Weekly Roundup Friday 13 September 2013

No, the Welsh words on this sign do not mean what you might think they do.  See last entry below.
No, the Welsh words on this sign do not mean what you might think they do. See last entry below.

Good morning

Ugh – a ‘Black Friday’ today; not a good day to be traveling.  But hopefully it is a truly propitious day for the launch of our latest Travel Insider service to you – our ‘curated news site‘.  This is explained a bit more in a subsequent article, and in any event is fairly self-explanatory.

There is one remaining part of the new site and newsletter that perhaps you might like to participate in.  I am hoping to have a few readers help with finding and posting news items to the site.

The process is very quick and simple, and possibly even somewhat interesting, involving, and fun.  There’s no obligation to dedicate fixed amounts of your day or week, it is very much an ‘if and when convenient’ thing, and you don’t need to write any articles yourself, merely post links to articles you think we’d all find interesting.

If you’d like to know more about this, please let me know and I can send you out a document that tells you how it works.

There is another piece of outstanding good news, too.  As I mentioned on Tuesday, we had a cabin come available on our Christmas cruise due to a cancellation from one of the people who had earlier joined the group.  That seems to be an inevitable part of the process, particularly with a large group, and is a reason why trip insurance can sometimes be so helpful, too.

Anyway, the good news is that there is now this cabin available for you to snap up.  If you think you’d like to join us, then if you can quickly respond, the 40% discounted cabin is yours for the taking.  More details below.

Something else happened this week.  Ummm – what was it, again?  Oh yes, Apple had a special launch event for its two new iPhones.  But, as I’m hinting at, the phones themselves were instantly forgettable and utterly disappointing, although the lack of ‘must have’ new features perhaps points not to the current dearth of creativity at Apple as also at the maturity of smart phones and their present full panoply of features that leaves little still to be desired.

Many commentators even dared to be politely disappointed, particularly at the lack of hoped for larger screen sizes on the new iPhone.  As for me, my next phone is almost certain to be the new Google Nexus phone, expected to be released any day now.

More commentary on Apple’s new phones in a separate article, attached to this roundup.

In addition to the three stand-alone articles, we also have, below, pieces about :

  • Is BA Increasing or Decreasing the Cost of its Tickets
  • DoT Might Soon Release New Rules for Airline Disclosure of Fees
  • International Travel a Constitutionally Protected Right
  • Destination Promotion – Cutting to the Chase (Barbados)
  • Destination Promotion – Rearranging the Deck Chairs (Bermuda)
  • Destination Promotion – Wining and Dining (PEI)
  • Rocket Scientists Dumb Down Their Communications
  • And Lastly This Week….

Is BA Increasing or Decreasing the Cost of its Tickets

According to this headline, BA is now offering discounts to people traveling on its European flights with no checked baggage.  But according to this headline, BA is charging more for checked bags on these flights.

So – glass half full, or glass half empty?  Is BA offering to reduce the cost for some passengers, or is it seeking to increase the costs for some other passengers?  My gosh, do we even need to ask that question?!

It is interesting, however, to note that BA is starting to migrate towards the Ryanair model of charging for everything and including nothing.  But why is this proving to be so popular?  For a possible answer, please read the next item.

DoT Might Soon Release New Rules for Airline Disclosure of Fees

Back in April 2011 (yes, almost two and a half years ago), the DoT proposed new rules for making better up-front disclosure of the growing mess of fees that airlines may hit us with, requiring a disclosure of such fees in all the airline’s various sales channels.  This in itself was hardly a lightning fast response – it was already three years since fees first became an issue, with baggage fees moving from a rare thing to an everyday thing.

Since that time, the airlines have been fighting, tooth and nail, to kill or at least delay the new requirements taking effect, and at the present time, the regulations are languishing in the Office of Management and Budget, which has just announced the latest delay in their release.

We are now told that the rule may be cleared by OMB on 19 October.  Will they take almost immediate effect subsequently, or will the airlines bargain themselves yet another delay, claiming with a straight face they need a year or more in order to update and revise their computer systems and websites (such as they’ve successfully done in the past to delay the implementation of other regulations)?  You can probably guess the answer to that!

