Let’s Reason About Unreasonable Things: Are Vampires More Likely Than Fairies?
In “Fantastic Beasts and How to Rank Them,” from this week’s issue, Kathryn Schulz writes, “One of the strangest things about the human mind is that it can reason about unreasonable things.” It is possible, for example, “to decide that a yeti is more likely to exist than a leprechaun, even if you think that the likelihood of either of them existing is precisely zero.”
Never mind, for now, whether you actually believe in any of these fantastical creatures or supernatural powers. Select the one that seems more plausible to you below, and see how many readers agree.
What’s odd about this exercise, Schulz writes, is:
Everyone knows that “impossible” is an absolute condition. “Possible versus impossible” is not like “tall versus short.” Tall and short exist on a gradient, and when we adjudge the Empire State Building taller than LeBron James and LeBron James taller than Meryl Streep, we are reflecting facts about the world we live in. But possibility and impossibility are binary, and when we adjudge the yeti more probable than the leprechaun we aren’t reflecting facts about the world we live in; we aren’t reflecting the world we live in at all. So how, exactly, are we drawing these distinctions? And what does it say about our own wildly implausible, unmistakably real selves that we are able to do so?
Read Kathryn Schulz’s article, “Fantastic Beasts and How to Rank Them,” to find out more.
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
Daily Cartoon: Tuesday, October 31st
Pat Byrnes’s Daily Cartoon shows a spooky start to Robert Mueller’s charges.
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
Fox to Offer Twenty-Four-Hour Coverage of Bill Clinton’s Impeachment
NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it a story “too hot for the
other cable-news networks to handle,” Fox News Channel announced on
Tuesday that it would begin airing twenty-four-hour coverage of Bill
Clinton’s 1998–99 impeachment.
Fox anchor Sean Hannity announced the programming change, telling
viewers that Fox would devote all its resources to reporting the Clinton
impeachment to the exclusion of all other news stories.
“This story has everything: sex, lies, and misdeeds at the highest
levels of our government,” Hannity said. “We are planning to flood the
zone to bring it to you.”
Calling it “the story Bill and Hillary Clinton don’t want you to hear,”
Hannity said Fox would be unstinting in its effort to get to the bottom
of the impeachment.
“For years, this hushed-up chapter of our history has been shrouded in
silence,” Hannity said. “That silence ends today.”
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
Devoting One’s Life to the Harpsichord
On my dining table there are a few random scraps of homework for a
lesson that never happened. The scraps include sheets of music paper on
which I wrote out the first scene of the first act of “Macbeth.” At the
beginning of each line, there’s a time signature, and under each word I
notated a pitchless metrical value, as in a musical score but without
any indication of the actual tones. On the back of one sheet—Was I short
of blank paper? My whole life seems to be written out on innumerable
scraps of this or that—I took some notes on Arthur Lovejoy’s “The Great
Chain of Being,” and, for some reason, I wrote a few random terms in no
discernible order. It’s clear that even a week after I’ve done this, my
attempt at note-taking has failed, for I have no idea what any of these
terms mean: “nominalistic motive”; “metaphysical pathos”; “the tacit
assumption of each age.”
These notes were in preparation for a lesson at the harpsichord with
someone who died before we could meet again—Zuzana Ruzickova, with whom
I studied in the last six years of her life. To explain her would mean
explaining how music is more than entertainment, how every faculty of
the mind and the heart devoted to music is energy well spent, and how I
would be willing to plan and, if needed, change the course of my life to
come closer to the ideals that she represented.
I first met Zuzana in 2011, when I had gone to Prague to play some
chamber music with a friend. I had played the harpsichord concerto by
her late husband, the composer Viktor Kalabis, at the BBC a year before,
and through various channels I had gotten ahold of her phone number, to
ask her a few questions about the piece. At the time, I was somewhat
discontent as a musician. I felt family pressure to get on with a career
and avoid the fate of the stereotyped “failed artist,” and yet I knew
that I had much left to learn. I knew that I was terribly incomplete as
a harpsichordist, and since coming to Europe from America I had grown
frustrated that the discourse around my instrument was mostly centered
on what is called the “authenticity wars.” I was tired of the idea that
historical inevitability dictated that I should imitate, say, an old
Dutchman playing the harpsichord, rather than finding an artistic voice
that came from within.
I had always admired Ruzickova’s recordings, and her strongly
characterized interpretations and fearlessness—these ran contrary to the
anodyne morals of what she and I would come to call “Harpsichordland.”
Armed with that phone number, I pestered her for a lesson even after she
said several times that she had no intention of coming out of
retirement. Later, she’d say that she finally agreed to meet after hearing
me play Haydn (on the piano) during a song recital in Prague, but I
think she really responded to my annoying persistence.
