My Favorite Books of 2018 (So Far)

My Favorite Books of 2018 (So Far)

A man holding an open book
Posted: 10/19/2018 | October 19th, 2018

I’ve been terrible this year when it comes to books. I started off with a reading bang but writing my own book and planning TravelCon took up so much time this year that I must admit that I haven’t read a lot this year. By the end of the day, I just didn’t have the energy to process words. I used to read a book every week or so and, this year, it’s sometimes taken me months to get around to finishing one.

I broke a habit and now getting back into the flow again is proving tougher than I thought (though I am setting specific time in my day to read again so that’s good).

And that is why it’s been a long time since we had a “best travel books of the year” list. I’ve been asked for recommendations and I just haven’t had many to give. However, I finished a few books in the last couple of weeks, I finally feel I have enough suggestions to warrant a new post!

So here is a new post on my favorite books of 2018 (so far). There’s a lot of non-travel books in this list as I’m trying to expand my reading genres!

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank HerbertI love the cheesy Sci-Fi channel movies based on this book and finally decided to pick up this massive 800 page tome. The story centers around Paul Atreides and the desert planet Arrakis, one of the most important planets in the cosmos because it produces the “spice”. I couldn’t put this book down. It had character depth, intrigue, action mixed in with philosophy and what it means to have power and lead a good life. I was hooked from the start.

Souvenir (Object Lessons), by Rolf Potts

Souvenir by Rolf Potts From the author of the backpacking bible Vagabonding, this new book by Rolf Potts explores the hidden lives of ordinary things. Potts goes back several millennia to examine the relic-driven journeys of Christians to the gimmicky souvenirs you’ll find at any shop in any tourist destination. It’s a small, easy read that is a great treatise on why we buy the things we do when we travel.

Conspiracy, by Ryan Holiday

Conspiracy by Ryan HolidayThis is a real life story of how Gawker outed PayPal founder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel as gay and how, seeking revenge, Thiel helped fund the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that, in the end, brought down the Gawker empire. Featuring interviews with all the key players, this book is a fascinating and sometimes scary read about how one man can bring down an empire, ego, and the nature of conspiracies.

Tip of the Iceberg, by Mark Adams

Tip of the Iceberg by Mark Adams Back in 1899, Edward H. Harriman (a rich railroad magnate) converted a steamship into a luxury cruise for some of America’s best scientists and writers and embarked on a summer voyage around Alaska. Now, author Mark Adams retraces that expedition, traveling over 3,000 miles across the coast of the state. Mark is one of my favorite wraiters and this book is very reiminsicent of Turn Right at Machu Picchu. Mark brings insight into the people, history, and culture of the state in a way he did with his other book.

The Black Penguin, by Andrew Evans

Black Penguin by Andrew EvansAndrew Evans’ life was laid out for him: church, mission, university, marriage, and children. But as a gay kid stuck in rural Ohio, he escaped to the pages of Nat Geo (which he now works for). After being shunned by his family, Evans set out on an overland journey halfway around the world. This is the story about his 12,000-mile journey through deserts, mountains, and jungles until he eventually reaches his ultimate goal: Antarctica. This is a really beautiful read that touches on faith, family, and self.

Atomic Habits, by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear Not travel related, but Atomic Habits gives you a solid framework for improving yourself every single day. In this book, Clear discusses habit formation and reveals strategies that will teach you how to form new good habits will breaking the bad ones. As he says: “If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.” James is an amazing writer and person and I was super excited to get my hands on his book when it came out!

The Fish That Ate the Whale, by Rich Cohen

The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich CohenThis is the true story of Samuel Zemurray, a self-made banana seller who went from a roadside banana peddler to kingmaker and capitalist revolutionary. When Zemurray showed up in America in 1891, he was penniless. By the time he died 69 years later, he was one of the richest men in the world. It’s a fascinating story of the kind of Gilded Age capitalism that doesn’t exist anymore (for good reason) and will give you a new look at the whole sordid nature of the banana industry.

Why the Dutch are Different, by Ben Coates

Why the Dutch are Different by Ben CoatesBen Coates got stranded at Schipol airport, where he called a Dutch girl he’d met a few months earlier, and ask if he could stay over the night. He never left. Fascinated by his adopted home, this book is a travel book wrapped in a history book wrapped in a memoir. It is a look at modern Dutch culture and society as well as how it got that way and what the future holds for the country. It’s one of the better books on The Netherlands I’ve read!

