Things Were So Quaint, Back In The Day

Just stumbled upon this story from 2003.  It’s the perfect example of how social engineering of Burners can start with a prank, and be passed off as ironic, and then quickly become the new normal. Timeshare slots in the Oasis, anyone?

Vacations > Western U.S. > Western U.S. Tours
Burning Man 2003
Travelocity and Burning Tours invites you to Burning Man 2003! Come experience the colorful sights, the amazing sounds, and interesting people that come to this grand festival in the Nevada desert every year!
Tour Highlights | Inclusions | Options | Lodging & Dining | Itinerary | Prices
 7 Days from $1400
Prices are per person and reflect land cost only. Price is based on tourist-class hotels and similar services.
LODGING: Air Conditioned Travelocity Oasis Camp

Experience the spectacles of the Burning Man festival! Join Travelocity for this week-long tour package that lets you experience the wonder and awe of Burning Man 2003 without the hassle. Take in the beauty of the Nevada sky and mountains while seeing the many eclectic art projects, interesting sounds, and incredibly dressed people that make up this fantastic “city in the desert.” Don’t worry about being in the desert, as Travelocity has it’s own air conditioned “theme camp” where you may sleep in the comfort of your own private living space. Breakfast and dinner are served daily.

The Burning Man 2003 package includes the following:
Fourteen meals (breakfast and dinner) and six nights accommodations at the Travelocity Theme Camp, located near the Burning Man festival’s Center Camp
Burning Man 2003 ticket included with the package
Travelocity Playa Safari shuttle for transportation from Reno to Burning Man and back after the event
Complementary daily supply of water and ice
Modern, air-conditioned tent with private sleeping areas and separate toilet facilities
Professional Burning Man host and guide
Front-row reserved seating for many popular events, including the burning of the Man
Free Travelocity/Burning Man “Trading Trinkets”
All service charges and tips, baggage-handling fees, and local taxes
Travel bag and wallet containing package documents and helpful information

The following add-ons may be available at an additional cost:

Travel insurance
Accomodations at the Reno Atlantis Hotel and Casino
Sightseeing tour of Lake Tahoe

The following is a summary of the accommodations for this tour:

Accommodations are based on twin-shares.

The following is a summary of the dining plan for this tour:

Breakfast: Seven are included.
Lunch: On your own.
Dinner: Seven are included.

Day(s) Activities
1 Arrive Reno
2 Arrive Burning Man
3 – 6 Burning Man 2003 festival
7 Arrive Reno

Please note: Prices below are listed per person based on double occupancy. Prices are for land cost only. Rates may vary and space is limited. Deposit and refund information.
Departure Dates          Land Only
August 26, 2003 
August 27, 2003 


Triple share reduction: $35
Single room supplement: $325
Child share reduction (5-11 years): $295



At the time, the publication of this site and the supporting email promoting it, caused quite a stir. Big enough to become a story in WIRED magazine, just like Popsicle Camp is now in Bloomberg.

From WIRED (emphasis ours):

Burners Sweat Over Package Prank

Daniel Terdiman Email 07.24.03

Everything’s included at Travelocity’s Burning Tours!

Burning Man participants are often borderline fundamentalist about the mores of their desert bacchanalia. Over the years, they have steadfastly insisted that organizers never consider opening the doors to anything corporate.

So last week, when a message advertising an all-inclusive package tour of Burning Man spread like some out-of-control virus among the desert fest’s regulars and their e-mail lists, a lot of people went ballistic.

Supposedly sponsored by Travelocity and an unknown outfit called Burning Tours, the package promised prepared meals, an air-conditioned tent, free “Travelocity/Burning Man ‘trading trinkets'” and front-row seating for the annual alternative art festival’s signature spectacle, the torching of the 50-foot wooden Man.

But for anyone calm enough to look at the promotion’s Web page for a moment, there was a clue that something was not quite right. Instead of a address, it was It was not an attack on Burning Man’s principles at all. It was a hoax.

Precisely because vast numbers of “Burners” are tightly connected through e-mail lists, bulletin boards, websites and real-world gatherings, the Burning Man community is a juicy target for hoaxes. For example, a fake story raised serious hackles on April Fools’ Day 2002. That one announced that the event’s organizers had sold its marketing and promoting rights to MTV.

Who were the instigators of the pranks? Burners themselves. Who else could better exploit the wired nature of their community, preying on its passionate adherence to anti-commercialism and radical self-reliance?