The trend of historical inevitability—the idea that the current style of
playing on period instruments is unassailably correct and a result of
natural progress—had come to see Ruzickova as hopelessly passé by the
nineteen-eighties. The political connotations are not difficult to
detect here. The prewar, more expressive style of playing, say, Bach was
considered at best unfashionable or belonging to Dante’s circle reserved
for the good but unlucky pagans, and there was no serious interest in
what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. With the collapse of the
Soviet bloc in the early nineties, not far behind the Western reformers
and election observers came West European musicians eager to save and
educate the East with the “right way” to play. (In other words, “Be one
So, as a magazine editor sneered to me over coffee in Paris shortly
after I had decided to be a student again, “Why did you decide to study
with her? I didn’t even know she was alive.” Well, the answer was quite
simple—for me, at least. With her strange, hybrid modern harpsichord
with steel strings and a style of playing lazily called “romantic,”
Ruzickova and her playing just spoke to me. When I listened to her, I
knew that this was the instrument I wanted to play, and that this was
how I wanted to play it.
I started coming to Prague from London about once a month to study with
Ruzickova. At first, I brought the music of J. S. Bach, the composer who
has given my life its entire meaning; I soon learned how central he was
to Zuzana’s life, as well. Study sessions were long, and they were
intense. My first and hardest lesson was that public applause does not
validate empty playing. You could occasionally squeak something
half-baked by the public, but nothing got past Zuzana. We had endless
discussions over all those years of articulations, tempos, phrasings,
ornaments. Amid these secrets of music, I came into contact with a human
being whose entire life was fully woven into her interpretations.
One morning, we worked on the fugue paired with Bach’s D-minor “Chromatic
Fantasia,” a long-winded and slightly relentless piece that I wasn’t
quite getting the hang of. Her rebukes still ring in my ears. “Your
counter-subjects rush—how sloppy! Don’t you realize this material is as
important as the main theme?” She began drawing comparisons with novels
or plays that we’d both discussed. Then, at a cadence where I was having
trouble, she went on a tangent about accents in German versus those in
French. She always insisted on starting the fugue with the last few bars
of the preceding fantasia. “Sforzando in the first and third beats!”
she’d cry. “Slower and slower as Bach goes down the chromatic scale,
down into the lowest pits of despair.” (She then quoted the last few
lines of Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality.”) And, as I’d start
the fugue, just as the dust was settling from the final low chord of the
previous movement, she said, “Every crotchet is strictly equal! This is
now the law come from above, the Word coming to rescue us in our darkest
hour. As the tones rise, Bach opens the gates and light rushes through.”
It was only then that I noticed the crudely tattooed number on her right
Zuzana Ruzickova’s life, just two and a half months short of ninety-one
years, spanned the great upheavals of modern European memory. The happy
childhood of a talented and precocious pianist was interrupted by the
German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent transport of her
family to the concentration camp at Terezín; Ruzickova herself later was
interned at Auschwitz, and then at Bergen-Belsen. She returned to her
native Bohemia accompanied by her mother—the only other survivor of her
family—and what attempts were made to return to normalcy were again
interrupted, this time, by the Communist takeover in 1948.
Amid all of this, as though the decision to become a musician weren’t
difficult enough, she decided to answer the calling of the harpsichord
(she always framed it in these spiritual terms). Against the backdrop of
all her later triumphs—from competition victories to concert tours in
parts of the world that had never seen a harpsichord to hundreds of
recordings (including the first complete traversal of J. S. Bach)—the
most remarkable thing is how she persisted through the most trying of
circumstances. The first few years, she did not even have an instrument
of her own. In the Stalinist period, she, her husband, and her mother
lived in a communal apartment with three other families; “My mother
slept under the piano,” she’d say as she pointed to that corner of her
living room. In the same period, her début with the Czech Philharmonic
was put on hold by an anti-Semitic party official. She was always
accompanied by a Party minder through thirty-five years of touring.
Once, she was offered a new book by Solzhenitsyn in a bookshop in Paris,
and, for the subsequent two decades, every phone call was monitored. Her
last recording of the famous cadenza from Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg
Concerto, in 1990, was rushed while engineers and musicians started
fleeing the studio amid rumors of Soviet tanks coming to squash the
protests during the ferocity of 1968.
I found a kindred spirit in Zuzana because she was someone who played
the harpsichord simply in order to exist as a human being. Ask too many
harpsichordists why they play the instrument, and they’ll say something
about historical accuracy, or because Bach (or whoever) isn’t “right” on
the piano. A few will talk about the beautiful sound of the instrument.
(And, yes, a few couldn’t wing it at the piano.) Not many are bothered
about their instrument “living”—most are content with the revival of
what they believe has been before. Mixed in with all these
half-explanations is any of one of a host of tribal statements of the
day, relevant only to the harpsichordist, which enforce a loose party
line of sorts. What instruments Zuzana could play behind the Iron
Curtain were really neither accurate nor particularly beautiful, but
what she did with music seemed to evade the shifting sands of fashions
and schools of playing. She was a true artist, an open-minded and
flexible human nonetheless, with deep musical convictions. This is what
is meant, I suppose, when people say music is timeless.
