Richard Turen
Richard Turen
A fixture in Washington, the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. Given its age and the fact that it has almost 1,200 rooms, some folks in the marketing department started thinking aloud about just how much memorabilia from this D.C. landmark might have disappeared in the past century.

So they came up with a way to get some of it back. Items that get returned during an amnesty period will be featured in a permanent display in the lobby.

The hotel is not doing this because it really wants its old teacups, face towels and silverware returned. What it is really looking for are the stories that accompanied the items out the door in the past 100 years, Judges will decide which essay contains the best story about the items that walked, and the winner will receive a two-night stay in the hotel's Langston Hughes Suite, along with 500,000 Marriott points.

Airbnb embraces Vice

Have you ever watched the edgy Viceland TV channel? Produced by Vice Media, Viceland is hard-hitting, with the ability to transport viewers into worlds they never knew existed. Vice targets young adults who are into digital and experiential travel with no holds barred.

The network announced it is entering the travel-package business in partnership with Airbnb. Vice will get advertising revenue from Airbnb to promote the packages, with Airbnb retaining remaining profits.

This could be a powerful partnership, with consumers watching subtle commercials for a destination in the form of Vice's reality-based programming. To get a sense of where this is headed, look at three of the announced tour programs: One includes Tokyo's LGBT nightlife culture, another focuses on the "voguing" world in Harlem, while a third will immerse viewers in the Cape Town electronic music scene. The tour will be led by artist and music producer Spoek Mathambo.

Still another secret restaurant

Newark Liberty Airport can be a bit challenging in the best of times. But now, there is a new status symbol for our United Airlines first-class passengers, and agents with an upscale clientele had better be able to swing an invitation.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Scott McCartney reported that the name of a new secret restaurant is classified. Actually, I meant to say that its actual name is Classified. It sits behind Saison, a French bistro in Newark's Terminal C. You get there by going through Saison to an unmarked blue door in the back.

United wants to use this place to get its top-tier customers to fly out of Newark and to enjoy an Instagrammable sense of self-worth and celebrity.

Classified wants to be a Manhattan trend spot in Newark. Not easy to pull off, but how many places at Newark serve a decent 42-ounce rib-eye steak for $100? As McCartney points out, you can get a 20% discount by using United's Chase credit card, or you can use miles to purchase your food. A Caesar salad will set you back just under 2,000 miles.

You do pay for your food in this restaurant. Or should we call it a lounge on steroids? You order from an iPad and, worse than even that, you cut your rib-eye with plastic utensils because, after all, you're in an airport, and your maitre d' is really the TSA.

There appear to be real questions about access to Classified. What, for example, would happen if a business-class passenger simply walked in? Would United send the passenger away? Will admission to Classified be offered exclusively to international first-class passengers, or will full-revenue business guests be able to snag an invitation?

And what about the terminally disgruntled? Is admission something customer service reps can offer? You can start working now on ways to get your best clients in. Mine will be going to the Little Purse Dumpling Den, not very far away.

So how is 'going basic' working out?

Fairly well, it would seem. Delta Airlines launched a revolutionary level of nonservice -- or, to put a better spin on it, a la carte service -- called basic economy. American and United followed suit. This was a reaction to low-fare carriers like Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and, to a lesser degree, Southwest.

Basic fares are a bit of a hit, largely because they seem almost punitive. At Delta, for example, it means no changes, no upgrades, no seat choice and, in the case of two airlines, only a briefcase or purse allowed as a carry-on.

So why is that a good thing? And why has Delta decided to take the concept global? Because basic is so awful that, according to the airline's CEO talking with CNBC, just about 50% of the customers considering booking basic opt instead for an upgrade to regular economy.

This means an increase in the range of $35 per ticket without the need for an airline to do anything in terms of redesigning the economy cabin. And the additional profit produced by upselling can easily be spread over every type of aircraft. American and United are also reporting a significant percentage of passengers who elect to upgrade from the most-basic fares.

Unlike Delta, United and American do not permit basic-fare guests to use the overhead bins. Policing of this policy will be interesting to observe because, in United's case, those paying basic fares will be allowed to use the bins if they have elite status. I am sure that flight attendants are just thrilled with these policies.

American has another wrinkle: permitting basic-fare passengers to actually purchase a seat assignment up to 48 hours prior to departure.

So economy seating is turning into a nice little profit center for the major carriers, with a larger-than-anticipated number of customers willing to pay more to receive the blessings that go with being seated in a regular economy-class seat.

But before we get too critical of the airlines for selling up, we might want to consider that they might have taken inspiration from cruise lines, to which well over 95% of guests pay more for better accommodations than the advertised "priced from" cabin in Z class, just on the other side of the crew quarters bowling alley. By definition, virtually every cruise booking involves upsell. No one wants entry level.

There is a certain sense of purity in the sale of an escorted tour program. It is the most egalitarian sector of the industry. Everyone pays the same price, there is no discounting. Everyone is booked at the same accommodation level and enjoys the same inclusive amenities and services, with few exceptions.

Matching the client with the perfect escorted tour product seldom involves price talk. It is, most often, a qualitative purchasing decision. Hopefully we will never see basic economy creep into this sector.

Why is Ritz-Carlton entering cruise?

There certainly is a sufficient amount of industry buzz surrounding Ritz-Carlton's launch of three 298-guest ships beginning late in 2019. The books should open in May.

The hotel sector has to be a bit envious of the 8.5% growth rate of the cruise industry. While there are certainly small-ship competitors, the Ritz-Carlton brand has several advantages. In terms of size, its modern yachts come closest to Ponant. But with a design that gives them an additional 200 feet, staterooms will be considerably larger, and the new Ritz-Carlton cruise yachts will offer dining options that compete nicely with ships carrying twice as many guests.

The design, we are told, will be revolutionary. It is the first time the folks at Tillberg Design in Sweden will have the opportunity to create the first vessel for a new line. They are promising the sleek ships will have "the Maserati effect," a look designed to turn heads.

Then there is this: Which new cruise line begins with a customer base of 400,000 loyal guests? Which has the ability to take weak sailings and open them up to SPG and Marriott points holders?

Is there any doubt Ritz-Carlton will find 12,000 passengers annually, the number required to fill its fleet? Don't bet against it.
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