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The Amazing Race 1, Episode 9 (14 November 2001)

Bikaner, Rajasthan (India) - Delhi (India) - Bangkok (Thailand) - Kanchanaburi (Thailand) - Krabi (Thailand)

Variations on a theme

"The Amazing Race" on CBS-TV resumed this week with the contestants still getting stymied by the same problems they've had before:

First, they had unpleasant experiences with buses from Bikaner to Delhi, and again in Thailand. Typical: get together a bunch of travellers experienced in the Third World, and sooner or later they'll start swapping stories about "My Bus Ride from Hell". (Mine involves a 24-hour ride on Himalayan switchbacks, with traveller's diarrhea, in the last seat at the back of the bus where my head was thrown against the roof every time the bus went over a bump in the road, which was often.) The racers were uncomfortable, and had problems finding the right buses, but ultimately they all got where they were going. Even "Team Guido" (Bill and Joe), who lived dangerously by taking a night bus -- never recommended in the Third World -- arrived safely, although they got to the finish line after all the other teams.

Second, as Joe and Bill's last-place arrival at the finish line suggests, the racers kept finding that the waits for infrequent transportation, and/or opening hours of museums, etc., could cancel out even a sizable lead in the middle of a segment of the race. Drew and Kevin arrived in Delhi just far enough ahead of the other racers to get the once a week daytime nonstop flight on Aeroflot to Bangkok, while the rest had to wait for evening flights 12 hours or more later. Did their lead matter? No. They arrived in Bangkok just after the temple with the next clue had closed for the night. By the next morning, when the temple opened, all the contestants were waiting together.

And once again the racers were confronted with the critical distinction between the frightening and the dangerous, and had to deal with and overcome their fears. This week, the lesson came when one member of each team had to walk through a pit of tame tigers -- safe but scary -- to get one of the clues.

Until tonight, it had been three weeks since anyone was eliminated from "The Amazing Race", with a non-elimination leg and then a week when the show was pre-empted. Many viewers were probably hoping to see Team Guido out of the race tonight, but if so, they were disappointed. Mother and daughter Nancy and Emily, who had arrived at the finish line earlier but were penalized for not completing one of the assigned tasks, were the team eliminated this week.

What happened to Emily and Nancy? Tired and feeling desperate for rest and comfort after several hours spent searching the back "sois" (alleys) of a Bangkok neighborhood for the car that was to take them to Kanchanaburi, they gave up searching for the car, couldn't face a bus trip, and took a taxi -- which wasn't permitted by the rules. They thought they were far behind, but they would actually have finished comfortably ahead of Team Guido if they hadn't given up. By giving up hope, Nancy and Emily lost the chance for lots more excellent adventures, and maybe even a million dollars. They regretted it almost immediately. As it is, the part of this week's race most worth watching will probably be Emily and Nancy's appearance on "The Early Show" on CBS this morning (Thursday, 16 November).

Take a lesson from Nancy and Emily: Don't give up your travel hopes!

Travel is down since September 1th, and this Monday's crash of an airliner in New York will probably set the travel industry back at least several months. All New York airports have reopened, after being closed Monday, and airline schedules are already back to as much of "normal" as at any time since September 11th. But even the fact that Monday's crash seems to have had nothing to do with terrorism won't reassure everyone.

Four airlines and two cruise lines have gone bankrupt and/or ceased operations since September 11th, and more are likely to follow suit, or to be acquired by larger competitors. Many travel agencies were already struggling financially, and won't survive the year or two it's expected to take for travel in the USA to return to its former volume. In the medium to long term, this means travellers can expect fewer choices, higher prices, and less independent advice.

But in the short term, the decline in travel to, from, and within the USA is an unprecedented opportunity for more affordable travel almost anywhere you want to go.

You might think, or frightened friends might worry, that you'd be crazy to take a trip just now, when, "No one is traveling." But that's just not true: Travel is down significantly, but two-thirds as many people as usual are still traveling by air in the USA. You're neither alone nor crazy in still wanting to travel, and choosing to do it.

What are those who still travel finding? Lower prices.

Airlines in the USA have cut capacity by about 20-25%. That's not as much of a reduction in supply as the reduction in demand of 30-35%, but it has limited the amount by which airlines have had to reduce prices in order to fill their seats. There are better airfare deals on international flights between the USA than on domestic flights in the USA, and better deals to tourist destinations than to places where most travel is by people visiting friends and relatives. Overall, though, airfare deals are erratic at best.

The real across-the-board deals are on hotels, resorts, and cruises. Unlike airlines, which can take planes out of service if they aren't needed, hotels are stuck with empty rooms every night. The cause of the problem is fear of flying, but because the hotel industry is much larger, more of the effect has been felt by hotels. Hotels, resorts, and cruise lines around the world, in all categories except the cheapest hostels, are offering unprecedented discounts.

It's a matter of simple supply and demand: almost never has your bargaining power been greater when you walk into a hotel prepared to go elsewhere if you don't get the price you want. Whatever the hotel, they have empty rooms, and so do all their nearby competitors. You know it, and they know it. Take advantage of it while you can, now. Once the crisis, and the "consolidation" (a euphemism for "monopoly") in the travel industry are complete, prices will go back up, probably higher than they were before.

For now, travellers are the beneficiaries of the travel industry's woes. Airlines have been hurt, but Congress has already voted them US$15 billion in loans and grants plus open-ended insurance guarantees. Does that mean no one has really lost out economically? Not all. The big economic losers have been workers laid off in the airline, aviation, travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. The AFL-CIO has counted more than a quarter million layoffs in these industries in the USA since September 11th, mostly in the lowest-level hotel and restaurant jobs. The International Labour Organization predicts total layoffs in these industries in the USA alone will reach at least a million workers, possibly 2 million. Many more workers in these sectors were part-time, contingent, undocumented, under-the-table, or (for travel agents) commissioned rather than salaried, and thus aren't included in the layoff counts. If you think workers are as deserving of assistance as the airlines, and if you value the people who serve you when you travel, urge Congress to fund extended unemployment benefits, health care, and training assistance (for those, with no jobs available in the travel industry, who need not just a new job but a new career for at least the next couple of years).

What if you're out of work yourself? If you're really set on a trip around the world yourself, and feel you can't afford it even at the prices from discounters like Airtreks.com, CBS is still accepting applications for contestants for the second season of "The Amazing Race", to be broadcast in 2002. Apparently the frat boys, Kevin and Drew, go over well with the CBS focus groups but are too New York. This time the casting director for "The Aamzing Race" has been posting in "alt.sports.football" Usenet newsgroups for "two men - real midwestern football fans - who are funny and interesting... - bears fans, packers fans, viking fans - anywhere midwestern." Tune in next season to see if they find their boys!


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