Zuzana Ruzickova, too, is timeless. She suffered few illusions about
ignoring everything between her and the past. The idea that a piece
should sound the way it did three hundred years ago was laughable to
her—she always said, when we were studying them, “It took me ninety
years to understand Bach’s Goldberg Variations. If only I had ninety
more; I’d still not know what to do with them.” Her intellectual rigor
and curiosity were peerless. The regular references to her reading
Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” at Terezín, and Freud on the roof of her barracks
at Auschwitz, as recounted in her Shoah testimony, bring chills to me as
I read them. She was a close friend to the great pianists of her day, in
particular the Russian giants Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter, who
respected her urbane wit and formidable musicianship. She had little
time for musical tribalism, and I think that she played the harpsichord
mostly because it was the instrument she found that expressed everything
within her. I have no doubt that she would have been as great had she
played anything else. Above all, she demanded of herself, and of others,
to think, and to think deeply. If that meant weathering criticism from
the moralists, so be it. As she said when I once threw up my hands in
frustration over some piece by Bach, “Music has so many secrets—but I’ll
ask Bach when I see him.”
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
The Astros and Dodgers Reach New Run-Scoring Heights in the World Series
This World Series, like many before it, has produced exclamations of
wonder and appreciation from friends and acquaintances of mine who pay
little attention to baseball during the season and once again rediscover
its satisfactions and swift surprises in October, almost by accident.
“Hey,” they say in the lobby or over the phone. “That was something!
That was different, wasn’t it? This is so great.”
I smile and agree with them and try never to say, “What was wrong with
September? Where were you in July?” But today I am stunned and at one
with them. This was absolutely different. The astounding 13–12 win by
the home-team Astros over the Dodgers on Sunday night before a screaming
crowd was unique in ways that we can hardly count.
But let’s just count a few. This was the first Series game in history in
which three different batters—the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the
Astros’ Yulieski Gurriel and José Altuve—each hit a three-run home run.
There were seven homers in all: two by the visiting Dodgers, five by the
Astros. Fourteen pitchers were called on, and each team had fourteen
hits. And, at five hours and seventeen minutes, this was the
second-longest World Series game ever.
These are two powerful teams that accumulated more than a hundred wins
each in the season, but this armored-brigade kind of scoring, a rush of
runs in a very short space, is a specialty of the Astros, who had given
us an earlier sample back in Game 2, in L.A., when, after tying the
game, 3–3, in the ninth, they produced back-to-back home runs by Altuve
and Carlos Correa, in the top of the tenth, and, after the Dodgers had
re-tied it, went ahead for good on George Springer’s two-run dinger in
the eleventh. The Dodgers, for their part, had produced solo homers in
the tenth and the eleventh, but fell short by a run. As I keep saying,
these very high numbers, these floods of runs, add up to something
Like other New York homies, I had adopted a sulky indifference when our
young wild-card Yanks failed by one game in the League Championships,
and only lately have I given full notice to this thrilling Astros bunch,
not just the compact powerhouse Altuve but those surrounding him in the
upper end of the lineup—the leadoff center-fielder Springer, the tall
and beautifully athletic shortstop Correa, and the third baseman Alex
Bregman, my M.V.P. to date, whose clenched-jaw at-bats and key hits—his
single scored the winning run on Sunday night—were matched only by his
brilliant defensive plays at his corner. Not in the stats but also
sweetly notable was the Astros’ affection for one another and their
boyish excitement over what they were watching and again making happen.
There have been a couple of quieter, more familiar evenings—starting
with the Dodgers’ 3–1 win behind Clayton Kershaw in the opener,
accomplished in a merciful two hours and twenty-eight minutes.
Saturday’s Dodger win, which brought them even in the Series, was almost
of the same order, a brisk 1–1 tie through eight, abruptly altered by
five crushing Dodger runs in the ninth.
There have been plenty of victimized pitchers to be sorry for amid these
eruptions, including Kershaw, who blew a 4–0 lead in the fourth inning
on Sunday night, on a double and then Gurriel’s three-run homer. I felt
even worse about the Dodgers’ Brandon Morrow, who had worked an inning
and a third the night before and a little less on Friday. His manager,
Dave Roberts, announced beforehand that Morrow would absolutely not be
available on this night, but the surging Astro offense changed all that.
Coming on at the bottom of the seventh, Morrow gave up a home run, a
single, a double, and another home run in six pitches—probably another
first-ever, if I had the heart to look it up.
This has been a hard October for managers, a stretch in which the Mets
and the Red Sox, the Nationals and the Yankees have all dismissed their
incumbent skippers. Joe Girardi’s canning, after a season in which he
brought his youthful, low-expectations club to the edge of the World
Series, was a shock to him and to every Yankee fan. His highly
professional and serious work ethic brought a World Championship to the
Bronx in 2009, in his second year at the helm, but this quiet control
style of management was always a trifle removed, as suited his
personality. We will have a chance to remember him and think about all
this some more after the Series is over, when the new and presumably
chummier Yankee manager will be named and produced at a Stadium press
I have also come to pity the admirable World Series managers, Dave
Roberts and A. J. Hinch, who have seen so many of their starters and
relievers crash and fade, and have had to call upon the lonely surviving
guys in the bullpen to come in and please for God’s sake get a few outs.
