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Ritz-Carlton Launches Photo-Sharing Social Network for Guests

201407-hd-ritz-carlton-your-memoriesjpgLooks like Ritz-Carlton is already making a run for the 2015 SMITTY Awards. The brand just launched “Your Memories,” an image-based social network where guests can share their favorite vacation moments, and future travelers can preview the hotel experience.

The constantly updating, tiled photo stream showcases snapshots and video shared by guests on Twitter and Instagram with the #RCMemories hashtag. Users can also submit photos for display directly through the website.

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Airbnb Redesign Brings Hosts Center Stage

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In a live broadcast this morning, Airbnb cofounders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nate Blecharczyk announced a major site redesign for the San Francisco-based company. Over 13,000 Airbnb users tuned in from 78 countries to the invitation-only event, and T+L spoke to company Product Lead Justin Santamaria for a sneak peek at the new look.

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Q+A: Heidi Brown Discusses Flexible Airfares and Up-and-Coming Website, OptionsAway.com

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At Travel + Leisure, we love hearing about services that bring a refreshing level of ease and flexibility to booking travel. Enter OptionsAway.com. Started by Rob and Heidi Brown, a team of financial experts-turned-travel addicts, the site was born from their frustration over missing great travel opportunities because of fluxuating airfares. They used their knowledge in options pricing and applied it to air travel—and it's working. We sat down with co-founder Brown to find out more. 

Q: How is Options Away disrupting travel?
A: Options Away is offering an opportunity that has never been available to consumers before—the ability to lock-in airfares while they finalize their travel plans, and do so across multiple airlines. It is disruptive in the sense that we have actually begun to transform the way people plan and book travel. Travelers can hold prospective flights by paying a small fee and eliminating the need for immediate booking. With such a low cost and no commitment to purchase plane tickets, Options Away travelers can hold several flights at once.

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Social Media 101: How To Become A Travel Blogger

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For the third year, Travel + Leisure's Social Media in Travel and Tourism (SMITTY) awards is recognizng the brands and companies transforming the industry with their online innovations (think digital concierges and exclusive social giveaways).

To help you leverage the digital boom on your next trip and cash in on the latest social currency, we tapped four platform experts for their outreach strategies and insider tips.  

This week, Renee Blodgett, founder of We Blog The World, tells us how to bring travel writing into the 21st century and reach mobile, multi-tasking readers all over the globe.

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How to Rent Camera Lenses Before Your Next Trip

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A new travel tech discovery we are digging? Borrowlenses.com. The site, which is owned by Shutterfly, offers cameras, lenses, and a broad range of photography accessories for week-long rentals. The idea solves an age-old travelers’ dilemma without the typically-requisite financial commitment—if we had a nickel for every time a T+L editor has canvassed the office for pro-grade photo gear before heading off on a safari or transatlantic adventure, we’d be made.  Here, lenses that retail for well over a thousand bucks can be rented for as little as $20. For instance, a $1,395 Carl Zeiss wide angle lens (great for landscapes) runs $65 for a week, while a $6,749 Nikon 200-400mm f/4G lens (for sports and wildlife shots) costs $271 to rent. Travel packages bundle a few essentials and a tripod for $131, and most camera brands are supported. Time to sharpen those photo skills.

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

Photo courtesy of BorrowLenses

Why Google's Acquisition of Songza Is Great News for Travelers

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There’s been an overwhelming amount of news following the Google I/O conference last week, but one of the things we’re most excited about is the search giant’s big acquisition of music service Songza. Why? Unlike Pandora or Spotify, Songza ditches the algorithm-based method of suggesting tunes that riff on your existing preferences. Instead, it learns about your circumstantial preferences—where you are, what the weather is like, and so on—to offer up beats that fit for the time and place. And if that sounds interesting for travelers, you’d be right: Songza has a music conciergethat helps you explore the world through regional music. (Ireland? Italy? Brazil? They’re all there.)

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We Love Virgin America's New/Adorable/Gay-Friendly Website

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If you've booked a flight with Virgin America recently, you may have noticed the airline's fun new Where We Fly page, which uses artsy icons to symbolize each of its destinations.

Just in time for the city's Pride festival this weekend—the country's largest—San Francisco appears as the Golden Gate Bridge under a rainbow, with one of the city's famed sea lions dressed as the police officer from the Village People.

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OpenTable Acquired By Priceline for $2.6 Billion

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In a deal that closed on Friday, OpenTable was purchased by Priceline for a hefty $2.6 billion—46 percent more than its previous closing share price would have suggested—marking a sea change in the way that online travel companies are thinking about business. Gone are the days of providing services just for planning and booking; these days, the mightiest of OTAs are thinking about how they can also capitalize on travelers once they’re on the ground. See TripAdvisor, long known as the site you check for reviews before booking (or to pen your own upon return): it has also gotten into the restaurant reservations game with the recent acquisition of Lafourquette, a European site much like OpenTable. It all makes tons of sense. If you’re as selective about where you eat as you are about where you stay, you need to book your restaurants well before traveling. And for Priceline, that will come to the tune of 15 million total diners a month. As for what’s next? We’d put money on local excursion booking tools, which have fast gained traction in the digital travel booking space over the last year.  

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

Expedia Now Accepts Bitcoin

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Expedia will accept bitcoin for its online hotel bookings, the company announced yesterday.

Travelers choosing the new payment method will be redirected to Coinbase, a digital money exchange, where they will have ten minutes to complete the transaction. How many bitcoins does a hotel cost? At around $640 per bitcoin, a $200 hotel-stay will run 0.32 bitcoins. Coinbase also charges a miniscule "miner fee," worth roughly twelve cents.

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Best New Food Apps and Websites

Food Apps: Viator

Looking to book a Shanghai street-food tour or a Provençal cooking class? Let these new food apps and sites take care of the legwork.

Best For Tailored Recommendations: Peek

Like an OpenTable for guided activities and food crawls, Peek (free; iOS) provides direct booking service straight from the app or website. Its real strength lies in its carefully curated content—all outings are vetted by Peek staff or trusted tastemakers. Take a quick personality quiz for customized suggestions.

Why Foodies Love It: Unique offerings—a dinner cruise on the Thames in London; a coffee plantation visit in Maui—are the rule, not the exception.

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