Oil prices and unrest in Egypt: Will they affect travel?

Airlines and Cruise lines have been watching the price of oil for quite some time. Fuel surcharges are unpopular fees and neither wants to add them on again if they can possibly avoid it. Some say fuel surcharges are inevitable and quite possibly the least of our worries.

Cruise lines, almost universally, have a ceiling of between $70 and $90 a barrel for oil. If the price reaches that point, they can add on a fuel surcharge. Prices have actually exceeded that threshold recently and cruise lines still did not add on the extra fee, fearful that the fee combined with the recovering economy could drive buyers away.

American Airlines added fuel surcharges of as much as $5 each way on many routes with United Continental Holdings Inc. adding a $3 each-way surcharge. Just Friday, British Airways said they would increase the fuel surcharge they already have in place.

“British Airways will increase its fuel surcharge on long haul services from Tuesday, February 8,” it said in a statement but not on short haul services.

How it will all play out is up for grabs right now but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is concerned about additional factors that could affect travel far greater than a fuel surcharge.

Flickr photo by ayman_ay17

Saying the Middle East “”is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends,” Clinton is concerned about unrest in the region.

“Leaders in the region may be able to hold back the tide for a little while, but not for long,” she said. “This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo and cities throughout the region. The status quo is simply not sustainable.”

If danger presents itself, travel warnings issued by the US Department of State could be extended to neighboring regions as well. If that happens, tour operators, airlines and cruise lines would probably react similarly to how the have this week, canceling service to Egypt.

On the other hand, tour operators in Spain can see an up side to the whole issue, as alternative ports of call and destinations found for booked travelers. This week, the German divisions of Thomas Cook and TUI Travel said they were seeing a trend for customers to switch Egypt holidays for ones to Spain or Turkey.

While a safe alternative is a good idea, it will hardly fulfill the lifelong dreams some have had for visiting Egypt, a trip that probably won’t happen any time soon.

The Travel Channel offers these tips for traveling overseas:

Travel + Leisure picks the best tour operators and safari outfitters

A few days back we told you about Travel + Leisure magazine’s picks for the world’s best hotels, which are part of their annual World’s Best Awards in which T+L readers select the very best in travel from around the globe. Other categories in the survey include selections for best cities, islands, airlines, and more.

Of particular interest to adventurous travelers are the magazine’s selections for the Top 20 Tour Operators and Safari Outfitters which shines the spotlight on some of the best adventure travel companies in the world. The selections are a result of readers ranking the various companies in six unique criteria including staff/guides, itineraries/destinations, activities, accommodations, food, and value. Respondents to the survey were asked to rate the the characteristics from 1 to 5, with 5 representing an “excellent” rating and a 1 delivering a “poor” score. The averages of the component ratings were then used to assign each of the tour operators a ranking on the Travel + Leisure list.

The best tour operators and safari outfitters in the world, according to the readers of Travel + Leisure are:

  1. Micato Safaris
  2. Austin-Lehman Adventures
  3. Butterfield & Robinson
  4. VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations
  5. Wilderness Travel
  6. Ker & Downey
  7. Tauck World Discovery
  8. Backroads
  9. Wilderness Safaris
  10. International Expeditions
  11. Country Walkers
  12. Classic Journeys
  13. Linblad Expeditions TOUR
  14. Abercrombie & Kent TOUR
  15. Overseas Adventure Travel
  16. Insight Vacations
  17. Viking Tours
  18. Grand Circle Travel
  19. Globus
  20. Collette Vacations

Each of those are excellent adventure travel companies with a wide variety of options, allowing travelers to visit remote and spectacular places around the world.

Intrepid Travel: Not your average tour operator

Tours have a PR problem when it comes to wooing people who define themselves as “travelers.” Tours are crowded. Tours are contrived. Tours are for…well…tourists. But are all tours created equally? I’ve written before about deciding if a tour is right for you, but it had been a while since I actually took one. Since I last wrote about the topic, I had been curious if I could be satisfied on a tour. If it could cater to my needs for interaction with locals, meals consisting of regional cuisines and limited exposure to excruciatingly annoying crowds. That’s why I decided to experience a tour for myself. I recently returned from a trip to Turkey with Intrepid Travel and realized that you can’t make sweeping generalizations about tour operators.

In my previous post on tours, I referenced a conversation that I’d had with Janelle Nanos, Special Projects Editor at National Geographic Traveler and Intelligent Travel. She was fond of Intrepid Travel after her experience in Morocco because they kept their groups small. That was one of the top criteria on my list, as well, and seems to be par for the course in Intrepid’s business plan.

I wasn’t quite used to just showing up at the airport having done no preparation at all for a trip. I hadn’t had to reserve any hotel rooms. For all our planned moving around, I hadn’t looked at a single train schedule or booked any bus tickets. It felt odd at first, but it was also incredibly liberating. All I had to be concerned about was how much döner kebab I could eat in ten days. Perhaps if I was more OCD I would have been troubled by not playing a major role in the planning of the trip. Instead, I rather enjoyed darting away for a while and not having to think too much about it in advance of my departure.

My biggest fear about taking a tour was that the itinerary would be rigid and uncompromising. That I would be forced to go to a bazaar in which I had no interest or dragged somewhere no matter how exhausted I might be. But Intrepid’s guides were accommodating. Tired? Stay at the hotel and catch up on sleep. Not fit enough for the mountain bike ride through Cappidocia’s fairy chimneys? Go to the Open Air Museum and visit the cave churches instead. This flexibility made it feel less like a tour and more like a holiday with my friends in which we often go our separate ways only to meet again for dinner. Perhaps best of all, free time was ample. Rather than having our days planned from sunrise to midnight, we had more than enough time to explore the markets, wander around the towns or simply catch up on emails to friends back home.

In many ways, our methods of transport resembled how I would have gotten around had I planned the trip myself. We traveled from Istanbul to Bursa to Selçuk to Cappidocia and back to Istanbul. We rode on the same buses as Turks (both local public buses and long-distance motor coaches operated by private companies). We took the metro in Istanbul and an overnight sleeper train from from Ankara back to Istanbul. When we did require private transport, a coach bus was never necessary. Minivans sufficed, which kept us from being a spectacle when we arrived at our destinations.

We dined in the homes of three separate families while we were in Turkey. I’m sure many of you hardcore “travelers” are now shaking your heads and reciting the numerous times someone invited you over for supper while you backpacked overseas. But for your average vacationer, such an experience is rare and difficult to come by. Intrepid believes strongly that dialogue with locals helps people connect with their destination. Those three meals were quite possibly the best I had there. Not only because of the human interaction but because home-cooked Turkish food is downright delicious.

The accommodations were far from luxury but by no means hostels, either. Guests shared rooms at middle-of-the-road hotels. Often the group took up most of a hotel’s rooms not because there were so many people but because it was a small, locally-owned accommodation.

You may still think that tours are for tourists or that no tour could satisfy you, but if I learned anything during my time in Turkey with Intrepid Travel it’s that tours can be a good thing. They can make the weeks and months leading up to a trip devoid of the stress that comes with planning all the moving parts of a vacation. They can handle all of the logistics while still allowing you to customize your trip once you are on the ground. And they can immerse you in culture rather than cocooning you in coach buses and chain hotels.

I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with Intrepid Travel. Apparently not all tours are created equally. And that’s a good thing.

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that döner kebabs are amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own.