Series managers also come to expect the unexpected, in Hinch’s case the
ugly racial posturings by Astro first baseman Gurriel, directed at the
defeated Dodgers’ starter, Yu Darvish. This went viral and of course
reached Commissioner Rob Manfred, who after consultations eventually
ruled that Gurriel will be suspended for the first five games of next
Still on managers, my thoughts about Dave Roberts go back to the
beginning of Sunday night’s game, when he had his ace Kershaw on the
mound, and the better part of a bullpen that had yielded no runs at all
through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Now all that is in
tatters, and he must find a way for his club somehow to beat the great
Justin Verlander tonight in order to survive, and, if it does, someone
else the night after. Who said any of this was going to be fun?
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
The Spooktacular Food Fest Has Been Cancelled
Unfortunately, the Spooktacular Food Fest has been cancelled. This decision was made for many reasons—hostile customers; unpaid venders; lack of potable water; the fact that the official festival guide claimed the event would take place in a haunted graveyard yet it was, in fact, set up in a Duane Reade parking lot. But, mostly, Spooktacular 2017 will be shut down immediately because we found a shocking disparity between what was being advertised on menus and promotional materials and what was actually served.
Menu description: Marzipan “fingers” wrapped in wood-smoked haunted-forest bacon.
Reality: Baby carrots wrapped in ham.
The Salad Has Eyes
Menu description: Wild-salmon roe nestled in a Pacific seaweed salad.
Reality: Romaine lettuce with gummy eyeballs dumped on top.
Witch’s Brew Cocktail
Menu description: A wicked tequila cocktail bubbling over with mint, lime, and mischief!
Reality: Actually just “home-brewed” Four Loko—weirdly, not really a letdown.
Menu description: A fiendish melding of chorizo, andouille, and linguica, stitched together with ketchup-and-mustard thread.
Reality: A half-eaten pickle and a half-eaten hot dog back-to-back on a cold bun.
Halloween Harvest Soup
Menu description: Butternut-squash-and-sage soup served in a hollowed-out seasonal gourd.
Reality: A jack-o’-lantern loaded with discount chili.
Black Cat Burger
Menu description: Best eaten at midnight, this spooky entrée features singed lettuce, a squid-ink bun, a slice of Farmer Night heirloom tomato, a well-done patty, and freshly ground pepper.
Reality: It’s a McDouble spray-painted black.
Treat or Treat
Menu description: A big helping of candy corn.
Reality: This one was, unfortunately, accurate.
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
Anne Enright Reads “The Hotel”
Anne Enright reads her story from the November 6, 2017, issue of the magazine. Enright has published six novels, including “The Gathering” and “The Green Road.”
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November 1, 2017 at 07:15AM
Hotel Direct-Booking Pushes Really Worked and Owners Were Big Winners
Hilton’s Stop Clicking Around campaign, which launched in February 2016, encouraged consumers to book direct instead of through online travel agency sites. Hilton Worldwide
— Deanna Ting
According to a new report from Kalibri Labs, they and their peers which launched direct- booking campaigns in 2016 certainly did.
Compiling data from its database of more than 25,000 hotels in the U.S., including validated costs and daily transactions directly sourced from the hotels’ systems, Kalibri Labs found that there was indeed a shift in consumer behavior toward brand.com sites versus online travel agencies such as Booking.com or Expedia. More consumers than ever before chose to book direct versus booking on a third-party site.
The Kalibri study looked at data from May to December 2016, when the majority of major U.S. hotel chains mounted direct-booking campaigns, and examined an estimated 52 million transactions from some 12,000 hotels in the upper midscale, upscale, and upper upscale hotel segments. The hotels examined participated in book-direct campaigns.
Direct Booking Equated to More Money
Not only did the campaigns encourage consumers to book direct, but the study also found that these campaigns were more beneficial for hotel owners than previously assumed. The hotels’ direct-booking campaigns — even by offering discounted rates to consumers — were actually generating more revenue for hotel owners than the online travel agencies were.
Kalibri Labs found that the net average daily rate of brand.com discounted loyalty rates was higher than the net average daily rate of room rates on the online travel agencies. The median net revenue benefit ranged from $9,000 to $33,000 per hotel as well, taking into account all discounts and loyalty and commission costs.
“I was startled with the results,” said Chad Crandell, managing director and CEO of CHMWarnick, a hotel-asset-management and owner-advisory-services company that represents more than 70 hotels. “Initially, when they [the hotel companies] announced these book-direct programs, I was quite skeptical that this would be a win for owners. I thought it would be a win for brands because they would try to direct those customers to their websites.”
Crandell, like many others in the hospitality industry, worried that these discounted room rates for loyalty members — the most common feature of the various hotels’ book-direct pushes — could cannibalize the hotels’ business. CHMWarnick has properties that carry brands from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels, and AccorHotels, among others.
“I thought the premise of discounting our current best customers at the hotels and offering them discounts seemed kind of foolish: Why discount your best customers when that is really the core of your business?,” he said. “I was pretty sure discounts would be in that loss. Yes, we’d gain more reward members, but I though it wouldn’t be a cost benefit to the bottom line. But I was proven wrong: The study showed it did have net positive impact on ADR [average daily rate] booked but also on cost of that hotel acquisition.”
He also noted that even though hotel occupancy rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high, hoteliers haven’t been able to grow their room rates as much as they would like. That’s another reason why it’s so important for hotel companies to be marketing the benefits of direct booking because rooms that are booked direct are the lowest cost for owners.
