Stats on crimes on cruise ships. Venice visitor limits. Airbnb Trips.


Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 491st issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

Those of you who regularly visit our website will have noticed that we recently took care of some technical problems that were occurring. Thank you for your patience while we got things straightened out.

All subscribers to the printed version of the magazine also have full access to the hundreds of articles from past issues that are posted — in color — on our website as well as a PDF of each month’s issue in full, with links to the travel firms and websites mentioned in them. You need only to log in. 

(To log in the first time, you’ll need to create an account using the subscriber number on the label on your magazine. First click on “Login or Sign Up” [at top left]. At the top of the User Account page, click on “Create new account,” then fill out the form and click the green button.)

When planning a trip, subscribers visiting the homepage can use the Search bar to find past articles on specific destinations, tour companies and other subjects. Because of the way articles are “weighted,” the newest articles may not always come out at the top of the list, so be sure to scroll down to find what you want.

I’m excited to announce that we’re drastically lowering the price of an online-only subscription. (No print copies will be mailed.) The price for a year’s subscription (12 issues) now will be only $15! And that includes access to all previous issues posted on the site. This will be good news for our overseas readers, especially, as postage on international surface mail is high.

Online-only subscribers each will be sent an email letting them know when the latest issue has been posted, which generally will be around the 21st of the month, by which time the printed magazine should have reached everyone in the US. (Delivery varies, as ITN’s deadline is the first Monday of each month, with mailing done from the printer’s a week or so later.)

We’re still working the kinks out of our revamped website, and we’re open to further suggestions. If it’s not user-friendly enough, let us know.

To get an issue mailed to you each month (for $24 per year), see page 9 to subscribe.

For people who follow headlines about incidents on cruise ships, the following news has been a long time coming.

In early 2016, a change was made to the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act, and now the US Department of Transportation (DOT) will publicly release statistics on the number and types of crimes reported on most cruise ships that operate in US ports. 

The cruise companies covered by the act are Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.

The Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act, ratified in 2010, already required those cruise lines to inform the FBI about every crime reported on their ships, but, until this year, anyone in the public had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain statistics generated from those reports.

The publicly available information, going back to 2010, can now be viewed online, in PDF form, at www.transportation.gov/mission/safety/cruise-line-incident-reports. The data is presented as annual statistics up until 2015, at which point it is broken into 3-month segments.

After clicking on a report for a specific period and opening the PDF, you will see a chart listing cruise lines and showing the number of crimes that had taken place in the following categories: Homicide, Death (suspicious), Missing US National, Kidnapping, Assault with serious bodily injury, Firing or tampering with vessel, Theft of greater than $10,000 and Sexual assault. 

The names of the ships where the crimes occurred are not given, nor are the results of any investigations included in the reports. 

Just to give you an idea of the information you might find, I can tell you that in the most recent report, out of 23 crimes reported from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2016, 15 of them took place aboard Carnival Cruise Lines ships. Only one suspicious death was reported in that time period, and that was aboard a ship owned by Royal Caribbean International.

Also new in 2016 — victims of crimes aboard ships are now able to request direct contact with an FBI agent while still on board. This should facilitate the investigative process. 

In Italy, the number of tourists pouring into the city of Venice has become such an issue with residents that city officials are considering instituting a limit on the number of nonresidents that can visit each year.

The number of tourists visiting Venice each day, an average of more than 60,000, is greater than the city’s actual population of 55,000. Not only does this create crowded conditions for residents, it severely taxes the city’s services. With so many people traipsing around, the aging structures of the city could even suffer damage.

There is also a great deal of concern locally regarding large cruise ships entering the Venice Lagoon. Venetians have blamed the hastening of the deterioration of buildings along the major canals on the large waves created by ships and the pollution from their engines. For a short time (Dec. 1, 2014, to Jan. 11, 2015), cruise ships were banned from entering the lagoon at all.

UNESCO has weighed in on the subject, saying that Venice will be included on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites if the city does not permanently prevent large cruise ships from entering the lagoon beginning sometime in 2017.

Two antitourism protests occurred recently in the city. On Sept. 22, hundreds of Venetians pushed shopping carts and wheeled chairs down the city’s walkways in order to disrupt tourism activities, and on Sept. 25, Venetians blocked cruise ships from entering the lagoon by creating a human chain of people floating in inner tubes and other inflatable rafts (Nov. ’16, pg. 19).

Preservation is of special concern in Venice, which already is under threat from two natural causes: the sinking of the city and rising sea levels.

While Venice sinks only about 2 millimeters a year, the rising sea levels are a more pressing matter. High tides that reach above the level of St. Mark’s Square, once relatively uncommon, are occurring with alarming regularity. Known as acqua alta (high water), these tides now happen more than 60 times a year, prompting visitors and residents alike to walk though ankle-deep water and forcing businesses and homes to be evacuated.

As of press time, there was no word on what the restricted number of allowed visitors might be or how it would be enforced if imposed. 

We’re printing in this issue the rest of the subscribers’ letters that we received on the subject “What You Should Know About Airbnb.” 

On Nov. 18, Airbnb announced that they had expanded their services to include the ability to book, through their website (airbnb.com), day tours led by locals. 

As Airbnb describes them, the “Airbnb Trips” are led by locals who have been vetted by the company, insuring that the guides have the expertise and knowledge to lead the experiences they are selling. 