Specifically, the guilty party in the Travelocity gag was Dale Ghent, a 26-year-old Internet engineer from suburban Washington, D.C., who had seen the MTV ruse. He downloaded a Travelocity package tour page, did a quick mock-up of the Burning Tours package and, posing as a first-time Burner named Alan Douglas, posted a message to the New York Burners regional e-mail list asking if he should buy the tour.

“You sit there and you watch the e-mail, and the time elapsing and the people starting to read it and replying, ‘No, no, you can’t do this. It’s not the Burning Man spirit,'” Ghent laughs. “The general level of outrage was pretty satisfying, I have to say.”

Indeed, even veteran Burners were taken by the realistic representation of the Web page. A Seattle Burner known as Abdullah posted a message to one list with a link to the Burning Tours page, asking, “What the everlasting almighty FUCK?”

“My initial reaction was asinine knee-jerk reflex. I know how to read a URL and should have realized that this wasn’t in the Travelocity domain,” said Abdullah. “But I didn’t pay attention, and had one of those berserker moments. It was pure rage.”

At Burning Man headquarters, however, even as e-mails and instant messages started flowing in, the mood was relaxed. They’d been through this before and they love good art.

“The first thing to do when one of these hoaxes come around is usually to smile because they’re funny,” says Burning Man senior staffer Andie Grace. “The whole purpose of it is to prank people. So I don’t want to run around being the one who killed the joke.”

cartoon-going-fungalBut Grace says she was fascinated watching the viral spread of the hoax across the countless Burning Man regional and department e-mail lists, many of which share members.

“There is overlap,” she explains. “A friend sends it to a friend in Seattle, who puts it on their regional list, and then someone e-mails it to their friend in St. Louis.”

As one e-mail list discovered it was a hoax, other lists were just beginning to see the original message. The word that everything was okay, that Burning Man’s purity was safe, was always one step behind. In fact, even though most Burners now know the Burning Tours offer was a gag, some are still hearing about it for the first time, Grace said.

Meanwhile, Ghent started hearing from people about his work. “I think overall, people had good humor about it,” he said. “I got private e-mails saying, great hoax, good job,” he says. “I think once people realized it was a hoax, they got a grin on their face.

And as for Abdullah?

“It obviously took a lot of time and skill to do this,” he says. “It reminded me that I’m not quite as clever as I think I am sometimes…. To the author of the Travelocity spoof: Nice one, mate.”


We’ve moved along the spectrum of turnkey camping from irony to stark reality. Today, $1400 looks cheap for a Commodification Camp. And “look at how much fun the tech billionaires are having out West!” is the new marketing slogan for Wall Street and the City of London.

It’s amazing to look back and see how things have changed. Progress? Evolution? Or devolution?

evolution of a djI guess I am still with the 2003 Burners, who see this as an attack on Burning Man’s principles. The Ten Principles were not even encoded as such, that happened the year after this ironic scandal. Clearly, Radical Self Reliance, Leave No Trace, and an environment away from the Default world capitalist model of labor organization were part of the core values of Burning Man much earlier than the Tin Principles.

Were the Principles actually specifically crafted in response to this meme? It was supposedly created by a New York Regional contact. BMOrg admitted they were promoting it via their regionals email lists and carefully watching “for amusement”? Perhaps the Founders actually liked the idea of selling tour packages, so they wanted to create some fine print that would allow this to really happen in the future.  As I’ve noted before, there’s nothing in the Principles about ethics, and they are carefully worded to only discourage transactions taking place on the Playa, rather than completely ban commerce itself. There have been quite a few posts from the official Burning Man blog over the last couple of years trying to clarify this point for us.

Now, not only do BMP’s Directors run multi-million dollar camps like this, massive ones with more than 50 sherpas; but they actually go to to blame their staff for wrongdoing while they lecture us about how their VIP wristband camps are shining examples of the Ten Principles in action.

A big farce. It provides laughs for more than a decade, while they slowly introduce it into our society and sell $17,000 hotel rooms to the A-List – then laugh at us when we protest. “Oh, those Burners! They’re always the same. Blah blah blah, people have been saying that for 20 years and we keep raising prices and they keep buying tickets. Go make an amusing street theater protest to entertain us with, rubes!”

The Occidental Oasis "ironic" timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire's Row

The Occidental Oasis “ironic” timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire’s Row

Black Rock Acres p3

8 comments on “Things Were So Quaint, Back In The Day

  1. Pingback: Concierges At Burning Man: Now Made Official [Updates] | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. There is an actual tour package, and it’s been around for years (before 2003 and before Larry ever promulgated the ten principles). I’m talking about Green Tortoise.