Loyalty Really Does Matter
Cindy Estis Green, CEO and co-founder of Kalibri Labs, said that perhaps the most surprising finding from the report was the importance of loyalty.
“I didn’t think the percentage of loyalty contribution and how much it’s grown would be that high across the board,” Green said. “I came to appreciate how central loyalty is to what’s going to happen going forward.”
The study found that for upper midscale, upscale, and upper upscale hotels, four to six of every 10 room nights booked were driven by loyalty members. That same 30 to 40 percent growth rate in loyalty contributions was also consistent with the brands reporting membership growth of 30to 40 percent from 2015 to 2016, too.
“That is a significant increase in the number of reward members,” said Crandell. “We got the attention of the customer — maybe 15 years too late — but we finally did. But now what? Will we have to continue to offer discounted rates forever more to keep them interested? Cutting the price will lead to a shift of share of short-term business. But long term, it’s not a good strategy.”
Green said that’s where loyalty comes in. When she refers to “loyalty” it’s not just about points-based programs, but the benefits that travelers get from joining these programs, and the impact they have on their hotel selection decisions.
“Whoever makes the travel experience more seamless and friction free will stand out. If those benefits create a convenient, seamless travel experience, it’s a very compelling value proposition. The fact that consumers were kind of able to be moved like that — again, no one knew what would happen — the fact that it does move consumers tells me that consumers are looking for benefits. It isn’t always necessarily price driven. A lot are repeating customers. They’re not always going for price; the rates were higher in some cases.”
How the Direct Booking Pushes Need to Evolve
If discounted loyalty rates are not a sustainable strategy for getting consumers to stop clicking around and book direct, then what is? Crandell and Green believe that paying more attention to the entire travel experience — not just the hotel stay itself — is crucial.
“We need to control the whole guest experience,” said Crandell. “Customers today are increasingly wanting to not be surprised.” He said guests are looking for features like the ability to choose a specific guest room, to check in on mobile, to use their phones as hotel room keys, and to know their favorite beverages are in their room.
“Hotels can control all that,” he said. “OTAs [online travel agencies are just selling rooms and saying they sell at the lowest price. They don’t control the rest of the guest experience after they sell them that room. Hotels need to control the actual guest experience so they really have loyalty.”
However, online travel agencies, as well as other travel companies (Airbnb, anyone?) are also trying to make inroads in having more control over the overall traveler experience, too, with their own loyalty programs and the ability to often package entire vacations for consumers.
Crandell said that to combat that, hotels need to be more creative in how they think about experiences beyond the walls of their properties.
“Hotels will have to maintain that experience not only inside the hotel but also outside the hotel,” he said. “You need to have a personal concierge on your travels. That’s traditionally what a hotel concierge did. But we have to take that physical experience from the old days and turn it into a virtual one today.”
That focus on how digital technology can enhance the actual traveler journey is where hotels need to direct their investments toward, said Green.
“It it’s not going to be a benefit in the form of a discount [in the future], there are lots of benefits that come from using an app to do mobile check in or use keyless entry,” explained Green. “Those are terrific benefits for consumers whether or not they are frequent travelers. If I were a hotel owner, I’d want to see more engagement on those apps, to see recurrence; to see customers going back to the apps and to other hotels in the same brand family. If I were an owner I’d be paying attention to that to see that my brands were developing those kinds of services for travelers.”
Crandell added, “Hotels need to make investments in technology and training and customer relationship management tools and remain relevant if they want to preserve market share and grow it back.”
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November 1, 2017 at 06:33AM
Travelers Get Candid About Their Struggles With Permanxiety
Travel anxiety affects people of all backgrounds. Bing Qing Ye / Skift
— Sarah Enelow
Skift launched the latest edition of our magazine, Travel in an Age of Permanxiety, at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September. This article is part of our look into the current state of the traveler mindset through the lens of the pervasive state of anxiety felt worldwide.Absent a heart monitor, anxiety is nearly impossible to capture in a chart or graph. It’s about how we feel in relation to the world around us and the challenges that appear to be coming our way.
Absent a heart monitor, anxiety is nearly impossible to capture in a chart or graph. It’s about how we feel in relation to the world around us and the challenges that appear to be coming our way. Anxiety’s impact, though, can be measured in the choices we make because we are anxious or fearful. We stay at home instead of going out. Or we don’t vacation in the U.S. because of Trump or avoid Paris because of ISIS or scratch Russia off the list because of unreasonable visa requirements or skip the Caribbean because of Zika. The impact on travel is significant.
The following five stories look at travelers’ permanxiety from a variety of perspectives to better understand what we think about when we visit an airport, check in to a hotel, or visit a new destination. These are similar to conversations that many of us have with friends and family, as well as how we think about things in our own heads. No matter your background, we think you’ll recognize something in these stories from your own experience.
Peter Slatin, as told to Deanna Ting
Peter Slatin travels far and wide in his role as the founder and president of Slatin Group, a company that helps businesses better understand how to deliver customer services to customers with special needs.
I’m blind, and I use a guide dog most of the time when I’m traveling. Sometimes I use my white cane, but most of the time I’ll use a guide dog.
