Links – Schminks

March 5, 2007 on 11:16 pm | In US Department of State, country travel information, personal travel, travel | Comments Off

One of the common problems in running websites is trying to keep your links up-to-date. Our travel site www.ThereArePlaces.com has over 33,000 links. Yes, most of them are internal, but we check all of them on a specific schedule. All too often we find broken links but they are a very small percentage of the total.

What’s our biggest link problem? The United States Government – that’s the culprit! More specifically the U.S. Department of State.

We provide links to the U.S. Embassy in every country that we cover. We generally include relevant addresses, telephone numbers and URLs, so that travelers can scan the Embassy’s web site in advance of their travel to find out if there are any local issues that might be of interest to them. Although it is rare for a traveler to need the help of the US Consul while on vacation, having the contact number is a good thing to note, just in case the unexpected happens.

We update our information about embassies and changes in visa requirements based on Consular Information sheets that the Department of State issues on a varying schedule. Updates to Consular Information sheets generally occur when there is a substantive change to some factual information about the country. In addition, most countries are updated by State on a six or twelve month schedule. We are on a list generator that automatically supplies us with update to the sheets when issued. At that point, we update our pages on travel information with any relevant changes and initiate a search for other information that may have changed.

It seems that U.S. embassies change their URL’s more frequently than one would assume. Often, the embassy URL in the new Consular Sheet is wrong (we test them and any email addresses provided).This then generates a circular search, since the information on the Department of State website is based on the —-Consular Information sheets. In turn, this leads to a Google search for the U.S. Embassy in____ that we follow until we find a working link. Other URL errors on these sheets are common.

Just to see what could be done about this, we emailed State and pointed out the URL error in a Consular sheet for country X. We gave them the working URL and suggested that they correct in on the most recent Consular Information sheet. After several days we received a reply that they did not have anyone available to confirm our correction and could not change the sheet. Don’t you just love governments?

How about an example? If you go the State Department’s travel section and look for the most recent Consular Information sheet for Malta http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_963.html, you will find a note that indicates that this information on the sheet is current as of today Mon Mar 05 22:38:18 2007. Next, on the actual Information sheet for Malta you will see the date the report was prepared.

The very first link is to the Department of States’ Background Notes on Malta, unfortunately, as of tonight, the link is broken.
If you go to the second paragraph (Entry and Exit Requirements) you will see a link to what is purported to be the Embassy of Malta. The link is as follows: http://foreign.gov.mt.ORG/ministry/missions/washington2.htm . It leads to a SedoParking.com spam page for Mt.org – “…your gateway to the best sites on the Internet for Montana!”

Further down the page the link to a site on Road Safety in Malta is broken (www.mta.co.mt).

The Consular Sheets are often a good information source for travelers, but all too often we have found that the links they contain don’t work for one reason or another. If you only publish them when something changes, or as part of an annual updating schedule, it is easy to see why links go bad. On the other hand, one would think that the U.S. Government could do better when it is attempting to inform its citizens.

Demonstrations in the Netherlands, Riots in Copenhagen and… a note on Per Diem rates

March 4, 2007 on 9:24 pm | In personal travel, travel, travel news, travel warnings | Comments Off

We thought we would start the week with some travel news. 

Whenever we have advance notification of demonstrations that might influence your daily travel plans we will note them here and identify them with the Travel Warning symbol shown below.  This week’s demonstrations look like small stuff, but the Netherlands has been having its share of problems and the demonstrations in The Hague could lead to some fireworks.
 We presume those of you traveling to Copenhagen, have been following the problems the Danes are having with the close-down of a house that had been used as free lodging by a variety of Danish citizens.  Now, however, it appears that anarchists (at least that is what the press is calling them) have entered the fray.  See this article for more information http://news.bostonherald.com/international/europe/view.bg?articleid=186306

     There will be two minor demonstrations in the Netherlands this week.  On March 8th and 9th demonstrators will be marching in The Hague. Crowds are expected at the Iranian Embassy on the 8th and at the embassies of the U.S., Turkey and Iraq on the 9th.  For more information, see this link to the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands.
http://thehague.usembassy.gov/demonstrations.html

Next, we have some more “official” information for you. Most travelers have some difficulty trying to figure out what their expenses might be on vacation because they are unfamiliar with the prices of goods and services in foreign countries.  While we have seen a number of “private” studies that are sold to major corporations so that they can manage their travel expenses (and set employees expectations about what they can spend on food and lodging), we have seen few public documents.

While rooting around the travel section of the U.S. State Department website today (http://www,state,gov/travelandbusiness/ ) we uncovered these links to the governments per diem rates for foreign travel.

For an HTML version  http://www.state.gov/m/a/als/prdm/78350.htm

For a downloadable Excel version http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/78449.xls

The  table provides the per diem rates  that U.S. employees and contractors are allowed to charge for hotels and for total per diem rates around the world in 2007.  Some caution is in order for those unfamiliar with government rates, as many of the numbers look out of whack, mostly on the low side.  However, they can give you some idea of the prices you may see in countries where it is hard to get comparative information.

