July 2021

I was reading recently that United Airlines have ordered 15 supersonic jetliners for delivery later this decade.  I also saw that a new residential cruise ship called Njord is being launched that will sell residences (not cabins) for between $8 and $30 million.  That got me thinking about the romance of travel, something of which we appear to have been sadly lacking lately.

Throughout the modern era of tourism efforts have always been made to add excitement to the whole process of traveling.  The stage coaches of the eighteenth an early nineteenth century were always given names to indicate their speed. ‘Lightening’ in England, ‘Stellwagon’ and ‘Eilwagon’ in Germany and ‘Flying Machine’ here in the USA.  That despite the fact they probably only traveled at five miles an hour!

The railroads got in on the act of course and named their trains and locomotives from the earliest days.  These early attempts at marketing were aimed at exciting the prospective traveler.  Not only were the names evocative but serious attempts were made to provide exceptional levels of luxury.

Shipping companies from the 1800s onwards also majored on luxury and speed, across the world.  It’s true that the majority of passengers traveled in ‘steerage’ or third class on the ships and experienced anything but luxury, but the image was all that mattered.  Ships became larger and larger, and ever more speedy.  Across the Atlantic shipping lines competed for the Blue Riband, the prize for the fastest crossing. Again the magic was in the names and the marketing with ships like Normandie, Queen Mary, Bremen and United States competing for the ultimate record.  The liner United States held the record from 1952 until 1986, when it was beaten by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Challenger, although as that only held about 4 people it doesn’t count as a liner in my mind!  The United States averaged just under 40 miles per hour, but the luxury on board was phenomenal.

On the railroads from the mid 1800s through to the 1950s famous trains offered unimaginable (to the average traveler) levels of speed and luxury.  Think of the 20th Century Limited from New York to Chicago, The Orient Express, which featured in novels and stories (most notably ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ by Agatha Christie), The Trans Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok – 5772 miles, The Blue Train in South Africa, The Flying Scotsman in Britain, the Ghan in Australia, and countless others.  Of course the luxury came about by including Pullman Cars in many trains, or in Europe the Wagons Lits.  Many railroads still have luxury and high speed trains (the Acela here in USA and the Bullet Trains of Japan) but regrettably the luxury has passed and many trains today are very ordinary.

Airlines of course used their speed and luxury to attract passenger from the 1920s onwards.  Juan Tippe’s Pan American blazed trails across the world with luxury flying boats. Other nations competed of course and following the Second World War the air routes around the world were flown by exotically names airliners – Comet, Constellation,  and Stratocruiser.   Airlines named their individual aircraft, with Pan Am’s Clippers and TWA Star Stream jets.

In flight service was how airlines differentiated themselves offering not just excellent food but cocktail bars in the sky, sleeping bunks and in flight entertainment.  

Although the Boeing 747 was known as The Queen of the Skies, it did usher in the chance to cram as many people into a plane as possible, and for many (except those few in the first class front cabin of the jets) flying was no longer the ‘experience’ many would like.  The Airbus A-380 took size to a whole new level, and for the majority of the between 379 and 615 passengers, luxury is not a word they would consider.

Concorde, the supersonic airliner that flew on a very few routes between 1976 and 2003 was a notable exception to the trend. Never a commercial success, Concorde flew its 100 passengers at twice the speed of sound in unashamed luxury.  

Well, perhaps we’ve come full circle.  United Airlines plans to reintroduce supersonic travel.  Luxury cruise ships are beginning to set sail again, and there are increasing numbers of ‘special’ luxury trains running around the world.

Let’s hope the romance, luxury and speed of traveling is making a welcome return.

TALKING TOURISM: Match expectations to airline carrier choice

This article first appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Delta 1, Transatlantic service
Don’t expect this on every flight!








Last week we started looking at different kinds of airlines and their effect on tourism. There’s always a danger of assuming, just because they fly planes and transport people, they’re all the same. That’s no more true than saying that staying at the Hyatt Regency is the same as a night in a budget motel.

Here along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, we’re served by a number of airlines with different business models aimed at various markets and needs. We each have our favorites and I don’t intend to criticize any of them, just to point out some differences.