What prompted me to start the Slatin Group was all the kinds of experiences I’ve had — the miscommunication, misunderstanding, and just difficult and challenging service experiences, some of which can be dangerous, and some of which are just annoying and insulting.
At the Airport
The two points that create the most anxiety are the entry to the airport and when I’m waiting to board. When I arrive at an airport, very often, I have a bad experience.
Airport design has changed from a time when you would walk in and the check-in counter would be pretty much straight ahead. A lot of times, it’s off to the side or they’re just kiosks, and the check-in counters are far away, so I rely on someone. I’m hoping that someone from the airline or the airport will find me and guide me to check-in and that’s what I rely on, but most the time that doesn’t happen.
There are also queues that have been set up with the mobile straps and expansions so people can queue up for tickets or to check their luggage. Each airline may have a different setup, and security will be here or there. There are just so many places where it’s really hard to know where to go and what’s happening around you. Once you get to the concourse or your gate concourse, at least again, that’s relatively straightforward. People go in generally two directions, although there are stores and restaurants, and people are streaming in and out of those.
If you have a disability, if you need assistance, first, the airline will help you get your boarding pass, which I usually do at the airport rather than online ahead of time because I try to get placed in a seat that’s advantageous for me and my guide dog where the guide dog has room. Sometimes they’ll block out an extra seat. These are things where things go well, but once I get my ticket, they will guide me to a waiting area. It’s a holding pen for people with disabilities, so I’ll be there, and there’ll be people with wheelchairs and elderly people, senior citizens. We’re just all waiting for someone to take us to our gate, and it’s just an odd kind of encampment of people who need assistance.
The people who come and provide that assistance are a huge mix of people who are extremely competent, kind, and smart, and people who are none of the above. There are people who are well-trained, but no one’s usually well-trained. People usually just do what they can, and you kind of train them on the spot.
You trust them to get you to your gate. Once that gets going, I always engage them in conversation because that puts them at ease. If they’re not up for that or into it, then that’s fine, but most of the time we talk about where they’re from, because they’re almost always from overseas somewhere. Some have been in the country a very short time, and this is a job they just found.
I find the greatest challenge is usually in the lobby. Lobbies, like airport terminals, are diverse in design. They’re all very different in design unless you’re in a very simple, limited-service hotel with the check-in counter straight ahead and one person and that’s it, but if you’re in anything that has a lobby lounge or just a little more variation in design, it’s really hard to know what’s what.
I think it’s less of a thing today, but there used to be so-called lobby ambassadors, which are really helpful, who are there. Their role is to spot someone, whether they have a disability or not, who’s looking for assistance, who seems to need assistance, and that’s their job, or sometimes just to welcome people past the doorman. I know it impinges on ROI, and that’s a terrible thing, but I think that’s really helpful, and something more hotels should have.
I’d say the vast majority of encounters that go wrong are not because of ill intention. They are because of fear and unfamiliarity and uncertainty and awkwardness and just lack of information, lack of education, lack of training, and also clear guidance from the top about what that means. How do you extend service to this or any population of people you’re unfamiliar with?
Hotels where someone, whether it’s been someone in management or on the staff, has very early on in my stay said, “I’m going to watch out for you, and I’m going to make sure you are taken care of,” without being obsequious or overbearing but instead to be, “I’m going to watch out for you.” They’ve just been there. If they see me, they come and say hello. They introduce themselves. They make sure that my experience is good. I don’t know. I couldn’t say it’s because I’m blind. I could say it’s just because they saw it as their role.
What I’d Want to Say to the Travel Industry
I understand the challenge of this, but amid all the requirements that you face and the juggling you face of your own personnel, and competing with all of your competition and everything that changes around you, just keep your eye on the service ball. Because service is not a cliché, it’s real. Without it, no one wants any part of what you have to offer.
You’re a conduit, from point A to point B, or you’re a place to stay, but if someone wants just that, they will go to Airbnb or they’ll rent a car or what have you. You’re there because people really value what you have to offer, and that really includes the service as much as it includes the décor and the food, all of which can be spoiled by bad service. As long as you keep your eye on that and remember that service is the biggest thing you offer, then you’re in good shape.
Neil Miller, as told to Dennis Schaal
Neil Miller, 65, owns an insurance agency in Trumbull, Conn. that he runs with his wife Esther. He has Gold status in the American Airlines AAdvantage program. The couple has traveled everywhere from Japan to Paris and Jordan over the last 17 years, and usually takes about a month-long vacation annually.
We’ve been traveling a lot, and in recent years we’ve been doing more of the exotic types of stuff. We used to go to the Caribbean and lay on the beach for a week. But around 2005 we decided we thought we’d expand our horizons.
So we don’t vacation anymore, we travel.
For about 95 percent of our trips we go on Tauck tours. We don’t have time to plan our vacations and with Tauck pretty much 95 percent of the trip is set up for you. So even when you land, there’s someone waiting for you, taking you to the hotel or wherever you are going.
We already have a trip planning for next June where we are going to fly to Vancouver and then go by train. You sleep one night on the train and wake up in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.
We’re not interested in going to Europe right now; we’ve been so many times I’m personally getting a little bored. And the truth of the matter is because of the state of the world today, we said, “Let’s go to Canada.”
