Category Archives: Uncategorized

SITE Review: rome2rio

Rome2rio screenshot

SITE: Rome2rio

TYPE: Search engine/travel routing

LOCATION: Australia

COST: Free

Sometimes, you just want to know how to get there, especially if you don’t live near a major “hub” airport. These guys want to help you find your way — and maybe save you some money — at the same time.

More often than than not, there’s more than one way of getting from Point A to Point B, regardless where those two points may be in the world.

Rome2rio promises to show you most, if not all of them. Enter any two starting and ending points into its search engine, and this site will tell you how to connect them via plane, train, bus, ferry or car — or any combination thereof.

This is useful for two reasons.

Depending on ho you combine those different modes of transportation, routing trips this way can save you money.

For example, when I tried routing a trip from San Diego to Paris, it showed that taking the train from SAN to Los Angeles and then flying from LAX would be slightly cheaper than flying directly from San Diego.

At major destinations with more than one airport, such as Paris, London or New York, it can show you at a single glance which route would be cheaper.

If you’re willing to get creative in your routing to save some bucks, this site just might be your best enabler.

But support you don’t live anywhere near LAX, or ATL, or DFW or JFK. Rome2rio could be even more useful for those whose home address is a long way from a major “hub” airport.

To test that theory, I tried another search, keeping Paris as my destination, but this time using Fresno, CA as my starting point. The site produced three routing options.

The first priced out at $983, the second at $748 and the third at $667.

Would a $316 cost savings get your attention? It definitely hooked mine.

You can search routes by country, city, landmark or three-letter airport code. It also features secondary pages that will let you search for hotels and rental cars, in virtually any currency you choose.

Visually, Rome2rio’s primary search page is uncluttered, making it quick and easy to navigate. It also features secondary pages for finding hotels and rental cars.

If you’re environmentally conscious, Rome2rio also creates a link for every route search, showing how you can offset the carbon emissions generated on your route.

The site may not be able to produce specific information for every search that you enter, but it’s commendable that its creators make the effort.

The one negative I ran into involved using airport codes to check routes.

The airport for San Diego is SAN, but when i entered that into Rome2rio’s search box, it gave me San Francisco instead.

I love The City too, fellas, but you really need to fix that.

Overall, I would use one or more of your other trusted travel search sites to verify your Rome2rio findings, at least in the beginning. But as a starting point for your trip planning, it could prove very useful, indeed.


the IBIT Travel Digest 12.9.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Touring wineries and sampling their wares is a big business these days, worldwide. There are escorted winery tours by bus or van, and self-driven wine routes you can enjoy at your own pace by car or bicycle (although you definitely want to go easy on the sampling in both cases).

Napa Valley is even world-famous for its Wine Train, featuring world-cass wines and dinners to match.

It was only recently, however, that I learned that you can tour wineries on horseback. Fresh air and gorgeous surroundings, finished off with some equally gorgeous wines. You can do it either as a day trip or as part of a hotel or bed-and-breakfast stay.

In eastern Washington state and Oregon, up and down California wine country, from Mendocino County in the north to the Santa Ynez Valley and Temecula to the south, or as far off as Argentina and Australia, you can saddle up and get your drink on in the same outing.

I myself am not quite ready for this kind of outing; the only horse I ever rode was made of wood and went around in circles. But for those of you possessing both horse skills and a taste for the grape, this might be a vacation worth considering.

If this sounds like something you might like to look into for 2013, drop me an email at and I’ll send you the information directly.

Just remember to go easy on those samples, lest you get caught galloping under the influence.


Have you ever wondered if all those online reviews people write about hotels actually make any difference? A study conducted at New York’s Cornell University suggests that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

According to an article in Travel Weekly, the Cornell study showed that good or bad hotel reviews could affect not only room demand at that hotel, but could influence room rates by as much as 10 percent, up or down:

“The study found a direct link between the rise or fall of revenue per available room (RevPAR) and improvements or declines in the online reputation of a hotel, driven by ratings on sites such as TripAdvisor and Travelocity.

To read the entire Travel Weekly story, click here.

Bottom line: Your opinion matters. The Web has given you, the consumer, a more powerful voice than you’ve ever had before. Treat it like the priceless asset it is.

As we know, travel media folks are a bit list-crazy, and never more so than at year’s end. One of the lists you’ll find over at Budget Travel is its 10 Best Budget Destinations for 2013.

Some of their 10 nominees — like Palm Springs, the Bahamas and the Loire Valley in France — are pleasant surprises, because you don’t expect those places to be cheap. Others are a surprise because you’ve never heard of them, like Boracay Island in the Philippines.

And then, there are the ones you’ve heard of, but would never expect to make the list in a million years.

This year’s shocker: Northern Ireland.

To check out the entire Budget Travel list, click here.

It looks as if Alec Baldwin may get the last laugh, after all.

Remember when the actor/bad boy was famously kicked off an American Airlines flight at LAX last year for refusing the turn off the game he was playing on his cell phone?

Well, almost a year to the day of that incident, the NY Times is reporting that the head of the Federal Communications Commission now says the airlines should allow its passengers freer use of their personal electronics on board aircraft.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said as much in a letter last Thursday to Michael Huerta, acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration:

“I write to urge the FAA to enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable electronic devices during flight, consistent with public safety.”

The magic words there are “during flight.”

Nothing yet from the FAA, which has the last word on the issue, but even that agency has appeared in the past to be leaning in that direction.

It’s been reported in the past, including here on IBT, how personal electronic devices that use radio signals, such as cellphones, have shown signs of interfering with a plane’s navigation controls. But word processing, gaming and other functions would seem to offer little such threat, if any.

Either way, with the FCC more or less getting behind the traveling consumer on this, it could be that we’ll finally see this issue solved for good in 2013.

Meanwhile, if the next TV commercial for a Capital One airline miles credit card features a grinning Alec Baldwin with what appear to be canary feathers in his mouth, you’ll know why.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from USA Today
Wouldn’t you know it: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has scarcely entered service, but technical issues are already starting to surface. In this case, fuel leaks.

from the New York Times
American Airlines pilots ratify a new contract with the airline. For travelers, that means no worries about Christmas holiday trip disruptions. For AA, it’s one step closer to a merger with US Airways.

from ABC News via Yahoo
How bad is internal airport theft by TSA agents? The feds are planting iPads and other consumer electronic devices with GPS tracking devices to see if any of them get stolen…and they are. DO NOT check your laptops, tablet computers or smartphones.

from the Huffington Post
Kate Hanni of FlyersRights says the airlines are sticking it to travelers this holiday season with deceptive pricing and hidden fees, especially baggage fees. Bah humbug!

from Agence France-Presse
A French court has cleared the former Continental Airlines and one of its engineers of criminal responsibility for a deadly 2000 crash of a Concorde supersonic airliner in Paris. Civil liability is still on the table, though.

