Getting Away from Home for the Holidays
Instead of heading home – or staying home – for the holidays, some Americans are trying a different tack: they’re heading out on vacation.
A Christmas getaway, sometimes bringing the family along, can provide a break from the stresses of the season. It’s also a terrific way to keep gift giving to a minimum and create a new holiday tradition that’s all your own.
The possibilities are limitless – from lounging on a beach or aboard a cruise ship to exploring a historic European capital or visiting sites in the Holy Land that take on special significance at this time of year.
Travel doesn’t mean giving up everything that makes the holidays special, either.
Many cruise lines offer voyages to ports in Mexico and the Caribbean in December that give passengers the opportunity to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah the way they would at home, including enjoying traditional foods, taking part in holiday activities and even attending religious services.
With daytime temperatures in the low 80s, a trip to Hawaii can be the perfect gift for travelers who dream of spending December someplace warm. There’s plenty of holiday spirit in this tropical paradise, too, from Christmas parades to performances of “The Nutcracker.” And of course, there are Hawaii’s world-famous beaches, great for outdoor activities such as swimming, surfing and snorkeling or for simply relaxing and soaking up some sun.
Of course Europe is a great place to visit at any time of year, but it’s especially beautiful in December, when Christmas markets pop up, historic city centers are all decked out and cultural events are in full swing.
In London, carolers sing each evening in December beneath the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and the stores along Oxford Street sparkle with a brilliant display of lights. Both adults and children will enjoy taking in a pantomime, or “panto,” comic musicals that are a British Christmas tradition. One of the city’s biggest holiday attractions is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which includes Christmas markets, a “kingdom” made of ice, a skating rink and a circus.
To spend Christmas immersed in Old World charm, consider a trip to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The ancient buildings and magnificent churches of Old Town are especially welcoming in December. Bustling Christmas markets selling traditional foods and handicrafts make for a festive atmosphere. Jazz and classical concerts, as well as opera and ballet, take place all month long in some of the city’s most historic venues, including Prague Castle.
A trip to the Holy Land can be an incredibly spiritual experience no matter what your faith or religion. For Christians, December is an especially meaningful time to visit. On Christmas Eve, pilgrims from all over the world gather at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to celebrate the birth of Jesus. From Nazareth, in northern Israel, to Jerusalem and beyond, the region is filled with places that make the Bible come alive.
For help planning a holiday getaway anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Ringing in the New Year on Vacation
Sure, there are plenty of places to party and watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve but for travelers searching for a unique spot to ring in 2016, here are celebrations that add a little something extra to the mix.
To celebrate with an Afro-Brazilian beat, head to Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach. Offerings of flowers and candles are tossed into the water throughout the day to honor the goddess of the sea and people wear white to bring good luck for the coming year. In the evening, the music begins from stages along the beach, where partiers dance the samba. There’s a fireworks display at midnight from barges offshore, but that’s just the beginning. Afterward, revelers head to clubs, bars and hotels to party until dawn.
On Dec. 31, Vienna’s historic old city center is transformed into a New Year’s Eve Trail, where the celebration continues until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Revelers stop off for food and drink and enjoy musical performances as they make their way from one open-air attraction to the next. The Graben, one of the Austrian capital’s most famous streets, becomes the site of the world’s largest outdoor ballroom, enabling partiers to waltz in the New Year. If you’re a little rusty, the city’s dance schools are there to offer crash courses.
New Year’s Eve in Tokyo offers a chance to explore an ancient culture. There are fireworks over Tokyo Bay and plenty of restaurants and nightclubs where revelers can celebrate, but it’s the traditions such as hatsumode, in which people make the first visit of the new year to a shrine or temple to pray for health and happiness that you’ll likely remember. At the most popular places, such as the Meiji Shrine, the atmosphere is festive, with vendors selling food and people buying charms to ensure good luck. At midnight, temple bells ring out 108 times, each one representing a temptation to overcome.
After an evening of partying, the Bahamas rings in the new year with Junkanoo, an electrifying parade that starts after midnight and lasts until dawn. In Nassau, the capital, it’s a community-wide effort as families, friends and neighbors band together and attempt to outdo each other with music provided by cowbells, drums and whistles, elaborately choreographed dance routines and colorful costumes. The centuries-old tradition has roots in slavery but lives on as a celebration of freedom and Bahamian culture.
Of course to many, New Year’s Eve is synonymous with New York City, where a celebration has been held for more than a century. People start filling Times Square at midafternoon and they’re treated to an all-star lineup of performers, which this year includes country music’s Carrie Underwood. Everything leads up to 11:59 p.m., when a crystal-covered sphere will drop 70 feet in 60 seconds from 1 Times Square to herald the start of 2016, and a million revelers will be covered in a shower of confetti.
For help planning a trip to celebrate New Year’s Eve anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Resolve to Travel More in 2016
As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. And in 2016, one resolution worth your consideration is to simply travel more.
Wherever you go, the act of getting away can help relieve the stresses that build up in everyday life and make you feel recharged and ready to tackle whatever comes next. Travel is also a way to keep your mind and body strong.
That travel can help make you healthier and happier is not just an opinion. A report by the Global Coalition on Aging found that after being on vacation for only a day or two, the vast majority of people are able to leave the stresses of work behind and relax. According to Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine who participated in the report, travel “challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments.”
Some of the strongest evidence that there are physical benefits to taking a break comes from the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948 and is responsible for much of our knowledge about cardiovascular health. Among its conclusions is that there’s a connection between more frequent vacations and longer, healthier lives.
The benefits of travel even extend to the workplace when we return. In 2006, the accounting firm Ernst & Young found that for every additional 10 hours of vacation time its employees took, their year-end performance rating improved by 8 percent. Employees who took more frequent vacations were also less likely to leave the company.
Think about the places you’ve been and the conclusions from those studies will likely make sense. Travel is fun and exhilarating. It takes you out of your routine, can give you a burst of energy, and can provide you with unique experiences that just might enrich your life.
Taking a trip keeps you active. It’s an opportunity to use your muscles and stretch your legs, whether that means walking, hiking, cycling, swimming or even dancing the night away.
When you’re finding your way around a new place, or dusting off your high school or college foreign language skills, travel has the capacity for keeping you mentally sharp, too. It can also give you a chance to relax by the pool, on a beach or onboard a ship and read – or perhaps write – that book you just never quite found time to get to at home.
Travel is a way to broaden your world and meet new people. It stimulates the senses with new tastes and smells and sights and sounds. It teaches all of us to be more flexible and patient, to see things from a different perspective.
By placing travel on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you can make a commitment to yourself to explore more of the United States and more of the world. Perhaps you’ll revisit a favorite spot, or take a vacation to a place you’ve never been. Maybe you’ll finally get to that dream destination, family trip, romantic getaway or adventure you’ve been thinking about for years.
If you’ve made travel one of your New Year’s resolutions, your travel agent can help you keep it.
The Baltic States – 25 Years after Soviet Collapse
It’s been a quarter century since Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regained their independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, these thriving democratic nations along the Baltic Sea have strong ties to the West and are small gems waiting to be discovered by travelers.
Estonia, the northernmost of the three, has cultural ties to Scandinavia. The capital, Tallinn, is located on the Gulf of Finland, a two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki. Tallinn has a beautifully preserved Old Town whose cobblestone streets are dotted with medieval churches and grand merchants’ homes, as well as restaurants, shops and galleries. In the summer, Old Town Square is the site of concerts and in December, it’s transformed into a Christmas market.
While many of them are tiny, Estonia has about 1,500 islands and they offer activities including bird watching, canoeing, sailing and fishing. The largest, Saaremaa, is the site of majestic Kuressaare Castle, built in the 14th century. Tartu, a university city, is a cultural center that exudes a bohemian spirit.
Latvia is in the middle of the Baltic States. Its capital, Riga, built on the Daugava River, inspires superlatives. A poll of USA TODAY readers voted Riga the “Prettiest European City.” Among the must-see attractions are the intricately designed Art Nouveau apartment buildings along Albert Street; the vast Central Market housed in World War I Zeppelin hangars; and the 13th century Riga Cathedral, in the city’s Old Town. In addition to historic sites, Old Town is a great place to experience Riga’s nightlife.
Forests cover nearly half of Latvia and there are plenty of places to get in touch with the natural world. At Gauja National Park, about an hour northeast of Riga, visitors will find opportunities for hiking and cycling on scenic trails and canoeing along the Gauja River, as well as castles, churches and even an underground bunker built during the Soviet era for use in the event of a nuclear war. In the winter, the park’s slopes become a destination for skiers.
Southernmost of the three Baltic States, Lithuania is on the border with Poland. Its capital, Vilnius, has an Old Town that’s one of the largest in Central and Eastern Europe, with more than 1,500 buildings in a variety of architectural styles including the Gothic St. Anne’s Church. For a panoramic view of Old Town, climb or take the funicular railway to Gediminas’ Tower, named after the founder of Vilnius and a symbol of Lithuanian independence.
There’s much to see outside of Lithuania’s capital. Trakai Castle, located on an island on a lake, is a popular day trip from Vilnius. The Curonian Spit, a 60-mile strip of sand dunes and pine forests along the Baltic Sea, is one of Europe’s most unique natural features. And the Hill of Crosses, in north-central Lithuania, is a remarkable manmade site. Since the 19th century, visitors have left thousands of crosses there, many with photos of loved ones or personal messages.
For help planning a trip to the Baltics, which could even include a cruise to give you a taste of the region, contact your travel agent.
Finding the Right TMC Just Became Easier
For many companies travel is an integral part of doing business, whether it’s to attend conferences, visit suppliers, meet with potential new clients, for a job or for a number of other reasons.
Naturally, the business traveler’s focus is on the work to be done once he or she reaches the destination. Handling travel arrangements – ensuring the best deals and most convenient transportation and lodging – requires time and expertise that some businesses, especially smaller ones, may not have in-house.
Travel Leaders recently launched a new website that makes it easier for businesses across the United States, even smaller ones, to find a Travel Management Company (TMC) that understands their industry, has the expertise to get them the best value and provides personal attention. Best of all, the TMC may be in their own backyard.
The easy-to-navigate website allows potential clients to search for a TMC based on key criteria including where their business is located, the industry they’re in and any foreign language requirements they may have. The website can also help them keep up with current business travel news.
All they have to do is select a state and industry to search from pull-down menus, or select all industries. They can scroll through a list of results, then click on a button to learn more about a specific travel agency. And the information can be viewed on all types of web-enabled devices, including mobile phones.
