Great Comeback Cities For Travel

comeback cities - Detroit love
Flickr, Michigan Municipal League

Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York TimesFrank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?

Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.

Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.

New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.

New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.

Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.

An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.

What are your favorite “comeback cities”?

Should Travel Reviewers Be Anonymous?

male eating in restaurant
Alamy

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?

FAA To Relax Rules On In-Flight Electronic Use

Here’s some good news for air travelers: The New York Times is reporting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may soon loosen its rules around the use of electronics during takeoff and landing.

The change, however, will not affect cellphone use. Instead, it applies to reading devices such as iPads and Kindles.

Anonymous employees at an industry group the FAA set up last year told the news outlet the governmental agency is under tremendous pressure to either allow use of these types of devices, or provide significant evidence why they cannot be used. According to multiple sources, there is no proof these types of devices affect a plane’s avionics.

According to the report, the group has been meeting with key companies, including Amazon and the Consumer Electronics Association, since January. It’s likely the FAA could make an announcement about the relaxed rules by the end of the year.

The group also told The New York Times that the FAA hopes to replace multiple regulations with a single, concise set.

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said she planned to hold the agency accountable by introducing legislation surrounding the new rules.

“So it’s OK to have iPads in the cockpit; it’s OK for flight attendants – and they are not in a panic – yet it’s not OK for the traveling public,” Senator McCaskill told The New York Times in a phone interview. “A flying copy of ‘War and Peace’ is more dangerous than a Kindle.”

[Via: Mashable]

[Photo credit: Flickr user Don Fulano]

In Praise Of Service Journalism

service journalism - travel magazinesMy career in the travel world started out by pure luck. I was assigned to work a temp office gig in the PR department of Condé Nast Traveler for two weeks, which turned into two years at the magazine, four more at a PR agency for hotels and travel providers and two more here at Gadling. Before and throughout my career, I’ve always been a major consumer of travel media, whether I’ve used it to inspire and help plan my personal travels, as a resource for how and where to pitch my clients, or for story ideas and to keep up with industry news. Some of my favorite stories to read or write have been service pieces, the much-maligned but reader-popular side of journalism.

Service journalism has been called the “fast food” of journalism, providing the reader with “5 of the World’s Sexiest Beaches!” or a suggested itinerary for exploring the city as in the New York Times‘ regular “36 Hours in..” series. While a narrative feature might probe into a culture’s essence, or try to evoke the feeling of a certain place in time, a service piece gives you quick tips, highlights the “best” of a place and may include lists, bullets and infographics. I like the definition of service journalism as “informational“: it tells you not just about a place, but how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, etc.At Condé Nast Traveler we promoted many different magazine articles from investigative stories on airline security to roundups of romantic getaways for Valentine’s Day, and it was generally the articles on how to save money booking your next cruise, or hotel packages involving chocolate-dipped strawberries that got an editor booked on the Today Show or a mention on the Associated Press. At Traveler, I worked with Consumer News Editor Wendy Perrin, whom I might call the Meryl Streep of service journalism: well-known and beloved in the industry, frequently honored but not as much as she deserves. Wendy publishes annual guides to the best travel agents, vacation rentals, cruise ships and dream trips. She was also a pioneer in social media, as one of the first “old media” editors to start blogging, and an early advocate of social networking platforms like Twitter as an essential tool for travelers. While a guide to the best credit cards for racking up frequent flyer miles may not sound poetic, Wendy’s writing regularly affects readers in a very real way, and she maintains an open dialogue to make sure readers are taking the best trip possible.

While I might read a travel narrative or even a novel to be transported somewhere else, a service piece helps me actually get going somewhere else. It was a L.A. Times article on the Corn Islands that got me to go to Nicaragua in 2007; of the few other Americans I met there, most of them were there because of the piece as well. A recent post from Legal Nomads might look like a standard list of travel tips, but it’s peppered with anecdotes, insights and links to other travel stories, and I was transported around the world with Jodi (and craving oranges) while I read it. A Nile Guide roundup of decaying castles has me plotting a trip to Belgium. Some of my favorite and most heart-felt articles I’ve written for Gadling have included finding the expat community and tips on travel with a baby. The Society for American Travel Writers’ annual awards have a category for service-oriented stories, but a few service pieces have snuck their way into other categories, such as the deceptively simple-sounding “Ten Reasons to Visit New Orleans.”

