Better Collaboration AMONG stakeholders

A rarely discussed problem is that local, state, and national tourism boards are generally tasked with promoting tourism and business travel instead of planning and managing it.

“The large majority of funds that go to any discussion of how to manage tourism go to marketing tourism,” said Wood. “The rough estimate is maybe 80 percent of tax money that goes towards tourism in a destination generally goes to tourism marketing organizations, but they’re not management organizations, they’re marketing organizations. These people are starting to realize they could have a new role for what they do. What if you gave 80 percent of all the money to manage the destination? This was never a problem because we had a big globe and not many people traveling.”

Many destination marketing organizations have begun to reconsider how they can best serve the interests of locals instead of promoting rampant visitation growth. Executives on stage at the Skift Global Forum this year weighed in on their newfound approach to the problem, and this represents a good first step towards some sort of transition.

There is a deeper problem affecting destinations worldwide: There is no codified way to conclusively measure and quantify the impact that tourism has. While not impossible, it could be more fruitful for destinations to develop and test methods for solving overtourism by collaborating and trying to agree on a framework for finding solutions.

Several groups are working on this now, including Wood’s colleagues, but cities and travel companies need to come to the table as well. In the long term, it’s not enough for destinations to just manage demand; they need to measure and manipulate the specific effects of overcrowding.

“We need to come to an understanding of how to measure those impacts and it’s not as simple as demand [alone]… people are trying to speak too generally about the problems and there’s a tendency to vilify certain parts of the industry,” said Wood. “What I don’t think we can do is stop them from doing what they do. We need to do a good job measuring [the effects of tourism]. It’s well-known tourists want to go to specific places at certain times, so we have to think of other ways of managing their use [of destinations].”

Part of the problem, it seems, is having concrete details on where travelers go and how they affect the environment they are in, whether urban or remote. An international group of academics and tourism experts are working on a solution to this involving standardized monitoring methods in multiple cities worldwide.

Some places, like the Australian state of Tasmania, have experimented with offering travelers free smartphones that track their movements to provide more visibility to industry stakeholders on traveler behavior.

The more data and information cities have about the phenomenon and resulting disruption of overtourism, the better equipped they would be to act to prevent it by coming up with solutions based on evidence instead of conjecture or blacklash.

5. Protect Overcrowded Areas

It’s clear destinations haven’t done enough to prevent excessive tourism from hurting communities. The biggest problem is the speed at which tourism provokes change in a community. Cities want the increased economic activity from tourism, but are not well-equipped to make fast and responsive restrictions once unwanted changes begin to occur.

“It takes a lot of work and very quickly these smaller communities can be overrun, much quicker than a city like Barcelona,” said Marceau, of G Adventures. “Those are much more difficult things to fix. That’s a more difficult one because the effect of one company is not as impactful.”

Some cities like Barcelona have turned to legislation to curb the influx of tourists. Tour operators, as well, have shifted how they conduct tours, often staggering the times which certain groups arrive in order to reduce congestion.

As we’ve seen, however, tourism is often interlocked with overall economic development in cities.

“We should be really welcoming to tourists and, yes, it is disruptive,” said the European Tour Operators Association’s Jenkins. “You go to a city, and there’s lots you can’t have if someone wants to pay more for it. It’s totally normal for people to see areas you grew up in as a child become unaffordable as an adult; that’s because new people have arrived.

“In Barcelona, this is what happened. Tourism is economic activity which in broad terms has a very small environmental footprint and has a very massive economic impact. These are people who use existing means of transport and existing infrastructure and patronize preexisting forms of social enterprise.” There’s also the phenomenon of local business owners feeling resentment against businesses that find success catering solely to tourists,  he said.

Marceau has noticed the phenomenon in destinations that have geared up for luxury tourism as well. He mentioned the development of Playa del Carmen into a series of luxury resorts as an example of how the benefits of even expensive tourism don’t necessarily reach nearby communities.

Perhaps large cities should take a page out of the playbook employed by smaller destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, and Palau that have had no choice but to limit tourism growth. Those have detailed and stringent forward-looking plans governing access to and the development of their attractions.

Why can’t cities develop similar strategies for coping with periods of the year when more tourists visit than its most popular areas can handle?

