Good ideas

Sometimes, bad things happen to good ideas. For whatever reason they fail to spread; they get dropped, botched or misunderstood. But when a good idea spreads, even if it’s something prosaic like recycling aluminum, the world gets a little better.

Here are a few good ideas in travel that we’re rooting for.

• A little quiet. One of Amtrak’s best ideas in the Northeast Corridor was the introduction of the “Quiet Car,” typically an ordinary coach with subdued lighting and a strict policy against loud talking, extended conversations, cellphones, video games and other distractions. More than once we’ve overheard restful passengers ask, “Why can’t they do this on the airlines?”

We are pleased to report that one airline half a world away has gotten the message. Beginning in February, Malaysia’s AirAsia X will offer a “Quiet Zone” in the first seven rows of economy, where passengers can expect “soft lighting” and no children under 12.

On the twin-aisle aircraft of AirAsia X, the Quiet Zone is only 63 seats, and unlike Amtrak the airline can’t make it a separate car with doors at both ends, but it’s a start.

• A little storefront. When Australia’s Flight Centre acquired Liberty Travel in 2007, the brick-and-mortar agency business looked to have an uncertain future. In fact, some cynics at the time thought the agency of the future was destined to be an Ikea desk in the spare bedroom.

But Flight Centre reassured the U.S. travel industry that it was committed to brick-and-mortar operations and intended to grow the business and reinvigorate the storefront mode.

We got a fine example of that at the beginning of the month with the grand opening of Liberty’s new “flagship” store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. The store combines high-tech (mobile counselors roam the floor with iPads) with high touch (there are as many as 15 people on duty, including a concierge who greets and qualifies new arrivals).

This won’t work for every agency or for every location, just like the Apple Store concept won’t work in just any ol’ neighborhood. But the new Liberty Flagship seems to be a good fit for Manhattan, and that’s good enough.

• A little cooperation. We think river cruising is a good idea, but the U.S. river cruise market has had some disturbing ups and downs in recent years, so we’ve been watching the launch of the American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi and the return of the American Queen Steamboat Co.’s American Queen with just a touch of anxiety.

And then a good idea came along in the form of the Avalon Waterways agreement to charter blocks of cabins on 10 Mississippi River cruises of the American Queen next year.

This is an excellent idea for both companies and for river cruising in general, as it gives a boost to the new entrant and enables Avalon to offer its agents and clients a new product without a risky new capital investment.

Airlines, with their codeshares and alliances, have been doing this sort of thing for years, and we confess that we’ve not always liked them for it.

The Avalon-American Queen arrangement is a useful reminder that these kinds of agreements can reduce risk for all parties and enable a product or service to survive and thrive.

In today’s economy, that’s the best idea of all. This page is protected by Copyright laws. Do Not Copy. Purchase Reprint
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