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Travel startups attract more capital

As travel has increased, so has funding for travel startups.


Travel startups raised $29 billion from 2016 through the second quarter of this year, nearly doubling the total amount raised in the previous decade, according to Phocuswright. Such startups raised $33 billion in capital from 2005-15 — the first decade that Connecticut-based travel and tourism research firm tracked funding.

Those statistics offer a peek at a Phocuswright report, “The State of Travel Startups 2017,” to be released next month.

Part of the reason for the funding increase is the trove of travel-focused investors, incubators, accelerators and startup programs that have launched in the past several years to link  startups with capital, resources and mentors, wrote Phocuswright analyst Michael Coletta in a company newsletter.

Another reason might be the increased demand for travel as more baby boomers retire and millennials rank travel high.

Travel grew in 2016 and is expected to continue growing at a moderate pace in the near term, according to the U.S. Travel Association. More travel will be within the United States, not internationally.

While Coletta noted that big travel companies continue to get bigger, making it difficult for startups to compete, entrepreneurs in the tourism industry are focusing on new technologies and innovations. For example, millennial business travelers (age 18-34) book more than half of their hotel stays and nearly half of their airline reservations on smartphones, according to Phocuswright research.

Phocuswright will host a startup contest — Battleground: The Americas — on Sept. 12 at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. Sixteen startups get six minutes each to show their innovations to judges and a live audience. Two companies will progress to pitch their ideas to some 1,800 industry influencers at the Phocuswright Conference on Nov. 7-9 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Best Virgin Mobile-Apple deal ends July 31

Virgin was the latest mobile company to make waves when it recently announced a new service plan and other perks for iPhones.

Virgin Mobile USA teamed up with Apple to offer iPhone service deals under its new Inner Circle, which sounds more like a cult than a data plan.

Here’s the skinny: If you buy an iPhone from Apple or Virgin, you can sign up for 12 months of unlimited talk, text and data service* service by July 31 for $1. After July 31, new customers will pay $1 for the first six months of service. After either introductory period ends, the plan will cost $50 a month.

Check this network coverage map to see what Virgin Mobile service is like in your area.

The Inner Circle also provides other Virgin perks: a round-trip companion ticket (excluding taxes, fees and surcharges) to the United Kingdom on Virgin Atlantic Airways, one night at Virgin Hotels and discounts on Virgin Wines, flights at Virgin America and the Virgin Sport festival in San Francisco in October.

It’s the kind of disruptive move Virgin is known to do to grab market share from rivals in uber competitive markets. Virgin “has always looked to shake things up and challenge the status quo in any sector we go into,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said in a recent statement.

It’s also a way for Virgin to funnel business to dozens of other Virgin brands and drive revenue at some of the newer ones, such as Virgin Hotels. The first U.S. hotel opened in Chicago in 2015; several more are planned through 2020.

A 196-room Virgin Hotels site in San Francisco’sSouth of Market area is scheduled to open this summer. A 200-room Silicon Valley hotel in Milpitas, which is scheduled to open in fall 2019, will boast a live music venue. Both hotels will feature several dining and drinking options, including a roof-top bar; a cafe; and meeting space.

It’s all about branding.

* Virgin Mobile says it will deprioritize customers who use more than 23 GB of data during one billing cycle, meaning your bandwidth could be constrained at times. The Inner Circle offer is available to customers who buy an iPhone SE, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 or 7 Plus.

Meet Ranger Jim, traveler extraordinaire

He’s an outdoorsman who wears a wide-brimmed hat and is partial to khaki.

Meet Ranger Jim.

Ranger Jim kayaked last weekend on the Russian River in Northern California. (Sheryl Jean)

He was born at Walnut Canyon National Monument in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a giant orange sun rose over the cliffs. That’s where I met him in February 2014.

Ranger Jim gets around. He’s been to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas. As you might expect given his roots, he likes to visit public lands. You’ll see him hiking through canyons, climbing up to cliff dwellings, descending into caves and camping under giant Redwood trees on social media, such as Twitter, under the hashtags #RangerJim or #RangerJimTravels.

The popularity of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook has created a worldwide contest of who can post the oddest, prettiest, most spectacular photograph — sometimes with unexpected results. Mashable recently wrote about a woman who calls out other users’ fake travel photos of precarious campsites with incredible views on her Instagram account called @youdidnotsleepthere.

Roaming Gnome on a beach
Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome on a beach. (Courtesy of Travelocity)

More than three-quarters of travelers post photos on social mediaTravel photos on social media, according to data from Internet Marketing Inc. Such photos carry a lot of influence: More than half of Facebook users said friends’ photos inspired their travel plans, it said.

Probably the most popular traveling statuette is Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome. (See photo at right.)

