New coalition aims to reverse declining international travel to the United States

A new business coalition hopes to work with the Trump administration to reverse declining international travel to the United States.

The Visit U.S. Coalition, which launched today, consists of trade groups that represent many travel-related businesses and workers.

As global travel increased 8 percent over the last two years, the U.S. share of that travel fell — from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 11.9 percent in 2017, according to data cited by the coalition.

International travelers spent $246 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), which is member of the coalition. About half of the 75.6 million foreign visitors that year were from Mexico and Canada.

President Donald Trump blocked travel from several largely Muslim countries, has proposed an end to so-called “chain immigration” and wants to erect a wall at the Mexico border. Visit U.S. cites the strong U.S. dollar, low-cost air travel and stronger air travel security as factors hurting international travel here.

In the coming weeks, Visit U.S. said it will propose policy recommendations. In addition to USTA, the coalition’s founding members include the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

 

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Trip to Waco, Texas, reveals old-timey wintry drink: hot Dr Pepper (really)

What better way to warm frozen fingers with frigid temperatures across much of the country than a hot drink.

Try hot Dr. Pepper. Yup, I said hot soda.

It sounds weird, but it’s tasty — and I don’t even like cold Dr Pepper. It was offered when I visited the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, so I had to try it. When heated, the distinctive flavor of Dr Pepper becomes a delicious herbal tea.

Today, you can still get hot Dr Pepper Frosty’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, even though it’s not on the menu. You’ll have to hurry because the seasonal drink is served only from November to February, according to Lauren Schlee, the museum’s visitor services coordinator. It costs 99 cents a cup (plus tax), she said.

Frosty's Soda Shop menu
Note the Dr Pepper Sundae on Frosty’s Soda Shop’ menu at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.

If you want to try hot Dr Pepper at home, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop pot, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon in a mug. Look for Dr Pepper in glass bottles that’s made with real sugar.

It turns out the drink has been around longer than I have. A former president of Dr Pepper Co. invented HOT Dr Pepper in 1958 to offer a drink that would warm up people during the winter. It was a popular holiday drink through the 1970s and the company continued to promote HOT Dr Pepper sporadically after the 1980s.

HOT Dr Pepper harkens back to the roots of the nation’s oldest major soda as a curative.

“It’s important to note that when we think of a health drink today, it is much different than what would have been considered healthy more than 100 years ago,” said Rachael Nadeau Johnson, collections manager at the museum. “Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, sodas of all kinds were used for their supposed health benefits.”

Back then, the Dr Pepper company used slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality.” It also created the “Old Doc” logo — a country doctor with a monocle and top hat, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Dr. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is credited with inventing the recipe for Dr Pepper in 1885, according to the museum. The formula, according to Johnson, is a secret.

The Dr Pepper Museum is about 90 minutes from Dallas by car. (GoogleMaps)[/caption]Dr Pepper’s recipe reportedly contains 23 natural and artificial fruit flavors that provide its unique flavor, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website. The company and the museum are not connected.

The museum, which opened in 1991, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of soft drink memorabilia, including less-known names like Kickapoo Joy Juice and Vernors. The museum entrance fee is $10 for adults; less for students and seniors. It’s free for children age four and younger.

You can visit Frosty’s without entering the museum, but both are worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Map of Dr Pepper Museum, Waco
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Dallas to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. (GoogleMaps)

Looking for something to do this weekend? Marin County parks are free on Jan. 6 and beyond

Marin County Parks is continuing to offer free access on the first Saturday of each month this year — at least for a while.

Starting this Saturday, Jan. 6, visitors can enjoy free entry and free parking at Marin’s three parks and two boat launches thanks to a program called “Measure A Days.” You can fish, ride bicycles, picnic and more at these locations: Blackpoint Boat Launch in Novato, McNears Beach Park in San Rafael (McNears swimming pool still costs $5 per person), Miller Boat Launch on Tomales Bay near Marshall, Paradise Beach Park in Tiburon and Stafford Lake Park, including the all-levels bike park, in Novato.

The theory is that by Measure A funds approved by Marin County voters in 2012 will offset the loss in park fees on “Measure A Days.” The one-quarter cent (0.25 cents) retail transaction and use tax is being used to: restore, maintain, enhance and protect existing parks and open spaces; and preserve family farm and ranch land.

Measure A Days began in 2017 as a pilot program. It will continue on the first Saturday of each month for the foreseeable future, but some parts of the program could change, said Marin Parks spokesman Kevin Wright.

Marin Parks is starting to evaluate data, such as number of visitors, use patterns and fee revenue, from 2017 to determine whether any changes should be made to the process, Wright said. Any changes will be posted online. He recommends that visitors check the Marin Parks calendar.

If you live in Marin and have a Marin County Free Library card, you can check out a free park pass from any library site for up to a week at a time.

