Travel Notes: Many expected to boost vacation spending

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Despite a still uncertain economy in the U.S. and abroad, many travelers worldwide are planning to spend more on their vacations this year than last year, with Chinese vacationers expected to be the biggest spenders of all.

Of the 5,000 travelers surveyed around the world, 70 percent said they plan to spend the same or more on vacation travel in 2012 than last year, according to a report commissioned by Wyndham Hotel Group, the world's largest hotel company.

In countries with burgeoning economies, more travelers are planning to surpass last year's travel budget.

In China, for example, 58 percent of travelers surveyed said they planned to spend more this year.

When they hit the road, travelers from around the world have different spending priorities.

The survey found that U.S. and Chinese travelers plan to use the extra money they spend this year to take longer vacations. Travelers from Britain said dining was a top priority for their vacation, while Brazilian vacationers put shopping at the top of their lists.

And it seems theme parks are a universal pleasure: The survey found that 43 percent of all travelers said the vacation they aspire to take includes a visit to a theme park.

British Airways ID checks

A British Airways effort to improve customer service by letting airline employees look up passenger photos and other information on the Web is ruffling feathers among privacy advocates.

Over the past year, British Airways equipped airline employees with Apple Inc. iPad tablets to search data on passengers such as previous travel arrangements, food preferences and even Google images. The airline says the Know Me program was directed primarily to better serve VIP passengers.

The online images, for example, were used to help crew members recognize passengers as they board the planes, making the service more personal, according to British Airways officials.

"We're essentially trying to re-create the feeling of recognition you get in a favorite restaurant when you're welcomed there, but in our case it will be delivered by thousands of staff to millions of customers," Joe Boswell, a British Airways spokesman, told a London newspaper.

Privacy advocates weren't buying it.

"Since when has buying a flight ticket meant giving your airline permission to start hunting for information about you on the Internet?" asked Nick Pickles, director of the London privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch.

Orbitz defends booking practice

Mac users who search for hotels on the Orbitz online booking service are initially directed to more expensive hotels than PC users, Orbitz recently acknowledged.

Orbitz defended the practice, saying the travel search engine is simply showing users what it thinks they prefer.

Orbitz chief executive Barney Harford said data collected by Orbitz shows that Mac users were 40 percent more likely than PC users to book four- or five-star hotels.

"That is just one of many factors that determine which hotels to recommend a given customer as part of our effort to show customers the most relevant hotels possible," Mr. Harford said in an email.

His comments came in response to a Wall Street Journal report that Orbitz produces different hotel search lists based on the type of computer used to log in.

Orbitz -- among other travel websites -- collects and studies millions of bits of information about people who book travel through the website. Last year alone, Orbitz processed about 750 terabytes of information about its users. A terabyte of information, if printed out, would require the amount of paper produced by about 50,000 trees.

The top few hotels shown on a search engine website are crucial because, according to Orbitz, half its customers books one of the top five hotels shown on the screen and 25 percent book the top property displayed.

The Wall Street Journal article generated hundreds of comments from readers, some of whom said they understood the Orbitz strategy and many of whom promised to never again use Orbitz.

"It is beyond unacceptable that a company would try to decide for me what I would want to see or where I would want to stay based solely on the type of computer I'm browsing from," a reader posted on the newspaper website.

Delta expands Wi-Fi

Delta Air Lines is expanding its onboard Wi-Fi service to its long-haul international planes.

Beginning next year, Delta plans to install wireless Internet on more than 150 aircraft used for international flights. Delta, the world's largest airline, already installed Wi-Fi on its fleet of about 500 domestic mainline planes.

When the long-haul planes are fitted with the technology by 2015, Delta will have about 1,000 planes equipped with Wi-Fi, or nearly every aircraft in the fleet with the exception of some small regional planes used for short flights.

"We have shown a consistent and steady growth in use of Wi-Fi by customers, particularly on long-haul flights," Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec said.

The expansion is part of a $3-billion investment Delta launched in 2010 to include, among other improvements, new first- and economy-class seats on many planes and upgrades to airport lounges and terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports in New York.

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