Rediscovering Travel, by Seth Kugel

Rediscovering Travel by Seth KugelFormer New York Times’s Frugal Traveler columnist Seth Kugel is one of the world’s best travel writers. In this book, Kugel challenges the lack of spontaneity in adventure in today’s world because of all the websites (like this) that exist out there to allow people to plan everything to a T instead of letting travel just happen. It’s a collection of amusing stories designed to inspire you to be a little less shackled to technology on your next trip! I got to read it before it came out. It’s good. Pre-order it!

The Dutch Wife, by Ellen Keith

The Dutch Wife by Ellen KeithSet in Amsterdam in 1943, Marijke de Graaf is sent to a concentration camp in Germany with her husband where she faces a choice: death, or join the camp’s brothel. It is there she encounters SS officer Karl Müller. Keith’s ability to seamlessly combine different timelines and narratives as well paint the tough emotions that come from tough choices is superb (and why this book topped the Canada best seller lists when it came out!).

Blackout, by Sarah Hepola

Blackout by Sarah HepolaEver blacked out so hard from drinking that you forgot hours of your evening? This was Sarah Hepola’s life, during a time where she spent most evenings at fancy parties and dark bars until last call. This self-reflective and poigant book about the causes of her alcoholism, the effect it had on her life, the lives of her friends, and Hepola’s rediscovery of herself is a touching book that will make you think about the negative habits in your life – and how you might be able to break them.


So there you are! Those are my favorite books of the year so far. I know there are a few months left to go before the year is over. But, for now, enjoy these good reads. I’m hoping to go on vacation later this month with a pile of books so leave your suggestions in the comments as I’m always looking for a good travel book!

For more of my favorite books, check out these other posts:

The post My Favorite Books of 2018 (So Far) appeared first on Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.


via Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site

October 19, 2018 at 03:01PM

Skift Global Forum 2018 Recap: Humanizing the Travel Experience Is Key to Building Loyalty

Skift Global Forum 2018 Recap: Humanizing the Travel Experience Is Key to Building Loyalty

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Nearly 30 speakers took the stage at last month’s Skift Global Forum to discuss the leading trends and innovations top of mind for the people defining the future of the global travel industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investment in technology to improve both product offerings and customer insight was cited as one of the major themes by industry speakers throughout this year’s conference. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian declared that free Wi-Fi would (eventually) be available on board. Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, touted the company’s Ocean Medallion technology, which provides passengers with a personalized cruise experience through a wearable wristband. And TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer spoke about the company’s push for more curated recommendations to the individual, just to name a few examples.

However, many speakers added an asterisk to the increasing presence of technology in travel, cautioning that prioritizing the human element is critical to truly connect with customers. Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer of JetBlue Airways explained that the airline was founded on the idea of “bringing humanity back to air travel” when it was launched 18 years ago. She further explained that individual employees are often mentioned by name when customers leave positive reviews about their JetBlue experience.

Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt, discussed how the company is evolving its vision to facilitate mindfulness and wellbeing, both on and off property, allowing its customers to “fulfill the purpose of being their best selves,” through its FIND platform and hiring of a chief wellness officer. Meanwhile, Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark, and Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, discussed the strong future ahead for luxury travel advisers, despite advances in technology. “Agents who were like human vending machines have gone away, and the ones that focused on providing value have thrived,” said Upchurch.

Ian Schrager, founder of the Morgans Hotel Group and pioneer of the boutique hotel movement in the United States perhaps spoke most candidly about how customer experience can often get overlooked due to the fancy bells and whistles that come with new technologies. “I think technology is the future –– but not mood boards in the lobby or iPads in every room…” He explained that hotel companies need to remember that they’re in the hospitality business and that the guest experience needs to include “something that astonishes people” with added “excitement” and “glamor.”

