Friday, August 26, 2011

Natural Disaster? Call a Travel Agent!

By James Shillinglaw
August 25, 2011 11:45 PM
What a week it’s been. First there was the earthquake here on the East Coast, and now we’re facing Hurricane Irene, which is taking aim at the Carolinas and then is expected to head up the East Coast this weekend.
Sure, the earthquake was nothing compared to what our friends on the West Coast have experienced in the past, but it scared a lot of people in Washington and New York. And it even had some tourism implications: Washington Monument was closed to tourists after cracks were found in the upper part of the structure. Fortunately, it wasn’t a serious quake, just unexpected for our region. I even joked with a friend that the folks in Washington always overreact to things like snow, earthquakes…and debt ceilings.
The hurricane, of course, is another matter. You’ll notice that nearly every one of our top stories in this issue of TravelPulse has something to do with Irene. We have stories on cruise lines forced to leave passengers in Puerto Rico, on cruise lines changing even more itineraries in the Caribbean, on resorts closing, and on Amtrak stopping service south of Washington, among other items.
Why do many people only discover or understand the importance of travel agents when a natural disaster occurs?
And if you’re searching for a travel agent connection in this column, well here it is. Why do many people only discover or understand the importance of travel agents when a natural disaster occurs? For the past few days, agents have been busy dealing with their clients’ vacation disasters – at least those who had booked trips to the Bahamas and other areas of the Caribbean affected by the storm. But that is exactly what agents do! They help their customers out in times of crisis.
I’ve been watching the Facebook posts of my travel agent friends and also seeing them tweet about the successes they’ve had rebooking clients to other vacation destinations (for example, one moved a client from a top resort in the Bahamas to another top resort in Mexico). Agents also had to help clients stranded at various airports in the Caribbean. Still others have been working to get their customers home early from areas that may be affected by the hurricane (it’s likely that airports from the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast will be closed or will have extremely truncated service).
Last summer travel agents found their services suddenly appreciated when the Iceland volcano eruption stopped air service in Europe.
None of this is new. Last summer travel agents found their services suddenly appreciated when the Iceland volcano eruption stopped air service in Europe for several days (I was affected by that little disaster). But agents were there to rebook their customers and help get them home.
And let’s not only cite natural disasters. My thoughts are increasingly focused on the anniversary of 9/11 coming up in a couple of weeks. Air service in the U.S. came to a full stop for four days, but travel agents were there to serve their clients throughout (and I was one of those clients). I’ll have more to write about 9/11 and its effect on travel in a couple of weeks, but for now it serves as yet another example of how travel agents remain essential service providers in times of crisis.
Clearly President Obama is getting material for his speeches from someone who doesn’t understand the vital role travel agents play today.
Of course, yet another “disaster” of sorts for the travel agency trade came last week when President Obama basically put travel agents in the category of evaporating professions, even though, as I pointed out in my column last Friday, travel agency groups are actually creating jobs today. Clearly President Obama is getting material for his speeches from someone who doesn’t understand the vital role travel agents play today.
Maybe someday the general public will realize that travel agents do their job not just during times of disaster, but also often 24/7, 365 days a year. They work to serve their clients in good times and bad – and they really can’t be replaced by technology. Agents provide a personalized service that simply can’t be replaced.
James Shillinglaw is editor in chief of TravelPulse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

ASTA informs Obama that travel agents haven't been eliminated

By Johanna Jainchill
ASTA told the White House Thursday that travel agencies sell more than 50% of travel in the U.S., in response to President Obama’s statement on Wednesday that travel agents are among the jobs that have become automated.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Ill., President Obama said: “One of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is — businesses have gotten so efficient, that, when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller? Instead of using an ATM. Or used a travel agent instead of going online? A lot of jobs that used to require people now have become automated.”

“While the President’s intention surely was not to disparage the travel agency industry, his statement makes clear the need for greater education and understanding of the TonyGonchar-NEWimportant role travel agents play in today’s travel marketplace,” ASTA CEO Tony Gonchar said in a statement. “ASTA has communicated with the President to ensure he understands the contribution travel agent make to the economy.”

In the White House letter, ASTA said that the U.S. travel agency industry “is comprised of nearly 10,000 U.S.-based travel agency firms operating in 15,000 locations. We have an annual payroll of $6.3 billion. Most importantly, our businesses produce full-time employment for more than 120,000 U.S. taxpayers.”

The letter also stated that the U.S. travel agency industry processes more than $146 billion in annual travel sales, accounting for more than 50% of all travel sold, including more than 50% of all airline tickets, more than 79% of tours and more than 78% of cruises.
(source -

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Aulani Grand Opening – 13 Days and Counting!

