Security for travelers
Peter Tarlow is a Texas rabbi and religion professor who, decades ago, became fascinated by security issues facing the tourism industry. His main impulse has been to bring together the best minds in the field to think about how to improve security for travelers. Every year, in larger and larger conferences, he has brought together hotel owners, airline owners, law enforcement officials, and other travel groups, prompting them to trade ideas on how security can be improved. This week, he's running the XVI International Tourism Security and Safety Conference in Las Vegas. Along the way, Tarlow has become one of the nation's acknowledged thought leaders on the topic, and president of the Tourism & More consulting company.
Tarlow is currently taking questions from readers like yourself. (Click here to submit a question.) He will respond with answers in an online chat tomorrow (Tuesday) at BudgetTravel.com between noon and 1 p.m. Eastern time.
Tarlow and I recently talked about today's top security issues. He unnerved me with the following thought: Many famous hotels are in denial about the safety of their buildings...
Currently, he says, many hotels have no truly effective plans for emergencies. For example, many hotels have unrealistic ideas about how quickly their guests would be able to evacuate. They also lack plans for rescuing guests who are severely overweight and physically impaired. These folks may struggle to step down stairwells when elevators aren't working.
Tarlow hopes that several hotels will do more to improve their security. But he says that pressure from the public and from law enforcement will be needed.
Resort areas, such as the coastal beaches of Hawaii, also need to improve security for guests, he says. For instance, many travelers injure themselves or lose their lives when they attempt to surf and swim in the Pacific Ocean. One innovative program Tarlow is touting is that resort areas should partner with local universities to tap into the knowledge and manpower of students enrolled in kinesiology classes. These students would come up with creative ways to get the word out about ocean safety.
If you have any questions about tourism safety, broadly defined, please submit your question to Tarlow now.
Delta vs. JetBlue
I need to fly to Boston, one-way from New York, with my pug, Howard. Adam has a conference there and we're meeting him. Any guesses which airline we'll be flying? On Delta, it'd cost me $324.01 (or $218.50 if I fly through Charlotte and Atlanta), and that's not including the $75 fee to carry Howard on. The fare is $74 on JetBlue, not including the $50 pet fee. When you buy a ticket for a pet, you have to call, and normally JetBlue charges $10 for buying a ticket over the phone--but they waive it when you're buying a pet ticket, because there's no way to do it online. (That's just common sense, but I can't count the number of times airlines have charged me a fee even though I had no alternative way to avoid it. And I don't know if Delta would charge for the phone call, since I had to hang up after waiting on hold for 10 minutes.) I've never found JetBlue's loyalty program very appealing, but when the airline has service and prices like this, it doesn't have to be. My loyalty continues to grow anyway.
I just attended a round-table discussion on "sustainable travel." Ask ten people to define this and you'll get ten different answers. But for now let's just call it travel that, at the very least, doesn't hurt the environment, and at best, helps it. I love that this is finally a hot topic among travelers and that businesses are responding. For example, Vail Resorts is doing some pretty great things in this area, including serving hormone-free meats and poultry and organic dairy products in its 40 restaurants spread across five resorts. At the discussion, we spent a lot of time talking about where the readers of travel publications stand on the issue. There are oodles of statistics, of course, but it seems to me the best way to find out what readers think about something is to ask the readers themselves. (I know, crazy idea.) Here are the questions: Would you be more likely to pick an airline, rental car company, or hotel that uses environmentally friendly products over one that doesn't? Would you pay a little more for a flight, rental car, or hotel room if it was better for the environment? In general, do you consider sustainability when planning a trip? EARLIER Budget Travel's coverage of eco-tourism and "sustainable travel." Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks on Flickr via Creative Commons
I bet you'll let Skybus fail
As noted in this previous blog post, Skybus airlines is expanding. In January, it will add 11 daily flights from Greensboro, N.C., serving eight other cities. (See the full Skybus route map.) But if history is any guide, many of you will not fly Skybus. And because you don't step up, Skybus will fail. Here's how travelers typically ruin new low-cost airlines: Travelers rejoice when a discounter arrives on the scene. They love it because the discounter usually sparks a fare war with the well-known major airline that serves their hometown. But as fares drop, many travelers simply fly the major airline, taking advantage of its lower fares. Few fly the new discounter. Then, the discounter fails because of lack of business. And the major airline hikes its fares back up, hurting consumers. A classic case: Years ago, AirTran began service to Pittsburgh, challenging US Airways on many routes. But over time, US Airways matched AirTran's low fares, and customers flocked to US Airways. AirTran has since withdrawn almost entirely from Pittsburgh. Folks in Washington, D.C., witnessed this pattern when scrappy newcomer Independence Air challenged United on various routes, such as one to Burlington, Vt. That airline was forced to shut down within two years of challenging United on these routes. Frontier, which charged relatively low rates without being a true discounter, also lost its battle against United when it challenged the dinosaur on its prized San Francisco to Denver route. While other factors were involved in the above situations, the trend is fairly well-established. People don't support the low-fare airlines as much as they should. Southwest is a rare exception and it grew partly by avoiding competition with the major airlines during its early years. Here's my plea: If you live where Skybus flies and you like the low fares it has brought to your area, then you owe this airline your business. Otherwise, you are partly to blame for high ticket prices. Feel free to post a comment with your thoughts. EARLIER: Skybus expands its routes and $10 fares. ELSEWHERE: As much as we like Skybus, it's wrong to say that Portsmouth, Mass., is "near" Boston, says Jaunted. Photo by the inimitable Jessie Barber, via Flickr.
