Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



June, 1981 -- Out in Hawaii earlier this year, grateful to be away from the bitter cold that had enveloped New York, I was struck by a stray thought. Nothing dazzling, like a sudden meteor from the skies. Nothing deep, like a premonition that the 1981 Yankees would not go all the way, despite the millions that George Steinbrenner was dispensing with dizzy indifference. (I still can’t understand the extent of Dave Winfield’s windfall.) Nothing that I could put a finger on. Maybe the sun over Waikiki had induced a mild sunstroke? Or was I still carrying a residual trace of delirium from the Bangkok flu, which had laid me low in January, culminating in bronchitis and possibly some minor brain damage, before it released me?

The random thought was merely this: Empires, nations and dynasties rise and fall, but is this pattern inevitable for travel destinations, too?

You can see that this frequent flyer was really skating on thin ice, there on the shore of a swimming pool at the elegant Ilikai Hotel. I toyed with this slender idea between chapters of Innocent Blood by P.D. James, while savoring swallows of a tall iced chi chi.

The “rise and fall” theory has always held an undeniable fascination for me — I must confess here that I was a history major in college, for no particular reason except that I like history. This foray into the past had no identifiable career implications at the time; and nothing has happened in the intervening years to disturb that absence of commitment. The study of history was relatively undemanding, if not pleasurable, when compared to the unrelieved tedium of sciences and mathematics. And journalism was a poor relative to English. So why not history?

As the ancient Greeks rose and fell, as the Hebrews were scattered, as Rome gave in to affluence and corruption, as the sun eventually set on the British empire, so are we all faced with the inevitability of decline, of the aging process, of change. This certainty (Which brings hope or dismay, depending on when and where you visit this planet.) applies with no impartiality to the powerful and to the underprivileged.

Not a pleasing probability for those of us who are keenly aware of the decline of this country’s power abroad and its economic stability at home. Or do we have the resources to challenge the lessons of history? I hope so — the alternatives are frightening. Can you dig Soviet hegemony? A world under the totalitarian influence of the OPEC cartel? The Chinese running the show with Mao’s little red book? We’d better shape up.

But I wander, as my sun-soothed mind so often did under Hawaii’s tropical sky. Are travel destinations doomed to the same cyclical forces that govern greater entities? On reflection, my guess would have to be in the affirmative, although I think it’s probably easier for a destination to make a comeback than it would be for an empire.

Look at what gambling seems to be doing for Atlantic City. Once the proud queen of the Northeast’s coastal resorts, Atlantic City had fallen into decay, with a sad, tattered boardwalk; a ghost city of near-empty hotels; a picture of urban blight. Now, a glossy neon skyline of ultramodern casino/resorts is shooting up, luring investments of hundreds of millions of dollars. Quite a comeback.

How about Havana? Cuba was once the playground of the Western world, with an enviable glamour and panache, wonderful beaches and a warm, alluring lifestyle. Then came Castro. It’s unlikely that Havana will reemerge as a tourist destination.

There are many factors that determine a resort’s appeal, such as accessibility and distance from population centers; the cost of getting there; the costs once you’ve arrived; weather; the warmth of the natives’ welcome; crime rate; political stability; shopping opportunities; golf and tennis. I could go on. There is one other ingredient — the jet set. Its migratory habits are notorious. Its members find the new “in” places; then, once these oases are discovered, the jet setters move on. But, for better or worse, this crowd often sets or influences the trends. Like sheep, the middle class follows. What about Hawaii, which is currently beset by a second consecutive “down” year in tourism? Mexico? The French Riviera? Will the luster and lucre conferred by travel <> continue to favor them? I realize I’ve raised more questions in this column than I’ve answered, and I certainly didn’t mean to leave you up in the air, so tune in to some future monthly discourse.

Meanwhile, my fellow frequent flyers, I’d like to have your thoughts, your input on this elusive and engaging issue. With all the time you spend on the go, there’s no one better suited to tackle these capricious intangibles. So please communicate.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1980–2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.