Jet ski rental scams in Thailand. Wildlife harassed in Sri Lanka. World's best airports.
Welcome to the 438th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one you help write.
I’ve got lots to report this month.
Jet ski rental scams have long been a problem on the beaches of Phuket and Pattaya, Thailand.
The scenario — the jet ski is rented with minor damage that is hard to detect (sometimes it’s under the waterline), and when the vehicle is returned, the renter is charged for the damage plus an amount for “loss of rental” while the jet ski supposedly is repaired.
One news report said that some jet skis were being painted with water-soluble paint that washed off as the ski was used, revealing on each a long gash.
Other reports stated that in both Phuket and Pattaya, groups of men have bullied victims into paying, threatening some with knives. Some operators have been taking passports as security deposits and then refusing to return them until being paid.
Thai police often are not helpful in these cases. Travelers are advised not to rent jet skis at beaches at Pattaya or on Phuket.
In Sri Lanka’s southeast, Yala National Park is noted for its leopards and has been very popular since it reopened to the public in 2008. Unfortunately, conditions have become dangerous for both humans and wildlife, as jeep drivers are speeding to leopard sightings called in on mobile phones.
The park has fewer than 50 government-employed wildlife trackers, but add to that the rentals of, on some holidays, hundreds of independently driven jeeps.
Though the speed limit on the main road is 40 kph, untrained drivers frequently race at high speeds, reportedly as high as 100 kph (62 mph), to get to areas where leopards have been seen.
A young leopard was killed in a hit-and-run in January, and in February a BBC journalist reported being seriously injured when his head hit the overhead roll bar as the safari truck he was in went over a bump at high speed.
An April 2012 BBC article reported more flagrancy — persons throwing items into bushes to lure animals out, plus one instance in which jeeps moved between a leopard and her prey, causing her to break off the hunt.
Tourism authorities have started an “awareness program” to teach drivers and government-employed trackers better behavior.
Travelers should be aware of this situation, choose guides from reputable, licensed companies and be firm with their drivers regarding speeding. Another safety option — consider avoiding the peak viewing times of early morning and late afternoon.
ITN subscriber Arthur H. Weingaertner of Los Angeles, California, took a trip to Italy and learned, the hard way, to always read the fine print.
He wrote, “At the Milan Central Station on Sept. 22, 2011, I bought two one-way, senior-price rail tickets to Desenzano del Garda, Italy. When I paid the ticket person, he silently handed me the tickets.
“Shortly after boarding the train, three conductors moved down the aisle examining tickets. The first conductor took the tickets from my wife and me and then from some other passengers. Soon he was engaged in loud discourse, in Italian, with another passenger, then he handed our tickets to a second conductor, who told me he was fining me €50 (near $63) for each ticket, as they were not stamped.
“I told the conductor that no one had told us of the requirement. He turned the ticket over and showed me that it instructed the holder (in Italian and English) to stamp the ticket. (The last time I looked at the back of a ticket, there was nothing of significance there.) So I paid the fine, in cash, and he gave me a receipt.
“As we approached our destination, my wife and I were waiting in the area where you pass from one car to another and we saw a poster stating (in Italian and English) that, prior to boarding the train, passengers need to have stamped their tickets at one of the yellow machines in the station.
“With the push and shove of getting onto the train and finding a seat, we had not seen the poster. Even if we had, I’m not sure I would have chanced getting off the train to find the yellow machine.
“At the end of our trip we were at the Milan Central Station again, and we scoured the place for signs. We found no signs outside of the train, just as we had seen none in other stations during our Italy trip.
“Apparently, I am not the only traveler to have made the mistake of not getting his ticket stamped. At one hotel, I was told that management had heard enough guests complaining about this that they wrote to the authorities — but to no avail.”
Thanks for sharing that account, Arthur.
From rail stations, I’m changing the subject to airports.
• The Airports Council International runs passenger surveys at its member airports and each year announces the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards. It based the 2011 award rankings on 300,000 passenger surveys taken in the 209 ACI-member airports over 12 months.
Sixteen performance indicators were evaluated, including waiting times in the lines for check-in, security and Immigration; clarity of signage; baggage cart availability; cleanliness; courtesy of staff, etc.
The ASQ awards for Best Airports Worldwide went to Incheon/Seoul International (ICN), Singapore Changi (SIN), Hong Kong International (HKG), Beijing Capital International (PEK) and Shanghai Pudong International (PVG).
