Hotels: Expedia adds "gay-welcoming" to list of searchable amenities
Today Expedia has added a filter for gay-welcoming hotels in its main search tool. Here's how it works: Say you search for a hotel in Toronto. The site will fetch a list of hotels available for your travel dates. You can filter the results to only include hotels with the perks you want by checking off "amenities listed in the right-hand column. As of today, there's a new amenity to choose from: "LGBT-welcoming." It's listed along with other options, such as "air conditioning" and "fitness equipment." (If it's a hotel is truly gay-welcoming, it will probably have both air conditioning and fitness equipment, too. Haha.)
So far Expedia has only had time to tag hotels in a handful of destinations. Gay-friendly hotels only pop up if you do searches for visits to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, New Orleans, Palm Springs, Provincetown, San Francisco, and South Florida. International destinations with the LGBT-welcoming filter include Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, London, Toronto, and Puerto Vallarta. A search for a stay in Puerto Vallarta, for instance, turns up two hotels labeled "LGBT-welcoming": Abbey Hotel (from $61 a night!) and Vallarta Palace All Inclusive (a much fancier joint, from $347).
At the moment, the site lists about 500 hotels worldwide, though that is an undercount of how many gay-welcoming hotels there are out there, obviously. Expedia was helped in determining which hotels to use by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA).
Expedia's strategy differs somewhat from its competitors' tactics. By adding "gay-welcoming" to its universal list of amenities, the site allows gay travelers to use the the same search engine everyone else uses on its homepage to hunt for hotels. Travelocity took a different strategy by putting a link on its homepage to "gay travel" and then listing gay-friendly hotels in a separate search tool on its LGBT travel page (gaytravelocity.com). Orbitz also has a separate gay travel page, but no search filter for LGBT-friendly hotels.
All of this is a big change for Expedia, owned as part of the same company as TripAdvisor. More than 50 readers have commented, from all perspectives, on the notion of LGBT-welcoming search on the earlier blog post "TripAdvisor Playing It a Little Too Straight."
Do travel boycotts really work?
As history has taught us, a boycott can be an effective way to send a message to "the man." But is it effective when "the man" is a travel company, a hotel—even an entire state? Arizona's recent immigration law, which requires that police officers in the state check the immigration status of individuals they suspect lack documentation and whom they encounter during proper procedure, has caused some cities to boycott business travel there, including St. Paul, Minn., and Oakland, Calif. In a USA Today article last week, Phoenix deputy city manager David Krietor said that the city could lose up to $90 million in business in the next five years, because major conventions are choosing to move locations, and tourists might decide to travel elsewhere. This isn't the first time Arizona has been in the news for a travel boycott. Back in the early '90s, the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. day with a paid holiday, and lost the bid to host the 1993 Super Bowl because of it. Voters ended up approving the holiday. The more recent boycotts seem to be serious enough to cause their own backlash— in San Diego, possible tourists have already called to cancel plans, apparently because of the city's support of a travel ban to Arizona. Speaking of California, a few of San Francisco's hotels are being boycotted by Local 2, a union of hotel workers. Members of the union have been working without a contract since last fall, when negotiations with hotels stalled because of a fight over health care. A flashmob recently popped up at the Westin St. Francis and did a clever song-and-dance routine to publicize the ban. (Many thanks to our intrepid San Francisco-based blogger, Justine Sharrock, for pointing this issue out!) Many smaller-scale bans of all kinds are organized via Facebook (of course). Remember when Spirit Airlines announced it would charge $20 for carry-ons?. Yep, there's a Facebook group that advocates banning the airline. Do travel boycotts work? Well, no one's really sure. But it seems boycotts can cause lost revenue, public discussion, and a heck of a lot of bad PR. So I put the question to you: Have you participated in a travel boycott? Would you? What do you do when politics and travel intersect?
