Monday, May 13, 2013

Cruising is HOT

Cruising is hot and getting hotter!  With more cruises out of more ports and new ships offering new toys, it is easier for travelers to set sail to a plethora of destinations in their choice of comfort.

One of our cruisers shared her recent experience:
          Our cabin was nice and it was great to have the visual outside with the balcony.(3D says-if you                 have wondered if it's worth it to upgrade to a balcony...yes, it is!)

          I have to say on the ship we dined at the Steakhouse and it was the best meal my husband and                 I have ever had!  Simply wonderful!

           We enjoyed our zip lining adventure in Jamacia.  I don't think Dan was as excited about it as I was            - I've attached a couple of pics for you.  The guides were awesome.

           In Grand Cayman we did the string ray city with snorkel stops - beautiful water!

          Our favorite excursion of all was the day at Hotel B in Cozumel. We spent a couple of hours                     hanging out by the pool in the shade, had a nice lunch, got a great massage, and then spent some             time in the hammock just looking out over the ocean.(3D says-You don't have to be busy at every             port, you have get to choose adventure, or relaxation.)

For those looking to cruise out of Galveston, TX, Royal Caribbean has announced they will begin sailing out of Galveston year-round beginning in November!  

Happy cruising!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Where to Go, Part 5, Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific Region 

New Zealand
Don’t underestimate the Hollywood effect. Director Peter Jackson has done it again with his blockbuster film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Raking in a cool $223 million at the box office worldwide on its opening weekend in December, the film is also a huge boon to New Zealand’s tourism sector, inspiring travelers with visions of snow-capped peaks, green pastures, and a dramatic coastline carved with fjords. After the commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the far-flung Pacific islands, where the films were shot, saw a spike in interest. Tourism New Zealand capitalized on this buzz with the award-winning marketing campaign, “100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand.”
Erina Pindar at Smart Flyer in New York predicts Australia and New Zealand as a top destination for 2013. “Not many Americans are familiar with the region, yet it offers some of the most unique and luxurious lodges in the world. Though still relatively unknown in this part of the world, properties like Freycinet [Tasmania], Wolgan Valley [Australia’s Blue Mountains], and Matakauri [Queenstown] will be on the radar of those ‘in the know’ in coming years.”
Long-haul flights to Auckland on the North Island are 13 hours from Los Angeles and San Francisco on Air New Zealand. It’s possible to make a stop-over in the South Pacific for a few days of R&R on the island beaches (think Tahiti). To access Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, flights connect in Auckland or Sydney.
New Zealand has something for everyone, but nature lovers will be delighted by the country’s gorgeous landscapes, and adrenaline junkies can experience the thrill of bungee jumping in the sport’s birthplace of Queenstown. Another target customer base is retired baby boomers who have the time and resources for a longer vacation on the other side of the globe.  —M.W.N.
Myanmar, Burma
Experiential travel continues to be a big trend, with operators seeing a bump in bookings to exotic locales. The lure of the final frontier has catapulted Myanmar to the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Once isolated by a repressive military dictatorship, Myanmar is in the throes of tremendous change with recent government reforms and the election of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament after years of house arrest.
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Mayanmar (Burma), can expect more American visitors in 2013.
“We’ve seen an 80 percent increase in bookings in 2012, compared to the year prior,” quips Jean Fawcett at luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent. A&K established an office in Myanmar 15 years ago, and A&K USA has been offering small group escorted programs there since 2010. The first year it’s being offered, the tour “Myanmar’s Burmese Heritage” provides a meaningful way of discovering an unspoiled destination. In fact, A&K’s advisory board of top travel agents—including Mollie Fitzgerald at Frontiers International Travel, Joan Jonat at Protravel International and Lara Leibman at Frosch—recently returned from Myanmar, praising the tour as an unforgettable experience.
Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Destination Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys and an award-winning Myanmar/Burma specialist, cites the American demand for travel to Myanmar increasing nearly 10 fold but notes that Thailand had 19 million foreign visits in 2011 compared to 816,000 for Burma.
“Asia Transpacific Journeys has a long history of offering travel to this magical land,” Mazzaro adds, “and we’ve been long-time believers in creating opportunities for both travelers and local people to interact. We know the country, have long term relationships with the best operators, guides, and hotels, and know and love the local people.”
Responsible tours offered by companies such as A&K, Asia Transpacific and Wilderness Travel appeal to adventure seekers and cultural explorers eager to experience an authentic destination in Southeast Asia relatively untouched by the outside world.  —M.W.N.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Where to go, Part 4, Latin America

