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2018: The year that was

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

Twenty eighteen was a “win some, lose some” year in travel. Travelers neither gained nor lost across the boards, and these days not losing is almost as good as winning. Here are my awards for the 2018 events that will have the biggest impact in 2019 and beyond.

Yogi Berra Trophy: Overtourism. “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” Yogi’s famous quote — not really Yogi’s, but who cares — is only half right about major visitor destinations: They’re too crowded, but people keep going there, anyway. Although overtourism has been a problem for several years, 2018 was the year that it first gained widespread attention, and with good reason. Major tourist magnets from Skagway to Yosemite to Reykjavik to Barcelona to Venice all faced enough visitors as to overwhelm local populations and facilities. Small cruise ports everywhere have a tough time coping with the arrival of 5,000-passsenger cruise ships, and cruisers have a tough time avoiding the mob. Resource managers are finally taking the problem seriously, with some locations already limiting access in some way. For travelers, the best strategy is to avoid going in the busiest seasons — for many, easier said than done.

Year’s Worst Idea: Drones around Airports. The last week of the year, seasonally ultra-busy London/Gatwick airport had to shut down completely, for extended periods of time, due to the suspected presence of drones. Later, the folks there decided that maybe there weren’t really any drones, but the idea certainly was. Sophisticated drones are cheap, widely available, unregulated and easy for anyone to fly. Regardless of what actually happened at Gatwick, you can bet that idiots around the world will say “that looks like fun.” And I mean any idiots, not just terrorists. Travelers and governments currently have no strategies or easy fixes, so you can look to real Gatwick-like problems in 2019.

Cockamamie Idea of the Year: Bisect Southwest Chief. Amtrak floated the idea — realistically — about splitting the Southwest Chief into separate eastern and western rail sections, with bus service linking them between Dodge City and Albuquerque. It’s clear that current Amtrak management would like to dissemble Amtrak’s long-distance system, and if they can’t do it in one big cut, they’re going to try a thousand small cuts.

Enough, Already: “Lifestyle” Babble. These days, hotel flacks rival wine merchants for over-the-top descriptions that nobody really understands. We get endless babble about “Lifestyle” hotels designed for “millennials” without finding out anything specific about how that hotel differs from every other hotel. A little less purple prose and more facts would be a most welcome change, but don’t count on it. Similarly, airline people delve into Roget for as many colorful adjectives as they can find to describe their line’s new “livery,” which is ad-speak for “paint job.” And they seem oblivious to the fact that travelers don’t give a hoot.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Airline bankruptcies. 2018 wasn’t kind to transatlantic low-fare airlines: Primera disappeared, WOW had to cut flying by more than half, and some reports say that Norwegian is circling the drain. Clearly, $99 transatlantic airfares do not constitute a viable business model. Several European and Asian low-fare lines also died, victims of the clash between overenthusiastic expectations and hard realities. I suspect we’ll see more of the same in 2019. Fortunately, now that Alaska saved Virgin America, the U.S. system no longer has any obvious weaklings.

Relief from the Cattle Car: Moxy (or Whatever). David Neelemen’s new U.S. startup, temporarily called “Moxy,” but not ultimately, looks to be real. The idea is to use Airbus A220s — formerly Bombardier C-Series — to offer low-fare but high-quality flights from secondary airports. The “high quality” part is due, in part, to the A220 cabin design: Seats will be five-across rather than the usual six, and each seat will be one to two inches wider than seats on 737s and A320s. “High quality, low-cost” has been a graveyard for startup lines for decades, but Neeleman seems to have the magic touch: Whatever it turns out to be called, Moxy will be his fourth start-up after three successes.

(c) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– December 31, 2018

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s rail travel website at Rail-Guru.com.)

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