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'Titanic Awards' Salute Travel's Greatest Failures

Travel writer Doug Lansky sees a disconnect between the articles he reads about exotic destinations and the stories he and fellow writers trade over beers at the bar.

Glossy tales of lying on the beach drinking coconut milk make it into the magazines, he tells NPR's Liane Hansen, but privately, travel writers like to swap war stories: "juicy nuggets of when you were trapped on this island and the ferry stopped working, or [the] toilet from hell."

So Lansky decided to change that. In The Titanic Awards, he delivers a lighthearted shot across the bow of the travel industry, celebrating the biggest underachievers and funniest failures in travel.

Lansky compiled his "winners" by scouring news stories of lost luggage, GPS directions that led drivers astray and tacky hotel promotions. He also surveyed travelers' opinions to hand specific chains and airlines Titanic Awards.

Travelers voted Super 8 the "Worst North American Budget Hotel Chain," an honor it won by "a pretty good margin."

"Ugliest Hotel" went to the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea, the biggest eyesore Lansky has ever seen. In fact, he says, "It's so ugly they've actually airbrushed it out of a number of postcards of the city." Construction on the hotel began in 1987 and stopped five years later when money ran out. This year marks its 18th no-grand opening.

Through his research, Lansky learned of some common gripes that hoteliers should heed if they're interested in improving customer satisfaction. "Like hotels that will charge you $5 to bring a fax to your room, or charge you $20 or $30 for a breakfast that you have to pay for, because there's nothing else in the vicinity." Charges like that may earn a hotel its very own Titanic Award.

So what can travelers do about bumps along the road? Lansky offers simple advice: "Roll with it."

If you can, he says, you may just wind up happening upon your most memorable experiences. For example, he says, "when a bus breaks down in a small town and it forces you to spend the night there, that's where it's easy to meet the locals."

And "at the very, very least, if you've had to have suffered through this thing, you'll at least get a good bar story out of it."

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