Thanks to a  worldwide marketing campaign that began in early 2004, the gnome has become synonymous with Travelocity. (The idea was based on a prank where people steal a garden gnome for travel and photographs around the world.) Earlier this year, Travelocity launched a series of TV commercials featuring the Roaming Gnome again.

Pokey tasting local beer at Powder River Pizza in Sheridan, Wyo. (Courtesy of Kathy Whepley)

“The power of the Roaming Gnome as a personification of the Travelocity brand really comes to life when we have the opportunity to travel with him,” said company spokesman Keith Nowak. “Walking down the street with the Roaming Gnome means being stopped every few feet as passers-by ask the same question: ‘Is that the Travelocity Gnome?’ … The invariable next request is to get a picture with him, which we happily oblige.”

Many people have copied the idea on a personal level.

My Midwestern friend, Kathy Whepley, took a bendable Pokey figure that’s kind of a personal mascot on a family road trip to Glacier National Park this spring. Pokey even got his own page in a photo book she created of the trip.

For those who aren’t familiar with Pokey, he was the horse of Gumby, a clay dude who spawned two television series, a film and other media since the 1950s. (See photo at upper right.)

Another friend, Joy Finocchio, takes different Lego figures on family road trips, starting with one from central California to Ouray, Colo., in June 2013. (See photo below.)

Finocchio's Legos at Zion NP
Lego figures tag along on Finocchio family road trips. (Courtesy of Joy Finocchio)

“Our boys were complaining about the long drive and I suggested we each pick a Lego figurine to represent us,” Finocchio said. “It was a really fun way to document our trip and coming up with funny situations where we could photograph the Lego figures helped pass the time.”

When Finnochio and her youngest of three sons traveled to Disneyland last year, they brought along Star Wars figures R2D2 and C3PO. She also uses a Lego figure when she attends work-related conferences.

By the way, Ranger Jim is heading off on another adventure soon. Stay tuned!

Global Entry may speed up for some international travelers

International travelers now may find it faster to get a Global Entry membership — at least for some international travelers passing through the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and a few other locations.

Global Entry applicants must use this kiosk at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at the San Francisco International Airport to complete the process. (Sheryl Jean)

As of this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is letting people who’ve completed the first part of the Global Entry application process proceed to an interview without an appointment at one of five airports, including SFO. Until now, travelers often waited several months for an interview.

Last year, I blogged about my experience waiting seven months for a Global Entry interview at SFO.

The five airports with the Enrollment on Arrival program are among the busiest Global Entry enrollment areas. In addition to SFO, the four other airports are: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas; George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston; and Vancouver International Airport in Canada. The CBP plans to expand the program to more airports.

CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Global Entry application volume has increased steadily over the last several years. A five-year membership costs $100.

Over 4 million Global Entry members use automated kiosks to bypass the traditional customs inspection process at 53 U.S. airports and 15 other sites, speeding up the international arrivals process. Members also get expedited airport security screening through TSA PreCheck.

Here’s what you do to become a Global Entry member:

  1. U.S. citizens, U.S nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of certain countries must apply online through the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES).
  2. If you pass a background check and receive conditional approval, you must make an appointment for an in-person interview with a CBP officer at one of over 100 Global Entry Enrollment Centers or follow the new Enrollment on Arrival program.
  3. You must provide identification and biometrics during the interview.
  4. After final approval, you receive a Global Entry number. A Global Entry card arrives via mail a few weeks later.

Three travel startups vie for top innovator

What’s the next cool travel tool? Maybe it’s one of these three startups that will vie for the title of Business Travel Innovator of the Year later this month at the Global Business Travel Association Convention‘s Innovation Series Competition:

30k: The technology computes the number of frequent flyer miles needed for any flight in your airline loyalty program and related alliance and private airlines. The membership-based service also highlights upgradable fares.

AirMule: This app matches travelers who have unused luggage space with TSA-certified shipping companies on the same route. Air couriers earn $150 per checked bag each way or they can buy an Airmule flight with savings built into the price. The company says it screens and inspects all shipments. It sends items for you to pack and deliver.

WayGo: Point your iOS or Android smartphone at a menu or sign in Chinese, Japanese and Korean for this free app translate it without an Internet connection. More languages are on the way.

The three companies already beat out six other startups to win spots at the convention’s expo July 15-19 in Boston and a chance to pitch their ideas to convention goers, who will vote for the top innovation. The competition is a partnership between GBTA and Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm.


United Airlines changes frequent flier awards

United Airlines just changed its frequent flier awards, moving closer  to a revenue based model.

The changes will take effect on Nov. 1 for all MileagePlus members worldwide.

