Too Much Trump

Too Much Trump

lovetrumpAfrican leaders scramble while their citizens shout and scream, terrified that they will be added to Trump’s ban list.

On America’s most watched morning political show today one of the regulars asked why Trump’s travel ban didn’t include “Kenya?” This is a show that we know Trump and much of the Senate watch. The commentator finally brought into the open what everyone is secretly worried about.

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You Can Take it With You

You Can Take it With You

residentinskyWhy are air fares going up so fast? Because travelers are rich.

Air fares have been used by all of us in all areas of the travel industry as predictors or leading indicators of travel in general. That’s because they are bought more through reactive responses to instant offers than the considered thinking of some measure that usually goes into planning a vacation.

That type of reactionary buying reveals the nature of you, the consumer, better than anything.

“Air fares are high, because planes are full,” reports a frequent flying expert.

Fuel prices are at historic lows, but air fares are up 17% over last year according to the LA Times and there’s absolutely no indication they’re going to go down anytime soon.

Why? Didn’t you recently hear from your favorite media pundit that the “recovery” isn’t widespread? What about Europe’s “new recession?” Isn’t China in a muddle?

Yes to all the above, but planes are full, because flying is expensive, and the rich are doing just fine thank you.

This is capitalism at its sweetest. What it illustrates is a turf war between the bullies. American Airlines versus GE Capital. Cathy versus the Chinese Communist Party. There are a lot of very rich people in the world, and air travel and vacations are becoming their exclusive purvey.

The reaction is widespread in all the industries that make vacations. In the one I know the best, East African safaris, prices are going up after a ridiculous dip caused by the now widely accepted irrational fear of ebola.

Before the ebola scare our industry prices hit a new high. That wasn’t because there weren’t good deals, there were and still are. But just fewer of them. The excellent mid-market companies like Sopa and Serena in East Africa and the Drifters and Kwandos and lower end Sun Internationals and Proteas in the south are still offering excellent prices.

But there’s many fewer of those than there used to be. Fewer in capitalism means less capacity and less capacity in a balanced market means higher prices, but that isn’t happening to the lower ends of the travel market in Africa.

Rather, there are more and more luxury, high-end properties whose prices are moving upwards.

The low and midmarkets are struggling.

If you’re a budget consumer looking to go on safari, you better move fast, because your choices are diminishing and in the current climate might not even exist in a few years!

But if you’re one of those Etihad Airlines passengers who just spent $20,000 (one way) for a 3-room suite on a flight from London to Dubai … no worry. You really don’t have to know how to work your personal wide-screen TV or microwave: you get a butler, too.

Bad Ebola Cancellation Policy

Bad Ebola Cancellation Policy

badvacationThings are calmly down, slides in travel are reversing, and African tour companies are once again shooting themselves in the foot.

In the last ten days a wave of African travel companies have issued new cancellation policies addressing a perceived fear by potential travelers of ebola, which does absolutely nothing except increase fears.

As far as I can tell it began with one of southern Africa’s most reputable and larger companies, Wilderness Safaris.

Wilderness is a holdover from archaic marketing days and still doesn’t sell directly to the consumer, so it sent a rather petulant email to agents worldwide that began by deriding the notion that ebola in West Africa could effect holidays as far away as East and southern Africa.

But then sighing through the internet, the company issued a new policy that said it would cover any difference in lost cancellation fees from nonrefundable payments not refunded by the travelers own insurance company.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long for a whole bunch of companies throughout the continent to follow suit.

It’s meaningless – at least for Americans – and in my opinion is totally counterproductive.

First, why it’s meaningless:

Read the revised policy’s fine print. (1) WHO must declare an “outbreak” in the country in which the safari is scheduled. (2) The traveler must then apply first to his own travel insurance company for refunds of monies on deposit. (3) Whatever the insurance company doesn’t cover, this widely adopted policy will not refund cash but rather a credit for future travel, which is limited by time and other conditions depending upon the specific company.

(1) There is currently much more ebola in the United States then in any sub-Saharan country. WHO has not declared an “outbreak” of ebola in the United States. That is a strategic-specific term that precedes an actual “epidemic” and it requires multiple cases in multiple locations. So to begin with, a single case say in a game park in South Africa will not trigger this policy.

(2) I’m not completely knowledgeable about the travel insurance available to other than Americans, but in the United States there is not a single travel insurance company that covers a travelers’ decision to abort their trip because of ebola or any other public health emergency. In the U.S. normal travel insurance provides benefits strictly for accidents and other health conditions befalling the traveler him/herself.

(A few very expensive policies cover terrorism, and consumers can spend an enormous amount of money for “cancel for any reason” but for most travelers these rare policies are prohibitively expensive.)

In other words, normal travel insurance bought in the U.S. will not provide benefits for a public health emergency in the country scheduled to be visited.

