‘Inside Out 2’ arrives in theaters and could hit a 100-day run. Here’s why that’s increasingly rare

In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust meet new emotions.

Disney | Pixar

Disney is looking to bring a little joy to theaters with its upcoming release of Pixar’s “Inside Out 2.”

Current expectations see the animated sequel easily topping $85 million during its domestic opening this weekend, which would make it the highest debut of any film released in the United States and Canada in 2024. Some are even forecasting the film could secure more than $100 million in ticket sales, a feat not seen since July 2023 when Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” waltzed into cinemas.

Already “Inside Out 2” has tallied $13 million from Thursday night preview showings in North America. For comparison, 2019’s “Toy Story 4” generated $12 million on its Thursday previews and snared $120.9 million for its opening weekend.

Any opening figure north of $50 million would be a boon for Pixar, which has struggled to regain its foothold at the box office in the wake of the pandemic. However, Disney seems confident in “Inside Out 2,” as the film is expected to have a 100-day theatrical run, a nearly unheard-of stint nowadays for animated features and non-blockbuster action flicks.

While most consumers are agnostic about theatrical release windows — the period of weeks or months that a film is shown exclusively in theaters before it hits streaming or other on-demand options — for cinema operators and box office analysts, a commitment to more than three months of exclusivity on the big screen is a big deal.

Before the pandemic, industry standard was what’s known as the 90-day theatrical window (though the average was actually closer to about 75 days in reality, according to market research firm The Numbers).

Only a rare few films would extend beyond that date — usually massive franchise films or blockbuster hits. After that time frame, a film could move into the home video space, which included digital downloads, DVD and Blu-Ray discs and availability on streaming sites. Films would still play in theaters after that date, but would then compete with home-market sales.

When the pandemic hit, and theaters were forced to close, studios had to decide if they were going to hold off on releasing their films until cinemas reopened or place them on streaming or video-on-demand during the interim.

Disney was one of the companies that opted to make a number of its animated offerings available in the at-home market during that time.

As theaters began to reopen, studios renegotiated the amount of time that films were required to remain on the big screen before they could go to the home market. After all, new Covid variants and a not-yet widely available vaccine had led many moviegoers to stay home. The result has been a widely variable time frame of exclusivity, as each studio negotiated its own deal with the major cinema chains.

For example, Universal and Focus Features inked a deal in which movies had to play in cinemas for at least three weekends, or 17 days, before those films could transition to the premium video on-demand platforms.

“Ninety-day windows were always going to be unsustainable,” said Jeff Kaufman, senior vice president of film and marketing at Malco Theaters. “The pandemic sort of accelerated that.”

The shifting theatrical windows has left studios and cinemas with a complex equation.

A shorter window

Studios had been pushing to slim down the window prior to the pandemic in order to cut down on marketing expenses, explained Daniel Loria, senior vice president of content strategy and editorial director at the Box Office Company.

Studios were paying a significant amount to market films for their theatrical release and then months later had to drum up buzz again for a film’s transition to the home market. With shorter windows, studios don’t need to spend as much to refamiliarize audiences with a film as it’s likely still fresh in their minds from its debut.

“My impression of films going to [premium video on-demand] early is usually a decision to not double dip on the marketing spend,” Loria said.

Last year, the average run of a widely released film was 39 days, according to The Numbers. So far in 2024, the average run is 29 days. Of course, as bigger blockbuster titles roll out in the summer months, that figure is expected to grow.

Average theatrical window by major Hollywood studio in 2023

  • Focus Features — 28 days
  • Lionsgate — 30 days
  • Universal — 30.8 days
  • Warner Bros. — 30.9 days
  • Paramount — 42.5 days
  • Sony — 47.75 days
  • 20th Century Fox — 60 days
  • Searchlight — 60 days
  • Disney — 62 days

Source: The Numbers

There are cases where studios have extended their runs well beyond the typical theatrical window. In 2022, for example, Paramount and Skydance’s “Top Gun: Maverick” played for more than 200 days in cinemas before heading to the home market.

And, these figures only refer to when a film becomes available in the home market for rent. Typically, the wait before films are available as part of subscription streaming services, often considered “free” by those subscribers, is much longer.

The Numbers reported the average time span between theatrical release and streaming subscription launch was 108 days in 2023.

Early on there were experiments with day-and-date releases, meaning films would hit cinemas and streaming at the same time. But that faded as studios realized these simultaneous releases cannibalized sales and led to increased piracy rates.

There’s also the consideration that many actors and directors have contract stipulations that award them a percentage of theatrical gains. In 2021, actress Scarlet Johannson sued Disney for releasing the 2020 Marvel film “Black Widow” on streaming and in theaters at the same time. She claimed that her agreement with the company guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release for her solo film, and her salary was based, in large part, on the box office performance. Johannson and Disney later settled for an undisclosed monetary sum.

Still, Universal has dabbled with the day-and-date model for horror movie fare around Halloween, opting most recently to release “Five Nights at Freddy’s” in theaters and on streamer Peacock at the same time. While the film had a stellar opening weekend, topping $80 million at the domestic box office, ticket sales shrunk more than 76% in the second weekend, reaching just $19 million.

Of course, shorter exclusivity and lower ticket sales can be bad for theater chains, which are still struggling to rebound operations after Covid. But some argue that getting the window wrong can be bad for the movie, too.

“A sufficient window is important not only to exhibitors, but also to our studio partners, as it’s necessary to deliver the full promotional and financial benefits of a film’s theatrical release, which continue to meaningfully enhance a film’s lifetime value across all distribution channels, including streaming,” said Sean Gamble, president and CEO of Cinemark.

Disney’s dilemma

It’s a lesson that Disney learned in the wake of the pandemic.

Both Walt Disney Animation and Pixar struggled to regain a foothold at the box office after pandemic restrictions lessened and audiences returned to theaters. Much of this was due to the fact that Disney opted to debut a handful of animated features directly on streaming service Disney+ during theatrical closures and even once cinemas had reopened.

The company sought to pad the company’s fledgling streaming service with content, stretching its creative teams thin and sending theatrical movies straight to digital.

That dynamic trained parents to seek out new Disney titles on streaming, not in theaters, even when Disney opted to return its films to the big screen.

As a result of that and other challenges, no Disney animated feature from Pixar or Walt Disney Animation has generated more than $480 million at the global box office since 2019. For comparison, just before the pandemic, “Coco” generated $796 million globally, while “Incredibles 2″ tallied $1.24 billion globally, and “Toy Story 4” snared $1.07 billion globally.

Box office experts are looking to “Inside Out 2” as a barometer for the health of Pixar and its future. If the film can capture attention from audiences and perform well over its opening weekend and beyond, the animation studios will regain goodwill from audiences and the industry.

Recent Pixar domestic opening weekend results

  • “Elemental” (2023) — $29.6 million
  • “Lightyear” (2022) — $50.5 million
  • “Turning Red” (2022) — streaming release
  • “Luca” (2021) — streaming release
  • “Soul” (2020) — streaming release
  • “Onward” (2020)* — $39.1 million
  • “Toy Story 4” (2019) — $120.9 million
  • “The Incredibles 2” (2018) — $182.6 million

* “Onward” was released just as Covid cases spiked in the U.S. and theaters began closing.

Source: The Numbers

A 100-day window for “Inside Out 2” may be the key.

Disney is one of the only studios that doesn’t have a traditional premium video on-demand window, according to Sebastian Gomez, a research and data analyst at The Numbers. Meaning, that once that theatrical window is up it will go to Disney+ where subscribers can watch it for free, rather than an intermediate rental option.

