An Evening with Travel Guru Arthur Frommer

Travel guru, Arthur Frommer, says that now is the best time to travel in 20 years, thanks to a combination of a strong dollar and desperate price-cutting forced by the recession.

Three years after oil hit an historic peak at $148/barrel, when $500 fuel surcharges abounded, and the demise of the travel industry was widely predicted, costs in some countries, like Mexico and Costa Rica are 50% lower than a year ago. Talk about price elasticity with a turbocharger!

Frommer believes there are three sea change trends going on today. Business is moving away from the big three travel websites, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline, who have more preferential side deals with airlines than can be counted, towards pure aggregator sites that almost always offer cheaper fares, like Kayak.com, Momondo.com, and farechase.yahoo.com.

There is a move away from traditional 48 person escorted bus tours towards small group adventures, like those offered by Gap Adventures, Intrepid Tours, and Adventure Center, that take parties of 12 or less on eye opening public transportation.

There has also been a huge surge in programs offered by universities that turn travelers into students for a week to study the liberal arts at Oxford, Cambridge, and UC Berkeley. His favorite was the Great Books programs offered by St. Johns University in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He says that the Internet has given a huge boost to international travel, but warns against user generated content, 70% of which is bogus and posted by the hotels and restaurants themselves.

The 79-year-old Frommer turned an army posting in Berlin in 1952 into a travel empire that publishes 340 books a year, or one out of every four travel books on the market. I met him on a swing through the San Francisco Bay Area (his ticket from New York was only $150), and he graciously signed my original 1968 copy of Europe on $5 a Day, which was crammed in my backpack for two years.

Which country has changed the most in his 60 years of travel writing? France, where the citizenry have become noticeably more civil since losing WWII. Bali is the only place where you can still travel for $5/day, although you can see Honduras for $10. Always looking for a deal, Arthur’s next trip is to Chile, the only country hes has never visited, because the currency there has crashed.

Europe on $5 a Day, cover

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