Latin America

Lima, Peru
Angling for a top spot among Latin American destinations, Peru has been hot for years now. “Availability is becoming a significant concern because of the demand for Machu Picchu, and exceptional pricing now makes Peru a rival to Costa Rica in terms of sheer volume to Latin America. Luckily, we work with some great local partners and find ways to get space for visits to the Inca heritage sites,” notes Jerry Tischleder, South America product manager at Avanti Destinations. “Plus, Peru’s tourist board has really been putting a lot of effort into the North American market which only helps travel agents. With some new hotels coming on the market in 2013, I expect the boom to continue.”
With the rise of food tourism, Peru is attracting an entirely different crowd. From Los Angeles to London, trendy Peruvian restaurants are piquing tastebuds with ceviche, anticuchos, and pisco sours. Many of Peru’s celebrity chefs—who make global tours as ambassadors of Peruvian cuisine—have restaurants in Lima, where they can source incredible local products like Andean cactus and yucca straight from the Amazon. Now Lima is emerging as a top destination for the foodie set. LAN and United fly nonstop from New York’s JFK, meaning Lima’s palate-thrilling cuisine is within eight hours’ reach. —M.W.N.

Ecuador has been emerging for quite some time but a new airport expected to open this year could put the destination on the top. The new airport isn’t even necessarily the reason, but rather what they plan on doing with the old one.
The old airport in Quito, located smack in the middle of the bustling city, will be converted into a facility that will house everything from a convention center to shopping outlets to a new luxury hotel, making it the perfect spot for both leisure and business travelers.
Quito’s new International Airport, which is expected to receive an influx of eight million travelers, will feature a 2.5-mile-long landing strip capable of handling bigger capacity, long-haul jets. Tame, one of Ecuador’s three domestic airlines, will offer direct flights to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and New York starting in 2013.
Set to begin service in June 2013, the new luxury train known as Tren Crucero will travel from the Andes south to the Pacific Coast over the course of a four-day /three-night journey. The four-coach train can accommodate 54 passengers comfortably in sofa chairs that face dining tables.
Ecuador is ideal for adventure travelers and land-sports enthusiasts. However, make sure your clients, especially the older ones, are fit enough to endure Ecuador’s altitude since it can cause some shortness of breath and dehydration.  —J.P.

The Nicaragua Tourism Board reports that tourism is one of the country’s fastest-growing economic sectors. Tourist arrivals have increased in the past few years to become Nicaragua’s largest industry. From January through September 2012, tourism to Nicaragua increased 11 percent, leading to an 11.45 percent increase in foreign investment.
And with the destination expecting its first ever luxury resort this year, expect affluent clients to begin inquiring about this Latin American diamond in the rough. Travel Agent got the skinny on Mukul (the Mayan word for “secret”), a luxury boutique hotel and spa in Guacalito de la Isla that is expected to open soon. It’s a $250-million, 1,670-acre low-density private beach community on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast and will have about 40 rooms, each with an ocean view, pool and private staff.
Book Nicaragua for the seasoned travelers, especially anyone who has been to and enjoyed Guatemala or Honduras—or Central and South America in general.  —J.P.
Central Plaza Central Plaza and cathedral in Granada, one of Nicaragua’s historic, culture-rich cities.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Where to go 2013, Part 3, The Caribbean

The Caribbean

Whereas Travel Agent didn’t expect a 50-year-plus ban on travel to Cuba to be erased the second President Barack Obama took office for the first time, there seems to be an annual dose of hope that legal travel from the United States to the forbidden land could be a reality in the foreseeable future. In fact, agents can actually make a commission on travel to Cuba today and that’s thanks in large part to the continued success—and legitimacy—of the People-to-People initiative that was reinstated early on in Obama’s first term.

The People-to-People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country. We recently spoke to representatives of both Insight Cuba, a provider of U.S. licensed people-to-people travel to Cuba, and General Tours World Traveler about a renewed partnership, which was made official in December, that allow for legal travel from the United States to Cuba to continue.  And with its new American visitors, such Cuba hotels as the 352-room Iberostar Mojito are beginning to undergo makeovers to prepare for making that breathtaking first impression. Iberostar Hotels & Resorts recently announced it has completed extensive remodeling and refurbishment work on the Iberostar Mojito, the chain’s ninth hotel in Cuba.