At launch, there were 500 experiences available around the world, with many lasting two to three days. One example is an Apartheid tour that includes a visit to the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was kept in South Africa, and it’s led by a man who was a warden at that prison at the time of Mandela’s incarceration. 

But there is a wide variety of experiences offered, including activities like surfing, learning to DJ and assisting community groups doing work to better the cities where the Airbnb guests are staying.

Airbnb Trips is the first in what is reportedly a number of new services that Airbnb is planning to add to its site. Others will include getting restaurant reservations, renting vehicles, booking flights and even having groceries delivered to Airbnb rental properties.

As for What You Should Know About Airbnb, there is one other thing: the rental of every Airbnb property outside of the US incurs a 3% foreign-transaction fee (FTF).

There is no getting around this fee, nor can you have your credit card company dispute it, even if you paid for your rental with a credit card that charges no FTF. That’s because the fee is charged not by a bank or a credit card company but by Airbnb, itself. It is a part of the bill for the property or apartment rental (or for any of the other new services mentioned above). 

There is no warning about this charge beforehand, and it might easily be overlooked.

CORRECTION to note — In the August 2016 “What’s Cooking In...” column, Sandra Scott wrote that the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua “can be accessed by ferry from the city of Rivas.”

Stanley Mui of Woodland Hills, California, wrote, “Rivas is not a port city. La Isla de Ometepe is accessed by ferry from the nearby city of San Jorge. Just fyi...”

Rivas is about 3 miles inland from San Jorge.

As printed in last month’s “The Discerning Traveler” column, Diane Robbins of Penfield, New York, has the following information request for ITN subscribers: “I would like to hear of the experiences of other travelers who, after having purchased travel insurance, had to cut short their vacations because of medical issues. 

“Did each receive assistance, whether by telephone or in person, from a representative of the insurance company or from the cruise line or tour company? Also, from whom did they purchase their insurance?”

If you have a recent experience to share, email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Insurance Company Follow-through, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.) Responses may be printed in the magazine.

This is our January issue, which means it’s time to find out all of the places our subscribers traveled to last year. 

If you are an ITN subscriber, write up a list of all of the nations you visited outside of your own country anytime in 2016 and email it to editor@intltravelnews.com or address it to Where Were You in 2016?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Please include the mailing address at which you receive ITN.

(Remember, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau all are officially part of China and would not count as visits to separate nations.)

We use the statistics gathered to woo potential advertisers to ITN, and that will help keep this magazine coming to you each month. It’s also helpful for our editorial staff to know where our subscribers are traveling. 

Of course, the best part is we put everyone’s emails, postcards and letters into a bin and hold random drawings for a number of prizes. 

The deadline for entry is March 31, 2017, and I’ll announce the results — and the winners — in the June 2017 issue.

It just gets better.

Albert Kandarian, Jr., of Cumberland, Rhode Island, had an idea for a new ITN Travel Award, and we’re introducing it this month: The O Canada Award. 

If you have traveled to all of the provinces and territories in Canada, you qualify for this award, which is presented as a personalized certificate. See page 59 for more details plus what it costs and how to apply. 

Anyone receiving the award will have his or her name printed in the next-printed issue of ITN. Take a look at the Travel Awards Challenge  page this month. The name that appears most often is Melvin J. Bradley, Major, USAF (Ret), of Salisbury, Maryland, who qualified for 12 different awards, including the difficult-to-earn “All of Africa” certificate!

Melvin included this letter with his applications: “A pilot in the USAF for 23 years, I was awarded a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for combat action in Korea and graduated with honors from the University of Maryland in 1942. I have flown faster than the speed of sound many times, have been to 52,000 feet in an F-86 jet fighter and to 44,000 feet in a P-51 Mustang.

“I am 95 years old. I have been to all 50 states and all of the US national parks. I have been around the world three times, going west to east once and east to west twice, both by air and sea. I cruised up the Nile to Cairo and went hang gliding from a 1,700-foot mountain cliff in Rio.

“I have been to the Sahara Desert in Africa, the Atacama Desert in Chile and, in the US, Death Valley, where I had a flat tire.

“I intend to see all the 197 countries listed in the 2015 National Geographic Atlas.”

More power to you, Major! And we’ve got more awards.

Not everyone is in as good a shape as Major Bradley when they reach their 90s, so we understand when, for any of various reasons, a senior ITN subscriber who loves traveling finds that he or she has to cut back. What’s pleasantly surprising and especially heartwarming is when someone then sends us a note with praise for the magazine and explaining why they’re canceling their subscription. 

A few months ago, one of our subscribers, Nell, wrote, “My husband, Ralph, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading ITN. Due to Ralph’s health issues, we are no longer able to travel. We have been many places we never thought we’d get to, so we have wonderful memories.

“We have benefited from the wonderful stories and tips from your magazine but have to cancel our subscription.”

For someone to take the time to write a fond “farewell” to us, people they’ve never met, tells us just how much they think of the ITN staff — and all of our subscribers who write in — as family.

Since we’re invited into your homes each month, it does end up being that way.

When our subscribers send in their trip reports, recommendations and warnings, they’re certainly doing it to help other travelers. It’s just nice to hear, in such a thoughtful way, that all our efforts are appreciated.

Enjoy this issue. Many people are reading it with you.