Featured photo at top credit is an edited version of Stafford Lake by Jesse Wagstaff, Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Survey: Christmas season is worst time to fly

Just as millions of Americans prepare to fly back home after Christmas, a new study finds that consumers think air travel is more frustrating than it was five years ago.

Consumers also think the Christmas season is the worst time of year to fly, according to the Morning Consult national survey conducted for the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), an industry trade group.

Such negative emotions mean fewer Americans are willing to travel. The survey found that air travel hassles stopped 24 percent of leisure travelers and 14 percent of business travelers from taking at least one trip in the last five years.

And that’s translated into real losses for the U.S. economy. In 2016, the USTA says Americans avoided 32 million air trips because of travel hassles, costing the economy more than $24 billion in spending.

Here are some of the survey findings over the last five years:

  • 60 percent say airline fees, such as those for checked bags, flight changes and seat assignments, have worsened.
  • 51 percent say the overall cost of flying has increased.
  • 47 percent say airport hassles, such as long lines and crowded terminals, have gotten worse.

Improving airports would help, according to the USTA. Two in five frequent business and leisure travelers would take at least three more trips a year if airport hassles were reduced or went away, according to the survey.

In addition, many survey respondents think Congress should pursue policies to: modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure (60 percent), give airports more flexibility to improve air service options for travelers (55 percent) and maintain competition between airlines (53 percent).

Morning Consult surveyed 2,201 adults online from Oct. 10-12, 2017. Results have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.

3 tips to help make holiday travel jollier

A record 107.3 million Americans are expected to travel to grandma’s house or some other destination this holiday season, according to AAA.

Most people will drive, but more travelers will fly because holiday airfares cost nearly 20 percent less than last year and are at a five-year low.

Regardless of your mode of transportation, you’ll probably experience crowds, lines and congestion at airports, on roads and at bus and train stations. Here are three tips to help make traveling jollier this holiday season:

1. The big question for many fliers is whether to wrap gifts that you’ll pack in your luggage.

Transportation Security Administration agents can open wrapped gifts to check what’s inside. It’s especially an issue with checked baggage because you’re not with your luggage at that point in the process. The TSA’s blog says wrapped gifts are allowed, but “not encouraged.”

Tip: Instead, bring wrapping paper, bows and tape with you or buy them when you arrive at your destination.

2. If you’re flying, remember that liquids are limited to 3.4 ounces in a quart-sized plastic bag within carry-on bags. If you have TSA Recheck (it will be printed on your boarding pass), you don’t have to put liquids in a baggie and separate them from the rest of your baggage. There’s no restriction if you pack liquids, such as wine, in a checked bag.

The TSA expands the definition of “liquid” to include aerosols, gels (such as some lip balms), creams (such as lotion) and pastes (such as toothpaste) as liquids in carry-on bags. Medications and infant/child nourishments are exempt from the rule.

Tip: If you must give wine or another liquid as a present, ship it ahead through a mail service or buy it once you arrive at your destination.

mittens-2111853_640
(Creative Commons via Pixabay)

3. No matter how you travel during the holidays, space is sure to be a precious commodity. Most airlines charge at least $25 to check a bag and some have tightened their carry-on limits this year. Choose gifts that won’t occupy too much space in your luggage or car.

Tip: Think small, light and easy-to-pack, such as jewelry, socks, winter accessories, electronic gadgets, candy and gift cards.

Happy holidays!

Who is St. Mungo?

Ever heard of St. Mungo?

Harry Potter fans might recognize the name as the fictional patron saint of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

In the real world, he’s everywhere — at least in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s because he’s the founder and patron saint of that city and was its first bishop.

Glasgow Coat of Arms (WikiMedia Commons)
Glasgow’s Coat of Arms features images, such as the three salmon, associated with St. Mungo. (WikiMedia Commons)

St. Mungo has even made the leap to pop culture. A giant mural painted last year by Glasgow graffiti artist Sam Bates (aka Smug ) on a gable row depicts a modern-day St. Mungo in realist form. (See featured image at top, photographed by me.)

The legend of St. Mungo says he was the illegitimate son of a princess. When her father found out, he threw her over a hill, but she floated down a river to land in Culross in Fife. Around 518, she gave birth to a son named Kentigern, who was raised by St. Serf.

St. Serf called the boy Mungo, meaning “my friend” or “dear one.” St. Mungo did missionary work and brought Christianity to the area in the sixth century before dying in the early seventh century.

