When nature calls, use your cell phone
It can be hard to find a clean bathroom when you're traveling. One solution is to use a bathroom locator service called MizPee if your phone has a Web browser.
We can't make this stuff up, folks.
Here's how it works: Turn on your phone's Web browser, and search for bathrooms by city and street address. The site will fetch a list of the nearest ones, along with details, such as whether each bathroom has a diaper-changing station.
The site, which launched today, has received more than a million visitors during its test phase. The service is available for these cities: Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington D.C., according to the press release.
It seems the most useful at night, when parking's scarce, or traffic's fierce.
MORE SILLY TRAVEL NEWS In China, you can order stir-fried Wikipedia.
Hotels '08: The Bjorn Prediction
The most respected forecaster in the hotel industry is Bjorn Hanson of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. His predictions are closely read by investors and hotel owners. He has earned trust by issuing annual forecasts that have proven more accurate than everybody else's for 16 out of the past 17 years. I wondered if Bjorn's 2008 forecast would be of interest to the average budget-conscious traveler. So I dropped by his annual press conference yesterday to find out. Here's what he said: —Expect the largest hotel chains to launch more small brands. For example, Best Western plans to debut a brand called Atria, featuring bigger lobbies than their standard hotels, and offering similar amenities to Courtyards by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inns. In 2008, the first Atrias are set to open in San Antonio, Texas, and New Bern, N.C. Another new brand--being launched in 2008 by independent investors, is CitiStay Hotels, loaded with modern architectural motifs and the latest technological gadgets but priced for budget-conscious twenty-somethings. —Expect more fees. Bjorn predicts hotels will charge about $1,900,000,000 in fees and surcharges for mini-bar restocking, baggage holding fees, in-room safe surcharges, and other services that used to be complimentary. He says that revenue from such fees should rise about 8 percent from this year's revenue. He also predicts increases in the number of hotels charging fees as well as increases in the amounts charged. He also predicts an increasing range of fees. Argh! —Expect room rates to rise, on average. Rates dropped dramatically after the events of 2001, only to return to their old levels this year, if you adjust rates for inflation. But this year, many hotels will start raising rates higher than they were in the last peak year of 2000. Profits this year are expected to be about $6,644 per available room on average, and will be strong again next year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers research. So don't cry for the hotel owners. —You'll be seeing somewhat fewer mid-market hotels that offer food and beverage on their premises. This type of hotel chain, such as Holiday Inn, Doubletree, Ramada, and Quality Inn, is the only category of hotel chain that will receive fewer visitors next year. (By contrast, luxury, upscale, and economy class hotels will grow, both in visits and in the supply of rooms.) MORE ON HOTELS Pod hotels open this year inside London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, for taking naps or staying overnight. At the Omni Houston, you'll never call the front desk again.
The Future of Travel
A colleague of mine and I were recently marvelling about the speed and frequency of online travel giant Trip Advisor's site redesigns. Like clockwork, just yesterday I received yet another announcement that the website had a new look, and this time the changes aren't simply cosmetic. Trip Advisor has always been a community site, successfully leveraging the voice of everyday travelers, but its earlier incarnations sought a careful balance with 'expert' opinions from, for example, the New York Times travel pages, Fodor's, and other big travel brands. Trip Advisor's new design is not so cautious, and it's inching ever-closer to abandoning the voice of established 'experts' once and for all—or maybe it's just more accurate to say that the site continues to place greater trust in the hands of its users. The trend is not new, of course, but it's no longer a simple fad. Publishers who are still wedded to the idea that social media—the voice of the masses—is an indiscriminate and largely useless cacophony of uninformed opinions are missing the bigger picture. Social media is getting better, and the information the digital phenomenon produces is more useful by the day. There are three inter-related trends coalescing right now that should make all old-brand publishers think hard about how they want to position themselves for the future... First, critical mass has been reached; the number of people willing to share their stories boggles the mind, and it continues to grow at an astronomical pace. Second, social media publishers are finding super-smart ways to reward valuable