The airlines love fees, and are in a panic as to how to possibly publish them all – they’ve made it as complicated as possible to fully comprehend all the fees that might be incurred on an ordinary flight, and now that complexity is coming back to haunt them.  It has served their purpose to obscure the total cost of a ticket so as to make it more difficult for us to validly compare the true total cost of traveling with different airlines, and not incidentally, the fact that fees don’t attract the same federal tax that airline tickets do encourages the airlines to shift more of their billing from taxable tickets to non-taxable fees.

Add to that the weakness of human nature to glom onto the lowest and most prominently featured cost, and then to proceed up from that more readily than we would if we were first hit with the full final total, and for the airlines, the imposition of fees is an impossible to resist temptation.

We would be well served if the government levied its tax on all airline revenues.  Back when this tax was first created, something like 99% of all revenue was from ticket sales, and the hassles of accounting for the small remaining share outweighed the validity of doing so for either the airlines or the government.  But now that fees are climbing up past 20% of total revenue, and sometimes past 30% of total revenue, and with more sophisticated computerized accounting, there is no reason to continue to encourage the ‘bad behavior’ on the part of airlines, either through the tax loophole, or the non-disclosure provisions.

To put it in terms the airlines themselves would understand, how much sooner could we get the ever-more-delayed Nextgen Air Traffic Control System finally and fully implemented (a system that will massively save the airlines money) if they paid a bit more money into the government for its development.

More details here (assuming that it is possible to detail inaction).

But one detail which is stridently missing is an explanation as to how this process has taken two and a half years so far, and is still incomplete.  I’d really like to know the answer to that question – wouldn’t you?

International Travel a Constitutionally Protected Right

Past attempts to overrule some aspects of the TSA’s ‘security’ procedures and the restrictions imposed on people by placing them on the ‘No Fly’ List have failed, because the courts have said we do not have any right to air travel, because we have other alternatives for travel – we can drive, take a bus, or take a train.

This was all in the context of travel within the domestic US.  So, after these earlier decisions, the ACLU filed suit way back in June 2010 on behalf of 13 citizens denied the right/privilege of flying internationally due to being on the No Fly list.  A federal court decided it had no jurisdiction to hear the case, an appeals court told the lower court it did, and the case has now been heard by the lower court, in Portland, OR.

The judge ruled that people have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in traveling internationally by air, with that liberty being affected by being placed on the No Fly list.  In a welcome outburst of realism, the judge acknowledged that for many people and many destinations, air travel is the only way to get from the US to the destination, and so there are no valid alternatives that weaken the claim of a constitutional right to air travel.

The case is challenging the apparent lack of due process as regards getting on the list, and, of course, subsequently getting off the list.  Expect appeals galore, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court, but this is a good development for now.

Details here.

Destination Promotion – Cutting to the Chase (Barbados)

Talking about international travel, I worked out one time that the US office of a foreign country’s tourist promotion agency spent more money each year, per extra person they encouraged to travel to their country, than would have been the case if they simply gave free tickets to anyone and everyone who wanted to travel there.  In other words, if the air fare was $1000, this organization was spending what turned out to be maybe $2000 per traveler in advertising, promotion, salaries, overhead, and everything else.  If they’d just given away free tickets, they could probably have been twice as successful.

Needless to say, my suggestion was not acted upon, because the people who would have been responsible for considering and implementing it were the same people who would then lose their extraordinarily high paying jobs, foreign allowances, free accommodation and car, generous vacations, and so on and so forth.  But I often wonder how effective it would be to replace all the fancy ‘brand messages’ and ‘awareness building’ and so forth with a simple ticket giveaway.

Barbados is finding its tourist numbers from Britain crumbling, and so it is trying a variation on that theme, by giving British visitors up to $200 per person in spending money if they visit.

Apparently the problem relates to an increase in the taxes the UK charges on international tickets.  The taxes are based on various distance bands, and tickets to Barbados now are taxed more than tickets to, eg, Florida.  While the difference of only a few pounds might seem trivial as part of a total air and hotel and everything else vacation, Barbados has seen a 10.7% drop in British tourists this August compared to last August.

There’s a moral in this for would-be taxers, the world over.  Tourism is much more price sensitive than you think, and even a small increase in costs can have an astonishingly disproportionate seeming impact on travel numbers.

Destination Promotion – Rearranging the Deck Chairs (Bermuda)

Bermuda has also been experiencing challenges with its tourism numbers, but its problems seem to spring mainly from a drop off in the number of cruise ship visits.