The City of Glasgow’s coat of arms, according to TheGlasgowStory, bears symbols connected to St. Mungo:

  • The three salmon with rings in their mouth refers to a tale involving the sixth century Queen and King of Strathclyde (a Scottish kingdom). The queen had an affair with a young soldier, giving him a ring that the king had given to her. When the king found out, he threw the ring in the river, and then demanded that she produce the ring. She confessed to Bishop Mungo, who pledged his help. He sent someone to catch fish from the river. Mungo found the ring inside the salmon, giving it to the queen.
  • The oak tree with a bell hanging from it symbolizes a fire St. Mungo set using one of its branches.
  • The robin on top of the tree signifies a favorite of St. Serf’s that young St. Mungo revived after it was killed.
  • A phrase used by St. Mungo in a sermon was shortened to “Let Glasgow Flourish” to become the city’s official motto.

Some of the same symbols are incorporated into the University of Glasgow’s crest.

Visitors to Glasgow also will find a statue of him at the north entrance to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. His name graces the free St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life & Art housed in a 1989 building next to Glasgow Cathedral, where St. Mungo is buried.

What do millennials want when they travel? Authenticity

Millennials have put off expenses like getting married and buying a home or car, but that will change as they enter their prime spending years (25-45), according to a report by Goldman Sachs.

Travel, however, is one thing millennials already spend money — and plan to spend more money and time on, according to Goldman Sachs and other reports.

Millennials were born 1982-2004, making 13 to 35 this year. The range of dates varies depending on the source: Goldman Sachs, for instance, defined millennials as being born between 1980-2000 in its recent report.

Why is so much attention paid to millennials? They’re today’s largest living generation at more than 75 million members. Their numbers are expected to peak at 81.1 million by 2036.

When it comes to travel, millennials want authentic, unique, adventurous and immersive experiences, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). They want to be active and to live like a local, which influences everything from where they stay overnight to what they eat.

Millennials also are the largest and most technologically and social media engaged group of consumers. In fact, Airbnb says some 60 percent of its bookers are millennials.

Here’s what Airbnb’s “Rise of Millennial Travel” report found out about the travel habits and preferences of U.S. millennials:

  • More than 70 percent say “travel is an important part of who I am as a person.”
  • At least three quarters prefer to create their own itinerary rather than take a tour.
  • Nearly 60 percent don’t mind traveling solo.
  • More than half say they spend more on travel than they did a year ago.
  • Nearly 60 percent seek more of an adventure when they travel vs. decompressing.
  • More than half say meeting people when traveling is more important than bringing back souvenirs.
  • Three quarters prefer to try food at local restaurants, rather than familiar chains.
  • Most say discovering hidden local places is more important than visiting major tourist attractions, and they prefer accommodations in cool, local neighborhoods than close to tourist attractions.

The Airbnb report is based on the company’s booking data and a fall 2016 online survey of about 1,000 millennials in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China.

The L.L. Bean boots that made Maine famous are tearing up holiday sales

You can’t miss the 16-foot tall boot in the center of Freeport, Maine.

It’s why many people visit the town, which is home to L.L. Bean, the long-time retailer of all types of outdoor products.

The giant “duck boot” stands in front of the company’s flagship store.  is amazingly similar to the real deal. Confession: I owned a pair of duck boots as a teenager.

The story goes that Leon Leonwood Bean created the Maine hunting boot with a rubber bottom and leather upper in 1911. They were perfect for traipsing through the state’s boggy land to hunt and fish.

L.L. Bean 1940s duck boots
L.L. Bean displays some of its early products, such as these 1940s duck boots, throughout its flagship store in Freeport, Maine. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The following year, Bean sold the boots by mail order, with scant success at first. Ninety of the first 100 pairs were flawed. But by the 1920s, he was still selling the boots plus other outdoor products.

The duck boot has gone through popularity ups and downs through the years, but it’s been trendy for the last few years. In fact, L.L. Bean expects record holiday sales this year, according to a recent Associated Press story.

L.L. Bean aquarium
The giant aquarium at L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, Maine, is a big hit with kids. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The duck boot and the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport have become part of retail tourism lore. I’d been to Maine before, but not to the L.L. Bean store, so I had to go on my recent trip to the state.

Years before the on-demand culture, Bean opened the Freeport store — and kept it open 24 hours a day. That was 1951. His idea was to cater to visiting sportsmen who would drive through the night to get an early morning start.

L.L. Bean diorama with moose
This is one of the several dioramas at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Inside the store, one of the first products you’ll see is the duck boot — in many models today. Shopping becomes a bit surreal as you stroll by a trout pond, a large aquarium and dioramas of moose, musk ox, mountain lion and other animal taxidermy.

Diorama with bear
This diorama is the hunting section of L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, Maine. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

In addition to the boot in front of the Freeport site, the Bootmobile (a large upper part of a duck boot built on top of a pickup truck) was there the day I visited.

L.L. Bean bootmobile
(Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Holiday travel: 5 tips to packing light to avoid paying to check baggage

It’s getting tougher to avoid checking a bag on an airline — and possibly paying more to do so — for flights within the United States.