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, will offer a new way to vacation in Hawai'i when the Resort welcomes its first Guests on Aug. 29 – less than two weeks away!
Aulani is located on the island of O'ahu and is perfectly placed just far enough from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, but close enough for your Clients to enjoy the world-class entertainment for which O'ahu is known. Situated in an idyllic beachfront setting, the Resort is nestled between lush green mountains and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Aulani is the perfect Hawaiian vacation for your family, created by the family experts at Disney. Here your Clients can climb aboard a tube and glide through misty caverns on an enchanting water slide. Set sail on a catamaran for dolphin-spotting and whale watching, and party poolside with favorite Disney Characters at an all-ages celebration. Learn the secrets of Disney animation while painting an Aulani-Exclusive Animation Cel, and join Uncle for hula, games and music at the Aulani Starlit Hui. From toddlers to teenagers, Aulani features a variety of programs and activities that your Clients' families can enjoy together.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Ends Early, Airlines Offer Deals

PHOTO: A commercial airplane is shown in this file photo.
Guess what? Summer ends early this year: on Aug. 22, to be precise. At least it does according to the calendars the airlines use. And that's good news for you.
If you haven't had a chance to plan a trip yet or you've decided your only option is a staycation, congratulations are in order. You were clever enough to wait for the "magic departure date" that ushers in a season of savings. You might also save yourself an X-rated adventure in the security line (and more on that in just a bit).
Maybe there's nothing inherently magic about Aug. 23, but it is the date many airlines have settled on this year to mark the beginning of their fall season; fall, of course, is when airfare prices start to drop and sometimes even plummet.
Note to shoppers: Many airlines begin their fall season (for departures, remember) on Aug. 23, while others start on Aug. 24. To figure out your airline's sweet spot for savings, use an airfare shopping site with a flexible date option so you don't miss out these deals.
There's definitely a method to this madness: Airlines spend millions to learn passengers' purchasing habits, and they know that most opt for summer vacation flights from late June through mid-August, and will pay whatever it costs to fly then.
Well, almost. A couple of summertime airfare hikes fizzled this year, but in general, summer is peak season for U.S. carriers and that's when they rake in the bucks. Until mid- to late-August, that is.
It doesn't take an Einstein to figure it out. In many parts of the country, kids head back to school in late August. Likewise, many potential passengers use the last weeks of summer to do all those chores they kept putting off. I mean, who wants to clean out the garage in July when you could be barbequing or watching the latest Harry Potter flick?
Which is what the airlines are doing, metaphorically speaking: They are getting ready for autumn. Consider the most recent big Southwest sale: good for travel beginning Aug. 24. Virgin America's last sale? Good for travel starting Aug. 23. Savings vary from a little to a lot.
Example: I looked at prices over the weekend on United Airlines for round-trip flights between Los Angeles and New York with a return on Aug. 22; the cheapest fare I found was $459; if you start traveling the very next day, your fare drops $80. It can drop even more on Southwest if you move your trip from early August to early September.
Bonus time: The fall airfare season ushers in delights beyond a bigger wad in your wallet, including better deals at hotels and shorter lines at popular attractions like Disney World. The herd thins out by late August and I'd like to say planes will be emptier, too, but I can't. The whole reason airlines do this seasonal discounting is to fill up their planes to stay in business. However, I can just about guarantee there will be fewer kids kicking your seatback on fall flights.
Even better (and this is a biggie): You may have a sweeter security experience. That's because the Transportation Security Administration is starting to install new software in those body scan machines to replace the so-called "naked picture" images that have driven so many passengers crazy. Perhaps you heard about the role-reversal incident earlier this month in which an apparently enraged Colorado woman was accused of groping a security agent.
The new security software has two advantages: It makes you look like a cartoonish cookie-cutter image, and you can see it for yourself. No more agents holed up in a "secret" room, viewing a somewhat graphic portrait of your parts behind locked doors; your Gingerbread Man-like picture will be family-friendly, from what I've seen. Look for the software upgrades in the next few months.
So start packing. Enjoy some of that fall foliage. But don't wait too long. When the leaves disappear, the airlines usher in the most expensive time of the year to fly. Think turkey, cranberries, stuffing...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Winter in Hawai’i is better than….

