Thursday, November 29, 2007

We Should Be Embarrassed, Angry, and Depressed

In a November 26 Newsweek article, Fareed Zakaria reports some depressing statistics. During what is probably the world’s largest tourism boom, the U.S. is the only major country which has seen foreign visitation decline.

The article notes that Brits – “people from America’s closest ally, the overwhelming majority...white Anglos with names like Smith and Jones” – have reduced their visits to the U.S. by 11 percent. During the same time frame, the British visitation to India increased 102 percent, to New Zealand 106 percent, and to the Caribbean 31 percent.

Of course, there are many reasons (excuses) for this decline in inbound U.S. tourism, but the prime culprit is the cabal of TSA, Homeland Security, the INS, and a government which wants to keep Americans in fear – fear of the unknown, fear of foreigners, in fear so we will be as docile as sheep when they tap our phones without warrants.

Not only do international visitors enrich us culturally, they contribute greatly to our economy. The article notes that the 17 percent overall decline in tourism since 9/11 represents $94 billion in lost tourism spending, a loss of 200,000 jobs, and $16 billon in lost tax revenues.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Canine Concierge

A new catagory of travel consultant has been breed – the canine companion concierge. With the Internet basically taking charge of the travel business, sending the “travel agent” out to pasture, many former agents are giving themselves a face-lift to fit into this new niche by sniffing out pet-friendly places to go and things to do that owners can enjoy with their animals. And there is no shortage of pet-friendly accommodations, stores, outings and activities in a world where pets are people’s children.

Finding that clientele with a disposable income and a dog on a leash can be outdated travel agent’s return to life. This travel market is catering to baby boomers and empty nesters focused on luxury travel and exotic destinations. The biggest hurdle for the travel consultant in marketing many interesting and fun destinations is getting the group there. Because airlines limit the number of pets allowed onboard each flight (making it virtually impossible to get 30 people and their pets to a destination as a group), tours must depend on travelers making their own plans to get there; group arrangements then take shape when they are all at the destination.

For a group tour to be successful, participating pets have to be well-behaved around people and other pets. Only spayed and neutered pet tourists are accepted, well-groomed with personal canine hygiene a necessity. In recent years, the pet travel industry has overcome huge stumbling blocks, such as allowing pets in airline cabins and eliminating quarantine regulations to England and Europe. Hopefully this trend will continue. A few on-line pet-friendly resources we’ve discovered include:; Pets-Allowed-Hotels; Pet Friendly Travel; Pets On The Go;; and TravelPets.

Monday, November 26, 2007

America by Air

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has opened a new $5 million exhibit called America by Air. The exhibit includes a 1918 Curtiss Jenny and the front nose of a 747. All told, there are seven complete aircraft on display. According to an article on Bloomberg News, “U.S. air travel reached its glamour days in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibit includes a 19th-century globe that Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe used to plan worldwide routes, as well as some provocative hot pants and miniskirt outfits that flight attendants of the era were forced to wear.” For any fan of the history of travel, this should be a must-see exhibition if you’re in Washington, D.C.

From the back cover of TWA Vacation Guide and World Atlas (1956)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Amazon's Kindle eBook Reader

Amazon has introduced its new Kindle eBook reader, what some are already calling “the iPod for books.” Amazon is initially offering 90,000 different eBooks for the Kindle, priced from $1.99 to $9.99. The books will be delivered to the Kindle device via Sprint’s wireless web access service (with no access charge). Interestingly, the service will include a free web browser for the Kindle reader.

As we wrote some time ago, eBooks could be a great boon for travelers just wishing to read several books but not wanting to take all that weight, but from what we can tell they’re still just electronic versions of a book. Great for reading a novel, but less useful for guidebooks. What we want to see are travel guidebooks created specifically for eBook readers. Some ways we think a real travel eGuidebook should differ from a printed book include:

Content – As much as we’re old-school print journalists, we think travel eGuidebooks should be more of what we call “MTV journalism”: quick bites, top 10 lists, “best of” stories. eGuidebooks also would lend themselves to many more maps, and the maps could be more integrated into text, rather than having to flip to the front or back of the book.

Navigation – Speaking of maps, wouldn’t it be great to read about Leeds Castle and have a quick link that goes directly to a map of how to get there and of the castle itself? Maps could be accessible from anywhere and linked from every reference in the text. Anchor links, just like a “jump link” on a web page that goes to another page of the site, can make this easy. There could also be much more cross referencing, maybe even indexing on every page, as well as the ability to zoom in on maps, or to make type larger for a poorly-lit museum (larger type is apparently available on the Kindle).

Updates – eGuidebooks would lend themselves to updated restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, and cautions or warnings (for example, notifying that a museum is under construction for the next year). And of course only parts of the book would need to be downloaded as updates – maybe publishers would sell a one-time version for $9.99, or an annually updated one for $12.99.

Organization – As with a database, eGuidebooks should allow the ability to reorganize information in many ways. Maybe you might want to list all museums within 5 miles of a train station, or list restaurants by star rating, or simply an alphabetized list of hotels.

Split screens – Tabs, split screens, or partial screens could be very helpful for showing 2 sections of content at the same time. This could be used for comparing 2 restaurant reviews, or showing a museum description on one screen and its map on another.

What we’re really talking about here is an eGuidebook as a sort of mobile website, but with lots more content and without the ads and crap that clutter the web today. (Of course, it probably won’t be long before someone starts selling ads on eBooks. We can see the advertising now: “$9.99 now, or FREE with ads!” Yuck.)

Maybe Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reads our little blog and will discuss with his publishing partners ways to create new content specifically for the Kindle, instead of recycling old printed content. Even currently, though, we can’t wait to get our hands on the new $399 Kindle.

Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, November 16, 2007

Euro Travel Websites

According to David Rowell, The Travel Insider (who produces an excellent newsletter), more than 200 European travel websites may be shut down unless they stop deceptive sales practices, said the European Union's consumer chief. Questionable tactics included:
* The price of the ticket is first indicated without airport taxes and additional fees.
* Offers promising tickets for free or at a low price, but such tickets are unavailable when the consumer wants to buy them.
* Tick (check) boxes for insurance or additional services are ticked "yes" by default, trapping the consumer into buying unwanted items or being included on spam mailing lists.
* General terms of sales are not provided in the language version used by the consumer during the booking procedure, or not available at all in any language.
* No information is given about the rights and procedures of cancellation, transferability and ability to change dates.
We've used European travel websites with success in the past (we lately had good luck with TrailFinders in the UK for a trip to Africa -- their travel insurance was especially well-priced), and have suggested that you explore those possibilities. This news should make any of us exercise caution in our web purchases, from the websites of any country.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Southwest's New Business "Class"

Rightly or wrongly, we’ve never been big fans of Southwest Airlines. We haven't found the fares all that cheap, the schedules not that convenient, and we detest the cattle-call, no-assigned-seating policy. But somehow, they’ve made their formula work, and they satisfy a lot of travelers.
Now, though, Southwest seems to be going (in a very clumsy manner) against what they’re known for. They have instituted special business fares, which seem to be just higher prices to be allowed first in line for boarding (plus a few varying benefits such as refundability, a free drink coupon, and more frequent flyer credits). Of course, Southwest still flies from its same airports, which may not be most business travelers' first choices.
For example: We just booked a trip on Delta (with assigned seating) for $249. Using the same airports and dates, the cheapest fare on Southwest (with one leg a “web only” special and the return their “wanna get away” fare) was $228. Their Business fare was $336 and Business Select was $366.
Boy, are we excited.