The biggest changes are that new “Everyday Awards” will replace “Standard Awards” and pricing for Everyday Awards will vary from flight to flight. United’s Upgrade Awards will not change.

It was only a matter of time before this happened. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have changed their programs in the last few years. Last year, United tweaked its award fee structure and booking process, introducing the Excursionist Perk.

United’s MileagePlus current awards charts show a Standard Award for one-way, economy class travel within the 48 contiguous United States costs 25,000 miles. As of Nov. 1, the new awards charts show that same one-way flight will cost no more than 32,500 Everyday Award miles. Click on the above links to see how the changes will affect where you like to travel.

United will continue to offer Saver Awards, but some prices will change. Prices will be:

      • The same (10,000 or 12,500 miles one way) for for Economy Saver travel to, from or within the 48 contiguous states
      • Lower for most short-haul intra-region Economy Saver Awards for flights outside the United States, such as within Europe
      • Higher for Saver Awards for certain international cities
      • Higher for Business Saver Awards for U.S. premium transcontinental routes and some Hawaii routes

    Another big change is that MileagePlus members who don’t show up for a flight and request a redeposit of their miles will have to pay a $125 redeposit fee for award bookings made on or after Nov. 1.

Share the road: More people will travel for July 4 holiday

What’s more classic than a road trip for the July 4 holiday? This year, you can expect to have a lot more company.

You’ll be sharing the road — and air space and rails and waterways — with a record number of travelers this year.

AAA July 4, 2017, infographic
AAA July 4, 2017, travel forecast infographic

Over 44 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home around the coming holiday, up 3 percent from last year, according to AAA.

Bill Sutherland, AAA’s senior vice president of travel and publishing, said strong employment combined with rising incomes “bode well” for summer travel, especially the July 4 holiday. And some travel costs, such as gas prices and airfares, are down from a year ago, adding incentive to travel.

Of people traveling for the holiday, 85 percent will drive to their destination, about 8 percent will fly and 7 percent will take other transportation modes, such as trains, buses and cruises.

Here are some reasons why are more people traveling:

Economy: The economy is growing at a good enough clip for the Federal Reserve last week to raise a key interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 percent.

Employment: People are working and feel more stable. While U.S. employment growth has slowed slightly in May, nearly 4.6 million jobs have been added over the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nation’s unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in May.

Income: Salaries are starting to rise. The average full-time worker earned $22 an hour in May, up 2.4 percent from $21.48 a year earlier, according to BLS data.

Gas: The average gas price nationwide costs $2.28, 4 cents less than a year ago. Drivers, however, may see prices increase closer to the holiday weekend.

Airfare: AAA’s Leisure Travel Index shows that average airfares for the top 40 U.S. flights are 10 percent lower this year, with an average round trip ticket costing $186.

Car rental: The average daily car rental rate is $65, 14 percent less than last year.

Where are most people going? Orlando, Fla., remains the No. 1 destination for summer travel AAA says. That’s followed by (in order): Vancouver, Canada; Cancun, Mexico; Seattle; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Road trip food: Make cookies from frozen dough

Who doesn’t love a road trip?

Food, however, is always a problem on long drives. There’s either not enough or too much. And although I usually pack healthy snacks, such as fruit and nuts, it’s hard not to pick up candy or potato chips at the first rest stop.

So, in preparation for a recent road trip, I decided to make a tasty, portable snack that I hoped could stave off a junk food binge. I also wanted to make dessert for lunch guests coming before the trip.

frozen cookie dough balls
This is what frozen cookie dough looks like after spending several hours in the freezer. (Sheryl Jean)

I realized I could bake some cookies and freeze the rest of the dough to make a fresh batch later.

I dug through my clipped recipe file and found a favorite: chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies (recipe below). Yum!

On the eve of the lunch, I made the dough, rolling it into little balls. I baked a dozen balls into cookies that night and froze the rest.

To freeze, I lined two baking sheets with parchment paper and placed as many balls of dough as I could without touching each other. I stuck them in the freezer until the dough hardened — a few hours or overnight. (It’s a slightly different process to freeze slice-and-bake or cut-out cookie dough.)

After removing the frozen dough balls, I placed them in a large plastic freezer bag, squeezing out excess air before zipping it closed. Cookie dough can keep in the freezer for up to three months.

When you’re ready to use the frozen dough, simply take as many individual balls as you want out of the bag and place them on a cookie sheet. Add an extra minute or two to the baking directions in the recipe.

Continue reading for the recipe. Continue reading Road trip food: Make cookies from frozen dough

Find your hygge in the Twin Cities

You’ve probably heard the word hygge, but aren’t really sure what it means.

The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are good places to find hygge — the Scandinavian phrase for coziness found in the ordinary tasks of daily life — on display.