Refunds of part of your deposited trip, and not others, essentially mute out the first refund: Few Americans traveling to Africa will deposit on a trip there without also buying their air fare. There is no indication whatever that any airline will issue any refund for a travelers’ decision to cancel because of a public health emergency.

(3) As most established travel agents and operators worldwide know, most local African companies are quite liberal in extending nonrefundable date-specific services for almost any reason. In other words, most travelers are able to reschedule their previously deposited trip to a later date with no penalty for any reason, much less ebola.

For Americans, then, there is absolutely no benefit whatever from the newly expressed policies.

Most American consumers are a bit more savvy than Africans believe their geography quotient may be. I think most consumers will see this for what it is: a marketing gimmick. Gimmicks don’t help sales.

Consumers who consider the policy more substantial than a gimmick will actually be further deterred: Creating policies that on their surface seem beneficial to the potential traveler only if an outbreak actually occurs suggests that company is conceding that an outbreak is possible.

When the risk is nil. Consider that several of the last ebola outbreaks occurred in Uganda, a popular East African safari country. It never turned into an epidemic, and Uganda’s health-care system countrywide is below average compared to most other sub-Saharan countries.

Consumers – especially in America where two of its largest cities now have had locally developed ebola (Dallas and New York) – are recognizing however slowly that sub-Saharan Africa is actually less risky to visit than the Cowboys’ new stadium or the Statue of Liberty.

African travel companies have always been a little bit behind the times. This stupid policy does nothing but reignite irrational fears.

Quarantine Texas

Quarantine Texas

ebolaThe behavior of Americans is contributing to the spread of ebola in war-torn Africa. We’ve got to change.

Inbound airport screening is useless. Reactionary raising of funds “for ebola victims” in schools or churches is abject nonsense.

One of the world’s best virologists said today, “I know that President Obama has raised the whole issue about screening at the airport. It has not worked in the past. It has not worked with influenza, it’s not worked with SARS, MERS. You know, all you do is cause confusion and upset.”

These kinds of knee-jerk responses foil real efforts that could stop the epidemic in parts of West Africa.

First, it distracts real and necessary aid of the sort Obama has sent with our military, so that later an idiotic Congressman can vote against raising the deficit to build hospitals in Liberia because their home-town middle school is already doing something.

Second, it gives all those fear loving Americans a quick fix. Quick fixes don’t work. Even gorilla glue doesn’t live up to its reputation.

Quick fix mentality is why Americans are in such a horrible state, today, socially and morally. It’s why there’s jihadism in the Middle East, and so much poverty and disease in America compared to other industrialized nations.

We are the head of the snake that bites our own tail: Our own regular lives become disrupted by irrational fears.

This is squarely, and clearly, because of individual American reactionism. It all begins at home, not with your Congressperson, so don’t blame her. She’s just reflecting your own irrational fears:

The first warnings about AIDS, the nuclear air raid drills I undertook as a young teenager in remote northwest Arkansas, the police cars guarding the East Dubuque bridge after 9/11, the thousands of people certain that at midnight, December 31, 1999, either their whole world or at least their hard drive would stop.

It doesn’t even have to remind. Americans at this very instant are reacting against themselves: A majority want to bomb Syria and Iraq but that same majority doesn’t believe it will work.

There’s no doubt that irrational ebola fear can be found anywhere in the world where the media has sensationalized it, and that’s where it all begins. Americans, though, believe in their choice of media more than anywhere else in the world, despite their lavish protestations to the contrary.

We Americans tout ourselves for being so generous, but so much of “our giving” is senseless and ultimately useless. Is that really generosity?

It’s likely that now that every American knows that ebola is less of a threat to herself and his community than this year’s flu epidemic ready to begin. It’s likely right now that almost all Americans intellectually accept that their chances of getting ebola are nil.

That it is not very contagious. That it is pretty easily contained in a community with even a half efficient public health system.

Much more importantly, I think most Americans know that if we isolate those three countries in western Africa by stopping air service, for example, that we will not give ourselves more protection yet we will manifestly increase the misery there.

Yet: click here.

Or here.

Or here, of course:

It’s hard for me to not panic against the panic, but I’m trying. Take a deep breath as I’m doing. Let’s remove the exclamation points and get on with our lives. Send your kid to school. Let the airplanes fly to Liberia. Take that vacation as planned.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how you can do good. Let’s just start today by stopping doing bad.

Memory Track

Memory Track

MemoryTrackSafari travelers thirty years ago paid only a little bit less for air fare but only about a fifth as much for their safari!

Recently my good friend, the Cleveland Zoo Director Emeritus, Steve Taylor, sent me a copy of the brochure for the safari that my company, EWT, operated for him when he was director of the Sacramento Zoo thirty years ago!

The 15-day Kenyan safari roundtrip Sacramento in July, 1984, cost $2935 per person and from what I can tell there was no supplement for traveling as a single. Back then people were afraid to travel as singles! I remember that one of the services our zoos and other not-for-profit associations provided was teaming up single bookings.