from NBC News
Here we go again…a simple device small enough to hide in a Magic Marker can let thieves open the electronic door locks at several major hotel chains nationwide. We’ve reported this before. Yikes. The hotel chains know about it, but have yet to correct it. Double yikes.

from the New York Times
Do you love skiing so much that you wish you could do it all year round? Have some frequent -flier miles saved up? Because if you’re willing to travel, you could ski 12 months out of the year, including in a few places you might never expect.

from Budget Travel
There are lots of folks who prefer to travel by themselves, and across much of the world, solo travel is perfectly fine. But there are some places where it’s really better to go with a group. Here are eight of them. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
The Hyatt Regency in Chicago begins the second phase of a $110 million renovation.

from SFGate
Wanna get high? I mean really high, as in “those ants down there are actually people” high. Destinations to take you up, up and away.

from Travel Weekly
Plans by Royal Caribbean International to build a third Oasis of the Seas-class cruise ship may have run aground in Helsinki. The vessel would be built in Finland, but Finnish government is balking at financing the build.

from Travel Weekly
Apparently, not all the cruise lines are holding their noses at the European market. Norwegian Cruise Lines is hooking up with Gate 1 Travel to offer European combination cruise-land tour packages next year, starting with Italy. If they find a way to work affordable airfare into the package, this could be very interesting.

from USA Today
The luxury small-ship Windstar cruise line is offering some end-of-2012 deals on its Northern European cruises, including two-for-one sales.

from USA Today
The weather doesn’t just pick on the airlines. High winds in Cape Town, South Africa force a cruise ship to stay at the dock…for four days.


New air services in the works for Mozambique, including flights from the capital Maputo to an island resort.

from T. Rowe Price
Ghana, now in the process of peacefully holding a presiddential election, could be the next rising financial star on the Mother Continent. So say these guys, who see five new economic powerhouses on the African horizon — in the west, east and south.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Good news for those who’ve traveled to Cuba or are planning to go: Thanks in part to an easing of government restrictions, the food is getting better. Much better.

from SFGate
Arizona has a world-famous wave. But leave the surfboard at home, because this one is solid layers of multicolored sandstone millions of years old in remote southwestern desert. This is one vacation that will make you work.

from CNN Travel
Singaporeans may have an international reputation as being cold fish emotionally, but they’re passionate when it comes to cooking in what some consider the capital of Asian cuisine — and for some remarkably low prices, they’ll show you how Singapore cooks.

from CNN Travel
The best places to shop in Beijing…and some cool places to shop in Shanghai.

from Girls’ Guide to Paris
Ah, Paris, how can I tour thee? Let me count the ways. By foot. By Metro. By tour bus. By bike. By…Segway? Oui, Segway.

from Context Travel
A 3.5-hour tour on foot and by Metro of the immigrant’s Paris.

from The Guardian (London UK)
An agritourism project is saving a fading village on the island of Cyprus — and giving travelers something to do other than party the night away in Larnaca.

from the Washington Post
The Louvre, arguably the world’s greatest art museum, is branching out, opens a satellite museum in an old French mining town. Good way to experience the Louvre’s treasures while avoiding the Paris mobs. You can almost hear the ghost of Louis XVI saying, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that!”

from Travel Weekly
If one of your travel dreams is to see the Colosseum in Rome, you probably shouldn’t put it off a whole lot longer. It’s literally crumbling.

Edited by P.A.Rice


OT: Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Today, IBIT strays somewhat from the topic of travel to mark the passing of an American jazz legend.

We lost Dave Brubeck today, and for anyone who grew up with a love and respect for jazz, the loss is immense.

If you’re of my generation and come out of New Orleans, jazz almost seems to be coded into your DNA. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and so many others.

You may even have jazz notes hanging like musical fruit from your own family tree, as I do.

But as a kid, I didn’t really connect with jazz on a gut level until I heard “Take Five” for the first time in 1962 — courtesy of an AM radio station in San Francisco.

I heard it while clutching a cheap plastic transistor radio the size of a small shoe, with “made in Japan” in raised letters on the bottom and a small, tinny-sounding speaker not fit for “elevator music.” The alternative was to plug in the somewhat uncomfortable oversized earphone, which in those days went into only one ear.

For me, none of that mattered. “Take Five” was the song that turned “cool” from a state of mind into a sound. More than that, it was the signal that my musical tastes were no longer those of a child — even though I still was one.

Most artists want to be known and respected for their body of work, not just one piece of it. In Brubeck’s case, though, it’s probably unavoidable, for “Take Five” is not just his song. It’s his signature.

I grew up thinking this was strictly an American thing, that we were the only ones who loved jazz. How wrong I was.

Black American musicians first exposed the rest of the world to jazz in Europe, just before and especially during World War 1, when Parisians listened to the Army bands of America’s racially segregated black units, a pattern repeated in Europe and occupied Japan after World War 2.

Which is one big reason why today, you can find a jazz club in the capital city of every major nation on Earth.

Another reason was the Cold War.

Back then, both sides tried to use culture as a weapon of sorts. When the Soviet Union was trotting out classical orchestras and the Bolshoi Ballet on worldwide tours as cultural proof of its superiority, Washington countered with the likes of Ellington, Armstrong, Basie…and Dave Brubeck.

Fast-forward to 1976. Tokyo, Japan. I’m sitting in a second-floor nightclub wedged into a small office building in the Ginza, drinking Kirin beers from a glass boot…and listening to young Japanese musicians playing American jazz.

Including Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

Soon after, I learned that there were countries all over the world with jazz radio stations — and even more, hosting their own jazz festival lasting days.

Montreal and Toronto, Canada. Paris and Nice, France. Copenhagen. Vienna. Montreux, Switzerland. Havana. Jakarta, Indonesia. Macedonia, Moldova, Algeria and Azerbaijan.

Jazz. For days.

Regular IBIT readers know I’m not big on traveling the world to experience American culture. My skin crawls at the sight of a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee or all over the Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

For music, however, I make an exception.

I delight at listening to black African choirs put their own interpretations on black American gospel music. I truly enjoy listening to hip-hop and rhythm ‘n blues via London or Marseilles or Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state.

Above all, I love hearing everybody’s spin on jazz.

Dave Brubeck was one of the geniuses who brought this uniquely American creation to the world, and the world has never let go of it, or him. Play this cut on the streets of almost any big city, anywhere, and someone will stop to listen. Not just because they like it, but because they know it.

David Warren Brubeck would have been 92 years old tomorrow. His music will live on a lot longer than that.

The good stuff never dies.


AIRFARE ALERT: Southwest — $100 or less

This one-day fare sale will get you to a lot of Southwest’s destinations for a Benjamin. If the return fare is decent, it could be a bargain. IF…

It looks as if Southwest Airlines has come up with a fresh gimmick for a fare war, but don’t expect its competitors to match this one.

According to the folks at Smarter Travel, for today only, Southwest is putting 750 of its routes up for a most usual sale — nothing over $100.

