family travel

Cities strive to out-sanitize each other in a bid for tourist dollars

(This is an ever so slightly different version of my story that posted on NBC News).

Would a “clean city” pledge get you to plan a trip?

We’re into what by all rights should be a busy summer travel season. But many states are hitting the breaks on reopening plans due to record spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Yet in many parts of the country, beaches and bars are filling up, hotel occupancy rates are rising and attractions such as zoos, aquariums and museums are welcoming back visitors.

Disney World Resort’s phased opening plans in Florida are on track, even though Disneyland’s plans in California are delayed.  

The push to reopen is being fueled in part by businesses starving for customers and cash flow. But also by a cooped up public cautiously optimistic about making travel plans and hoping for a slowdown in the spread of COVID-19.

Communities that for months have been asking guests to stay away are now scrambling for ways to get business and leisure travelers to come back.

Campaigns to get tourists back

Now, branded campaigns declaring a destination clean, safe, and sanitized are trending.

“Tourism has taken a serious blow and destinations are doing whatever they can to restore consumer confidence,” says Misty Belles, a managing director with the Virtuoso travel agency network. “We know that concerns over contracting the virus are one of the key barriers to getting people comfortable with traveling again, so cities across the country are touting their enhanced cleaning protocols to quell those fears,” she adds.

In Ohio, window decals and website badges in Columbus are a sign that businesses have signed the “Live Forward” pledge to make the health and safety of patrons a priority.

“To meet this obligation, we’ve established additional protection measures and trained our team in enhanced best practices for safety and sanitation,” says David Miller, President and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.

Cleveland’s Clean Committed campaign provides participating businesses with safety kits, guidelines, and materials to help make sure the city is ready for the return of visitors.

In Rochester, Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic), businesses in the Rochester Ready program are also implementing protocols in physical distancing, masking, cleaning, sanitizing and building ventilation.

Nashville’s Good to Go program is one of many with searchable databases of businesses that have vowed to adhere to coronavirus guidelines.

States are getting into the act as well. For example, Indiana has a Hoosier Hospitality Promise and the Count on Me NC public health initiative program stretches across North Carolina.

The list of vacation spots with clean campaigns is long and getting longer.

It is not only because cities are taking the health concerns of citizens and visitors seriously. Lodging industry consultant Bjorn Hanson says it also because “no destination manager or government entity wants to be viewed as doing less than others to attract and protect travelers.”

Will travelers trust a city’s seal of cleanliness?

Megan Tenney, whose family of six has been traveling full time since September 2018, now monitors COVID requirements and the health news in places the family is considering visiting.

“We’re focusing on places that seem to be doing better or were less affected to begin with,” said Tenney, “And I think a ‘clean campaign’ would give us the confidence to travel to a location.”

But while Brian DeRoy of Charleston, South Carolina feels that “whoever can market best in the game of being clean is going to have an advantage,” Seattle-based frequent traveler Rob Grabarek would not feel reassured by a city’s program alone.

“I’d have to examine the extent of a local government’s policies to see if I felt there were sufficient,” said Grabarek, “And while I applaud the idea of identifying businesses that are in compliance, I wouldn’t feel safe unless the entire community were adhering to the same stringent practices.”

Given that there is no single organization or government entity to oversee and assure that all these cleaning campaigns are effective, the emphasis on cleanliness as a destination marketing tool may not last long.

“Our travel advisors tell us there are really two traveler mindsets right now,” said Virtuoso’s Belles, “Those who want to pull back the curtain and know how everything they potentially come in contact with is being sterilized and those who just want to trust that it’s happening. Too much focus on cleanliness may actually backfire on those looking for the escapism in their vacation.”

What do you think? Would a city’s pledge of cleanliness be reassuring enough to get you to plan a trip?

Free ice-skating + free bag drop service at Denver Int’l Airport

Free ice-skating is back at Denver International Airport. DEN has also added a free early bag drop service.

The free ice-skating rink at Denver International Airport’s outdoor plaza is back again for its third season.

The rink is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through January 6 on the DEN Plaza between the main terminal and Westin hotel.

Even better, there’s no need to travel with your own skates.  The “Skate Shop” Airstream trailer located on the plaza has free skate rentals in many sizes.  For those who don’t want to skate, but just want to hang out, there are bleachers and lounge seating.

A partnership this year with United Airlines, the DEN ice rink will feature music each day and offer free hot chocolate and cider starting at noon on Fridays. There will also be special appearances and performances on the ice every Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. including curling lessons and mascot appearances.

“Ice skating on our pop-up ice rink has quickly become a signature event for Denver International Airport,” said CEO Kim Day. “It’s just another way we’re demonstrating our commitment to an improved passenger experience. For flight crews, travelers, employees and even local residents, skating with the dramatic backdrop of the Jeppesen Terminal is becoming a seasonal tradition.”

Denver International Airport recenty introduced another helpful amenity:  free early bag drop and check-in service at the Transit Center and at the Pikes Peak and Mt. Elbert shutttle parking lots.

The bag-drop service allows passengers to drop off their bags, check-in and get a boarding pass before entering the terminals luggage-free.

At the parking lots, travelers can drive in and drop off  their bags before they park. A greeter at the bag drop kiosk will remove the bags from the car, complete the check-in process process and print out a boarding pass. That means no luggage to drag onto and off of the shuttle van to the terminal. Nice!