TMCs from the Travel Leaders Associate network are being added to the website weekly. The number of participating agencies has more than doubled since the site’s soft launch at the end of September and is expected to climb steadily over the next several months.
Profiles on the website offer an in-depth look at each of the individual TMCs in the Travel Leaders family. The information includes how long they’ve been in business, their geographical area, business philosophy, services they offer, industries they serve, foreign language skills and customer testimonials. Through the TMC Profiler, it’s easy for potential clients to select a company that best fits their corporate culture.
Travel Management Companies have expertise in more than a dozen fields. Depending on the location, those specialties include aerospace, agriculture, automotive, consumer goods, education, energy/oil/gas, food and beverage, health care, media/entertainment, nonprofit, pharmaceuticals, and technology. TMCs also provide services in areas such as duty of care, expense integration and online booking tools.
In addition, many TMCs have multinational experience. With linguistic, destination and cultural expertise, they can assist clients in business operations around the world, managing travel programs regardless of the global scale.
The website also allows users to refine their search if they need a combination of skills, from expertise in a specific industry to a foreign language to particular technologies.
If, for example, a business requires a Travel Management Company specializing in the energy/oil/gas industry that uses expense integration technology and has Mandarin language skills, the answer is only a click away.
To find the Travel Management Company that best fits your needs, call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Bountiful Thanksgiving Journeys
For people who love to travel Thanksgiving can be a feast, with celebrations from Boston to Seattle and places in between.
New York City is home to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition since 1924. The procession, with its giant character balloons, floats, cheerleaders, clowns and marching bands, kicks off at 77th Street and Central Park West, then makes its way 2½ miles to the Macy’s on 34th Street, at Herald Square. But there’s so much more than the parade to see in New York at Thanksgiving. Manhattan’s festive holiday markets will be open for the season, department store windows should be all decked out and the high-kicking Rockettes will be in residence at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
To see where the observation of giving thanks all began, head to Plymouth Mass., about an hour south of Boston. The site of the first Thanksgiving is home to Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed, and Plimoth Plantation, a living-history museum that tells the story of the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors, the Wampanoag tribe. Visitors can step aboard the Mayflower II, a reproduction of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620. Plimoth Plantation also hosts popular Thanksgiving dinners on Turkey Day and the day after. Be sure to leave time for the sound and light show, and some holiday shopping, at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
In Chicago, the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day parade takes center stage, with balloons, floats and marching bands traveling along a 1-mile route. The parade has been a tradition since 1934, when it was created to lift the spirits of Chicagoans suffering through the Great Depression. Also on Thanksgiving, the Turkey Day Run takes place in Lincoln Park, along Lake Michigan, with 5K and 8K races and a turkey tailgate zone with activities for the whole family. The city’s Christkindlmarket, inspired by Germany’s open-air Christmas markets, will be in full swing by Thanksgiving, with vendors selling European food and gift items.
Houston’s H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade is a 66-year holiday tradition, serving up a full menu of floats, balloons and marching bands that make their way along the downtown route. Travelers who want to take part in a different kind of procession can lace up their running shoes to join the TXU Energy Houston Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. There are 5K and 10K races and a Kids Run for children 12 and under. Zoo Lights is another popular holiday tradition, when the Houston Zoo is transformed nightly with animal-themed light displays.
Seattle is full of activities during Thanksgiving weekend. On Thanksgiving morning there’s a 5K Turkey Trot that finishes at Golden Gardens Park, offering spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Friday morning, it’s time for the Macy’s Holiday Parade and on Saturday afternoon, Seattle’s Pike Place Market kicks off its celebration. The annual Festival of Trees, featuring beautifully decorated Christmas trees, each with its own theme, takes place at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.
For help planning a Thanksgiving getaway, contact your travel agent.
Holiday Travel Tips: What to Do Before Leaving Home
There’s no doubt that a lot of Americans will be on the move at airports on the day before Thanksgiving, as well as the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s.
In 2014, the trade group Airlines for America projected that 25 million people would fly on U.S. airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period and 45 million people would fly during the 19-day period before Christmas through the New Year’s Day weekend.
Advance planning is key if you’ll be flying during either of those time periods, especially if you’re at one of the nation’s busiest airports including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas or New York – that’s because the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year for flying.
Before any trip, it’s important to make a checklist of essential items. It’s easy to forget things like chargers for electronic devices and smartphones, and you don’t want to spend your trip looking for replacements.
If you’re traveling internationally, double check that you have your passport. It’s a good idea to bring a copy with you in case something happens to the original. And make sure you have your passport and ID where you can easily reach them.
Airlines generally allow passengers to check in online 24 hours in advance. Printing out your boarding pass will save time, especially if you’re not checking any bags. Or if you have your airline’s app on your phone, you can get a digital version of your boarding pass.
You can see whether or not there’s a meal or snack on your flight and either get something at the airport or bring a snack from home. But check what kinds of food the TSA allows in carry-ons.
It’s crucial to check whether your luggage meets the airline’s size and weight restrictions for checked baggage and carry-ons. Overhead space will be at a premium during holiday travel, especially as people bring gifts from friends and family or return home with gifts they’ve been given. If you’re traveling on a smaller plane with limited overhead bin space, you may have no choice but to check your bags – or planeside check them, so make sure essential items such as medications stay with you.
Speaking of gifts, wrapped packages are screened like any other item. Scanners can see through paper just like they can see through luggage. But just as Transportation Security Administration officials sometimes have to open a bag when it requires a search, it’s the same for a wrapped gift.
To be on the safe side, make sure that your gifts are small enough so that you can carry them unwrapped through security, or ship them in advance. If you decide to bring them with you, also consider packing pre-cut paper and a small roll of tape so you can wrap them up after you pass through the security screening or when you reach your destination.
Finally, leave plenty of time to get to the airport and through security. Traffic may be heavier than usual and the line for security screenings could be longer. As a guide, Delta Air Lines normally recommends arriving at the airport 75 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
For help planning a trip at any time of year, contact your travel agent.
Holiday Travel Tips: Preparing for Airport Screening
Thanksgiving and Christmas are times of year when many Americans take to the skies to visit far-flung friends and family. In fact, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest day of the year at U.S. airports. Here are some tips to help make things go smoothly once you get to the airport.
Yes, the security line is long but it’ll move faster than you think. And if you know the rules, you can help keep the line moving. Then before you know it, you’ll be on the way to your destination.
Keep 3-1-1 in mind.
The Transportation Security Administration allows each passenger one quart-size bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in carry-on luggage. That includes toothpaste and gel deodorant, shampoos, lotions and similar personal-care items. Each item must be 3.4 ounces or less. Medication, infant formula and juices for infants or toddlers are exempt from the rule, but keep them separate from the items in your one-quart bag. They may require alternative screening by security personnel.
When in doubt, leave it out.
One way to make the security screening go faster is to keep prohibited items out of your carry-on bag. That 20-ounce bottle of water or soft drink in your carry-on is going to hold you up and get tossed out. And remember that in general, you’re prohibited from taking sharp objects on the plane with you. The rules allow scissors with blades smaller than 4 inches and small needles carried for special medical purposes. If you’re unsure, check the TSA website before leaving home. But it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Bring your ID and have it handy.
Passengers over age 18 must show valid identification at the airport security checkpoint. That can include a passport, driver’s license or other state photo ID card issued by a Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency. Children under 18 are not required to provide identification when traveling with a companion. If you forget your ID, don’t panic. The TSA has other ways to confirm your identity, such as using publicly available databases, so that you can reach your flight.
Be prepared to take laptops out and shoes off.
Laptop computers, full-size DVD players and cameras that use video cassettes must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for X-ray screening. (Small and portable items, including smartphones, tablets and portable games, don’t need to be removed from their cases.) Don’t forget, you’ll have to remove your shoes and belt and put them in the plastic bin that goes through the X-ray screening. The only exceptions are passengers who are 75 and older and children 12 and under. They can keep their shoes and a light jacket on. (Of course, if you’re participating in either Global Entry or TSA Precheck, you’ll be able to avoid the longer lines and skip having to remove shoes and items from your bag.)
Finally, if you have any concerns about the security screening when you get to the airport, ask a TSA officer or supervisor if you can speak with a passenger support specialist. That individual will be able to provide assistance on the spot.
For help planning a trip around the holidays, or at any other time of year, contact your travel agent.
Millennials: The New Generation of Travelers
Members of the Millennial Generation are going places, and they’re increasingly interested in using the services of travel agents to get there.
Forty-one percent of the 947 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents polled by Travel Leaders Group for its Fall Travel Trends Survey report that bookings for clients 30 years old or younger have increased in the past year.
That finding aligns with research by MMGY Global, a marketing firm specializing in travel and hospitality. MMGY’s 2014 Portrait of the American Traveler found that 6 in 10 Millennials would rather spend their money on experiences than material possessions.
Millennials are just starting out in their careers. They may not have a lot of vacation time and when they do have time off, they want to put it to good use.
Travel is a prized experience for this group of young people. To help plan those trips, the MMGY report found that they’re using the services and counsel of travel agents at nearly twice the rates of those who are Generation Xers and 13 percent for Baby Boomers.
When asked in the Travel Leaders survey what types of trips and destinations they are booking for their clients 30 and under, a honeymoon was the top response with 63.4 percent. And 34 percent are booking a destination wedding.
After all of the time and energy that goes into planning their dream wedding, a young couple naturally wants to go on their dream getaway. A honeymoon may be the biggest trip they’ve ever taken. Travel professionals have the expertise to help them find the place that meets their interests and budget. It’s an experience that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, whether it’s an all-inclusive resort, a cruise or a place that fits an active, adventurous lifestyle.
Millennial travelers are taking trips all over the world. The Travel Leaders survey found that respondents are booking their clients in a range of destinations including the Caribbean, 61 percent; Mexico, 52 percent; and Hawaii, 35 percent. But that’s just the beginning. They’re going to Central and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Africa and Asia as well.
This is a generation that’s open to new experiences. Forty-five percent of those polled said they’ve booked clients on active and adventure trips. And 8 percent say that their clients are booking a destination for “bragging rights.” It’s all part of that desire to collect experiences, to visit once-in-a-lifetime destinations while they have the wherewithal.
As much as Millennials want to see places and try things that may be off the beaten path, they have limited time and money. Value is important to this group of travelers. They understand the value of going to a travel professional, someone who is knowledgeable about how to get there, where to stay and what to do, someone they can turn to if they have questions or a problem during their trip.