The country, and its relatively recently appointed Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, is acting decisively to respond to the problem.  It is replacing its former Department of Tourism with a new Tourism Authority.

But – in a meeting on 27 August, current Department of Tourism employees were told that no staff would be dismissed and all employees would have the opportunity of applying for jobs in the new Tourism Authority.  Details here.

To be fair, there will be a new CEO appointed and a new reporting structure, but one wonders exactly how much is actually going to change, other than the name of the body.

Suggestion to Bermuda – scrap the Tourism Authority in large part and focus on doing deals with the cruise lines to get them to add more port visits.  No amount of tourism promotion will have any effect if the cruise ships don’t tie up at your wharf.

Destination Promotion – Wining and Dining (PEI)

A common practice employed by many destinations and the organizations charged with promoting them is to arrange familiarization tours for travel agents, on the basis of they are more likely to sell what they’ve seen.  It is probably a valid concept and one I’ve used in the past myself.

Some destinations also act as generous hosts for travel writers, including Prince Edward Island, off the eastern coast of Canada.  This tiny province, about the size of Delaware and with a population of only 140,000, is bleak and desolate (yes, I’ve been there), but its provincial government has spent this last week – and $300,000 – hosting 125 travel writers from around the world, in the hope that experiencing the subtle delights of PEI in person will encourage a flood of flowery rhetoric in the world’s presses and blogs.

I wonder why they didn’t invite me?  Details here.

Rocket Scientists Dumb Down Their Communications

There’s a strange but strong new trend for information to be conveyed in ‘infographics’.  It seems to reflect the continued shrinkage of our concentration span, and the growing prevalence of information limited to Twitter sized 140 character chunks together with plenty of pretty pictures.

Alarmingly – and probably unavoidably, some of these infographics over-simplify their topics and sometimes suggest causalities and linkages that don’t exist in reality but which add to the ‘wow’ factor of the imagery, or mismatch different sets of data as part of one overall combined piece.

You would expect that a NASA press release explaining about a new unmanned spacecraft’s 160 day mission to explore aspects of the moon’s atmosphere would be hard to compress down to an infographic.  But, alas, it seems that even rocket science isn’t what it used to be.

And Lastly This Week….

Many countries and regions around the world are rediscovering their local languages.  My own home country of New Zealand has even largely created an artificial language formerly spoken by almost no-one (Maori) and dubbed it the country’s co-official language, and then in a fit of further extreme affectation, recently added bothersome accent signs over some of the letters – a totally unnecessary move for a language that, until the advent of the European settlers, did not exist in any written form at all.  This is an even more extreme practice than Canada and its obeisance to French.

In such cases, a problem often exists.  Very few people can speak the revived local language (including the locals), and if one could separate the politically correct nonsense from the reality, festooning signs with the language creates more problems than it solves.

Which brings us to the sign at the top of today’s newsletter.  You could be forgiven for guessing that the words in the bottom half more or less correspond to the words in the top half.  Indeed, there are two sentences in both, and the general length seems to fit.

But what does the sign actually say?  Click here to find out.

Please don’t forget our amazing deal on a Christmas cruise cabin – details below.

And now, truly lastly this week, if you want more, please go visit our News site.  There are over 80 articles there already – sure, they don’t have any more than a line of commentary, and sometimes not even that, but for more of what’s happening in the travel world, that’s the place to go.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels







2 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup Friday 13 September 2013”

  1. Great comments on the dumbing down of communications via increased use of infographics.

    While there is always value in this with getting some broad attention or teasing someone into reading more – and with school children, a la Classics Illustrated comic books – it is a very poor substitute for in-depth coverage that truly imparts knowledge of an issue.

    I’m somewhat wary to see companies now offering generic, off-the-shelf templates for infographics. There is a false sense of security in trusting that this is how information is best conveyed.

    1. Hi, Steve

      Nice to see you writing from your new email address and with your brand new website up as well. I hope you’ll quickly be flooded with lots of clients seeking a share of your expertise.

      The first infographic I saw evoked a type of ‘wow, what a clever presentation’ feeling – a bit like a really animated powerpoint show, but frozen in time.

      But after the novelty wore off, I too started to see that while a picture may be worth 1,000 words, infographics are often a poor substitute for a well informed and well reasoned exposition on a topic. And as for off-the-shelf templates, that truly boggles the mind!

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