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Luxury Travel Grows On Sina Weibo

When the Chinese travel abroad, what do they want? Traditionally, they’ve been more focused on luxury products than luxury hotels. But as more Chinese develop a taste for high thread counts, that trend is changing—quickly. One important sign of this change: Ritz-Carlton has just launched on the Twitter-like Chinese-language social media site Sina Weibo, joining other luxury hoteliers like Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons (as well as luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and Burberry).

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Bollywood Backlash: Air India’s TV Screen Calls Passenger an Idiot

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You might not be fazed anymore by grouchy airline workers, or a surly passenger in the seat next to you. But when your in-flight system starts giving you attitude, that’s a whole new level of insult.

According to an article in the Times of India, Air India is investigating an incident on a flight from London to Mumbai in which a passenger was having some difficulties getting a movie started at her seat. According to her side of the story, she finally received a rather brazen error message: "This selection is not currently available. Please try again later," and, below that, "Lie low...Sit down you idiot!"

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Tech Thursday: Facebook's New Shared Albums

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This week, Facebook unveiled shared photo albums—a small change perhaps, but with big benefits for travelers. As many as 50 contributors will be able to add up to 200 photos each (that's a lot of photos—much more than the old limit of 1,000 pics—if anyone is counting). The albums can still be kept private, or limited just to invited friends; aside from the album's owner, pics can be edited only by the person who uploads them. All that to say: there will no longer be a need to pore through your friends' profiles just to find the one great shot from your last group vacation. Thank goodness.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Tech Thursday: A New Way to Score Free Hotel Wi-Fi

Thanks to an interesting new partnership between Hilton HHonors and AT&T, members of the phone carrier—or those with Gold and Diamond HHonors status—can now enjoy free Wi-Fi at more than 3,000 Hilton hotels worldwide as part of the joint StayConnected program. It’s a first for the hotel industry, where free Wi-Fi is shamefully difficult to come across—and we can’t help wonder if other such collaborations are soon to follow. Verizon and Starwood: we’re looking at you!

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Tech Thursday: Google Takes on Siri

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In a move that many might see as either Orwellian or plain-old useful, Google has just launched a new feature that lets you canvass all your personal information—appointments, bookings, photos—simply by asking spoken questions. It’s a bit like Siri, but smarter: ask Google to show you all the pictures you took in London, and those will pop right up. Ask whether your flight is delayed, and it will cross check your confirmation email with the airline’s most current information. Want to figure out how to get to your hotel? It won’t just show you the booking record—it’ll find the address and pop it into your Google Maps. Naturally, it works best if you use all of Google’s organizational tools, from Gmail to Google Calendar. But those on Apple devices reap the same benefits as long as they’re signed into their Google accounts. Importantly, all the information is kept private and secure, and the feature can be disabled for those who find it creepy. But why would you? This is smart technology at its best.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo by istockphoto

"Hyperloop" Revealed: Creator Elon Musk Shares Details of His Ultra High-Speed Transportation

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The much-awaited news is in: Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has unveiled details about his supersonic “Hyperloop,” which promises to transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in thirty minutes flat.
 
For weeks, speculators have tried to crack the code on how Musk’s ultra-high speed network could work, and skeptics have been quick to point out that travelling at roughly 800 miles per hour would nothing short of stomach-churning, if it’s even safe at all. At long last, the answers have arrived:

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Tech Thursday: The Future of Hotel Check-In

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How many people does it take to run a hotel’s front desk? Soon enough, the answer will be zero. Just last month, Marriott Hotels debuted a new app that lets guests check in from their smart phone starting at 4PM the day before their arrival. As it stands, these guests still need the help of a front desk clerk—if only to pick up their room key.

But Marriott isn’t alone. InterContinental Hotels Group (which owns the flagship InterContinental brand as well as Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn) has recently debuted a similar technology, letting guests at select properties check in via a mobile app. With theirs, a machine in the lobby can dispense your room key upon arrival, so long as you can supply some basic identifying information. (Can you hear the collective weeping of receptionists around the globe?) We’re also hearing rumblings that some clever hoteliers are attempting to take mobile check-in to a whole new level—perhaps even eliminating the need for a room key overall.

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Tech Thursday: Hipmunk Gets a Last-Minute Upgrade

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We’ve long loved Hipmunk for its brilliant intelligent search capabilities, which help you find the least agonizing flights or the hotels that are best suited to your individual needs. Today, the app launches an update that once again changes the game: this time, it takes on the last-minute hotel booking sphere that has become quite the competitive space as of late.

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Live and On Demand TV Now Free on Southwest

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In this day and age, it’s pretty rare to hear about new services on flights—unless they come with a side of sticker shock. Southwest is an exception to the rule, as they’ve always maintained an anti-fee ethos, but we’re still impressed by their latest announcement: as of this week, the airline’s customers will enjoy free On Demand and live TV—all streamed to their mobile devices—via DISH Network on every WiFi-equipped Southwest flight. The lineup features most major networks (along with dedicated sports channels) as well as 75 on demand titles. The catch? It’s only free for a limited time. According to a spokesperson, the promotion will likely run through the end of the year; even then, all signs point to a reasonable $5 price tag for in-flight streaming once the deal expires. 

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Digital Detox: Summer Camp For Adults

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Color wars. Village communities demarked by wildlife flags. A reveille bugle to wake us every morning. The 325 of us, ranging in ages from 19 to 67, were warned. We were prepped. But it was only when we stepped deep into the cover of 80 acres of cool redwoods in Anderson Valley (three hours north of San Francisco), into a 1970’s boy scout camp straight out of Wes Anderson’s wildest dream that we realized, finally, where we were.
 
Camp.
 
And not just any camp. A camp for adults. Without electronic devices, computers, phones, lights, heat, or watches. We were not to speak about the “W” word (that would be work), what we did for a job (hereto forth to be called “fun” or “play”), and that revealing our names or ages would result in severe punishment (pulling out one another’s hair, strand by strand for each offense). We were asked to hand over our bags of iPads, Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries, digital cameras and a jumble of cords. Mine alone weighed 15 pounds and was giving me a lopsided walk; just one of the many reasons I had signed up for this experience. The offending devices went into a paper sack and were unceremoniously locked away as the campers (again, mostly me) whimpered softly.

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