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.

Is Farm-To-Hotel The Latest Lodging Trend?


At home there’s the backyard garden, the local co-op farmers market and the stash of homemade pickles, but on the road, what’s a food-loving locavore to do? Track down a farm-to-hotel of course.

Hotel restaurants aren’t normally at the top of the list of a traveler’s places to eat, but sometimes time and efficiency leave you eating at the dining room on the first floor of wherever you’re staying, especially if you’re a business traveler. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the food you’re getting comes from close by?

The New York Times reports that that’s exactly what some travelers are looking for.

At a visit last winter to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, Canada, Ms. Driscoll said she was happy to discover a French fries dish called poutine, made with Alberta beef, that was served in the hotel’s lounge. “It gave me a unique feeling of a sense of place,” she said. “Local foods give you a great feeling of culture in a very short period of time, especially when you’re traveling on business.”

But it’s not just specialty and boutique hotels that are taking on the trend. Hyatt Hotels Corporation started a food initiative last May that requires that its chefs at about 120 hotels in the US, Canada and Caribbean incorporate at least five local ingredients in their menus; “local” being defined as within 50 miles of the hotel location.

That doesn’t make the entire restaurant a hub for locavores, but it’s certainly a start.

Via: New York Times

[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]

Holiday Inn Or Hampton Inn? Trying To Decode Priceline’s Star Ratings System

william shatnerI’m a cheapskate and a risk taker, so Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” bidding tool was made for me. Over the years, I’ve bid on and gotten three- and four-star hotels in cities all over North America and Europe for an average of about $75 per night and as little as $35 using the free-re bid system outlined here. I love the deals but for me, part of the fun is the serendipity of seeing William Shatner, the Priceline spokesperson, pointing at me on my computer screen, watching the page spin and then seeing it spit out a result. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than playing the slots but sometimes the Priceline gods give you a baffling selection.

Before I bid, I usually use the site Bidding for Travel to do a little research and develop a bidding strategy and I often use Priceline’s ordinary hotel search just to see what pops up and what the star level and geographic bidding zone is. For example, if I’m thinking of bidding on three-star hotels in downtown Cincinnati, I’ll look at their search results and take note of what three-star hotels there are downtown in the search results because, chances are, you’ll get one of those. And if you know how to bid, you’re likely to get the room for a lower price than what you see advertised in the search function.I’ve used Priceline for hotels and car rentals dozens of times over the years and have been satisfied with the results at least 90 percent of the time. But last week, I bid on hotel rooms in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, at the beginning and end of a road trip and found the hotel classifications in both cities puzzling.

In the Steel City, I bid on a three-star hotel in the Pittsburgh South Side zone and got the Holiday Inn Express Pittsburgh-South Side. I was a little surprised because I’d previously gotten Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels via Priceline only on two or 2 1/2-star bids, but never on a three-star bid. Also, there are four other HI Express hotels in the Pittsburgh area (not in that specific zone) that are rated 2 1/2-star hotels and one HI Express rated as a two-star hotel in Priceline’s hotel search function.

There are also seven Hampton Inn locations in Pittsburgh that come up in Priceline’s search. Five are rated as two-star hotels and three are rated 2 1/2-star properties. I found the HI Express we stayed at to be adequate but a notch below chains like Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Marriott, Hyatt Place and so on.

Later that week, I bid on a three-star hotel in the Cincinnati North-Sharonville zone, after striking out at the four-star level, and got the Holiday Inn I-275 North (now is that a romantic sounding hotel or what?). Despite a lot of so-so reviews of this place on Trip Advisor, I thought it was decent, but again, not quite as nice as many of the Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt brands that I’ve often secured with three-star bids on Priceline. I have no beef with the HI brand but in general I think the quality of the mattresses and pillows and the décor at many HI and HI Express locations are a notch below some of the other major chains mentioned above.

In Cincinnati, Priceline rates four Hampton Inn’s at 2 1/2 stars and three at just two stars. And there is a Hilton Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites by Hilton both rated 2 1/2. In my opinion, these chains are typically ahead of Holiday Inn, not behind it.