Hermès, a leader in the luxury retail sector, also understands the importance of human connection. Robert Chavez, Hermès’ president and CEO for the Americas, explained how the company still does much of its business in-person. Face-to-face communication and impeccable service with customers is so important for the retailer that Hermès doesn’t hire applicants who aren’t naturally inclined to connect and engage. “You can’t teach someone how to smile,” said Chavez. And each store has slightly different inventory, chosen by the store’s director, who flies to Paris a couple of times per year to choose products catered to its particular clientele.

While technology enables truly great and seamless travel experiences, technology itself is a means, not an end. Connecting with travelers on a human level is the piece that will truly differentiate good brands from great brands. Delivering memorable, emotional experiences is the best way to foster long-term loyalty among travelers and stand out in a market that’s constantly innovating.

Olson 1to1 provides loyalty technology, strategy, creative, analytics, and program management for some of the most well-known hotel and travel brands. Our mission is to help clients build meaningful, lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships with their customers, with an emphasis on infusing humanity into the experience. To learn more, download the report.

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This content was created collaboratively by Olson 1to1 and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Photo Credit: Hyatt, CEO Mark Hoplamazian with Rafat Ali of Skift at Skift Global Forum 2018


via Skift

October 19, 2018 at 03:00PM

Tnooz will become PhocusWire

Tnooz will become PhocusWire

Northstar Travel Group is acquiring tnooz and its related assets as part of a plan to further accelerate development of Phocuswright’s fast-growing PhocusWire media property.

Tnooz will be merged with PhocusWire over the course of the remaining months of 2018, with its content archive, many of its signature products and long-standing editorial focus on online travel and travel technology being retained by the PhocusWire team.

Northstar Travel Group is a U.S.-based media company and operates a broad range of leading publications in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry, including Travel Weekly (U.S.), Travel Age West, The Beat, WebinTravel, Business Travel News and Meetings & Conventions, as well as Phocuswright and PhocusWire.

The acquisition is another signal of the rapid impact on the travel, tourism and hospitality sector that PhocusWire has achieved in the twelve months since its launch at The Phocuswright Conference 2017, the premier conference for senior executives across the travel technology industry.

Pete Comeau, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Phocuswright, says: “Over the past nine years, tnooz has developed a large following of travel leaders through strong and consistent editorial coverage of the most important topics impacting the travel technology ecosystem. We are excited to welcome the tnooz readers and commercial partners to PhocusWire as we build the strongest and most targeted audience eager to understand how technology impacts all facets of today’s travel industry.”

U.S.-based Tnooz was founded in 2009 and became an important marker in coverage of the digital travel economy, including the pioneering of early industry hackathons and the profiling of hundreds of industry startups.

Bob Sullivan, president of the travel group at NTG, adds: “We are very excited to merge tnooz into PhocusWire under the leadership of our editor in chief, Kevin May. We are confident that the loyal audience and partners of both brands will be very pleased with the results as these two leading travel news brands join forces.”

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed.


via tnooz

October 19, 2018 at 02:44PM

The Critical Points: Hack Flying Blue Status to Unlock La Premiere

The Critical Points: Hack Flying Blue Status to Unlock La Premiere

Air France’s first class, La Premiere, is widely regarded as one of the best first class products in the sky. Its version on the Boeing 777-300ER is sought after around the world, but will become reality for very few. The exclusivity of the product really adds to the mystique of La Premiere, as it is cost-prohibitive for most and not available for award reservations unless you are a Flying Blue elite member. La Premiere is also never bookable using Flying Blue partner miles.

Today I’ll show you how to take advantage of the new, illogical Flying Blue program to quickly earn one or two levels of elite status: Silver, which opens the door for you to book La Premiere with miles, and Gold, which results in SkyTeam Elite Plus status and all the benefits that entails.

Understand the New Flying Blue Elite Status

Flying Blue underwent a significant overhaul earlier this year, rendering it incomprehensible for even the avid frequent flyer.  Most SkyTeam flyers (or at least many TPG readers based in the US) will want Delta status and understandably wouldn’t consider crediting flights to Flying Blue after the program changes this year. However, that may be too rash a decision. Let’s first understand the new Flying Blue elite program.