For help planning a trip at any age, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Hotel and Car Rental Trends
A portrait of American business travelers in 2015 shows that a sizable number of them are booking premium airline tickets and upscale hotels and renting midsize cars when they’re on the road for their employers.
As part of its 2015 Fall Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 392 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents who indicated that 50 percent or more of their portfolio is made up of business travelers.
Overall, 24 percent of those polled report that at least 51 percent of their air bookings for business travel clients are for premium cabins – either first or business class. The number rises to nearly 30 percent of those polled when talking about international business travel, not surprising since those are likely longer flights. (And nearly 37 percent of the respondents report that their bookings for business travel to Europe are higher than this time last year.)
For business travelers, a premium cabin means more than just extra legroom. The additional space makes it easier for them to get work done on the plane or rest up for an important meeting. Major airlines like Delta and Virgin Atlantic also offer lay-flat beds so business travelers can arrive at their destinations refreshed from a comfortable sleep. Since they’re seated in front, they get off and to their destination that much quicker.
As much as they want their employees to be rested and ready to go, companies have other considerations. When their business clients travel in coach class rather than in premium cabins, 51 percent of those polled say the top reason is company policy, while 39 percent cite the cost. The numbers are nearly identical for international travel.
Of course, travel professionals provide a full range of services to their clients. Hotel rooms and rental cars are often part of the package.
When it comes to accommodations, nearly 70 percent of those polled say that at least 51 percent of their business travel bookings with an overnight stay also include a hotel reservation.
Fifty-two percent of the respondents say that the majority of their business clients book “upper upscale” hotels such as Hilton and Hyatt when they travel, while 16.3 percent choose luxury, such as the Fairmont, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton brands, with 22.3 percent choosing upper midscale, such as Country Inn & Suites. The luxury and upscale chains may have more amenities that appeal to business travelers. They’re also more likely to have staff used to meeting the needs of this group.
When it comes to business travel, there is some reluctance to use “sharing economy” accommodations – which essentially enables anyone to rent out their home via a variety of services. Only 14.8 percent of those polled say that 11 percent or more of their business clients use services such as those offered by those from the “sharing economy.”
As for rental cars, 42 percent of the respondents say that at least 51 percent of their business travel clients add a rental car reservation to their itinerary. And 73 percent say that the majority of their business travel clients choose a midsize vehicle, with 18 percent reporting the choice of a full-size car.
For help planning business travel anywhere in the world, call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
This Fall’s Top Domestic Destinations and Trends
Fall is the peak season for apples, so it’s fitting that the Big Apple leads a new survey of where Americans will be traveling during the remainder of 2015.
New York City has catapulted to the top of this fall’s domestic vacation destinations, according to Travel Leaders Group. It jumped from number four last year to narrowly beat out Orlando for this year’s number-one spot. Rounding out the top 10 are Maui, Las Vegas, Alaska cruises, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Americans will be on the move this fall. More than 87 percent of the 1,152 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents polled in the Fall Travel Trends Survey say that their bookings for 2015 are the same or higher than during the same period in 2014. And 63 percent report higher bookings.
New York City provides tourists with a wealth of cultural offerings in the fall. Broadway will be brimming with new shows. The Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre and New York Philharmonic start their seasons. Among the must-see events: the Museum of Modern Art will display sculptures by Pablo Picasso in the first exhibit of its kind in the United States in nearly half a century.
It’s also a city for walkers and the mild weather is perfect for wandering around Central Park, checking out the latest fashions in stores along Fifth Avenue and SoHo and taking in the Manhattan skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge – or from the innovative High Line park that stretches from the Meatpacking District to the edge of Hell’s Kitchen.
Then there’s the flurry of holiday-oriented treasures to be found from Thanksgiving on. Beginning November 23, Radio City Music Hall will once again host the famous Rockettes for their annual Christmas Spectacular. Practically across the street, you’ll find the Rockefeller Center Holiday Tree. If you’d like to lace up a pair of skates, the Rockefeller Center ice rink opens in mid-October.
Number-two Orlando always has so much to offer. If thrills and chills are on your list, head to Walt Disney World, where you can experience Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015, which already started in September. Disney World also beckons epicurean aficionados to its International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot through Nov. 16. There’ll be wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and dining events.
Travelers to Maui can take advantage of the shoulder season, when hotel rates are lower and the crowds thin out. The beaches on Hawaii’s second-largest island are among the best in the world for swimming, surfing, snorkeling and sunbathing. To check out the island’s stunning scenery, take a drive along the Hana Highway, on the east coast.
Las Vegas, with its casinos and big-name entertainment, offers plenty to do year-round. This fall’s headliners include Elton John, Madonna and Diana Ross. The acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil offers eight shows from which to choose. One of the city’s newest attractions is the Grand Bazaar Shops, with stores, restaurants and a nightly light show.
Fans of “The Simpsons” will want to make Universal Studios Hollywood part of their Los Angeles vacation. They can go on a Simpsons ride and tour the sights of downtown Springfield. The season’s biggest cultural event is the opening of The Broad, a contemporary art museum built by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad as a home for their collection of nearly 2,000 works.
For help planning a vacation this fall, contact your travel agent.
This Fall’s Top International Destinations and Trends
It’s smooth sailing for Americans’ ongoing love affair with the Caribbean.
Caribbean cruises are this fall’s top international “destination,” according to a poll by Travel Leaders Group of 1,152 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents.
The Caribbean cruises are followed by Cancun, Mexico; London, European river cruises and Rome. Rounding out the top 10 are Paris, European cruises in the Mediterranean, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Florence and/or Tuscany, Italy; and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Caribbean cruises have held the top spot in the survey since 2009, and their popularity is easy to understand. There are numerous ports-of-call along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, making a voyage accessible for many Americans. As temperatures drop, a fall cruise is a fun way to soak up some sun before winter. And it’s a time of year when cruise lines are more likely to offer exceptional value.
Even if you’re a Caribbean cruise veteran, there’s always something new to discover.
Among the region’s newest destinations is Amber Cove, built by Holland America Line’s parent company in a mountain-ringed bay in the Dominican Republic and opening in October. The Norwegian Escape, the newest ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, will set sail from Miami on seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises beginning in November. Royal Caribbean has unveiled new shore excursions including options that allow adventurous travelers to tackle zip lines and sky bridges on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For travelers who want to stay on land, Cancun, Mexico, remains a very popular choice. Cancun’s hotel zone is a 17-mile stretch of powdery beaches and crystal-clear water. There are all-inclusive resorts for every taste and budget, offering a worry-free vacation. The spectacular Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are only about two hours away and make a great day trip.
London is also a perennial favorite for fall travelers. Last month, Queen Elizabeth II became the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch, surpassing her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. That milestone makes this fall a perfect time to take in London’s royal sights including the Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels; Westminster Abbey, setting for the coronation of every English monarch since 1066; and Windsor Castle, the queen’s favorite residence, where an exhibit of photographs marks her reign.
The interest in European river cruises continues to grow, jumping to number four this year from 13th place in the 2010 Travel Leaders survey. River cruises offer a leisurely way to see several countries and the ships dock near city centers, making it easy to explore. The cruises are usually accompanied by enrichment activities that offer a taste of history, culture and cuisine.
Of course Rome’s top attractions, such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and Vatican City, are great to visit in any season. But the Eternal City is cooler and lively in the autumn. This year, the Romaeuropea Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary. A full slate of theater, dance, acrobatics, art and music takes place through Dec. 8 in more than a dozen venues across the city.
For help planning a trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Papal Visit Places Spotlight on Philadelphia
Pope Francis came to Philadelphia last month as part of his historic trip to the United States, shining a spotlight on all there is to see and do in the place named by founder William Penn as the City of Brotherly Love.
For American history buffs, there are few places more closely linked to this country’s founding than Philadelphia.
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed at Independence Hall, the 18th-century home of Pennsylvania’s colonial government. The Declaration was read aloud in the area now known as Independence Square. Run by the National Park Service, the hall is open year-round but admission is by tour only. Free timed-entry tickets are required from March through December. Nearby is the Liberty Bell, displayed in a glass chamber. Exhibits explain the bell’s history and how it’s inspired generations of Americans.
While Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell may be Philadelphia’s most famous historic sites, there are many places with a connection to American history.
At the Betsy Ross House, visitors can learn about the woman credited with making the original American flag. The National Constitution Center tells the story of “We the People” through artifacts, interactive displays and film. The Benjamin Franklin Museum is dedicated to exploring the life of the scientist and statesman who was one of Philadelphia’s most famous residents. And the Franklin Institute, named for him, is one of the country’s premier science museums. A new exhibit, “Vatican Splendors,” featuring more than 200 works of art and historic objects, is on display through Feb. 15.
The “Rocky” movies are among the most famous set in Philadelphia. Anyone who saw the original will remember Sylvester Stallone as boxer Rocky Balboa running up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and raising his arms in victory. Today, there’s a bronze statue of the Rocky character near the foot of the steps. The museum itself, with its world-class collection, is well worth a visit. A new exhibit, “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life,” opens Oct. 27 and includes works from the 1800s to the Pop Art era of the 1960s.
Of course Philadelphia is a great place to eat, too. While Pennsylvania’s largest city is renowned for its exceptional epicurean fare, perhaps its best-known contribution to American culinary tradition is the cheesesteak, invented by Pat Olivieri in 1930.
Today, visitors can sample the original at Pat’s King of Steaks, or try one from its rival and South Philadelphia neighbor, Geno’s Steaks. Both are open 24 hours and take cash-only. To order like a local, remember to tell the cashier whether you want your steak with or without (onions), and if you want it plain, with Cheez Whiz, Provolone or American. Another must-see stop on the Philadelphia culinary tour is Reading Terminal Market. The 19th-century public market has been revitalized and is home to an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops, as well as places to buy fresh and prepared food.
For help planning a trip to Philadelphia, contact your travel agent.
Luxury Travel Is Hot This Fall
Aided by a strong dollar, the market for luxury vacations continues to show steady growth according to a new nationwide survey of travel professionals.
Nearly 92 percent of those polled say that luxury travel bookings are the same or higher this year than at the same point in 2014, with slightly more than half reporting an increase. The responses come from a survey of 963 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents affiliated with Travel Leaders Group who specialize in luxury travel.