By delaying its at-home release, Disney is signaling to audiences that its latest Pixar release is a “must see” on the big screen.

The first “Inside Out” film, which hit theaters in 2015, generated $90.4 million during its opening weekend and tallied more than $850 million at the global box office.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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Shaking seats and piped-in fog: How 4DX is carving out a niche moviegoing market

Chris Hemsworth stars as the villainous Dementus in Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.”

Warner Bros. Discovery

In George Miller’s new Mad Max film “Furiosa,” a red paint flare explodes and casts the theater screen in a saturated crimson cloud.

Feet away, among the rows of gyroscopic 4DX chairs, plumes of fog roll in, catching the red hue from the screen as if the flare somehow transcended the fourth wall and infiltrated the cinema. The fog parts, Chris Hemsworth as Dementus comes into focus and grins at the audience.

This is the 4DX viewing experience. It’s one of many multi-sensory moments programmed for “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” which opened in theaters Friday, in order to immerse audiences in Miller’s latest visit to the vast Wasteland. And it amounts to a key value proposition at a time when cinemas are desperate to lure back moviegoers, particularly those in the younger demographics.

“We make movies different,” said Duncan Macdonald, head of worldwide marketing and theatre development for CJ 4DPlex Americas. “We are so different out there, with our motion capabilities and our environmental effects.”

In the wake of the pandemic, audiences grew used to shorter theatrical windows and having access to more content at home. At the same time, pandemic-related shutdowns and production stalls from two Hollywood strikes greatly limited the amount of content hitting theaters. As a result, consumers fell out of the habit of going to cinemas.

Moviegoers who have returned are seeking premium experiences — higher-quality picture and sound — and are willing to pay more for those tickets. 4DX is one option in the premium large format market alongside the likes of IMAX and Dolby Cinema. CJ 4DPlex also owns the ScreenX format.

“Premium movie theatre experiences are key to the health of the industry and with fewer films in the marketplace on average than in past years, the importance and essential nature of a company like 4DX comes into sharp focus,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

4DX utilizes motion seats, practical effects and sensory elements to immerse viewers in a movie. For Warner Bros.’ “Wonka,” the company piped in the smell of chocolate during screenings.

CJ 4DPlex Americas CEO Don Savant says the experience is “complementary” to routine moviegoing experiences, noting that 4DX cinemas attract younger consumers, predominantly in the 10-to-30 age range, who are seeking more experiential viewing.

4DX is a 4D film presentation system developed by CJ 4DPlex, a subsidiary of South Korean cinema chain CJ CGV. It allows films to be augmented with various practical effects, including motion-seats, wind, strobe lights, simulated-snow, and scents.

CJ 4DPlex

For consumers, the 4DX experience costs an average of $8 more than traditional ticket prices, meaning a ticket can range from $20 to $30 each. But the extra cost doesn’t seem to be detering audiences.

Last year, 4DX’s domestic locations tallied $53.4 million in ticket sales.

“Notably, the higher price for premium movie tickets is not a barrier to their success but rather seen as representing a solid value proposition for fans in pursuit of the best possible big screen experience,” Dergarabedian said. “This is good news for theater owners who, facing fewer wide release films in the marketplace, can boost revenues on a per-ticket basis while giving their patrons a great experience that will have them returning to the multiplex more often.” 

And, for major blockbuster titles, 4DX is proving to be even more popular. Ticket sales for Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” topped $83.6 million from 4DX screens, or about 3.6% of the film’s total box office haul. It is currently the highest-grossing film for the screen format, Savant said.

“We want to give customers an easy excuse to leave their homes and visit a local Regal theater,” said CEO Eduardo Acuna of Regal Cinemas. “Premium formats like 4DX offer a movie-watching experience that cannot be replicated by any home theater setup. Each premium format serves a different purpose for storytelling, and each increases the enjoyment of watching a movie in a different and immersive way.”

Acuna noted that 4DX auditoriums are “a strong box office performer” for Regal.

Regal is the largest operator of 4DX screens domestically, with 50 of the 62 locations found in the U.S. and Canada. Globally, there are nearly 750 4DX screens with numerous theatrical partners. The highest volume is in Asia and Europe.

Savant said 4DX is adding around 25 to 30 screens per year worldwide, but is looking to push that figure up to 50 to 60 screens a year. The company is seeking to have around 1,200 4DX locations in the next five years. On average, each theater has around 140 seats.

Moviegoers who venture away from their couches and into a 4DX theater to see Warner Bros.’ “Furiosa” will feel from their seat the rev of motorcycles racing through the desert, smell gunpowder in the air during epic gun battles and even get hit with a soft spray of water as it’s flicked in the face of a character on the screen.

Last year, 4DX programmed more than 100 films for the souped-up viewing experience. Around 40 to 45 of those were major Hollywood titles, Savant said. Others included concert content, musical singalongs, anniversary titles and local language films.

Typically, the 4DX programmers, who are based in Seoul, have two to three weeks to craft the motion and special effects, although Savant said they can turn around a film in a week if the need arises. 4DX can program three titles at a time.

Both Macdonald and Savant referred to 4DX’s programmers as “artists,” describing the process — from the subwoofers in the seats to the fog machines — as different brushstrokes in a work of art.

“Every film is different,” said Macdonald. “So we look at the nuances of the different films that we have and how those are programmed.”

In some cases filmmakers will get involved, offering suggestions for when certain effects should be used and how subtle or bombastic they should feel or look.

“It’s the most dynamic way to see [a film],” Savant said.

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Universal banks on ‘Migration’ to expand its animation lead over Disney

Universal and Illuminations latest animated film centers on a family of ducks who decides to leave the safety of a New England pond for an adventurous trip to Jamaica. However, their well-laid plans quickly go awry when they get lost and wind up in New York City.

Universal

Disney dropped the animation crown. Universal has picked it up.

And, with “Migration” opening Friday, the studio is looking to strengthen its grip.

“Migration,” a comic tale about a family of New England ducks that leave their pond for Jamaica, but end up in New York City, is expected to tally $25 million during its domestic debut. Universal has more conservative expectations, forecasting between $10 million and $15 million in ticket sales for the film’s opening.

While that pales in comparison to the $100 million-plus debuts of Illumination/Universal’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and the latest “Minions” film, it’s comparable to the studio and DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which ran in theaters for several months, securing nearly $500 million globally.

“‘Migration,’ with solid word-of-mouth and strong reviews, will have to be judged more on its long-term results than the opening weekend splash,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Disney’s most recent animated film “Wish” failed to connect with audiences. After generating $31.6 million domestically over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday, the film has grossed a total of $55.2 million in the U.S. and Canada. Globally, the film has reached $127.1 million. The film had a budget of $200 million, not including marketing costs.

For comparison, “Trolls Band Together,” which was released the week before Thanksgiving, secured $30 million for its three-day debut and nearly $180 million worldwide. The film had a budget of $95 million, not including marketing costs.

Representatives from Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

How Disney lost the crown

Ariana DeBose stars as Asha in Disney’s new animated film “Wish.”

Disney

Disney established its animated feature empire in the early 20th century with 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and continued to dominate, more or less, into the 1980s and 1990s with “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Later, it acquired Pixar, which together with Walt Disney Animation, generated billions in box-office receipts for the company.

“The world of feature animation has been dominated for decades by Disney and for good reason,” said Dergarabedian. “They set the gold standard.”