And thanks to the federal government’s new rules for advertising airfares, that’s not $100 “plus taxes, surcharges and fees.” Nowadays, the airlines are required to quote you the entire fare up front.

So when Southwest says $100, that means $100, period.

There is still a catch, however. Three of them, in fact.

The first is that the sale applies to most, but not all of Southwest’s entire route system.

According to Southwest, it flies to 97 destinations, including the ones covered by AirTran, which Southwest now owns. According to ST, the sale applies to 77 cities. Whether the sale prices apply to AirTran as well as Southwest flights is not made clear.

If a sale doesn’t apply to a destination that interests you, it’s not of much use, and airlines tend to apply these sales on the routes on which they have the most trouble filling airplanes.

Still, according to ST, places like Los Angeles, Orlando, New Orleans and New York are included in this sale, so this could be worth something.

The second catch is summed up in two words: one-way.

Southwest will happily show you the total round-trip purchase price, but the bargain-basement fares apply in only one direction. If you actually want to come back, you’ll be paying more. It’s a standard airline sales gimmick.

The third, according to the ST crew: You can only use it for travel on four days in the month of December, including Christmas Day.

Even so, if you can get one of those rock-bottom fares to some place you actually want to go, and the return fare is decent enough, you can still come out ahead.

Again, this is a one-day deal, which means you have until 11:59 tonight. After that, this sale turns into a pumpkin.

Here’s the Southwest Web site. Good luck!


the IBIT Travel Digest 12.2.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Catalina sunset
Sunset off Catalina Island | ©IBIT/G. Gross

If you love rail travel — or just loathe air travel — The Guardian newspaper in London has one of the best resources for planning a fantastic rail vacation.

It’s created its own Web page dedicated to great rail journeys around the world.

Stories about terrific train trips on almost every continent, planning advice, suggestions from readers, photo galleries, it’s all there.

One such trip that’s definitely on my list is aboard The Canadian, a train that travels across virtually the breadth of Canada, from Toronto in the east to Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

It’s not a high-speed train, but given the beauty of the land, including the Rocky Mountains, you won’t want to go that fast, anyway.

Even if you don’t actually use it to plan a train trip, you’ll probably learn some interesting things from it.

For example, thanks to the English Channel tunnel, it’s now possible to travel not merely from London to Moscow, but from London all the way across Europe, Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean — crossing ten time zones and nearly 8,000 miles — without ever stepping onto an airplane.

Not that you’d actually want to, but you could.


There’s a truism in the fashion world that says if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style. That may be the case among the airlines, as well.

About a decade ago, I joined my first airline mileage program. The airline of choice was American. The reason? Back then, American touting the fact that it was removing seats from its aircraft to create more legroom between rows. When you stand 6’3,” you pay attention to things like that.

Sure enough, a few years later, the airline decided it needed the money, so it put all those seats back into all those planes. Bummer.

Fast-forward to November 2012. An email from American Airlines pops up in my inbox:

“Good things do come to those who wait.

Earlier this year, we mentioned that extra legroom in the Main Cabin was coming. We’re happy to tell you that Main Cabin Extra seats have arrived. You’ll enjoy the following benefits when you purchase a Main Cabin Extra seat:

• Extra space to stretch out
• Group 1 boarding to settle in early
• Seats near the front of the plane so you can get on and off the plane faster”

Legroom is back. Cue the Kool and the Gang music. “Ce-le-brate good times, come on!”

Well, not entirely. There are a couple of differences this time around.

A decade ago, the extra legroom was spread through the entire cabin. This time, it’s being limited to the Main Cabin Extra section at the front of a selected group of new jets.

The other difference is one you’ve probably come to expect by now. If you want a seat in Main Cabin Extra, and you don’t have elite status with American, you’ll have to pay for it, anywhere from $8 to $118 per flight, according to American’s Web site.

On the other hand, you won’t be paying hundreds or thousands of dollars extra for a First or Business Class seat.


If I had a dollar for every unsolicited credit card application that turned up in my mailbox in the last five years (and went straight to the shredder), I could probably fly someplace nice… in Business Class. But here’s one Visa card I wouldn’t mind having.

It’s called the KQ Msafiri Visa credit card. It’s result of a joint venture between Barclay’s Bank of Kenya and Kenya Airways.

Not only do your purchases with the card earn miles toward free Kenya Airways flights, but you also get priority check-in and boarding, and up to $56,500 in travel insurance, free.

Cool. But what I’d really love to see would be for outfits like Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines or Arik Air to partner up with some American banks — preferably some black-owned American banks — to create a credit card whose purchases would build miles toward travel to Africa.

That’s one credit card application I wouldn’t shred.


This last item sounds like a punchline, or maybe something from the satirical news Web site, The Onion…but it’s neither.

Starting this weekend on selected international flights, Japan Air Lines will be serving its passengers in-flight meals featuring…Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That’s right, JAL is hooking up with KFC. According to the JAL press release, it’s to be called “Air Kentucky.”

Greasy fried chicken at 35,000 feet? Neither I nor my bowels know quite what to make of this. Believe it or not, however, it does make a certain amount of sense, although perhaps not for the reason you’d expect.

It would be logical to presume that JAL is doing this to placate those Western passengers whose faces turn unnatural colors at the very thought of eating sushi. But you would be mistaken.

According to the press release, “KFC is widely popular in Japan, particularly during the Christmas season.” And according to CNN, it ties in with a JAL gimmick of partnering with restaurtant chains popular in Japan, such as “MOS Burgers, Yoshinoya beef bowls and Edosei pork buns.”

And there you have it. Pass me the sushi, please.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Smarter Travel
A holiday gift from your friends at ST, the ten airlines that give you the best legroom in Coach — or as I like to call it, Sardine Class. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Flying to the Caribbean from anywhere in the world? No problem, mon. Flying among the Caribbean islands on regional airlines? Big problem, mon.

from Travel Weekly
Delta to begin flying between Seattle and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which is closer to the city than its other airport, Narita. But Seattle’s gain will be Detroit’s loss.

from Smarter Travel
The ST crew highlights the cold-and-flu season by pointing out the 10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling. Their title, not mine. Never mind that, just take their advice and stay healthy going into the New Year. SLIDESHOW

from CNN
First, the bad news. Hotels are now going the way of the airlines and hitting their guests with hidden “resort fees.” The good news? The feds have taken notice.

from Smarter Travel
Five off-season travel destinations that are really cool, and not just because it’s winter. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
Ridership isn’t the only thing growing at Amtrak. Look for a larger number of Amtrak Vacations packages in 2013.

from Travel Weekly
Houston has had a gleaming new cruise ship terminal since 2009, but no cruise ships ever made port calls there. Starting next November, that will change.

from Travel Weekly
More life preservers, better tie-downs for heavy equipment aboard ship and standardized procedures for bridge officers are among the safety changes being proposed within the cruise ship industry as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster.

from CNN
How do you “undiscover” an island?


from Travel Weekly
British travelers recently declared Cape Town, South Africa to be their favorite city in the world — and it looks as if Europe’s international airlines are getting the message.

from the South African Government News Agency via
A cultural, historical and anti-poverty industrial center dedicated to the memory of anti-apartheid martyr Steve Biko opens in South Africa. The Steve Biko Heritage Centre is expected to become a major tourist attraction.

from The Star (Kenya) va
With foreign tourism starting to dry up, mainly over security fears as Kenyan forces tangle with Al Qaeda-aligned terrorists from neighboring Somalia, the government tries to boost domestic tourism to compensate.

from CNN
The ravages of Superstorm Sandy are not preventing holiday visitors from pouring into New York City.

from CNN
Take a look at Detroit through the eyes of its mayor, former NBA superstar Dave Bing.