Keep in mind, that bags must be dropped off at least 90 minutes before a flight. And while the bag drop service is free, those pesky airline baggage fees will still apply. But those fees can be paid at the bag drop locations too.

The DEN bag-drop service is being offering at the Transit Center daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m and at the shuttle parking lots Saturday–Thursday  from 2 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Friday from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Passengers traveling on domestic flights with Southwest, United, Delta and American Airlines are eligible to use the service. Flights to international destinations are not eligible for the bag drop service.

Find more details about the new bag drop service at Denveral International Airport here.

In a press release, Denver International Airport claims this is the first such service at an airport. But in 2012 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport introduced early bag drop service at its East Economy parking lot and at the PHX SkyTrain Station, expanding the service to the rental car center in 2014.

Unfortunately, PHX no longer offers early bag drop service. But here’s hoping it comes back.

How to keep you and your kids from going crazy at the airport

 

The holidays are fast approaching, and that means lots of families will be heading to airports with their kids.

Adults forced to hang out in airports can visit bars, tour shops or treat themselves to a nice meal, but I thought this would be a good time to share some tips I worked up last year for Travel + Leisure about giving kids something to do at the airport beyond crying, whining and getting underfoot at the gates.

 

Airport or a theme park?

Orlando_Airport_Snow White

An arcade, a 3,000-gallon aquarium in the Main Terminal food court, a fun fountain and photo-op ready statues of Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other celebrity characters make Orlando International feel more like a theme park than an airport.

Shops for the Kennedy Space Center, Disney, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando offer one last chance for must-have souvenirs. And the top floor of the parking garage is a great spot to watch the area’s nightly theme park fireworks – for free.

 Robots and Mr. Rogers

Mr Rogers at PIT

Pittsburgh International Airport entertains children with its freshly refurbished Kidsport area filled with interactive displays, an exhibit honoring the Steel City’s own Fred Rogers and his “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV show and a giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.

PIT is also home to an art installation billed as theWorld’s only in-airport robot repair shop,” and a giant transformer-like robotic figure inspired by the city’s bridges.

 

Child-friendly in Chicago

 

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the ever-popular “Kids on the Fly” play area in Terminal 2 lets little ones climb on airport-themed toys while, in Terminal 1, a four-story tall, 72-foot long skeleton model of abrachiosaurus looks down from its spot outside the Field Museum.

Kids get exercise and entertainment walking along the 744-foot-long kinetic neon light sculpture in the Terminal 1 underground walkway and a reason to look up “sustainability” after visiting the 26 soil-free plant towers in O’Hare’s aeroponic garden.

 

Play with pups – or pigs

Teams of adorable, stress-busting therapy dogs wearing “Pet Me!” vests regularly make the rounds at dozens of U.S. airports and the specially-trained pups (and, at SFO, a token pig) are happy to get hugs and kisses from kids.

The pooches will patiently pose for photos and their handlers usually have souvenir trading cards to give out featuring head shots and stats (i.e. age, breed and favorite treats) for each animal.

 

An airport or a museum?

Many airports stage family-friendly art and history exhibitions year-round.  Check your airport’s website for what’s on view when you’re traveling.

 

 

Sometimes the best part of hanging out with kids at the airport is the great show put on by the airplanes and the bustle of activity out on the airfield.

Watch from a window seat in a gate area or food court, or head for an airport observation deck.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport has a large pre-security viewing gallery (with exhibits and a snack bar) and there’s a small post-security viewing deck at the entrance to Terminal 2 in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Got some ‘kids at the airport’ tips to share?

500 kids color a new livery for a Korean Air plane

On Saturday morning, 500 lucky kids (and their parents) poured into a Korean Air hangar in Seoul, Korea to help color a giant picture that will soon wrap one of the airline’s Boeing 777-200 planes.

Korean Air livery design - photo Harriet Baskas

Map of the design to be colored by children – photo Harriet Baskas

The event marks the 10th anniversary of a competitive drawing contest in which one child’s drawing is usually chosen to adorn a plane. This year, however, the airline commissioned its own design and created a festival where children worked together in teams to color and paint sections of the 64 X 40-foot image that were then put together to form one colorful whole.

Korean Air livery

Here are some more snaps from the day, which included live music, a magician, crafts activities and a chance to tour a 787 plane.

Korean Air coloring event

 

Participants in Korean Air kids coloring festival

 

Korean Air coloring event

Putting all the pieces together

 

Korean Air art

Finished artwork – courtesy Korean Air

 

My attendance at the children’s coloring festival in Seoul is courtesy of Korean Air and kicks off a week of touring some of the carrier’s operations throughout the country. Stay tuned for more images and stories from my visit.

Pop-Up virtual reality experience at JFK T4

                                                                            

If you’re traveling through Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy Interational Airport in the next few months and have been curious about what all that fuss is about headsets offering viritual and mixed reality experiences, you’re in luck.

Periscape VR has opened a six-month pop-up shop with freestanding VR towers and 12 stations in the terminal to offer travelers a chance to test out the technolgy with 5-10 minute-long experiences costing $1 – $2 per minute.

The experiences are grouped into five categories and might offer a fun way to spend a few minutes while waiting for a flight.

Here’s the menu:

If you give it a try let us know how it works and if it’s something we should nominate for Airport Amenity of the Week.