You earn Flying Blue elite status by earning XP (experience points) and there are three levels: Silver (100 XP), Gold (180 XP) and Platinum (300 XP). The chart to earn XP is nonsensical to say the least:

This chart applies to all airlines that have Flying Blue as its loyalty program (Air France, KLM, Aircalin, Hop!, Joon, Kenya Airways, TAROM, Transavia) as well as all Flying Blue partner airlines. It doesn’t matter which partner you fly, where your trip starts or what your ticket costs. Here are some examples:

  • Paris (CDG) – Nice (NCE) on Air France in economy: 2 XP (domestic)
  • New York-JFK – Los Angeles (LAX) on Delta in economy: 2 XP (domestic)
  • London-Heathrow (LHR) – Amsterdam (AMS) on KLM in business: 15 XP (medium)

You can take a transcontinental flight in the US on Delta in economy, and you’ll only earn 2 XP, regardless of how much you paid for your trip. On the other hand, a quick European hop in business class, regardless of price or length of the flight, will earn you 15 XP, as long as you take off and land in different countries. That is madness, but it also makes Flying Blue Elite status easy to achieve with a little strategy.

Here’s a snapshot that shows the insanity of earning XP:

  • Detroit (DTW) – Toronto (YYZ) in business, a flight that covers 214 miles: 15 XP

  • Honolulu (HNL) – Atlanta (ATL) in economy, a flight that covers 4,502 miles: 2 XP

Loophole Your Way to Flying Blue Elite Status

The new Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard from Bank of America gives you 60 XP upon approval. That leaves you 40 XP short of Silver status and the ability to book La Premiere using your miles. Most of us would look at that XP chart and think we’d need 20 domestic segments in economy to earn those and move on to other programs. However, a short international business class ticket will earn you 15 XP, like, for example, Delta’s 37-minute flight from Seattle (SEA) to Vancouver (YVR). The Flying Blue XP calculator confirms this route will earn 15 XP in business:

That business class flight can routinely be purchased for $168, which comes out to $11.20 per experience point. A round-trip business class flight plus a one-way flight to Vancouver in Comfort+ (W fare class) would earn you the additional 40 XP needed after getting the credit card. That means Silver status. The ability to book La Premiere can be earned if you get the new credit card and book a grand total of three flights covering two hours of flying time.

SkyTeam Elite Plus Status

Unlocking La Premiere bookings with Silver status would be great (not to mention a lot of fun for fellow AvGeeks), but why stop there? If you can earn an additional 80 XP you’ll earn Flying Blue Gold, good enough for SkyTeam Elite Plus status. This comes with a long list of benefits, but there are a few things that stand out to me: SkyClub access on every domestic Delta flight, extra baggage allowance, discounted Comfort+ seats and SkyPriority service at check-in and boarding on every Delta and SkyTeam flight.

In order to earn those additional 80 XP to get from Silver to Gold, think about all the possibilities with SkyTeam carriers to find cheap, short-haul, business class flights which happen to be international. How often does Czech Airlines have a deal in business class to any other European country? Aeromexico out of Mexico City to Central America or the Caribbean? China Airlines from Taipei to mainland China? Garuda Indonesia from any Indonesian city to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur?

I’ve been burning a proverbial hole in Google Flights trying to find the cheapest SkyTeam international flight out there, and I’ve come across some compelling options along the way (though I’m not ready to spill the beans quite yet). With a 60 XP jump-start from the new credit card, you’ll need an additional 120 XP to get you to Gold and unlock SkyTeam Elite Plus status. Based on what I’ve found, this can be accomplished for ~$600 out-of-pocket, and that’s assuming you take mileage runs for the entire time.

Book La Premiere With Points

La Premiere award bookings aren’t cheap; the Flying Blue calculator estimates that a one-way flight from the US to Europe would set you back 200,000 miles. However, that rate can drop if you take advantage of transfer bonuses to Flying Blue from Citi ThankYou Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. Unfortunately, further mileage discounts are typically not available. Certainly this isn’t a routine way to try and cross the Atlantic, but saving up for a once-in-a-lifetime flight from Paris (to experience the incredible ground service) back to the US would make for quite an enjoyable ride. The intangible entertainment factor alone might be worth the price of admission.

Bottom Line

This entire situation is really a self-created puzzle with the potential for a large payout. What are the cheapest, shortest, international SkyTeam flights I can find which earn 15 XP per flight to hack my way to Flying Blue Gold and SkyTeam Elite Plus status? Is there an intra-Asia, 2,001 mile route on one of the many Chinese SkyTeam members (which often have low fares) that would earn 24 XP in one flight?

