Top Travel Destinations, How Do We Count Thee?

travel destinationsReports and polls determining the top travel destinations in the world come to us in variety of ways throughout every year. Travel related companies tally internal data to make their lists. Government agencies publish the most frequented destinations based on incoming flights, hotel reservations and other criteria. Non-profit organizations have an unbiased tone to ranking top destinations too. Often, it is as important to consider the source as it is the ratings themselves.

Today, TripAdvisor announced the winners of its fourth-annual 2012 Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards. TripAdvisor ranks 440 outstanding destinations across the globe, including lists for Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Central America, China, Europe, India, Mexico, the Middle East, South America, the South Pacific and the United States.

“The TripAdvisor community has once again helped pinpoint hundreds of the most amazing and beloved travel destinations of the year,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor in a Hospitality-Industry report.

“For travelers planning their big annual vacation or just a weekend getaway, these awards highlight awe-inspiring travel locations of all varieties around the globe.”

Lets look at their top ten.

  1. London, England
  2. New York City, New York
  3. Rome, Italy
  4. Paris, France
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Marrakech, Morocco
  7. Istanbul, Turkey
  8. Barcelona, Spain
  9. Siem Reap, Cambodia
  10. Berlin, Germany

TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners were determined based on the popularity of destinations, taking into account travelers’ favorites and most highly rated places.

But wait. Last month, in “Suspicious About Hotel Reviews? You Are Not Alone,” Gadling reported that the United Kingdom Advertising Standards Authority had ruled that TripAdvisor’s advertised claim of “trusted advice from real travelers” was misleading because fake comments could be posted without verification.

If that is true and TripAdvisor based the 2012 Traveler’s Choice Destination award winners on the same faulty data, where should we look for information that can be trusted?

Maybe no where. Maybe we should consider rankings as entertainment because those who rank destinations stand behind their numbers.

“People may think if a place only got one diamond, it can’t be any good,” said Todd Cronson, regional manager for AAA Tourism Information Development in the Seattle Times. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe the lighting styles are out of date, maybe the furniture is older, but if it got a diamond from us, it’s perfectly clean, safe and well-maintained.”

Maybe the whole notion of a destination rating system, while coveted by those who rank high for bragging rights, should be viewed with caution.

Paul James, global brand leader of Starwood‘s luxury brands told the Seattle Times, “I thought a universal star rating system was essential. But the more time you spend in the industry, and you understand the complexity of it, the more you see a hierarchical star system as completely outmoded.”

Subjective criteria is always going to be difficult to measure. What one traveler finds essential, another may not care about at all. Instead, focusing on an easy-to-compare laundry list of features at the destination might be more valuable information to have.

Applying research theory used by professional travel agents for decades, make a list of must-have features and don’t give in on any of them. These are required elements you must have to be happy like, say, Internet access, safe and well-marked hiking trails or bike-friendly roads. Next, take that list and search for travel blogs that resonate for specific destination information.

Short of having a trusted friend who has been there, is eager to share what they did and how they did it, today’s travel blogs offer some of the best, most current and relevant information available…as opposed to basing travel decisions on a popularity contest.

Top Adventure Travel Destinations



Flickr photo by nattu

Internet on cruise ships to improve with more content in more places

internet on cruise ship MTN Satellite Communications (MTN) provides Internet access to most cruise ships sailing around the world. This week, MTN announced the new and improved version 2 of its MTN Worldwide TV service that uses three overlapping satellite beams to supply a more reliable, uninterrupted service. The new system allows streaming to Wi-Fi enabled devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

“With MTN Worldwide TV, passengers and crew can now access entertainment and news programming, and other content, from anywhere on the ship using personal mobile devices – from lounging by the pool or in the comfort of their room. Further, this new mobile service will keep crew morale high and help increase productivity while at sea,” said Brent Horwitz, senior vice president and general manager of MTN’s cruise and ferry services business.

Cruise lines can now integrate additional video and audio content such as shore excursions, ship and port information and onboard vendor advertising for a comprehensive and personalized line-up, anywhere.

In other words, what cruise passengers can see on their stateroom television, they will be able to see on their personal Wi-Fi enabled devices all over the ship. Think: watching a movie, catching up on a sporting event or exploring shore excursions for the next port of call, while poolside on an iPad.

MTN Worldwide TV delivers programming from eight major U.S. and international television networks including BBC World News, CNBC, Fox News, MSNBC, Sky News, Sky Sports News, Sport 24 and E! Entertainment Television. The network also includes special event programing such as Premier League Soccer and onboard events.

“Yet another first for the cruise industry that addresses the needs of Digital Natives climbing aboard cruise ships with higher content demands, MTN Worldwide TV enables passengers and crew to stay informed and entertained – making for a better at-sea experience anywhere, anytime,” added Horwitz.

MTN Worldwide TV is currently reaching more than 60,000 cabins aboard 19 cruise lines around the world. To date, the service has broadcast 770 sporting events and more than 2,000 hours of live programming on its special events channel, including: NFL games, Australian Football League Playoffs, Premier League Soccer, Rugby World Cup, the MLB Playoffs and Formula One Racing.

Flickr photo by IamNigelMorris

Travel meets journalism at Roads and Kingdoms

travel journalismLast month, writers Nathan Thornburgh (a contributing editor to TIME and recent guest of Fox News) and Matt Goulding (food & culture writer and author behind the Eat This, Not That! book series) launched a new website with the intriguing tagline: “Journalism, travel, food, murder, music. First stop: Burma.” Combining on-the-spot reporting on current events and politics with in-depth cultural observations, rich photography, and engrossing narratives, Roads and Kingdoms feels like a travel blog we all want to write: a bit daring, occasionally foolhardy, and often inspiring. Fresh home from their first major trip and recovering from Burma belly, Gadling talked to co-founder Nathan about Roads and Kingdoms.