Then came the Covid pandemic. While theaters closed, Disney sought to pad its fledgling streaming service Disney+ with content, stretching its creative teams thin, and sending theatrical movies during the pandemic straight to digital.

The decision trained parents to seek out new Disney titles on streaming, not theaters, even when Disney opted to return its films to the big screen. Compounding Disney’s woes was a general sense from audiences that the company’s content had grown overly existential and too concerned with social issues beyond the reach of children.

As a result, no Disney animated feature from Pixar or Walt Disney Animation has generated more than $480 million at the global box office since 2019.

“I think what’s changed is that Disney doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt,” said Josh Brown, CEO at Ritholtz Wealth Management and a CNBC contributor. “And people will not go to a movie just because it’s the latest Disney movie in the way that previous generations did.”

Universal appeal

But as moviegoers have returned to cinemas in the wake of the pandemic, more are gravitating toward Universal’s fare.

“Simply put, Illumination Animation’s only agenda is entertainment,” said Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “Their animated films are sweet and simple and family audiences appreciate that. Disney sometimes attempts to pack too much into their animated features, and lately have been losing sight of the simplicity of the genre.”

Not to mention, Universal has been revisiting tried and true fan-favorite stories and characters. In fact, Illumination hasn’t released a nonfranchise film since 2016, and only three of the last 10 DreamWorks features have been original stories.

For comparison, of the last eight films released by a Disney animation studio, seven have been original films with just 2022’s “Lightyear,” a “Toy Story” spinoff, tied to an existing franchise. Previously, Disney has thrived bringing new animated material to audiences, but in the post-pandemic world, it has struggled.

It is the exact opposite strategy of Disney’s live-action theatrical releases, which have relied heavily on established franchises. Think “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Little Mermaid,” Marvel franchise films and “Haunted Mansion.”

Iger has said that Disney will continue to make sequels, without apology, but admitted that the company needs to be more selective in which franchises it revisits.

“I think there has to be a reason to make them, you have to have a good story,” Iger said during The New York Times’ DealBook Summit in late November.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.

Universal

In animation, returning to popular characters and worlds is an easy way to capture the attention of parents and kids.

“Because they have seen these characters and related stories before, they have high confidence that they will be high quality, entertaining and ‘brand safe’ for their kids,” said Peter Csathy, founder and chair of advisory firm Creative Media. “And they may even anticipate franchise animated films as much as their kids.”

In developing consistent franchise content like Minions and Trolls, Universal is now able to introduce a new film like “Migration” with a sense of clout. Parents who see that the film is from the same studio that brought other fan favorites to the big screen are then more likely to come out to see it.

It’s what Pixar was able to do so well for nearly three decades.

“With ‘Minions,’ ‘Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Sing,’ I think Illumination is a brand people are aware of by now,” said Bock. “And that awareness will boost ‘Migration’s’ flight pattern, likely extending its box-office run. That’s key. The long play.”

So far, “Migration” has generally favorable reviews from critics. If audiences respond well, and spread the word, the film could see a solid run, adding to the prestige of Universal’s animation brand.

“The kids animation market opportunity will never grow old, so those playing at the top of the game – as is Illumination – hold the promise and possibility of becoming the next go-to brand for quality animation after Pixar,” said Csathy.

Next year, Disney and Pixar are set to release “Inside Out 2” in June, while Universal and Illumination’s “Despicable Me 4” is scheduled to hit theaters weeks later in July.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Pictures and CNBC.

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The ultimate work perk? This company provides a free place to stay in Spain

Some workers go to great lengths to hide hush trips from their bosses.

But employees of the Polish company PhotoAid needn’t bother.

The company, which helps travelers take their own passport photos at home, allows its employees to stay at an apartment in Spain for free — provided they work while they’re there.

The apartment is in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, an archipelago west of Morocco. Employees can stay up to three weeks at a time and can visit as many times in year as they like, depending on demand from other employees.

The company reimburses half of employees’ airfare too, up to 1,000 Polish zlotys ($246), once a year. Flights from Warsaw to Tenerife can start at around $150 for a six-hour direct flight.

Employees can stay up to three weeks at a time at the Tenerife apartment and can visit as many times as they like.

Source: PhotoAid

The company started renting the apartment in Tenerife’s capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the summer of 2022 as a way to create relationships and build morale among its employees, all of whom work remotely, said co-founder Rafal Mlodzki.

Plus, Mlodzki said he and the other co-founders, Marcin and Tomasz Mlodzki — who are also his brothers — wanted to offer a company perk that would stand out.  

How the ‘workcations’ work

PhotoAid is a small company with a young workforce, so most employees don’t have children, said Mlodzki. But those who do tend to group together and use the benefit in the summer months when schools are closed.

Employees can request to bring their partners too, which the company reviews on a case-by-case basis, he said.  

Employees must abide by several rules, he said, such as the check-in and check-out protocol. Employees must upload a photo of the apartment on arrival, then do the same on departure to show the next group of employees how they left it.

Workcation time spent in Tenerife doesn’t count as employee vacation time, which is up to 26 days a year, said PhotoAid co-founder Rafal Mlodzki.

Source: PhotoAid

On arrival, employees are assigned a cleaning task too, but the company hires a professional cleaner for deep cleans, he said. While drinking wine on the balcony and chatting into the night are regular occurrences, employees are not allowed to drink during work hours, he said.   

Mlodzki told CNBC Travel that employees like to visit Tenerife with coworkers with shared interests. For example, a recent group played sports in their free time, while another group went to music concerts.

‘The best onboarding in the world’

Around 50 of PhotoAid’s 143 employees have now stayed at the Tenerife apartment, many meeting their teammates in person for the first time during their stays. Around 10 were onboarded as new starters there too, said Mlodzki.

“One of the reasons we decided to open this office was the possibility of offering the best onboarding in the world for senior team members. Those onboarded are not only thrilled but also deeply understand the company and their role in it,” said Mlodzki.

Coworkers with shared interests — such as sports and music — travel to Tenerife together.

Source: PhotoAid

“Often, spontaneous moments occur. For example, after a series of 45-minute sets with 10-minute breaks, we might go on a mini mountain trip and continue onboarding informally. It might even transition into an evening on the terrace.

“We just onboarded our new chief operating officer during a workation in Tenerife, and he was deeply impressed. He had never experienced an onboarding like this before.”

Two senior leaders have scheduled a strategic planning and brainstorming session at the apartment this winter, where average temperatures in January are 68 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than 34 F in the Polish capital of Warsaw.

The apartment

The 3,200-square-foot apartment overlooks the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It has three bedrooms, a spacious lounge with board games, two balconies and a small gym. There are also eight workspaces with high-speed internet, computer monitors and ergonomic chairs.

The apartment has eight workspaces with high-speed internet, computer monitors and ergonomic chairs.

Source: PhotoAid

There’s a bakery next door for fresh bread, with restaurants, bars, wineries, and vermuterias (bars specializing in Spanish vermouth) nearby.

Workation as a ‘wow’ factor

When she was interviewing, Aleksandra Staromiejska said the Tenerife benefit made PhotoAid stand out. Now a company digital public relations specialist, she stayed in the apartment for two weeks in May, along with a colleague from her team. 

Aleksandra Staromiejska started her work days early to maximize her time at the beach, she said.

Source: Aleksandra Staromiejska

She started and finished her work early, she said, to spend as much time as possible at the beach, a 20-minute bus ride away. Over the weekend, she and her colleague went hiking in Macizo de Anaga (Anaga mountains).

“I noticed my productivity levels were higher,” said Staromiejska. “I really wanted to do my job quickly so I could finish my work day and have time to go to the beach.”