The U.S. dollar’s strength means that Americans get more for their money when they go overseas, and that’s turning out to be a powerful incentive for travelers. Forty-five percent of agents indicate that their luxury land-based bookings for Europe are running higher this year than in 2014 and 42 percent say they’re about even. For those reporting an increase, nearly 90 percent say that the dollar’s strong performance against the euro has been a factor, with nearly 70 percent calling it somewhat or extremely important.
A significant trend among luxury travelers is the rising interest in multigenerational vacations, with intrepid baby boomer grandparents joining their children and grandchildren. It’s a great way for extended families to spend time together and share memorable experiences. In the survey, 64 percent of respondents report an increase in bookings this year for luxury-travel clients going on multigenerational trips compared to five years ago. And 39 percent report an increase in bookings for 2015 over 2014.
Just about every segment of the luxury-travel experience is showing some growth, with bookings on the rise for cruises, land tours, hotels and premium airline seats.
Thirty-eight percent of those polled say that luxury tour bookings have increased somewhat or significantly over last year and 36 percent report the same for luxury deep-water cruises, while 34.5 percent indicate an increase in the booking of cruise suites.
River journeys are a fast-growing segment of the cruise market and that applies to travelers seeking a luxury trip as well. Forty-five percent of respondents indicate that their bookings for luxury river cruises have increased somewhat or significantly over the same time last year. In fact, the percentage of those surveyed who indicate a significant increase in bookings ¬– 9 percent – is higher for river cruises than for luxury tours or deep-water cruises.
Compared to last year, 46 percent report that their luxury hotel bookings have increased somewhat or significantly, while 48.4 percent say that bookings have remained the same. Similarly, premium cabin (first or business class) airline bookings are on the rise. Forty-four percent report that premium bookings have increased somewhat or significantly this year over 2014.
When it comes to accommodations on land, 29.5 percent of respondents book their clients into five-star hotels and resorts; followed by 4-star hotels and resorts, 16.3 percent; and 5-star suites, 15.6 percent. For accommodations on cruise ships, 35.5 percent book luxury vessels most often while 22.7 percent book suites on luxury vessels.
For help planning a luxury vacation anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel Shows Strength This Fall
Business travel continues to show steady growth, according to a new survey of travel professionals.
As part of its 2015 Fall Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 392 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents who indicated that 50 percent or more of their portfolio is made up of business travelers.
Eighty-one percent of the respondents say that their overall business travel bookings for 2015 are the same or higher than at the same time last year. More than half, 53.1 percent, report higher bookings.
As business travel grows, so does the responsibility of those who manage it. And corporate travel management is very complex. It’s more than just making sure an employee gets from point A to point B and back again.
Employers have the responsibility to ensure that their employees are safe while they’re on the job, whether they’re working at the home office or traveling across the United States or around the world on company business. That responsibility makes Duty of Care standards vital for this group of workers and for the corporations that employ them. According to the survey, 24.2 percent of the travel professionals polled report that they incorporate Duty of Care initiatives into the management of their corporate accounts.
As much as we all want our travel plans to go smoothly, things happen that are out of our control. In these situations, travel agents have the expertise to provide assistance. They can alert travelers to anything that might interrupt their trip, such as flight delays, cancellations or natural disasters, and rebook hotel and transportation if necessary so that the traveler isn’t stranded.
It’s not just a theoretical exercise. The survey results show that 27.4 percent of respondents have been involved with a Duty of Care situation for a business travel client. The range of incidents requiring assistance demonstrates just how vital it is to have Duty of Care provisions written into a corporate travel policy.
According to the survey, those incidents include accidents with rental cars, chauffeured car/limo or taxi, 57.7 percent; snowstorms, 53.9 percent; airline emergencies, 42.3 percent; civil unrest outside the United States, 30.8 percent; earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorist attacks, 23.1 percent; tornados, 11.5 percent; and train crashes or derailments, 7.7 percent.
Nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents indicate that they incorporate Duty of Care policies relating to the transportation of employees while they’re traveling for business. Ground transportation is an area that’s been undergoing increased competition over the past several years.
Ridesharing companies are becoming popular alternatives to traditional taxis and car services. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed say that their business travel clients are using some of these alternative services ground transportation. But it’s an area that requires close scrutiny, since the drivers for ridesharing services use their own vehicles and they don’t have the same licensing requirements as taxi or limousine drivers.
For help planning business travel anywhere in the world, call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
The Rebirth of New Orleans
If you haven’t been to New Orleans recently, you haven’t been to the “Big Easy” at all. A decade after Hurricane Katrina, tourism is on the rebound in New Orleans and that’s good news both for the city and for travelers who want to experience its unique blend of food, music, culture and nightlife.
The Big Easy welcomed 9.5 million visitors in 2014, an increase of 2.6 percent over the previous year, according to the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. By comparison, in 2006, a year after Katrina, the number dropped to 3.7 million.
Those millions of visitors will find a city that boasts more hotels and restaurants than a decade ago, as well as new attractions and refurbished venues such as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It’s also easier to get there, with more nonstop flights arriving at Louis Armstrong International Airport than in 2005.
New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is home to such renowned spots as Antoine’s, which has been serving up French-Creole cuisine since 1840. But over the past decade, hundreds of new restaurants have opened, several of them recipients of James Beard Awards, the highest honor in the American culinary world. They include Peche Seafood Grill, recognized as 2014’s Best New Restaurant, and Domenica, from Alon Shaya who was named 2015’s Best Chef – South.
Along with great new restaurants travelers will find new places to stay, from boutique establishments to unique properties from well-known hotel chains. For example, Starwood spent $29 million to turn the old W Hotel into the all-new Le Meridien New Orleans, which opened in March with 410 guest rooms including 22 suites.
As the city’s oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter is a natural focus for visitors, with its historic buildings, restaurants, clubs and shopping, but it’s just the tip of what makes New Orleans so inviting.
Other areas worth checking out include the arts-oriented Warehouse District, home to galleries, restaurants and bars, as well as the National World War II Museum. In 2014, Crescent Park brought new life to a strip of land along the Mississippi River. The 1.4-mile span connects the colorful Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods, and its walking and cycling paths provide stunning views of the river and New Orleans skyline. Of course New Orleans is synonymous with jazz and the New Orleans Jazz Market, in the Central City neighborhood, is a new addition to the musical landscape. Nearby is the relocated Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
While there’s plenty that’s new, the city is also celebrating the return of historic buildings heavily damaged by Katrina. The St. Roch Market, a downtown landmark dating from 1875, reopened in April as a food hall with more than a dozen local vendors. The Orpheum Theater has been restored to its 1918 Beaux-Arts splendor and in September will once again become home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
For help planning a trip to New Orleans, contact your travel agent.
Follow the Footsteps of Rudyard Kipling through India
If you’ve ever considered making a “bucket list” journey to India, consider this. December 30th will mark the 150th birthday of Nobel Prize-winning author Rudyard Kipling, whose novels, poems and short stories introduced generations of readers to the land and people of India.
In 1865, Kipling was born to English parents in Mumbai – once called Bombay when India was part of the British Empire. Today, the South Asian nation is a place where visitors can walk in the footsteps of Kipling to explore a land steeped in history and blessed with great natural beauty, as well as experience an independent, democratic country with modern, bustling cities.
Bordering on the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, India is slightly more than a third the size of the United States but is the second most-populous country in the world, with 1.2 billion people. It’s a mostly Hindu country with a sizable Muslim minority. A visit can be daunting because there’s so much to see, but tourism is a growing part of India’s economy and the country has a relatively good transportation infrastructure. With careful planning, India offers intrepid travelers varied opportunities for adventure.
Kipling’s birthplace of Mumbai, located on the western coast, is India’s most populous city and a major seaport, as well as the center of the Bollywood film industry. On the waterfront is the grand Gateway of India arch. The stone structure, completed in 1924 to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary, is a great place to start exploring the city. Other must-see sights include the imposing Haji Ali Mosque, the colorful markets that line Colaba Causeway, and the Kala Ghoda Art Precinct, the city’s cultural center.
“The Jungle Book,” a collection of stories about an adventurous boy named Mowgli who is raised by wolves, is one of Kipling’s most-beloved works. At Kanha National Park, in central India, visitors can see the landscape that inspired Kipling – forests, meadows, ravines ¬–¬ and the wildlife, including tigers, leopards, deer, wolves and mongoose. The park is open from mid-October until the end of June.
When he was 5 years old Kipling left India for England, but he returned at 17 and spent nearly a decade working for local newspapers and writing poems and short stories. His novel “Kim” presents a vivid portrait of India in the late 19th century, including hill stations such as Shimla, where the British went to escape the summer heat. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, and surrounded by soaring mountains and dense forests, Shimla remains a popular tourist destination. Among its attractions is the Viceregal Lodge, summer home of the British government until the 1940s.
Of course, no visit would be complete without seeing the magnificent Taj Mahal, in the northern Indian city of Agra. The marble mausoleum, commissioned by a Mughal emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife, was completed in 1643. It’s a symbol of India’s rich history and is one of the world’s most celebrated buildings.
For help planning a trip to India, contact your travel agent.
Travel Made Easier for Those with Disabilities
There was a time when it was incredibly difficult for individuals with disabilities to travel throughout the United States. Much of that began to change twenty-five years ago when President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA as it’s come to be known. The legislation has had a wide-ranging impact, ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life, including the opportunity to travel.
Airports, airlines, hotels and even cruise ships have all made great progress since 1990, upgrading older facilities and ensuring that new ones are built to comply with the law. Today, a person’s disability should not be a barrier to them traveling from coast to coast.
The ADA applies to people with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities such as seeing, hearing, speaking or walking. An individual with a non-chronic illness or condition of short duration, such as a sprain, broken limb or the flu, would generally not be covered. But someone who has recovered from cancer or mental illness would be included.
For places of public accommodation, that means installing ramps and widening doorways, putting grab bars in bathrooms, adding raised letters or Braille on elevator buttons and installing alert systems that can be seen as well as heard, all things that most take for granted but which were much less common 25 years ago. Of course, as anyone who’s ever dragged a suitcase or pushed a stroller knows, improvements like curb cuts designed for wheelchairs benefit everyone.
At airports, ADA compliance means ensuring that every part of the terminal, from parking spaces to boarding areas, is accessible to disabled passengers, whether they are in wheelchairs, are visually impaired or hearing impaired. That includes ticket counters and baggage claim areas, restrooms, drinking fountains, waiting areas and inter-terminal transportation.
Hotels, motels, inns and other places of lodging must follow some of the same rules as airports. In addition to requiring some wheelchair-accessible guestrooms, the ADA also covers restaurants, spas, public restrooms and conference rooms. In addition, hotels cannot impose a surcharge or cleaning fee on guests with service animals.
