Sunday musings: Photo hot spots, airport security waste, funding airport growth


We start with an amazing series of photos that show the most photographed spots in tourism hotspots and not-so-hot spots. Next, we link to a story that questions security spending at airports and finish with a story about airport improvements that are currently be funded with a fee that the airports are working to almost double.

Interactive heat map shows off the most photographed sightseeing spots

Looking for bright spots, where more photos are taken, on these maps may help travelers plan their trip. Some travelers might make sure to visit every bright spot. Others may want to avoid them. However, the power of this map is amazing, especially for discovering little-known beautiful spots between here and there.

Wish Google Maps’ photographs of the world’s most stunning places were better composed than what you see on Street View? Sightsmap lets you take virtual trips of the parts of the world that people love to photograph.

As an infographic, Sightsmap is far from a perfect representation of the most photographed places on Earth. Created by Estonian computer scientist Tanel Tammet, Sightsmap uses data and photographs from Panoramio, and so it’s obviously biased toward the demographic of people who use Panoramio. But it does give you a sense of where people go when they want to photograph something famous or culturally interesting or visually spectacular. And the map is a work in progress, changing and shifting with each new upload.

You can click on the map to see the photographs themselves. Take a virtual tour of the world, or plan your next sightseeing vacation.

Enhanced airport security may waste money, study says

Combining this story with recent stories questioning the value of the Federal Air Marshal Program raises clear questions about our current airport security system that is built on the basis of the more money you spend, the more secure you are. Or, perhaps, the more money politicians appropriate for security, the more concerned they are for your security.

It always isn’t so. Spending money on our knee-jerk creation of airport and flight security back in the days following 9/11 was important then, but today, with far better technology and a far more focused intelligence system, continuing with the old ways may be wasteful. “It may be time to reduce security…”

Using cost-analysis computations, the study concluded that the cost of such measures would not be justified, considering they would not completely eliminate the threat.

“Moreover, if the analysis suggests that enhancement of airport security is highly questionable, it may well be time to consider if many of the security arrangements already in place to protect airports are excessive,” the report said.

Airline industry pours millions into new terminals

This story, more than likely encouraged by the PR arm of Airport Councils International, one of the associations that fight for increased airport funding, presents the reality of airport spending today. This should be looked at as a part of the effort by airports to increase the passenger facility charge (PFC) that is added to airline tickets for every airport where a passenger touches down. The new budget suggests that this fee should be almost doubled from $4.50 per passenger to $8.

Their argument is that the fee has been static since the year 2000. However, the airport PRCs under current law applies to every passenger. Since it’s current rate setting, passenger numbers have gone up (meaning more funding. Plus, aircraft operations have barely budged and inflation has not been a problem when it comes to borrowing.

When the country is in economic turmoil, it makes no sense to tax travelers more only for bigger and more extravagant airports when the current funding and the municipalities’ ability to raise funding through bonds provides a better and more controlled path to airport growth.

Now, airlines and airports are spending hundreds of millions of dollars building and revamping airport terminals across the U.S., from putting in work stations and lounge-like seating to adding Wi-Fi to transforming the building’s exteriors into architectural standouts.

“The terminal is key,” says Deborah McElroy, executive vice president of Airports Council International-North America, which represents governing bodies that own and run commercial airports throughout the U.S. and Canada. “That’s where the passenger spends the vast majority of their time at the airport, and that’s where there are several opportunities to make a great impression or for the traveler to have difficulty.”

But, when asked whether they would like to have, in some cases, $14 or more added to the cost of a round-trip airline ticket or bigger windows, more shops and new artwork in airports, I’ll bet almost every traveler would choose keeping money in their pockets.

  • Lisa Simeone

    Mueller and Stewart (and Bruce Schneier) have done some of the best research out there on the fraud and waste of so-called security. But their reports have been out for years and still nothing changes. Their book, “Terror, Security, and Money,” was published in 2011.

    Most Americans — and their politicians — aren’t interested in facts. They’re interested in feelings. Like children, they only want to “feel” safe. They don’t care that all the bells and whistles of the TSA are merely an illusion. They like their illusions.

    That’s why they’re willing — even eager — to be abused to get on a plane. Because they think that the more they’re bullied, robbed, and assaulted, the safer they are. Frankly, they deserve what they get.

  • Susan Richart

    As you know, Lisa, John Mueller has been speaking out against the waste of all the resources being poured into keeping the evil terrorist from our door step since at least 2005.

  • Jim Jones

    The lies from Charlie Leocha never do seem to stop. For example:

    “inflation has not been a problem.”

    The CPI increased by 38.5% between 2000 and 2014, Charlie. That alone would justify a PFC increase to about $6.25.

  • Charles Leocha

    Didn’t mean to mislead you. I added “… when it comes to borrowing.” The airports’ main way to move forward on development is via bond issues. And, there the costs are dramatically lower.