Newest Space Tourism Venture To Dangle Travelers From A Helium Balloon

Helium Balloon Space Tourism Flight
Photo: World View Enterprises, Inc

Another day, another space tourism venture announced-but this one caught our attention for being a little different from most. Rather than shooting travelers up in rockets, an American company says it’s planning to dangle space tourists in a capsule attached to a helium balloon.

World View Enterprises will use a helium balloon to slowly lift travelers up to the edge of space as they sit in a luxurious space capsule. After the ride is over, the capsule will detach from the helium balloon and float back down to Earth with the aid of a parachute. While that all sounds a little precarious, the company says balloons like this have been sent into space for decades and the whole process is actually quite low-risk.The helium balloon rides will take travelers up about 20 miles into the sky. Although that’s not technically space, which is around 60 miles up, travelers will still be in for a nice view that includes being able to see the curvature of the earth.

And if space travel has mostly sounded like the domain of the super rich so far, the good news is that the balloon space trip will be somewhat more affordable than the other options that have been proposed. A two-hour journey will set you back about $75,000, which is a fair deal cheaper than Virgin Galactic’s space flights that cost a quarter of a million dollars. Tickets for the World View space flights are expected to go on sale in a few months.

Hotel Concierges To Cure Your Hangover And Fix Your Love Life

Pouring a drink
Dinner Series, Flickr

If you’re like many hotel guests, you probably just waltz right past the concierge desk without a second thought. After all, unless you need a hard-to-get restaurant reservation or last minute theater tickets, you can probably figure out whatever you want to know with a quick search of Google. But what if we told you your concierge might be able to help you quell that nasty hangover, or that they could put the spark back into your love life?

A growing number of high end hotels are bringing in specialty concierges whose job is to provide more personalized services to hotel guests. For example, Westin Hotels & Resorts has recently employed a running concierge who can share advice and help guests achieve their fitness goals. Meanwhile the Viceroy Riviera Maya has its own soap concierge for the traveler who just can’t bathe without some hand-shaved artisanal soap.

One specialty concierge we can imagine being in high demand is the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans’ “Recovery Concierge.” Guests who partied a little too hard can head to the concierge for hangover help, and might find themselves being prescribed a hair of the dog treatment, an in-room massage, or some fresh fruit to give them a healthy energy boost. And then there’s the “Romance Concierge” at the Rendezvous in St Lucia. Her job is to help romantically challenged individuals woo their partner by organizing private dates on the beach, musical serenades, and private sunset cruises, among other things.

What kind of fantasy concierge service would you like to see in a hotel?

Who Are the Richest People in Travel?

Andrew Magill, Flickr

Skift took a look at the recent Forbes 400 list and pulled out all the people that had a connection to the travel industry. It found 30 people on the list who were in some way involved with travel.

It’s no news that there’s money to be had in travel. In fact, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2012, global tourism was responsible for $2.1 trillion to global GDP and 101 million jobs.

So who’s on the list? The top spot for the richest travel investor goes to Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise Rent A Car, with a net worth of $11.4 billion, and who comes in at No. 36 on the overall list. But maybe more impressive is the Pritzker family, the owners of Hyatt; 10 members of the family are on the Forbes 400 list.Based upon the rankings, hotels, casinos and cruise lines seem to be the most lucrative areas of travel investment. But then again, so is online media: Barry Diller of Expedia has a net worth of $2.1 billion.

According to Skift’s list, here are the top five richest people in the travel industry, with their overall Forbes listing:

36 Jack Taylor and Family Enterprise Rent A Car $11.4 billion
61 John Malone Cable TV, Expedia $6.7 billion
61 Elon Musk Tesla Motors $6.7 billion
70 Micky Arison Carnival $5.9 billion
118 Barbara Carlson Gage hotels, restaurants $3.9 billion

Looks like it’s time to go and brainstorm a new travel app that rents cars in a luxury casino on a cruise.

Before You Book: Eco-Friendly Hotel Or Just Greenwashing?

can of green paint and brush

velo_city, Flickr

We’ve all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they’re doing their part to save the environment. Don’t want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang ‘em up, and the housekeeper will know that you’re a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.

Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I’ve seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don’t have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, “eco-friendly,” or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.

My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I’m overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn’t thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn’t unique to hotels, but it’s prevalent.

African man holding fish

safari_partners, Flickr


We’re living in an era of climate change. Lowering our individual and collective carbon footprint should be something we do, to the best of our abilities, on a daily basis. Hotels are hip to the fact that an increasing number of travelers have an elevated eco-awareness, and they want to capitalize on that.

In the absence of a word-of-mouth or written recommendation, it can be difficult to ascertain a hotel’s eco-integrity (although certain chains are well-known for their green policies; a 2012 Reuters report cites chains like Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Taj Resorts, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott).

