TripAdvisor VS. Expedia

January 27, 2012 on 3:07 pm | In Expedia, ThereArePlaces.com, TripAdvisor, air travel, personal travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel industry, travel tips | 2 Comments

As many of you know, TripAdvisor, which was part of Expedia, was spun-out in an IPO on December 21, 2011. We found ourselves wondering what that might mean for those of you who use TripAdvisor for advice on hotels, and the like. We are not sure the news is good.

You probably know that TripAdvisor, which bills itself as the world’s largest travel site, has over 50 million unique monthly visitors and claims 20 million registered members. Due to its massive audience, it is able to publish 25 new contributions every minute and features over eight million travel photos taken by their visitors. TripAdvisor and its 18 subsidiary travel sites, operated by TripAdvisor Inc., attract more than 65 million unique monthly visitors. TripAdvisor’s subsidiaries include: www.airfarewatchdog.com, www.bookingbuddy.com, www.cruisecritic.com, www.everytrail.com, www.familyvacationcritic.com, www.flipkey.com, www.holidaylettings.co.uk, www.holidaywatchdog.com, www.independenttraveler.com, www.onetime.com, www.seatguru.com, www.sniqueaway.com, www.smartertravel.com, www.travel-library.com, www.travelpod.com, www.virtualtourist.com, www.whereivebeen.com, and www.kuxun.cn.

Of course, now that it is a stand-alone business, TripAdvisor needs a way to create revenue and does so by running ads and providing other services for its business partners. Indeed, this week TripAdvisor introduced a comprehensive Analytics Service for businesses that allow them to us a “management dashboard” to summarize the performance of their business on TripAdvisor at a glance. Hmm, we guess this specific business model means that travelers contribute independent evaluations to TripAdvisor and TripAdvisor finds a way to monetize the efforts of their visitors for the benefit of TripAdvisor. We realize that TripAdvisor need to make money, but when the companies that are TripAdvisor business customers are provided information on the ratings of their hotels or restaurants contributed by members of TripAdvisor or visitors to their websites, it feels like the contributors are being disadvantaged.

One has to presume that the reason for TripAdvisor to provide this feedback to business partners is to allow these businesses to take action and remedy ratings that do not benefit the business. Oh. Well, how will that happen? Well, honorable companies could use this information to reevaluate and improve the services they provide. Conversely, for companies looking for the quick fix might, solving the problem might be to find a way to improve the ratings without having to spend money doing so. If this case were to happen, it would appear possible that some companies could try to game the system.

Yes, we know that TripAdvisor claims to have a large number of analytical programs that root out deceptive evaluations. But the real truth here is that crowdsourced systems are just that. They reflect the crowd that is attracted to that website and the “crowd” brings all of their biases and everyday perspectives when providing an evaluation of a property or an attraction. Given the wide variety of people involved in providing evaluations at TripAdvisor, it can only be expected that reviews will evidence a wide variety of world views. Bad reviews of high-rated property or rave reviews of a previously low-rated property are not necessarily spam. They may be honest opinions. In other words, TripAdvisor may be able to catch flagrant violations of its policies, but it is likely that this in a very small minority of the cases of actual spam reviews. This is not a criticism of TripAdvisor, since it is a fundamental concern of all crowdsourced systems. What is the problem however, is that TripAdvisor has taken a crowdsourced system where people are willing to contribute their efforts without compensation to help other travelers and the company is now going to attempt to make money off their efforts.

Perhaps Expedia thinks the same thing. Recently (just after it spun-off TripAdvisor) it began providing “Expedia Verified Hotel Reviews.” In effect, when using Expedia you can read reviews for hotels in which Expedia has verified that the person contributing the evaluation both booked and stayed at the hotel in question. While this won’t solve all of the problems with people trying to tilt the evaluation system, it will make it more difficult for competitors to trash other properties and for owners of properties to tout their hotels. Good for Expedia.

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Costa Cruise Liner Runs Aground Off Italy’s West Coast

January 13, 2012 on 11:14 pm | In Italy, Italy travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, cruise travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert, travel news | 4 Comments

The Costa Concordia Cruise liner ran aground on a sand bar near the Island “Isola del Giglio: off the west coast of Italy, killing six and endangering 3,000 passengers and a crew of 1,000. Several hundred remain on the aground, but severely listing boat. Several were injured during the rescue. For more information see this article by CNN

While looking for news about the boat, we ran across this promo for the Concordia in Costa’s US website. Next, you may find this description of the rescue posted on the Costa UK website to be of interest.

From Costa Cruises
Saturday, January 14th

Time 5.00 am
It is a tragedy that deeply affects our company. Our first thoughts go to the victims and we would like to express our condolences and our closeness to their families and friends. In this moment all our efforts are focused on the completion of the last emergency operations, besides providing assistance to the guests and the crew who were onboard in order to have them going back home as soon as possible. The emergency procedures started promptly to evacuate the ship. The slope, gradually taken over by the ship, made the evacuation extremely difficult. We would like to express our profound gratitude to the Coast Guard and all the forces co-ordinated by the Coast Guard, including the authorities and citizens of the island “Isola del Giglio”, who have been involved in the rescue and assistance to guests and crew members. The company will fully co-operate with the relevant Authorities in order to determine the causes of what happened.”