Up in the Napa Valley, you can find restaurants that design menus around the finest local wines. Not down in Monterey. This beautiful seaside-scenic town, a two-hour drive south from San Francisco, has gone nuts over local craft beers — so much so that several local restos now feature entire dinners built around local brews.

from the Los Angeles Times
Memories of the California gold rush live on in Yreka.

from China Daily
Have you ever seen any of those ancient Chinese paintings depicting incredibly beautiful landscapes, towering bullet-shaped limestone mountains that couldn’t possibly be real? Well, they’re real, all right, and Guilin is the place that inspired a lot of those paintings.

Travel Weekly
With cruise sales leveling off here and sailing over their own “fiscal cliff” in Europe, the cruise lines are turning to Asia to pick up the slack. Singapore has already built a new ocean terminal large enough to dock the world’s biggest liners, and more are coming.

from CNNgo
Paris? New York? San Francisco? Madrid? You can all sit down. The Michelin Guide to the world’s great restaurants has crowned the gourmet capital of the world — and it’s Tokyo…still.

from Travel Weekly
Canada’s Four Seasons becomes the latest luxury hotel chain to plant its flag in China with a new 313-room luxury tower in Beijing.

from The New Yorker
Paris, that gastronomic capital of haute cuisine, is going ga-ga over its newest craze. Brace yourself: It’s American hamburgers. We’re not talking Mickey D’s, either.

from Cisco
The next time you find yourself in one of those classic London cabs, whip out your smartphone or your iPad and see if its wifi is working. Cyberspace is coming to the hackney carriage.

from Reuters
It’s no big deal anymore to find a Muslim mosque in Paris. A gay-friendly Muslim mosque in Paris? That’s a very big deal.

Edited by P.A.Rice


the IBIT Travel Digest 11.25.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Strasbourg Christmas lights stand
Shopping for Christmas lights, Strasbourg, France | @copy;IBIT/G. Gross


The so-called “Arab Spring” may have brought political change to North Africa and the Middle East, but it’s bringing little good cheer to the travel industry. The ongoing turmoil in that part of the world continues to make it — justly or unjustly — a no-go zone in the eyes of many travelers.

Travel Weekly reports that between now and next April, Norwegian Cruise Line is dropping Egypt from its 10- and 11-day cruises, scheduling port calls in Istanbul, Crete and Naples in its place.

And NCL came to that decision before Egypt’s new president got involved in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and then tangled with his own nation’s judiciary over sweeping new powers he claimed…for himself.

Bottom line: Many of the countries now being avoided by travelers and travel companies alike may be perfectly safe to visit, but it may be a good while yet before the traveling public perceives them that way.


Anyone who tells you Americans don’t take trains hasn’t been to a train station lately. IBIT has and I can tell you, they’re busy.

Amtrak’s business year officially closed out on Sept. 30, and it closed on all high notes, starting with this one: 31.2 million passengers for fiscal 2012.

Two things make that number important. First, it’s the highest ridership for Amtrak since it came into being in 1971. Second, it’s the ninth year in a row that Amtrak has set a new ridership mark.

While you’re at it, smoke this over: Between 2000 and 2012, Amtrak ridership has risen by 49 percent.

You’ll find the rest of Amtrak’s glowing figures in the corporation’s press release here.

A lot of airline CEOs would kill for numbers like these. Then again, the misery that is present-day air travel in the United States is a big reason why more people are turning to trains in the first place.


You know those customer-satisfaction surveys by J.D. Power & Associates, the ones that companies always tout in TV commercials to show how wonderful they are? Here’s one you won’t be seeing anytime soon, from anybody.

With hotel business picking up, J.D. Power decided to survey hotel guests. Those guests put the hotel industry on blast. Low-end, high-end, no one was spared:

“Satisfaction with check-in/check-out; food and beverage; hotel services; and hotel facilities are at new lows since the 2006 study and satisfaction with guest room has declined within one point of its lowest level in the past seven years.”

If I’m that guy at Motel 6 and I hear that, I’m leaving the light on because I can’t sleep. How did this happen?

Here’s a clue, courtesy of Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann: Most of the top hotels in the country aren’t owned by real “hotel people” anymore.

They’re owned by private equity companies, which specialize in boosting profits by cutting costs — mainly by cutting staff and lowering service levels — before selling off the business to someone else.

That may be necessary when you’ve got hotels full of empty rooms at the height of a recession, but to keep doing it after your customers start coming back? Not smart, as J.D. Power vice-president Stuart Greif gently points out:

“Hoteliers need to get back to the fundamentals and improve the overall guest experience. Charging guests more and providing less is not a winning combination.”


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Travel Weekly
Qatar Airways joins oneworld, the world’s number two airline alliance. QA joins Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines as members-elect. It’s a big deal for Asian air travel and a big boost for oneworld, but the announcement is overshadowed by the ongoing beef between American Airines and its pilots.

from Travel Weekly
The Middle East may still be too hot politically for some travelers, but that’s not stopping three major Persian Gulf airlines from building alliances with European carriers.

from Travel Weekly
Southwest Airlines will start flying this spring from Florida to Puerto Rico. Officially, it’s a simple takeover of existing service from AirTran, which Southwest bought. But as its first air service outside the continental United States, it’s a big step.

from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pickpockets in Spain, gypsy cabs in Rome and other avoidadable travel scams.

from Travel Weekly
JW Marriott opens the world’s tallest hotel in Dubai. How tall? About eight stories shorter than the Empire State Building in New York. Yep, that’s tall, all right.

from Independent
Lots of folks have tips on how best to travel with kids — but what about traveling with grandkids?

from NBC News
Honeymoons…with friends? Really? Yes, really.

from Cruise Critic
Cruising for grown-ups. Seven options for sailing without the kids.

from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line is going all Grinch on Hawai’i. Seeing strong demand for its Hawaiian cruises, NCL is raising its Hawai’i cruise prices 10 percent starting Jan 1, 2013. Merry Christmas…

from Gadling
Travel insurance is one purchase a lot of cruise travelers try to do without. Don’t. But have a clear understanding of what travel insurance will and won’t do for you.


from the Ethiopian Press Agency via
Addis Ababa starting to become a destination for conference travel.