Given this new strategy, the next time Flying Blue has a transfer bonus, I am going to consider moving enough points over to cover a La Premiere booking (~153,000 with a 30% bonus) and accomplish the previously unobtainable goal. The illogical Flying Blue XP is exactly the kind of reason I love points and miles.

Think you have a candidate for a cheap flight that will earn a lot of XP? Consider sharing in the comments below.


via The Points Guy

October 19, 2018 at 02:35PM

Marty Balin

Marty Balin

Marty-BalinWow…that was a punch to the gut that I didn’t see coming.

Transitioning on to the next dimension a couple days before Otis Rush, I either wasn’t paying attention or his passing wasn’t more universally noted (I hope it was the former).

Marty Balin was a co-founder of the Jefferson Airplane and returned after a few years away to be an integral part of the early days of Jefferson Starship. People often speak of Grace Slick’s vocals…but, more often than not, it was Marty’s harmonies that made Jefferson Air/Ship songs soar.

On this sad Music Friday, we offer a rarity…and my favorite Marty composition.

First, the rare. In the mid-80s, disillusioned with the Starship, Marty reconnected with fellow Airplane bandmates Paul Kantner and Jack Cassidy to form KBC. We featured them once before.

But, then there is ”Miracles.”

I love it for two reasons. One, it’s a beautiful love song. Marty’s vocals are sublime.

And second, because it’s a song that celebrates oral sex…and the FCC never figured that out.

I got a taste of the real world
When I went down on you.

Hey Marty, thanks for the aural sex…and the conspiratorial smiles.


via Bill Geist’s Zeitgeist

October 19, 2018 at 02:33PM

‘Weird, dynamic, unpredictable’: into the future with online travel

‘Weird, dynamic, unpredictable’: into the future with online travel

 ‘Dynamic and unpredictable,’ was how Del Ross, the chairperson of this week’s EyeforTravel North America, and a senior advisor to McKinsey, described the travel industry in the ‘weird year’ just gone. Ross, who this week opened the Las Vegas conference, which is now into its 20th year, said there had been some unexpected developments since the show last year. 



via Travel Industry News & Conferences – EyeforTravel testing

October 19, 2018 at 01:48PM

InterContinental Hotels Still in the Market For Small Acquisitions

InterContinental Hotels Still in the Market For Small Acquisitions

Aside from buying Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants in 2014, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) hasn’t been one of the industry’s most aggressive dealmakers.

This year, though, it did splash a little bit of cash with the $39 million deal for Regent Hotels. And more may be coming. Maybe.

“There are still some small opportunities out in the industry, but there’s not very many, and we’re not in the business of warchesting (money for deals),” said chief financial officer Paul Edgecliffe-Johnson on an earnings call Friday after the firm’s third quarter market update.

“But you shouldn’t read it as nothing, and that we would never be able to do anything. If the right opportunity comes up at the right price, then we’d certainly have a look at it.”

CEO Keith Barr had previously said IHG was looking at “one or two” luxury deals and with Regent out of the way maybe there’s room for one more? Edgecliffe-Johnson’s comments on the size of any deal do, however, suggest there’s no IHG interest in Belmond.

IHG completed the deal for 51 percent of Regent in July and recently relaunched the brand and announced the first new hotel signing since the acquisition.

Third-Quarter Numbers

IHG reported revenue per available room (revPAR) growth of 1 percent in its third quarter. The U.S. market dragged down the global figure with revPAR dropping 0.5 percent thanks to “hurricane-related demand” in last year’s third-quarter.

RevPAR growth of 1 percent is likely to disappoint investors, especially when compared with rival AccorHotels’ increase of 5.9 percent.

IHG opened 19,000 rooms in the period, up 70 percent on the prior year, in what the company called its “best Q3 performance in 10 years.” This was mainly due to the Regent acquisition and the addition of a portfolio of properties in the UK.

“The fundamentals for our industry remain strong. We are confident in the outlook for the remainder of the year and in our ability to deliver industry-leading net rooms growth over the medium term,” CEOBarr said in the results announcement.