Each of our local airports is served by what are termed legacy carriers — American, Delta and United. These three companies are the result of years of consolidation, takeovers and mergers. Each has a huge network of international, domestic trunk and local routes. In many cases, they operate on a hub-and-spoke principal (it’s said, with a smile, that all routes go via Atlanta, Dallas or Houston!). In fact, you may find that your local legacy carrier flight is operated by a contracted “partner” airline. For example, American Eagle, Delta Connection or United Express are all operated by other airlines, but under their partner’s colors; they are different aircraft types and crews than “main line” services. It’s the reason you can expect a whole different experience flying say Destin to Dallas, than you would Dallas to San Francisco, or Dallas to Sydney, Australia.

We also have Southwest Airlines, a popular low-cost airline. They don’t need to support a worldwide network (yet) by funneling business into hubs, and although they do chase business traffic, it’s not their prime market. We’re not served by Jet Blue or Spirit, which also are both low-cost carriers, but all these airlines have different policies for what they provide within the fare, and for what they charge (baggage, food, etc). Of course, the legacy carriers also compete for the budget market, so on their aircraft you may find frills and space, few frills and little space, or no frills and no space depending on how much you paid.

Also flying into the Gulf Coast is Allegiant Airlines. They may be termed a low-cost airline, but it would be more appropriate to call them a leisure carrier. They aim to attract vacationers from predominantly urban and cooler areas and take them to sunny vacation places. Allegiant is more in the model of the European leisure airlines. They’re really a full travel company, selling not just flights, but tours and accommodations, too.

Finally, we have the airlines like GLO, Silver and Contour, which operate smaller aircraft on less-traveled routes, like New Orleans and Bowling Green. They provide a great service for local business travelers and vacationers.

So, we have to manage our expectations and match them to our needs and pocket book, just as we do with our other tourism choices. We should also look at how air travel has transformed tourism, but that’s for another day.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to martin@owenorganization.com.

Talking Tourism: Lesser-used facilities open gateways to cheaper travel

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News.

I recently had to take a flight back to England, and this allowed me time to give some thought to the changing face of aviation and its effect on tourism. Air services and airlines have been at the center of the explosion for tourism — not only worldwide, but within the U.S.

To many of us, all airlines are the same and essentially just a way of getting from one place to another. We tend to expect them all to provide the same sort of services and behave in the same way. There are, however, as many different sorts of airlines as there are different sorts of hotels and accommodations. Each matches the particular needs of varying sets of travelers.

For the business traveler, flights at the right time, that are on time and the ability to work while flying are probably more important than price. For the leisure traveler on a budget, price is the most important factor, with fast inflight Wi-fi and lots of leg room worth sacrificing. When I was involved in selling flights from the U.K. to Australia for vacationers, if our advertised price was $5 more than a competitor’s, our phones simply didn’t ring — and that was when the average price was around $1,200. Our lead-in price had to be $499 to get people to call.

I mention all this because a recent entry into the transatlantic flight market is stirring things up. Norwegian Airlines has been a “low-cost carrier” since 2002 and now serves 150 destinations around the world. Although they term themselves low-cost, they emphasize low fares with excellent service. Many in this category of airlines in the U.S. have achieved lower costs by using one kind of aircraft and cutting inflight service, meals and charging for what they term optional extras — like baggage! Norwegian claims instead that new efficient aircraft and a lean operation is their answer. They also fly to some interesting destinations.

For example, they not only fly from Gatwick Airport in London to both JFK in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, but also fly to Stewart International Airport, a lesser used facility 70 miles north of the Big Apple. They fly to Boston, but also to Providence, and not just to Los Angeles, but also Oakland.

By using lesser known gateways, they can keep their prices low. That leads me to think that the Panama City, Pensacola or Destin-Fort Walton Beach airports could be interesting potential gateways for a carrier like Norwegian. They can offer the Europeans low cost airports, fantastic beaches, great weather, access to the northern Gulf Coast, and the whole Southeast of the U.S. In return, that would also give us locals access to European destinations at bargain prices. Someone call the folks at Norwegian Air!

Of course, there are other airline types — legacy carriers, flag carriers, tourist and leisure airlines, main-line services, commuter and feeder lines, intrastate and regional carriers. All have different ways of getting us from here to there. We’ll look at differences in coming weeks.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to martin@owenorganization.com.