Time 1.00 am
Costa Cruises confirms the evacuation of about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members on board of the Costa Concordia. An incident occured near the island ‘Isola del Giglio’ of the coast of Italy. The evacuation started promptly, but the position of the ship has worsened, making it more complicated to complete the last part of the evacuation. At this moment, the cause of the incident cannot yet be confirmed. The Company is currently working with the highest commitment to provide all the needed assistance. The Costa Concordia was sailing across the Mediterranean Sea, starting from Civitavecchia with scheduled calls to Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo. About 1.000 passengers of Italian nationality were onboard, as well as more of 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1.000 crew members. ”

“The Guests had to embark today in Savona and in subsequent ports will be contacted directly by Costa Cruises.”

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Princess Cruises Cancels Puerto Vallarta

June 23, 2011 on 8:38 am | In Mexico travel, Travel Safety, cruise travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel news | 2 Comments

USA Today and other sources are reporting that Princess Cruises has decided to cancel port calls at Puerto Vallarta for the rest of the year. The reason for the change in schedule is “safety” and Puerto Vallarta now joins Mazatlan on the list of dropped ports in Mexico.

Although the Princess line has de-emphasized cruises of the Mexican Rivera over the past few years, the current action is yet another bad omen for tourism in Mexico. The Mexico Tourism Board is, understandably, unhappy about the situation and its response is outlined in this article from PVNN.

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Now It’s The Sprouts – Not Lettuce, Tomatoes or Cucumbers

June 5, 2011 on 11:22 am | In Germany, Germany travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, air travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel and health, travel news, travel warnings | 6 Comments

According to CNN sprouts grown and packaged in Germany are likely to be the source of the deadly E.coli outbreak in that country. Fatalities have reached 22 and the number of infected has exceeded 2,300 spread across 9 countries in Europe and several other countries outside of Europe.

Our recommendation is to add sprouts to the “avoid” list of tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce when traveling in Germany – at least until the authorities issue a final determination on the source of the infections.

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New Charges for Second Bag to Europe

June 3, 2011 on 10:41 am | In ThereArePlaces.com, air travel, luggage and packing, things travelers need to know, travel, travel industry, travel news | 6 Comments

USA Today has reported that United/Continental and Delta Airlines are increasing the cost of checking a second bag on some international flights. Greed, apparently, has no limits!

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E. Coli Outbreak in Germany

June 3, 2011 on 10:24 am | In Germany, Germany travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, air travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert, travel and health, travel immunizations, travel warnings | 1 Comment

An E.coli outbreak in Germany continues to wreak havoc, as the number of infected has reached thousands and the fatalities have reached at least 18. See this article from Bloomberg Businessweek for more details.

It appears that this is a new strain (or variation) of E.coli that has not been seen before and may be the precursor to other outbreaks of this sort. See this article from the Belfast Telegraph for more details. The mutation appears to cause kidney failure and death in some and kidney damage in others infected with the bacteria

Public health authorities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe are currently suggesting that people in these areas avoid eating uncooked salad greens, tomatoes and cucumbers. Vegetable washing is highly recommended before consuming any other vegetables and hand washing is a must before food preparation.

The geographical origin of the the problem remains unclear, but to this point it appears that the infection is centered in northern Germany, especially around Hamburg. Although cucumbers from Spain were initially singled out as a potential source of the bacteria, it is now clear that cucumbers from Spain were not the source of the health problem.

We recommend that travelers to Germany should avoid consuming salad, cucumbers and tomatoes. At present nine other countries in Europe are on alert and have recommended avoiding these vegetables. At this time, all of those infected with the bacteria appear to have been infected as the result of consuming salad, cucumber or fresh tomatoes in meals prepared in northern Germany.

Note, there is a possibility that the bacteria was introduced to the produce during packing, shipping or preparation. The types of vegetables in question have been shipped from Germany to other countries, so you might want to consider avoiding salad, tomatoes and cucumbers anywhere in Europe during this crisis. Check with local authorities on the recommendations for the areas in which you will be traveling, as conditions related to infections like E.coli can change with alarming speed.

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U.S. State Department Issues New Worldwide Travel Caution

May 3, 2011 on 6:55 pm | In Europe travel, Terrorism and travel, Transportation Security Administration, Travel Safety, air travel security, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert, travel warnings | 1 Comment

The U. S. State Department has issued a Worldwide Travel Alert based on the potential for terrorists to react to the death of Osama Bin Laden, as the result of what is described in the document as “…recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan.”

Partial text of the report includes this extended quote:

“The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad to the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counter-terrorism activity in Pakistan. Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, U.S. citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times. This Travel Alert expires August 1, 2011.

