By Pete Meyers—
Today we continue our “4 Cheapo Questions” interview series by catching up with Darren Cronian, founder and editor of the Leeds-based website Travel Rants.
We first came across Darren’s site several years ago when Travel Rants received the “Best Consumer Website” award from Travolution, a trade magazine and website that covers the movers and shakers in online travel.
Since then, we’ve been avid readers of Travel Rants and appreciate the direct, uncompromising manner it approaches the challenges facing consumer travel. A sampling of recent headlines include “Should alcohol be banned on airports and flights?,” “Thinking about long term travel,” and one of our faves, “Hotel star ratings are useless to consumers.”
But enough with the intro, let’s meet Travel Rants.
1. Tell us about yourself. What led to the creation of Travel Rants? Did you have a particular experience that triggered your blog’s creation?
Hello from England! I’m the man behind Travel Rants, a blog I started writing in April 2005, after poor customer service at a High Street travel agency. I needed a place to rant about my issues with travel, and I had read a few weeks earlier about this thing called a blog that you could create and publish your own content.
Over the following months the blog became a popular place for travel consumer discussions, and led me to be interviewed on TV, newspapers and radio about the types of issues consumers have with travel.
2. What are some of the most popular rants you’ve written to date? Are there any recurring topics that tend to pop up more frequently than others?
People love when I write controversial posts–usually it’s a topic that people want to write about but because they are so close to the subject, it’s just something they cannot publish.
I wrote a post about banning travel agency familiarization trips, which was picked up by the media and while most people disagreed, it was a fascinating discussion, and the first time I’ve seen tour operators and travel agencies join in a discussion online.
Another post was about how the travel associations have their annual conferences abroad, in sunny destinations, and that it wasn’t good for the environment. I had travel industry people emailing me and agreeing with what I wrote, but didn’t want to comment publically!
One of the most recurring rants that I receive from consumers are usually about airline extra charges, single person supplements, and companies who profiteer from situations like the volcano ash cloud incidents earlier this year.
Behind the scenes, the Ask Mr. Rants feature I run generates 30-50 emails a week from consumers who have questions about travel. Anything from best places to book holidays to how to complain about a holiday company. People just assume I sit here thinking about what I can rant about the travel industry next, but a lot goes on in the background that people are not aware of. Only this week I opened up communication between a cruise line and a consumer who had a complaint and could not get a response from them direct.
3. If you could change one particular thing about the travel industry, what would it be?
I think the industry needs to collaborate more on dealing with industry issues. I know associations like ABTA lobby the government, but I do wonder if some of the issues like Air Passenger Duty (APD) would be better fought as a group. I don’t just mean travel agencies and tour operators, but everyone including the travel media and blogs like Travel Rants.
At the end of the day we all have consumers’ interests at heart, and the increase in air passenger duty in November 2010 will only make flying more expensive for people travelling out of the UK.
How often do you travel? What planning tips do you use to minimize costs?
It differs every year, I usually prefer short breaks rather than one big two-week holiday. I want to see as much of the world as possible, so usually two to four trips a year. This year I went to New York and the Hague – a trip to Paris was planned, but due to the volcano ash cloud that had to be cancelled.
I am the type of consumer that does not like paying huge amounts of money for a hotel. At the end of the day, I spend very little time in a hotel room, and want to be out exploring the destination. I usually travel off-peak, with budget airlines, and use comparison sites like Eurocheapo to find the best priced hotels. I am usually quite organized, so would do plenty of research beforehand.
I use Twitter, Facebook to ask for friends’ recommendations, which helps. I also try and find a hotel that isn’t in the center of the destination, but might be a 10-minute walk or bus ride away. I saved 40% when I stayed in Venice because I booked a hotel not on the main islands, but, it was only a 10-minute bus trip away. You pay for the location a lot of the time.
Bonus round: What is the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
Good question – over the years I have received a lot of travel advice, but I remember Jessica from WhyGo Italy telling me to get lost in Venice, and she was right. You find out so much about a destination if you just take a few hours to wander around without a map. I found restaurants and bars that were considerably cheaper, that the locals used, and despite Venice and Italy being a notoriously expensive destination, it turned out to be a great budget short break.
I cannot remember who told me this piece of advice, but I was warned about pickpockets in Prague, so I was very wary of people around me in groups – a traveller at my hotel, was robbed of his money, cards and passport.
Thanks for chatting with us, Darren. And best of luck with Travel Rants!