Hertz promo waives $25 daily fees for young renters
But guess what? You'll probably still pay less by renting from another agency, even if it does charge fees because you're under 25. The Hertz Young Renter promotion promises to waive the usual fees ($15 or $25 daily) that renters ages 21 to 24 have come to expect. To get the fees waived, you must enter the promo code 144314 when reserving a Hertz automobile, and the offer is valid for rentals picked up by September 30. But if what you're really after is the cheapest price, this is probably one deal you should skip. In the hopes of finding out just how good an offer this truly is (or not), I pretended I was in my early 20s (ah, the glory days) and shopped around for rental car rates this summer. More often than not, a rental car from Hertz was more expensive than its competitors, even after the fees (or lack thereof) were factored in. All of the rates below are for economy cars picked up at the city's major international airport, based on a weekly rate for the dates June 15 to 22. MIAMI Hertz: $296 base rate $397 after all taxes and fees Ace Rent a Car: $149 base rate $227 after normal taxes and fees $15 daily fee for drivers ages 21 to 24, or $105 for seven days $332 total after all taxes and fees Doing the Math: Ace is $65 cheaper for young drivers LOS ANGELES Hertz: $463 base rate $593 total after all taxes and fees Thrifty: $161 base rate $213 after normal taxes and fees $25 daily fee for drivers ages 21 to 24, or $175 for seven days $388 total after all taxes and fees Doing the Math: Thrifty is $205 cheaper for young drivers DENVER Hertz: $457 base rate $604 total after all taxes and fees Payless: $164 base rate $233 after normal taxes and fees $25 daily fee for drivers ages 21 to 24, or $175 for seven days $408 total after all taxes and fees Doing the Math: Payless is $196 cheaper for young drivers Take into account that the quotes here don't include taxes that would be assessed on the young driver fees. (It's hard to get an exact car rental quote over the Internet, as many travelers can attest.) But even if these rates are a bit more expensive once those other taxes are included, the grand totals will still be more expensive with Hertz. The other factor to take into account that these are only three sample markets. Elsewhere, Hertz may offer more competitive rates, and it's always wise to shop around rather than assume that one or another agency will come out cheapest. I personally like starting car rental searches with Orbitz or Kayak to get a quick glimpse of the spectrum of agencies and rates in a given destination. The overall point is that, while there are many arguments in favor of renting from Hertz -- you like the customer service and/or the selection, as examples -- the best price is probably not a valid reason, even when you factor in that the agency is waiving young driver fees this summer.
Vienna exhibits its design smarts
A bookshelf made from hardcover books. A necklace partly strung with living flowers. A bracelet crafted from brown-mottled horn—and designed to double as a digital watch. These products combine practical purposes with fresh visual and tactile appeal, and they were all invented in Vienna. In recent years, Vienna has won renown as a global hotspot for design innovation. A centuries-old legacy of craft and an influx of creative types from eastern Europe have caused design to flourish in the Austrian capital. This October, Vienna Design Week reveals the best new design discoveries at more than 80 events in about 50 locations. All of the exhibitions are free and most are understandable to English-speakers. Ten artists will be paired with local manufacturers in workshops to create, in a week's time, clever interpretations of common items like chairs, lampshades, and soup pots. In a new twist this year, the city's tourist offices are offering do-it-yourself walking tours, grouped by theme. October 1–10, viennadesignweek.at. Happily, Vienna is one of the Top Ten Budget Travel Destinations in 2010, with hotel rates and airfares cheaper now than at any time since 2002—and much cheaper than the European capitals it's starting to rival. If you're visiting the city at another time than during Design Week, here are a few shops where you'll find the smartest designs. PARK A futuristic fashion store, done entirely in white, stocks trendy clothing along with illustrated books. Mondscheingasse 20, park.co.at. MQ Point Unusual gifts and ecclectic accessories by international designers, many exclusively for sale here. MuseumsQuartier, mqw.at. MAK Design Shop Limited editions by Austrian designers and products for sale at the gift shop for Austria's museum for the applied arts. (There's an outpost in L.A., too.) Stubenring 5, mak.at. MORE Also on Vienna's arts agenda, the Albertina will present a Pablo Picasso exhibit "Peace and Freedom" from late September and it will exhibit a collection of Michelangelo's drawings survey from October 8.
Free new Google app: Point-and-shoot translator
Say you're staring at a foreign menu, trying to decipher some unfamiliar dishes. You worry you might accidentally order frog brains. What should you do? Well…you could whip out your smart phone and snap a pic of the menu. Your cell phone could "read" the text in the image and then translate the words for you. Pretty neat, huh? That's the ultimate vision behind the weirdly named Goggles Translate—an app that turns your phone into a point-and-shoot translator. It's a free download for phones that use Google's Android operating system, such as the T-Mobile G1 and the Motorola Cliq. It'll eventually be available for other phones, too. I tested the app this weekend at a French restaurant in New York. I was interested in trying andouillette, so I took a pic of the word. On the phone's screen, a blue line appeared and moved across the image of the menu. About 20 seconds later, Google let me know that andouillette is sausage made from pig intestines. I wasn't sure what that might taste like, but at least it wasn't frog brains. On the bright side, I shot a photo, and then picked a language to translate from ("French") and a language to translate into ("English"). So far, the app can read text in five languages: English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. In a nice move, it works without requiring you to type words into a cell phone's tiny keyboard, physical or virtual. It just takes a few clicks to use. The bad news is that Google's translations can be a bit hit-or-miss in this early version. If your cell phone's camera lens isn't sharp, then Google won't be able to accurately read the text in your images. The translations will also be irritatingly slow if you don't have a fast Web connection. But any free app that saves me from accidentally eating frog brains is a wonderful thing. THE DOWNLOAD Go to the Android Market on your phone and search for "Google Goggles." MORE Evernote's app lets you search for text in photos Follow up: Using your cell phone in Europe Convert foreign prices with your iPhone or BlackBerry 11 top travel apps