In both its third and first quarters IHG doesn’t include profit or revenue figures, in line with market practice in the UK.

IHG said Friday it would  return $500 million to shareholders in the form of a special dividend.

Photo Credit: The InterContinental Melbourne. Parent company IHG saw revPAR growth of 1 percent in the third quarter IHG


via Skift

October 19, 2018 at 01:07PM

How We Saved 25,000 Points on Flights to Europe — Reader Success Story

How We Saved 25,000 Points on Flights to Europe — Reader Success Story

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Ian, who used Ultimate Rewards transfer partners for a trip to Scotland and Ireland. Here’s what he had to say:

My girlfriend and I have been avid TPG readers for the past several years. One of our favorite ways to travel is to get off the tourist track and tackle long-distance hiking routes around the globe. This summer we attended a wedding in Ireland, and decided to combine it with hiking the West Highland Way through Scotland. We had both signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and met the minimum spending requirement, so with our end goal of booking award flights into Scotland and out of Ireland, we got to work planning out how to best use our miles and points.

Our home airport in Denver is a United hub, so we knew United would likely have the best availability for the first leg of our trip from Denver to Edinburgh. After a quick search on United’s website, we were able to find a date with the award availability we needed. However, instead of booking the flight using 30,000 United miles each (transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards), we instead booked the exact same flight using 27,500 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles per person! This saved us 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

On the way home, we took advantage of one of the best ways to use British Airways Avios: a non-stop Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Boston for just 20,000 points (again transferred from Chase) and about $85 in taxes and fees per person. We then booked a cheap Southwest flight to get home from Boston to Denver. Knowing how to utilize Chase travel partners allowed us to book about $2,300 worth of travel for just 47,500 Ultimate Rewards points per person. Compared to the typical 60,000 miles required for a round-trip award to Europe, we saved a combined 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points!

One fundamental concept of award travel is that the airline you fly isn’t necessarily the one you use to book your ticket. Each airline has its own award pricing with distinct strengths and weaknesses and its own set of airline partnerships you can exploit. Learning the sweet spots in each program will help you maximize your miles like Ian did on his flight to Europe. Apart from transatlantic service, KrisFlyer miles are also advantageous for booking domestic business class awards for 40,000 miles round-trip and economy awards to Hawaii for 35,000 miles round-trip on United. Singapore Airlines doesn’t add surcharges to United flights, so the miles you save aren’t offset by another expense.

When you’re assessing the value of an award, make sure to account for any related costs. Your calculation should incorporate not only taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges but also other travel expenses you incur as a result of your itinerary. Unless Ian and his girlfriend intended to stop in Boston, then the claim that they saved 10,000 points each on their return flights paints an incomplete picture. They may still have gotten a good deal (especially if they bought during a fare sale), but the cost of their Southwest flight back to Denver should be included.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Ian for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Photo by


via The Points Guy

October 19, 2018 at 01:01PM

Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Ralph Radtke, general manager, Çırağan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul

Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Ralph Radtke, general manager, Çırağan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul

Ralph Radtke is not a man short of confidence.

During our hour-long chat at Çırağan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul he compares himself, favourably, to British wartime leader Winston Churchill, and declares he could have been chancellor of Germany had that been his ambition.

But such a larger than life charter is the perfect leader for a property such as Çırağan Palace – perhaps the most famous hotel in all of Turkey.

With a history stretching back centuries, it is an icon in its own right, and a jewel in the Kempinski portfolio.

“Çırağan Palace Kempinski is the most known hotel in Turkey, it has a place in the history of the country,” explains Radtke.

“Three sultans lived here, and their stories are intertwined by the hotel – their affairs, intrigues, it was all here.

“This is a hotel with a turnover of €100 million a year, it is not a small place, we have a team of 800 or more – we are not a small chateau where the manager cooks in the kitchen!”

Now in position for more than seven years, an unusually long tenure at this rarefied level of the hospitality sector, Radtke had in fact been trying to leave the industry before his appointment.

“I quit the hotel business, after a long time with Accor, where I was senior vice president for Sofitel in northern, central and eastern Europe, Turkey and Israel,” he tells me over coffee.

“I was there, managing a portfolio of 15 hotels with a total turnover of €150 million, from 2007 until the summer of 2011, but I travelled too much.

