The travel industry has had an eventful spring. As summer draws near, we pause to reflect on the many kinds of events that have been shaping our business:
• Interesting: Strictly speaking, all the news is interesting, but what jumps out at us this week is the news that billionaires are investing in the hotel industry again. John Pritzker, son of Hyatt founder Jay Pritzker, is acquiring a 49% interest in Joie de Vivre Hospitality. And in Bentonville, Ark., heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune are investing in a 130-room 21c Museum Hotel to be fashioned after its namesake in Louisville, Ky.
Billionaire investors are nothing new in Silicon Valley, but they're still somewhat of a rarity in travel. Needless to say, their money is welcome here. Spread the word.
• Outrageous: We had several of these, but Spirit's $30 fee for carryon baggage takes the cake.
• Optimistic: Continental expects to merge into United Airlines someday soon. In light of the mixed reviews this merger is getting, that aspiration itself might be deemed optimistic, but the airline made an unrelated gesture of hope a few weeks ago, setting a date (Nov. 16, 2011) for the launch of operations with Boeing's long-delayed 787 Dreamliner. Continental even specified the route: Houston to Auckland, New Zealand, a vote of confidence in the post-merger future of the Houston hub.
• Refreshing: Japan agreed to allow U.S. airlines to serve Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport, and U.S. mega-carriers responded with a flurry of applications at the Transportation Department for the limited rights. In a welcome deviation from the big-get-bigger trend, the U.S. decided to confer some of the available landing rights on Hawaiian, prompting cheers for the little guy.
• Ironic: Arizona gave itself a double whammy. The same state legislature that adopted a much-criticized immigration law also cut the state tourism promotion budget. Now the immigration law has triggered a boycott that is hurting the state's meetings business, but there's no money for advertising and promotion to counter the boycott.
• Tragic: Bob Whitley, longtime president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, was a giant, and his death in May was a big loss for us all.
• Familiar: We hear variations of this story practically every day: China is big and growing fast, and the implications of that growth are affecting all world markets. At the World Travel and Tourism Council Summit in Beijing, the spotlight was on travel and tourism, areas in which China is continuing to put up big numbers.
• Novel: American Express and the U.S. Travel Association teamed up with various suppliers for a 24-day "Daily Getaways" promotion that enabled consumers to bid on donated inventory, with proceeds going to fund U.S. Travel initiatives to further promote the industry -- a unique display of togetherness.
• Despicable: Unite Here, a labor union that's trying to exert pressure on three San Francisco hotels, launched what can only be called a smear campaign against a travel company with one of the best reputations in the business, Tauck World Discovery.
A website at Tauckdisastours.org brandishes a skull-and-crossbones symbol and warns darkly of "accident reports and ethics information," none of which had much of anything to do with Tauck.
We're big believers in First Amendment freedoms around here, but this is the sort of thing that gives "free speech" a bad name.
This column appeared in the June 14 issue of Travel Weekly.