Travel Newsstand for April 12-26, 2018
Read all about it! Hilton's new Tru hotel brand cuts development costs, but upgrades desks. Why? Even cost-conscious travelers want a decent workspace. Twenty years after peace, The Troubles still cause trouble in Northern Ireland. America's "best" fast-food chains. Anthony Bourdain on life and love. Ginseng poaching in the Great Smoky Mountains.

This Is, Er, Tru: Travelers Hate Rooms Without Desks
Your humble scribe has spent years tracking the dramatic changes in the physical factory that is modern lodging. Bathtubs are disappearing from guestrooms and lobbies are becoming more like coffee bars. The never-profitable room service is evolving, too. Even hotel front desks are downsizing or disappearing. It's all part of the industry's attempt to be more efficient and perhaps more responsive to what guests desire. However, the industry's drive to eliminate guestroom desks continues to run into stiff resistance. Tru, a new brand that Hilton is pitching as a less expensive alternative to its Hampton Inn chain, is the latest front in the battle. As reports, Hilton is scrambling to trim over-projection developments costs. But one area where Hilton is planning to up Tru's game is the "work space." Hilton originally created a ridiculous school-desk-like chair and stuck it in Tru guestrooms. Travelers roundly rejected it, however. It was "something we heard very quickly," admits Alexandra Jaritz, Tru's top honcho. "We developed a retrofit desk that is easily implemented into the existing" design. (Hilton is paying half of the cost of installing the new desks in guestrooms of the 16 already-built Tru hotels.) Meanwhile, Marriott says that the 450 properties it directly manages in North America are eliminating individual bathroom amenities. In place of little bottles will be wall-mounted dispensers offering soap or body wash, shampoo and conditioners. Marriott positions the move as a nod to environmental concerns, but, of course, the bottom line is, in fact, the bottom line. Refillable dispensers are cheaper than mini-bottles of amenities. Also notable: Modular, prefabricated hotel construction, first popularized by the CitizenM chain, is slowly winning more converts among lodging developers.

The Troubles and 20 Years of 'Peace' in Northern Ireland
It has been 20 years since the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement largely ended The Troubles, the omnibus term for the vicious, deadly war between Catholic and Protestant militants in Northern Ireland. PBS put together a riveting look at Northern Ireland now and how the two sides are haltingly trying to come to terms with The Troubles of the past and the issues of the present. As the Irish News reports, fully a quarter of the population still believe they are affected by the religious and political strife. Relatives of many victims feel ignored despite the official recognition of the 20-year milestone of peace. Others, however, try to deal with their history with (admittedly black) humor. If you're looking for a uniquely American take on the early years of The Troubles, I commend you to World Without End, Amen, Jimmy Breslin's searing 1973 novel of a burned-out, bigoted New York cop who "escapes" to Northern Ireland. Ironically, the biggest issue dividing the Protestant North and Catholic South these days is Brexit. The Emerald Isle, of course, represents the only land crossing between the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) and the European Union (Republic of Ireland). Both sides of Ireland want the border to remain open, but an agreement remains maddeningly elusive.

The Passing American Food Scene
Who knew? There's a raging battle between Appalachian poachers and the National Park Service. The booty? Ginseng. Really. Ginseng root commands high prices, especially in Asia, and it is available for the (illegal) taking from Georgia to the Catskills. Ground zero? Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a federally protected reserve about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. ... Former-chef-turned-television-raconteur Anthony Bourdain may now travel the world for CNN's Parts Unknown, but he's an East Coast kid and these days lives in a big New York apartment overlooking the Hudson River. He's a peculiar bird, at least if you believe this profile in The Wall Street Journal. But you probably knew that if you've seen the CNN show or his previous work on other cable channels. ... The best fast-food chains in America? Money magazine's latest ratings place In-N-Out, the West Coast burger chain, at the top of the heap. Surprisingly, Dairy Queen came in second and McDonald's finished a shockingly strong fifth. Weirdly, the much-admired Chick-fil-A finished ninth, which stunned even the story's compilers. Carl's Jr., the burger joint with the creepy and misogynist advertising, was at the bottom of the barrel, 25th out of the 25 chains rated. Your mileage, and your stomach, may differ, of course.

Tight Connections ...
      Pakistan's Flying Past Traveling on Pakistan International now is like flying in the 1950s. That's especially pleasant compared to the chaos of flying in India. But the Financial Times notes that "catching a flight in Pakistan remains the preserve of a small and wealthy elite."
      Cramped on Cathay The future of Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's top-notch carrier, is becoming clearer. The airline is adding an extra seat at each row in coach on certain aircraft. That matches the cramped coach conditions on most competitors.
      Not privatizing President Donald Trump lined up behind a plan to privatize the air traffic control system, an awful idea conceived by Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, who literally sleeps with an airline lobbyist. How the proposal failed again--Shuster has been pitching it for years--got the tick-tock treatment at -- Joe Brancatelli

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.