TripAdvisor plays it a little too straight
Is it just me, or could TripAdvisor do more to court gay and lesbian travelers? The giant of user-generated hotel reviews doesn't let you filter reviews by sexual preference—to zero in on reviewers like yourself—the way it allows users to filter reviews by special categories like business, family, couples, friends getaways, and solo travel. The site also seems to shy away from officially acknowledging the presence of the LGBT community.
It goes without saying that gays and lesbians travel for business, with families, and so forth—so many of TripAdvisor's filters have broad appeal. But LGBT travelers have unique concerns. When we're picking hotels, for instance, we often wonder whether the front-desk clerks are well trained and well mannered. If they aren't, they'll make a silly mistake when a same-sex couple asks for a single king bed: They'll act weird about it. And weirdness is exactly what I want TripAdvisor to help me avoid.
I've also noticed that the U.S. division of TripAdvisor has never put out a press release or marketing campaign acknowledging gays and lesbians. A month ago, its U.K. branch produced its first list of the Top 10 Gay & Lesbian-Friendly Hotels in Europe, and I hope this anticipates a formal acknowledgement of the crowd here in the States, too. How about a simple Top 10 List of Gay-Friendly Hotels in America?
All I wish is for the Internet's leading hotel review site to do as much to welcome LGBT travelers as nearly every airline, hotel chain, and major destination does. Online travel site Orbitz has a microsite for gay travelers, as does Travelocity. Major airlines have LGBT marketing, such as American Airlines' aa.com/rainbow. Nearly every major U.S. and European city seems to have a webpage or a brick-and-mortar kisok dispensing LGBT travel information, such as Seattle's and London's gay-tourism portals. In fact, the U.S. travel industry as a whole has a proven track record of being much better about courting the gay customer than other industries.
To its credit, TripAdvisor allows its users to post info about LGBT travel on its site, particularly in its Gay Travel Forum. Users have posted travel guides ranging from the best LGBT-friendly lodging in New Hampshire to the most LGBT-friendly neighborhoods in Paris. For instance, guides on Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Dublin, Ireland, have lots of helpful info.
But allowing your users to ask each other trip-planning questions on your Travel Board is nothing special. What's more: While thousands have participated in TripAdvisor's forums, I bet most TripAdvisor users aren't even aware the forums exist. The site could do more to promote these forums. As of today, on the homepage for TripAdvisor's forums, the Gay Travel Forum isn't listed. (Though things like "Rugby World Cup 2010" are listed.) You have to click "see all" to find it.
Some people might say, you can't measure "gay-friendliness," but there are proven proxies for estimating it. Reviews are one way. If TripAdvisor started collecting user-information on how gay-friendly a hotel is, it could build a powerful database. It could add a checkbox on the review form giving a reviewer a chance to mention their interest in LGBT friendly hotels.
Another way to judge a hotel is by how it treats its staff because that affects how the staff treats the guests. Will the housekeepers give a same-sex couple second looks? They probably won't if the hotel makes a policy of not discriminating against LGBT staff. TripAdvisor could add a little tag to the listing for any hotel that has been TAG Approved, namely a hotel vetted by an independent organization for its employment policies, services, and support returned to the LGBT community (and not for pay-for-placement deals).
At the end of the day, this is a missed business opportunity for TripAdvisor—gay travelers seem to travel more than the average American and should be a growth market for the site. Parent company Expedia was the first major travel site to offer specific content for the gay and lesbian travel market back in 2001, which leads me to think its TripAdvisor division is simply making an oversight.
What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?
In search of app-y travelers
Right now, my mind is in a very appy place. As a traveler, I find myself turning to my iPhone as a tool every chance I get. I use it for weather forecasting, mapping, translating, converting, finding restaurant recs, tweeting, and much much more. And I'm remarkably willing to pay (a little bit here, a little bit there) for useful, clever, or just plain fun apps. It should come as no surprise that we're working on developing an app (or three) of our own here at Budget Travel. We have a number of ideas we think you'd like, but considering that you always have incredibly well-considered thoughts, we'd like to go straight to the source and hear from you.a) What travel apps do you currently use? b) What sort of tool would you love to hold in your hand on your next trip? (Don't hold yourself back! Dream big!) c) Are there any apps you've been using that you find disappointing? Thanks in advance for your comments…
Airpass smackdown: LAN vs. Oneworld in South America
Let's say you want to take a vacation in South America with multiple destinations. Do you have to fly in and out of the same city? Any tips for finding cheap airfares for flights within countries? Consider buying a voucher for several flights at the same time for a set price that's often cheaper than booking piecemeal. The international airline alliance with the best airpass for South America is Oneworld. The individual airline with the best route network and airpass is LAN. Buy an airpass and then create your itinerary from there. One catch: Unlike rail passes, airpasses generally require that routes and dates be reserved in advance of your travels. Is there a difference between LAN's South America Airpass and Oneworld's Visit South America Airpass? The question is perplexing travelers. The trouble is that you cannot book the South America Visitors Pass directly through the Oneworld website; you must contact the individual carriers, like LAN, instead. A representative at LAN assured me that their pass is exactly the same thing as the Oneworld pass. However, a little digging uncovers some issues. For instance, Oneworld claims that flight prices are based on the miles covered between destinations (i.e., a flight between 561–750 miles will always cost $143.) Yet, two identical six-week itineraries with the identical mileage booked