Winter photography tips from a pro
If you have a digital camera—you know, one of those $200 to $300 point-and-shoots—then you should listen to Allen Birnbach, a professional photographer in Denver and Los Angeles, who offers insights into taking better photos at TakeGreatPictures.com. He also teaches photography to hobbyists who own fancier cameras through his blog, abetterphotograph.com. In an interview, Allen offered the following tips on taking better photographs outdoors during the winter. If there's snow, be careful about where you're standing in relation to your subject. The relation between where you're shooting and where the sun is will affect how the snow appears in your photos—as a blank white space or as a textured surface. The key is to have sunlight come in from an angle, says Allen. "Most people would think that their best position as the photographer is always having the sun behind them, but not in this situation. Let's say, we're looking south, and the sun is coming from the east: That would be in an ideal position to get the snow looking realistic and not a blank, texture-less white. Alternatively, if you're facing into the west as the sun sets, you'll get your scene backlit by having sun in your pic. That could also make for a nice effect." Your photos can often become 50 percent better simply by returning to shoot the same setting on another day, or at a different time on the same day. If you're like me, the inspiration to take a photo often happens spontaneously. There's something about a setting, such as a backyard garden, that instantly says, "Snap a picture!" But Allen points out that such a scene might become even more photo-worthy when the light is better at a different time of day. Shoot at dawn or dusk. "If you shoot midday, it'll typically be hard to see surface details of the objects you're photographing because the sunlight will usually be too harsh. Late in the afternoon or early in the morning, as a rule of thumb, you'll find better natural light. Pro photographers who are shooting portraits of people outdoors always try to shoot during the early morning and late evening magic hours." Returning to a scene, you may get a much better shot. Opt for your camera's highest image quality setting. Many compact digital cameras these days give you an option to record images in various levels of image quality: standard, large, fine, and superfine. (Your camera may use different words for similar functions.) People tend to use the low-resolution image settings because low-res images don't eat up as much memory on a memory card, enabling you to cram more pictures onto a single card. "I recommend setting your camera to take pictures at the highest possible image resolution and then buy additional flash memory cards for you to take with you on your trip. Memory cards are inexpensive now, costing at about $40 to $70 a pop. These high-resolution images will look a lot sharper." Winter weather requires that you adjust your camera's settings. Most digital cameras have settings for adjusting to various light conditions, such as indoor, sunny, and nighttime. You can typically adjust these settings by going to your digital camera's electronic menu. (For example, you may see icons such as the image of a cloud covering the sun.) Some cameras instead use a number system called ISO, which is a measurement of the sensitivity of a camera's sensor to light. Says Allen, "The rule of thumb is on sunny days you could be working with an ISO of 100 to 200; on cloudy days, 200 to 400; and when it's twilight, 400 to 800. Don't go more than 800, or else you'll you get grain in the film or noise in the digital file. In other words, your photos will look odd." MORE TIPS: How to take better photos of your friends. (Advice from Budget Travel's photo department!) Read more tips from pro shooters at TakeGreatPictures.com. Here's a new device that cures awkward-arm syndrome for photographers. ($25, xshotpix.com.) Listen to a podcast of photographer Rick Sammon offering advanced digital photography tips. Before you buy a camera, visit this website. Photo by Allen Birnbach