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via
The justly famed Victoria Falls are starting to get some serious competition as a tourist attraction from the Mana Pools. Chinese tourists in particular just love this spot.

Citizen of Vietnam caught in Mozambique with a half-dozen rhino horns in his possession. Wonder how to say “You in a heap ‘a trouble, boy!” in Vietnamese?

from Inform Africa
An African looks at our Thanksgiving tradition, and wonders why African-Americans find anything to celebrate.

from Travel Weekly
If you’re used to paying $51 in airport fees when flying into and out of Antigua, get ready to go a little deeper into your wallet from now on.

from the Los Angeles Times
The Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM walks a fine line between respecting an impoverished local culture and providing a successful escape for its visitors.

from USA Today
If you’ve been frightened away from Mexico over the last several years, you can at least think about returning now. The most recent State Department travelers warning about Mexico exempts most of that country’s traditional tourist destinations.

from the New York Times
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, is obsessed with good food. For a traveler, that could be a very good thing, indeed.

from the New York Times
A short but worthwhile visit in the city we used to know as Calcutta. Nowadays, it goes by Kolkata.

from The Guardian (London UK)
With a sleek new mountain eco-resort not far from Shanghai in Zhejiang province, China hopes to lure environmentally conscious tourists — and perhaps simultaneously clean up its international image as one of the world’s major polluters.

from France 24
Are the people of Singapore real-world Vulcans a la Star Trek, utterly lacking in emotions (as well as pointy ears)? A US Gallup poll says yes. Even worse, a fair number of Singaporeans seem to agree. It seems they’re too busy making a living to have a life.

from The Guardian (London UK)
A look at the town of Vicenza, one of northern Italy’s under-appreciated jewels, and the creation of one of its most famous architects. A UN World Heritage Site that still manages to slip below the tourist radar.

Edited by P.A.Rice


ROAMING: The traveling shadow of Barack Obama

America’s decision to elect a black man as the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth, not once but twice, is changing the way black men are perceived around the world when we travel…and that’s a good thing.

Samuel Autman

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — From every angle, Angkor Wat, the world’s largest Hindu temple ruins complex, sits resplendent, three miles north of this modern-day tourist mecca. Our tour guide, a man who smiled easily, told us that King Suryavarman II built it in the early 12th century.

At various times over the centuries, the structure has welcomed practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism. On the day my delegation and I were there earlier this year, young boy Buddhist monks in training, adorned in brilliant orange robes, walked the grounds and posed for pictures.

A short distance away in the commercial district, people of all ages were selling T-shirts, shot glasses and original oil paintings sported the majestic crownlike shape of Angkor Wat, the fitting national symbol of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Two young girls ran up to me and screamed, “Obama! Obama! Obama! Would you buy these bracelets for your Michelle?” They were so cute and their poverty so acute that it was hard to not buy something. I bought an armload of souvenirs back from the place.

I also brought back something else, an altered consciousness as a black traveler.

Although Barack Obama had been President of the United States for almost four years by then, I was more than 8,800 miles away before I realized the global impact of his election on me and those like me, black men who travel.

I’ve have people move their hands as if bouncing a basketball and screaming “Michael Jordan!” Or start spitting out Snoop Dogg’s latest rap lyrics, as if I should know them. I always groaned at these reductionist versions of what other people around the world expect of a black man.

I was having lunch with a college French professor in the beautiful northern Laotian town of Luang Prabang, when I noticed the server staring at me. As a dedicated traveler, I’m forced to notice these things, but I said nothing to my colleague.

When I got up to go the restroom, he walked over her and asked, “Excuse me. Is he a famous US movie star?”

I look nothing like a movie star, Michael Jordan or Barack Obama especially. I’d like to think I’m fiercely individualist and can do things my own way, despite the impressions or expectations of others. But media images blasted around the globe via movies, television and news reports have cemented what a black man should be doing or who he is.

I thought I was immune to the thoughts of others. I am not.

I try to ignore the vitriol that partisan politics spews out on both sides about candidates. It’s hard to not take offense when they’re talking about my black president. I just can’t ignore it.

I’ve had this gloomy sensation for months that Obama would not be re-elected in part because he’s black. For months, I had been texting all my friends that we needed to start practicing the idea of “the Romney administration” and saying “President Mitt Romney.”

People would text me back saying I was crazy or negative. I thought I was just being realistic. After all, I didn’t think Obama would win the first time. Okay, the first time was a fluke. This time, he’s out. On a subconscious level, I was afraid of what it meant for all black people globally.

Still not good enough.

When I went to sleep on election night a few days ago, the New York Times had Romney ahead of Obama by ten electoral votes. I drifted off with an awful feeling, not just that the Republicans would win but we’d have a global thumbs down on the value of a black man.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and saw that Obama had been re-elected.

The little girls’ questions to me is proof that the archetype for what it means to be a black man in America has greatly expanded in our consciousness and around the world. No longer are we black men just rappers, athletes, movie stars or criminals.

Thank you, Mr. Obama, for helping with the shift.

Samuel Autman is a prize-winning author and assistant professor of English at de Pauw University in Indiana.

ROAMING: Introducing Samuel Autman
ROAMING: French Polynesia
ROAMING: A Fort Lauderdale wake-up call
ROAMING: Screams In the Night



Sahara Desert caravan
The Sahara Desert. Think you could survive here? | ©Simone Matteo Giuseppe Manzoni —

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

This edition of the IBIT Travel Digest is dedicated to my editor, P.A. Rice, whose name you’ll often see at the bottom of my blog posts. In addition to being a fine writer in her own right and a good friend of many years, she loves — I mean LOVES! — the desert.

Having been born in Louisiana and spent most of my life in coastal California, I’ve never been a desert person. Too much sand, too little shade, too many things that stick or bite you.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s usually hotter than all Hell? Unless, of course, it’s freezing cold.

But when she’s in the desert, she sees — or more accurately, feels — something different. Something profound. Something wondrous. And if you try looking at it through her eyes, you may start to see the desert in the same way.

It’s a land that makes you accept it on its own terms. But if you can do that, it will treat you to breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, night skies overflowing with stars and enough solitude to let you have meaningful conversations with your own soul.

I’ve seen sunlight and clouds combine over the Imperial Valley of California in ways that that I’ve seen nowhere else on Earth.

And as evidenced by this story in the London newspaper, The Guardian, she’s not alone in her appreciation of the world’s driest places.

The article lists incredible deserts all over the world — and tours to let you explore them. Deserts in Arizona, North Africa, Mongolia, and countries you may not even think of in terms of deserts.

Like Spain.

Don’t worry…it’s a DRY heat.


easyJet is Britain’s largest airline and one of the principal low-fare airlines in Europe. It’s orange-and-white Airbus A319s and A320s are a common slight all over the continent.

Now, according to The Guardian, easyJet’s Greek founder is bringing the low-fare airline concept to the Mother Continent.

Fastjet has taken off, literally, in Tanzania.