The itinerary was similiar to what a 15-day land program would do, today, although today the average time travelers take on safaris is only 11 days.

And back then there was no flying … it was all driving. And the driving wasn’t so bad, really, because the roads were OK and the traffic was minimal.

Today, travel for example between the Mara and Nairobi is more often by air than road.

To book the safari you had to make a deposit of $300, about the same percentage as you would today. But the deposit was refundable! For this program, which began on July 10, 1984, you could cancel up to May 12 for only a $35 penalty!

Holy Smokes! That would kill us tour companies, today! For one thing back then we held the deposit in the U.S. We rarely paid our African vendors until shortly before arrival, and sometimes not even then. As our reputations grew more reliable, we would be invoiced after the trip for the costs.

So we could extend that refundability advantage to our customers. Today most safari vendors in Africa require up-front payments which are nonrefundable.

1984 was a critical year, as I remember. It was the year that airline deregulation started to be implemented, so when airlines began to become more competitive. But it hadn’t translated into prices, yet. That wouldn’t happen until around 1986 when prices began to drop steeply.

And as those of you who regularly read me, I don’t think that was a good thing. As Steve and many other veteran travelers will tell you, airline travel back then was a dream. Bigger seats, easy check-in, all the luggage you could muster, fantastic attendants, excellent food and wine … not today.

So airline services are reduced so much, today, that they’re almost intolerable … but the price is the same. Safari services, on the other hand, have grown better and better … and it costs you five times as much.

There are, in fact, still some downmarket tented camps that look like the best we had in 1984, but their prices are about twice as much as what we paid for the only (and then, best) accommodation in 1984. And the best accommodation is astronomically higher today than then.

Because .. not only does everyone have flush toilets, today, but in the better camps both an indoor and outdoor shower. Hot water is available 24 hours, not just a few hours during the day. Tents are giant size compared to before, with beautiful furniture and rugs and wonderful, massive beds. There’s electricity! Not just kerosene lanterns. And the food today at the better camps rivals any good restaurant in a big American city. Quite different from our beans and rice and occasional stick of boiled chicken of days gone bye.

And the animals? Well, actually, there are more of them today than in 1984 with the notable exceptions of the lion and a group of smaller animals like duikers that have been sacrificed to the felling of so many forests. But all the animals that thrive on the plains are in greater numbers today, than in 1984.

Which I’ve often written about poses one of the greatest challenges to East African development. If you’re a student or venture capitalist in Nairobi, you don’t want a lion disrupting your morning commute or an elephant traipsing through your garden, and if you’re a farmer – believe me – you’re not going to like tourism.
84JulSMFzoosafari001
But there were definitely things back thirty years that made a safari more wonderful than today: the many fewer vehicles, to begin with. Friendly and safe “little” Nairobi and Mombasa. “Safe” and “secure” weren’t even terms we applied to anything other than wild animals.

And call it nostalgia if you will, but the “wildness” of those endless plains thirty years ago was a thrill hard to recreate, today. At least in the same way. No cell phones. No internet. No Flying Doctors. No way of “checking in” back home meant that you were really stepping onto a landscape where no one but your fellow travelers would know where you were.

And people were willing and anxious to do that back then. Today the safari traveler is infinitely more cautious and I think less inspired by the potential differentness of Africa to alternate vacation spots. It’s one of the reasons prices have gone through the roof even while the average income of a middle class traveler hasn’t.

The ecologically correct shampoo, feather bed and pillows, well delivered ginger snaps with early morning tea and of course a charging station for your smartphone are now essentials.

Times have changed.

Nairobi Fire – Is It Terrorism?

Nairobi Fire – Is It Terrorism?

IsNBOfireterrorismIs this terrorism? What should stranded passengers do?

An incredibly massive and fast moving fire destroyed Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta’s international arrivals area early this morning.

Stranded passengers should contact their airline; there’s no alternative. If you’re on the ground in East Africa your ground operator will assist you.

Passengers planning to travel soon to East Africa via Nairobi might consider quickly rebooking to another airport. My best guess is that near normal international traffic into Nairobi will begin in about a week.

Then, from a week to two weeks out, it’s likely some flights will be canceled to reduce the load, it’s likely that some flights will be diverted as they were last night to (first) Mombasa, (second) Kilimanjaro and (third) Entebbe. Nevertheless, your ground operator will easily work around this alteration of arrival.

After 15 days or so, normal traffic will resume, although the airport arrival and departure procedures in Nairobi will likely be delayed. For this reason if you hold a short connecting time connection in Nairobi, consider rebooking now for at least the next several months.

TERRORISM?

There are frightening signs that this is terrorism. First, today is the 15th anniversary of the Nairobi embassy bombing. Second, had the suddenly erupting fire been 2 hours later, the terminals would have been full of arriving passengers.