members, and to give special prominence to really good user-generated content. It's no longer enough to be a prolific contributor to a website. Unless other readers like you, and express their sympathy by voting for you, well, your voice is just never heard. Only the strongest survive. Finally, publishers are mining huge databases of behavioral information to connect you to people who are more and more like you—it's not just that you're getting opinions that many readers say are useful, you're getting opinions that are useful and are also attuned to your tastes. The 'similarity' math that many sites are now using is taking us into some new, periodically comical territory, and it's hard to know just how far it can be pushed. I checked my Netflix 'friends' page a few days back, and saw that I had some new 'recommended' buddies—folks I did not know in the proper sense, but who were between 56 to 78 percent similar to me. When I took a quick look at these proto-buddies, well, they were an awful lot like me. When someone gets to 99 percent, I'm thinking I may dig a hole somewhere and disappear...I don't want to know me. The social media 'revolution' has always had the ring of exaggeration, but give the emerging model some thought and it seems far more plausible. Web sites with a travel angle—from Yahoo! Travel, to Trip Advisor, to Yelp—are becoming huge publishing empires built on the foundation of user generated content. The social media systems are only getting stronger—and they will continue to find new ways to identify the best user-generated content, and to match it to your interests. A serious question looms, and while I'm a bit tired as I write this, I don't think it's overstated: In the future, will the experts be you, or us? What is the future place of the editor? I tend to place my bets in the middle—and so I think that the publishing model of the future will probably succeed best where it manages to find new and compelling ways to let experts—folks who have dedicated a good part of their lives to learning a field—share their opinions with ordinary folks with informed passions. There's still a great deal of value left in the idea of craft and expertise. But surely the era of the unchallenged 'expert' opinion is behind us, and only the nostalgic are looking back.
Terra-cotta Warriors visiting the U.S.
China's Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses were arguably the most significant archaeological excavations of the past few decades. Discovered outside the town of Xian, the well-preserved artifacts originally were used as decoration for the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, who was likely the first emperor of China (around 220 B.C.). This year, twenty of the terra-cotta warriors will be touring the U.S. First stop is the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, Calif., from May 18 through Oct. 12. After summering in Orange County, the exhibit makes stops in Atlanta, Houston, and Washington, D.C. Tickets for the Santa Ana show start at $22 each. UPDATE 1/10/2008 Atlanta's High Museum will host the exhibit in November 2008. It moves to Houston's Museum of Natural Science in May 2009. Then, D.C. gets it at the National Geographic Museum from November 2009 through March 2010. Via THE MERCURY NEWS MORE ON THE BLOG Offbeat travel news. PHOTO BY HELGA'S LOBSTER STEW, VIA FLICKR
Which destinations are on your radar?
It's that time of year for taking stock of where we've been and where we're headed, not just in our daily lives, but in our travels. When we recently asked readers how the weak dollar is affecting their plans, we received a flood of more than 200 comments. Many discussed seeking out alternatives to Europe—such as Argentina, Thailand, India, Croatia, and China—and staying closer to home (Alaska, Texas). We have our own list of places that have recently piqued our interest (more on that after the jump), and we'd like to hear from you: Where are you headed in 2008? Photo of a little cove in Bermuda, between Warwick Bay and Horseshoe Bay, by Buff Strickland (yes, that's his real name). Montenegro: a newly independent country that's small in size, but big on the next-destination map. Lalibela, Ethiopia: Home to 11 intriguing ancient churches carved into the Ethiopian earth. Brooklyn, N.Y.: These days, the most interesting part of New York is across the East River. Sangkhla Buri, Thailand: A Thai cultural melting pot with Buddhist monks who are commonly spotted crossing the old wooden bridge at sunrise. New Orleans, La.: As the city continues to rebuild for years to come, there's plenty to rediscover. Bermuda: With sand as soft as sifted flour, blue-green water, and an influx of low-cost flights and affordable lodging, the island has never been more appealing. Caraíva, Brazil: A car-free, rustic beach town at the southern tip of the Brazilian state of Bahia. Waitsburg, Wash.: Near Walla Walla, the sleepy town has neat shops and cafés like the Whoop, a hit with both wheat farmers and wine snobs. Yarra Valley, Australia: You don't have to like wine to enjoy this region northeast of Melbourne (but it helps).