IN THE KNOW
Top Travel News of 2011
Travel was a hot topic this year, from the U.S. government allowing Americans to visit Cuba again to Groupon revolutionizing the way vacations are sold. Here are 2011’s most memorable stories.
The Arab Spring Causes Unrest in Popular Tourist Destinations
Nothing prepared us for what happened across the Arab world this year, with uprisings toppling repressive regimes in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya and protests continuing in Bahrain. But it was the revolution in Egypt that set off the biggest political shockwaves—and prompted the largest travel industry shake-up, too. Egypt is thought to have drawn only 10 million international visitors in 2011, down from 14.8 million a year earlier. Experts note that not a single tourist has suffered a scratch because of the turmoil to date. But the ongoing political uncertainty concerns many, and understandably so. Here's hoping that the country's commitment to keeping travelers safe remains solid during Egypt's continuing march to democracy.
9/11 Memorial Opens in NYC
No one in America—or, perhaps, the world—was left untouched by the events of September 11, 2001, so it’s understandable that erecting a memorial to such a monumental event would be difficult. How does one pay tribute to each and every person affected by that tragedy? (See Budget Travel’s post "A Sneak Peek at the 9/11 Memorial Site.") Ten years to the day after the 9/11 attacks, the United States finally opened its much-debated commemorative site (911memorial.org), which consists of a pair of recessed pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers. Around the pools' edges, bronze plates bear the names of all 2,983 victims in New York, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pa. The memorial has received much praise, instantly becoming a must-see memorial of equal power as those along Washington, D.C.'s National Mall. (See "15 Places Your Kids Should See Before 15.") Its next-door neighbor the 9/11 Museum is set to open next year.
Southwest Stopped Being a Budget Carrier
Formerly nicknamed The Love Airline, Southwest Airlines was once a scrappy discounter, bedeviling its larger rivals. Yet this year, it swallowed up AirTran, one of the last low-cost competitors. Now tickets booked on Southwest a couple of weeks in advance often seem little different from fares touted by United, Delta, and other giants. (See Budget Travel's post "Is the Era of Cheap Airfare Ending?") Salting the wound for budget-minded travelers, Southwest also revamped its loyalty program in March, requiring the typical vacationer to fly 10 round trips—up from a former eight—to earn a free ticket. (See our article "Southwest Waters Down Its Rapid Rewards Program.")
To be fair, Southwest is still a traveler's best friend when it comes to keeping fees to a minimum, such as with its free checked-bags program. It's also great at offering (comparatively) reasonable fares for tickets booked at the eleventh hour. That said, while Southwest's stock symbol is LUV, fewer budget-conscious travelers are feeling the love from it these days.
Airlines Made Tracking Lost Luggage a Priority
Know how FedEx and other shipping services allow you to track the location of your package in real-time online? This year, Air France and Delta proved that airlines could provide passengers with similar high-tech tracking for similar precious cargo: luggage. Since February, Air France has invited fliers to sign up for its free Connect service during booking to receive updates via email or text message about changes to their trip, including alerts whenever a bag has gone missing. Earlier in the year, Delta created a page on its website where passengers can punch in the code on their bag tag to learn the status of their luggage. The airline also added this tool to its apps for iPhone and Android.