Jomo Kenyatta Airport is one of the least secure airports in the world. Passengers often notice multiple secure checks, because the individual airlines don’t trust the government personnel, so they follow the normal airport security with their own.

Monday’s short airport closure, we were told, was because of a sudden loss of jet fuel. That’s incredibly suspicious. Major airports do not run out of gas.

If – and this is a very big IF – this is the reason the western world went into lockdown this last week, then we have another example of botched terrorism. That doesn’t mean it’s not scarey, just that if this is the best they can do, thank goodness.

Another Black Day in Kenya

Another Black Day in Kenya

Visitors and citizens alike were horribly killed in Kenya yesterday reflecting a very strained society.

As of this morning four tourists are reported dead with several others still in critical condition after a scheduled flight aboard of Mombasa Air Safari LET aircraft from the Maasai Mara to Mombasa crashed on take-off.

Forty-eight Kenyans were killed in ethnic clashes near the town of Mandera in the arid Tana River region far east of Nairobi.

The two quite different incidents both reflect Kenya’s growing strain as it prepares for critical elections next March.

The Mombasa Air Safari crash was of a Czechoslovakian made, Soviet-styled LET aircraft. LET aircraft (of a variety of different sizes and types) has a horrible safety record with twelve accidents and 424 fatalities just this year alone. It was a cheap aircraft to begin with that became even cheaper with the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Almost like bad weaponry, LET aircraft have been showing up more and more in Africa as lax aircraft regulation mixes with strained economies.

The ethnic clashes which have been mostly reported in the world press as revenge killings by one ethnic group against another for disputes over water resources and range rights is actually only the tip of the story.

Kenya has redistricted itself in preparation for next year’s elections under the new constitution. Multiple smaller districts have been consolidated – as I believe they should – to create a truly more representative parliament.

And one logical outcome pits former established politicians as competitors for a single representative seat. It isn’t just coincidence that this is the case where the ethnic clashes occurred yesterday.

Police have confirmed that villagers have been incited to violence by local politicians vying for a consolidated district under the new constitution.

To a certain extent both these tragedies are isolated. Kenya tourism – indeed more and more of East African tourism as a whole and almost all of southern African tourism – depends upon small aircraft. I’d estimate in East Africa that more than half the tourists take at least one such flight, and likely a quarter take two or more.

The overall safety record for such a massive industry is pretty good. LET aircraft represent a very small proportion of the tourist aircraft, which are predominantly very safe Cessnas. (Unfortunately, there are no actual statistics, although the data is there to compile. So my statements are not evidential, but I believe accurate enough.)

And the ethnic clashes in Mandera which have been picked up in the world press as evidence of Kenya’s overall ethnic strife is nonsense. The new constitution, some pretty harsh laws, four prominent citizens on trial in The Hague for causing ethnic violence in 2007 all point to a Kenyan society righting itself masterfully.

But dead is dead. Another few hurdles for this tough and struggling society.

Safety At Ground Level

Safety At Ground Level

The airline you’re going to fly next week isn’t considered among the safest? Should you cancel? And what was that report out this week?

There is enormous confusion over the report widely circulated in the media this week routinely labeled “The World’s Ten Safest Airlines.” The report is an annual one from the Geneva-based Transport Rating Agency (ATRA).

No, I’m not right away listing the ten “safest airlines” because I think for us average travelers it’s a bunch of malarkey. It might have some usefulness for large groups of travelers negotiating a corporate rate structure, or for potential mergers and acquisitions, but for Joes like you and me, forget it.

Here’s why. The analysis was done on only what ATRA calls the “100 most important airlines” without explaining what it meant by “important.”

According to Wikipedia, there are 5,663 airlines in the world. That means the analysis didn’t even consider 5,553. JetBlue, for example, wasn’t considered important enough.

The report is a for-sale report from a profit making consulting firm. It’s sort of like Americans for Progress rating the best Congressmen.

I don’t think ATRA is necessarily political, but it is interested only in the Big Guys. This is because their customers aren’t interested in Ryan Air or Kenya Airways. Or, for that matter, Qatar Airlines, one of the finest carriers in the world.

Click here for what I use to determine if an airline is good or not, the StarRanking. Now admittedly, the star ranking – or quality rank – theoretically doesn’t measure safety. But I think the correlation is obvious. Any business that invests enough to make it noticeably better than its competitors is likely to invest enough to preserve itself well.

A major difference between ATRA and StarRanking is that StarRanking applies no filter of “important airline” to its analysis. Can we even guess what ATRA’s definition of importance is?

In several examples snipped out of its expensive report it’s clear that LARGE means IMPORTANT. If you aren’t among the 100 biggest airlines in the world, you won’t even be considered.

