13 Things I Learned at the New York Times Travel Show

Puerto Rico travel record year

I just spent some time back in New York City, a place I lived and worked before I started traveling around the world and became a travel writer. It’s always fun to be back there and also when I’m there for the New York Times Travel Show, I learn a lot about what’s going on in the industry.

Here are a few random nuggets from destinations and travel providers to just ponder, plus some things that you might find useful as you make your vacation plans for the coming year.

Would you expect that Puerto Rico just celebrated a record year for tourism? It had more visitors than ever in 2019, and they sure needed all that income for rebuilding. Yes, there was an earthquake recently on top of all their hurricane troubles, but it mostly affected one section in the south, not the whole island.

Portugal just had a record year for tourism as well, breaking the one million visitors mark for the first time. It’s not a secret anymore, so do more than just go to Lisbon and the Algarve beaches if you want to avoid the crowds. It’s still pretty mellow in Alentejo where I did a bike tour.

Yes, you can still travel to Cuba as an American. It’s just cruises and flights to other cities in the country (from abroad) that have been targeted by the angry orange one. According to their PR firm, “Positions taken by Democratic candidates suggest a new administration will bring the total end of travel restrictions, opening normal vacation traffic to beach resorts enjoyed by Canadians and Europeans.”

Is it just me, or is this tourism slogan for the island of Crete more than a little bit cringe-worthy? “The island inside you.”

Crete tourism slogan at New York Times Travel Show

I found out about an airline I had never heard of before, Frenchbee, which is offering bargain intro rates (plus lots of fees on top) from North American cities. It flies from San Francisco to Tahiti, San Francisco to Paris-Orly, and soon from Newark to Paris-Orly. If you can travel light, the fares are crazy cheap, starting at $189 one-way from San Francisco to Paris!

Hotwire did a study with 10,000 data points across 250 cities to find the best ones for a weekend getaway for their “Make it a quickie” campaign. Looking at ease of getting there, price, weather, things to do, and popularity, they number crunched and devised a list. Some of the most popular in different size categories were predictable (Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami) but others were a bit surprising: Tampa, San Diego, St. Louis, Richmond VA, and Newport Beach CA were near the top of the list in their size category.

Speaking of Tampa, my former home city is racing to build enough hotels to keep up with demand. They’re at 90% occupancy in popular times and seldom dip below 70% citywide. Plan ahead if you’re going there. Same thing with Huntsville, Alabama: they have 11 hotels under construction there. Four different destination people told me they’re having serious staffing issues in the hospitality industry with the near-zero unemployment rate we’ve got in many U.S. and Canadian cities. If you’re looking for a job path where you can quickly move up the ranks, you might want to apply at your closest Marriott or Hilton property…

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity may be true with Chernobyl. For the second year in a row, this was one of the most popular small booths I saw, despite being at the very back of the hall and not giving anything away to attract a crowd. Read a Chernobyl travel story here we ran years ago in Perceptive Travel.

Many cities are moving their Lyft and Uber pick-up zones to a place you need to take a bus to before boarding, something I experienced first-hand in NYC when I arrived. If you’re in a hurry and willing to pay more for VIP service, check out Blacklane. Unlike the ride share services, they’re still able to pick you up right outside baggage claim because they’re classified as a limo company, which gets better access. They have free child seats too. (You can even book an emission-free Tesla in 33 cities.)

Cruise lines are clearly struggling hard with the whole sustainability movement in the press . They’re trying their best to put a green splash of paint on things, but at the same time they’re mostly doing the opposite of what’s needed because it’s fundamental to growth. They’re building bigger ocean ships, building bigger river cruise ships, and building bigger self-contained landing areas for those ships that have nothing to do with the local community or economy. A little carbon offsetting and slightly more efficient engines is not going to solve overtourism or climate change. Both efforts are at odds with a mode of travel that’s fundamentally a fleet of giant floating hotels—but hotels using more fossil fuel and not attached to a city sewage system.

Giant hotel chains are talking a good game too on the environment, but many wonder if they will really stand by their promises. It’s much easier to say you’ll stop flooding rooms with throwaway plastic by “the end of 2022 (as Accor announced) than it is to actually implement it. Most of the hotels I’ve seen that are really doing instead of talking are independent or part of small local chains, not multi-nationals.

It seems like there were a dozen companies on the New York Times Travel Show floor selling new products to help us sleep better on a plane. Maybe the real problem is we all have about six inches less room than we used to? In spite of the collective girth getting wider during that time? Just sayin’.

I’m sometimes baffled about how destinations that don’t seem to be all that popular with Americans have massive booths at the New York Times Travel Show. Would you imagine that some of the largest ones there were from Brazil, Guadeloupe Island, Georgia (the country, Puglia (in Italy), Dubai, Taiwan, and Korea? Then there was the giant Turkish Airlines one, which seemed to just function as a billboard. There was hardly anyone staffing it and no interaction with travelers.

 

8 Comments

  1. Wendy Lee 01/29/2020
    • Tim Leffel 01/30/2020
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