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On American interest in and travel to Japan

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Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski addressed a conference on travel to Japan hosted by the Japan National Tourism Organization, Embassy of Japan and other Japanese and U.S.-based governmental and industry bodies in Washington on March 23.

The presentation at the Cherry Blossom Festival Special Symposium on Tourism to Japan — held in honor of both the centennial of Japan’s gift of cherry blossom trees to the U.S. and the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake — covered U.S. interest in Japan; the impact of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis on travel there by Americans; and approaches to driving leisure travel traffic from the U.S. to Japanese destinations.

View the presentation here.


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The Internet is abuzz with rumor that US Airways is preparing a bid for bankrupt American Airlines.

Actually, as an Associated Press report put it: "US Airways has made no secret of its interest in a merger with American Airlines."

Among the evidence?

According to the Wall Street Journal and others, US Airways has reportedly purchased a few domain names with combined names of the carriers, such as And the airline has already disclosed that it's hired advisors to study a bid.

Of course, it's nowhere near official yet. Public relations execs, airline execs and rival-airline execs are all demuring about an AA-US Airways combination -- or a Delta-AA combination, for that matter.

According to the most recent Travel Weekly Power List, American in 2010 was the second-largest airline by revenue passenger miles (with 125.4 billion) and US Airways was sixth (at 58.9 billion), though the now-completed United-Continental merger likely pushes AA's ranking down to No. 3.


The final cruise for the Love Boat

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Several news outlets are reporting that, according to an Italian newspaper, the former Love Boat has been sold for scrap.

The 41-year-old ship, the former Pacific Princess, was the setting for the ABC megahit "The Love Boat, where "love, exciting and new" was the subject, and subtext, for the weekly show, which ran for nearly 10 years.

It's difficult to minimize the impact the show had on the cruise industry. It helped popularize cruising as a vacation and was a particular boon to Princess Cruises, which over the years has hosted events starring the "Love Boat" crew -- Gavin MacLeod, the captain of the Love Boat, celebrated his 80th birthday onboard the Golden Princess last year.

Princess hasn't owned the Pacific Princess in more than 10 years, however. The ship was sold to Liberty Maritime International in 2001 and briefly chartered back to Princess; it operated its last cruise for the line in October 2002. (The line christened another ship in the 600-passenger range, a former R-class vessel, the Pacific Princess.)

It wasn't clear from reports who owned the ship before it was sold to Cemsan, a Turkish demolition company, for around $3.3 million. Reports said it had been tied up in a Genoa shipyard and that its current owners had failed to pay a local company about $7.8 million for asbestos removal and refurbishment.


First look at New York's new Virgin lounge

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Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, threw a party in New York earlier this week to celebrate the opening of his new 10,000-square-foot Clubhouse at New York Kennedy's Terminal Four. He personally hosted travel agents and journalists, who were issued special boarding passes to get through security to see the lounge.

Virgin Branson RossiTo emphasize the benefits of being post-security (the previous 7,500 square foot club was not), Upper Class passengers will also be able to don their Virgin all-black “sleep suits” in the lounge (and be given hangers and garment bags for their street clothing) before taking the short walk to the gate.

Similar to the lounge at London's Heathrow airport, the club features a spa that offers complimentary hair and beard trims or minor hair styling, hand and skin treatments and 15-minute back and head massages. Additional services are available for a fee.

The New York City-themed club is divided into three areas. Although there is food and beverage service throughout the lounge, there is a seated dining area, a bar/pool table/funky furniture lounge and a quiet area (though the divider – walnut spacers suggesting the New York skyline – is hardly soundproof).

The menu also has a New York motif, with pork sliders, caramelized apples, tin baked steak and Brooklyn Ale pie. A new cocktail has been concocted, and unlike lowercase “virgin” drinks, the uppercase Virgin Apple contains alcohol.

As guests arrived, the evening’s featured entertainer, KT Tunstall, sat in a recessed, padded “cave” carved out of a wall in the quiet area, drinking a glass of wine. She performed a three-song acoustic set (though Branson tried his best to amplify it by holding a microphone up to her guitar during the third number, a cover of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”). Between songs, she praised Virgin’s environmental efforts and dissed the Transportation Security Administration.

While the club is certainly the most stylish at JFK, those who have been to the London Heathrow Clubhouse, with its multiple levels, huge video wall, charcuterie and loft bar may feel the New York version pales in comparison. We asked Branson about that.

“You have your base where you have many flights coming in and going out;  that’s your absolute flagship,” he replied. “You don’t have everything you have there exactly the same down-route. If we tried to duplicate Heathrow everywhere, we’d be bankrupt pretty quickly.”

He noted that one thing both lounges have in common is a pool table. “I like to take money off people,” he explained.

— Arnie Weissmann 

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