Priceline also rates two Crowne Plaza’s north of the city as three-star hotels. Since Crowne Plaza is supposed to be Holiday Inn’s upscale brand, I’m not sure how they can rate nearby HI’s the same as Crowne Plazas. And perhaps most curiously, they rate the Holiday Inn Riverfront just 2 1/2 stars, despite the fact that it has significantly better customer reviews on Trip Advisor than the three-star I-275 location.

After my trip I contacted Priceline for an explanation of how they rate hotels and a spokesperson told me that they evaluate each property on an individual basis, so bidders can’t count on a chain always having the same star rating (i.e. all Holiday Inn’s being 2 1/2 or all Courtyards being three, etc.).

When I asked why a Holiday Inn would be rated higher than a Hampton Inn, for example, the spokesperson said that three-star properties might be more likely to have a full service restaurant and an on-site fitness center than a 2 1/2-star hotel. This didn’t explain my two bids, neither of which had full service restaurants, but he also said that the age of the property and its overall condition are factors. Additionally, Priceline says that they pay attention to the customer service surveys they send out and hotels can have their ratings changed depending on the feedback they get.

In fairness to Priceline, Hotel Deals Revealed did an analysis of their star ratings versus Hotwire’s and found that Priceline was significantly more conservative in assigning star ratings. And hey, if you bid two stars and get a Hampton Inn, that’s a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

What can bidders learn from my experience and from Priceline’s response to my inquiry?

1. Do your research. On these two occasions in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, I didn’t have time to comb through the search function and look at the zones on Bidding for Travel, but this is the best way to preview what you might get.
2. Take their survey. It’s a good idea to complete their survey no matter what your experience is, but it’s particularly important if you have a disappointing stay. If enough customers complain about a property, they will reassign its rating.
3. Expect the worst. Imagine the worst-case scenario and assume that you’ll get the least desirable property. If you can’t deal with the hotel that you least prefer in that zone and star level, either move up a star level or don’t bid at all.
4. What amenities do you want? I rarely take meals at the hotel and if the place doesn’t have a good gym, that isn’t a deal breaker for me. I’m most interested in having a nice room with smart décor and a very comfortable bed with quality pillows and linen. It’s important to know what your priorities are and understand that Priceline takes factors into account that you may or may not care about. For example, if you are keen to stay in a hotel with a full service restaurant, it’s probably pretty risky for you to bid on hotels below the three-star level.

[Photo credit: Loren Javier on Flickr]

Tips For Gaming Hotel Websites To Get The Best Room Rates

hotel corridorMajor hotel chains have sophisticated software that dictates room rates based upon expected occupancy, but with a little knowledge and a bit of effort you can ensure that you get the best deal. The key to getting the best possible price is understanding hotel demand and trying different search terms to see which combination of dates yield the lowest prices.

Depending on location and time of year, some hotels have dramatically higher occupancy on the weekend, while others that cater to business travelers are busier during the week. If you want to save money, schedule your trip accordingly.

For example, let’s say you’d like to spend a week dividing time between San Francisco and the nearby Sonoma County wine region. If you want to save a bundle on hotels, hit Sonoma during the week, when it’s nice and quiet and the room rates are low, and then on the weekend stay in a business class hotel in the suburbs of San Francisco or in Silicon Valley.In many destinations, you can find a good deal on hotels any night of the week, save Saturday nights and sometimes Fridays. You can either work around this, as outlined above, or manipulate your search terms to make sure you’re not paying the higher Saturday night rate for more than one night.

If you plan to stay more than one night at a chain hotel, particularly if part but not all of your stay includes a weekend night, definitely split apart your travel dates into one-night increments to see how the price changes. For example, if you search for a room on the website of the Hilton Inn at Penn in Philadelphia for a two-night stay, checking in this Saturday night, you’ll find a AAA rate of $260 per night. But if you split your search term to see the price for Saturday night and Sunday night, you’ll notice that while the Saturday rate is $260, the AAA rate for Sunday night plummets to just $134. The Hilton is quite content to charge you the higher rate for both nights but you’d be a fool to pay it.