“It was a great deal of work and I could not sleep in my bed when I came home – I said to my wife, ‘we have to change the bed’.

“But I realised, I missed the Sofitel bed, I was so used to it, that I preferred it to my own home – this is when I knew I had to change.

“I took some time out, but visited Istanbul with my wife, who is Turkish, and we stayed here at Çırağan Palace Kempinski – we took a suite.

“In August that year, the president of Kempinski contacted me and tried to convince me to join the hotel.

“I said, no, I am not interested – but my wife convinced me, and I started in October 2011 – so I was unable to quit the business.”

It took a hotel of the stature of Çırağan Palace to change his mind.

The only Ottoman imperial palace on the Bosphorus that once hosted sultans, the location has a heritage that dates to the 17th century.

The building had different formations until the 19th century, including a waterside summer villa and a marble palace.

In 1871, sultan Abdülaziz redesigned the palace with famous architects of the Balyan family, veterans of palace design in the Ottoman Empire.

For the construction of the palace, the finest marbles, porphyries, mother-of-pearl and other valuable materials were brought from all over the world.

In 1909, Çırağan Palace was selected as the site for a significant meeting of the Turkish parliament, and shortly after the conclusion of the meeting, the palace interiors were destroyed by a fire.

From 1930 on, the Besiktas Football Team even used the garden of the palace as their football stadium.

The building stayed unkempt after the fire, and finally in 1991, after a complete restoration and with the addition of a modern hotel building including elegant rooms, restaurants and meeting venues, the property reopened.

Since its opening, Çırağan Palace continues to be a symbol of luxury.

“Here in Istanbul we have two Four Seasons, Raffles, Fairmont, St. Regis and Shangri-La as well as a Mandarin Oriental and Peninsular under construction,” explains Radtke.

“But we are strong, Çırağan Palace is a brand in its own right, outside of Kempinski, we could open a Çırağan Palace in New York or in London or wherever – when I say I am from the Çırağan Palace, people know the hotel.”

With its 313 rooms, including 20 suites in the hotel and 11 in the historical palace, the hotel reflects a harmonious blend of the heritage, haute couture service and Turkish hospitality.

During their time at the hotel, guests can enjoy a rich variety of restaurants and feel themselves in an oasis in the city centre.

There are also extensive leisure facilities including an infinity pool, sumptuous spa and verdant gardens.

But, with Turkey currently undergoing a period of political turmoil, it has not all been plain sailing for Radtke and his team.

“It is not the easiest time for sure, the Turkish lira is falling, so that is a problem – but also living in Turkey, for the local people, is getting more expensive, this builds pressure.

“We gave a five per cent salary increase to our staff, to recognise their contribution, and we will look again in January – without our team we would be nowhere.

“But the exchange rate has made the destination more attractive, so that helps us.”

He adds: “What is more important though, are travel warnings, with the United States issuing warnings, it means travellers cannot get insurance, so they do not come.

“The Americans are an important market for us, followed by the UK and then Germany, but this is changing, under political pressure.

“Two years ago, there were several terror attacks, including the Reina nightclub shooting, where 39 people died, as well as the coup attempt, and this has had an impact – people were frightened to come.

“We saw at this time more Middle Eastern guests: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain have all grown for us.

“But we have a good balance, we seek not to put all our eggs in one basket.

“We have also been developing the Indian, Chinese and South American markets, a process that has been going on for a number of years, to prepare for this, a long-term project.”

Since its opening, Çırağan Palace Kempinski has been the only hotel in Istanbul reachable in three ways – by limousine, yacht or helicopter – and has seen countless eminent figures come through its doors, including government delegates, royal families and celebrities.

It has also been recognised as the best in the business, with voters at the World Travel Awards honouring the hotel with the prize for World’s Leading Heritage Hotel for the past three years.

“Awards are always nice, it is first of all recognition for the team here, a motivation for them to continue what they are doing,” adds Radtke.

“On the other side, it is security for the guests, who know they are getting the best.

“We promote the awards, although not in an aggressive way; we want to share our happiness with guests.

“These awards are for all of Turkey, the hotel is so well known, these titles are good for the country.