In the Best Airports by Region category, the top winners were Malta International (MLA) [Europe], Dubai International (DXB) [Middle East], Incheon/Seoul International (ICN) [Asia/Pacific], Cape Town International (CPT) [Africa], Cancun International (CUN) [Latin America & Caribbean] and Indianapolis International (IND) [North America].
To see the top five in each region plus winners in the categories Best Airport by Size of Airport and Best Improvement Award by Region, visit www.airportservicequalityawards.com.
• With a much wider scope, the World Airport Awards, managed by Skytrax, were based on 12 million survey questionnaires turned in over nine months in 2011-2012 and covering 388 airports worldwide.
The independent consumer-satisfaction survey evaluated 39 aspects of service, including public transport options, efficiency and prices; terminal comfort, ambiance, general design and appearance; queuing times; clarity of boarding calls and airport PAs; standards of disabled access and facilities; shopping choices, etc.
Among international airports, the winners for 2011 in this survey were Hong Kong International (HKG), Singapore Changi (SIN), Incheon International (ICN), Munich Airport (MUC), Beijing Capital International (PEK), Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), Zürich Airport (ZRH), Auckland International (AKL), Kuala Lumpur International (KUL) and Copenhagen Airport (CPH).
Among other award categories listed at www.worldairportawards.com are Best Premium Service Airport, Best Airports by Category, Airport Staff Service Excellence and Best Airport Hotels.
Well, we’re only 20 countries shy of being able to report that in 2011, as was accomplished in 2010, ITN subscribers collectively visited all 196 countries on The ITN Official List of Nations.
Next month I’ll announce not only which countries were most often visited by ITN subscribers but the latest batch of prize winners, randomly selected from among those who responded to our question, “Where Were You in 2011?” Until then, if you’re an ITN subscriber who visited any of the following countries in 2011, we want to hear from you.
These are the countries that are playing hard to get: Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Libya, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nauru, Pakistan, Palau (Belau), Somalia, South Sudan, Tuvalu and Yemen.
If you set foot in any of those places in 2011, write to Where Were You in 2011?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can scratch it off the list. Include your name and mailing address, please. Do it right away and your name will be entered in the prize drawing.
We were going to print Wayne Wirtanen’s “Eye on Travel Insurance” column this month, with part two of his latest article on the preexisting-condition clause, but a last-minute find spurred him to do more research and a rewrite. Part two should appear next month.
I’m soliciting reports on simply adequate accommodations outside of the US that are low cost or very low cost.
If you see in the pages of ITN someone’s recommendation of a hotel for which they paid hundreds of dollars a night and you recently stayed in that same city or town for significantly less, tell us where your accommodation was, what it was like and approximately how much you paid. Include contact info, if possible, or describe where and how to find the place.
Also list some of the amenities that it had or that it didn’t have plus anything else helpful to know, such as how close it was to public transportation.
To get the most miles out of every dollar, a good percentage of our readers look for the most inexpensive accommodations wherever they go. They’re not picky. Curiously, though, it seems that many of those travelers with tight purse strings are also tight-lipped. Well, that won’t do in ITN.
If you are among those who avoid places with chocolates on the pillows, then you know what like-minded travelers are looking for in a room and a neighborhood. So if you recently stayed in a budget-priced place and can tell us where it is, send in a report. Travelers of all types read this magazine and will appreciate it — and maybe even will write in, themselves, spurring someone else to get adventurous.
Nancy Spruance of Eureka, California, in renewing the ITN subscription for her and her husband, Pete, added this note: “Thank you for providing a magazine full of enjoyable and unique information! A good many years ago, after a late-night landing at our little regional airport, a woman handed us her copy of ITN when she learned that we, too, had spent around 24 hours traveling to get home. We have delighted in it ever since.
“We also wish to thank you for a very attractive and framable Traveled to All the Continents certificate.
“We appreciate all your nice work.”
Some subscribers give away their old issues of ITN, but there’s another option. We’ll send you a number of easy-to-carry “business cards” to hand out on our behalf which read, “For a free sample copy of ITN, call 800/486-4968 or send your name and address to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or fill out this form. You will be sent a complimentary copy of the next-printed issue, with no obligation to subscribe.”
When you strike up a conversation with another frequent traveler on your next trip, just hand a card over. However you want to do it, help us spread the word about ITN.