COOL TRAVEL SITES
In case you hadn't noticed, this world wide web thing seems to be catching on.
Just this week, within, oh, 24 hours, I was made aware of several cool web sites; one of which I'd heard of but hadn't had time to check out and two others that were brand, spanking new to me. A lot of you probably know about Hotwire, where you go on line and pick a class of hotel in a certain area of a city for a discounted price but don't get to find out the name of the hotel (or airline if you're choosing that or car rental agency if you're arranging transportation) until you hand over your dough.
It's not for folks who are planning a wedding or who maybe have invested years of savings and aren't willing to take a chance. In fact, Hotwire president Clem Bason tells me only about one in five people are willing to buy without knowing all the details. But that's still a lot of customers, especially in a country like Canada where value and tech-savviness are particularly high.
"We can get 50 to 60 per cent off because we have access to inventory. If there are seats on an airplane or hotel rooms or cars, we get the excess. For a hotel, all they have to do is cover the costs of cleaning the room and electricity and that's about it"
But they don't want to announce to the world that you can get the same room for half the price of someone else, so the purchases are "opaque," meaning you don't know what hotel you're getting until you figuratively sign on the dotted line. Bason claims his customers can get rooms for $75, when other, better-known sites list them for double that price. And he says Toronto has been offering higher hotel discounts than any major city in North America, usually 40 to 50 per cent.
A friend I work with says he recently went on Hotwire and got a room at a four-star hotel in Manhattan for $170 U.S. a night. It turned out to be the Benjamin, which he said usually goes for $350 a night.
A look at the hotwire site on Thursday found an unknown (I tried but couldn't quite tell what it was) in "Toronto Downtown West" for $68 U.S. for three nights starting May 14. Pretty damned good. At worst, it's a very nice hotel. At best, it's probably terrific.
A look at their sale site for Vancouver found a five-star hotel in downtown for $89 U.S. a night in late April; pretty stunning.
Bason says Hotwire is stepping up its ad campaigns in Canada.
"Canadians like to head to Florida and Arizona in winter. If you take Orlando, Phoenix and Las Vegas, those might be the three most overbuilt cities fo hotels in the U.S., so the deals you can get probably get in the two or three years are going to be outstanding."
AND TWO MORE
Another site brought to my attention is called tvtrip.com, and it allows you to watch a video of a hotel before you make your booking. They don't have a ton of Canadian content just yet but there's a bit and it's a fun way to see a place where you might be sleeping for several nights. You also can book your room directly from the site.
Finally, there are a couple sites that allow you to check out a variety of destinations in Toronto and in Vancouver. The toronto one is www.streets.to, and it's kinda fun. You click on, say, a restaurant on the Danforth and a cartoon pops up of a taxicab dropping you off in front. You then click "enter" and get a tour of the place with real photos, plus links to the website, menus and other stuff. They also have one started for Vancouver at www.vanstreets.com.
I just wonder why I never think of these things.
CENTRAL AMERICAN GOLF
Gotta admit I have a hard time thinking of central America as a golf destination, but I guess that's changing in a very big hurry. The latest project brought to my attention is in, of all places, Honduras.
The Pristine Bay Resort is billed as "home of The Black Pearl Golf Course designed by Perry and Pete Dye," and that's a pretty good team. It's Dye's first project in Honduras and will be a par-72 measuring a solid 7,257 yards from the back tees. It's got one of Dye's signature island greens and 14 of the 18 holes have ocean views.
They're releasing custom home lots and luxury villas and condos and advertising themselves as a "tropical paradise" close to major U.S. and Canadian centres, with many homes offering views of the ocean, the "world's second largest barrier reef" and, naturally, the golf course.
One more reason, perhaps, for folks to check out some lesser-known destinations in central America, where it's no longer just Costa Rica grabbing the attention.