It seems to me that if you want an indication of safety, you find out which airline has had the most crash fatalities. The list of the top 100 fatal airline crashes shows American Airlines right up there with 4 crashes and 55 fatalities, Delta and USAir each had a single crash with more than 130 fatalities, and Air France had two crashes with 358 fatalities.

All four of those airlines are in ATRA’s list of the top ten safest airlines.

OK, I’m playing with statistic a bit. The many airlines with no fatalities whatever are mostly smaller ones and just by that fact have a lower probability of disaster. But there are a few, like Air Jamaica (which has been in business since 1966), Air Seychelles (1985) and Virgin Atlantic (1984) which by both the standards of safety and service would probably win an individual travelers’ loyalty over any of the Big Guys.

The overall winner, by the way, is Pluna Airlines. This little Uruguay carrier has been flying since 1936. No fatalities.

So unless you’re a Fortune 500 or traveler who’s rarely at home, forget about this report. There are better ways to figure this one out.

Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Who looks tougher?
The U.S. still doesn’t think Kenya is safe enough to fly a plane into. And it’s probably right if it’s an American plane.

There was an enormous brouhaha in Kenya this week as Delta Airlines began service into its sixth African city, Monrovia (Liberia). Tempers are still flared from last year’s debacle when Delta canceled service into Nairobi two hours before the inaugural flight was set to take-off from Atlanta.

Delta canceled when the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) exercised its veto authority over Delta’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) license to operate into Kenya.

Delta wants to fly to Nairobi. It has been expanding rapidly into Africa and had scheduled service to begin to Nairobi on June 2, 2009. The champagne was stacked on tables, officials were planning to line up on the tarmac, Delta had given 26 free seats to a seventh grade choral group from Atlanta, and an entire Delta business with offices and employees had been set up in Nairobi.

Today the airline flies to seven cities in Africa: Liberia (Monrovia), Accra (Ghana), Abuja and Lagos (Nigeria), Cairo (Egypt) and Johannesburg (South Africa).

But the inaugural flight into Monrovia last week dumped a keg of petrol on the simmering emotions. Liberia is less than ten years out of a near apocalyptic civil war that slaughtered millions. Its leader at the time, Charles Taylor, is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

One of East Africa’s most respected blogs yesterday quoted an unnamed Kenyan government official as saying, “Did Obama’s father not come from here? What issues does he have with us? We even gave him a special paternal home attraction near Kisumu and for what – that we can be pushed around by them?”

But the fact remains – and I hate to say it – Nairobi airport security isn’t good, and there’s not going to be any flight from America until it is.

Nairobi is an essential market for European airlines, but passengers on British Airways and KLM actually march through security twice before boarding the plane. Both BA and KLM bring down their own machinery and security personnel from Europe, and all passengers after passing through the normal gate security supplied by Kenyan airport personnel, then pass through the individual airline security.

Those second levels are good. The irony, of course, is that this diminishes even further the quality of the Nairobi security. The Kenyan security personnel know it doesn’t matter what they do, that the real security comes later. And these folks rotate between the many other airlines in the airport, carrying their laissez-fare attitude with them.

So it’s sort of a death knoll repeated time and again as far as Delta is concerned. TSA will not accept the airline’s own efforts, as authorities in Britain and the Netherlands obviously do.

But there’s another angle to the story worth considering. I’ve talked to a few people in Kenya who believe despite the posturing, Kenyan officials are quite relieved Delta isn’t going to fly in. They argue that America is so hated in the Muslim world right now, and they point out that Kenya is on the edge of all the controversies.

Delta might attract terrorism in a way British Airways or KLM don’t.

Be that as it may, TSA played the trump. And TSA is only concerned with at-the-airport security. Homeland Security and the FAA are the agencies that could nix the deal for those more global issues. And right now, they have both given a pass to Delta to fly.

I wouldn’t expect a flight from America to Nairobi for a long, long time.

You got it Coming, but you can’t Go!

You got it Coming, but you can’t Go!

BA strike imminent

If you’re planning to travel in the next few months, the chances are you’ll be effected by an airline strike. It’s your fault.

There have never been so many major airlines in strike mode, and it reflects the recovery in only the way the travel industry can.

Yesterday, the Lufthansa strike temporarily ended. Today, air traffic controllers in Paris are striking. British Airways is set to strike within a few weeks. Within the next month or so, American Airlines could be on strike.

The disputes are varied but basically represent the end of the World’s Worst Recession (WWR) as people begin however slowly to travel, again.

Airline’s unique accounting registers profit with forward sales. Airlines and most of the travel industry are one of the few things that you pay for before you get. So that right now things aren’t exactly beautiful clear skies, but down the line, it looks that way.

So while today British Airways can claim it is still losing nearly one million dollars a day, that’s pittance by airline standards and it obviously suggests what the unions already know: a year from now they’ll be waddling in cash.

Airlines are doing well, both in terms of announced earnings and stock prices. Their employees are not doing as well.