Hygge became hot as all things Nordic became cool. It’s taken on a life of its own much like tiny houses, man buns and flannel shirts.

Minneapolis’ trendy Askov Finlayson menswear store has a festive atmosphere. (Sheryl Jean)
Nordic roots run deep in Minnesota deep (Nordic Vikings may have visited the state in the 1300s). Many Minnesotans claim Scandinavian heritage. Some Twin Cities Sandinavian shops date to the 1950s. In 1999, chef Marcus Samuelsson opened upscale Swedish-inspired Aquavit  in Minneapolis, but it closed four years later. (I ate there.)

In the last decade or so, Scandinavian culture has surged — along with the popularity of Nordic mystery writers, the Finnish television crime drama Bordertown and bands like Sweden’s First Aid Kit. Danish restaurant Noma was named the world’s best for four of the last 10 years. You’ll find the Minnesota version of New Nordic cuisine, which embraces regional foods and artisanal production, in the Twin Cities.

Hygge is on display at this sampling of spots in Minneapolis and St. Paul:


Bachelor Farmer, Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop neighborhood: Chef Paul Berglund was named Best Chef Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. Its Swedish-inspired menu includes butterscotch mushroom confit and toasts of duck liver pâté and lamb liver terrine. Owners Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, are in the forefront of the Twin Cities’ Nordic resurgence.

Spoon and Sable, Minneapolis’ North Loop:  The restaurant, led by chef Gavin Kaysen (a James Beard Rising Star Chef in 2008) won a coveted Best New Restaurant nominee in 2015. Order white asparagus chowder with smoked lake trout, pork schnitzel or smoked whitefish.

Uptown 43, Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood: Chef/owner Erick Harcey’s late Swedish grandfather provided the inspiration for the restaurant. Harcey puts a twist on family recipes: salmon gravlax smörgås; Pyttipanna (Swedish hash) with cottage cheese and fried eggs; and Swedish meatball sandwich with lingonberry, charred cucumbers and fried onion.

The Finnish Bistro, St. Anthony Park: This small spot has a big menu. Try the Finnish oatcakes for breakfast, reindeer sausage and potato quiche for lunch and traditional Finnish beef pasty or stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner.


Askov Finlayson, Minneapolis’ North Loop: The trendy shop, named for two northern Minnesota towns, sells some Nordic menswear and accessories. Eric and Andrew Dayton are the owners. It sells clothing emblazoned with “North,” a label created by the brothers to highlight Minnesota’s ruggedness, hygge and coolness that’s taken off. Hip eyeglass outlet Warby Parker occupies the rear corner.

Fjallraven opened its St. Paul, Minn., store in fall 2015. (Sheryl Jean)
Fjällräven, St. Paul, Uptown Minneapolis, Mall of America: The Swedish outerwear retailer is probably best known in the U.S. for its square backpacks, but it offers much more. Fjallraven blends function with design, bold colors and quality fabrics. The St. Paul store is the newest of three in the Twin Cities. (Photos at top and at right.)

The Foundry Home Goods, Minneapolis’ North Loop: The warm, bright shop oozes hygge. It sells Swedish soap and bath accessories, Nordic wooden products, but also products from Canada and Japan.

Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Gifts, Minneapolis: Beyond selling Nordic items, it offers classes from cooking to traditional crafts and even making a troll mask.

Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts, Art & Needlecraft, St. Paul: Dating to the mid-1950s, this shop sells items such as imported crystal, trolls, ceramics, table linens, cookware, jewelry, Swedish Dala Horses and Rosemåling (traditional folk art) supplies.

Want to learn more about visiting the Twin Cities? Read this article I just wrote for The Dallas Morning News.

Finnair is latest airline to test facial recognition

Finnish airline Finnair is the latest airline to test facial recognition technology at check-in as a way to increase security and improve the airport passenger boarding process.

Finnair is testing the technology created by Futurice at Helsinki Airport this month on 1,000 of its frequent flyers. Those customers use a mobile app to send a photograph to Finnair and use a designated check-in counter equipped with face recognition technology at the airport. A Finnair agent still must check the customer’s travel information.

Last month, British Airways launched automated biometric technology at London’s Heathrow Airport for departing domestic flights at some gates, with plans to expand the program to international flights in the future. Travelers’ digital facial scan is recorded as they go through security and when they arrive at the gate. Their face is matched with this representation when they present their boarding pass.

Closer to home, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been testing facial and iris imaging capabilities to improve travelers’ identity and security. Test sites have included Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.; John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Finnair’s head of ground experience and ancillary, Sari Nevanlinna, said facial recognition could “eliminate the need for a [travelers’] boarding pass.” The airline carries more than 10 million passengers a year between Europe, Asia and North America.