Vacations to Spain’s Canary Islands are popular with employees of PhotoAid, a company based in the much colder city of Warsaw, Poland.

Source: PhotoAid

“It was actually a very relaxing trip. Just being in nature is something else. My batteries were just charged up,” she said.

The Spanish apartment is often mentioned in employee satisfaction surveys, said Mlodzki.

“When we recruit, it’s an attractive benefit that candidates always react positively to.”

A vacay with the boss?

Enamored by the culture and scenery, Mlodzki said he spends half his time in Warsaw and half his time in Tenerife, staying in the master bedroom at PhotoAid’s apartment. 

Mlodzki acknowledged that some people might feel nervous about spending so much time with their boss. (Indeed, Staromiejska admitted she did before her workation.) But he said it’s great for rapport.

“It’s super interesting for me to get to know more people. To give and get feedback is very enriching for me,” he said.

Rafal Mlodzki, Aleksandra Staromiejska and Michel Jonca. “It’s super interesting for me to get to know more people,” said co-founder Mlodzki.

Source: PhotoAid

From leasing the apartment to paying for employees’ flights, Mlodzki said the investment has been worth it.

 “We think about the Tenerife office as the ‘company charger’ with the goal of reenergizing employees and boosting team spirits that can get depleted by remote work.”

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Take a look inside the new Raffles hotel in London

History seeps from the walls of the Old War Office in Whitehall, London, Winston Churchill’s former workplace.

Once the beating heart of Britain’s military empire, the headquarters from which some of the most consequential decisions in modern U.K. history were made, the building is now forging a new future as one of the capital’s leading luxury hotels: Raffles London.

A painstaking eight-year renovation has seen the Grade II* listed Edwardian Baroque building — located on the site of the Palace of Whitehall and a stone’s throw from Downing Street — shake state secrets for mystique of another kind, as the first European location of the iconic Singaporean brand.

It’s the magic combination: the building, the location and the name, Raffles.

Fiona Harris

Communications director, Raffles London

“It’s the magic combination: the building, the location and the name, Raffles,” Fiona Harris, Raffles London’s communications director, told CNBC Travel.

The hotel’s opening last month marks a full circle moment for the Raffles brand, whose name and original location pay homage to Sir Stamford Raffles, the British diplomat who founded modern Singapore.

The building’s new owner, the Hinduja Group, which purchased a 250-year lease from the Ministry of Defense in 2016, started as a trading company in colonial India in 1914 and is now a global conglomerate.

CNBC Travel took a tour of the £1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) redevelopment — here’s a look at its 100-year transition from control center of the British empire to luxury stable for international visitors to the U.K.

An emblem of British history

Originally built for the British Army between 1899 and 1906, the vast OWO building served as an embodiment of imperial influence at its height.

At the time, more than 2,500 British army men and women worked within the building’s 1,100 rooms and two-and-a-half miles of corridors.

The Grade II listed Old War Office was built for the British Army in 1906 and is based on the site of the original Palace of Whitehall, home to several former British monarchs, including Henry VIII.

Raffles London

That grandeur remains today under an extensive renovation by EPR Architects, through which much of the building’s original features have been restored.

Inside the grand lobby, an Italian marble imperial staircase and double-tier chandelier do justice to a building that served as the birthplace of the British Secret Service and the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.

A new Italian chandelier, whose design is said to symbolize international trade, was delicately installed by a company that typically handles nuclear equipment.

CNBC

Above it, the first floor features the balcony from which Churchill would address his staff, giving way to the former offices of various political and military heavyweights, including David Lloyd George and Lord Kitchener.

“This building would have been full of state secrets,” Harris said.

The Old War Office was occupied by various political and military leaders, including wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A replica of his desk and a bust is displayed in the Churchill Suite.

CNBC

Churchill’s own office — dubbed by Harris as “the room where all the big decisions were made,” including the move to join World War II and the decision behind the D-Day landings — is no less grand in its new life as a suite, with a replica desk and bust of the former prime minister.

Pivot to the future

The Churchill suite is just one of the rooms reimaged in tribute to the building’s history by the late Thierry Despont, whose architectural accolades include the restoration of New York’s Statue of Liberty and the interior redesign of Manhattan’s residential skyscraper 220 Central Park South.

All in, the hotel houses 120 suites and rooms, including five heritage suites in the former offices of political and military leaders, and eight corner suites named after notable women and female spies.

Raffles London is home to 120 rooms and suites, including eight corner suites named after notable women and female spies.

Raffles London

Meanwhile, deep underground, a three-floor excavation expands the building’s area by more than a third to 800,000 square feet, making way for a ballroom, a 65-foot swimming pool, and a Guerlain spa.

The addition of nine new restaurants run by multi-Michelin star chefs, including three by Argentina’s Mauro Colagreco, aim to burnish the hotel’s credentials as a culinary epicenter for the city, while three new bars seek to showcase the building’s unique history and location.

A 65-foot subterranean swimming pool at the heart of Raffles London’s four-story spa, which includes nine Guerlain treatment rooms and a gym.

Raffles London

Guests at the Guards Bar and Lounge, for example, can enjoy a prime position from which to watch the famous changing of the guard ceremony while sipping a London Sling ($29), a gin and cherry cocktail inspired by its Singapore namesake.

Those seeking more discretion can opt for the subterranean spy bar, located in an old interrogation room, from where they can pay homage to the various spies whose secrets were held within its walls.

Saison, run by Argentine Michelin star chef Mauro Colagreco, is one of nine restaurants and three bars at Raffles London. It is housed in the former library where James Bond author Ian Fleming used to write.

Raffles London

And for non-paying guests, there is an opportunity to visit and tour the building on one of 11 annual open days — a part of the Ministry of Defense’s lease agreement.

“We’re flipping it on its head,” Harris said of the building that once required security clearance for admittance. “It doesn’t matter if you’re super rich or you just want to come for coffee with a friend. It’s open to everyone,” she said.

London’s new luxury wave

A stay at Raffles London is not without a significant price tag. A night in one of the hotel’s classic rooms costs around £1,100 ($1,340), while a stay in one of its five most exclusive suites will set guests back between £18,000 and £25,000 per night.

Those who prefer to stay forever can also do so, budgeting upward of £8 million for one of 85 Raffles branded OWO residences. At the time of writing, around half of those units have already sold — to buyers from the U.S., China and the Middle East — though a five-bedroom penthouse priced at £100 million remains there for the taking.

A roll top bath takes center stage in the opulent bathroom of the Granville Suite, named after British spy Christine Granville.

CNBC

The hefty sums come as Britain’s economy and much of its population remain under financial pressure amid high inflation. And yet Raffles is not alone in betting big on London’s luxury market.

In September, another £1 billion hotel, The Peninsula, opened on the corner of Hyde Park, and in the coming months, a Mandarin Oriental, a Rosewood and a new sister hotel to Claridge’s, The Emory, are all set to launch in exclusive pockets of the capital.

An art installation of suspended, fragmented poppies pays homage to the Royal British Legion, a charity for members and veterans of the British Armed Forces.

CNBC

OWO’s owner, Hinduja Group Chairman Gopichand Hinduja — who, incidentally, purchased the property in 2016 ahead of a Brexit-based downturn — said the investment showcased Britain’s long-term appeal as a luxury travel market.

“We don’t go on short-term,” Hinduja told CNBC in July. “The U.K. is an important country, and everyone loves to come to London whether it is for holiday or it is for business.”

