Friday, June 12, 2020

Some thoughts about COVID-19 and the future of travel

For three years, we’ve heard rumblings. The ecological cost of leisure travel was unconscionable. Millennials couldn’t wrap their heads around things like paper passports. The era of peak travel was coming to an end.

And then, 2020. And all those rumblings turned into that train from Snowpiercer.

For consumers, 2020 might represent a seismic shift in collective consciousness. But for travel marketers, it’s more like an acceleration of five trends we were already grappling with. (Or, in some cases, trends we hoped would go away if we twiddled our thumbs long enough.)

#1. We are all SI/SO now

In mountain towns, accommodations are sometimes labelled SI/SO. Ski In/Ski Out means no schlepping gear through town. And suddenly, just as important, it means no steamy buses or sardine-tight gondola lines.

Right now, every travel destination needs to ask itself what its own version of SI/SO is. Maybe you’re running accommodations on a resort property or in a walkable downtown area. If so, the answer to this question is obvious. And you should look to create package deals with nearby attractions that let travelers get from their beds to their experience with a minimum of operational friction and human contact.

Smaller Convention and Visitors Bureaus might not find obvious answers, but they’re out there. Americans are craving nostalgia and have an ongoing love affair with mom-and-pop shops. Put those together and you can design a bunch of new experiences, from drive-in concerts to farm-to-sidewalk outdoor dining. And destinations could use streaming technology to sell virtual ticket options to experiences that have limitations on the number of visitors.

The upside to designing SI/SO experiences? People pay more for them.

#2. Travel sans surprises

In one of my talks, I joke that Baby Boomers and Millennials are the same. They both expect someone else to do everything for them. Boomers use travel agents and Millennials download digital concierges, but both groups expect a curated vacation.

This tendency is probably going to pick up steam among Gen X families seeking to quell their anxiety about exposing their kids to coronavirus. And it’s guaranteed to force seniors online. Before 2020, 68 percent of seniors said they bought something online at least once a week, but 80 percent preferred to shop in person. COVID-19 is going to change that, pushing seniors onto the Internet to consume more content and make more purchases. With 99 percent of Boomers planning annual leisure trips, you can expect them to start learning the same digital techniques that have made travel so much more accessible to Millennials.

#3. #StayCloserToHome

America’s always been Roadtrip Nation. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of people taking roadtrips increased by 64 percent. And, according to a 2020 travel trend report released by a global collection of 750 independent hotels, microcations were rising in popularity among all age groups. And that was before coronavirus.

Resonate recently released a survey that stated that even after stay-at-home orders are lifted, only 11 percent of people would feel safe traveling internationally. But 52 percent would feel safe traveling within their own states. As travelers start dipping their toes back in the water, their first excursions are likely to be those they can drive to.

There are two ways to take advantage of this. First, advertise not just to home-state audiences, but your neighbors. Your first customers might be people within just a few miles, who trust you specifically because they see you on their way to work every day. Second, make yourself part of a curated road trip. Create tools that let travelers reach you without airlines, and show them how much fun they can have along the way.

#4. Your face is your passport

Organizations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) have long advocated digital identity tools that’d let you manage a profile, collect digital “attestations” of your identity and decide what to share. United States Customs and Border Protection is using facial recognition to match travelers to passports. And reaction has been mixed, with companies like IBM and Amazon being forced to scale back in response to privacy concerns. But fast forward to today. Travelers might start advocating for biometrics so they can get through security without touching anyone.

Back to the WEF. “In a COVID-19 context, a traveler would be able to securely obtain and store trusted, verifiable health credentials such as immunizations or their health status in their digital identity wallets. This would be combined with other trusted, verifiable identity data from public or private entities.”

This is one of those trends that went from being ten years out to two years out in the space of a month. Every time you hand someone your driver's license, paper ticket, phone or passport, you run the risk of contracting a deadly disease. Consumers will be watching to see how fast destinations offer biometric check-in, digital passports, contactless payment, medical screening and robot cleaning. And once early adopters pave the way, the rest of the industry will have to get on board.

#5. Make healthcare part of the pitch

When you work with luxury vacation properties or ski resorts, there’s often a whispered understanding that somewhere in the decision-making process, someone (often referred to as the Chief Mom Officer) will ask “Where do we go if one of our kids breaks a leg?” And when you work with airlines, there’s always that one traveler pulling a Naomi Campbell.

COVID-19 will turn these whispers into shouts. Proof of sanitation and access to emergency care will help consumers feel confident about being away from home again. And destinations should consider sharing that information on their websites.

