The travel tweeters you should be following
SF Gate, home of the San Francisco Chronicle
June 28, 2009
By Spud Hilton
It may be hard to believe, but social-networking site Twitter actually has some socially redeeming qualities for travelers.
But only when you remove the "social" part.
Even the most backward cave-dwelling technophobe can, with a few simple steps, transform this tool invented to generate self-involved blather into an instant travel news service, a bottomless resource for savvy travel advice and a mobile coupon book with deals from hotels, tour operators and airlines (some available on Twitter first - and in some cases, only to Twitter users). Even better, it's free.
In short, Twitter is a network of some 30 million users who can choose from which people they want to get messages or "tweets." The system primarily is a tool "for friends, family and co-workers to communicate and stay connected," according to the company Web site. That means at least 29 million of those users are posting messages (limited to 140 characters or fewer) that answer the set question "What are you doing?" - and the typical deep epiphany ranges from "The kitten just did the cutest thing with a golf ball" to "I got so wasted last night; anyone find my pants?"
The upside is that a few thousand travel experts, airlines, hotels, bloggers, cruise lines and tour providers - as well as other travelers - are posting on Twitter as well. While there are still a few comments about cats and missing pants, the typical tweets from this group fall into three categories:
News: Swine flu. Airfare trends. Unrest in Iran. Missing Air France jet. Passport rule changes. All are topics that showed up on Twitter in a timely manner, in some cases before they aired on cable news. Follow the right people and you have an efficient, free wire service on your iPhone or BlackBerry. Recent example from American Airlines: "Major storms at #DFW today causing delays/cancellations - working to get folks underway ASAP and will update here."
Advice: Experts of varying levels (journalists, bloggers, hard-core travelers, amateurs overestimating their skills) ply Twitter with simple nuggets of advice or, more often, links to consumer stories and blog posts about finding the cheapest airfare, learning how to pack light and handy tips for quietly drugging that screaming kid behind you on a 14-hour flight.
Deals: MGM Grand, Vegas.com, Virgin America, Hotwire and Budget Travel (to name a tiny few) all tweet when there are special fares and room rates to be had. United Airlines invented "twares" (a mutant child of "Twitter" and "fares"), which are "special, time-sensitive fare offers from United for its Twitter followers," according to the company. One recent "tware" (albeit short-lived) offered Australia from the West Coast starting at $444 round trip, and another series of tweets offered bonus miles for the first 10,000 followers who registered with the company site. (Note: It's impossible to gauge the value of every offer out there - and there are trillions - even by some of the people tweeting them. As always, buyer beware.)
While the deals and offers are, well, a big deal, companies such as Virgin America, whose account @VirginAmerica has more than 18,400 followers, are careful to avoid becoming an endless advertisement. "We could talk about our deals all day long," said Bowen Payson, online marketing manager for the company, "but we'd lose our audience quick."
In a new twist on customer service, a Twitter user on a Virgin America flight fired off an irate message that he didn't get his meal. Workers at company headquarters saw the note and called the cockpit to have attendants on board fix the problem.
What follows are a few tips for making your account travel-ready. (For basic advice for beginning users, type "twitter tutorial" into Google.)
It's not all about you. Unless you have something terribly useful or profound to share - the toddler's bathroom habits don't count, no matter how proud you are - don't feel you have to post messages and don't worry about how many followers you have.
Think of tweets as newspaper headlines. The 140 characters are enough for little more than highlights and a link to a larger story somewhere else, usually a blog or Web site. It's easy to skim and follow the links when something catches your eye.
Steal, steal, steal. Find people whom you want to hear from, go to their profile and click on "following," which displays a list of everyone that they follow. Mining followers from people you trust is the fastest way to ensure a useful, relevant feed of tweets.
Be selective. Not everyone is worth following 24/7. Most tweets by American Airlines (@AAirwaves), for instance, are answers to questions and internal company posts ("AA shareholder meeting is over ... now on to the press conference."), which is of little use to someone looking for helpful consumer tips and deals. If you're flying American, follow them then stop following later. Before you follow someone, check their recent messages. If it's not useful or interesting, move on. Start off by following as many folks as you like, but cull once a week - there's a very real danger of information overload and crippling frustration if too many tweets fill your screen.
Follow these travel pros
Here are a few of the many travel-related Twitterers worth following, in no particular order:
@elliottdotorg: Christopher Elliott (whose Travel Troubleshooter column appears in this section) is a frequent tweeter of problem-solving wisdom.
@BudTravel: Updates, tips and deal links from Budget Travel magazine.
@Vegas: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority posts updates on everything from poker tournaments to rock concerts to links to photos of the new Barbie Suite at the Palms. Also handy: @vegascom, the handle for Vegas.com.
@Jaunted: Self proclaimed "pop culture travel guide."
@laurably: Travel writer Laura Bly of USA Today covers the gamut of tips, deals, news, personal updates in faraway places, as well as the occasional chuckle.
@wherescool: Every few days a tweet will pop up that is just the name of a place the author thinks is cool, with an admitted leaning toward "cheap, underground and seriously authentic."
@worldhum: Site dedicated to great travel writing (WorldHum.com) tweets links to the best stuff, as well as answers to travel questions from other twitterers.
@151TravelTips: Tweets lead to a blog with "advice for mature travelers, featuring tips on safety, health, packing and more."
@NatGeoSociety: Main attraction is links to "Photo of the Day" from the folks who defined travel photography (for better or for worse).
@Gadling: Links to the Gadling site, one of the best sources out there for travel news and advice, from the "top 5 myths about getting upgraded" to a series titled "10 passengers we love to hate."
@PeterSGreenberg: Popular travel expert of TV and radio. It's unclear if the man ever sleeps.
@TravelEditor: Updates and tips from the editors of IndependentTraveler.com.
@cnnbrk: Breaking news from CNN. Not strictly travel related, but is a must for news junkies.
@Hawaii_Insider: Jeanne Cooper writes the Hawaii Insider blog on SFGate.
@travelportland: Portland's tourism arm answers all questions about the city (put #inpdx in the message).
Cruise fans should consider following: @Cruise Mates, @CruiseCritic, @TheCruiseGuy, @Cruise Industry, @CruiseLog.
Last, there are a few veteran travelers out there who provide snippets of scenes from their current trip, a form of armchair travel that offers mini vicarious thrills: @LarryHabegger (editor in chief at Triporati.com; his columns appear in this section) and @NGSTravelEditor (Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine).
Spud Hilton is deputy editor for Travel and can be followed on Twitter: @SpudHilton. To comment or to recommend more travel Twitterers, go to SFGate.com/travel and post at the bottom of the story.
This article appeared on page M - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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