The implications of this are huge. Africa is one of the largest and most populous of all the world’s continents — and also by far the one most under-served by the world’s airlines.

If Fastjet succeeds, spreads and inspires the rise of competitors, it could revolutionize African air travel.

Stay tuned.


If it’s been awhile since you took a cross-country road trip — and at today’s gasoline prices, who could blame you? — you will be forgiven if you go slack-jawed when you see what’s happening to highway rest stops these days.

I got my own inkling of that a couple of weeks ago on Interstate 5 in Southern California, heading back to San Diego.

There’s long been a rest stop overlooking the coast within the boundaries of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, but I hadn’t stopped there in years. Small, nondescript, nothing special.

My, how things have changed. Two buildings are now three. Multiple large, clean restrooms, snack and soft-drink vending machines that actually work. And I didn’t check, but it might even have wifi now.

But as you’ll see in this Washington Post travel story, that’s nothing.

America’s rest stops are going upscale, so much so that some are on the verge of becoming destinations themselves. Check it out.


And as long as we’re toying with the idea of hitting the road again, the financial magazine Kiplinger offers up this list of its 10 cheapest American cities for a good vacation.

The first thing you’ll notice about this list is that only two of its top 10 cities are anywhere west of the Mississippi River. One of them is Phoenix, AZ.

Desert. It figures.

But that’s not as amazing as the city that appears at the top of the Kiplinger list, the Number 1 destination for a cheap American vacation.

Drum roll, please…Riverside, CA.

When I first saw this, my initial reaction was “really?” Then I recalled my several drives through Riverside with my family enroute to and from family visits in Texas and Louisiana, not to mention my stops there on the train.

After thinking it all over, my reconsidered thought was…REALLY???

If you think you can make a compelling case that the Kiplinger folks are right, drop me a comment here on the blog or send an email to I’m willing to be persuaded.

Just be prepared to work at it.


And now, here’s the Digest:

from Travel Weekly
American Airlines adds service to Europe, Asia and Latin America from its hubs in Dallas and Chicago. The flights themselves don’t begin til next year, but you can start booking them now.

from the Huffington Post
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about the skies of the beholder? Would you fly in airplanes as ugly as these? SLIDESHOW

from CNN
The A350-AXWB is the lightweight, long-range airline that Airbus intends to compete with Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. Will it catch on with the world’s airlines…and more importantly, their passengers?

from The Daily Beast
Where to find some of the world’s tastiest cheap eats. No surprise, most of them are in Asia.

from AARP
Airline etiquette — how to deal with rude passengers in-flight.

from USA Today
Is a steady regimen of business travel hazardous to your health?

from USA Today
NCL joins rival Carnival in selling all-you-can-drink packages aboard its cruise ships.


British travelers vote their favorite city in the world. New York? Toronto? Paris? Surprise…it’s Capetown, South Africa.

from the Daily Observer (Gambia) via
For foreign tourists, visiting the Gambia often means getting bum-rushed by “bumsters.” Mostly, they’re just a nuisance, but they can be a BIG nuisance.

An unlikely alliance of US environmentalists, herdsmen from Somalia and financiers from China is joining forces in Kenya to save the rarest antelope in Africa. The hirola is closer to extinction than giant pandas, mountain gorillas or rhinos…and cannot survive in zoos.

from CNN
How to survive in the Sahara with the world’s original desert survival experts, the Tuareg.

from the New York Times
Atlantic City refuses to bow down to Superstorm Sandy.

from Travel Weekly
And speaking of Sandy, resorts in the Caribbean are still reeling from its impact, these days in the form of widespread cancellations from US travelers. Good time to swoop in and negotiate a bargain, perhaps?

from the New York Times
Seth Kugel loves São Paulo. He wants you to love it, too. WARNING: You may have to work at it.

from the Washington Post
Have a thing for ghost towns? Then check out a pair of abandoned mining towns in Chile. SLIDESHOW

from the Huffington Post
For all the gloom-and-doom talk in the mainstream media about the demise of American manufacturing, there are a lot of local factories still making their own products — and making money doing it. Some of them will let you come in and watch. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Want to see where The Hobbit lives…at least on film? Head for New Zealand. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” hits theaters next month. Check out the incredibly beautiful land where it was shot.

from CNN
The Hello Kitty restaurant in Beijing. The pink ambiance will make you smile. The food will not.

from Travel Weekly
Greece is pining for more US tourists.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Some of the lesser known but no less worthy attractions of St. Petersburg, Russia.

from the New York Times
The Prague that hides in plain sight.

from the Washington Post
Here in the States, writers joke about tree-hugging hippies who think they can sing their way to revolution and freeom. In the scenic Baltic republic of Estonia, the people there actually did.



Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©IBIT/G.Gross

If you live in or near one of Delta’s departure cities, you can score some international bargains here.

Looks as if Delta Air Lines is jumping into the Black Friday sales spirit a wee bit early — and if all the stars align themselves just right, that could pay off handsomely for you.

The folks at Smarter Travel have sniffed out an airfare sale at Delta on their international routes, with some fares starting as low as $159 one-way.

What makes this sale of potential interest to you is Delta’s global reach. Between its own vast network of international routes and its membership in SkyTeam, which ties it in with 17 other airlines around the world, there are very few places these guys can’t take you.

For all the details, check out the Delta site here

With any airline sale, there always are not one but multiple catches, and this one’s no exception.

Catch 1: If any airline is dangling a ridiculously low one-way fare at you, you can bet your raised and locked tray table that the return fare will be substantially higher. The question is whether the combination of the two yields a total airfare low enough to justify the purchase. If it does, pull the trigger.

Catch 2: Blackout dates. Airlines like to tout low fares during periods when a lot of folks are unable to travel due to work or school. Peak periods like major holidays often are excluded. So before you let your traveling heart start racing too fast, make sure the sale prices apply to the dates you have available to travel.

Catch 3: Airlines may offer great fares, but not necessarily from your home airport. If you have to spend almost as much money to travel from your hometown to the city where the bargain fare originates, the final bill may not be that much of a bargain.

That last catch, apparently, applies especially to this sale. Delta is offering its rock-bottom fares from a very limited number of US cities.

Still, when you see fares of $800 and change from Boston to Amsterdam or from Seattle to Beijing — round-trip — your passport may start to twitch uncontrollably.

So check it out and see what’s possible. If you find a good fare and end up buying yourself a great trip somewhere, let me know.

Happy world shopping!

If you do get serious about snapping up one of these fares, be sure to check out the list of Delta’s add-on fees. You’ll find it in the Nov. 4 edition of the
IBIT Travel Digest.


RANT: End of the race

IBIT says goodbye to “The Amazing Race.” Televised treachery may be entertaining, but theft is theft.

I’ve lost track of the number of years that I’ve been a devoted, enthusiastic viewer of the CBS travel game show, “The Amazing Race.” I’ve followed the ups and downs of its contestants, vicariously traveled with them around the world, touted the show on the very digital pages of this blog.

