Lest you think that cat pictures dominate the internet, this week the Queensland, Australia Instagram account is being managed by a dog. Jester is a six-month old Weimaraner from Hamilton island (close to the Great Barrier Reef), and he is kicking off a new campaign to show Queensland from a local’s perspective. Jester will be snapping photos until September 15, but you can also follow him @jestergull after his week is up. Each week the photo stream will be managed by a local in a different region, look out for photographer Nathan White on the Capricorn coast, and Moreton Island park ranger Keiran Lusk in the coming weeks.
Follow Jester and other Queenslanders on Instagram @Queensland.
This isn’t Queensland’s first creative way of reaching potential visitors — they held the famous Best Job in the World contest in 2009, now spun off into multiple jobs around Australia.
I recently visited the mobile website for midwest-based Sun Country Airlines, where I could check a flight status, view schedules or check my itinerary. Basically everything except what I came to do: book a flight. The confusing, unattractive, user-unfriendly design of airline websites is a common complaint of travelers, and a problem that the designers at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) have attempted to solve.
Their mock website and accompanying video highlights high-quality images, visual details such as weather temperatures, street maps and city sights, and a seamless, all-in-one-screen experience from flight booking to seat selection to flight status. Their design makes the airline more than a transportation company. It makes them a travel authority, tour guide and most importantly, a source of inspiration.
This wasn’t the first attempt at an airline website overhaul. In 2009, user interface designer Dustin Curtis published an open letter to American Airlines on his website, along with his idea of a website redesign. This was followed up by an anonymous response from one of AA’s designers, who was then fired for his message to Mr. Curtis. Funny enough, his vision of a new AA.com is pretty similar to what the airline unveiled this year with their new logo, with large images, links to deals and news and an overall streamlined look.
For something completely different, check out Anna Kovecses’ minimalist and vaguely retro design for American, along with a user-generated blog community where you might leave travel tips for frequent flyer miles.Delta relaunched its site last year with features including a travel “wallet” to store receipts to make their site more “customized” to travelers. Swedish designer Erik Linden’s gorgeous layout for a new Lufthansa site can be found online, but a visit to the German airline’s official site shows the same old crowded page. JetBlue.com has been consistently appealing and easy to use, touting the “jetting” experience rather than just a seat. Travel industry news site Skift has a nifty slideshow comparing booking sites now and from their early days. (The major innovation seems to be images over hyperlinks and text.)
One thing many of these designs have in common is suggestion and inspiration. Airlines seem to assume that most of us go to their website with a firm destination in mind, burying their route map deep in a sub-menu for us to hunt down. Yet if we are to be loyal to one brand or try to use frequent flyer miles, a map of their flights is the first destination. My husband is trying to make “million miler” status with American, and tries to book with them as much as possible, maximizing the distance and number of miles. While I can search for destinations from JFK, and even sort my number of miles, it’s harder to figure out what international destinations (such as Seoul) are served from another departure city. Shouldn’t the goal be for the airline to be one you want to return to, rather than a site you quit using out of frustration?
What matters to you in using an airline’s booking site?
Two weeks ago, one of the most intense and invigorating periods of my year occurred: the annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. For four days, some 90 students and 25 faculty members met in an intimate bookstore in Northern California for workshops, panels, and evening events that celebrated travel writing, travel photography, and much more.
Over the four days of the conference, as every year, unanticipated insights took seed and risks took flight, and some profoundly important lessons and dreams were conceived. Usually I write a piece summarizing the conference for Gadling, but this year an excellent summary has already been posted. And somehow, what I want to say about the conference, or about the thoughts that emerged from the conference, all seemed to come together in my concluding speech.
In those final remarks I said some things I’d planned to say and some things I absolutely hadn’t planned to say, things that just spontaneously erupted in me as I talked. That eruption, I think, is part of the magic of an event like this, where unexpected connections and mysterious interweavings occur, where you learn things you didn’t even know you were learning and grow in ways you didn’t even know you’d grown.
Here are some excerpts from my remarks. I hope they touch you with something of the spirit those four days cultivated in me, and I hope they enrich your journey, in the outer world and the inner world, too.
One of the things I like to preach when I’m in my preacher mode is that whatever you put out into the world comes back to you a hundredfold, and I feel like this conference embodies that. The generosity that the faculty put out comes back to them. The risk-taking that you put out comes back to you in the best possible way. So much of it is about you going out into the world with the right spirit. The world rewards you when you do that, and I hope that’s one of the takeaways you’ll bring back into the larger world from this conference: What you put out into the world comes back to you….
For me this year is especially important. A month ago, a great party was held in this very room. The occasion was the fact that I had one of those unfortunate birthdays where you age by 10 years overnight. I went to bed in one decade of my life and woke up in another. That birthday was my 60th birthday. For about two years prior to this, 60 was the Voldemort of birthdays for me. I could not pronounce its name out loud. I was so absorbed in the idea that turning 60 meant that I was really, really, really old. And I didn’t want to deal with that. I just wanted to ignore it, or deny it.
