Are travelers overloaded by social media?

Mary Gallagher recently received an e-mail from the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau offering “hot deals.” But there was a catch: In order to receive them, she had to follow Tucson’s tourist authority on Twitter and friend it on Facebook.

That didn’t sit well with Gallagher, a travel writer, who said she receives enough deals each day.

“How much Facebook and Twitter drivel could you spend each day reading?” she said. “This really, really annoys me.”

Are travelers overloaded by social media? It’s a timely question, given the release of “The Social Network,” which topped the box office for several weeks in October, is about the origin of Facebook, the most successful social network on the planet.

Travel is a huge component of social networking, propelling applications like Where I’ve Been — a website that allows users to mark their travel history on a color-coded map — to stardom.

“It can get to the point where it’s too much,” said Brian Ek, who oversees some of Priceline’s social media efforts. Which is to say, somewhere along the line, the travel experience isn’t meaningfully enhanced by having more friends or followers.
“I’m not sure if, as a traveler, you have to participate in a social network in order to have a good trip,” he said.

But where’s the line? Gallagher saw it when Tucson e-mailed her. She replied to the sender, complaining that social networking deals exclude travelers who don’t participate in these newer networks. She also asked that her name be deleted from Tucson’s distribution list.
Related: See the world through your smart phone

A 2010 YPartnership survey suggests most travelers are probably still looking for the line. Results show that 91 percent of respondents use Facebook, about a quarter use MySpace, and 17 percent are on Twitter. But the research also notes that only 1 in 20 leisure travelers has ever made a travel decision based primarily on research or feedback received from a social networking site.

A recent University of Maryland study found that American college students are addicted to social media. In fact, being away from social media was like a withdrawal, similar to the kind experienced by an alcoholic. One of the researchers, Susan Moeller, described some of the subjects as “incredibly addicted.”

A recent survey of frequent travelers by Egnyte, an information technology company, found that 53 percent of people admit to using their smart phone when in a hotel bathroom.

When the line between reality and virtual reality start to blur, you could be in trouble. “You lose track with whether or not you’ve spoken with someone or whether you’ve seen something on Twitter or Facebook,” said Chris McGinnins, a travel blogger with an active social network. McGinnis said older travelers, who can remember a time before social networking, might find something wrong with this behavior when it’s pointed out to them. But younger travelers think nothing of it. And that worries him.
And who said you can never have too many friends? Many travel companies, including media-savvy JetBlue, have initiatives aimed at boosting networks simply for the sake of having the highest profile. JetBlue (1.5 million Twitter followers) recently gave away 25,000 frequent flier miles to random followers.

On the flip side, there are individual travelers who are in the business of collecting friends and followers, too. Experts would diagnose this kind of compulsive behavior as an addiction if it involved anything else.

If you’re obsessively collecting new followers, can’t bear to be apart from your cell phone and often confuse what’s happening on your social network with reality, you, like Gallagher, have found the line.

(Photo: B. Hernández/Flickr Creative Commons)

“Please, can we go back?”

When Kathy Potvin told her grandson she was considering breaking a tradition of visiting Ocean Park, Maine, last summer, the 7-year-old protested.

“But we’ve always gone there,” he told Potvin, a librarian from Nashua, N.H. “He said, ‘Please, can we go back?’ ”

Her family had returned to the same hotel every year since her grandson was 18 months old. She couldn’t say “no.”

“He spent almost an hour in the car on the way up, talking about going to Snail Rocks, catching crabs, walking to the ice cream store, feeding the seagulls, riding his boogie board, going to Chicago Dogs,” she recalled. “Honestly, I was thrilled. It’s those kind of traditions and memory buildings that is a huge part of the appeal of the same old, same old, and make us behave like Capistrano Swallows.”

This is the time of year when most winter vacations are booked, and Christmas and New Year’s getaways tend to be repeats like the Potvins’ — a trip to a favorite mountain resort or a city near family.

Redundancy has a lot of value, both for travelers and for the travel business.
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Are travelers frill-seekers? No, but here’s what they really want

Free drinks. Room upgrades. Better restaurants.

That’s what the travel industry thinks you want from your next travel experience.

American Airlines last month announced it would start serving Admirals Club lounge visitors free drinks, adding that it decided to make the move because it’s “committed to investing in enhancing the travel experience for its loyal customers.”

Priceline, meanwhile, announced the launch of a free new service on its site that lets future hotel guests search its database of published-price hotels for all kinds of valuable hotel freebies. (Customers who “name their own price”, however, will still face surprise parking charges and resort fees that add to the cost of their prepaid room.)

Also, details of Royal Caribbean’s highly anticipated Allure of the Seas leaked out. Among the ship’s planned amenities will be a Brazilian churruscaria restaurant and the first Guess store at sea.

But is that what travelers really want? Perhaps not.
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How to fall into a real travel bargain this year

It’s that time of year again.

Summer’s over, the kids are back in school, the weather is starting to cool off and everyone’s thoughts are turning to vacation.

Well, maybe not everyone, but for some contrarians, a fall getaway is more than a passing thought. They wouldn’t dream of going away any other time.
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Believe it or not, the travel industry still cares about you

On a recent flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix on US Airways, Sarah Andrus left her jacket underneath the seat in front of her. “It was a gift from a friend and unique,” recalled Andrus, a director for an Olean, N.Y.-based manufacturing company. “I called the airline with low expectations of recovering my jacket, but I thought I’d give it a try.”

She was lucky enough to get through to a US Airways employee named Tanya, who understood her predicament. “I followed her instructions to the letter, and heard back from someone within two hours. They had found my jacket and would keep it until my return flight,” Andrus said.

Frequent travelers can be forgiven for thinking the travel industry doesn’t care about them, but simply wants their money. Last week’s report that airlines had collected $2.1 billion in fees in the second quarter — an increase of 13 percent from the previous quarter — while continuing to suffer from near record-low customer-service scores, does little to improve that image.
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