[Ed. - I wrote this piece for the Heinrich blog, complete with links and sourcing. I'm crossposting here, just for posterity.]

Thursday, May 21, 2020

If you're going to read one book by Thomas Pynchon, read The Crying of Lot 49

Over the past three years, I've read them all.

I flew through the earth with The Chums of Chance. I kicked through California beaches with Doc Sportello. I don't even want to begin to tell you what I did with Brigadier Pudding.

I read every single one of Thomas Pynchon's unreadable, impenetrable, chaotic-hard-right-turn novels. And when I was done, I decided to perform this service to humankind:

I'd decide once and for all which one of Pynchon's novels you should read first.

I rated every one of his eight books on four scales. Order of importance. Personal enjoyment. Accessibility. And how well it introduced Pynchon's worldview and themes.

I tallied the results nervously. What brick-of-a-book would come out on top? Melancholy dark horse Vineland? The esteemed and reviled Gravity's Rainbow? Post-9/11 mystery Bleeding Edge? Perhaps my personal favorite, the epic American meta-fiction Mason & Dixon?

Man, it wasn't close.

If you're going to read one Pynchon novel, read The Crying of Lot 49. Besides Gravity's Rainbow, it's his most famous book. It's his shortest and among the easiest to follow. And it takes you on a whirlwind trip through all his major themes. The unsettling paranoia, the layered fictions, the sad sense that maybe America had something special once, but whatever it was it's been lost and it's not coming back.

After that, read Mason & Dixon. And then just see if you can stop yourself from finishing them all. I know I couldn't.

Friday, May 1, 2020

My EP is streaming anywhere you might want to stream it.

Work for Waste is lo-fi indie rock made from Fender guitars, dry drum kits and the occasional facsimile of a vintage electric piano. Frequent topics include Romantic-era poets, paranoia, and the increasing probability that the bugs are going to win.

Click here to find a link to your favorite music platform.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Well, that was underwhelming

Eight books into my half-assed writing career, I got tired of begging my friends and family to write me reviews. So for my ninth and tenth books, I tried different strategies.

When I published Mary Monster, I focused on giveaways. The week the book came out, I distributed 1,200 copies. Fifty of those were to readers who promised to post a review in exchange for an advance copy. The other 1,150 were through a promotion I supported with paid advertising. The result? Zilch. I saw zero sales after my giveaways ended. And the reviews online are mostly from my friends and family. To date, Mary Monster has sold maybe 80 copies.

So for Camille, I focused on advertising a special $0.99 launch price. I invested $300 in different platforms, one of which "guaranteed" at least 50 sales. The result? Again, basically nothing. Camille has sold about 20 copies, at least six of which were purchased by personal friends. Only one review has been posted on Amazon.

I sort of expected Mary Monster to flop. It's too stylized for a self-pubbed genre thriller. But too supernatural to be considered serious literature.

But I really thought Camille might take off. The cover design is killer. The keywords and book description are solid. It's a popular genre. It's very dark, in a way some readers might miss until the book's final chapters, but I don't think it flopped because the hero was an antihero.

Anyway, I have four different books marinating, but I'm ignoring them for a bit. I shared some of my songs back in 2017, and I'm going to focus energy on writing more music and publishing an EP. Once that's done, maybe I'll write another novel the world can ignore.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

I will never doubt you: How the Miami Vice movie rewrote the things the series got wrong

I think Miami Vice is history's greatest show. I also think Miami Vice is history's greatest movie. The Venn diagram overlap of people who share both those opinions is pretty small.

Fewer people would argue with me if I asserted the show and the film were both somehow important. In fact, I don't think anyone who actually thought about it would argue at all. From recording in stereo to shooting on digital, Miami Vice rewrote the rules over and over again*.

Michael Mann was the show's executive producer, but he never directed an episode. And the more I watch his movie, the more I wonder if he used it as an opportunity to reshoot the scenes he felt the show got wrong.

Originally, I started writing this post thinking I'd make a laundry list of ways the movie referenced the show. But three specific beats stood out as examples of how Mann's 2006 film modernized and deepened the themes he has been exploring his whole career.

"So we can close each other's eyes right now."
In the episode "Smuggler's Blues"
In the movie at 0:37:00

The movie's plot was mostly lifted from "Smuggler's Blues." Ditto this line of dialogue. But in the show, it's a bad guy who cautions our heroes, no one will make money if everyone ends up dead.

In the movie, it's Tubbs doing the cautioning. The roles are reversed, a not-so-subtle nod to the idea that in this new world, the cops are in just as deep as the dealers.