I began to write this blog hoping I could quote a lot of figures, but frankly, the airline game is a complicated one. What the United Airlines’ annual report says is much different than CNN or Business Week about the airline’s true operating profit and important to me, workforce numbers. And those are the two issues butting head-to-head in these upcoming strikes.

But I believe I have a grasp of the general state of things.

Nine-Eleven came on the heals of a little recession. It tanked the airlines. It set United Airlines ultimately into bankruptcy. Nine-Eleven marked the end of minimum decent service on the airlines and began to threaten air safety.

But I trace the problem to a much earlier date: 1984, the end of the “CAB” – Civil Aeronautics Board, the government agency which until then heavily regulated the airlines as a strategic national industry.

Prices, sellers, even seat widths at one time, were all government regulated. Thanks mostly to Jimmy Carter, but started by Gerald Ford, the death of the CAB marked the beginning of America’s infatuation with smaller government. We are now discovering the true “benefits.”

The airlines were thrust into a competitive environment the likes of which had never been seen. Here are some interesting numbers:

EWT’s first safari with the Sacramento Zoo was in July, 1983. Under regulation, groups could achieve a slight discount on regulated, government-mandated air fares, and so the zoo’s air fare of roundtrip San Francisco/Nairobi of $1323 represented about a 12% discount over published fares.

Today, that is February 22, 2010, 26 and one half years later, during which I’ve had three cats and one dog die, three homes, two children born, educated and out on their own… the best roundtrip air fare from San Francisco is … $1357.10!

Give or take $20 or $25 depending upon the combination of airlines, and that’s the problem. The American consumer will spend the better part of a weekend lowering his fare by $10. So the pressure on the poor airlines has been almighty to keep fares low.

So weakened by throwing the industry to the ravages of price pressure Nine-Eleven was the nail in the coffin. In and out of bankruptcy, reduce pay and benefits, reduce seat size, charge for bags.. Do anything at all but increase the price!

The last to suffer, of course, are the stock holders and upper management who designed this whole cockamamy system. Believe me, they have not retained the same salaries they had in 1983!

Fares are WAY too low. Imagine buying a new fully loaded Ford Taurus for $18,000!

Or a new home at $75,800 that today costs $215,900!

Coming up: plane crashes. We’ve already begun to see them, and discover they are caused by poorly trained and poorly paid … pilots. See the details on Continental #3407 on February 9, 2009.

The system, like a lot of things lately (read: Congress) is broken. And we notice the cracks in our broken things when we have fewer things and each one of them that remains becomes more important.

Air service to places like Cleveland and Memphis has been drastically reduced; to cities like Dubuque it’s almost gone. We are strangling the infrastructure for growth.

So plan ahead. Beware. And be PATIENT. You’re probably not going to get to where you want to go exactly as you had hoped.

And most importantly, it’s your fault. Realize that. You who reduced the size of government and put hundreds of thousands out of work and jeopardized the safety of air travel and the future of nice cities… all to save $10 on that air fare to New York.

What a Deal!

What a Deal!

At last East African tour companies are doing the right thing to try to get back on their feet, and there are incredible deals for new bookings.

The New Year arrived with a plethora of tour deals, and they’re real. They include ridiculously cheap airline tickets, internationally and domestic, 3rd and 4th nights free, and just the good old drop in prices. These are real deals that will be pulled once the market recalibrates.

One of my great criticisms of East African tourism over the years has been the typical but counterproductive reaction to a downturn in business of raising prices.

I know that’s counter-intuitive, but as I’ve explained before, supply/demand really only works well in a functioning free market. The developing world is moving that way, but they aren’t quite there. Even in the most scrooge-like companies in the developed world, laying off workers is expensive. There are either severances to negotiate, or high unemployment taxes to be paid.

Not so in the developing world. Just tell Johnny at 4 pm not to come to work, anymore, and then close a third of your lodge. Raise the prices on the bookings which are left and maintain a semblance of profit. The profit will be a lot smaller than it was, but it won’t be a loss… except, of course, for Johnny.

The problem with this strategy is that the market is not waiting in the sidelines to jump back into East Africa. If prices go down in India, it’s likely quite a few potential East African visitors will end up there, instead. A huge percentage of East African travelers come as referrals, so every booking lost represents multiple bookings for the future.

The raise-your-prices, lower-your-costs strategy is terribly short sighted for East Africa. East Africa must mature into the real supply/demand dynamic that governs world tourism.

This time, East African companies seem to be getting it right. Prices are definitely dropping. I reported earlier that 2010 contract rates issued last November showed a 5-10% decline over 2009. This is the first time since EWT has been keeping records that there was ever an announced decline in contracts.

And over the New Year’s weekend, a whole bunch of new offers began appearing.

A number of tour companies, including EWT, are now able to offer free Zanzibar or Mombasa beach stays after 10 or more day-long safaris.