Cruise ships also are required to comply with the ADA – even those that sail under the flag of a foreign country – if they dock in a U.S. port. Cruise lines have done a great deal to make the experience easier for disabled passengers to navigate and enjoy, including offering accessible staterooms, lifts at pools, assisted-listening devices and sign-language interpreters.
The rights of flyers are protected under the Air Carriers Access Act but it is similar to the ADA. The act generally prohibits airlines from refusing to transport someone because of a disability, from requiring advance notice that a passenger with a disability is traveling or requiring the person to travel with a companion. But there are exceptions to all of those rules. An airline may bar someone from flying if that person would endanger the health or safety of other passengers. In that case, the carrier must provide a written explanation for the decision.
Travel agents have the expertise to help consumers with disabilities plan the best trip for their needs. To learn more, contact your travel agent.
Solo Travel Options Increase
Surveys show that more Americans are traveling solo, whether it’s by choice or simply because a companion isn’t available. While the prospect may be daunting for some, with advance planning and basic precautions it can be a road to adventure.
Of course wherever you’re going in the world, safety comes first. The same common-sense steps you take in everyday life will serve you well when you’re taking a trip on your own.
For solo travelers that means being aware of your surroundings at all times, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar place. It’s great to explore and when you’re by yourself, you get to set the pace and decide where to go. But do some research on your destination beforehand. Study up on the cost of things like taxi rides. Be spontaneous but within reason. Try to avoid places that are less busy, especially after dark. If you ask for directions, mention that you’re meeting someone there (even if you aren’t).
Travel is a way to immerse yourself in a different culture and meet new people, so don’t cut off a chance for a casual conversation but be careful how much you tell strangers about yourself and where you’re going. It goes without saying that you should be wary of letting these newfound friends hold your money or belongings.
Just as there’s a dress code for work, there’s one for travel, too, and it’s especially important when you’re on your own. Try to blend in with the crowd so that your tourist status isn’t too obvious. Avoid standing around looking at your map or guidebook. Leave the expensive jewelry, revealing clothes and T-shirts that mark you as a tourist at home. Also keep in mind that some countries have dress codes for places like houses of worship – this could mean no shorts or flip-flops, among other things.
It’s important for solo travelers to leave a copy of their itinerary with a friend or family member at home, and stay in touch by phone or email. All U.S. citizens going abroad should consider signing up for the State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You’ll get information about safety conditions at your destination and it’ll be easier for the nearest U.S. Embassy to reach you in the event of an emergency.
Of course traveling solo doesn’t have to mean traveling alone. Many land tours and cruises are ideal for single travelers, and it’s possible to find some that don’t charge a supplement, or will match you with a roommate.
For example, river cruises, like Avalon and AmaWaterways, are a great option, allowing travelers to be with a group while socializing as much or as little as they want. For those who want to stay on land, companies such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures and Cosmos Tours will pair solo travelers to share hotel rooms.
For help planning your solo adventure anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Sharing Economy vs. Duty of Care
Up until recently, business travelers who didn’t want to rent a vehicle could use a car service or hail a taxi for ground transportation.
The advent of ridesharing, from companies such as Uber and Lyft, has added a new option but it’s one that business travelers, and those who manage business travel, will have to carefully consider.
Uber and Lyft, both based in San Francisco, pair customers who need a ride with drivers who have a car. Both services screen potential drivers, including conducting criminal background checks, and provide liability insurance. Lyft operates in about 65 U.S. cities and Uber in 300 cities in 60 countries.
For travelers, ridesharing services are easy to use and convenient. They can download an app on their smartphone and request a ride from a driver who’s nearby. Riders can check the route and estimated arrival time on their phones. Fares are automatically charged to the rider’s credit card.
But drivers with ridesharing services don’t have the state licenses that are issued to taxi and limousine drivers, and they’re using their own private vehicles. Both of those issues could cause a conflict with Duty of Care, policies that place obligations on employers to ensure the safety of their employees while they’re on company business, including travel.
Besides issues surrounding Duty of Care, ridesharing services can also cause headaches for travel managers who are trying to control costs and negotiate rates. Ridesharing services base their prices on supply and demand, and that price rises sharply during peak travel times. Employees may not be aware of surge pricing until it’s too late and there are no other options to get where they’re going.
Still, the hurdles are not insurmountable and ridesharing services have been courting business travelers.
Last fall, Morgan Stanley became one of the first corporations to add Uber to its travel policy. A study by a company that provides expense-management software found that Uber accounted for more ground transportation receipts than taxis during the second quarter of this year. In addition, users rated ridesharing services higher than taxis or rental cars.
The good news for travelers whose companies don’t allow ridesharing is that traditional ground transportation providers are feeling the impact of the competition and working to make their services friendlier.
In an interview with Business Travel News, Gary Kessler, president and CEO of ground transportation network Carey International, says that in the past, companies like his have worked more closely with travel arrangers than with business travelers. But services like Uber have changed the conversation.
For example, Carey has launched a mobile app that allows travelers to track the vehicle that’s coming to pick them up at the airport, and indicate whether the chauffeur should meet them at baggage claim or at the curb.
While travel managers have a fiscal responsibility to budget wisely, Kessler says they’re also more sensitive in listening to travelers and what they want from the experience.
For help planning business travel anywhere in the world, call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Airport Security Satisfaction Improves
With the summer travel season in full swing, many Americans will be taking a trip through airport security to reach their vacation destination.
But rather than being a cause for stress, travelers continue to give high marks to security procedures and are increasingly taking it all in stride – except for the part about taking off their shoes.
In a survey by Travel Leaders Group of 3,371 consumers from across the United States, 88.4 percent of respondents indicated that they are satisfied or neutral about airport security, an increase from 87.5 percent in 2014. And fewer people are expressing frustration with the amount of time it takes to get through security lines. Only 5 percent of consumers polled wish security was somewhat quicker, while 44.4 percent were “OK with the amount of time it takes” and 11.1 percent expressed frustration, down from 14.1 percent in 2014.
However, just because travelers give high marks to airport security doesn’t mean that they’re satisfied with every part of the process.
When asked which Transportation Security Administration (TSA) measure they would most like to eliminate, 31.5 percent said their choice would be the requirement to remove their shoes. That’s been a sticking point for some time. Shoe removal was the top response in 2013 and 2014. Still, 23.1 percent of respondents do not want any security measures eliminated, while 19.2 percent answered “limiting liquids in carry-on bags.”
In March, the TSA reported that more than 1 million travelers were enrolled in its Precheck program. Airline passengers who qualify for the expedited security screening do not need to remove their shoes, computers or 1-quart bag carrying liquids. Once approved, they receive a known traveler number and can use TSA Precheck lanes at select security checkpoints for participating carriers at more than 130 U.S. airports.
According to the Travel Leaders survey, 14.4 percent of respondents said that they use TSA Precheck all the time, compared with 7.6 percent in 2014. And 26.1 percent said the program has reduced the wait times for regular screening, compared with 17.6 percent last year. Still, nearly 60 percent of respondents either answered the Precheck made no difference or they didn’t know whether the program had made a significant difference in wait times to get through screening.
Finally, the Travel Leaders survey asked whether terrorist attacks in international destinations would keep them from traveling overseas.
A resounding 78.3 percent of respondents said that they would continue to travel internationally, while just 19.3 percent said they were choosing to travel within the United States rather than go abroad. And only 2.4 percent of respondents said that they were just going to stay home.
In the survey, 45.9 percent of respondents said that State Department travel advisories have some impact, while 9 percent indicated that they have very little to no impact on their travel plans.
For help planning a trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Consumers Answer “What Would You Do?” Travel Questions
With more planes flying at full capacity and seat space shrinking, it’s clear that airline passengers aren’t going to take things sitting down.
A new survey by Travel Leaders Group finds that consumers are more than willing to call a flight attendant or say something to their fellow passengers if they feel their space is being constrained even more than necessary.
The survey, conducted in April, drew responses from 3,371 consumers throughout the United States to questions about what they would do when encountering common situations while flying or visiting attractions.
Nearly 60 percent would ask a flight attendant to reseat them if the person next to them is too large for the seat and is invading what their personal space. Only 4½ percent would say something directly to their seatmate.
When it comes to other in-flight issues, travelers are split over whether they’d contact a flight attendant, say something to a seatmate or simply sit quietly and do nothing.
Flyers in the middle sometimes find that their seatmates have staked out the armrests. Thirty-three percent wouldn’t say anything, while nearly 37 percent would talk to their seatmates. Only 8 percent would call a flight attendant. If the person in front of them reclined to the point where it was impossible to open a laptop or tray table, 38 percent would say something to the person and 39 percent would alert a flight attendant.
Some flyers have taken to using knee defenders to keep the person in front of them from reclining, but they’re not yet in widespread use. Less than 1 percent of respondents have used one and 53 percent wouldn’t do so. Nearly 60 percent would either call a flight attendant or say something to the person behind them if they couldn’t recline their seat.
While the survey demonstrated that most Americans strive to be responsible travelers, there are plenty of examples of tourists behaving badly, from taking nude photos atop a sacred mountain in Malaysia or in a temple at Cambodia’s Angkor complex, to carving initials into the Colosseum in Rome.
Only 10 percent of respondents have taken a photo at a location where it was prohibited, such as at the Sistine Chapel or of England’s Crown Jewels. But 18 percent admit that they really wanted to snap a picture when no one was looking.
If they saw a visitor trying to deface an attraction or sacred space, 72 percent would alert a security guard and nearly 15 percent would confront the person. Sixty-six percent would tell a security guard if they saw people taking off their clothes for a photo, while 7 percent would say something directly to the group.
Finally, travelers are split over selfie sticks, which make it easier to take self-portraits with smartphones. They’re banned at some attractions including the Smithsonian and on Disney World rides. Forty percent would alert security or say something to a person using the device where it was banned but nearly 34 percent would say nothing. Seventy-eight percent don’t even own one.
For help planning your perfect vacation, contact your travel agent.
The Smithsonian: Visiting New Additions to America’s Attic
No trip to Washington, D.C., would be complete without a stop at the Smithsonian Institution museums that line the National Mall. Even if you’ve seen them before, there are always new reasons to visit. Plus, since admission is free, they won’t bust your travel budget.
The latest addition is the Hall of Invention and Innovation, which opened in July at the National Museum of American History. It includes the 3,500-square-foot exhibit Places of Invention, an activity center for children and the Inventive Minds gallery, a spot to hear the stories of inventors in their own words.
