Alternative lodgings: This San Jose hotel offers history, charm and maybe ghosts

Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose …
–Burt Bacharach and Hal David

If you find yourself in fast-paced Silicon Valley over the holidays or for business, the Dolce Hayes Mansion may provide a welcome escape.

The San Jose, Calif., hotel exudes personality. Like history? It has that, too. And the rumors is it’s haunted.

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This stained glass graces the ceiling in the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The glorious grounds include palm trees, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a large outdoor patio. It’s location in the southeast corner of San Jose still offers easy access to freeways, many tech companies and two parks: one with a playground and one with a mixed-use trail.

The history

The mansion was home to the prominent Hayes family. Matriarch Mary Hayes Chynoweth commissioned the 65-room, 41,000-square–foot Spanish Colonial Revival house, but died just before it was completed in late 1905. Her two sons, Everis and Jay, and their families lived there. Everis was a U.S. Congressman and Jay was involved in state politics. In addition, the brothers owned and operated mines, farms and other businesses, including the San Jose Herald, San Jose Mercury and The Evening News. Those newspapers eventually became the San Jose Mercury News. At one time the Hayes family’s estate covered nearly 700 acres.

Mural Dolce Hays Mansion
This is one of two large murals depicting California landscapes in the hallway behind the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

When you walk through the hotel’s main entrance, take note of two old photographs in the vestibule. The one on the left shows the first Hayes mansion, a Victorian affair that burned down in 1899. The one on the right shows the current mansion in 1953. At check-in, make sure to ask for the self-guided walking tour (a brochure) of the mansion.

All of the wood trim in the lobby is mahogany. Just off the lobby is a beautiful library filled with legal volumes serves as a guest sitting area. From the lobby, a marble hallway takes you to other parts of the mansion, passing two wonderful murals (see photo above). More modern art of California landscapes by San Francisco Bay Area artists are in other parts of the mansion and wings.

Inglenook at the Dolce Hayes Mansion

This inglenook is below the grand staircase on the south side of the mansion. The mosaic is made of pieces of marble. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The Hayes family’s former sitting room serves as the Palm Plaza Lounge. Two inglenooks below the stairways in the mansion provide a cozy resting spot. The stairways lead to an historic photo gallery on the second floor.

The hotel

The City of San Jose bought the mansion in 1985. A division of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts now operates the 214-room hotel, which includes newer wings besides the main house, a conference center, two restaurants and a fitness center.

The hotel rooms seemed a bit dated, with heavy furniture and dark carpeting that should be replaced. (Was my view colored because I stayed there during gray, rainy weather?) Still, my room in a wing was clean and quiet, with a comfortable bed. You can find rooms priced at just over $100, but consider splurging for a large suite in the mansion (see photo below).

As for the hotel being haunted, who knows?

Note: I recently stayed at the Dolce Hayes Mansion on my own dime.

 

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This is part of the bathroom a three-room suite in the mansion. There’s a separate walk-in shower. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

U.S. travel grew in July, but a slowdown may be coming

U.S. travel increased this summer, but growth is slowing even as a global travel boom continues.

That’s according to the latest data from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).

Travel to and within the United States grew 3 percent in July from a year earlier, according to the USTA’s Travel Trends Index. And travel for the first seven months of this year has grown faster than the same period in 2017, said David Huether, vice president for research for the USTA.

Growth is credited mainly to increased domestic travel on the heels of higher consumer confidence. Business travel, in particular, is having its best year since 2010, Huether said.

However, domestic and international travel growth decelerated from June to July, a trend the USTA expects to continue over the next six months, though growth will remain positive. The association predicts domestic travel will grow an average of 2.4 percent through January.

Adam Sacks, president of the tourism economics group at research firm Oxford Economics, said “cooling consumer indicators and the potential for slower business investment growth” through the rest of this year could hurt domestic travel. Oxford prepares the Travel Trends Index for the USTA.

For example, new orders for durable goods, which can reflect future consumer and business demand, declined 1.7 percent in July, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, steep U.S. tariffs on many foreign products have risen fears about the long-term effect of the escalating trade wars on U.S. consumers and businesses.

Census July 2018 durable goods chart

As global economic growth moderates, the USTA predicts international travel will grow at an average rate of 1.6 percent through January. A longer-term concern, said USTA CEO Roger Dow, is that inbound international travel is not accelerating fast enough to boost the U.S. share of the global travel market, which peaked at 13.6 percent in 2015.

Case in point: In 2017, nearly 77 million people from other countries visited the United States, which was basically flat (+0.7 percent) from 2016, according to recent data from the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office. More visitors came from South Korea (+18 percent), Brazil (+11 percent), Argentina (+10 percent) and Ireland (+9 percent).

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.

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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)

What’s a Mormon scone?

Do you know what a Mormon scone is?

I didn’t, but I found out on a recent trip to Salt Lake City (SLC).

My education came from a food truck called Cook of Mormon run by Jordan Christensen.

These weren’t the Irish tea scones I know. Mormon scones (also called Utah scones) are more reminiscent of a doughnut or fry bread. Christensen makes his fried, yeasty treats the traditional Utah way — with mashed potatoes. He serves them with honey butter, peanut butter and jelly or cream cheese, banana, Nutella and maple syrup for $3 to $5 each.

Here’s a video Christensen posted on YouTube about making Utah scones:

When I stopped by the Christensen’s food truck last month in front of the Eccles Theater in downtown SLC, he said he’d had the idea for a while and when he heard the “Book of Mormon” was going to run Aug. 1-20 at Eccles, he rushed to open in time. What better place for the Cook of Mormon to be, right?

Now, Cook of Mormon’s website says it’s open Friday and Saturday nights in downtown SLC. Sometimes it roams the city. Just look for a bread truck painted with Utah and Mormon landmarks in bright colors.

Cook of Mormon punch cards
Christensen created postcard-sized punch cards for regular customers with food facts and related history. (Sheryl Jean)

Initially thought of as a fad when they emerged nearly a decade ago, food trucks have become legitimate alternatives to traditional dining. Entrepreneurs flock to them because they’re easier and less expensive to open than a restaurant, and attracted big-name chefs use them to reach new customers.

But it’s consumers, who like the fun, affordable and variety of choices, who are fueling the industry’s growth. The National Restaurant Association estimates that food trucks will generate about $2.7 billion in revenue this year, or four times the amount estimated just five years ago.

Christensen also sells other quintessential Utah dishes, such as funeral potatoes — diced potatoes with cheese, sour cream and butter topped with crushed potato chips ($4) — and bratwurst ($5).

If you’re in SLC, check it out.

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.

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.

 

Welcome to my blog

I’m soft launching this blog (and website) with my first post about airlines, a topic I’ve written about on and off the better part of a decade.

You’ll probably see mostly travel posts over the next few weeks from a soon-to-be-evident location, but I expect this blog to evolve over time.

Think of this as a place you can come to find a variety of interesting stories, photos, charts and graphics here about aviation, travel, health and fitness, economics and more. I like data and I like people, so you’ll see both here. I also may link to some of my writing that’s published elsewhere.

You can read about me here. Follow me on Twitter at @SJeanWrites.