Air fares have sunk through the basement. The leader is the airline, Swiss, which is offering roundtrips from New York at $1143.10 with taxes, and from London at $646.50 with taxes. But there are many others close to this. Many are offering free stopovers at interesting places, such as Turkish Airlines, where you can now stopover from the U.S. at Istanbul, then continue your East African trip for around $1200.

Business might be doing the right thing, but the Kenyan Tourist Board is stuck in the past.

Last week it announced a “vigorous recovery” of the tourism industry which was a flat-out lie. Announcing an expected 680,000 arrivals for 2009, the KTB proudly said this was a huge recovery representing a 17% increase over 2008.

Uh, did anybody remind that statistician that 2008 had tourist arrivals of 50% of 2007, because of the political turmoil in the country, and that there was no economic downturn in 2008?

What a joke. Kenya was approaching 1.2 million visitors in 2006. Let’s be real, honest and forthright. Neither the consumer or travel reseller is going to be anything but perturbed by these ridiculous statements.

Anyway, this morning’s overall reality is great! It’s taken so damn long for East African businessmen to realize what is necessary in the global market. I don’t think anyone should start planning a recovery party, soon, because this downturn has been deep. Whether tourism or tea, the recovery will be a long one.

But those who take true supply/demand initiatives, and who are honest with their consumers and resellers will still be standing when the sun finally rises.

And tourists, don’t wait for that sunrise! The deal is now!

Garlic Mustard Terrorism

Garlic Mustard Terrorism

The new regulations announced in the last few days in response to the attempted bombing of Northwest #253 are pitifully stupid and counter-productive.

I see the developed world’s response to terrorism identical to the developed science response to invasive species.

Whether it is kudzu, the Asian beetle, or the arch devil garlic mustard, absolutely astounding amounts of private and public funds have been allocated for “eradication.” The U.S. government maintains over a dozen websites with instructions on invasive species control, and enormous amounts of resources have been expended over the years to curtail invasive species.

It is hard to find a single… that is one example of success.

And yet there are many examples of secondary destruction to the environment in the attempts to control the invasives.

This is an issue I’ve written and felt strongly about for decades, and my passion about it was generated in Africa. But the topic is endless and the data copious, yet I have yet to be presented with a single true example of success.

To be sure certain invasive species have been curtailed in limited geographical regions and have produced positive economic outcomes, such as the temporary curtailment of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes or the stabilization of kudzu in the deep south. But even these partial examples of success are hard to document, are likely to be reversed, and the environmental impacts of their containment have had their own often worse environmental ramifications.

Many gardeners or authorities over small county-like natural reserves may claim success in curtailing species like garlic mustard or loose strife, and indeed in their small geographical areas they may achieve a level of success for a while. But it doesn’t last, and the efforts expended to effect the limited success often produce more damage than had nothing at all been done.

Essentially, I do not think we can control nature in any macro-successful way. What we have to do is understand it and anticipate it. It’s appropriate and effective to have rigorous agricultural barriers at international entry points, to impede the spread of species we determine may produce negative outcomes in our own society. But once it happens, it’s beyond our current capacity to control in any demonstrably beneficial way.

That’s exactly what terrorism is to culture: Identical to invasive species to the environment.

I wrote recently that any military success we might achieve in Afghanistan would only push the centers of terrorism elsewhere, and that this was currently being demonstrated in Yemen and Somalia.

We can cull deer in the Skokie lagoon, or remove all the garlic mustard from the Kasper Conservancy, but all this does is push the vermin to the periphery, exacerbating by concentrating the problem elsewhere.

It does not deal with the cause.

In the case of invasive species, we need to study why an invasive is so successful. Success in nature should be considered a near first principle, and at least a tautology. Garlic mustard might be spreading like wildlife, because its natural inhibitors are being eradicated. Maybe, a natural inhibitor is a birch tree. Maybe garlic mustard, in turn, is a natural inhibitor to wild parsnip and maybe wild parsnip is a natural inhibitor to poison ivy. And any idiot who thinks we will ever complete the list doesn’t understand nature.

But by concentrating on understanding the links, we will increase an overall awareness of nature’s tautologies. We will cease trying to reverse nature, and may, ultimately, be able to manage its future outcomes to our greater benefit.

Ditto for the Darth Vaders in the world.

There is a cultural reason for the persistence of Al-Qaeda. It will not be eradicated, any more so than garlic mustard will be eradicated. Al-Qaeda is part of the human fabric of culture, exactly as garlic mustard is of nature. It is as impossible that we will eradicate Al-Qaeda from the world as we will eradicate garlic mustard.

But if we cease to think of it as a growing threat capable of taking over the world’s sweat peas than we might spend some time trying to understand why it is so successful, and we might ultimately come to some terms with it. Maybe one solution is to let it grow and take over the distant prairie, and thereby orchestrate a cease fire that allows our sweat peas to flourish in our backyard garden.