As part of the hall’s opening day celebration, visitors had an opportunity to help build an American flag from 156,000 Lego bricks. It’ll be on display through Sept. 28.
But that’s only the beginning of the new attractions that are designed to explore the central role invention has played in American history, and to inspire the next generation of innovators.
Through examples across the country, artifacts and hands-on activities visitors can learn how Americans worked together, adapted, took risks, solved problems – and sometimes suffered setbacks – all in the pursuit of progress in art, science and industry.
Places of Invention explores six innovation hotspots from American history: the development of precision manufacturing in Hartford, Conn., in the late 1800s; the growth of the film industry in Hollywood in the 1930s; medical advances in Minnesota in the 1950s; the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx in the 1970s; the revolution in personal computing in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and 1980s; and strides toward clean energy in Fort Collins, Colo., that are taking place today.
To gain a sense of how innovation occurs, the exhibit has a display of more than three dozen artifacts that illustrate the inventions at the heart of each community, including the Technicolor camera used to film “The Wizard of Oz,” a turntable used by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, a prototype of the first computer mouse, a men’s high-wheel bicycle from 1886 and an early cardiac pacemaker.
Of course, in a center that promotes creativity there’s quite a bit to do as well as see. The museum has revamped its popular Draper Spark!Lab, a place where children ages 6 to 12, and their families, can participate in activities taking them through the invention process from start to finish. The emphasis is on using low-tech materials. Workspaces are stocked with such everyday items as cardboard and tape. The current theme, “Things that Roll,” includes challenges such as designing a new kind of skateboard.
While the Hall of Invention and Innovation is the biggest recent addition to the Smithsonian, other exhibits at the American History Museum this summer focus on television educator Don Herbert, known as “Mr. Wizard,” who used household items to explain scientific principles; the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Alexander Graham Bell and early sound recordings; and General Motors’ EV1, the first modern, mass-market electric car.
For help planning a trip to Washington, D.C., contact your travel agent.
Traveling with Pets
Some travelers are hesitant to leave their beloved four-legged family members behind when they go on vacation, and it’s increasingly possible to bring them along to share in the fun.
Airports, airlines and hotels have made it easier to take your dog or cat on a trip but it’ll require some advance planning, a careful reading of regulations to make sure your pet can travel safely and an additional expenditure.
You’ll find the welcome mat rolled out even before boarding.
Under federal regulations designed to make them accessible to passengers traveling with service dogs, airports are required to have animal relief areas. And those areas are open to all travelers. Atlanta’s airport, for example, offers a fenced-in dog park landscaped with flowers, grass, rocks and benches and biodegradable bags for waste. New York’s JFK Airport is building a state-of-the-art terminal for animals that’s scheduled to open next year.
Airlines will accept pets onboard for a fee but the rules regarding how your pet can travel will vary. There are different regulations depending on the size and breed of the animal, the type of plane, the destination and even the time of year. (Delta doesn’t accept pets as “checked baggage” from May 15 to September 15.)
Delta’s Pet First service allows small dogs, cats and household birds to travel in the cabin if they’re at least 10 weeks old and fit in a kennel stored underneath a seat. Other animals, including larger dogs and cats, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits, can fly as checked baggage. And for some international destinations pets, with the exception of service animals, must travel as cargo. United allows cats, small dogs, rabbits and birds in the aircraft cabin on most domestic flights for a service charge of $125 each way. Restrictions apply based on the aircraft, cabin and seat. Passengers with pets cannot be seated in the bulkhead or emergency exit row and only a certain number of pets are permitted on each flight, so it’s important to reserve a spot early.
Once you’ve booked a flight for you and your pet, the next step is finding a hotel. Like airlines, major hotel chains have varying policies.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts leaves it up to individual brands or properties to decide whether pets can be accommodated. Generally, hotels that accept pets allow cats and smaller dogs, those under 50 pounds, although hotel managers have some discretion. Hotels will charge either a daily fee or a cleaning fee to have a pet in a room. Some require guests to sign a waiver agreeing to pay for the cleanup or repair of any damage caused by their pet.
Usually pets cannot be left in a room unattended but some chains, including Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, offer daycare. Hotels that allow pets will often make an effort to pamper your pooch. Some Hyatt properties provide a dog bed and bowl, as well as a dog-walk area with cleanup stations.
Business Travel: Airline Carry-On Policies Debated
With meetings awaiting them, flyers who are traveling for business need to be on the move as soon as they land. For this group of travelers, that often means taking a carry-on bag instead of checking their luggage.
So business travelers were among the groups that expressed concern in June when the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade group that includes the world’s major airlines, proposed a new size limit for carry-on bags.
The proposal would reduce the current standard by about 20 percent, to 21½ inches tall, 7½ inches deep and 13½ inches wide. Those dimensions, IATA said, would help ensure space for everyone’s carry-on bag on an aircraft of 120 or more seats. Airlines would work with luggage manufacturers and bags that meet the new standard would be labeled “Cabin OK.”
Domestic carriers, including Delta and United, limit the size of carry-ons to 22 inches tall, 9 inches deep and 14 inches wide. Smaller Delta Connection and United Express flights generally have much smaller overhead bins. Passengers on those planes may be required to check carry-ons at the gate or plane-side.
Among international airlines there’s less uniformity.
Air France limits carry-ons to 21 inches tall by 9 inches deep by 13 inches wide. For KLM, it’s 21½ inches tall by 10 inches deep by 13½ inches wide. Air Berlin’s limit is 21½ inches tall, 9 inches deep and 15½ inches wide. Etihad Airways allows one or two bags, depending on the fare class, and limits the size of each to 19½ by 8¼ by 15½. Singapore Airlines also allows one or two carry-on bags, and limits the sum of the length, width and height of each piece to 45 inches.
While the IATA proposal garnered some support among international carriers, in the United States it ran into strong opposition from travelers, Members of Congress and the airline industry.
Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen introduced the Carry-On Freedom Act, which would prevent airlines from reducing the standard carry-on size. He called the proposal a “transparent attempt to squeeze even more money out of passengers” by forcing them to pay to check luggage that would have been allowed in overhead bins under the current rules. New York Sen. Charles Schumer said with “sky-high” airfares, travelers should not be forced to spend hundreds of dollars on new luggage.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) argued that the change would “increase costs and pose headaches for business travelers who want to avoid the delays and time lost associated with checking baggage.” Airlines for America, the industry group representing major U.S. carriers, said its members were opposed to the initiative, calling it unnecessary and noting that airlines are taking measures to increase the amount of space in overhead bins.
To address those concerns, IATA has paused its initiative. The organization noted that the proposal was simply a guideline for an optimally sized bag. Airlines will continue to set their own size limits for carry-ons and no consumer will be forced to buy a new bag.
Cunard: 175 Years of Ocean Liners
On July 4, 1840, a revolution occurred in transatlantic travel when the steamship Britannia left Liverpool, bound for Boston.
The ship had a crew of 89 and carried 115 first-class passengers including Samuel Cunard, a Canadian-born British entrepreneur whose company won a contract to run a mail service between the United Kingdom and North America. In addition to the mail, there were 600 tons of coal, chickens and a cow for fresh milk.
When the Britannia reached Boston two weeks later, it proved that steamships could make the journey across the Atlantic quicker and safer than sailing vessels, opening up the age of ocean liners.
By the early 20th century the company, now named the Cunard Line, was regularly transporting passengers across the Atlantic and setting a standard for innovation. Among the milestones: in 1901, the first wireless communication at sea; in 1922, the first passenger liner to go on a cruise around the world, a voyage that took 130 days; in 1938, the launching of the Queen Elizabeth, which would remain the world’s biggest passenger liner for almost 60 years.
Over nearly two centuries, the Cunard Line has played a vital role in times of peace and war. Millions of immigrants traveled on Cunard ships to start new lives in America. During World War I and World War II, its ocean liners were converted to troop ships. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Cunard passengers were a Who’s Who of Hollywood, including Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Bing Crosby.
This year Cunard, now a subsidiary of Carnival Corp., celebrates its 175th anniversary and operates three vessels: the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth. Given their regal names, it’s not surprising that the ships combine modern amenities with a style that recalls the company’s British heritage, including afternoon tea, speakers’ programs and formal dress at some meals.
Launched in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 is Cunard’s flagship, carrying 2,620 passengers. Onboard, they’ll find a 3D cinema, planetarium, casino and spa. Upcoming trips include the Blue Note Jazz at Sea Transatlantic Crossing, departing from New York on Oct. 29 and arriving in Southampton, England, on Nov. 5, and a trip from New York to Hamburg from Sept. 4 to 13.
On the Queen Victoria, the 2,014 passengers can take in an evening of theatre, browse the wood-paneled library, practice their golf swings or even take a fencing lesson. The ship will travel to Venice, Turkey and Greece from Aug. 22 to 29 and to Italy and Spain from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3.
The Queen Elizabeth, Cunard’s newest ship, was launched in 2010 and can carry 2,068 passengers. They can shop at the Royal Arcade, enjoy a game of croquet and attend a fancy-dress ball in the evening. The Queen Elizabeth travels to Venice and the Adriatic from Oct. 21 to Nov. 7 and to Spain and Italy from Oct. 7 to 21.
For help planning a voyage on a Cunard Line ship, contact your travel agent.
Americans’ Top Dream Destinations
When Americans think about their dream vacation, the land down under comes out on top.
Australia is once again the top international “bucket list” destination according to a new survey by Travel Leaders Group that included responses from 3,371 U.S. consumers. It’s followed by Italy, Ireland, New Zealand and a European cruise on the Mediterranean. In fact, Australia was number one in Travel Leaders surveys in 2009, 2011 and 2013 as well.
A strong U.S. dollar means American travelers are getting more for their money around the world, including in Australia, so if it’s your dream international destination, 2015 is a great time to plan a trip.
Of course, Australia is a vast place and is almost the size of the continental United States. It also has just as diverse a landscape, from bustling cities to rugged mountains, lush forests and stark deserts to rolling hills and pristine beaches. Most of the country has four seasons: winter from June to August, spring from September to November, summer from December to February and fall from March to May. But even the winter is relatively mild.
Given its size, and the fact that most Americans have limited vacation time, it makes sense to concentrate your trip on a few areas. A travel agent can help you figure out when to go, how to get there, where to stay and what to see in a way that fits your budget.