Breaking The Pattern

The reality is that the forces of global capital and travel have shaped the development of cities for centuries. Today, however, we are seeing more places built specifically for tourists.

“Even in places that have been built [specifically] for tourists, it’s interesting that tourists go to experience something that is not contemporary,” said Jenkins. “The result of this is places like Disney World or the hotels in Las Vegas. What normally happens is they start as tourism centers, then conference centers, then residential centers, and finally they don’t want tourists anymore.”

We’ve explored this tourism-driven gentrification before, and cities like these represent examples of locales that have embraced tourism and the transition towards an economy serving visitors and wealthy residents instead of the majority of locals.

Wood’s recent book Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions is a thoughtful examination of the issues at play related to overtourism. She concludes that the first step toward a solution entails international collaboration among cities, governments, and companies.

“What most people have seen is that government and industry are not collaborating enough,” said Wood. “They need to see the stakes are so high that joint solutions are necessary and have to be based on data, and not just industry data, because they set their own parameters…People, be they from the industry or a destination, don’t want too many people swamping what is a beautiful cultural or historic site.”

As the stakes become higher in cities around the world, it still remains unclear whether there is the will to push tourists — and their money — away.

Ryan Wolkov

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The Anxieties of a Muslim Traveler

Skift Take: “I am this guy. I fit every cliché; I am the abstract villain of your imagined anxieties. Traveling while Muslim. ”

— Rafat Ali

Editor’s Note: Last month at Skift Global Forum we introduced Permanxiety, a term we’re using to describe the current state of the traveler and the consumer mindset as a result of these global and local anxieties. As part of that, we included first person essays on travelers’ permanxieties, in order to better understand what we think about when we visit an airport, check in to a hotel, or visit a new destination.

These are similar to conversations that many of us have with friends or family, as well as how we think about things in our own heads. No matter your background, we think you’ll recognize something in these stories from your own experience. This first essay below is by Skift CEO and Founder Rafat Ali, on his experience through the years of living and traveling in post 9-11 America and outside of it.

THE demons in my head are real. They are real because they have been created over more than a decade and a half, bit by bit, indignity by indignity, layers upon layers of wounds big and small that have now calcified into my overanxious brain.

That is how I live it, a Muslim American immigrant, an apparent success story of the fabled American Dream, an entrepreneur and business owner and the CEO of Skift, a company that lives and breathes travel every waking hour.

In an age of permanxiety, as Skift has defined it in the opening essay, the anxieties of a Muslim traveler are a sociological condition I carry with me all the time. And it doesn’t stop there: My mere presence causes anxiety for other people during travel. Recently, Royal Jordanian Airlines came out with a powerful ad that mirrors many of these worries. The minute-long ad “Are you afraid of flying?” goes like this:

“I’m not afraid of flying… I’m not afraid of the risk of it. I’m afraid I end up somewhere I don’t want to go. Afraid of being stuck in a place with people who look at me differently. I’m afraid of the what-ifs. What if something wrong happens and they don’t believe me…?”

I am this guy. I fit every cliché; I am the abstract villain of your imagined anxieties.
Traveling while Muslim. Doesn’t matter if you are practicing or not. Or you wear visible signs of being Muslim. There are dozens and dozens of permutations of typecasting us, and they all play out every day. Most of all, they settle down in our brains and play havoc while we travel.

Lots has been reported and written about the challenges regular Muslim travelers have had to endure since the day that 19 religious zealots who blamed their hatred on my religion changed the U.S. forever. But like pretty much everything else in
media, the exploration has been mostly cosmetic, helicopter reporting by reporters (read: not Muslims) who get a few quotes out of us when some major incident happens and then package it up, tie it in a bow and that’s it. That’s where it stops. But American Muslim travelers themselves have rarely written about the mental cost that the last
15 or so years have brought on us, especially while traveling.

The security theater that passes for an attempt to secure the country is a theater that mostly plays out in our minds. Anxiety is the heaviest luggage we carry when we travel, nevermind whether anything actually happens or not.

“Paxex” is industry jargon short for “passenger experience” in the aviation world, usually used in the context of amenities: airport restaurants, in-flight Wi-Fi, seat comfort and such. No one ever talks about soothing the passengers’ minds as part of the paxex world — it is instead limited by “amenities.” Mostly because the ones defining or writing about it have never had to travel in an overanxious Muslim state of mind.

