IN THE KNOW
Top Travel News of 2010
A lot has happened in 2010, from airline fees spiraling out of control to innovations in cruising and theme parks. Here are the most noteworthy stories from the past year.
Budget Travel's advice: Always put your bags on a luggage rack or the floor—never the bed. When you return home, launder your clothes (including the ones you're wearing!) at a high temperature. (For more tips, see our stories: "They Want to Suck Your Blood" and "Bedbugs: How to Cut Your Risk.") Then: relax. No, really. Bedbugs don't carry communicable diseases, and your chances of encountering them are extremely low.
Apartment rentals on the rise—and under fire
It may have been the most overblown travel story of the year. This summer, New York City passed a law banning the use of "no-tels"—homes and apartments marketed as short-term rentals without the city's approval (the ban begins May 2011). This news sparked questions about the legality of vacation rentals in other cities, given that travelers this year had booked an estimated half a million nights in such lodgings. It turns out that Paris and San Francisco have ancient ordinances on the books that essentially ban short-term rentals.
Yet as Budget Travel recently reported, these laws are largely toothless (see "Are Vacation Rentals Still Legit?"). None of the cities penalize renters. Just as importantly, few, if any, renters will be kicked off their futons in the middle of the night by police raids. Law enforcement is far more focused on catching con artists who turn residential buildings into full-time hotels without proper licensing and honest business practices. As always, you should be cautious in arranging a vacation rental. (See Budget Travel's "6 Tips for Safer Rentals" and "Trip Coach: Vacation Rentals"). Use well-known matchmaking sites to find and book your stay, such as airbnb.com and crashpadder.com. To feel totally in the clear of the law, only seek out lodging that's free, via sites like couchsurfing.org (see our story: "How Rock Bands Save on Lodging").
The Harry Potter Theme Park opens
Classic children's stories and Florida theme parks: There's a history here, and quite a good one. So it wasn't a surprise when—at long last, and despite national economic uncertainty—thousands of fans of the J.K. Rowling series (which includes Budget Travel: see our "Travel Guide: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter") flocked to Universal Studios Resorts in Orlando to see her famous characters and scenes brought to life in rides, shops, and restaurants at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (universalorlando.com/harrypotter), which opened June 18. Praise was high for the park's faithful translation of the Potter series, from its mugs of Butterbeer and Hogwarts school robes to its "robo-coaster" ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which guides riders through a Quidditch game and other lifelike simulations, with the help of a robotic arm. Attendance at the Universal Studios Resort as a whole spiked 36 percent from the same period a year earlier. Such a double-digit gain is unprecedented for a major theme park, says Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider, putting former champ Disney on notice that it's time to up its theme park game.
TripAdvisor is called out for dubious reviews
TripAdvisor.com, the top site for critiquing hotels, found itself under review this year. Stories came to light of hotel managers attempting to manipulate the site's rankings by hiring people around the world to post fake, positive reviews about properties. (Budget Travel heard similar reports about tour companies attempting the same thing—"Confessions of...a Rome Tour Guide"). TripAdvisor countered that it screens all of its reviews for authenticity, susses out unusual patterns in posting behavior with the help of software, and allows anyone to flag a suspicious review for further scrutiny by moderators. These efforts boosted the site's trust factor.
Readers picked TripAdvisor as their favorite site for hotel reviews ("Readers' Choice Awards 2010"). They know to scan many opinions to get the consensus view, and not take any one verdict as gospel. That said, BT's editors continue to keep an eye on the Goliath of review sites.
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