We went to Europe two years ago so we flew to Brussels. And the year after that the airport in Belgium was blown to smithereens. So we said, “forget that.”
We’ve been to a lot of places where there eventually has been trouble such as a train station in Madrid, where they had those bombings in 2004.
My family is not crazy about going to Europe right now. God forbid, if something happens and I’m in Canada, I can still rent a car and come home.
And then there’s President Trump. My wife Esther says she’s “not interested in going to Europe and have them turn around and start yelling, your president is an asshole.”
I can guess what the sentiment is about Trump in Canada, but I’m not worried about the Canadians.
We’ve done things to make the airport experience easier for ourselves. I have Gold status in AAdvantage, and I got the American Airlines Citibank Executive card about four years ago. So we always fly American because I have so many miles and we get to use their Admirals Clubs. We have PreCheck through the Global Entry Program, which we got through the Executive card.
Esther says she’s never leaving our marriage. “I’m staying with him for the miles,” she says.
Having adequate Wi-Fi is a concern when we travel because we work a bit while we travel, even if it’s only five minutes or an hour per day. I usually buy an international phone package and we try to stay in places where hopefully we’ll get Wi-Fi.
We don’t care at all about social media. I have a Facebook account and I don’t really know how to use it and Esther checks it every once in awhile if she’s online and has nothing else to do. I see people so focused on Facebook and sharing their new pictures. My attitude is: find something better to do on vacation or stay home.
In fact, my wife’s daughter gave me a selfie stick for my birthday one year. I told her, “take it back.”
One concern I’ve been having is getting through airport security because I wore braces on my bad knees for several years before my knee-replacement surgery last year. In May we were leaving San Francisco and the titanium set off the TSA scanning machine. I was searched for a long time, and it was really screwed up. It was embarrassing. The TSA guy was touching my “stuff” and it was weird.
In Asia, we’ve traveled to Japan. We were on a ship, and the cabotage regulations meant we had to sail to South Korea. And then that asshole, Kim Jong-un shot off a missile.
“So you can’t even go there now,” says Esther, meaning Asia. “Where can you go? Canada.”
Jeremy Swift, as told to Sarah Enelow
Jeremy Swift is a 34-year-old African-American actor, who was born in Oklahoma and has been living in New York for five years. Swift went to South Korea in 2017 as a performer in Dreamgirls.
My friend and I went to Japan after performing in Korea and I bought a ninja star. I stuck it in my bag, they gift wrapped it and everything. My friend told me to make sure I put it in my checked baggage before we got to the airport.
We go through security. My bag goes through, and I’m thinking that they’re not going to let me take a bottle of Listerine I forgot. So they push it through and say, “We need to check that one more time.” So it goes through again. I’m still thinking about the Listerine. I’m mad, but you know, it was $5; I’m cheap.
I asked them what they were looking for and the security agent wants to know, is there “metal or something” in my bag? I was telling him that I had remembered to take my laptop out just as he pulls out the ninja star.
My friend started screaming and I literally just threw up my hands. I’m certain I’m going to jail or at the least I’m going to get cavity searched. I’m sure I turned red, white, orange, and purple. My friend just kept saying, “Oh my God, oh my God.” She goes, “He didn’t mean it, he didn’t do it on purpose.”
The Japanese agent is much cooler than us. “You can’t have this. Have a nice day,” he says. My friend asks if I can put it in my checked bag and the agent helpfully says, “Let me make a phone call.” He calls the counter and then walks me back through security with the ninja star.
Of course, I’m thinking that if this was America, I probably would have been shot in the face, twice. This just doesn’t fly. I was so shocked at how understanding they were. My friend tells me that in America they would have said, “Take it all off. We are searching every crack you have.”
That was one the scariest moments I’ve had.
On the other end of the trip, it’s a different story. The second we get off the plane in America, this six foot five, 300-pound black man starts yelling in this tourist’s face because she didn’t have her paperwork straight, or something like that. And I was thinking why are people in America not nice? He was literally screaming at her. She was stammering while the man barked orders at her.
Like, I’m sure it’s in her bag, calm down.
I’m a goofball. I’ll sing in the airport security line, dance in line, I’ll rap your name, I’ll just do weird stuff because sometimes flying is stressful. Some TSA agents will look at me like they are going to put me on the no-fly list. And some will join in and dance with me. It just makes things a little lighter. Sometimes I get some nice people. Other times I get ones who I know are thinking, “I have been on this shift since 1974. Shut up.”
Joshua Robinson, as told to Sarah Enelow
Joshua Robinson is a 31-year-old designer of Chilean descent who was raised in Sydney, Australia. He now lives in New York City with his American husband.
I hate security and going through the process of immigration. It’s just scary. I guess I have nothing to fear. I’ve got the correct papers, so why would it be scary?
I’m just scared that they’re going to say, “You can’t come in.”
The first time that I came into the U.S. as an adult was with a J-1 visa. They totally grilled me at that time, but then the next couple of times, once I had the green card, they just looked at the document and they’d write, stamp — so there’s nothing to fear.
What do they do with all those documents? Is it processed at the time? Or is it processed later?