It starts long before you ever reach the airport. When you hesitate before booking an occasional one-way ticket, especially last-minute, worried your Muslim name may trigger
a red flag in the security-industrial complex somewhere.

Worrying about packing a Quran or prayer rug or even an Arabic language book in your bag in case those are checked and misconstrued by immigration.

When you try and check in online and the message comes back: “Sorry we’re unable to process your check-in online, please check with the ticket agent at the airport.” This could be just an innocent technical error in the airline IT system, but it somehow lands in our minds as something else entirely. Yep, that darned Muslim name of ours has triggered a flag requiring an extra manual check at the airport.

It continues at the check-in counter at the airport, where the same thing may happen at the automated check-in machines and an agent has to check you in manually on her computer. Or when she stares intently into her computer, calls a supervisor, who then keys in a few more steps, adding extra minutes that keep the mind working through
various scenarios of what they could be checking for or what could have gone wrong.

You always wonder what the ticket or TSA agent scribbles on your boarding pass, passing secret codes to the other agents down the line to give you extra scrutiny.

Like I said, both real and imagined demons of the overactive and overanxious mind.

This mental game continues at the passport check line, where the TSA agent looks you over a couple of seconds longer than others in front of you. Or maybe it didn’t happen but it felt like that to you. Then comes the security where you take off everything along with your dignity, and you voluntarily walk over to the larger scan machine because you know you will never ever be waved over to the more innocent old-school metal detector next to it that others may get a chance to go through, even if you’re with a toddler who
needs his hand held.

The relief when you get through security then triggers a WhatsApp text back to your family: “I made it through security. Everything OK.” These texts to family and spouses are the delicate lifelines we hang onto during the whole airport experience through departure and arrival.

Then the boarding gate, where sometimes you imagine stares from travelers, worried whether they think we’re fidgeting too much. Or when you make that call to your family and suppress saying the traditional Muslim (Arabic) greeting “Salam walaikum” too loud into the phone, worrying that if anyone hears it they might raise an alarm.

A Muslim in our midst! In any other world this would be extreme paranoia of our own minds, but in the world we live in today, these incidents happen, fellow travelers freaking out over people talking in Arabic or uttering even a greeting. So we stick to hellos at the airports and last-minute “I’m boarded” calls.

Immigration checks on arrival are permanxiety nirvana for us Muslims, but even more so since the Trump administration came in. The Trump travel ban and mysterious Global Entry snafus for Muslim travelers. The laptop ban, which is not a ban but enhanced interrogation nonetheless, the social media checks for passengers from certain countries (and maybe even American Muslim citizens), it all lands hard. This is what makes you go through somewhat ridiculous lengths to “suppress” chances of being discriminated against, like carrying burner phones and laptops during your travel, as I have been doing this year.
(Independent UK even did a story on me about this earlier this year.)

It means worrying when you have to travel to the Middle East or other “problem” areas for work, for leisure, or for family, and being questioned about it at immigration counters.

Beyond the air experience, booking at hotels is less fraught with issues of permanxiety. Hotels in general are structured to soothe the anxieties of travelers, but it isn’t always so. With Airbnb and the rise of alternative accommodations, a new layer has been added: instances of racism and discrimination from hosts against people of color or different
religions or nationalities. Ever since instant booking (i.e. listings that don’t require approval from the host before they can be booked, basically how hotel bookings work) became a feature on Airbnb and HomeAway, Muslims like me just gravitate toward it over and above any other options, mainly to never have to face a situation of real or perceived discrimination in the first place.

Then the destinations you go to, depending on how open those societies are to differences, create differing levels of anxiety in you. Travel guidebooks write about how friendly a particular country is, but forget to add the unsaid caveat: that traveling
while white — in most cases guidebook authors are white — is very different than traveling as a person of color. Or Muslim.

The discrimination that immigrants living in Western countries face also shows up for Muslim travelers in these countries and regions, and if you are a seasoned traveler, you find ways around them, or avoid these places altogether. Many American Muslims I know have a mental barrier to traveling in the American South, especially the Deep South,
and when our American friends take a cross-country trip, we worry about the parts that may not be as friendly to drive through to us as Muslims as they may be to others. Hence it never figures in our plans, fairly or unfairly.