    

 

World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report

March 3, 2007 on 10:17 am | In travel industry, travel news | Comments Off

Spent some time this morning reading through an extremely long report titled “The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2007”, issued by the World Economic Forum. The report is part of an ongoing series that attempts to determine why some countries grow prosperous, while others are left behind.

Travel is considered a key part of the ongoing study since it has become a significant source of economic growth and development for many countries. If interested, you can find the report at http://www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/gcp/TravelandTourismReport/index.htm .
We suggest you skip the study and read the executive summary which can be found at http://www.weforum.org/pdf/tourism/Summary.pdf

Rather than expose you to the details of the report, we will tell you that study includes a worldwide ranking that is based on 13 pillars of travel and tourism, which are as follows:


1. Policy rules and regulations
2. Environment regulation
3. Safety and Security
4. Health and Hygiene
5. Prioritization of Travel and Tourism
6. Air transport infrastructure
7. General transport infrastructure
8. Tourism infrastructure
9. ICT infrastructure (Information and Communications Technology)
10. Price competitiveness in the Travel and Tourism Industry
11. Human resources
12. National tourism perception
13. Natural and cultural resources

The leader in the ranking was Switzerland, followed by Austria, Germany, Iceland and the United States.The results of this fascinating study can best be appreciated by examining the interactive map used to present the rankings. It can be viewed at
http://forummaps.maplecroft.com/loadmap?template=min&issueID=350 . Rolling your mouse over the countries on the map will provide their rank and their travel and tourism competitiveness index as rated by this study.
One country will pop out right away. Italy is ranked 33rd of 124 and was penalized for its government not prioritizing travel and tourism and arcane policy rules and regulations related to travel.

In many ways, the rankings of this study mirror the rankings of the same countries based on the number of tourist visits.

It’s Cold Outside – But our inbox gives us warm thoughts about Greece

March 2, 2007 on 5:57 pm | In travel, travel industry, vacation travel | Comments Off

As you might suspect, our mailboxes for http://www.ThereArePlaces.com often contain interesting materials. Every once in while something catches our attention and today was one of those days.

Sitting in our inbox was an unsolicited email from a company called Mediterranean Traditional Mansions Ltd. Their website is at http://www.medtm.com  and is worth a look. MedTM bills itself as a voluntary association for the marketing and promotion of castles, manors, abbeys, mills and lodges that have a historic identity AND offer Mediterranean hospitality.

Currently, MedTM indicates that it offers accommodations in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. Although they mention more countries on their website, they apparently do not yet have agreements covering properties in all countries. Also, in some countries, such as France, they only have one listing (although it is a delightful hotel in Colmar that we have visited in the past). Next, most of the listings are for hotels, which, it appears, were once private mansions.

However, the reason that we are point out MedTM is for the accommodations that it offers in Greece. Hotels or not, these are the types of accommodations that make you think vacation. Since this has been a week filled with difficult winter weather in most of the U.S., why not spend a few moments looking at MedTM’s great collection of hotels in sunny Greece? After all, it is time to be planning your next international vacation.

According to the logo shown on their website MedTM is a member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the Hellenic Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies (HATTA) and several other associations.

We do not have an association with MedTM and this review should not be taken as a recommendation to use their services. If you plan on contacting them, use the same due diligence that you would when making another purchase of the same amount.      

Popular Places

March 1, 2007 on 11:08 am | In travel news | Comments Off

Late last week, the American Society of Travel Agents released its 2007 Summer Hot Spots Survey.  (You can find the press release on their site at http://www.astanet.com/news/index.asp .  The release is dated February 26, 2007).ASTA’s top 5 city-hot spots for the U.S. are Orlando, Las Vegas, New York City, Honolulu and San Francisco. 

The Top 5 international-city hot spots are London, Rome, Cancun, Paris, and Jamaica.  Curiously, the number 6 hot spot is Punta Cana, which ranks ahead of Florence and Venice.  Even more curious, Frankfurt ranks in at number 10!   Who knew Frankfurt was a leader on the world travel scene?

The top 5 country or regional- international hotspots are Italy, UK, Mexico, Caribbean and France.

According to the ASTA survey of travel agents, Europe continues its dominance in the world travel scene, although the Caribbean is gaining popularity as tourist destination.It would be interesting to compare the destinations selected by ASTA (and reflecting the bookings made by travel agents) with the selection of online destination made by direct purchasers who did not use a travel agent.  Unfortunately, the travel agent knows when a booking is for a vacation, while bookings that are made online are confounded, since only the purchaser knows their travel intent.  I suspect however, that ASTA’s report reflects the general trends, but hides some important differences. By the way, it is likely that Frankfurt is seeing more air travel this year, since Frankfurt’s efficient airport is a major transportation hub and a logical jumping off point for catching a river cruise through the Rhine Valley.   Just so you know, European River Cruises are booming this year.  It seems there is a trend to move off the ”big boats” and onto the smaller river cruisers.  Maybe it’s time for you to take a look?

 

 

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