“We have converted that place into peace and solace,” Hinduja added of The OWO building. “It is a unique, singular property. It is a place of destination.”

The Granville Suite is one of five heritage suites at Raffles London, each occupying rooms which previously served as offices for some of Britain’s leading politicians and military leaders.

CNBC

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Bringing smiles and a sense of freedom on the water for people with disabilities

Jason East sits behind the steering wheel of a pontoon boat with nothing but the gentle breeze off the water and the passing sailboats to distract him.

“When you’re out on the water it’s like leaving your disability behind,” Mr East says.

“We’re all equal on the water and there’s a real freedom in that.”

Jason East might need a wheelchair on land but on the water he says he is free.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Mr East, who ordinarily uses a wheelchair, manoeuvres through the calm waters of Cairns’ Trinity Inlet in Far North Queensland.

It’s his second trip of the day taking a boatload of passengers with disabilities for a gentle, afternoon sail.

Being on the water is second nature for the 46-year-old skipper after growing up on his family’s yacht and working on boats in the Torres Strait.

But that idyllic lifestyle was up-ended 14 years ago after a motor vehicle crash left him using a wheelchair.

It took years of soul-searching and physical therapy before Mr East was ready to get back on the water.

pontoon boat on water

Jason now volunteers with Sailability and loves seeing the joy on people’s faces when they are out on the water.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Accepting and embracing change

At 32 years of age doctors labelled Mr East’s injury as “incomplete”, meaning the spinal cord was not severed completely, but he did lose all movement from the neck down.

It took 12 months in hospital and three years of depression before he was ready to come to terms with his injuries.

“It was a big adjustment coming home, trying to fit back into my old life and learning to accept myself,” Mr East says.

Man on left close up of face and man on right in wheelchair

Sailing has strengthened a lot of Jason’s muscle groups and given him more mobility.(Supplied: Jason East)

He discovered Sailability, an Australia-wide club that takes people with a disability sailing, and despite being “quite scared” initially it reignited his passion for the water.

“I’d been a commercial crayfish diver, and then after the accident I couldn’t swim,” he says.

“But once I started coming down to the club I fell back in love with the water all over again, and it’s actually strengthened a lot of my muscle groups and given me more mobility.”

Mr East has developed movement in his arms, the trunk of his body, and partial movement in one leg.

two sailboats on the water

The volunteers get much enjoyment from seeing the smiles on the faces of their passengers.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

He is passionate about using his life experiences to help others, giving talks at schools, youth justice, and for the last eight years volunteering with Sailability.

“I love sharing my passion [for sailing] and taking others out on the water and watching them smile,” he says.

“When we’re on land we have a visible disability, but when we’re on the boat we can leave our chairs and our walking aids back on land and we’re all equal.

“There’s no judgement and their smiles tell a million words and that’s all you need.”

Man in walker walking down ramp

The ramp ensures people in wheelchairs or with walkers can access the pier.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

Inclusive not exclusive

Jennifer Crellin is one of the passengers on Mr East’s boat who cannot wipe the smile from her face.

She’s always been captivated by the water, she explains, but after a water slide accident at Lake Placid in Cairns 33 years ago left her using a wheelchair and an incomplete C6 quadriplegic, it took years before she had the courage to get back on a boat.

“On the day of my accident I had been coming down the water slide and a boy was climbing up at the same time and we collided,” Ms Crellin said.

“I actually grew up around water and sailing with my dad so after my accident I didn’t think it was possible I could sail again.

“The very first time I did get back into a boat it was really emotional for me.”

lady on left in wheelchair and lady on right close up face

Jennifer Crellin is grateful to Sailability for helping her get out on the water again.(Supplied: Jennifer Crellin)

The 56-year-old now regularly sails with Sailability, often in a two-man sailboat with one of the volunteers for support.

“I love not being bound by a chair,” she says.

“I love everything — the feeling of the wind and just hearing the water beneath me.”

Ms Crellin has now started taking her grandkids out with her some days, hoping to pass on her love of sailing.

“It’s hard to explain, but the sense of freedom is incredible,” she says.

Lady in orange hat with child cuddled up to her

Jenny loves sharing her love of sailing with granddaughter Zoe.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

A community on the water

Sailability is a national charity with 70 clubs throughout Australia.

Geoff Grace, the president of Queensland Sailability and volunteer with Brisbane’s Bayside Club, says each state has its own organisation but all operate with similar programs.

two men helping a sailboat coming back to the pier

There are plenty of volunteers on hand to help with getting sailors in and out of the boats.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

“We take out school kids as young as eight, all the way up to people in their 90s living in nursing homes,” Mr Grace says.

“The only must-have is a competent skipper and then the sky is the limit.”

Two men on a boat.

Jeff Crofts catching up with Jason East before he takes his second boatload down the inlet.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

In Cairns, between 15 and 30 people with a range of disabilities take to the water each week, says local Sailability president Jeff Crofts.

“We have people sail with us that are paraplegic, quadriplegic, have intellectual disabilities or physical challenges,” he says.

“Our club also has a special hoist that uses a sling to lift people out of their wheelchairs and over into the seats of the sailboats so they can enjoy sailing like the rest of us.”

Man in sling being lifted into boat

The Cairns club has a special hoist to lift people over into the seats of sailboats.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

The Cairns club is one of 15 in Queensland.

“We just have to give them a boat so they can get out and enjoy themselves. The problem is getting them to bring the boat back,” Mr Crofts says.

“That’s why they call us ‘smile-ability’ because people can’t wipe the smiles off their faces.”

Sailboat on water with mangroves behind them

Perfect sailing conditions for an afternoon on the water.(ABC Far North: Amanda Cranston)

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Where to stay in India? Here are 8 former palaces that are now hotels

The Maharajas of India’s past built magnificent palaces as a symbol of their power.

But in 1971, India abolished “privy purses,” or governmental payments made to these rulers. Several of them transformed their vast estates into heritage hotels, or leased them to renowned hotel chains which carefully restored them to their former glory.

From the eastern state of Odisha to Rajasthan in the north, here are eight regal retreats where travelers can live like kings and queens.

1. Jehan Numa Palace — Bhopal

Visitors can step back in time at Jehan Numa Palace in Bhopal, which has a neoclassical style and a 19th-century exterior.

Jehan Numa Palace.

Source: Jehan Numa Palace

This pristine white building was built by General Obaidullah Khan, son of the last ruling Begum of Bhopal, and transformed into a 100-room hotel by his grandsons in the 1980s. The hotel contains salvaged original artifacts and Raj-era photos as well as modern luxuries, such as a palm-lined pool and Chakra spa services.

Its palatial charm lingers among the racehorses that gallop around the track encircling the hotel. Travelers can dine on Italian and Mediterranean cuisine here, but Indophiles opt for the hotel’s legendary Bhopali fare prepared from secret palace recipes in a restaurant named Under the Mango Tree. 

2. Haveli Dharampura — Delhi

Once a nobleman’s home, the 19th-century Haveli Dharampura was meticulously restored over six years under the leadership of the prominent political figure Vijay Goel.

Haveli Dharampura.

Source: Heritage Dharampura

It’s now a 14-room boutique hotel, which received an honorable mention in 2017’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The atmospheric Mughal-era hotel has red sandstone-arched colonnades, a marble courtyard, Arabesque tile-work and intricate stone and wood details that echo the opulence of yesteryears. 

The in-house Lakhori restaurant prepares historic Mughal recipes, while the breezy rooftop provides a delightful setting for drink-in-hand lounging while listening to the muezzin’s call from the nearby Jama Masjid — a soul-stirring reminder that you are in the heart of Old Delhi.