This is the permanent sociological condition we Muslims travel with, the permanxiety baggage that we carry.

Download Travel in an Age of Permanxiety magazine here

Ryan Wolkov

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Interview: ANA CEO on His Star Wars Strategy and Why Sushi Doesn’t Fly


ANA CEO Yuji Hirako took over in April. He wants to the airline to improve its brand recognition outside of Japan, especially in the United States. ANA

Skift Take: Other airlines serve sushi, but not ANA, Japan’s largest carrier. Why? ANA takes its food seriously, and its chefs don’t think sushi tastes right on planes, so it serves sashimi instead. That’s attention to detail.

— Brian Sumers

Editor’s Note: Following our previous CEO interview series in online travelhospitality, and destinations, as well as our CMO series across verticals, we’ve launched another series, this time focused on the CEOs of leading airlines outside of the United States.

Airlines_CEO_logo2To better understand the challenges facing airlines in an age of fluctuating oil prices, rapid growth, and changing passenger expectations, our Future of Passenger Experience series will allow leaders in the industry to explain their best practices and insights. Read the rest of the series here.

This is the latest interview in the series.

Several years ago, executives at ANA — Japan’s largest airline — realized they had a problem. They wanted to attract more U.S. customers, but a Google search for ANA was nearly as likely to lead potential travelers to the American Nurses Association as to the airline.

Enter Star Wars, the iconic American movie franchise owned by The Walt Disney Co. The two brands announced a five-year deal in 2015, and ANA quickly repainted a Boeing 787-9 in what it called a “R2-D2 livery.” ANA now has four special planes, having christened C-3PO earlier this year. On board, ANA uses special themed headrest covers, and gives passengers Star Wars-branded cups and napkins.

It hasn’t been easy for ANA, but the airline, which started in 1953 yet didn’t fly international routes until 1986, is raising its profile in the United States, through the Star Wars promotion, and others, including its partnership with the celebrity DJ and musician Steve Aoki. He leads a marketing campaign called Welcome to Experience Class.

ANA now serves nine destinations in the United States, including Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, New York, Houston, and Honolulu, and two more — Mexico City and Vancouver, in the broader Americas.

On U.S. flights, ANA has anti-trust immunity with United Airlines, allowing the airlines to coordinate pricing and schedules, while sharing revenues and costs. The relationship means ANA earns money even if a customer flies United from Los Angeles to Tokyo. United also relies on ANA to carry its passengers from Tokyo to destinations throughout Asia.

With its U.S. footprint, ANA is now about as big in the Americas as Japan Airlines, a carrier with better name recognition abroad, in part because it has “Japan” in its name. Technically, ANA’s does as well — its full name is All Nippon Airways — but many foreigners don’t know “Nippon” means Japan. To tie the name back to the country, ANA often uses the tagline “Inspiration of Japan.”

We spoke recently by telephone with ANA CEO Yuji Hirako, who took over in April. Hirako joined ANA in 1981 after graduating from Tokyo University, and has held a series of jobs, including senior vice president for the Americas, and executive vice president for finance, accounting, and investor relations.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Skift: You’re Japan’s largest airline, but you’re not well known in Europe and the United States. Do you hope to change this? How?

Hirako: First of all, we are very proud to be awarded the five-star rating for five consecutive years [from Skytrax] and also to be named as the third-best airline in the world in 2017.  I think you’re familiar — five-star carriers are all Asian or Gulf carriers, and there are no U.S. nor European carriers. ANA is a very unique airline for its quality and its size. And yes, we are working very hard to have more customers in the U.S. and Europe know us better.

The vast majority of our marketing communications budget is allocated to the U.S., since it is our most important and biggest market. We try hard to come come up with unique promotions, leveraging our tagline, “Inspiration of Japan.” For example, we have already sponsored one of the major tournaments of the LPGA and have a partnership with Star Wars.

Starting from 2016, we are adding a different approach toward the U.S. audience in trying to raise our awareness. That would be from an innovation, social good, and from an inspiring people angle. The “Experience Class” promotion featuring Steve Aoki is one good example.