“Çırağan Palace is a timeless place, and these awards recognise this.”

On a personal note, Radtke, who turns 66 at the end of the year, has officially retired in Germany.

But, a man of boundless energy, he appears to have some years left in him yet in a job he clearly relishes.

“These iconic hotels, people want to see the general manager, to share the stories of the place, they want the staff to stay in place, so they can remember them and know their preferences,” he explains.

“It is part of my job, people want to see you, we are like actors – when I come to work it is like a theatre play, the hotel is my stage.

“In the evening, when I go home, the curtain closes, and the play is over.”

With a man as compelling as Radtke in place, there are likely to be a few more dramatic scenes at the palace before this show comes to a close.

More Information

Located on the shores of the magnificent Bosphorus, facing the Asian continent and overlooking the ancient city, Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul offers the glamour of a genuine Ottoman palace in a city where east meets west, Europe meets Asia and history meets the contemporary.

Find out more on the official website.


via Breaking Travel News

October 19, 2018 at 12:29PM

This Is Not a Drill: Mercury Is in Retrograde

This Is Not a Drill: Mercury Is in Retrograde

What is “Mercury in retrograde”?

You know how, when you’re stopped at a traffic light, next to a big truck, you sometimes think you’re rolling forward, and go to check the hand brake, but actually the truck’s backing up? Mercury in retrograde is like that, only it’s a planet forty-eight million miles away moving backward, and there’s no stoplight, per se, at least until the sun explodes and we all combust into cosmic glitter (which, thankfully, is still several Mercury-in-retrogrades away).

What does it look like?

Just as the moon gets fat and full, and then wanes, Mercury goes from being round to being gibbous and then even more gibbous, gibbous enough that everything in your life maybe turns to shit—there’s an oat-milk shortage, Amazon packages go missing, people won’t stop talking about “Lincoln in the Bardo,” everything just seems very alkali, suddenly. And then it dawns on you, Mercury, you son of a—

How often does this happen?

According to Business Insider, the astrological authority most trusted by M.B.A.s, Mercury goes into retrograde three or four times a year, lasting about three weeks each time. And, even when Mercury isn’t in retrograde, it is often thinking retrograde thoughts, listening to too much Band of Horses, and just generally being a celestial drag. In its defense, if you spent your life essentially on fire, you’d be prone to cranky periods, too.

Is this something a Himalayan salt lamp can fix?

That’s a good question. A good. Question.

How should I prepare?

As Mercury governs communication, you might work on your interactions with others: make sure you’re not ending texts with a period, keep that ironic LinkedIn endorsement on ice, over-enunciate your name to the Starbucks barista. You should definitely back up your cell-phone data, unless your iCloud filled up in 2016, in which case you should e-mail yourself all of the photos you don’t want to lose, with the subject line “ME.” Mercury in retrograde often brings with it an urge to reconnect with exes, so let me remind you, and I’m only going to say this once: Chad Kroeger has moved on, honey.

What happens in the lead-up to retrograde?

The “shadow” of retrograde starts before true Mercury in retrograde and continues for a while after. The idea is that the planets and stars are giving you time to process and prepare. Basically, you only have two to three good days a year to get stuff done without calling your boss “mom,” or giving a keynote with your pencil skirt unknowingly twisted a hundred and twenty-five degrees around your torso. If you map it all out, the astrological calendar resembles a giant game of snakes and ladders, but it’s all snakes and no one ever wins. Except that one girl from your M.F.A. program who somehow wrote two critically acclaimed novels while raising triplets.

Has Mercury in retrograde gotten worse?

Today’s Mercury in retrograde isn’t a patch on the old Mercury in retrograde. That Mercury in retrograde was famous for its kind of low-key dysfunctional charm—maybe you couldn’t find your glasses because they were on your head, or you drove away from the gas station with the fuel pump still clipped to your tank. Funny, goofy stuff. Today’s Mercury in retrograde is more chaotic, more macro, more like an old man yelling at a boy pushing a lawnmower. It’s not what it used to be is what I’m saying. But fear not: it inevitably will come to an end, leaving you with your regular constant feeling of doom.

Until then, is there anything I can do about it?

Vitamin D.


via The New Yorker – Culture

October 19, 2018 at 12:17PM