In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
TripAdvisor aims to take the gamble out of booking a hotel with Tingo website
The days of kicking yourself when you book a hotel room only to watch the price plummet weeks or months later could be over.
TripAdvisor has launched a hotel booking site called Tingo that automatically refunds customers if the cost of their room drops, taking the gambling out of the planning process.
It claims travellers could save hundreds of millions of dollars under the initiative because hotel prices fluctuate every day.
According to the company about a third of hotel rooms drop in price between the time of booking and checking-in, but the discounts haven’t been passed on to customers.
The new site, which is being run out of the Smarter Travel Media offshoot for TripAdvisor, guarantees that if the price drops post-booking, it will secure the room again at the lower price and quickly refund the difference.
“Travellers could have saved millions last year had there been a simple system in place that automatically rebooked their rooms,” Smarter Travel Media General Manager David Krauter said.
“And that’s what Tingo does, by taking the gamble out of booking and refunding travellers’ money when rates drop. It’s a no-brainer.”
Can social web get travellers out of armchairs?
Earlier this month, users of image-sharing app Instagram gathered in Amsterdam to conduct a “photo walk” around the city. Low-cost-carrier bmibaby had flown participants in from London so they could meet fellow members in the flesh.
A destination guide to the Dutch city based on the images followed on the airline’s blog page to inspire visitors to travel there in the future. Julian Carr, managing director of bmibaby, told Reuters, “We measure the effectiveness of our social media through levels of engagement, rather than ‘bums on seats’.”
Travel, that most social of pursuits, has always been wise to the web; the industry was an early adopter of e-commerce booking engines, and with the advent of advice-, recommendation- and opinion-sharing sites like Virtual Tourist and TripAdvisor, social media.
But reaping quantifiable rewards from the social web is proving as elusive for travel brands and booking engines as it is for most other industry sectors. As a 2011 Euromonitor report on the subject puts it, “Measuring the impact of social media advertising is difficult due to the impossibility to identify the impact of the different factors, and evaluation is often of a rather qualitative nature.”
Other travel sectors concur. Peter Shanks, president of the Cunard cruise company, told Reuters last week at ITB (a vast travel confab in Berlin) that social media was a great tool for informing people and interacting with them, though it was not yet a money-spinner.
“Social media is fabulous. The only challenge is we haven’t found a way to make money out of it.”
At the same event, Christian Saller, CEO of Swoodoo, operator of a German online hotel and flight booking platform said that Facebook is overvalued for the tourism industry as the number of fans had nothing to do with monthly bookings.
Yet Facebook remains the social network of choice for the industry to sidle up to; hotels and carriers have started to integrate booking channels with their corporate pages. You can now book a room at Omni Hotels or Best Western on Facebook; easyJet was the first airline to allow passengers to book flights on their page. Delta soon followed suit: its air warriors have been able to buy and broadcast their bookings on the site since 2010.
Lions on the loose in Nairobi
The owner of a popular tourist attraction in Nairobi has urged local authorities to step up their efforts to capture several lions that have escaped from a nearby national park.
Michael Carr-Hartley, who runs Giraffe Manor in the affluent Langata district of the Kenyan capital, said that two of his young giraffes and several domestic animals had been killed since December, and warned that the lions may pose a threat to humans.
“They are fully-grown females and have been coming and going from the park for some time,” said Mr Carr-Hartley. “They’ve killed two of our giraffes, a couple of dogs and have had a go at other animals. It is only a matter of time before a person gets attacked by one of them.”
He called for the Kenyan Wildlife Services to take action, but admitted that their resources are “stretched”.
He added: “I think someone has tried to capture [the lions] before, because they seem familiar with the standard traps. A much bigger pen needs to be constructed in order to catch them.”
A Kenyan newspaper reported last month that traps had been used unsuccessfully, while angry residents in the area say they have been terrorised by the lions for months.
Another report, disputed by authorities, claimed that a man had been attacked.
However, Brian Jackman – a safari veteran and long-time contributer to Telegraph Travel – downplayed the risk that the lions pose to humans.
“I’d heard that a lioness and its cub had escaped and had killed some dogs in Langata,” he said. “It is possible that they could attack humans, but very unlikely. They are scared of people, and with good reason.
Should you travel to Japan?
One year ago, on 11 March 2011, the largest earthquake in Japan’s history hit the country’s northeast, causing massive tsunamis and nuclear explosions that devastated a large swath of the country’s coastline.
While some of the psychological and economic scars have yet to heal, visitor numbers are slowly returning to normal. After a 60% drop immediately following the quake, December 2011 recorded only 11% fewer visitors than the same month in 2010. Those who do visit will be met with the customary Japanese courtesy, plus an unusually open display of warmth and gratitude. More than ever, Japan wants you to visit.
But should you go? Considering the following, the answer is a resounding yes.
The threat of radiation
Sadly the issue of nuclear activity is now the first question on most visitors’ minds. A 20km exclusion zone still exists around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant — and likely will for some time. Reports of contamination outside the exclusion zone have forced many Fukushima residents to relocate. However, little radioactive fallout has been detected in neighbouring prefectures and life goes on as usual.
In Tokyo — some 270km from the Fukushima plant – the subject of radiation is much more likely to elicit chagrin (for having hoarded bottled water in the weeks following the disaster) than genuine fear. In the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto and Nara) and further west, contamination was never a concern. To decipher the radiation levels of the area you are visiting, check out Citizen group Safecast, which maps local radiation levels.
Of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, only two are currently operating. The rest have been shut down for scheduled maintenance and the prospect of restarting them has been met, in many cases, with fierce local resistance. Power shortages may occur when the scorching Japanese summer kicks in around mid-July, which could cause trains to run on reduced schedules and cities to dim their neon light shows. But these are only mild inconveniences that should not put off travellers.