Skift: Why is Star Wars a good fit for ANA?

Hirako:  It’s been over 30 years since we started serving the U.S., but we are still not satisfied in how much we are known there. Our main focus is to attract the people who live in the U.S. and travel to Japan and Asian countries. We thought we needed more help from other well-known brands from the U.S., like Star Wars. Also, we have come to learn how hard Star Wars is trying to earn new fans, such as women, families, and more of the younger generation. We thought it would be a good fit for the two brands to work together.

A flight attendant poses on a Star Wars-themed plane.

Skift: Do you plan to add more U.S. markets?

Hirako: The industry predicts that transpacific traffic will show rapid growth in the next decade. Therefore we are putting our best efforts to expand in the U.S. and create a network that can enable passengers to fly not only to Japan but also connect in Narita and Haneda to various destinations in Southeast Asia and China.

It is not a suitable time to make any specific possible destinations public. But we have considered the U.S. as one of the most important markets. We are always looking for markets.

Skift: Some of your U.S passengers fly to Japan for vacation. But as you mention, many more take a connecting flight to somewhere else. Where are they headed?

Hirako: Our network is designed to have American passengers connect to various destinations in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and so on through our dual-hub airports, Narita and Haneda. That creates three banks — morning and midnight at Haneda and late afternoon at Narita, every day. We think that more traffic between the U.S. and these countries will emerge in the coming years and we want to make sure that we capture this demand by providing stress-free connections as well as a great in-flight product.

Skift: A decade ago, many airlines were bullish on the double-decker A380. But now, few airlines want it. When you ordered three in late 2015, you were the first new airline in three years to commit to the plane. Why did to decide to add it? Where will your A380s fly?

Hirako: We are planning to place all three A380s to fly between Tokyo and Honolulu to serve the most popular destination for the Japanese. We plan to start in early 2019. We are planning to put roughly 500 seats on this aircraft, which enables us to carry roughly twice as many as what we are capable of today. We assume that we will be the top airline, capacity-wise, between Tokyo and Hawaii, and we hope to provide better service and a product to our customers.

Skift: Might you add more than three?

Hirako: No. We don’t have any plans to add more A380s to our fleet — only three.

Skift: We’ve seen several new low-cost airlines flying between the U.S. and Europe. It makes legacy airlines nervous. We’ve seen fewer between Asia and the United States, though Air Asia X recently started flying from Osaka to Honolulu. Do you fear low-cost entrants? How might you respond?

Hirako: If we see a new LCC entrant in the transpacific market, we shall analyze the impact very carefully. But since the flights between Japan and the [Mainland] U.S. are more than 10 hours, I think ANA should not compete head-to-head against LCCs to attract price-sensitive customers. We take pride in our network, fleet, and product and Japanese hospitality, and we would like to enhance our strength as a full-service carrier to further attract customers.

Skift: Many U.S. and European airlines are unbundling their products, charging for everything from bags to food to better seats. They often say they must to compete with discounters. But most of your product is included in the base fare. Could that change?

Hirako: Finding the balance between trying to earn the extra revenue and providing generous service is very difficult. We do have some examples that we started in April 2017, such as Keep my Fare, [a platform that allows customers to pay $10 to hold a fare for as long as 72 hours] and paid lounge access. That said, we are extremely careful in introducing them since we need to keep our position as a full-service carrier.

Skift: As a full-service airline, you still place a major emphasis on first class, and most of your U.S. flights have an eight-seat cabin, where flight attendants serve champagne and caviar. Many insiders think first class is obsolete. Is it? If not, who flies it? 

Hirako: We believe persistent demand for first class exists in certain long-haul markets, like New York, London and Frankfurt from Tokyo. When we introduce our new A380 into the Tokyo-Honolulu route, we will definitely equip the aircraft with first class as well. That said, with our Dreamliner serving long-haul markets that are not equipped with first class, we are taking a close look at the marketing side to see whether the two-class service is a better choice.

Those who prefer first class tend to be VIPs from governments and large firm executives. We do not disclose our load factors from any specific cabins and routes and therefore would like to kindly refrain from answering questions about load factors and profitability of first class.

Skift: We’ve seen some airlines, including Singapore Airlines, install four-seat first class cabins instead on some planes. Would you do that?