There’s an old saying: live, and let live.

In the last few days, airlines have instituted some of the most absurd regulations described as enhanced security in response to the attempted bombing of Northwest #253.

Perhaps the most absurd regulation is that you can no longer leave your seat (or even stand up) during the last hour of the flight. The “rationale” for this is that the bomber had to leave his seat and retrieve his hand luggage to mix the incendiary device. OK, so our incendiary devices will now be mixed 65 minutes before landing instead of 60. In fact in the mayhem as dozens of kids and grownups race to the toilets and pull down the luggage hatches to arrange their last hour of imprisonment, any monitoring of unusual behavior becomes more difficult! How stupidly absurd is this new rule!

We are not going to stop future terrorism with rules like these. We are going to infuriate the public and make travel infinitely less desirable, which may even be an objective of the terrorists.

We are not going to eliminate Al-Qaeda by wiping them out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’ll just then go to Somali, then to Yemen, then to the Congo… it is a link so long that when the last chain is used, the first will be ready to be used, again.

If we want to stabilize terrorism, if we want to stabilize the spread of garlic mustard, we will cease trying to eradicate it. We will expend our resources to understand it fully, and then to negotiate our own subsequently more intelligent behavior in ways that make it ineffective as a future threat.

It is in preparation and manifestation of the future that we will succeed. Not in trying to reverse the situation of the present.

Live, and let live.

New Airline Compensation if Delayed

New Airline Compensation if Delayed

Passengers delayed by European airlines for 2 or more hours will now be compensated up to $850 per passenger!

In an historic ruling by the European Court of Justice, yesterday, two Austrians and two Germans were awarded damages against Air France and Condor airlines for having been delayed. The justices then expanded the civil suit into a new European regulation.

It was not immediately clear whether the ruling will be applied to all passengers or only passengers holding European citizenship. Since the ruling didn’t specify, it’s likely that foreign nationals delayed in Europe by European airlines will be able to demand the compensation, at least for the time being until the issue is contested.

The ruling is comprehensive and cutting. Compensation is awarded if a flight of 1500 km or less is delayed for more than 2 hours. (About 930 miles: for example, London to Venice). Long-haul flights of more than 1500 km receive compensation if the delay is 3 hours or more. And any flight, of any length, delayed more than four hours receives compensation.

The Court plugged a possible loop-hole and said that airlines couldn’t protect themselves from this ruling by canceling a flight just to avoid the compensation.

In other words, a London to Venice flight that is ready to go 2 hrs and 5 min after scheduled departure would not have the option of canceling the flight just a second before 2 hours in order to avoid then paying compensation.

Moreover, the judges restricted all exceptions to the ruling (such as “technical problems” which allowed airlines up to this point to avoid earlier court rulings) to events which “by their nature or origin are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control.”

Wow.

The compensation may come in the form of services. And these are “minimum” services that if they exceed the $850 per person must still be offered. They include:

* Two free phone calls, faxes or e-mails;
* Free meals and refreshments; and
* Free hotel accommodation and hotel transfers if an overnight stay is required.

And finally, if the delay is more than 5 hours, in addition to the compensation, the airline must agree to refund the ticket in full.

This is major.

For a long time American passengers have trailed behind the rights of passengers in other developed parts of the world. This is particularly true of travel insurance, which European governments mandate must be much more comprehensive, and cheaper, than what Americans get.

The hidden surcharges and taxes on advertised American ticket prices would never be allowed in Europe. The current “special” by United Airlines of only a $390 roundtrip fare between Chicago and London becomes $780.10 when actually ticketed!

American deregulation cheats the customers and ultimately destroys the airlines. The rampant deregulation that began in 1983 migrated across the pond, but European regulators are now pulling back the reigns, as they should.

Will we be able to, too?

BA STRIKE?

BA STRIKE?

“Fears are mounting of chaos over the busy Christmas holiday period if BA staff choose to go on strike.” – Sky News, October 28, 2009

British Airways just announced doubling the service from London to Entebbe, adding already to its impressive schedule of 14 flights weekly between Heathrow and East Africa.

All for nuts?

The heaviest season in East Africa is the Christmas season, and today started the official cooling off period after the union of flight attendants and assorted other airline workers announced it was going “to a ballot” recommending a Christmas strike.

The issue is a continuing reduction in flight staff. BA’s 747s into East Africa, for example, now carry 14 flight attendants. The legal limit is 12 by British law, and BA announced this week it would reduce to 13.

This would allow a staff reduction of about 3700 staff across all their routes, or about a 10% reduction.

BA like all the world’s airlines is in a financial crisis. The CEO calls it a “fight for survival” and has employed draconian American techniques like eliminating food on short-haul flights, giving BA the questionable distinction of being the first non-American airline to do so.