One of the great features of the NY Times Travel show are the seminars given by experts in the travel industry. It is a fantastic opportunity to hear what professionals in the world of travel have to say about current events, share their personal experiences, and provide tips and tricks that make it easier for all of us to go out and explore. While there were 16 separate seminar talks throughout the day by over 50 presenters (and even more if you count Sunday’s schedule) one of the talks I was most interested in hearing was titled Major Developments in Travel and was presented by Arthur and Pauline Frommer.
For those of you unfamiliar with Arthur Frommer, he has become one of the most recognized names in travel ever since his start in the industry with the publication of his guidebook Europe on $5 a Day in 1957, a book that he wrote while serving in the military in Germany at the time. Since this original book, Arthur has created over 300 guidebooks to destinations worldwide and the guides were so popular that at one point one out of every four guidebooks bought in the United States was written by Frommer. Today Arthur, along with his daughter Pauline, continue writing, updating and expanding their guidebooks (and website www.frommers.com), maintain a weekly radio show and are highly regarded as a trusted source of consumer advocacy and in travel. It goes without saying that when they begin their presentation, the immediate hush of the crowd was very noticeable.
Here were the major takeaways from Arthur and Pauline’s presentation:
- Cuba – It is now possible to travel to Cuba legally for the first time in 50 years without having to apply for official permission from the US Government. So long as you fall into one of 12 recognized categories for your visit (such as journalistic, religious or educational activities) you will be able to make your way to Cuba without the risk of a fine from the government. While there is still a lot to sort out (flying there on US Carriers, using American Credit Cards) this is a huge development in the travel world and will allow Americans to go where they were previously “not allowed” to go. (Thousands of Americans have travelled to Cuba over the years from destinations already out of the United States)
- Strong American $ compared to foreign dollars – In the world economy the US Dollar is extremely strong right now compared to other currency in the rest of the world. While the exchange rate was for the Euro was around $1.45 to €1 in 2012, today it is around $1.10 to €1 and could still move closer to an even exchange. The US dollar has also increased its buying power with other currencies as well such as the Japanese Yen, Argentinian Peso, Indian Rupee and Russian Ruble. Think of trips to these parts of the word as a discounted trip compared to the same trip taken two years ago or even last year. An additional insight by Arthur was that with the exchanging rate working against some of these other countries there could be a dip in the price of international flights for Americans as citizens of these other countries may not be as inclined to visit the United States until the value of their own money goes back up. Now is the time to take advantage of these great rates!
- New Technology – Pauline spoke on the new technology that is entering the market that we may see as main stream sooner rather than later. The first is the ability to check into your hotel via your cellphone before you get to the hotel. You would then be able to walk into the hotel, bypassing the check-in desk, to go straight to your room and use your smartphone as they keycard to your room. The other interesting emerging technology that was discussed was the ability for a hotel to monitor the past behavior at a hotel (or at a specific hotel chain) and offer deals specially tailored to that guest. For example if the hotel spa has a cancelled appointment for a massage at 3pm they can check their database, realize that the last time you stayed at the hotel you had a massage, and then send you a message for a 50% off massage at 3pm today (so the hotel doesn’t lose out on the empty appointment). There is also location based technology that would be able to send you a text like “Hey Andy, 2 for 1 drinks in the bar just for you if you come in right now” if you are in the hotel and close the bar. Some of these technologies are being tested and refined now and Pauline expects them to be coming to some hotels close to you in the near future.
- More tools than ever to help travelers – Today is a great time to be a traveler as there are so many tolls to help make reservations and compare hotels for the best prices and deals. While I won’t go into all the tools in this post, I will highlight a few new sites I learned about and also some new things about old sites:
- Booking.com – While this is already a well-known website for making reservations, I learned that this site differs from similar sites like Priceline/Kayak/Orbitz in that is searches for and brings up results for smaller mom and pop hotels that other search engines may not reach
- Tingo.com – This website allows you to make your hotel reservations and then monitors prices at the hotel, automatically crediting the difference back to your credit card if the price of your room drops. With this website you won’t have to worry about guessing if the price will drop and if you got the best deal on a roam.
- biddingtraveler.com – This site is useful in combination with Priceline as you can see what other people bid on certain areas of a city and then see what bids were accepted or rejected and then what hotel the bidder actually received. The more information you have on hand before going to Priceline will result in better bids and more savings
- VRBO, HomeAway – Today it is easier than ever to connect with people willing to rent out their ski or beach house and you can pay a fair price for great accommodations. Websites like VRBO and HomeAway are great sites to view rates, pictures, and reviews to make an informed decision on where to stay. The caveat to using sites like this is that you don’t have a lot flexibility if your plans change the way you would with a hotel chain as you’re usually dealing with an individual person with one property and not a bigger corporation. Make sure in these scenarios you invest in some travel insurance so if you encounter travel delays or flight cancellations you’ll be protected from also losing out on the cost of the rental property.
- AirBNB and Uber – Arthur spoke of the continued rise of the sharing economy and how people are now able to easily rent out rooms/houses (Airbnb) and use their personal vehicles to become paid chauffeurs (Uber). While this is a great thing for consumers as it allows us to get more personalized service at great prices, these businesses are starting to detract from bigger more established businesses as well as bumping into legality issues with city, state and foreign governments. Airbnb is facing legality issues in cities all over the country (and other countries like Spain and France) over whether peer to peer home sharing is breaking the law and if not then how should its use be taxed. Uber is prohibited from operating in some cities and is facing ongoing protests over not thoroughly background checking their drivers. While Arthur did not offer any speculation on how either of these companies would fare in the future he noted that both companies would be interesting to follow this year as any developments could certainly have ramifications to travelers like us.
I viewed the presentation by Arthur and Pauline similar to the President’s State of the Union address. They reviewed current events and what is happening now as well as some speculation on what the world of travel holds for all of us this year and in the near future. Much like we hope to hear the President declare that the state of union is strong in his address to the country, the Frommers used this presentation to declare (in not so many words) that the current state of travel is STRONG. With the strength of the American dollar, new technology and tools for travelers as well as new destinations like Cuba becoming more accessible 2015 is a great time to travel so don’t wait! Much like Warren Buffet with investment suggestion or Bill Gates with a computer tip, if the Frommers are giving travel advice you should stop and listen (and take notes!)