Hirako: In the past studies, we have learned we are not able to justify reducing the number of seats to less than eight, since there are not many other options that have better efficiency compared to keeping eight seats in first class. But we will keep exploring whether our current eight-seat configuration is the best number.

Skift: To passengers, many airlines in Europe, the Americas, and Asia feel similar. Their food and service is almost the same. But ANA is different. It’s more of a Japanese experience. You know you’re flying on a Japanese airline. Is this deliberate?

Hirako: The ANA brand tagline is, “Inspiration of Japan.” This includes the experience of hospitality and the high levels of quality for which Japanese have come to be known. As we work to popularize this, we aim to give our customers a sense of the values that only ANA can provide as a Japanese airline. We try to make our flights a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our customers, instead of just a transportation method. Flying may sometimes be a hassle, but hopefully not on ANA. This is the area other airlines cannot simply copy and this shall be the key to differentiating ourselves from our competitors.

Skift: What about food?

Hirako: I think washoku, or Japanese cuisine, is becoming more popular day by day. Since we are an airline from Japan, we try to make our in-flight Japanese cuisine as authentic as possible by sending Japanese chefs to catering companies outside of Japan as much as possible. Sometimes we even send ingredients from Japan in order to have each dish keep its quality. Especially on long-haul routes, customers are looking forward to enjoying in-flight cuisine and beverages during their flights.

Skift: In your premium cabins, you serve sashimi, but not sushi. Why not?

Hirako: It is very difficult to duplicate the same authentic sushi quality that you may be able to enjoy on the ground in the air, since the pressure is different and the cabin is very dry. As you might be aware, sushi is a very delicate cuisine. [To do it right,] we would need talented sushi chefs on board, and to store ingredients in a very fresh way, et cetera. That is certainly a possibility in the future, and we would like to explore the possibility.

Skift: You were the launch customer for the Boeing 787. Initially, you took some planes with only eight seats across in economy class. But almost every other airline went with nine, and since then, you’ve preferred nine as well.  Why?

Hirako: It is true that the very first generation of the our Dreamliners had eight seats across the cabin. As time went by, the seat hardware showed remarkable progress, and [manufacturers] came up with new seats. When they started introducing those new seats, we revisited the number of seats that should be laid out across the cabin, and came to the conclusion that we could add one more seat without sacrificing passenger space. The vast majority of the sacrifice comes from reducing the number of armrests, as well as narrowing the aisle widths.

Skift: You also have been squeezing an extra seat per row in economy class on some Boeing 777-300ERs. Yet you’re increasing legroom on many long-haul planes. What’s the plan?

Hirako: We are adding more legroom for the coach cabin seats. For all long-haul routes — meaning all U.S. routes — we will have 34-inch legroom in regular economy class. Some of our long-haul aircraft still have 31-inch seat pitch, but we will complete making the changes to the 34 inches in the next couple of years.

Skift: Your parent company, ANA Holdings, controls two low-cost airlines — Peach and Vanilla Air. You lead the legacy airline. But why is important for ANA Holdings to have several airlines?

Hirako: I think they are important in creating additional revenue for the ANA Group. What we are seeing in the Japanese marketplace is that the LCCs are successfully stimulating the market and generating additional traffic. We have also learned a good lesson from other parts of the world where carriers are suffering from the invasion of the LCCs into the market. Thus, ANA Holdings successfully made Peach a subsidiary company this spring, along with Vanilla, for the purpose of avoiding cannibalization.

Skift: Have you learned anything from the LCCs you can use at ANA?

Hirako: We learn so much for our subsidiary LCCs, especially in the marketing field. Their primary target was millennials and women, and therefore they have very advanced knowledge and skills in utilizing social networking sites as a marketing tool. It is so eye-opening for us. It was surprising to me when I first heard that they sold German cars on board, as a result of their in-flight shopping menu. They were Volkswagens, sold on the plane.

[Editor’s note: In 2016, Peach Aviation sold five special Volkswagen Beetles (all in pink) as part of an in-flight shopping promotion. An ANA spokesman said they were all went to passengers flying domestic Japanese routes.]

Ryan Wolkov

PRC Time Shares

Author: Ryan Wolkov

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