Travel News

Travel 2008: What’s Hot, What’s Not for the Year Ahead

Locations in this article:  Beijing, China Dallas, TX London, England

Airport signsThis past year wasn’t too kind to travelers, what with the horrific airline delays, skyrocketing fuel prices, and a plunging U.S. dollar.

Plus, there were serious strikes and political disruptions in travel hotspots like France, Kenya, Ecuador and Fiji, the continued threat of terrorism, and airline mergers and bankruptcies.

But for every trial and tribulation in travel, it seemed that a new opportunity was born. Tanzania is the new Kenya. Tourists with euros flooded New York. New airlines were launched on the ashes of older ones.

Now that we’re settling into the new year, the staff of took a look at the happenings of previous year, and what trends—both hot and not—we can expect to see in 2008.

WHAT’S HOT: Hands-On Culinary Tourism

Experiential culinary tourism will hit the mainstream in 2008 just like voluntourism did in 2007, and eco-tourism before that.

A recent study by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with Gourmet magazine and the International Culinary Tourism Association found that 27 million travelers, or 17 percent of American leisure travelers, engaged in some kind of food- or wine- related activities while traveling within the past three years. The study also found that 60 percent of U.S. leisure are travelers interested in culinary travel in the near future.

But we think the culinary trend will be much more than “food- or wine-related.” We believe in the hands-on, local experience to get the most out of your travels. Whether you take advantage of the burgeoning “locovore” movement, try an immersive culinary class in exotic Asia, pair your wine-tasting vacation with a Napa Valley organic cooking lesson, learn to make your own chocolate, drink local wine on a hot summer’s day, or embark on a quest for the perfect cheese, this is more than just a trend, it’s a way of travel.

WHAT’S NOT: On-Time Arrivals

Airplane Sunset2007 was the worst year for U.S. carriers since the Department of Transportation (DOT) began tracking this sort of thing 10 years ago. According to DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 23.5 percent of flights were delayed (i.e. reached the gate 15 minutes or more after the arrival time) between January and November 2007. That’s up from 22.31 percent in 2006, which, at the time, was being called the worst year ever.

That doesn’t bode well for 2008. But, if there are continued intelligent decisions like opening up military airspace for the holidays, reducing delays at New York-area airports, and if the Department of Transportation begins using common sense about the scheduling the number of airlines that can actually physically can leave the runway in any given hour, we actually might get somewhere. Literally.

NOT: Mishandled Bags

The worst culprit of all was British Airways. According to the British-based Air Transport Users Council, BA lost 23 bags for every 1,000 passengers, compared to an average of 15.7 for every 1,000 on all other members of the Association of European Airlines. The consumer watchdog group found that about 85 percent of the mishandled bags were returned to passengers within 48 hours … but that remaining 15 percent translates into about a million bags that took longer than two days to be found, and many that remained in luggage limbo for eternity. Even worse, by the end of 2007, British Airways even had to fly empty 747s filled with luggage to New York to reunite them with their passengers.

HOT: The End of the One-Bag Rule

The good news is that things are looking up for British Airways’ baggage handling in 2008. The primary reason behind BA’s dismal baggage handling was that the British Airport Authority implemented a very silly one carry-on bag rule. This rule, which restricted travelers from bringing a carry-on bag plus a purse or laptop case on flights that departed British airports, was implemented in August 2006 and lasted all the way through 2007. Peter launched a public boycott of all London airports until that rule was eradicated. The good news is that it finally has been lifted at Heathrow—we can’t say the same for some Gatwick gates, not to mention Bradford, Luton, Leeds, and Liverpool airports—but at least things are moving in the right direction.

NOT: No Go for a Federal Passengers’ Bill of Rights

Kate HanniIt was December 2006 that a planeload of passengers was trapped on an American Airlines jet in Dallas for nine hours. NINE HOURS on a plane with screaming babies, overflowing toilets, no food, no water. Not long after was the so-called JetBlue debacle. Debacle? More like “affront to human rights.” Those passengers suffered up to 11 hours on the taxiway to nowhere.

Stranded Dallas passenger-turned-activist Kate Hanni (at left) created history with the Coalition for the Passengers’ Bill of Rights. But the proposed federal legislation—which includes a call to allow passengers to deplane if a flight is delayed more than three hours, and provide food, water, clean toilets, and access to medical attention on delayed flights—has been hung up for months, with no end in sight.

HOT: New York’s Passengers’ Bill of Rights

The good news is that Governor Eliot Spitzer signed a Passengers’ Bill of Rights for New York airports, which went into effect on January 1; airlines will be fined a whopping $1,000 per passenger if they don’t abide by the rules. So, if you’re stuck on the taxiway at JFK or LaGuardia, you’re in luck (relatively speaking). But will it stick? Airlines will argue that the federal government has jurisdiction here, not local authorities—so we may be seeing this one in court soon.

