NYT Travel Show: Destinations, Tips, and Egos

The New York Times Travel Show is primarily a marketing vehicle for travel bureaux and large travel companies. Niches are represented by high-end tour operators. The attraction for me is the seminars from travel personalities. Given commercial considerations, there are a lot of fluff seminars by representatives of companies. I skip those. It is amazing how dull a travel bureau can make a destination. There are also travel media personalities and I enjoy seeing what they are like in person, at least those who do not stick to canned presenations. Lastly, a few practical seminars slip in. The travel show was a month ago, I have carried my notes around the world for a month and want finally to type this up.

My highlight is Arthur and Pauline Frommer. As with the year prior, they gave one talk on industry developments and one on destinations.

NYT Travel Show 2014 Arthur and Pauline Frommer

Mr. Frommer is a delight of info and quips. He has special dislike for mega cruise ships with no place to quietly read, “middle aged men hurtling themselves into water chutes.” He sees the cruise lines as run by “avaricious executives hell bent on converting cruise ships in amusement parks,” and wonders, “why is it even necessary for these ships to go to sea?” See his blog post for further.

He also promotes the value of countries where the currency is weak, including Argentina, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan and Turkey. I have been in India for two weeks and at 60 to 1 USD India is an incredible value.
Ms. Frommer is big on the sharing economy, for instance obtaining accommodation through Airbnb. Several presentations returned to this theme.
In the Frommers’ destination talk they highlighted Sweden, Belgium, Sicily, Poland, Mexico’s Riviera Nayarite, Taiwan, Morocco and Alaska as all worthy of a second look by tourists.
The Frommers shared the good news the first books in their series since re-acquiring the brand have been published.
Sticking to destinations, the best talk on the subject was on the prior industry day, given by Professor Barry Goldsmith of Jax Fax Travel Magazine. His ‘Been There, Haven’t Done That,’ focused on overlook destinations in Asia. His recommendation of UNESCO-listed Fatehpur Sikri when visiting Agra and the Taj Majal was a great tip I used this week. He should have been giving this talk on the general consumer day rather than to an audience of travel agents, including one, I kid you not, pushing China’s Yangtze River Three Gorges cruises as a big thing – travel companies have been flogging that one hard since the mid-90s.
From there I dipped in and out of sessions. Too many devolve into endless sales pitches, like the travel photography session with Ralph Velasco that was little more than a slideshow of his photos and pitch for his tours.
The media personalities have a challenge in relating to the audience. Some of the attendees are travelers, but overhearing the conversations, which are impossible to ignore with the loud shrill tri-state accents and lack of indoor voices, there are many armchair travelers that cannot relate. ABC “Born to Explore” host Richard Wiese had an interesting message about ‘Turning Any Trip Into an Epic Trip,’ though could have related more to the audience by focusing on the more immediate examples of diving in a Central Park pond to do a science test on water, than the repeated scaling of Mt. Everest on scientific expeditions.

NYT Travel Show 2014 Richard Wiese

Wendy Perrin of Conde Naste Traveler had an excellent, practical rundown of 42 recommended travel apps, highlighting many new to me and noting those with offline functionality. A few I plan to try are City Maps 2Go and Exit Strategy. She periodically covers apps in her blog, Perrin Post.
Peter Greenberg played his grouchy old man shtick to the full. It was entertaining and eye-opening to the general audience how travel in the US has been squeezed by industry consolidation, particularly airline mergers. His message to be on the lookout for practices such as variable pricing at sites like Expedia based on cookies stored in your browser is useful. Lost in the ‘us versus them’ approach was the joy of travel and ways to beat the system, something tackled, in the frequent flyer program respect, in the following session by Brian Kelly, The Points Guy. Mr. Greenberg did browbeat the event hosts from trying to hold him to allotted time, the only speaker who did that, and not reflective of his earlier message to be polite in travel to have good things happen.

NYT Travel Show 2014 Peter Greenberg

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  • Paul

    Greenberg was an asshole and half the stuff he talked about was either somewhat or completely wrong.

  • dhammer53

    Since when is Japan cheap. When we were in Japan ten years ago, the Yen was trading at 120 yen to the dollar. Now it’s roughly 101 to the dollar. The dollar is worth less today vs in 2003. Japan is expensive.

    You want cheap, go to Thailand.

  • Joey

    Wow, the Indian Rupee is now 60 to the dollar? It was around 50 a few years ago and I thought that was cheap.

    Another country where the USD is strong at the moment is South Africa. It’s currently 10.5 ZAR to 1 USD whereas just a year ago it was 8.8.

    I agree with you on this RTC. I went to the NY Times Travel show last year and felt most of the ‘destinations’ were more like travel pitches. The best part for me at the time was going to the Points Guy’s presentation on cc stuff. I didn’t even know what churning was.

  • @Paul – I was most perplexed by the lengthy repositioning flight thing, he’s going to have all these people calling for repositioning flights when I assume they are quite rare.

  • @dahmmer53 – I should have made clear that he meant these countries are relatively cheap compared to what they have been in recent years. The fx rate in Japan was much better a decade ago, but worse for us more recently. With the Japanese economy sluggish prices have been stagnant for some time, so when I was there last November after several years away I did not feel the sting as much as past trips. For those who really want to see Japan this is a decent time.

  • @Joey – yeah, last time I was in India for pleasure it was 43 to 1. At 60 it is tremendous value, which is partly why I took advantage of a friend’s welcoming home to spend several weeks there now. Even most domestic flights are under $100 which given the limited award options, means I can jet around rather than always dealing with the slow trains.

    I was not aware South Africa has appreciated like that. Good time to go.

  • I would have loved to attend this event, especially the session with Arthur Frommer. As far as his attitude towards mega cruise ships, I agree and disagree. Yes, they are artificial, packaged and very unclassy.
    However, they are also affordable and perfect for families. If you ever have kids, you’ll understand. Entertaining them is a challenge and those huge ship behemoths are great! Plus, you see several ports without packing and unpacking, another plus.

  • @milesforfamily – any particular cruise line you favor?

  • I really like Holland America. It’s geared toward older traveler, so not quite as tacky as Carnival. It appeals to more “refined” crowd, but the price is still reasonable. Not to confuse “refined” with “stuck up.” 🙂 Last time we went, they actually had a group that played violins! Honestly, I like cruising because you can do your own thing. We usually get a balcony and just sit there away from everyone.