This is not an isolated example. I did a quick search for other hotels this weekend and almost every hotel I checked out had a different rate for Saturday night versus Sunday night, but none offered the Sunday discount to the customer booking both nights together in one reservation on their sites. The Renaissance Marriott in Philadelphia offers a AAA rate of $279.95 for a two-night, Saturday, Sunday stay this weekend, but if you search just for Sunday night, you’ll notice the rate plummets to $180.45 – though you don’t get that rate unless you make two reservations.

The Hyatt Regency on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago has a Saturday night rate of $170 versus $116 on Sunday, but again their site doesn’t give you the lower Sunday rate unless you make two reservations. And the same goes for Chicago’s Westin River North, which has a $233 versus $118 split for this weekend.

The split can work the other way as well, especially in the suburbs. For example, the Hyatt House in Plymouth Meeting, outside Philadelphia is $18 more expensive on Sunday night compared to Saturday this weekend. And there are also occasions when the hotel offers a better rate for multiple night stays compared to a single night stay. Again, it all depends on expected occupancy.

This summer, Orbitz got a lot of bad press after admitting that it shows higher priced hotel options to those searching for rooms on a Mac, so many advocate double checking searches on a PC, if you can, but I tested various searches on my PC and my MAC and they all appeared to yield the same results.

The bottom line is that you always need to check and split apart your travel dates when searching for a multiple-night stay. If you can save money by making multiple reservations, go for it, and add a note in the comments section asking them to combine the reservations so you don’t have to move rooms.

Then remind them again when you check in. Or, to simplify matters, call the hotel directly, tell them what you discovered online and ask them to extend the lower rate for your entire stay. They might not do it, but it’s worth a try. Whatever you do, don’t throw away money by failing to explore all your options online before booking.

[Photo credit:Uggboy Ugggirl on Flickr]

The Southern Road: Visiting The Luxury South

Chris Hastings has beaten Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. This year, he won a James Beard Award. On any weeknight, his restaurant is packed with diners who look over the shoulders of his kitchen crew as they cook right in front of their eyes. But Hastings isn’t cooking in Manhattan or Chicago or San Francisco.

He owns Hot and Hot Fish Club, in Birmingham, Alabama, and he’s in the forefront of a legion of chefs across the Deep South who are turning out some of the finest food in the United States. In turn, these top chefs and their restaurant owners are directly linked to the wealth that is resulting from the auto plants in their midst.

The Luxury South existed in pockets before the auto industry arrived. There have always been elite schools, like Old Miss, Vanderbilt and Tulane, and sprawling homes and plantations everywhere from Savannah to Mobile. But the critical mass of car plants has provided new opportunities for the South to attain its own luxury status.

The evidence is most visible in two places – Greenville, S.C., near BMW’s only American plant, and in the Birmingham area, where Mercedes-Benz built its sprawling factory in Vance, AL.

Turn down Main Street in Greenville, and you’ll find an array of bars, restaurants and hotels that would seem right at home in any upscale American city. They sit just a short walk from Fluor Field, where the minor league Greenville Drive play in a stadium modeled after Fenway Park.

Among the team’s long list of corporate sponsors is the BMW Performance Driving School, which is just across the road from the gleaming white factory that BMW opened here in 1994.BMW owners from across the country can take delivery of their vehicles in Greenville, and get lessons in how to drive them. They can dine in BMW’s cafe, buy souvenir shot glasses and water bottles in the BMW gift shop, and take a tour of the factory, which has become famous from BMW’s ads.

A number of those BMW customers have found their way to the collection of restaurants owned by Carl Sobocinski, the unquestioned king of the local food scene, who is a chief beneficiary of the Luxury South.

His stable ranges from his white table cloth restaurant, Devereaux’s, to Soby’s, a bustling bar and grill, to The Lazy Goat, his attempt at a Mediterranean restaurant.