Greg Gross

All of that ended last night.

From previews aired by CBS, millions of television viewers around the world already knew that one team was going to be caught on camera stealing money from a rival pair of contestants. Along with undoubtedly legions of fellow TAR fans, I was curious to see what the show’s producers, its host Phil Keoghan and the network would do about it.

The answer, it turned out, was nothing. And at the end, when Keoghan had the chance to confront the perpetrators about their treachery, he blew it off.

The message was clear: If it stimulates drama, controversy, cyberspace chatter, we’re okay with it. That was the moment I became an ex-fan of “The Amazing Race,” because I’m not okay with it.

And if the run of commentary on the show’s Facebook page and even its own Web site is any indication, I’m far from a lone voice on this.

The team of Sri Lankan twins that initiated this disgusting act may be spoiled, obnoxious witches with a capital “B,” but the show has featured plenty of those in the past and undoubtedly will offer up more in the future.

Let’s face it, bitchery as entertainment is a firmly established fact these days on American television. “Bridezillas.” “Basketball Wives.” “Big Rich Texas.” “Real Housewives of [YOUR CITY HERE].” You get the picture.

And millions do, on their TV sets nightly.

For me, the greater failure lies with the calculated decision of CBS to allow the twins to get away with their perfidy for the sake of “good television.” But perhaps it should not have been a surprise. Because for more than a decade, CBS has been leading the way in offering America greed and treachery for its televised amusement.

It created the precedent with its “Survivor” series, in which individual contestants are encouraged to lie, cheat, make alliances and then betray their allies, all to win money. It looks now as if the network is hell-bent on turning “The Amazing Race” into Survivor 2.0.

What’s next, CBS, boobytraps? Physical acts of sabotage?

At this point, I’m not sure if I’m shaming them or giving them ideas.

Over the years, we’ve heard a lot about how the “anything goes” attitude of Wall Street and American banks has wrought havoc on our economy. We’ve spent more than a decade in this country dealing with — and reeling from — the consequences of unbridled greed as an accepted standard of behavior.

In that context, the network’s offerings are in perfect keeping with the times. If it makes you rich, just do it. In moral terms, how is this any different from the gangsta rap videos that glorify arrogance, misogyny and violent crime for the sake of “gettin’ paid?”

To me, it’s just a few steps down the hall from the bread and circuses of ancient Rome…minus the bread.

It could be that CBS embraces the view that all publicity is good, even if it’s negative. If so, expect the network to revel in all the criticism it’s receiving. But to rake it over the editorial coals and then keeping watching the show would be hypocrisy on my part.

So I’m going to miss “The Amazing Race,” a lot. But continuing to watch would make me a party to their cynical approach to television, and I just can’t go there.

Plenty of individual viewers already have weighed in on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, saying they will no longer watch “The Amazing Race” after last Sunday’s debacle.

Now, it seems that a grassroots movement of sorts is forming in cyberspace to organize a boycott of next Sunday’s episode of TAR.

As with a lot of things on the Web, it appears to be totally ad hoc. I have no idea how well organized or widespread it is. What I> can tell you is that the folks I’ve heard from so far who are supporting it are as appalled and dismayed with CBS as I am.

We’ll see what happens.

—G. Gross


the IBIT DIGEST 10-28-12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

awash coffee ceremony
©IBIT/G. Gross

In addition to wildlife safaris, history and heritage, you now have a new reason to visit East Africa: coffee. An outfit called ET African Journeys is offering a 14-day tour next month called Ethiopia & the Birth of Coffee.

Don’t expect a lot of “down” time on this trip. The package includes visits to a coffee cooperative and at least three different local tribes — the Erbore, Kanso and Woito peoples. You’ll also head into the Great Rift Valley for 4×4 drives and boat rides on valley lakes, as well as the Blue Nile Falls. You’ll also be seeing two different UN World Heritage sites, the castles of Gondar and the rock churches of Lalibela.

Lest you drop from sheer exhaustion and sensory overload, they’ve also worked a couple of resort and spa stays into those 14 days, as well.

Ethiopia is where coffee was born and there are those of you who will swear it’s the best in the world. It spread east into the Arab world and then to Europe before finally making its way to the Americas and the rest of the planet.

I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but after getting my first taste of it during San Diego’s African Restaurant Week, I can tell you this: Ethiopian coffee is the only coffee I’ve ever had that I would willingly drink black. It’s smooth, it’s flavorful and it won’t bite your tongue off.

I’ll make my apologies to Juan Valdez later.

The tour departs Washington DC’s Dulles airport on Nov. 30 aboard a long-range Boeing 777 jumbo jet from Ethiopian Airlines. For more information, go to the ET African Journeys site here.


Think of this as a kind of pre-emptive strike from American Airlines.

We all know how much travelers resent those airline baggage fees. We also know that travelers are starting to turn toward air freight companies and luggage shipping services to get their bags picked up and delivered, thumbing their noses at the airlines in the process.

Well, before too many more folks opt out of letting the airlines handle their bags, American has decided to partner up with one of those services to offer its own baggage delivery. For a fee, you can now bypass the luggage carousel and let American deliver your bags to your home or hotel.

You can read about it here at Travel Weekly.

Sounds like a great idea, and a pretty slick move by American…until you learn that you pay for this extra service on top of the airline’s checked bag fees. That, I suspect, will be a deal-breaker for a lot of travelers.


OpenSkies is a small upscale subsidiary of British Airways that flies trans-Atlantic routes with smaller Boeing 757 narrow-body jets set up to be more comfortable for travelers willing to pay for a pricier ticket.

In addition to offering more legroom, nicer meals and seats that don’t leave you feeling you’ve spent six hours in a vise, the airline is now offering flights from New York into Paris’ other major airport, Orly.

Most international travelers, especially from North America, usually fly into Paris via the massive, chaotic and perpetually packed Charles de Gaulle international airport. If you’ve experienced CDG in the past — and would do anything to avoid a repeat of it — this may be your chance.