The hotel has guided heritage walks, kite-flying and high tea on the roof terrace, and kathak performances on Saturday and Sunday, where guests can enjoy an evening of Indian classical dance.

3. Taj Lake Palace — Udaipur

Accessible by boat, this stark white edifice in the heart of Lake Pichola (as seen in the 1983 James Bond flick “Octopussy”) was originally a summer pleasure palace for Mewar royalty in the 1740s.

It was transformed into a heritage hotel in the 1960s and is now impeccably managed by the Taj Group.

Taj Lake Palace

Source: Taj Lake Palace

Straight out of a fairy tale, the Taj Lake Palace boasts domed pavilions, ornamental turrets, crystal chandeliers, and 83 antique-filled rooms and suites, some which overlook a gleaming courtyard that hosts nightly folk dances.

It has four dining options serving globe-trotting menus, a spa boat and butler service.

4. Taj Falaknuma Palace — Hyderabad

Perched nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, this hilltop hotel has 60 rooms and suites, which increase in lavishness as you move up its room classes.

Taj Falaknuma Palace.

Source: Taj Falaknuma Palace

By the time you reach the Nizam Suite — graced with fine tapestry, a private pool and personal butler — it’s easy to envision the lifestyle of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who lived in the palace in the 19th century.

The rooms aren’t the only lure. The 130-year-old edifice is known for its state banquets of yore-style food, grand gardens, billiard room with monogrammed cues and ivory balls, and a library modeled on the one at Windsor Castle. Staterooms are decked out with Venetian chandeliers, royal portraits and heirlooms from the Nizams’ era.

5. Taj Usha Kiran Palace — Gwalior

This palace dating to the 1800s was, in its past life, a guesthouse and later royal residence of the ruling family of the state of Gwalior.

Taj Usha Kiran Palace.

Source: Taj Usha Kiran Palace

Today, it’s a lavish Taj hotel that balances old-world vibes with contemporary style. Its interiors contain ancient stone carvings, filigree work and rich tapestries. For a regal experience, travelers can take a heritage tour through the sprawling estate and stay in one of the Royal Suites, which are kitted out with four-poster beds, Venetian mirrors and mother-of-pearl mosaics.

The hotel also offers plenty of facilities to help guests unwind, including a spa, outdoor pool, and an Art Deco-style bar.

6. Rambagh Palace — Jaipur

Set in 47 acres of gardens that are home to peacocks, this former hunting lodge and royal abode of the Maharaja of Jaipur, dates back to 1835. It is now a heritage hotel managed by the Taj Group.

Rambagh Palace.

Source: Rambagh Palace

Exquisite antique furnishings, silk drapes, domed wooden ceilings and four-poster beds give the 78 rooms and suites a regal feel.

Many other features make Rambagh Palace an unforgettable retreat: heritage walks around the premises conducted by the palace butler, golf putting green, original palace dining room with chandeliers and gilded mirror, a Polo bar festooned with trophies and memorabilia of the Jaipur polo team, and a spa with Indian healing services.

The palace has hosted the likes of King Charles, Louis Mountbatten and Jacqueline Kennedy.

7. The Belgadia Palace — Mayurbhanj

Nestled in the charming town of Baripada, The Belgadia Palace has been with the descendants of the same royal family since it was built in 1804, giving it an authenticity that is hard to replicate.

The Belgadia Palace.

Source: The Belgadia Palace

A portion of this historic palace has been converted into an 11-room hotel by Mrinalika and Akshita Bhanj Deo, royal descendants of the family. It boasts lofty ceilings, marble corridors and artifacts.

There’s also a lavish dining hall that serves Odisha-style meals, and elegant verandas on which to drink tea. The palace arranges activities such as traditional Chhau dance performances on the pristine lawns, handicraft village tours and other excursions. 

8. Chittoor Kottaram — Kochi

The height of exclusivity, the Chittoor Kottaram — which once belonged to the king of Cochin — hosts only one group of no more than six people at any one time.

Chittoor Kottaram.

Source: Chittoor Kottaram

Nestled amid coconut groves by the edge of the lagoon backwaters of Kerala, the three-room abode boasts beautiful Athangudi floor tiles and wooden ceilings.

Precious artworks by Lady Hamlyn of The Helen Hamlyn Trust, the restorer of this 300-year-old palace, lend the property something of a museum feel. A personal chef prepares traditional Keralan dishes that can be eaten at a waterside gazebo or in the lush garden.

Ayurvedic massages and private cultural shows can be arranged, as can a private sunset cruise on the serene waterways.

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Couples leverage ‘something borrowed’ to cut wedding costs

After facing the reality of how expensive fresh flowers could be when planning her own wedding, Della Larca founded Florèal Blooms, her luxury silk flower rental business, three and half years ago from her basement in Butler, New Jersey.

Larca’s business swelled last year, and she recently moved to a larger workspace to accommodate to the growing demand for her product brought by inflation and a backlog of events rippled by the pandemic.

The price of nuptials has continued to grow, with the cost of the average wedding reaching $30,000 last year thanks to steep inflation, according to an annual study by The Knot, a wedding website.

More from Life Changes:

Here’s a look at other stories offering a financial angle on important lifetime milestones.

Sixty-one percent of couples set to marry this year said the economy has already impacted their wedding plans, and the soon-to-be-wed have become savvier as they confront higher costs. Some, for example, are leaning into the wedding proverb of “something borrowed,” and seriously considering renting over buying —especially when it comes to flowers, fine jewelry and even their bridal dresses.

To make sure they’re really snagging a deal, however, couples must take into consideration the quality of the product they’re renting and whether rental requires added labor costs.

“It’s about making sure whatever you’re renting, think about the execution, think about who’s going to have to bring it out, set it up … is that cost worth it to you?” said Jason Rhee, director of celebrations and owner of Rheefined Company, a wedding and special events planner in Los Angeles.

Couples are renting flowers, jewelry and more

Courtesy of Something Borrowed Blooms

Laken Swan and Lauren Bercier founded Something Borrowed Blooms in 2015 after dealing with high costs for their own weddings. Bercier, in particular, suffered buyer’s remorse on her wedding day — after putting down the full deposit for fresh flowers, the blooms that arrived on her wedding day weren’t exactly what she’d had in mind, said Swan.

Unfortunately, the disappointment Bercier felt isn’t uncommon. The fresh flower industry can experience supply and demand issues, Swan said, and prices often reflect the fluctuation of what’s in stock and an event’s proximity to holidays like Valentine’s Day.

Prices for artificial flowers, on the other hand, are not as volatile — and brides are starting to notice.

Florèal Blooms saw an increase in demand in January 2021, when Larca was scheduling 20 to 30 consultations a week. For 2023, the company is fully booked until the end of the year. For its part, Something Borrowed Blooms is currently shipping out enough silk flowers each month for around 1,200 weddings, pacing up to 2,000 weddings per month this fall.

It makes economic sense: While the average cost of fresh flowers can come to at least $2,500 per event, you can save as much as 70% by renting silk flowers for a fraction of the price, Swan said.

How brides can dress best for less

Fine jewels are also within the average bride’s reach more than ever before. Brides who lack the disposable income to purchase fine jewelry but would value the experience of wearing one-of-a-kind pieces on their special day may want to consider renting expensive jewelry.

Rental prices for fine diamond jewelry at New York-based jeweler Verstolo range from $275 to $695, for example, and the cost includes insurance.