HOT: The Rise of All-Business-Class Jets
NOT: The Fall of All-Business-Class Jets

Now to be fair, one failed airline does not a trend make. MAXjet’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 24, 2007 left hundreds of passengers stranded on Christmas Eve. The airline cited rising fuel prices as its primary reason, but in reality, there was more at play here. MAXjet needed more financing; and, just a couple of months ago, American Airlines launched its own JFK-to-Stansted service, luring in frequent fliers with its mileage program and taking back its market share from the once-dominant MAXjet. And what comes with less competition? Increased prices and less service. Not hot.

HOT (SORT OF): Beijing’s Preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics

China Forbidden CityBeijing began serious preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics, with the buzz word being “demolish.” They’re tearing down buildings, undergoing a Herculean effort to push out pollutants, and banning those lovely “Engrish” signs of beautifully bungled English. Not only that, but they’re changing the weather for the Games: although history dictates that there is a 50 percent chance of rain in August 2008, meteorologists are able to force rain from clouds in a process called “cloud-seeding,” which can help ensure cleaner air and clear skies.

If you’re looking to travel to the Olympic Games and still need tickets, well, it ain’t easy (you’ll need to look to eBay and other resellers at this point). But we can tell you how to score a place to sleep and offer some suggestions on what to do when you get there. Our prediction for 2008? The Chinese government is being so stringent about preparing the city and surrounding provinces that their plans will most likely be very successful—making the revamped Beijing a hot destination during the Olympics and beyond.

NOT: Fingerprinting Foreigners Entering the U.S.

Under the United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (or the clever, US-VISIT), the Department of Homeland Security is collecting 10 fingerprints from foreign travelers who enter the U.S. Currently, this only takes place at Dulles International Airport, but they’re planning spreading this program to all international airports in the U.S. Uncool, Big Brother. Uncool.

HOT: Virgin America

A budget airline that neatly swoops past a law that prohibits ownership of a U.S. airline by a foreign individual or company? Rock on, Sir Richard Branson. Though the trippy lighting and club music thumping through Virgin America planes is a little too self-consciously hip for our tastes, we’ll take the $277 flight from JFK to SFO.

NOT: Passport Confusion

US passportPop quiz: Do you need a passport to drive to Tijuana?

Take a Caribbean cruise?

Fly to Quebec?

If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Deluges of press releases and news reports have travelers all in a tizzy over whether or not they needed a passport; the result was a summertime backlog that ruined thousands of vacation plans.

This year, travelers aren’t going to be any less confused.

Here’s the bottom line: the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative states that yes, you need a passport to fly between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region; as of January 31, 2008, you’ll need one to travel by sea; the date for drivers crossing the border has not yet been set.

HOT: Fresh Destinations

NOT: Flying with Tuberculosis

Andrew Speaker, a man infected with tuberculosis managed to slip past the U .S. Customs and Border Protection and fly from Europe to Canada even though his passport had been flagged in their computer system. In December 2007, we learned that a Mexican businessman infected with multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis entered the U.S. more than 21 times in April and May. There’s not much we can do except hope that these bungles will teach the Homeland Security the importance of communicating with other parts of our government—in this case, the Centers for Disease Control.

HOT: Wi-Fi in the Sky

When you mention the idea of cell phones in the sky, road warriors shudder. But Wi-Fi in the sky? Not so bad.

AirCell and OnAir are two companies that are making it possible for travelers to email, text and instant message while in the air. So far it’s available on JetBlue (if you have a BlackBerry or a Yahoo! account) via OnAir. Testing is being done on a single Air France aircraft, and OnAir expects to roll it out on Europe’s Ryanair, British Midland Airway, and Portugal’s TAP by mid-2008; AirCell is making it happen (for a fee) at American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

NOT: Cells Phones in the Air
We don’t like it. Not one bit. And we predict a raging case of air rage in our near futures.

And now, the wackiest travel news stories of last year. We can’t promise 2008 will be filled with the same bizarre tales, but check in with every day, and we promise we’ll be on top of it.

  • Hot: Experiencing new and exciting creatures in a foreign land first-hand.
  • Not: Drinking 12 cans or beer, diving into a crocodile-infested river, getting mauled by a croc, and not seeking medical attention for seven hours.
  • Hot: Only because it involves a pint-sized marsupial do we think it’s adorably hot that a man smuggled a monkey aboard a flight from Peru to Ft. Lauderdale and then to New York—under his hat.
  • Not: The tiny marmoset later died of unknown causes.
  • Hot: The Department of Homeland Security inviting a UK minister to be a keynote speaker on tackling terrorism.
  • Not: Detaining the UK minister at not one, but two U.S. airports.
  • Hot: Sticking it to the TSA’s liquid ban.
  • Not: Downing a liter of vodka at the security checkpoint to the point of alcohol poisoning.
  • Hot: A family seeking a way to separate its conjoined twins.
  • Not: The airline charging for two seats.
  • Hot: Packing toys for your kid’s first flight.
  • Not: Stuffing poor Mr Potato Head with nearly 300 grams of ecstasy.

By Sarika Chawla, Matt Calcara and Monique-Marie DeJong