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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...
By Joe Brancatelli
May 28, 2009 -- Nobody asked me, but…

Was I the only one who didn't know that the once-vaunted national network of Howard Johnson's restaurants had shriveled to just three?

On the same road trip where I ran across one of the remaining HoJo's, in Lake George, New York, I started counting Dunkin' Donuts. Man, there must be a million of them. Okay, I checked, the company says there are 8,800 in 31 countries. In other words, a HoJo's for the 21st century.

One of those 8,800 is located at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, North Carolina. It's the first Dunkin' inside a hotel. It's inevitable that some limited-service hotel chain will eventually sign up to put a Dunkin' Donuts kiosk or restaurant in every one of their lobbies. Do you think Starbucks hears the footsteps behind them? Do doughnuts have footsteps?

Nobody asked me, but…

Speaking of doughnuts, whatever happened to Krispy Kreme? I've loved 'em since I first was served one on an early-morning Piedmont Airlines flight almost 35 years ago. The chain's spectacular global rise and even more startling flameout and near collapse is one of the great business-travel-related stories of the post-9/11 era. Still, ya gotta love those original glazeds.

Speaking of limited-service hotels, have you been inside a Hyatt Place property yet? Hyatt took over the old Amerisuites chain and created a new concept of lodging around the existing footprint. So the guestrooms are all-suite huge, with great seating areas. There's a big flat-screen TV in every room, complete with a sophisticated, easily accessible plug-in panel to connect your laptop, netbook or iPod. The lobbies are casual, with a café that serves food and beverages around the clock. And now that it is opening new-build properties, too, Hyatt Place is shaping up as a formidable competitor for Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott.

Speaking of suites, Hilton's Embassy Suites chain seems to be changing just about everything but its name. A new property prototype includes a 3 1/2-story-high atrium, half the size of the signature atriums available at most existing Embassy Suites. Embassy is also building new properties with the equivalent of standard hotel rooms, sized at about 300 square feet. Oxymoronically, they are being marketed as "one-room suites." But the overall purpose of the smaller atriums and one-room suites is to make building an Embassy Suites cheaper and make them easier to fit on small lots of land in large cities. That should lead to an Embassy Suites building boom even in this down hotel market. After all, for all the good reviews that Embassy Suites gets, there are just 190 Embassy Suites open after 27 years. By contrast, more than 450 of Hilton's Garden Inns have opened since 1996.

Nobody asked me, but…

It's just great that the Obama Administration moved with such alacrity to name Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court. But another week has slipped by without word from the White House about a new administrator for the Transportation Security Administration. Tick, tock, Mr. President…

This one slipped by me when it launched about 18 months ago, but it's worth mentioning now: A group of independent shared-van operators have gotten together to market under the "Go Airport Shuttle" banner. The best development: a common Web site where you can make reservations for pick-up and drop-off at more than 100 airports.

I have never been jazzed by aircraft or airports--Hell, I'm just a business traveler--but I admit to a sneaking admiration and more than a little nostalgia for Eero Saaranen's iconic TWA Terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport. The current issue of Preservation magazine has a story on "grand" airports that includes an update on the state of the Saaranen terminal, now prosaically dubbed Terminal 5. For me, that big, brown, oval-shaped departure board that was the most amazing. Especially when I was 10 years old or so, dressed in my Sunday best and taken to an airport for the first time to see relatives off on a flight back to Italy. It all seemed like rocket science then.

Nobody asked me, but…

One of the most depressing moments a business traveler ever encounters is when he or she arrives at the airport only to find that the airline's check-in desks haven't opened yet. It stinks having to wait in the airport equivalent of no-man's land and realizing that you've wasted time.

Trust me, it really does stink. I'm sitting here in the lower level of Boston/Logan nursing a lukewarm coffee and waiting for the check-in desks upstairs to open. Can't clear security, can't get access to the airside amenities, can't get to the club to wait in comfort. The only thing worse than being too early? Being too late for a flight.

Of course, maybe it's just depressing being here in Boston. The Celtics got unceremoniously bounced by the Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs. Big Papi David Ortiz isn't hitting his weight for the Red Sox. And Sonia Sotomayor is a Yankees fan who went to Yale Law School.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.