The same goes for wedding dresses.

While the average price for a typical bridal gown is $1,900 before alterations — an additional but often necessary service that could cost $500 to $700 extra — brides to be could rent a designer dress for the starting price of $2,000, with tailoring costs included, said Miriam Williams, co-founder of Atlanta bridal rental company Laine London.

“This next generation of brides is thinking about experiences over possessions,” said Williams. “It’s only natural that they’re rethinking what their wedding day might look like.”

While these may sound like great deals up front, couples should be sure to vet vendors’ quality controls — how they keep the repeatedly used items in top condition — and ask whether their services require additional labor costs. Otherwise, they could end up spending far more than anticipated.

What to consider before renting

Make sure you think about the execution of whatever it is you are renting, said Rhee at Rheefined Company.

“I think it’s amazing that there [are] opportunities for you to be able to rent things that you may not necessarily be able to afford, but then that’s where you just have to think about doing a little investigation,” he said. “Think about it if there is a person attached to that, or is there a service attached to what you need.”

For instance, Florèal Blooms provides a full team that delivers, sets up and packs up the flowers on the wedding day for a flat rate that’s included in the total cost.

“Quality would be the primary risk,” said Swan at Something Borrowed Blooms. Since you are renting something that has been used before, research past customer testimonies and try to work with companies that seem to pride themselves in quality control, added Swan.

If renting out artificial flowers, consider asking the rental company about quality control practices and whether their total costs include insurance for “wear and tear.”

“If there’s maybe a [flower] that was stained [by] red wine or something else, that particular floral is removed from the arrangement and we add a new floral in its place; sometimes, we’re just freshening up greenery,” Swan noted.

The same goes for bridal gowns and maintenance. Laine London expects “normal wear and tear,” and makes sure to hand-wash and drip-dry each gown after it is returned, as well as to refrain from using harsh chemicals, in order to maintain fabric integrity.

“We’re able to really bring the dress back to perfect condition after every use,” said Williams.

Something borrowed, something … bought?

On the other hand, in some cases it may make better sense to buy rather than borrow.

“You want to buy something that you’re going to wear, and that’s not going to sit in your safe and you’ll pull it out one or two times a year,” said Lauren Grunstein, vice president of sales, public relations and marketing for Verstolo.

Deciding whether to buy or rent is a very personal decision, added Williams at Laine London. She noted that her clients have other reasons for renting, not solely for budget reasons. “They don’t want to deal with it hanging in their closet,” she said, referring to wedding gowns.

However, if you plan to get multiple uses out of a bridal item in the future and you have a budget that supports it, it makes sense to go ahead and invest in that purchase, said Swan.

“But if you’re looking at items that are quickly used or disposed of, or don’t have additional uses in the future, that’s definitely an area that you want to consider renting.”

Correction: Florèal Blooms saw an increase in demand in January 2021. An earlier version misstated the year. Rental prices for fine diamond jewelry at Verstolo range from $275 to $695, for example and the cost includes insurance. An earlier version misstated the range.

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A market slaughtering dogs was a top tourist attraction. Then a video was leaked

The Tomohon Extreme Market was once a top tourist attraction in the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi — a live animal market filled with everything from fileted pythons to skewered bats and rats.

But the market drew international condemnation in 2018 after animal activists shot videos of dogs and cats being brutally beaten and blowtorched alive.

Activists urged major travel companies to stop recommending the market as a tourism site, said Lola Webber, Humane Society International’s director of campaigns.

Companies like Tripadvisor swiftly complied, she said.

But banning the dog and cat meat trade — part of a long-held tradition among the local Minahasa people — was significantly harder, she said.

“We were told by many for many years, you’ll never change North Sulawesi, you’ll never change Tomohon. it is impossible,” Webber said.

They were wrong.

A ‘huge win’

After the ban went into effect, 25 dogs and three cats were rescued. They were taken to a sanctuary run by Animal Friends Manado Indonesia for quarantine, after which they will hopefully be placed in their “forever homes, either within Indonesia or internationally,” said Humane Society International’s Lola Webber

Source: Humane Society International

“It’s an enormous victory for animal protection and literally the thousands and thousands of dogs and cats that are spared from Tomohon market every month,” she said.

The traders were given a “small grant” to stop participating in the trade, she told CNBC Travel, while the coalition of activists lobbied the government about the disease risks of live animal markets, which ranges from viruses like Covid-19 to rabies.

Rabies is endemic in much of Indonesia, including the island of Sulawesi, according to the World Health Organization.

Next steps

The ban of dog and cat meat in the Tomohon market is a step in the right direction, but problems with the trade don’t end there, said Michael Patching, chairperson of Impetus Animal Welfare.

One issue is an influx of stray animals, he said. “Bali dealt with this issue by poisoning stray dogs, which ended up being just as bad, if not worse, than those that have been subjected to the dog meat trade.”

A live dog can cost up to $40, and one that has already been killed is priced from $2.30 to $4 per kilogram, said Frank Delano Manus of Animal Friends Manado Indonesia.

Source: Humane Society International

To combat this, the Dog Meat Free Indonesia coalition is supporting programs to spay, neuter and vaccinate dogs and cats in Indonesia, said Webber.

She said she hopes to use the Tomohon market ban as a precedent to work with government, market management, meat traders and the public in other provinces where dog meat is eaten too.

Polling suggests only 5% of Indonesia’s population has ever tried it, said Webber. Yet there are hot spots where it’s eaten, like Java’s Surakarta (or Solo) and North Sulawesi, the latter being a predominantly Christian enclave in a Muslim-majority nation. (Like pigs, dogs are viewed as being unclean, and therefore not suitable for consumption, in the Muslim faith.)

Humane Society International's Lola Webber speaks about rescuing dogs and cats after Tomohon market ban

In those areas, activists raise public awareness of the cruelty of the trade and the trafficking that goes along with it, which often involves the theft of family pets.

“We’ve interviewed so many people who’ve had their dogs and cats stolen,” Webber said.

Poor governance

Many activists who spoke to CNBC Travel said poor governance is the biggest hurdle to ending the dog and cat meat trade.

Frank Delano Manus, an animal rights advocate at Animal Friends Manado Indonesia, said 95% of North Sulawesi’s exotic animal meat is sent from neighboring provinces — without government checks or quarantine regulations.

A timeline of Indonesia’s dog meat trade

  • 2017: Bali cracks down on dog meat vendors
  • 2019: The regency of Karanganyar in central Java bans the dog trade
  • 2022: The city of Medan and the capital city of Jakarta ban dog meat
  • Today: Bans exist in 22 cities and regencies

Indonesian officials did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

When his organization tried to ban the sale of snake and bat meat when the pandemic hit in 2020, it received a “flat response” from the government, he said.

“When people ask me what’s the number one problem in Indonesia, I always say it’s the lack of law enforcement,” Manus told CNBC.

Indonesia has a huge pet-loving community, said Webber, which includes the dog meat traders. “Every trader has a pet, at least one pet dog.”

Source: Humane Society International

The sale of dog meat is illegal other parts of Asia, including Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But the industry lives on in places like China and South Korea — and Vietnam.

“While all the focus has been on South Korea, Indonesia and other countries, Vietnam’s dog and cat meat trade has continued to thrive,” said Rahul Sehgal, director of international advocacy at the Soi Dog Foundation, adding that “millions of signatures” on online petitions have not made a difference.

