Last week was a fairly busy time in travel, though none of the developments was well covered in the press. Here's our attempt to bring you up-to-date.
First, one of the largest of the airfare search engines, Expedia, acquired--for all intents and purposes--that other large search engine called Travelocity. Though Travelocity will technically remain a separate entity, it will permit Expedia to actually perform the work of finding airfares and flights for its customers. So in essence, and with the exception noted below, we now have only three major airfare search engines left to sell flight tickets to a large part of the American public: Priceline.com (now the largest of them all), Expedia.com, and Orbitz.com.
With one exception: unnoticed by almost everyone, the airfare search engine that's quaintly called CheapOAir has been gaining in stature and bookings to become the fourth largest of the general airfare search engines; it apparently does more than a billion dollars in business each year. And unlike the others, it actually encourages you to phone them and speak to a live reservationist (1-800/566-2345). That, perhaps, is the secret of its recent, stunning success. From now on, if you're intent on using an airfare search engine that will actually issue the ticket in which you're interested, you'll want to check Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and CheapOAir. Who would have thought that the last-named would emerge from obscurity into an important position?
(And don't forget the "aggregators", the companies that simply tell you where the cheapest fare is, and leave it to you to actually contact the airline in question. These are: Momondo.com, Kayak.com, DoHop.com, SkyScanner.net, Hipmunk.com--and a few others).
Other travel news included the announcement of nothing less than a new way to get from place to place. Mr. Elon Musk, that biolionaire founder of the all-eectric Tesla automobile company, announced last week that he was working on a new form of transportation: the HyperLoop--a giant metal tube between major city pairs--like one running from Los Angeles to San Francisco--in which people crammed into a capsule will travel at 700 miles per hour. They will be able to go that fast propelled by magnetic forces, because of the virtual absence of air resistance within the tube. And at such a speed, the trip from LA to SF will take about 40 minutes. To all the normal means of transportation--airplanes, cars and buses, trains and ships--you can now add "Loops". Musk claims that he can build the first Hyper-Loop in less than a decade, at an acceptable cost of only several billion dollars. We'll be watching with bated breath.
Where else will the "loop" be situated? According to Musk, a loop between southern Michigan and Florida will permit a business person to work all day in Michigan, but then to come home at night to his or her seaside bungalow in Florida--he'll make the return trip in a 700 mph "loop". And don't laugh. Elon Musk was widely ridiculed when he set about building an all-electric automobile, and yet the high-priced Tesla (retailing for $71,000) is apparently a big success, causing Tesla Automotive's stock to soar in value.
Further news affecting vacation travel was featured on the financial pages of the nation's newspapers, but was never related to travel--despite its heavy impact on vacation decisions. This blog has earlier discussed the plunge in value of the Indian Rupee, making trips to that country to become much cheaper for the American tourist; but unnoticed by almost all travel journalists was a similar drop in the currencies of South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. All three coutnries have thus been made far less expensive to visit, and a great many tourists may be re-instating their earlier plans to visit them.