through LAN have a $200 difference in price depending on whether you book in May or August. Also, the Oneworld website claims that an open ended ticket may be purchased as long as you declare which cities you will be traveling too. LAN will not permit open-ended travel. However, fellow Oneworld alliance member American Airlines will honor open-ended tickets and other Oneworld regulations. But there's no easy way to compare prices among the various options. So what to do? If you are patient and budget-wise, book through LAN, which may offer a less expensive flight than booking individual tickets. If you value convenience and want to explore South America at your own pace without advance reservations, call an American Airlines agent at 800/433-7300, who will be able to arrange for you to get the open-ended South America Visitor Pass. (Expect to wait 24 hours for a price quote.) What is Oneworld anyway? Among the major airlines, 11 (including American and LAN) have teamed up to create the Oneworld alliance, which offers various passes for making multi-stop trips. For example, its South America Visitors Pass provides access to 34 cities in 10 countries and allows flexible open-ended travel. Travelers must declare the cities to be visited but do not have to choose specific flight dates. As long as the entire trip duration is between 10 days and 12 months travelers have the ability to explore destinations at their leisure. Flights have flat rate prices based on the mileage covered between destinations, which maintains maximum flexibility at low cost. Sample Itinerary (copied from Oneworld's site: Lima – Cuzco $119 Cuzco – Arequipa $119 Arequipa – Lima $119 Lima – Santiago $203 Santiago – Buenos Aires $143 Buenos Aires – Monteviedo $119 Total: $822.00 —Sara Nicholson, for Budget Travel
Test Lab: iPad as travel tool
Last week I reached out to you to send me your questions about how well an iPad works as a travel tool. I headed down to New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival with husband and baby, toting my iPhone and an iPad. No laptop, no guidebooks—just a light and slim day bag big enough to fit the device. Here's how it scored. The flight test (A): Before setting off, I downloaded a number of apps, videos, and news readers that would help keep me, my husband, and my 17-month-old entertained on the flight. I got Scrabble ($10), the New York Times Editors' Choice (free), USA Today for iPad (free), ABC Player (free), Twitterrific for iPad (free), an Elmo video from iTunes ($9.99), and a series of celebrity Sesame Street podcasts (free). Elmo took up a good 20 minutes of the 3-hour flight time. And then, once my daughter fell asleep, I happily read the day's New York Times—stunningly sharp pictures and all, in full layout—without crinkling paper and waking her up. The street test (D): Top of mind to us all, including reader Jason, was whether the iPad works as an on-the-go travel device. "Does pulling it out on a street corner make you a target for crime like a big visitor's map or guidebook might?" Considering that we happened to walk right by the New Orleans shooting, minutes after it happened, I wasn't incredibly inclined to pull my shiny new toy on the street. But also, since I have the first generation iPad, only Wi-Fi enabled (the version with 3G comes out later this month), I would be at the mercy of a wireless signal and walking around like a fool holding it up searching for a strong signal. Sorry Jason, I had to go with my gut on this one. I never felt comfortable enough. But more importantly, I didn't really see the need to. Instead, my handy iPhone was my go-to when we were trying to figure out whether we needed to sort out which direction to turn to get to Café du Monde. The in-room surfing test (B+): The iPad has stunning surfing potential. But once again, you're really at the mercy of your signal. When it's good, it's great; I've begun to surf on it primarily at home, instead of using a laptop. It's just that fast. We were staying at the Omni Royal, and I was sure to sign up in advance for Omni's Select Guest loyalty program, which grants members complimentary Wi-Fi—skipping the $10 daily fee that nonmembers pay. It was supereasy to connect the iPad with the Wi-Fi signal, and the first day, I happily read the day's news, emailed from both work and personal accounts far easier than on my iPhone, looked up a menu at a restaurant, plotted out turn-by-turn walking directions to sites, and figured out the day's weather. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi was down the next day, so I ended up turning to my iPhone. The flight check-in test (F): I'm a big fan of checking in for a flight before heading to the airport, and I tried to do so from the iPad. No go. After a minute or two of waiting for a page to load, I found out why: JetBlue's site uses Adobe Flash, an unsupported technology on the iPad. If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what does. The verdict: iPad is unparalleled as an in-room entertainment, reading, and research device for travelers. But when it comes to using a real on-the-go tool, I'll happily leave my big slim iPad friendly bag at home, and just slip my iPhone in my pocket.
Shop Talk: The backpack goes fashion-forward
Like many folks I know for whom schlepping around an extra bag (or two) of gym clothes, train-ride reading material, and brown-bag lunches is a given, I've really come to rely on my assortment of ripstop nylon Baggu totes—they're cheap, lightweight, and eminently wad-up-able. And up to this point, the Del Mar, Calif.-based company has done brisk business with a pretty narrow array of styles—the original Baggu, Baby Baggu, and Big Baggu—all iterations of the same basic shape. As these bags have no closures and no real structure, they've never been ideal for travel (although mine did come in very handy on my last beach trip, where a couple Baggus stood in as beach-towel and snorkel-gear totes that took up no room in my suitcase). But now, the company has introduced two new styles that have serious carry-on potential: a snap-top tote with adjustable shoulder strap in heavyweight cotton canvas ($20), and my favorite, a very simple, APC-esque recycled-cotton-canvas backpack ($28), a style that Verena von Pfetten of Styleite, who is currently leading the charge for a backpack resurgence, would likely go nuts for. Both of these new additions have interior pockets, come in nine rich, mostly gender-neutral colors (red, fuchsia, navy, blue, olive, teal, ivory, mustard, and black) and are available now at baggubag.com.