It pays to be a savvy traveler

William Tecku

As they drink their eggnog and sip their coffee before Christmas, people planning to visit the Twin Ports over the holidays are wondering, “Will there be room in Lake Superior area inns? Will short-term vacation housing be available?”

Because current research trends along these lines will not be published until early in the New Year, those who are thinking about visiting our Northland in the coming weeks must look to historic, end-of-the-year vacation lodging patterns in order to weigh the pros and cons of taking a road trip up here.

Due to the pandemic’s ongoing, adverse impact on overnight and extended stay travel in the U.S. and abroad, it is now less common than any time in recent memory for individuals or families to drop-of-the-hat pack, pile into their vehicles, watch home fade away in rearview mirrors, and find a place to stay once they reached their destinations.

What are vacation rental owners and corporate leaders rumored to begin doing to encourage prospective guests to reserve rooms before they hit the road?

In the aftermath of Black Friday’s discovery of a treasure trove of binary language scrolls found beneath the Tomb of the Unknown Tourist on Mount Herz just west of Jerusalem, the travel industry is expected to roll out a marketing campaign that made its debut in antiquity.

Apparently, a little over two millennia ago, when lodging and vacation rental growth plateaued and started slipping sideways in the Roman Empire southeast of the Mediterranean Sea, a number of chain hotels, “mom and pop” inn keepers, and Airbnb hosts, in an effort to “put more heads in beds,” briefly accepted “reward points” in lieu of gold, silver and brass Roman coins to book and pay for their rooms and related services.

The plan’s ad blitz, according to its parchment records carbon dated to 1 B.C., briefly resulted in double-digit growth in the lodging industry, however, associated accounting problems could not be solved, so, within a few months of its Circus Maximus rollout, it was scrapped in favor of paying for rooms “the old school way.”

Among countless customer service nightmares reported when the new policy was abruptly pulled, one well-publicized case illustrated how a potentially profitable idea can go horribly wrong involved a “financially challenged” Nazarian couple.

According to a translation of one lodging’s 2,000-year-old record of its “most unprofessionally handled customer service situation” after a grueling 10-day trek through a hostile desert, a husband and wife, accompanied by their “beast of burden,” was informed upon their late-night arrival, with the young mother about to give birth, that there was “no room” for them at the Bethlehem Inn and Suites.

The desk clerk, interning from Cairo University’s School of Hotel and Motel Management, smiled and informed them that his establishment’s recent “reward point program” ended an hour before. Unless they planned to pay with plastic or coins of the realm, they would have to leave.

Their donkey started kicking up such a fuss that he almost knocked over the self-serve expresso machine by the concierge desk. The employee lamented to his gobsmacked guests how sorry he was and, if it were up to him, since occupancy was less than 60 percent, he’d gladly give them a room.

“My hands are tied, but . . . there’s a stable behind our chariot parking . . . If your donkey doesn’t mind, you could share a stall with him.”

What happened next would have gone unrecorded in hospitality industry annals had it not been for a “Jerusalem Times” reporter who, working late at a table inside the establishment’s King David Lounge, decided to mosey up to the front desk to see what all the commotion was about.

When the reporter, Eddie Murrow, was brought up to speed by the distraught husband, he told the clerk, “These guys can have my room. I’ll bunk with their donkey out back.”

However, the clerk informed him that his room, because it was, in actuality, his employer’s room, could not be given away or shared. Then he sounded a gong.

A stocky, scimitar armed security guard march up to the front desk. Before they knew it he had ushered everyone outside where he told them, if they wanted to take the stable, he would “escort” them there.

According to Murrow’s cocktail napkin scribblings, “The stable was such a hike from the front desk that several times along the way the three men had to help the expectant mother off the donkey so she could lie down long enough to recover her strength and carry on to her shelter for the night.

During these rest breaks, while the husband cradled his wife’s head in his lap and with his thick fingers wiped sweat off her forehead, Murrow was able to piece together why the travelers were destitute so far from home.

At some point he interrupted Joe and told him, “I’d get you kids a room, you know, if I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck myself.”

“No worries,” Joe replied and rambled on.

Apparently, Joe, a carpenter by trade, invested what little the couple had saved plus all their modest discretionary income into a privately held home improvement chain store that was expected to go public during the last week of the year.

For this reason, the couple thought using “reward points” to pay upfront for their stay in Bethlehem was a no brainer. In fact, from the moment Joe’s wife Mary was informed via “angelchat” that she would become pregnant, they started exceeding their monthly budget just to get more “reward points.” They were thrilled the place they booked had a five-star rating on Herod the Great’s Tripadvisor.

The journalist also learned they journeyed to Bethlehem because that’s where Joe had gone to high school. According to the census, decreed by Emperor Narcissus, he and his wife, for taxation purposes, had to be counted at his old alma mater.

Likewise, he heard all about how on their way to Bethlehem the pair had stayed away from camel trains, how they nightly camped on wadis that meandered through the hills of the Judean Desert because they were afraid of falling prey to outlaw gangs that roamed there.

Staring straight up into the bright night sky Joe shared with him his habit of jingling two copper quadrans in his robe’s left pocket. “That tinkling sound reminds me a guy can be poor but not broke,” he explained.

Eddie too looked straight up. “That’s a heck of a bright star over us,” he remarked.

In between non sequiturs their donkey insisted on sharing because he, not anyone else, thought they were funny, Eddie found out that Joe, from the afternoon Mary and their donkey showed up at one of his jobsites and told him she “was with child,” found himself more and more daydreaming about getting his hands on enough gold or first edition Frankenstein graphic novels or myrrh, so he and the Semitic woman of his dreams could stop having to scrape by.

He imagined they could live like high-rolling Roman generals he sometimes worked for, be waited on by salves, and, like other well-heeled Romans he had heard about, summer in an Italian resort town called Pompeii.

“Measure twice. Cut once,” Joe said had been his mantra since he was a freshman in shop class when he began to work his way through Bethlehem High by framing windows and doors and customizing front doors with hand carved reliefs of gods and demigods like the Hall of Fame bound gladiator Arron Rogers.

Unfortunately, almost everything Mary told the reporter, aside from how much she wished the Oasis Supper Club back home offered paid maternity leave to employees like herself, was lost among her sighs and tears and the illegible condition of the scroll’s remaining pages.

Still, to this day, the couple’s tough luck story remains required reading within most accredited hospitality school curricula.

So, this holiday season, for those contemplating traveling to our “North Country fair where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,” it would be wise to book lodging early, use standard methods of payment, and resist the allure of any “money saving” promotional payment offers.

In so doing, such travelers will best ensure that when they reach their Northland destinations there will be room for them in our inns.

William Tecku writes at