Hawaii is Paradise here on earth, year round. As we approach the winter months, here are reasons why you might rather be there, than here….
Because the average daily temperature in Honolulu is 73F. This happens to be only a few comfortable degrees down from the warmer summer months. The average nighttime low is only seven degrees cooler. Weather in Hawai’i varies little from season to season because it is surrounded by the ocean, which stays much warmer than a continent.
Because 10,000 whales winter in Hawai’i. . There are more humpback whales in the North Pacific than ever, and at least 10,000 of them make the journey from the cold waters of Alaska and British Columbia down to the warmer waters of Hawai’i. They start arriving in November, and population peaks from mid-December to mid-April.
Because you can golf. To the avid golfer, Hawaii’s mild temperatures and lack of inclement weather mean frequent trips to the greens. There are close to 100 golf courses and they are up and running all winter long.
Because you can predict your chance of sunshine. Location matters and on any given island. Different areas can have different weather, all at the same time. On each island there are wet sides/dry sides, mountains and beaches, so if you don’t like the weather, drive 10 miles.
Because there is big surf. During the winter, the surf on Hawaii’s north-facing shores becomes awe-inspiring. The best area to observe big surf can be found on Oahu’s North Shore, and even some residents play hooky to drive up and watch.
Because there is even snow. Yes, snow-not the shoveling kind. But, you can ski. Hawaii’s three largest mountains can get snow in the winter: Maui’s Haleakala and on The Big Island, both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Best bet would be the last two weeks in February. If there is snow when you go, you almost have to try it.
Because winter is the season of waterfalls. Because waterfalls depend on rain, you can visit in the summer and the waterfalls are OK. But in January and February, especially after a storm, they are magnificent. A Helicopter tour is the best way to experience them.
Because you can go camping under the stars. Grab your tent and sleeping bag. Hawai’i has state-recognized camping sites on five islands, ranging from thick lush rain forests to coastal areas with incredible views.
Because you can run the Honolulu Marathon. There is no better place to run a marathon than in Hawai’i. It takes place in mid-December and is open to everyone as well as promises no cramping muscles from bitter cold. You can do both your pre-marathon carbo loading and post marathon recovery in paradise.
Because you can rent a convertible. Driving in Hawai’i is a fun way to see entire islands and see how locals live. Best drive is the Road to Hana on the island of Maui for it waterfalls, cliffs and floral displays. Not to mention the 617 hairpin turns and 54 one-lane bridges.
Because you can hit the beach. It just wouldn’t be winter in Hawai’i if you didn’t……………
If you’ve never been to Hawai’i, a good way to see the highlights is to cruise around the islands, spending a day on each of the popular one’s. That way, you’ll know which one’s you’ll want to return to next time.
Debby Stevens
3D Cruise and Travel

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Great Article for Women Travelers
Women Travel Tips

women travel europeWould your husband rather sit at home watching football than go globetrotting with you? Are you single or divorced and looking to travel with a group of adventurous, like-minded women? Or are you looking for a girls-only getaway with your daughter or best gal pal?

Women travel together for these and many other reasons -- which is why a growing number of tour operators and travel clubs have formed to cater to intrepid female travelers. These companies have fun, audacious names like Gutsy Women Travel and Wild Women Travel, and they offer a plethora of women-centric trips from hiking excursions in the Rockies to gourmet tours of Tuscany.

Whether you want to take an organized tour or would rather plan your own independent gals' getaway, there's a wealth of resources out there for women travelers. Below are our best safety tips for women traveling on their own, as well as a list of the top female-centric travel sites and vacation providers.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

General Tips for Women Travelers
Most tips for women travelers, and indeed all travelers, come down to one thing: common sense. It's the kind of stuff your parents told you growing up -- don't walk in strange neighborhoods after dark, lock your doors, don't leave your valuables lying around, be alert.

An intrinsic part of traveling is paying attention and adapting to the cultural milieu in which you travel, which means an awareness of gender roles and expectations. Learn everything you can about the values and customs of a country, and be aware of how you should tailor your behavior to fit into that culture.

Don't do anything you can't imagine a local woman doing (or yourself doing at home) -- like following strangers to out-of-the-way places or accepting lodging or rides from men you don't know. It's also not a good idea to wear flashy jewelry or show a lot of money in public places.

But more than that, be aware of local attitudes toward women in the country in which you are traveling. Do women tend to wear concealing clothes in that country? If so, don't draw attention to yourself with short shorts, plunging necklines or tight tank tops. Many women travel experts recommend wearing long, loose-fitting clothes when traveling internationally, which also offers the added benefit of concealing money belts.

In some cultures, a woman traveling alone is considered to be available. If you want to ward off unwanted advances from foreign men, try wearing a (fake) wedding ring. Avoid eye contact with unknown men, as this may be construed as an invitation.

Know the equivalent of "911" in whatever country you're visiting, and make sure you have a functioning cell phone with you at all times.

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member back home and be sure to check in regularly by phone or e-mail. It's also a good idea to register your presence with your home country's embassy when you're traveling internationally. (For more information, see Travel Warnings and Advisories.) Finally, when you leave your hotel, let the front desk know when you should be expected back.

woman bikerWalk confidently, as though you know exactly where you're going (even if you don't!). Don't stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at a map or rifle through your purse; distracted travelers are easy prey for thieves.

Conceal some cash in your shoe, sock or bra -- enough to pay for a cab ride if you find yourself in a dangerous spot.

If you are attacked, use caution when reporting the crime. In certain countries, police may not be very sympathetic to female victims. Your hotel or embassy can advise you of the best course of action.

Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable in a certain situation, move on.

10 Simple Tips for a Smoother Trip

Hotel Security Tips
Choose the right accommodations. Hotels that require room access through a lobby area are infinitely more secure than motels with access from the outside. We also recommend choosing a B&B or inn rather than a large hotel with a cavernous lobby and hundreds of rooms. Loitering strangers are much more conspicuous in smaller lobbies, and many women feel safer and less anonymous at a property where the front desk staff recognizes their face and is aware of who's coming and going.

Before booking a hotel, research the neighborhood. How safe is it? Are there nearby businesses that will be open and busy after dark? It's worth paying a little extra for a hotel in a more secure neighborhood.

Avoid first-floor rooms -- break-ins are less likely on the upper levels of a hotel. Ask for a room near the elevators.

When checking in, ask the desk clerk to write your room number on a piece of paper rather than announce it. If he or she announces it in a crowded lobby, ask for a different room.

When you enter an elevator, position yourself next to the button panel and make a mental note of where the "alarm" or "bell" button is so that you can push it if needed.
hotel locksIf your hotel room comes with a sliding glass door and balcony, always check to be sure the door is locked. Your balcony may be connected to the one next door, granting easy access to your room. You'll want to make sure your windows are locked as well. Check each time you re-enter the room -- housekeeping may have unlocked them for one reason or another. Familiarize yourself with the way the locks on the doors and windows work so you can release them quickly in case of an emergency. If any of your locks don't work, ask for a new room.

What Not to Do at Your Hotel

Don't open your door for anyone, including "housekeeping" or "room service," without verifying the identity of the person at your door. If you haven't called for room service, call the hotel's restaurant. Do not open the door.

Sleep with comfortable shoes and your room key on your nightstand. A small flashlight is a good item to have nearby as well.

Don't give your room number to strangers, no matter how friendly. It's also wise to let men think that you're traveling with a companion who is sharing the room with you.

Unattended hotel fitness centers or pools are best avoided, especially if there aren't many other guests there.

If you take a cab back to your hotel after a late-night dinner or meeting, don't be afraid to ask the driver to wait until you are inside the hotel before he pulls away. Add an extra $1 - $2 dollars to the tip and he'll do so with a smile.

If you are trying to park in the hotel lot late at night and someone is lurking around the lot, park in front of the door in the check-in area and go to the front desk. Ask the clerk to have someone from hotel security meet you in the lot and escort you into the hotel.

Women who feel foolish about asking for extra security are women who endanger themselves. Use your gut instinct. If you feel uncomfortable, scared or threatened, there's probably something wrong. Hotel security is there for a reason. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Hotel Safety Tips

Driving Tips
Remember to keep your car doors locked at all times. If you have a breakdown, use your cell phone to call the police and then wait in your car with the doors locked. If you are approached by someone other than the police, stay in the car and crack your window open.

Park in well-lit areas. Do not keep anything in your car that will be an invitation for theft. Lock belongings in your trunk and take valuables into your hotel room with you. Avoid renting a hatchback car -- everything in your trunk will be visible to would-be thieves.

Ask for an up-to-date map when you arrive in a city or rent a car. If you need to ask for directions, ask families or women with children. Say: "Where is X? I'm meeting my husband there."

The First 10 Minutes of Your Car Rental

Tour Operators for Women
Below are tour operators and travel clubs that cater primarily, and often exclusively, to women travelers.

AdventureWomen: Active trips for women in the U.S. and around the world

backpacker hiker woman view camera Adventurous Wench: Active women-only getaways in the Americas and Europe

Call of the Wild: Hiking, backpacking and other adventure trips for women in the U.S. and select international destinations

Gutsy Women Travel: Women-only tours catering to a variety of interests including history/culture, homes/gardens and gourmet dining/wines

Olivia: Cruises, ecotours, resort stays and luxury vacations for lesbian travelers

Sights and Soul Travels: Small-group, women-only tours of Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, the South Pacific and South America

SWT Tours: Special-interest trips including a selection of European and American tours for women age 50 and up

Wild Women Travel: Cruises, tours and custom vacation packages for women

Women's Travel Club: Women-only trips around the world; annual club membership is required

Women Traveling Together: Worldwide tours for women; paid members get tour discounts and a quarterly newsletter

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    --updated by Sarah Schlichter

  • Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Sandals Resorts receives top honors in BRIDES Magazine's 2011 Best Honeymoon Survey
    BRIDES Magazine, the #1 Bridal publication in the USA, partnered with Signature Travel Network, a group of more than 6,000 top travel agents in the United States, to conduct a survey on the world's best honeymoon destinations and resorts. Winners included:
    Voted Top Caribbean Resort
    Sandals Emerald Bay
    Voted Top All-Inclusive Brand
    All Sandals Resorts