"Your finger won't be able to twitch."
In the episode "Glades"
In the movie at 1:44:06

A bad guy is holding a hostage. He warns Crockett, "If I twitch, she's gone." Ice in his veins, Crockett replies, "Maybe you won't even twitch," and shoots him dead.

In the film, the dialogue is similar, but it's not Crockett staring down the barrel. It's Gina.

In the show, the female officers spent a lot of time typing reports and posing as a prostitutes. In the film, they're running their guns.

"There's undercover and there's which way is up."
In the episode "The Great McCarthy"
In the movie at 1:14:06

In the show, Tubbs falls hard for Vanessa, the bad guy's girl and possibly a criminal in her own right. Crockett warns him not to get involved and Tubbs asks, "Are you forgetting I'm a cop? I'm not gonna cross over the line."

Crockett replies, "I have my doubts."

In the movie, the roles are reversed. It's Crockett who starts a doomed romance and Tubbs who challenges him. In the scene, the two are walking through a shipyard. They've just had a clandestine confrontation with an FBI bureaucrat. It's night. Tempers worn thin. Crockett stops walking and turns on his partner, "You think I'm in so deep I forgot?" The two men stare each other down for a long time before Tubbs answers.

"I will never doubt you."

Crockett and Tubbs live their lives lying. The series was frequently depressing, but the movie is soaked straight through with absence. No walls, no laws, no home. Unmoored, Crockett and Tubbs trusted no one except each other.

Changing this one line changed everything.

* See articles like, "30 Years Ago: Miami Vice Ends After Changing TV Forever," "Take it to the Limit One More Time," and "Why It Took Ten Years For Michael Mann's Miami Vice To Get Its Due."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Thoughts on books I read in 2019

I wrote one of these year-end wrap-up posts in 2015. That was a huge reading year, volume-wise. I bet I read 40 novels. And I had an awkward conversation with James Ellroy, too.

This year, I only rated 19 books on Goodreads. And two of them - Mary Monster and Camille - were my own. (Spoiler alert, I gave them five stars.)

Point being, when I talk about the books I read in 2019, I'm talking about a pretty short list. However, two of the novels on that list are Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest. So I bet I read as many words as ever. They just added up to fewer books.

I think about this all the time. Life is so finite. Is it better to use two months finishing eight clever crime thrillers or reading one literary masterpiece that (as readers of either of the two aforementioned novels will tell you) doesn't finish at all, in the conventional sense of the term?

Reading Gravity's Rainbow was a bit like going for a long run. I'm glad I did it, but I'm also glad it's over. I can now say I've read Pynchon's most difficult novel in all its disturbing glory. The highs were so high, but the lows, man... There is some sick stuff in there.

There's some sickness in Infinite Jest, too. It's a whole book about sickness, in fact. About our modern sickness: our obsessive need to be distracted. Some satisfy it through alcoholism. Others through seduction. And others through devotion to a cause, a sport or an entertainment. But all this sickness is surrounded by so much love, humor, and Wallace's empathy for all these broken people. Infinite Jest is maybe the only book I've ever read that made me want to be a better human.

I also read some Big Important American Novels like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Some genre thrillers like Head Full of Ghosts. Some European satire like Submission. And some modern stylists like Jonathan Lethem, who wrote the single most devastating sentence I've ever read, "We only feel we're floating because we're forever falling." I stared into my drink for a good 10 minutes after I read those words.

Perhaps the non-Infinite Jest book I remember best is The Elementals by Michael McDowell. In The Elementals, the heat is a character, the same way the cold was a character in Hold the Dark. In both books, the weather is an ever-present metaphor for meaninglessness and memory, for all the things you can't ever, ever escape. McDowell's Alabama coast is the loneliest, wettest, hottest place in the world. The heat weighs you down. The heat slows you down. In the end, the heat decides if you live or die.

Maybe I just have a thing for the weather.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Indie Reader reviews Mary Monster

This is one of those reviews where you get the feeling that if people'd just read it, surely they'd give your work a shot.

Writing a horror novel that plays off a seminal classic of the genre is a huge risk, but Matt Ingwalson does more than a credible job of pulling the feat off in MARY MONSTER. Rather than focus on her most famous literary work, Ingwalson instead brings Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley forward as both monster and creator... An interesting premise and a well-done presentation wrapped in a horror novel, MARY MONSTER is an engaging, fun and thoughtful critique of the creative process and relationship between artists and inspiration.

If that's enough to grab your attention, here's the link.