Looking through several of the major travel magazines, most stories are now accompanied by some kind of service information: a sidebar on farmers markets to accompany an essay on eating locally, or a back-of-book addendum of hotels and practical tips for a feature on a changing city’s political landscape. Perhaps all travel media should strive for this mix of inspirational, educational and doable. Our own Features Editor Don George explains that a successful travel narrative should describe a “quest that illuminates a place and culture.” A top ten list of summer vacation may not provide such a point, but a feature on visiting the Seychelles on a budget just might. Not all service pieces have to be fluffy, or recycled from press releases, or lacking insight. They can contain mini-narratives and discoveries, and at best, give readers the tools to create their own.

Travel Read: Step Back from the Baggage Claim and book giveaway

To win a signed copy of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, follow the directions at the end of the post.

For Jason Barger, an airport is not only a place where people depart and arrive on airplanes in their quests to get from one location to another. Airports are a metaphor about life. In his book, Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a slim volume that is a perfect size for slipping into a carry-on, Barger does a tidy job of illustrating how we might make the world a nicer place by starting at the airport. Airplane behavior is included in the mix of what can make or break us as a society.

To test out his theory about the power of air travel and airports, Barger hatched out a plane to travel to seven cities in seven days with the goal of never leaving any of the airports. Along the way, he’d be the observer, testing out his ideas. He figured that in in the midst of airport activity he’d find people from different backgrounds, cultures and ages–all going to or coming from somewhere for a variety of reasons. In the process of their arrivals and departures, Barger theorized there would be behaviors that would illustrate each person’s version of the world.

The result was he logged 6,548 miles, 10,000 minutes, 26 hours and 45 minutes of sleep, and a whole lot of writing fodder to condense into palpable bites. Throughout the book–which I’ve read twice, Barger weaves in details about his life that prompted this undertaking.

Barger is is a guy who notices things. Like when the ding goes off on an airplane to signal that retrieving bags from the overhead bins is a-okay, who leaps up, who stays put and who helps others? It’s not just about what other people do, but what do we do?

At a baggage claim, who lets the older person struggle, and who offers a hand? In Barger’s world, wouldn’t it be a lot easier for everyone if we all just took a few steps back from the conveyor belt and worked together? He saw that system work with a group of adolescents he traveled with. Instead of each elbowing his or her way to the circling bags, those in the front, passed bags back making the task easier for everybody.

Even though the book is a missive in a way of doing better, but Barger also looks at the circumstances that creates a situation where we might not try harder. Frustration is a big one. (I have to put in a plug for stupidity.)

Seriously, haven’t you wanted to lob a shoe at someone while you’ve been stuck at an airport? I have. But, there is always the high road option of flowing more easily with a smile, no matter our circumstances. Barger saw the pinnacle of great decorum, for example, when one woman’s neatly packed carry-on was rummaged through by TSA as part of a random check and her belongs left in a pile for her to repack. Instead of fuming and fussing, she remained pleasant, repacked and dashed off to catch a flight–still buoyant.

Even if you want to remain a crab when you travel, Step Back from the Baggage Claim offers a glimpse of the various airports where Barger headed, and what it’s like to hang out in them for extended periods of time. After reading Barger’s book, I don’t think I’ll be throwing elbows anymore as I haul my own bag out of the mix of belongings that are circling by. (Actually, I don’t think I ever have thrown an elbow. Maybe growled, but nothing more.)

Oh, yeah. Where did Barger go? He started in Columbus to Boston to Miami to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to San Diego and back to Columbus.

Here’s one of Barger’s thoughts to take with you when you travel. It might help you have a much better day.

“I’m going to embrace the quiet moments an airplane seat offers us. When the ding sends most into a frenzy, I am going to sit still.”

To read more about Barger and the book, here’s an article that was published in the business section of The New York Times.

To win a copy of the book Step Back from the Baggage Claim:

Leave a short comment about an act of kindness you witnessed while traveling. Maybe it was your act of kindness–or someone else’s. Even the smallest act counts. The winner will be randomly picked.

  • The comment must be left before Friday, May 1st at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • The winner will receive a signed copy of the paperback book Step Back From the Baggage Claim, (valued at $14.95)
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.