Airlines, hotels, travel & tourism

Been there, downloaded that

The ultimate green holiday is the one you have when you don’t actually go anywhere. That at least is the upside of “virtual tourism”, the next trend for travellers. All you need to know is where to click.

From the comfort of your keyboard, you can experience a Tutankhaman tomb at, Idaho State using SiteSeer3D, the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil courtesy of a webcam of a keen birdwatcher, or elephant-viewing in Africa courtesy of Save the Elephants and Google Earth. Scientists in Wales are building a virtual-reality “cocoon” so visitors can touch, smell, and taste their destination via holographs and “fragranced fluid atomisers”. Google Earth also provided the stimulus for two Scottish brothers, Alex and James Turnbull, to put together a collection of weird destinations, for example, Belfasts’s gable-end murals (you always wanted to see them!).

Fans of Second Life and other worlds may appreciate virtual travel. The question is whether virtual travel is likely to replace physical travel or simply urge us into making a booking after a tantalising taste. It seems unlikely that anyone will wear a T-shirt saying “been there, downloaded that, but didn’t actually go”.

Ref: The Times (UK), 'Adventures in my dressing gown.' by J. Naish.
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Search words: “virtual tourism”, Heritage Key, Second Life, SiteSeer3D, Google Earth, staycation.
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Your 2010 travel itinerary

If you are a cool traveller, you may well go “glamping” in Botswana, hiking in El Salvadore, or take “shop-overs” in Asia in 2010. At least, these are the predictions of some of the household names in travel, like Lonely Planet, Harvey World Travel, and American Express. This is not to say that deals to these exotic locations are cheap. Prices are still affordable but, following the slump of the GFC, demand is starting to take off. The place to book is online – online share was 26% in 2008, forecast to rise to 41% by 2011.

“Glamping” describes the combination of luxury and camping found in many countries but currently cool in Botswana. East Timor is another destination “virtually untouched”, so tourists can enjoy rainforests and traditional villages without rubbing shoulders with each other. Turkey and Madagascar will also feature on 2010 itineraries. There will also be an increase in group tours, especially personally escorted small groups, in line with the trend for concierges in travel, and authenticity of experience. It is so much easier to travel with someone who knows all the secrets of a place. People will also look for food and wine tours, cooking tours, and active holidays, like self-guided walking trips.

A survey by Wotif found 63% of Australians budget for $A150-200 a night for accommodation, similar to previous years, so they are not expecting to pay higher prices. Given that spending on recreation takes second place for Australians, after mortgage but before food, it seems likely that Australians will put overseas travel on their 2010 itinerary. Travellers are not likely to return to the luxury spending of the past – at least not this year – but many want an experience better than basic (glamping not camping). Premium economy is expected to grow more quickly than business class, but LLCs will continue to take sales from the full-service carriers. See our story on LLCs (Cheap global travel with hidden costs). Wotif claims that people tend to shorten their stay rather than lower their standards, an interesting observation that suggests we do like to treat ourselves on holiday.

Ref: The Sun Herald (Aus), 3 January 2010, 'The world is calling.' by J.E. Fraser.
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Search words: long-haul, US, Obama, Germany, glamping, Greece, Turkey, online bookings,, personal tours, cooking tours, activity-based, shop-overs, special interest cruises, premium economy, Wotif, price rises, Morocco.
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Hotels are better with company

Have you stayed in a beautiful hotel by yourself but felt very lonely? You are not alone - around a third of frequent travellers feel lonely in hotels, according to a study by Westin Hotels. Starwood Hotels, which owns Westin, decided this was a niche it could fill with W Happenings and Unwind.

W Happenings is a series of exclusive evenings to encourage guests to mix together at art exhibitions, fashion shows or listening to guest speakers. In Hong Kong, Sip and Indulge evenings have given guests the opportunity to mix with a few celebrities, including Martina Navratilova. Unwind is an opportunity for guests to meet in the early evening for drinks, canaps and, say, sudoku or whatever matches the location. In Beijing, they may take part in a traditional candle lighting ceremony or, in Venice, learn to make a Bellini cocktail. Other hotels are following suit, with cooking classes at the Regent in Singapore and, coming to Pullman Hotels, chill-out lounge rooms with coffee machines, widescreen TVs and games consoles. The Intercontinental offers business people in Hong Kong tai chi classes and social jogging while Aloft Hotels creates “living room areas” and “backyards” to help people feel at home in public areas. The final idea from Travelodge responds to its finding that 57% of people feel lonely sleeping without their partners – they offer a big 75 cm-long pillow with arms, called Cuddillow.

Whatever you may think of these initiatives, the hotels are certainly trying to make you feel at home. This trend may be a reflection of the fact that younger generations are more engaged in business travel than ever and need more “entertainment” while they do it. It may also provide a balance to the socialising provided by technology and recognise that there is nothing quite like face-to-face contact.

Ref: The Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 13-14 March 2010, 'Drinks, canaps and … sudoku.' by J. McLeod.
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Search words: Westin Hotels, loneliness, technology, Starwood Hotels, W Happenings, Unwind, fitness classes, dining alone, Cuddillow.
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Cheap travel has hidden costs

Travellers have had the benefit of cheap flights for some time now, but all discounts seem to come at a cost. Before 2000, there were 50 low-cost carriers (LLCs) of which 14 failed, but since 2000, 128 more took to the skies and 38 failed (a similar failure rate). These LLCs provide a very cheap way of circumnavigating the globe because you can book each leg of the journey with a different LLC. However, the more successful carriers have found other ways of charging their customers, known as “ancillary revenues”, and these rose from $US2.29 billion in 2006 to $US10.25 billion in 2008 worldwide.

Unsuspecting travellers may be surprised to find out they have to pay excess baggage fees higher than the ticket price, or pay $50 because they used a credit card to do it.Another problem is that, because each leg is a separate booking, there is no compensation if an earlier delay on a different airline makes you miss a flight. Finally, look for taxes included in LLC fares because they can be considerable.

The LLCs have definitely influenced the pricing of full-service carriers positively, but helped to underline the saying that “you get what you pay for”. Some people may choose to pay for comfort as they travel the world rather than endure a long flight with eight stops in different cities. But at least there is a real choice. The downside is that cheap flights encourage people to fly who might not otherwise, and this is still at odds with the fracas about airplane travel adversely affecting climate change.

Ref: The Weekend Australian (Aus), 16-17 January 2010, 'Cheap flights with a sting in the tail.' by S. Creedy.
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Search words: world trip, airlines, low-cost carriers (LCCs), full-service airlines, extra charges, Ryanair, baggage charges, Flight Centre, taxes.
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You’re never too old to have fun

Intune is a new insurance group launched by Help the Aged in the UK to help older people go travelling safely. Intune sells motor, home and pet insurance and other products. But its travel insurance has no upper limit – the oldest person on its winter sports plan is 81 and its oldest customer is 101! You may be surprised to learn that older people holiday more widely than younger ones but not that they spend more time on holiday – more than 121,000 holidays of 3-6 months were enjoyed by the over-80s.

Of course over-80s need special attention without being patronising and good value without being basic. Given the rapid aging of many western countries, it is a good time for other companies to target this demographic. Insurance is only one gap in the market. What about hotels that cater to elderly travellers? Our previous story, Hotels are better with company, seems to support younger travellers without considering that the elderly may get lonely too. As more travel bookings are made online, it will also become important to present websites in a way that older people can read and understand.

Ref: Intunegroup (UK), 'Travel insurance for over-60s.' by S. Kirby.
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Search words: senior citizens, Intune, Help the Aged, insurance, over-80s, Liverpool Victoria, boomers.
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