You think that you have everything in order, but what if you don’t? Going through the green card process, you do that with a lawyer so I always know that that’s a backup plan.
I always wonder, would they question my marriage for some reason? My husband advocates for me, plus he’s white. When he’s with me I’m fine.
The media coverage and the facts of the immigration ban contribute to paranoia. And it’s the fact that people had gone and done their research and got their papers correct and then came here and then a certain few were questioned and sent back.
I definitely feel like being Australian we have a close alliance with the U.S.
I didn’t realize how Americans are perceived by some different nations compared to Australia. Australia is friendly. We don’t have really any conflicts with anyone.
My husband Matt and I recently came back from Mexico. I’m in a transition period with my green card where I have a temporary one while they put me onto the 10-year green card. Because my actual card is expired, I have a letter from the government saying that it has been renewed for one year. I just felt like this flimsy letter feels like a letter from your parents to the teacher, it’s like, “Yeah, he’s fine,” but there was just this paranoia of my actual card having an expiring date. But it was fine — we went to the officer and she was like, “Great. Stamp. Next.”
I was just thinking of stories from friends. Some of them have misdemeanors. One of them — every time she comes through immigration — she gets escorted to the little room where they just double check everything.
My friend who’s from Saudi Arabia has no criminal history. Zero.
Whenever he comes to Australia, he’s always escorted into the room, no matter what.
Ping Chan, as told to Andrew Sheivachman
Ping Chan is a 27-year-old Asian-American graphic designer at Skift, who was born in China and has been living in the U.S. for 11 years. Chan is currently a resident of the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
When I first came to the U.S., it was 11 years ago, not long after 9/11 so the authorities were really serious about who was entering the country. My Dad looks really dark-skinned so Customs officers pulled us into a room and interviewed us for 30 minutes, basically asking us why we were here.
I told them I was here to travel. But they found a letter in my bag from a friend telling me to have fun in school. They said I was lying, I was so scared, and then they pulled my Dad away to interview us separately.
Everything is kind of a blur now, but then they let us pass anyway. They only left me with a month to stay, even though my parents had longer visas, and I became illegal because my parents didn’t bother to change my status. The high school had accepted me; I could have switched to a student visa and avoided this. I don’t know whether my parents didn’t care, or messed something up, or what.
The first five years, I really wanted to go back to China, but then I accepted my fate. Skype and all that makes life easier. Honestly before I got my DACA, I couldn’t travel anywhere. I was basically illegal. I was so scared; I was about 15 years old when I came here with my parents, I didn’t know anything about how visas work.
Anywhere I would go, I wouldn’t go to the airport and fly. I would take the bus, even from Indiana to New York which is like a ten-hour bus ride. I would rather take the bus. I thought the bus was the only option. Now I’ve got my DACA, and I can go to the airport. I only fly domestic of course. I would like to visit a place like Cuba, for instance, but can’t. When I travel the country I visit places like Austin and the furthest I’ve gone is Palm Springs in California.
I really want to go to Hawaii, it’s been a part of my childhood dream. It’s the furthest state away from the mainland U.S., and closest to Asia. Even with that, I feel like I have to be really careful and look up whether I can go there without a passport or something else. Even though Hawaii is a part of the U.S., I have second thoughts. Am I really allowed to go? Will I be allowed to come back? I have to do a lot of research on it if I want to go.
I’m worried now because of the Trump Administration repealing DACA. The news came out on my birthday, and it was very upsetting. I don’t know what I can do, it’s very confusing.
via Skift https://skift.com
November 1, 2017 at 06:05AM
Skift Call November 7: A Framework for Overtourism Solutions
— Dennis Schaal
In the past few years, since we started describing destinations struggling with throngs of tourists outpacing locals and cities’ ability to cope as “overtourism,” the term has become a go-to characterization within the travel industry and mainstream media.
Naming and defining a problem is a step toward taking remedial steps. But as Skift senior writer Andrew Sheivachman asked in this piece, Proposing Solutions to Overtourism in Popular Destinations: A Skift Framework, “Why have some destinations thrown up their hands in helplessness in dealing with the deluge of tourists? And what have other destinations done to successfully limit the effects of increased visitation?”
Member of the Skift editorial team and an expert on overtourism- and sustainability-related issues will explore these issues with you on Tuesday, November 7 at 1 p.m. EST in a Skift Call: A Framework for Overtourism Solutions.
Details about dialing into the webinar or joining the meeting online will be provided — after you register below — in a reminder email on Tuesday, November 7.
Here are some details about the call:
Skift Call: A Framework for Overtourism Solutions
Join us on Tuesday, November 7 at 1 p.m. EST for a conference call with Skift’s Editorial team to discuss overtourism’s effects on global destinations and the steps that cities can take to embrace sustainable tourism.
On this call, you’ll hear from Skift senior writer Andrew Sheivachman, tourism reporter Dan Peltier, and other Skift experts as they provide their perspectives on the struggles some destinations around the world face as tourism scales up too rapidly to accommodate.
Joining the Skift team for the call will be Megan Epler Wood, director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. Epler Wood’s latest book, Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet, was released earlier this year.
via Skift https://skift.com
November 1, 2017 at 05:01AM