How would you describe your blog in one sentence?
Travel meets journalism.

How did it come about? How has your background in news helped (or hindered) your travels?
Matt and I felt like our work – he writes about food, I’m a foreign correspondent – actually had a lot in common. As writers on assignment, we found that the best parts of being on the road – the amazing meal on the street corner, the back-alley bar with the great live jams, the sweaty tuk tuk ride through the outskirts of the city – are left out of the final product. It’s those parts that we want to provide a home for. It’s a different kind of travel mindset, whether you’re going to London or Lagos. Journalism is all about being curious, which is a quality great travelers have as well.

It’s not meant to remain a blog: we’ll be launching our full site soon, which won’t just be our travels, but a variety of dispatches in the Roads and Kingdoms style, from writers and photographers and videographers around the world.
Why did you choose Burma as a first destination?
First off, we think Burma is going to be a huge tourist destination in the years to come, if the country continues to open up. It’s an amazingly vivid and warm country, and has a lot of the traditional rhythms of life that Thailand, for example, has lost.

Burma also had the perfect combination of stories for us to launch Roads and Kingdoms with. We were able to report on the killer hiphop scene in the south, up-and-coming graffiti artists in Rangoon, and of course, the amazing (and all but undiscovered) Burmese cuisine. Then Matt went to Bagan, this breathtaking valley of temples that will become a big part of Burma’s tourist boom. While he took in the temples, I visited the heart of the war-torn north, where I was able to hang out with gold miners and Kachin refugees and see a part of Burma that not a lot of people get to see.

What do you hope to inspire in readers?
We’d love to inspire readers to travel the way we do: with a sense of wonder and a big appetite, with curiosity and an awareness of the backstory behind the destinations.

Flashback, Burma Day One: Bad Crab from Roads and Kingdoms on Vimeo.

Roads and Kingdoms did not get detained in Myanmar for being journalists entering on a tourist visa. But Nathan still hit an unexpected roadblock on the first day in Burma: a plate of chili-slathered, rancid crab.

What are the challenges in blogging somewhere like Burma?

We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma. The government didn’t want to create any problems that week, so we were incredibly free as journalists there; much more so than I could have ever imagined the first time I went in 2003. I was followed and watched when I visited the north, but they didn’t interfere with my work. However: Internet access still sucks. You can’t blog if you can’t connect, and that’s a huge problem in Burma.

How is social media adding to the blog?
Social media is huge for us. We’re starting out as a Tumblr, for example, not just because it’s great for articles/photos/videos, but because it’s so shareable. We want people to get involved, not just as passive consumers, but as advisers and compañeros along the way.

Where are you going next?
We have a short list, and we actually want readers to help us decide. London? Moscow? Lima? It’s a big world out there!

Follow the adventures at RoadsandKingdoms.com and connect with Nathan and Matt (and assorted interns) on Twitter @RoadsKingdoms and Facebook.

FlyBuy Wednesday has the deal for air travelers: free access

FlyBuy WednesdayBlack Friday or Cyber Monday has nothing on “FlyBuy Wednesday” when Gogo, a leading provider of in-flight connectivity has a special deal for passengers traveling onboard the more than 1,200 Gogo-equipped aircraft this holiday season: Free In-flight Internet access.

If 30 minutes of free access is not enough, try special discounts and in-air only exclusives at more than a dozen top online retailers including Macy’s, BestBuy.com, and Barnes & Noble.

It’s all aimed to give passengers traveling for the holidays the opportunity to shop high above the holiday crowds of Black Friday and get a jump on Cyber Monday.

“The holiday season can be a hectic time of year, so we’re thrilled to help travelers get ahead on their holiday shopping while they’re in the air starting on what is traditionally one of the busiest air travel days of the year: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or FlyBuy Wednesday,” said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo’s chief marketing officer.

Gogo’s in-air holiday store will be available from Wednesday, November 23, 2011 through the New Year. The online store features special holiday discounts and in-air only exclusives from retailers including Barnes & Noble, BestBuy.com, FTD.com, Harry & David, hayneedle.com, jcpenney, Lobster Gram, Macy’s, Omaha Steaks, Wine.comand more (retailers and offers may vary based on airline).

“The exclusive Gogo Fly & Buy Holiday Store is another example of the value we can deliver to passengers who have made it clear that they want to stay connected in-flight. Now they can get their holiday shopping done from 30,000 feet and use their time on the ground to celebrate the season with friends and family.”

Connect with GoGoAir on Facebook and Twitter.

How much have you paid for hotel internet access?

gadling hotel madness no free internet accessIf our Hotel Madness tournament taught us anything, it’s that people really hate paying for internet access when traveling. No free Wi-Fi handily won our tournament by proving itself as the most hated hotel nuisance. While it bothers so many of us, we’ve all taken the plunge and paid a hefty fee for in-room internet. Whether it’s because we have work to do, pictures to upload or loved ones to Skype with, we’ve paid exorbitant fees to get online. Just how much have you paid? After seeing just how (un)popular paying for Wi-Fi was in Hotel Madness, we’re more curious than ever. Well, that’s what we want to know. Vote in our poll and let us know the most that you’ve ever paid for hotel internet access.We’re talking about the most you’ve paid for one session of internet access, be it five hours, 12 hours or one full day. After you’ve voted, please share more details about your experience in the comments. Let us know exactly how much you paid and which hotel was gouging its prices while cheating its customers. Lastly, tell us about the quality of the connection. Was it excruciatingly slow and/or intermittent.

This is your chance to vent. Let it all out!
%Poll-62479%