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The 15 Biggest Travel Stories of 2013

Dec 31, 2013 12:00 pm

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Bring it on, 2014.

— Samantha Shankman

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Larry Downing  / Reuters

A line of passengers wait to enter the security checkpoint before boarding their aircraft at Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 25, 2013. Larry Downing / Reuters


Big travel news kept us on our toes this year. The top stories of 2013 ranged from those that seemingly came out of nowhere, such as the Department of Justice’s intervention into the then-seemingly done deal US Airways and American Airlines merger, to the FAA in-flight electronics go-ahead, which sage observers debated for months before it happened. Some top stories were financial, others social, and most turned out to be immediately impactful in 2013, great topics of conversation, and their influence will be felt into 2014 and far beyond.

Here’s Skift’s perpective on the top 15 travel stories of 2013:

Travel “Disruption” Meets Regulations: Airbnb had to start dealing with the fact that hosts in its largest markets are often breaking the law, while e-hail taxi companies started to make nice with regulators in California and New York City.

The U.S. Senate Takes No Guff From Carnival: After its Triumph “poop cruise” debacle, Carnival found that the U.S. Senate wouldn’t be compliant as usual and confronted vociferous calls for a cruise passengers’ bill of rights and repayments for heretofore freebie U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy rescues of its ships. Passengers didn’t get all they needed, but Carnival caved in on these two issues.

BBC Sells Lonely Planet to Kentucky Billionaire: After mismanaging the travel brand for six years, BBC Worldwide cut its losses and sold it to an unexpected suitor. The new owners are focused on one thing only: Building the world’s biggest consumer travel information brand.

Trivago and Kayak Acquisitions: One of the biggest stories of 2013 was a double-whammy: Expedia Inc. took control of Germany’s Trivago in March for $564 million in cash, plus 875,200 shares, and Priceline closed on its $1.8 billion acquisition of Kayak in May. It all set the stage for the parents and their metasearch surrogates to do battle across the globe for years to come.

American Airlines Merger and Rebranding: Amid bankruptcy restructuring and rumors of a US Airways merger, American Airlines started 2013 with a new logo and livery design that was met with public dislike. American announced a merger with US Airways in February, but it was temporarily blocked by the U.S. Justice Department until AA and US Air conceded slots at major airports. The new American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is now allowing the merged staff to vote on keeping the new tail design.

FAA’s New Pilot Training Rules: It took about three years after the 2010 Colgan Air crash, but the FAA rolled out additional reforms geared toward better tracking of pilot training and setting the bar higher to getting a seat in the cockpit of a regional airline. The industry is facing a pilot shortage and a salary crisis at its lowest tiers, and 2014 should provide pointers to how it will all work out.

Travelocity Gives In: Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome will survive the blood-letting, as just about everything but the marketing unit will be gone as Travelocity hands over its North America operations to one-time rival Expedia. In the near future, when a traveler books a flight or hotel on Travelocity.com, Expedia’s cash registers will be clanking, although what’s left of Travelocity will share in the revenue. Meanwhile, Travelocity has been busy handing out pink slips to its employees.

SeaWorld Goes Public Before Documentary Blowback: Blackstone’s SeaWorld Entertainment, one of three major attraction IPOs in 2013, went public on April 19 and raised $702 million. Seaworld’s IPO came just months before it started receiving significant blowback from the TV debut of Blackfish, a documentary on the park’s whale-handling.

U.S. Government Shuts Down: A stubbornness by hard-line conservative politicians angered by the prospect of better health care for Americans shut down the U.S. government this fall, causing a ripple effect across aviation, the U.S. park service, and business travel. The effects were felt hardest in the U.S. west where businesses dependent on park visitors saw an already rough season come to a screeching halt.

Flyers Now Allowed to Use Electronic Devices During Takeoff and Landing: The U.S. aviation authority FAA finally decided that there’s no hazard in using small electronics during takeoff and landing prompting all major U.S. airlines to allow gate-to-gate device use. European airlines quickly followed suit, but U.S. regulators and airlines are already embroiled in the next in-flight battle: Phone calls.

TSA Finds More Guns Than Ever: After 2012′s record haul, absent-minded travelers with conceal-carry permits decided to up their game. Last year’s record was broken in October as careless gun owners were on track to attempt to bring over 1,800 guns (mostly loaded, too) through security checkpoints with X-rays and metal detectors. Brilliant.

Priceline Gets A New CEO: In November, Priceline shocked all but those most in the know by announcing that longtime CEO Jeffery Boyd would be giving up his title and office space when the ball drops in Times Square to Booking.com CEO Darren Huston. The duo sat on a couch together and psychoanalyzed the transition, but Huston will have to ensure he doesn’t make any Freudian or other slips as the Priceline Group tries to widen its lead over Expedia while maintaining cultural imperatives.

Pinterest Officially Becomes the Pinterest of Travel: Pinterest officially entered the travel market with the launch of its “place pins” that add a map, image, and relevant travel information to traditional pins. Pinterest was already one of the most used sites for travel inspiration with over 660 million pins in the travel category before the November launch. Pinterest’s latest $225 million fundraising round will help as it grows out its travel product.

New York City Hits Visitor Milestone in 2013: A record 54.3 million visitors arrived in New York City in 2014 and generated almost $59 billion in overall economic impact. The city’s tourism body NYC & Company focused heavily on outer borough travel in 2013, but its leadership is changing alongside Bloomberg’s departure. Tourism in NYC is expected to grow, especially due to a boost in Super Bowl visitors during the traditionally slow winter months.

Big Hotel IPOs: With all of that pent-up value, Blackstone unleashed two mammoth hotel IPOs in 2013. Hilton Worldwide raised $2.35 billion in the largest hotel industry IPO in history, and Extended Stay America led the way a month earlier, in November with its own $565 million foray. This should bankroll the two chains’ expansion for awhile, and Blackstone has La Quinta on tap to go public in 2014.

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