And then I had an epiphany, that this is what happens in life: You have a fear and the more you deny it, the more you empower that fear. And then the more you decide to embrace that fear, you immediately empower yourself. I realize that turning 60, or saying that I’m turning 60, is not a death-defying act. But for me it was a very big leap of something. I decided to just say, “OK, world, I’m turning 60.” And it felt great.
What this taught me about fear was that we have the ability to either create a fear and let it grow and prosper, or deflate a fear and take it away. And on the road, as in life right here at home – I believe that we’re always on the road, wherever we are – the way you get rid of a fear is you embrace it. So I embraced that. And I hope that’s a takeaway for you from this conference: that whatever your fear is, embrace it. Embrace it.
It’s about risk-taking. It’s about journeying into your discomfort zone and how that can magically open things up for you. I think that’s an important lesson….
What it comes down to for me is that while I believe that our souls go through various mutations and continue when our physical bodies don’t, I also believe that our souls inhabit our physical bodies one at a time, and we’re here right now, each of us in our physical presence and with our souls, and for all practical purposes, this is it: This is our one chance to live life as fully and gracefully and graciously and lovingly as possible. This is it.
Every single moment, this is it. This is your moment. This is your moment. This is your moment.
The more you infuse those moments with integrity and honesty and passion and attentiveness and the desire for quality and the desire for connection – and to me, the word that really summarizes all of these is love – the more that you infuse every single moment of your path, of your journey, of your life, with love, the bigger and better and richer you become. And everybody around you becomes bigger and better and richer by that too.
And that’s travel, that’s travel writing, that’s travel photography, that’s dish-washing, that’s laundry – it’s really everything, it’s a part of every single thing that you do.
What I hope you’ll take away from this on your journey is that it’s your responsibility to be a steward of the planet, to be a steward of your own stories, to give them the care and the nurturing that they need and to let them out into the world when they’re ready to be let out into the world, and to be a steward of your relationships and connections with other people.
I hope that you will spread the love that you felt here. If you take the seeds of love away with you and scatter them around the planet, we’ll all be so much the richer for that, and this world will be such a better place for that. That’s your sacred responsibility now, your sacred trust.
If you love maps and data, you should click on over to TwistedSifter.com, which has rounded up 40 maps to give you perspective on the world. See the global distribution of McDonald’s and the rainbow of Antarctica’s time zones. You can marvel at America’s rivers and many researchers, share the love of coffee and beer and sigh at our resistance to the metric system and paid maternity leave. One of the more surprising maps shows the busiest air travel routes of 2012, with the busiest flight path between Seoul and the island of Jeju, the “Hawaii of Korea.” There are no U.S. or European cities on the list, but if you’ve seen enough maps, you’ll have enough perspective to see we’re just a small part of this big globe.
Yesterday New York Times reporter Pete Wells published a review of the Manhattan French restaurant Daniel, removing one of its four stars in part because of the unequal treatment he received as a recognized journalist. He and a lesser-known colleague ordered the same meal, but had totally different experiences, with Wells receiving additional items, extra wine pours, and more doting service. While the other reporter still felt well taken care of, Wells wondered if “regular” guests could benefit as much from a little coddling as the critics.
Slate’s “Brow Beat” culture blog compared Wells’ experience to former Times critic Ruth Reichl, who once visited Le Cirque both as her famous self and in disguise. She surmised that the “favored patron” treatment was actually part of the draw of the restaurant: the hope that one could be given the VIP service. The blog suggests reviewers dispense with the pretense of being anonymous reviewers and go public, perhaps balancing reviews with intel from the non-famous.In the travel media world, the problem of anonymity and freebies has long been an ethical debate. “Conde Nast Traveler” magazine adheres to a “truth in travel” policy, stipulating that its writers never accept freebies and travel unannounced to try to ensure honest and equal opinions. Some guidebooks such as Fodor’s allow some comps for reviewers, but insist they will not guarantee a good review or even inclusion in a guide. Writer Chuck Thompson exposed some of the industry secrets in his book “Smile While You’re Lying,” noting that much mainstream travel writing is just PR copy, and how many reviews are simply tit for tat.
In the age of tweeting, checking in, and Instagramming our meals and trips, is anonymity even possible? More importantly, do we care? While a famous reviewer might have a richer experience than your average Joe, he can also get deeper access and a wider variety of offerings, combined with a professional’s expertise. Do you want to read a hotel review from a guy on his first trip to London, or someone who has stayed in dozens? Perhaps user-generated content such as Trip Advisor and Yelp can balance the VIP reviews, and give us a broader spectrum.
Do you care about anonymous reviews? Can freebies stay free from bias?