And now, here’s the Digest:

from SmarterTravel
You know those controversial airport X-ray body scanners? The TSA is quietly replacing them with scanners believed to be less potentially harmful. But the old machines aren’t going away, just being moved to smaller airports.

from Yahoo Travel
Coming soon to an airline near you — personalized airfares. Individual airfares based on your personal profile data and travel history. Good deal or something sinister? Read and decide.

from Smarter Travel
Eight foods and beverages to avoid when you fly. Some, like beans and garlic, are no-brainers. Others, like alcohol, are no surprise. But sugar-free gum?

from Travel Weekly
With Orbitz, you may not always know: the federal government fines the online travel agency $25,000 for failing to properly disclose airline baggage fees.

from USA Today
Feel like living dangerously? North Korea’s Air Koryo, judged by aviation experts around the globe as the world’s worst airline, launches a Web site. Apparently, the site is about as functional as the airline it represents. Pyongyang, anyone?

from the Travel+Lesure via the BBC
The five best neighborhoods in America for authentic ethnic food — and you won’t see a lot of “the usual suspects” on the list. If you have dissenting opinions, list your own nominees in the Comments section. SLIDESHOW

from SmarterTravel
Was it something you said? Five phrases never found on the lips of a good traveler. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
There’s a little less competition in the rental car business these days. Hertz is buying up Dollar Thrifty. Good news for Hertz. For the traveling consumer, probably not so much. But the feds still have to bless this merger, and there’s no guarantee that they will.

from the United Nations
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, adds 26 new locations to its list of world Heritage Sites. Meanwhile, the crew at SmarterTravel picks its ten favorites. Your bucket list may need a bigger bucket.

from USA Today
Few visitors to New York City have reason to hit Staten Island, even with the lure of a free ferry ride from Manhattan. That could change by 2016 if plans go ahead to build the world’s biggest Ferris wheel in the Big Apple’s most ignored borough.

from Travel Weekly
This from Carnival Cruise Lines: No more saving deck chair for someone who’s not on deck.

from Travel Weekly
For those who plan ahead: The Cunard line has already set its world cruise itineraries for 2014 The cruises can last three months — but Cunard will let you buy much shorter segments, as short as eight days.

from CNN Travel
If unique wildlife is your thing, then Tanzania may be your place. Who’s up for a safari?

from Bulawayo 24 via Travel Comments
Ahead of next year’s big general assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization in Zimbabwe, three African airlines are adding more flights to Victoria Falls. You don’t have to be a UNWTO attendee to take advantage.

from Gadling
Forget trick-or-treat. If you want to see something truly spooky, check out the annual migration of 8 million African bats. Relax, they only eat fruit.

from the BBC
New entry fees and visa requirements going into effect in Argentina and other South American countries. If you’re planning a trip to South America, don’t wait until departure day to get yourself up to speed on the new requirements. If you do, you may never get out of the airport.

from Agence France Presse via France 24
You know all that stuff you’ve been hearing about how the Mayan calendar forecasts the end of the world in 2012? Well, the Mayans say it’s all bogus and they have one word for all the folks out there pushing this myth: STOP.

from the New York Times
Want to really go New Age in Santa Fe, NM — and get healthier at the same time? Explore it by bike.

from The Guardian (London UK)
El Vilsito. Auto mechanics by day, wonderfully fixed up tacos al pastor by night. Only in Mexico City.

from Xinhua News Agency via CNNgo
China is taking not quite $1 million to turn its first atomic bomb test center into…a theme park? Swords into plowshares is one thing but, uhh…wow. This is one new tourist hotspot that could be just that.

from China Daily
For decades, travelers from around the world have descended on Hong Kong in search of bargains. Now, te Chinese are doing it, too.

from The Province (Vancouver, BC, CANADA)
There’s a lot to see and do in Hong Kong. There’s even more to see and do outside one of the world’s most densely crowded cities. Venture out.

from The Guardian (London UK)
There are lots of good reasons these days to visit the Czech Republic. Here’s one you may not have heard about — good skiing, incredibly cheap.

from the BBC
In Paris, the Seine is getting a 35 million euro makeover that will make the riverbanks more pedestrian friendly and even more attractive to locals and visitors alike. It comes at the expense of daily commuting motorists, who are less than thrilled.

from CNN Travel
Ten cool and free things to enjoy in Paris, including your own guided tour with a local. Did I mention that it’s all free?


Tanzania: The roots of injustice

Maasai herdsman, Kenya
Maasai herdsman, Kenya — © John Wollwerth |

Just a quick follow-up on the attempts to push the Loliondo Maasai in Tanzania off their lands to create a private hunting preserve for wealthy Arabs from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states.

When we first reported this, a petition on the site opposing it had about 350,000 digital signatures. As you read this, there are now nearly 900,000 signatures, and it should hit 1 million before the weekend is up.

A similar land-grab attempt three years ago was thwarted after global condemnation basically shamed the Tanzanian government into backing off.

According to The Guardian newspaper of London, however, this goes back much further than three years, and is not limited to Tanzania:

“In Tanzania, the process of removing (the Maasai) from the plains started in 1959, when the British colonial government made…the Serengeti – in Masai the name means endless plain – a human-free wildlife reserve. The clans agreed to leave the plain and take possession of the adjacent volcanic highlands of Ngorongoro, famous for its enormous rhino-haunted crater. Here, the colonial administrators ruled, the Masai clans could live in perpetuity, with full rights to the grazing and water.”

If you remember the track record of our own United States government in its dealings with Native Americans, you can guess what happened next:

“Then, in 1961, a Tanzanian government took over. More national parks were created, and evictions followed. In 1973 the government of Julius Nyerere went back on the deal the Masai had done with the British, and excluded them from the crater of Ngorongoro.

“The Masai in the Ngorongoro conservation area cling on to the remains of the land the British promised them for ever, but in droughts they have to beg for water for their cattle from the luxury hotels that have been built on the crater rim.”

A Tanzanian president reneging on a British colonial deal that at least tried to do right by the Maasai? Why?

According to the Guardian, President Nyerere took a dim view of these people. In his view, the Maasai:

“…were not productive in the modern agricultural sense. They were shiftless, ungovernable and ‘uncivilised.’

“Today, 70% of the people live below the poverty line, and 15% of children do not survive to the age of five. But a third of a million tourists visit their land every year, earning the government-run park authority $10m.”

Okay, so the Maasai aren’t farmers. Maybe they’re a little too “country” for a young African nation bent on modernization. But did that really explain this treatment of the Maasai by their own government?

Enter Mikael Strandberg, a long-time Swedish explorer who was kind enough to re-publish the IBIT post on his own blog about this would-be land grab:

“I felt sad, alarmed and worried. And realized I had to do my part to let the world see what is happening to these amazing human beings!”

Mr. Strandberg spent six months living with the Maasai in 2000. It was he who filled in the blanks for me on why this has been happening to the Maasai:

“They were pushed away from any political power by both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments, since the people who ran these two countries, same as today, came from tribes that used to be dominated by the historically very strong Maasai. So, basically, revenge time!”

Nyerere was from the Zanaki tribe. The current president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, is Kwere. So there you have it. Tribal payback as government policy.

We’ve seen this play too many times in the last half-century, all over Africa. Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, the Congo, to name but a few of the stages. It never ends well.

This is neither new nor unique to the Mother Continent. Europe went through some very similar trauma before outgrowing its tribal antagonisms. Before those same Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples on both American continents routinely warred on one another.

Ethnicity was the basis for a gruesome civil war in Sri Lanka that lasted a quarter-century and ended only three years ago. Its lasting gift to the world, the invention of the suicide bomber.

So it’s not as if this kind of hostility is somehow unique to Africa. But there may be no other region on Earth more chronically harmed and ultimately held back by it.

AFRICA: Forcing the Maasai off their land…for tourism?