United Airline’s new “Basic Economy” fare doesn’t allow a full-size carry-on bag. The carry-on size limit is 9 x 10 x 17 inches (about the size of a gym bag), and it must fit under the seat in front of you.

United passengers who bring a full-size carry-on bag to the airport gate must check it there, paying a checked bag fee (typically $25 for the first bag or $35 for a second bag) plus a $25 gate-handling charge. There are exceptions to the rule, including if you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or a Star Alliance Gold member.

Only Southwest Airlines lets you fly with two checked bags for free. If you’re not flying on Southwest for the holidays, pack light.

Last year, I wrote a blog post on how to pack smarter. Those tips still stand, but I’m downsizing them to five for a shorter holiday trip:

    • Take one carry-on bag. Carry-on size limits differ by carrier, so check first.
    • Take one pair of versatile shoes, such as boots.
    • Wear your heaviest, bulkiest items, such as boots and a sweater, on the plane. Consider wearing extra layers, which will free up room in your luggage and keep you warm on chilly airplanes.
    • Don’t pack soap, shampoo or other items that a hotel or your hosts will have.
    • Think European: Wear the same clothes more than once. Borrow clothes from family or friends if you’re the same size or when size doesn’t matter (scarf).

From haka to hāngi: Check out these 5 traditional Māori cultural experiences in New Zealand

The haka — an ancient Māori war dance performed by the country’s All Blacks rugby team before matches — put New Zealand’s native people on the global map.

But there’s so much more to the culture of the Māori, who traveled by canoe from eastern Polynesia to New Zealand before 1300. They developed their own tribal society, language, mythology, arts and crafts before the first Europeans arrived more than 300 years later. 

Now, Māori make up 15 percent of New Zealand’s population, with most living on the North Island. Their history and culture is part of the nation’s identity.

Here are five traditional Māori cultural experience not to miss:

Marae

One of the best places to experience Māori culture is at a marae, or tribal meeting grounds, which are the center of Māori communities. You’ll see them throughout New Zealand, but especially on the North Island.

Koriniti marae
Three meeting houses (wharenui) at the marae in Koriniti, New Zealand. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
The complex of buildings and land belongs to a certain tribe (iwi), clan (hapū) or family (whānau) who only visit and stay there during important times, such has tribal meetings, celebrations, funerals and educational workshops. You can stop and look from the outside, usually behind a fence, but you cannot walk on to marae grounds without a formal invitation. You can visit a marae with a tour group in Rotorua on the North Island.

I visited a marae in Koriniti, a settlement near Whanganui on the west side of the North Island. (See photo above.) The marae was peaceful but vacant. I viewed the three meeting houses (wharenui), complete with carved figures on the roof and walls, from afar.

To see the inside of a wharenui, I headed to the Te Papa Tongarewa museum in Wellington. It’s home to Te Hau ki Turanga, New Zealand’s oldest meeting house with beautiful and intricately carved panels.

Hāngi

A visit to a marae may include a traditional hāngi involved wrapping food, such as fish, chicken and root vegetables, in leaves and cooking it in pit ovens in the ground. Today, hāngi also may include pork, lamb, potato, pumpkin and cabbage.

waka taua carving at Te Papa Tongarewa
Carving on a large waka taua, model war canoe, at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
You can arrange to attend a hāngi feast with traditional singing and dancing. Rotorua is best known for its Māori marae hāngi and performance. The South Island’s only Māori village experience — Ko Tane — can be found at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch.

Art

Māori are known for their wood and stone carvings and weaving skills typically using flax (harakeke). Styles vary from tribe to tribe, but many patterns are inspired by nature, including fern fronds (kore).

Watch students at Te Puia weaving and carving schools in Rotorua on the North Island. Carve your own greenstone at Bonz n’ Stonz Carving Studio & Gallery in Hokitika on the South Island.

The Auckland Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa are treasure troves of traditional Māori art and culture. For a more modern art, kayak or take a boat tour to see Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell’s 33-foot carving of an ancient Māori navigator on a cliff face at Lake Taupō.

Historical site

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of New Zealand’s most historically significant places. It’s where New Zealand’s founding document between the Māori and the Europeans was signed in 1840.  The grounds, which overlook the stunning Bay of Islands, include the Treaty House, the carved Meeting House and the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe. You also can attend a hāngi or paddle a Māori canoe.

Haka

Haka traditionally was used on the battlefield, but it also was performed at peaceful gatherings. The dance is a display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Loud chanting (describing ancestors and events in the tribe’s history) is accompanied by facial expressions like tongue protrusions, foot stomping and rhythmic body slapping. Today, haka is still used during Māori ceremonies and celebrations.

In addition to Rotorua, Waitangi and Christchurch, you can see haka performed at the top of the gondola in Queenstown.

All Black's haka
New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team perform the haka, a traditional Māori war dance, before matches. (Creative Commons)