Sites like Green Traveler Guides, however, (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) exist as unofficial industry watchdogs, reviewing properties and assessing their green policies. If you’re looking for a hotel or resort that’s genuinely green, sites like GTG feature properties that are both green and great, as well as provide tips on how to be a more eco-minded traveler. Other resources include sites like Green Lodging News.

hotel with exterior living wall

Rev_Stan, Flickr

For a quick study, here’s a checklist of what to look for when researching hotels:

  • If the only mentions refer to buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-lodge,” or “environment,” caveat emptor. There’s no law that prohibits the use of green jargon; it’s up to you as a consumer to do your homework.
  • Is there a bona-fide recycling (bonus points for composting) program?
  • Does the property employ locals/incorporate and support local culture and community? How?
  • Is the property built and furnished with natural and/or reclaimed or renewable materials wherever possible?
  • Are there green options for guests, such as bike rentals and local culture-based activities?
  • Does the property have green certification from a legit international or domestic organization or program?
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • Does the property use alternative fuel or electric carts for guest transit on-site and off?
  • Are bathroom amenities and cleaning agents chemical-free? Bonus points your in-room goodies are locally made.
  • If there’s on-site dining, is the food seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible (which reduces fossil fuel output as well as promotes local food security)? Do family farmers, ranchers and fisherman supply ingredients? Is there a chemical-free on-site rooftop or other garden from which the restaurant sources product?
  • Does the property have a “living roof” or walls?
  • Is the property using alternative resources for operations? Examples include solar or wind power, geothermal heating and reclaimed water systems.

10 Things You Wouldn’t Expect From An All-Inclusive Resort


I’ve never considered myself an “all-inclusive resort” type of person. Sprawling grounds filled with “vacation activities” always seemed disingenuous to me and from the snippets of reviews I had heard or read online, they seemed filled with buffets of terrible food and children running amok.

So when my husband and I found ourselves exhausted and at our wits’ end last year in the Yucatan, we decided to take a chance and stay at an all-inclusive resort for the first time, one that was purportedly not at all like the others. If the reviews were right, that was just what we needed — a place to decompress before our flight back to New York.

That less-than-48-hour stay at Grand Velas Riviera Maya taught me an important lesson: do not judge an all-inclusive resort by the reputation of all-inclusive resorts. When I found myself at a Grand Velas property again recently, this time it was Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit on the country’s western coast, just north of Puerto Vallarta. My stay there was also short but it confirmed for me that all-inclusive resorts aren’t always the culture-less play areas they are made out to be. Between the two properties, Grand Velas proved several assumptions of mine wrong.

Here are 10 things I didn’t expect from an all-inclusive resort:

1. Gourmet Vegan Food
I try not to expect gourmet vegan food from anyone anywhere –- it’s just too tall of an order for most restaurants. So I was ecstatic when I found that an all-inclusive resort could whip up vegan food for me on a whim while keeping it as classy as the other dishes on the restaurants’ menus. Yemaya, a new luxury resort on Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island, also offers exceptional vegan food.

%Slideshow-99762%2. A Welcome Massage
Massages are luxuries you almost always have to pay for, but at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, masseuses from the resort’s spa welcomed me with a neck and shoulders massage as I was checking in.

3. Exceptional Emergency Care
My husband hurt his ankle while trekking the Appalachian Trail just a few days before our trip to Riviera Nayarit. He left his cane at home and by the time we arrived to Puerto Vallarta, his ankle had swelled to size of a baseball from all of the airport walking throughout the day. I mentioned this in passing to our driver and when we arrived to resort, a medic and a team of employees immediately worked to alleviate his pain. They rubbed an anti-inflammatory salve all over the ankle, wrapped it and proceeded to stock our room with a cane, crutches and a wheelchair so that he could navigate his way around the resort as easily as possible. All of this because I simply mentioned his hurt ankle in the airport shuttle to our driver.

4. 5-Star Fine-Dining Restaurants
One of the most surprising things about my all-inclusive resort experience was that all of the restaurants on site were five-star. In fact, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is now the first all-inclusive resort to have a restaurant receive the AAA five diamond award. People who weren’t staying at the resorts came here to eat at the restaurants. And all of the beverages were included –- from the impressive wine list to top-shelf liquor options. Similarly, Curtain Bluff in Antigua, another all-inclusive resort, boasts a 25,000 bottle wine cellar.

5. A Micro Spa In Every Room
All of the rooms at these resorts included jacuzzi tubs and a selection of soaking and exfoliating salts and other spa basics.

6. A Well-Stocked Minibar That’s Actually Included
I’ve made a habit of never even looking in a minibar. I don’t like the idea of mistakenly purchasing a $5 soda, so I try not to temp myself. But at this resort, not only was the minibar included in its entirety, but its entirety was pretty impressive. Excellence Resorts also include a well-stocked minibar without any additional charge.

7. 24-7 Room Service
All that gourmet food I mentioned above? They would also bring it to you no matter what time it is. Add some nice champagne to your order. It doesn’t matter. It’s all included. Although you might not expect it, if you dig through information on luxury all-inclusive resorts, you’ll find many who offer 24-7 room service with phenomenal food.

8. Exhaustive Attention To Detail
The thing that struck me the most about these resort was their attention to detail. Every guest was assigned a personal concierge. The workers knew and remembered our names. Delicious evening chocolates were available at the end of the night. Presentation was never overlooked and it always felt as though they thought of everything.

9. Devoted Activity Planners
When I really wanted to find a way to get to Marietas Islands while I was at Riviera Nayarit, the resort staff really wanted to help me get there. The hotel’s travel agent made a lot of calls for me until she found a private boat owner who could take me out with last-minute notice for just a couple of hours, which was all the time I had. Unfortunately, his rate was far out of my budget, although understandable considering the inconvenience.

10. Immediate Return Shipment Of Items Left Behind
Finally, when my husband realized he’d left a new shirt in our room, I contacted a member of the staff who I had met during my stay. She not only located the shirt, but she shipped it from Puerto Vallarta to New York City with priority 2-day shipping. We were beyond impressed.

Tips for Booking All-Inclusive Vacations