Travelers who love to swim, snorkel, surf and sail will want to head to the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches along the Queensland coast in the northeast. Ranking as the world’s largest coral reef system, it’s home to a large and colorful array of marine life.
Vacationers who want to spend time in one of Australia’s cities should put Sydney on their list. Located in the southeastern part of the country, Sydney is known for its harbor and iconic bridge and opera house, as well as world-class restaurants and the sun-drenched Bondi Beach. But with culture abounding, Melbourne is giving Sydney a run for its money as one of the top up-and-coming destinations in Australia.
The center of the country is the place to explore aboriginal culture by visiting Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. The sandstone monolith in the outback is one of Australia’s most recognizable landmarks and is sacred to the aboriginal people. Its vivid color is especially spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
Every visitor to Australia should make time to see its unique wildlife. Travelers who take the 150-mile drive along the Great Ocean Road on the southeastern coast will pass by stunning scenery including places that offer a chance to spot kangaroos and koalas, as well as whales, dolphins and seals.
Finally, Australia’s wineries have developed a worldwide reputation for excellence and a visit to a wine-growing region is a delicious way to cap off a trip. There are more than 60 regions, from Hunter Valley in the east to Margaret River in the west, and nearly every one has an annual festival that celebrates local food, wine and culture.
For help planning a trip to your dream destination anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Fall Travel May Be Most Optimal Time to Travel
Summer may be peak vacation time but just around the corner is a season that has tempting advantages for people who can swing it. For travelers who want to visit popular destinations without the massive crowds, and save some money, it’s time to start planning a fall getaway.
Among the benefits of autumn travel: airfares are lower, while hotels and cruise lines are more likely to offer deals, which can add up to substantial savings, leaving more money to spend on other parts of the trip. In addition, with the kids back in school museums and other attractions will be less packed. Finally, in many vacation spots the stifling summer heat has given way to cooler, more pleasant temperatures, making it more comfortable to get around.
London, Rome and Paris are all among the top 10 international vacation destinations for Americans in 2015, according to the annual survey by Travel Leaders Group of its U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents.
If a trip to one of those capitals – or anywhere else in Europe – is on your list, the shoulder season, roughly from mid-September to mid-November, can be a great time to visit.
A stronger U.S. dollar means that you’ll have more money to spend once you get there, but the savings will start even before you arrive. Airfares to Europe can be hundreds of dollars cheaper in September and October than at the peak of summer.
In Rome, the average high temperature drops from the upper 80s in July and August to the low 70s by October, perfect for walking around and exploring the narrow streets, romantic piazzas and historic sites of the Eternal City.
Paris is one of the most beautiful and most visited cities in the world. In the fall, there’ll be fewer tourists to compete with when you’re trying to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower, get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and sip wine a café.
For culture buffs, London is an exciting place to be in the fall since it heralds the start of a new season of music, dance and drama at the city’s world-class theatres and concert halls.
But Europe isn’t the only place where travelers can find bargains in the fall. Because of their distance from the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii are bucket-list destinations for many Americans and the off-season is a good time to experience them while saving some money.
An Alaskan cruise is the top domestic destination for 2015, according to the Travel Leaders survey. September is shoulder season, when demand is lower and cruise lines are more likely to offer promotions. Plus, September is the time to view Alaska’s spectacular fall foliage.
The Hawaiian island of Maui is number three on the list of top domestic destinations. The best rates are available from September to November, when hotels, airfare and tour packages are lower and the weather is still warm and sunny.
For help planning a fall vacation, contact your travel agent.
Toasting Oktoberfests Around the World
We’re in the middle of the dog days of summer but travelers who enjoy a refreshing brew should be looking toward fall, when some of the world’s biggest beer festivals are on tap in the United States and Europe.
Of course when it comes to beer festivals, most people think of Munich. The city’s Oktoberfest dates to 1810, when a celebration was held to mark the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. Today, Oktoberfest draws some 6 million visitors for music, food, entertainment and beer from the city’s best-known breweries. In 2015, the festival takes place from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.
Two must-see events happen at the start of Oktoberfest. On Sept. 19, the parade of landlords and breweries takes place, a procession of horse-drawn wagons, floats and bands. The next day is the colorful Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, with 8,000 participants. An open-air concert featuring all of the Oktoberfest bands, with some 400 musicians, will be held on Sept. 27.
The Oktoberfest grounds are home to more than a dozen beer tents, some of which have room for up to 10,000 people who come to eat, drink, and soak up Bavarian culture. Each has its own atmosphere and in addition to beer, visitors will find traditional food, from soft pretzels to sausages, dumplings and one of the most popular Oktoberfest meals, Steckerlfisch, grilled fish on a stick. For a break from the crowds, several smaller beer tents around the city have become festival favorites.
Of course, no visit to Munich is complete without a visit to the city’s famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria. As the oldest beer hall in the city, you’ll see huge steins of beer being carried by its welcoming staff, who are renowned for their world famous Bavarian “Gemütllichkeit” – or warmth and friendliness – year-round.
Another popular festival takes place each year in Stuttgart. The Cannstatter Wasen, or Stuttgart Beer Festival, began in 1818 as a harvest celebration. This year’s event, which will be held from Sept. 25 to Oct. 11, is smaller than Oktoberfest, but just as rich in tradition and fun. Visitors will find plenty of beer flowing at huge festival tents, lively brass bands, a colorful flea market, carnival rides including a Ferris wheel, and midway games. A parade with horse-drawn brewery wagons, musicians and marchers in traditional costumes takes place Sept. 27, the first Sunday of the festival.
Belgian Beer Weekend – this year it will be Sept. 4 to 6 – takes place against a stunning backdrop, the Grand Place, the historic central square of Brussels. Organized by the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff, the modern version of the centuries-old brewers’ guild, the festival is full of pomp and ceremony, with parades and a display of brewery carts and beer wagons. Nearly 50 breweries take part in the weekend, offering a variety of the country’s beers to sample.
Of course, travelers don’t have to cross an ocean to enjoy a great beer. The Great American Beer Festival, which takes place Sept. 24 to 26 in Denver, is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. The festival draws more than 700 breweries, giving visitors a chance to sample 3,500 American craft beers served up in one-ounce tasting portions.
For help planning a trip to a beer festival anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Airlines Seek to Improve Boarding
There’s no doubt that flight delays are costly, both to airlines and passengers.
A report commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration called domestic flight delays a “serious and widespread problem” and pegged the annual impact on the U.S. economy at more than $30 billion.
While airlines face increased costs for crews, fuel and maintenance, business travelers have a different, yet equally pressing, set of concerns. For them, and for their companies, a flight delay means rescheduling meetings, extending hotel stays and booking new flights, all of which add to the cost of doing business.
Some delays are obviously out of the carrier’s control, such as those caused by bad weather. But airlines are increasingly looking at what is in their control. One area that’s getting new scrutiny is the boarding process. Airlines are trying out new ways to get passengers in their seats and carry-on items stowed with greater speed and efficiency that in turn can lead to an increase in on-time departures.
For example, this summer Delta Air Lines is introducing its Early Valet program at airports in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle. A limited test last summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles showed some success in reducing boarding time.
Passengers on selected flights will have the option of dropping off their carry-on bags before boarding. Delta is targeting flights on planes that have one long aisle, where it takes longer to get everyone seated. Under the program the bags will be tagged and brought onto the plane by Delta employees, who will stow them in bins above the passengers’ assigned seats.
Delta’s hope is that its employees will be able to accomplish the task faster and more efficiently. Airline passengers who’ve been frustrated trying to find space to squeeze in their carry-on bag will agree that it’s one area where there’s room for improvement.
United Airlines has also been working to improve its boarding process. Over the past two years the airline has implemented changes designed to make things go more smoothly. Those changes include reducing the number of boarding groups from seven to five and simplifying the announcements that customer service representatives use to guide boarding.
In addition, the airline has unveiled new, ultra-modern boarding areas at airports in Boston and San Francisco and tried out other ideas at one of its primary hubs, O’Hare Airport in Chicago.
For example, United has experimented with changing the layout at its gates, installing new podiums for agents and making the signs that direct passengers more distinctive. Clearly marked boarding lanes help people figure out where they should be standing in line, thus avoiding a crush toward the front as each boarding group is announced.
While the efforts of airlines such as Delta and United will aid all travelers, they’re especially important for business travelers. A more efficient boarding process improves the odds that their flight will take off on time, enabling them to reach their destination and get on with their work.
Experiencing Expo Milano 2015
Travelers with an appetite for one-of-a-kind events should head to northern Italy to take part in one of the year’s biggest gatherings – Expo Milano 2015.
The universal exposition, also known as a “World’s Fair,’ has a history stretching back more than a century and often introduced technological innovations or iconic structures. The Eiffel Tower, for example, was built for the Paris Exposition of 1889. Today, major expositions are held in a different city every five years.
Milan’s Expo, which runs through October, focuses on food and agriculture, with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” More than 140 countries from around the world are participating. They’re focusing a spotlight on culinary traditions as well as the latest advances in technology and agriculture to ensure that everyone has access to a healthy, safe and sufficient supply of food.
Expo Milano has been built on a site that’s nearly 250 acres and is located about 25 minutes from the city center by public transportation. There’s much for visitors of all ages, including children, to see, do and eat.
Employing some of the world’s major architectural firms, dozens of countries have constructed pavilions. Mexico’s is inspired by the shape of a giant ear of corn, the country’s most typical food; Austria incorporates a forest; the United Arab Emirates uses ramps that evoke desert sand dunes; South Korea’s resembles a “moon jar,” a container used to ferment its traditional dishes; Angola has a stylized African baobab tree at its center.
The U.S. pavilion evokes the design of a traditional American barn. It features a boardwalk made of wood repurposed from Coney Island and, on one wall of the building, a vertical farm where vegetables, grains and herbs are harvested daily. Food trucks serve up iconic regional dishes and visitors can tour an exhibit called “The Great American Foodscape.”
Expo Milano also has clusters that bring together countries linked by a common food, such as rice, cocoa or coffee. Pavilion Zero serves as an introduction, exploring the transformation of the natural landscape and the rituals of food consumption. In the Future Food District, visitors learn about new technologies at each step of the food chain. The Children’s Park is designed as a forest, a place for young visitors to lean and have fun. When it comes time for dining the expo has more than 150 options, from restaurants and bars to cafeterias and kiosks.