The country offers pretty much everything for younger clients, older clients, couples, families and singles. Havana obviously provides the nightlife, restaurants, culture and history whereas an array of beach destinations like Varadero provide the white sand beaches for the fun-in-the-sun clients.  —Joe Pike

Before the earthquake of 2010, Haiti was poised to make a major investment in tourism and possibly compete with other, more developed Caribbean islands. But in the aftermath of the natural disaster that put leisure tourism on the backburner, the country was still receiving a heavy amount of volunteer tourists.

For 2013, however, it appears as though enough repairs have been done to the country to make leisure tourism a primary focus again. The first sign that Haiti’s sights were set again on tourism came in 2011 when United Continental Holdings announced that Continental Airlines would begin nonstop flights between, Newark (NJ) Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Port-Au-Prince. Then in early 2012, Aimbridge Hospitality announced that it has been chosen to manage the new Best Western Premier Petion-Ville Hotel in Haiti.

In December, Digicel and Marriott International announced they had broken ground on the $45 million, 175-room Marriott Hotels & Resorts brand hotel in the Turgeau area of Port-au-Prince, with an opening expected in early 2015, making it the first four-star branded hotel in Haiti. All-inclusive giant, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, announced in early January that it had opened the five-star Royal Oasis by Occidental in the heart of P├ętion-ville.

Now, Haiti is still a very delicate situation. It is emerging slowly and there are still major concerns regarding cholera as well as the ongoing process of repairing the damage by the hurricane. Book this for seasoned Caribbean travelers, couples or singles; we suggest waiting a few more years before recommending Haiti for children.  —J.P.

Travel Agent spoke to a Grenada tourism board representative recently who told us, “Everybody knows that Butch Stewart [chairman of Sandals Resorts International] doesn’t expand to an island if he doesn’t already know he will get the flights.”
Fishing boats in Haiti
Fishing boats in Haiti, a nation that is re-emerging as a tourism destination.

Well, if that’s true, Grenada should be able to make a great pitch for airlift since the destination recently became home to a new Sandals resort. And if Grenada gets airlift, especially from the Northeast, then it will fill the only void keeping it from become a Caribbean giant in 2013 and beyond. In November, Sandals announced it would be taking over LaSource, a popular luxury resort that had closed due to financial woes.
Grenada is a great destination for seasoned Caribbean travelers, especially couples. As we touched upon, getting there is a little difficult, so perhaps pitch this to younger clients who don’t mind jumping through a few hoops to get to this secluded paradise.  —J.P.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where to go in 2013, Part 2, Africa

With new game reserves in the wild and improved urban infrastructure, Tanzania is attracting a new generation of travelers who want to see something new, unspoilt and truly breathtaking. In addition, new cultural programs are helping visitors learn more about Maasai history and heritage.
New for 2012, the Four Seasons has opened its first Tanzania property with the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. Singita, which already operates several game lodges throughout the Serengeti, opened the Singita Mara River Tented Camp in the northernmost tip of the park.
From the United States, clients fly into Johannesburg on South African Airways and transfer to a flight to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Once in Dar, they’ll transfer to Pioneer Air or other local jets.
Singita Mara River Tented Camp
View of the Serengeti from Singita Mara River Tented Camp in Tanzania.

Ideal for culture-seekers, thrill-seekers and wildlife enthusiasts, Tanzania is brimming with opportunities for visitors to meet with locals and go camping close to elephants and leopards in the vast Serengeti.  —J.T.F.
Victoria Falls
While it is hardly a new destination, Victoria Falls has become increasingly easy to reach thanks to more tour operators offering visits to “The Smoke That Thunders.” A range of accommodations means that all kinds of visitors can tour the Falls for a day, or stay at a nearby lodge for a week.
Local and international tour operators are offering a good selection of tours to the Falls in 2013. Globus, Tauck and African Travel all include tours to Victoria Falls. To get there, clients will fly South African Airways to Johannesburg and transfer to a flight to either Victoria Falls or Livingstone, Zambia.
Couples, families and thrill-seekers who want to go hiking, rafting or even swimming in the notorious “Devil’s Pool” will all have a great time visiting Victoria Falls.  —J.T.F.