    I’ve been aware of GT’s tours for awhile, but never saw much reason to object to them. I figured they were grandfathered in (predating the 10 principles). And they provided a useful logistical service to burners flying in from overseas. I can accept some level of plug-and-play as being appropriate to help foreign burners come, and GT is not offering a luxury plug-and-play experience. They don’t have sherpas, they don’t even offer showers, and people with GT are expected to help with communal duties (cooking). None of this really bothered me.

    Recently, however, I saw what Green Tortoise is now charging for a Burning Man package, and I’ve really changed my opinion of them. The tour package is now $995 ($1385 with ticket, and more on that in a second). That gets you transportation to and from San Francisco (which can be had for $200 via Burner Express), a place to camp, food and water. That doesn’t seem like a very good value; one could take Burner Express, and probably find a camp that offered a meal plan and even showers for less than $795 in dues (if one is looking for a plug-and-playish experience).

    Moreover, GT is profit-making business. I’d been able to overlook that before, but if you look at the other tour packages they offer, they are all around $100/day. If GT can sustain an adequate profit on the other trips they offer, why do they need to charge $142-200/day for the 5-7 day Burning Man trips? Sure, they’ve got to pay a cut to the BLM (and I wouldn’t be surprised if BMORG gets a cut too), but the fuel costs are lower for their BM trip than any other extended trip they offer. Between BLM/BMORG/GT, somebody is making a nice profit on these tour packages. For what it’s worth, in 2001, a Burning Man ticket was $200, and Green Tortoise’s package was $240. The tour package has gone up much more than the ticket price.

    So, back to tickets. From a practical perspective (ten principles aside), Green Tortoise’s tour is simply a bad value for the services they offer. However, for anybody tempted to pay $800 for a pre-sale ticket to avoid the chaos of the main sale, GT looks a little better. Green Tortoise has their own supply of regular priced tickets completely separate from the normal sales and only available to people taking their tour. From the $995 package price, take off the $420 premium for a presale ticket, and $200 for the value of the bus ride; camp dues look like (a still pretty steep) $375.

      • GT has a hippie veeneer and a grandfathered status, so they’re easy to overlook (I think it’s mostly the hippieness that does it). And there’s really no way to tell what will attract the attention of the community (Conley’s Maslowtopia went unnoticed, but all hell broke loose with Caravancicle).

        It’s kind of the same way people love to say “coffee and ice are the only things for sale”, but if you dig into it at all, there are a dozen plus cases where cash can officially be exchanged for good and services on Playa (including the Gerlach shuttle run by Green Tortoise).

        • Yes – 85 permitted vendors last year, according to the BLM. It’s a good place for AirBnB to study the pop-up tourism market.

          One difference from what I know between Maslowtopia and Caravancicle was that Chip gifted the camp to his friends to celebrate his birthday with him, whereas JT sold the hotel rooms for 5 figures. Also, the MOOP and the blaming the camp next door and the sherpas for all the woes didn’t seem to happen with Maslowtopia.

          • And ultimately, I’m now riled up by Green Tortoise because of the price (which ties into perceptions of Maslowtopia vs. Caravancicle).

            If GT’s tour was around $350-400, I’d think “that’s probably about an at cost basis. The tour conflicts with Radical Self Reliance a little, but helps Radically Include some folk who might not otherwise be able to come. Go GT.”

            $500-$700; “that’s what this commercial operation charges for 5-7 day tours. I’m not really happy they’re doing business on the playa, but I’m not going to complain about somebody profiting by pumping the portapotties. Maybe GT is on the continuum of necessary commercial services. I guess they can do their thing”

            $995; “they’re clearly trying to charge what the market will bear, and that’s not in the spirit of Burning Man at all. Besides, a discerning consumer can find a PnP camp that offers a better value for their dollar. Let’s get GT out of BRC”

    • I cant speak for their prices now… but I took the tortoise one year, it was like $375 (before ticket) for a 5 night trip which was an incredible deal. I am coming from cross country, so if you add up the car rental and all the crap I would have to buy in Reno to support myself, plus food n water… well its pretty sweet and very easy logistically. It was mostly people from around the country and world who just didn’t have the resources (unable to rent/afford a car) or connections within the community (unable to find a camp) to get there any other way. In my opinion, at the price I paid, they were performing a public service. The price tag now definitely seems a little steep.

      GT also operate(d?) a bus shuttle service to Gerlach for $5 which was handy for the community, at least at the time.

  3. 2003 was about the beginning of the end, when the fun-train started to really slow down. I remember that year how people would scream at our art car to slow down “FIVE MILES AN HOUR!!” We were going five miles an hour, you fuckheads!. It’s also when BRC Rangers really became little Nazis. A lot of bad behavior and taking things WAY too seriously.

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