Sobocinski, who opened his first restaurant at age 25 in 1992, is one of those restaurant owners who his patrons greet by name and in many cases thank for investing in their town. “It was dead down here,” John Bauka, a Soby’s patron declared, unasked, when he came up to shake Sobocinski’s hand after a meal. In those days, only two blocks near the city’s Hyatt Hotel were at all lively.

“Everything down here was kind of boarded up,” Sobocinski said. “It was huge, in how fast it went” after BMW arrived. “We had Michelin, we had General Electric, we had Fluor, but they didn’t bring the suppliers that we have here now.”

More than 100 other companies have opened up since BMW arrived, bringing a flood of newcomers to the area. “They were bringing people in, I’d meet them, and all of a sudden they’re calling and saying, we’re bringing in some important people, we need a quiet place,’ he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. I always say, I’d rather be lucky than good.”

The growth has bothered some locals: “You’ll have people say, why are we giving away the farm? And others who say this is the way to go,” Sobocinski says.

In Birmingham, it would be difficult to find anyone who thinks Mercedes-Benz has been anything but a plus to the community, although the investment didn’t come without risks. In 1993, the state put together a then-staggering $253 million incentive package to land the plant, but then was in danger of not being able to come up with the money. Help arrived from the state’s pension fund, and the Mercedes project was able to go forward.

Now, Mercedes is the centerpiece of aggressive growth for Birmingham and a further enhancement for Tuscaloosa, which already boasts the University of Alabama’s lavish campus. In the years since Mercedes arrived, Birmingham has become a smaller version of Atlanta, minus the crippling traffic. It was already the financial capital of Montgomery, but now it has become a bustling, medium sized city that is the center of the southern auto industry.

In another era, it might seem ludicrous that a chef like Hastings would beat out four competitors from New Orleans to win the Beard Award as the best chef in the South. Not any more.

It only takes a few minutes in his restaurant to understand why. Hot and Hot opens at 5:30 p.m., and on many nights, it is packed by 6 p.m. Hastings is often at the door, in his chef’s coat, to say hello to guests, sign his cookbook, and deal with special requests. There’s no camouflaging what’s happening in the kitchen, because the restaurant is essentially built around an open kitchen.

Dinners who sit at the chef’s counter have an up close view of their meals being prepared, as well as all the other steps that go into each dish. They can watch cooks using blow torches and painstakingly sautéing peaches. None of this is frenetic: in fact, there is a sense of politeness, camaraderie and calm to the proceedings that put lie to the tension of “Kitchen Nightmares.”

After directing a nine-course, small bites dinner for me that included three desserts, home made rye bread and biscuits, an amazing gazpacho and the best soft-shelled crab I’d ever eaten, Hastings took me on a tour.

It didn’t take long, because the restaurant has just one tiny area where the locally grown fruits and vegetables are prepared, as well as the walk-in refrigerators where meat and fish are stored. The quality is outstanding from the minute produce arrives, as I discovered when I ate one of the heirloom tomatoes he gave me to take home.

Although he has just this one restaurant, Hastings’ influence spreads out in the food world well beyond Birmingham. And, he’s not the only chef in town who’s transcended the local scene. One of the city’s other standout chefs, Frank Stitt, has won similar praise for his Highlands Bar and Grill. Like Sobocinski in Greenville, Stitt has his own collection, ranging from French bistro to Italian cafe.

The flourishing Birmingham restaurant scene right in sync with the atmosphere at the Mercedes plant, with its vast, sparkling clean aisles.

As in Greenville, Mercedes has gone all out to court its customers, who can visit a museum, take a tour, and shop for souvenirs, from picnic baskets to golf shirts and tennis balls with the Mercedes logo. It’s truly a luxury experience, unlike anything imaginable before the auto industry got here. And the impact is being shared throughout the community, as well.

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

Hot and Hot Fish Club, 2180 11th Court South, Birmingham, AL 205-933-5474 for reservations (it does not accept them online)

Soby’s, 207 S. Main Street, Greenville, S.C., 864-232-7007 (the restaurant accepts reservations online)