Rescued animals being transported by members of the Humane Society International to a care and rehabilitation center on July 21, 2023, in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Source: Humane Society International

“In Vietnam, every third shop is a pet grooming salon, every fifth shop is a pet supply store, but every twentieth shop is a slaughterhouse or a restaurant that is selling dog or cat meat,” he told CNBC, adding that it’s eaten for cultural, superstitious and medicinal purposes.

“Just like how the Chinese use rhino horns or tiger bones for traditional medicine, cat bones are said to cure a host of illnesses like asthma,” he said. “But there is no scientific basis to this.”

An opening for more travelers

Though Tomohon Extreme Market was once marketed as a tourist attraction — and in some places, it still is — the dog and cat meat ban may bring in more travelers to North Sulawesi.

In a Tripadvisor post on March 5, a user discusses reading about Sulawesi’s dog meat trade.

The post states: “Well the next trip was going to be to Sulawesi, Indonesia … I don’t care what you eat, but torture should not be a part of it. Therefore I cannot in good conscience travel there.”

A screenshot of a post on Tripadvisor in a forum discussing Sulawesi.

Screen shot from Tripadvisor

Negative media attention frustrated the dog meat traders, Webber said.

“People would see it, and feel very strongly about it,” she said. “International tourists, national tourists, and locals themselves didn’t want to see that degree of brutality.”

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The ‘breakout travel trend’ of the decade: What to know about expedition cruising

It felt as if we had the jungle to ourselves.

As we explored Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park, we spotted rare birds, spider monkeys — even a sloth and her infant — among the trees of the rainforest.

It was one of many experiences I had on an expedition cruise with 32 passengers aboard the Greg Mortimer, operated by the Australia-based Aurora Expeditions.

During the 13-day voyage, we crossed the Panama Canal and snorkeled amid hawksbill turtles in Panama’s UNESCO-protected Coiba National Park. We also met members of the indigenous Embera tribe deep in Panama’s thick jungle. 

Aurora Expeditions’ Greg Mortimer in Costa Rica. Its smaller size allows it to explore coastlines that are inaccessible to large cruise ships.

Source: Carlo Raciti

Built for polar regions, this was the ship’s first foray into tropical waters, as companies like Aurora are responding to the growing demand for expedition cruises.

Instagram posts — which often showcase trips to Antarctica — may have given expedition cruising more publicity, but this form of cruising isn’t new. 

The evolution of expedition cruising

U.S.-based Lindblad Expeditions started taking travelers to Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands in the mid-1960s. 

The company specializes in expedition cruises, which differ from conventional cruises in that they focus on exploring isolated, less visited or inaccessible destinations. Smaller ships also allow itinerary flexibility, which means the captain can slow down for guests to observe polar bears or a whale shark.

Aurora Expeditions has been plying Antarctica’s frozen waters since the cruise line first leased rudimentary Russian icebreakers to reach the icy continent in the early 1990s. 

“Bathrooms were shared, and we’d string our clothes across the cabins to dry,” said Bronwyn Stephenson, a veteran Aurora expeditioner.

A cabin on the Greg Mortimer.

Source: Carlo Raciti

With its spacious cabins, plush library and lecture theater, the Greg Mortimer is a far cry from these original expedition cruise ships. 

Today, there is stiff competition among expedition cruise lines to launch more technologically advanced vessels and to secure onboard talent. Lindblad recently recruited underwater archaeologist Mensun Bound, who has discovered ancient shipwrecks, and former NASA chief scientist Robert Bindschadler, to educate passengers.

Demand since the pandemic 

Aurora Expeditions’ chief marketing officer Hayley Peacock-Gower said there has been a strong shift to immersive, experiential travel since the pandemic. As travelers demonstrate burgeoning interest in nature, wildlife and cultural tourism, expedition cruise lines have answered the call with more and varied itineraries.

Aurora’s Hayley Peacock-Gower said the company is seeing rising interest in the Arctic. Its East Greenland Explorer “will attempt to forge toward the northernmost tip of Greenland, both an Aurora and expedition cruising first,” she said.

Source: Aurora Expeditions

Noah Brodsky, chief commercial officer of Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, described expedition cruising as the “breakout travel trend of the decade.”

“There’s something truly special and transformative about experiencing remote destinations alongside a small group of like-minded people,” he told CNBC.

Bookings through the roof  

Lindblad recorded its biggest-ever booking day on Jan. 3, racking up some $5.6 million in sales, according to a company representative.

In-demand destinations this year include Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, the Arctic and Antarctica, according to the representative, while interest to Costa Rica is up 54% from 2019.

The company also launched new routes to Greenland, French Polynesia and Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

An increasing number of people no longer want run-of-the-mill holidays.

James Cole

founder, Panache Cruises

James Cole, founder of the U.K.-based cruise agency Panache Cruises, said expedition cruising saw the most growth in the cruising sector in the past decade — expanding from about 67,000 passengers in 2012 to 367,557 in 2022.

“An increasing number of people no longer want run-of-the-mill holidays,” he said. “People crave adventure … there is a certain amount of romanticism here which harks back to the time of great explorers like Hillary, Cousteau and Shackleton.”

Who takes expedition cruises?

Most of the demand for expedition cruises comes from the over-55 age group, namely the semi-retired and retired who have the time and resources, Cole said. 

But he noted: “We are seeing more families entering the market.”

Gen Xers and millennials represent a smaller percentage of clients. “It is the ‘experience’ and ‘adventure’ which is driving their interest. The cruise aspect is really a secondary dimension,” Cole noted. 

Expedition cruising is also a good option for the growing number of solo travelers. 

I hadn’t visited Central and South America before, mostly because deciding which countries to visit and planning an independent trip seemed overwhelming and complicated. As a woman, I was concerned about safety too. The Aurora cruise was the ideal introduction, with shore excursions led by onboard experts and engaging local guides. 

Higher fares, longer cruises

Plusher ships, onboard experts and fewer passengers translate to higher fares than conventional cruises. Expedition cruises often start at around $1,000 per person per day. Trips typically last eight to 15 days — though some can take a full month.

While conventional cruises can host thousands of people at once, companies like the polar micro cruising company Secret Atlas can take as few as 12 cruisers at a time.

Cruisers from the Greg Mortimer meeting people from the Embera tribe in Panama.

Source: Carlo Raciti

But a push for more comfort and luxury in the industry is causing some expedition cruises to get bigger, said company co-founder Andrew Marsh.

“Unfortunately, this has meant the new expedition cruise ships have become larger and the expedition experience itself has been sacrificed,” he told CNBC. 

Environmental and cultural impact

Though they’re smaller in scale, expedition cruises have faced criticism for polluting oceans, introducing microbes to sensitive environments, and colliding with large mammals like whales. 

To combat some of these issues, the luxury travel agency Abercrombie & Kent is chartering the luxury icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot for a North Pole expedition next year.

“To reduce emissions to the lowest possible level, this Ponant ship uses LNG as a fuel,” said the company’s product development and operations vice president Stefanie Schmudde. “The vessel also uses hybrid operation, with batteries to handle load fluctuations.”  

A coati photographed in the jungles of Costa Rica during an expedition cruise shore excursion.

Source: Carlo Raciti

In February, Aurora and Sylvia Earle led an Antarctic climate expedition on a ship named after the renowned oceanographer. The aim was to raise public and government awareness of the Antarctic’s environmental importance. 

Aurora Expeditions’ Peacock-Gower said the company worked with 117 climate ambassadors, aged 12 to 88, to formulate eight climate resolutions that are designed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035. 

“Travel is always the best educator, and we offer the chance to enrich our passengers’ curiosity … on and off-ship,” she said.

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