U.S. Embassy operations in affected areas will continue to the extent possible under the constraints of any evolving security situation. U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”

You can find the full text of the document here at the website of the U.S. State Department.

In addition, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration issued this statement on its website regarding airport security following the death of Osama bin Laden:

May 2, 2011

“TSA continually evaluates the latest threats and screening measures which are implemented based on the latest intelligence. As always, passengers may notice a variety of security measures at U.S. airports to include the use of physical bag checks, random gate screening, explosives detection technology, canine teams and behavior detection officers. We ask the traveling public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the authorities.”

Note that the State Department Travel warning will be in effect until the end of August. The TSA announcement, as is usual, did not mention a specific term, but was used to inform the traveling public that they may experience additional security during the future months.

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23 Murders Include 15 Beheaded in Acapulco

January 9, 2011 on 11:49 am | In Mexico travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert, travel warnings | Comments Off

Yesterday’s news from Acapulco was that twenty-three people were murdered, including fifteen men who were decapitated. Although the killings did not take place in the tourist zone, the bodies were found next to one of the main roads leading into the tourist zone. This article from AFP provides details

Acapulco is no longer the jewel of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, although it has several attractions that continue to lure some tourists (see ThereArePlaces for details). We do not recommend visiting, but if Acapulco is a destination you are determined to see, be sure to stay inside the tourist zone and avoid wandering the city.

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Rome Riots and Berlusconi’s Vote

December 14, 2010 on 10:15 am | In Italy, Italy travel, ThereArePlaces.com, rome travel, things travelers need to know, travel, travel alert | Comments Off

Italy’s embattled Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, survived a no-confidence vote in the Italian Parliament today. Just a few day’s ago it looked certain that he would lose this vote and that his government would be dissolved and elections held. However, the vote supported his continuing in office and this enraged many of the citizens of Italy, particularly those in their twenties.

In Rome, dissatisfaction with the result of the vote lead to rioting, which was focused in the areas popular with tourists. Other demonstrations were held in Milan, Palermo, Genoa and in other locations around the country. It is unclear at this time whether the demonstrations were one-time events of if they will continue over the next few weeks. See this AFP article at Yahoo news for an excellent recap of the situation.

Travelers planning on visiting Rome or other cities in Italy over the next week or two should pay close attention to this situation and check local news sources in Italy for more information about the latest developments.

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Trouble in Puerto Vallarta

August 27, 2010 on 2:55 pm | In Mexico travel, ThereArePlaces.com, Travel Safety, things travelers need to know, travel, travel warnings | Comments Off

August 27, 2010

It may seem like we are beating up on Mexico by releasing three “negative” stories in one afternoon. While the Mexicana Airlines bankruptcy article was conditioned by a news release from the airline, the other two articles represent the U.S. State Department’s concern over the deteriorating travel conditions in Mexico. We suspect that the Puerto Vallarta story below helped speed the general warning on travel in Mexico that was published today. In any event, we publish our blog articles to provide data that might help you can make informed travel decisons. Our publishing schedule is driven by our discovery of travel news, not by malice.

The U.S. Consulate General Guadalajara released the following Warden message on August 26, 2010:

“Yesterday, August 25, 2010, at approximately midnight, a hand grenade went off at a bar popular with locals in a residential area near, but outside of the main tourist district of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Information indicates this incident might be related to local drug rivalries. Several persons are reported to have serious injuries. Similar events in the past have been quickly followed by retaliatory events.”

“In reference to that warden message, the Consulate General now has specific, credible information that the subject locations of retaliation in Puerto Vallarta may be either La Vaquita Grill located at Lazaro Cardenas #567, 48290. El Pitillal, Puerto Vallarta, or the Mandala near the corner of Central and Margarita Maza de Juarez. ”

“The Consulate General strongly encourages U.S. residents and travelers Mexico to refer to the personal safety practices contained in the Travel Warning for Mexico dated July 16. Security updates are also available on the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City’s website at http://mexico.usembassy.gov/eng/eacs_MexicoSecurityUpdate.html.”

“For the latest security information, U.S. citizens living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, and health-information resources can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers in other areas by calling a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).”

“The U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara is located at 175 Progreso Street; Col. Americana, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. The U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara’s telephone number is 011 52 33 3268 2100; the fax number is 011 52 33 3825 1951. For after-hours emergencies, please call 011 52 33 3268 2145.”

“The U.S. Consular Agency in Puerto Vallarta is located at: Paseo de los Cocoteros No.85 Sur, Paradise Plaza, Interior Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit. Paseo de los Cocoteros #85; Sur Paradise Plaza, Interior Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit. The U.S. Consular Agency in Puerto Vallarta’s telephone numbers are 011 52 322 222 0069 & 011 52 322 223 3301; the fax number is 011 52 322 223 0074. For after-hours emergencies, please call 011 52 33 3268 2145.”

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