But the expo is designed to be a feast for all the senses, not just taste, and the arts also play a role. Cirque du Soleil has created a new show, “Allavita!” (“To Life!”) that runs through the end of August. The La Scala opera house will present opera, classical music and ballet during the expo. And Milan’s Palazzo Reale has organized Italy’s largest-ever exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, with paintings, drawings, sculptures and manuscripts assembled from the world’s greatest museums. It runs through July 19.
For help planning a trip to Expo Milano 2015, contact your travel agent.
The United Nations at 70 and New UNESCO World Heritage Sites
It’s no coincidence that 2015 marks the 70th anniversary not only of the end of World War II but of the founding of the United Nations.
The hope was that the nations of the world could, in the words of the preamble to the U.N. Charter, “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind,” as well as improve the lives of people around the world and encourage respect for human rights.
Delegates meeting in San Francisco signed the Charter on June 26, 1945. It took effect on October 24, 1945, after being ratified by the permanent members of the Security Council, including the United States, and a majority of the other signatory countries. In 1952, the United Nations headquarters complex was completed, overlooking the East River in New York City.
Travelers with an interest in history and diplomacy can visit the U.N. headquarters on guided tours Monday through Friday. When meetings are not in session, the tour includes the recently renovated General Assembly hall, where the 193 member states convene, and the Security Council. If you’re dressed in business casual you can rub elbows with diplomats at the Delegates Dining Room, which offers a lunch buffet that’s open to the public.
Two exhibits have been organized for the U.N.’s 70th anniversary. “We the People’s: Norman Rockwell’s United Nations” features the artist’s iconic drawing that captures the spirit of the organization. It runs from June 29 to September 15. In October and November, photographs from key moments in U.N. history, and its work around the world today, go on display.
One part of the U.N.’s work that is of special interest to travelers is the identification of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, places that have unique cultural or physical significance to humanity.
Here are some of the most recently designated sites:
Italy’s Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont, including the Castle of Cavour, is known for its hilly, breathtaking scenery and has been a center of grape growing and winemaking for centuries.
The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, in Louisiana, is the 22nd World Heritage Site in the United States. The complex of ancient earthen mounds and ridges is one of North America’s most important archaeological sites.
The Pre-Columbian Chiefdom Settlements, in southern Costa Rica, contain a number of stone spheres that were buried by sediment for centuries. Noteworthy for their size and density, their meaning and use are largely a mystery.
Japan’s Tomioka Silk Mill complex, established in the late 19th and early 20th century, was a center of innovation and marked the country’s entry into the modern industrialized era as the world’s leading exporter of raw silk.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta comprises marshlands and seasonally flooded plains. An example of the interaction between climate and biological cycles, it’s home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal.
For help planning a trip to visit the United Nations or to any of the World Heritage Sites, contact your travel agent.
Viking River Cruises to Serve the Mighty Mississippi
In 1807, inventor Robert Fulton launched the first commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont, which made a 150-mile trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in 32 hours.
Initially known as “Fulton’s Folly,” the boat was a success and helped usher in an age of river travel. So it’s fitting that this year, which marks the 250th anniversary of Fulton’s birth, the world’s leading river cruise line is poised to make a big splash in the United States.
Viking River Cruises is known for taking travelers along some of the most historic and scenic waterways in Europe, Asia and Egypt, with the opportunity to dock right in the heart of big cities and quaint towns and villages. Even if you haven’t been on a Viking journey, you may be familiar with the cruise line as a sponsor of “Masterpiece” on PBS and seen their spots before “Downton Abbey.”
Now, Viking has unveiled plans to enter the U.S. market by offering trips along America’s most famous waterway – the Mississippi River.
New Orleans will be the homeport for the company’s first North American cruises, which are scheduled to launch in late 2017. The boats will dock within walking distance of the French Quarter, the city’s oldest neighborhood and a center of great food, music and nightlife.
Depending on the season, the ships will stop in Memphis, St. Louis and St. Paul, giving passengers the opportunity to enjoy the rich history, culture and cuisine of cities and towns along the way.
For its North American operations, Viking plans to launch two 300-passenger riverboats a year for a total of six in the first three years. Each boat will be about one-tenth the size of an oceangoing cruise ship. Viking has indicated that they’ll be similar to the company’s European river cruise vessels, and they’ll be built in the United States and staffed by American crews.
Viking is launching its U.S. operations at a time of great interest in European river cruises on the part of American travelers. They’re among the top five international destinations for 2015, according to a survey of Travel Leaders Group agents.
And Viking is an expert at making the destination part of the experience. Its European and Asian river trips are designed to be explorations, with talks, performances, cooking and craft demonstrations, as well as guided tours during shore excursions. Of course, passengers can explore independently, too, and the ship’s staff can help tailor the sightseeing to individual interests.
For Americans who want to experience a river cruise in their own backyard, there’s no better waterway to travel along than the mighty Mississippi, with its long and storied role in U.S. history. From the giant barges that move freight, to the writings of Mark Twain to the jazz and blues that were born in the communities along its banks, the Mississippi has left its mark on popular culture in numerous ways.
For help planning a river cruise anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Top Up and Coming Destinations in the Americas
They are our neighbors to the south yet for many U.S. travelers, the countries of Central and South America – as well as in the Caribbean – await discovery.
Every year Travel Leaders Group, as part of its Travel Trends Survey, polls its 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents on the top “up and coming” destinations around the world. For 2015, their choices in the Americas are Costa Rica (30.5 percent), Peru (11.2 percent), Ecuador and Galapagos Islands (10.2 percent), Cuba (9.4 percent), and Belize (7.9 percent).
The Central American nation of Costa Rica is a leader in ecological tourism, offering visitors a chance to view the natural world in unspoiled surroundings. One such place is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a mountain rainforest that’s home to hundreds of species of plant and animal life. With coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean, Costa Rica offers a variety of beach vacation spots including Manuel Antonio National Park, known for its white sand and lush foliage. The historic capital city of San Jose serves as a great jumping off point.
For travelers interested in ancient history, the South American nation of Peru is a natural destination. The spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu, built by the Incas in the Andes Mountains in the 15th century, are a must-see. Peruvians are also proud of their nation’s reputation as a culinary hot spot. Mistura, Latin America’s biggest food festival, celebrates the country’s cuisine, a fusion of Europe, Asia and Africa. This year, it will be held September 4-13 in Peru’s bustling capital of Lima.
Ecuador has all the elements that make a South American vacation unique, from the Amazon to the Andes. Quito, the capital, was founded in the 16th century and has a well-preserved historic center. To explore native culture, visit Otavalo, famous for handmade textiles and a harvest festival in September. About 600 miles off the coast are the awe-inspiring Galapagos Islands, one of the best places in the world to view wildlife including giant tortoises, sea lions and iguanas. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of British naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited in 1835.
Located on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize is home to the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, making it a perfect location for snorkeling and scuba diving. History buffs will enjoy the country’s Mayan ruins and outdoor enthusiasts will want to explore Belize’s extensive network of caves. The Costa Maya Festival, a celebration of Mayan culture, will be held August 6-8 on the island of Ambergris Caye.
Closer to home in the Caribbean, Cuba is on the list because of the U.S. government’s decision to normalize relations and reduce travel limitations. People-to-people cultural exchange tours are one of the categories under which Americans can visit and they’ll find a country rich in cultural events. Among them is the Festival del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba July 3-9. The festival of Caribbean music and dance takes place in Cuba’s second-largest city, which celebrates its 500th birthday this year.
For help planning a trip to Central America, South America or Cuba, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Challenging Outlook for Corporate Travel Managers
For business travelers, and for the corporate managers in charge of travel budgets, the outlook for 2015 can be summed up in one word: challenging.
As the global economy continues to strengthen, particularly in the United States and Canada, companies have been increasing the amount of employee travel. The trend is expected to continue in 2015 according to Travel Leaders Group, which conducts annual surveys of its agents who specialize in business travel.
With the increased travel comes greater demand for airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars, while at the same time placing added pressure on corporate managers who are trying to control costs.
Here’s some of what business travelers can expect this year:
The average price of a domestic airline ticket has risen steadily over the past several years and the climb continues in 2015. Ticket prices are expected to increase by nearly 3 percent in North America and nearly 2 percent globally. With a high passenger load, airlines will be less likely to offer discounts, even despite the recent decreases over the past year in fuel costs. While airlines increased airfares with surcharges when the cost of aviation fuel surged, they’re unlikely to pass their newfound savings on to consumers.
To generate additional revenue, they’re increasingly turning to ancillary fees in areas such as seat upgrades, baggage and in-flight services. Corporate managers will have to keep a close watch to determine which ones comply with their travel policy.
Flight delays and cancellations that can spike an organization’s travel budget continue to be a major concern. The FAA reports that on-time performance declined 3.4 percent, to 74.8 percent, during the first eight months of 2014 compared with the same period the previous year.
To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Top Hot Spots for Independence Day
The Fourth of July is all about celebrating the best of America. And what better way to do that than by checking out some of the country’s best Independence Day celebrations.
Boston and Philadelphia are great choices for travelers who want to take in some history along with their fireworks on the United States’ 239th birthday.
Boston’s 2½-mile Freedom Trail passes by 16 historic locations such as the Old North Church where, in 1775, lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn patriots of advancing British soldiers. Boston’s Harborfest runs from July 1 to 5, with events for all ages, including historic reenactments, musical performances, cruises and museum exhibits. On the Fourth, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs a free concert along the Charles River, culminating in a dramatic “1812 Overture” accompanied by booming cannons and fireworks.
A tour of Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, is a must-see for visitors to Philadelphia. The Wawa Welcome America Festival returns June 27 to July 4, with a full slate of events, including Hoagie Day to celebrate the city’s iconic sandwich and a Philly Pops performance. It all leads up to a parade and the Fourth of July Jam, a concert and fireworks grand finale in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Dazzling fireworks lighting up the sky are a Fourth of July tradition from coast to coast. In New York, the Macy’s show has the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop. Nashville’s Let Freedom Sing has events for the whole family, with 27 minutes of fireworks set to music from the Nashville Symphony. Visitors to San Francisco can sway to the sounds of an American art form at the Fillmore Jazz Festival, then head to Pier 39 for dining, ferry rides and fireworks over San Francisco Bay.
Of course, there are terrific celebrations in small towns across the United States.
The Bristol, RI, parade is part of the nation’s oldest Fourth of July celebration, dating back to 1785. The boyhood home of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Mo., hosts the 60th Annual National Tom Sawyer Days July 2 to 4, including fence-painting and frog-jumping contests. At majestic Mount Rushmore, actors portray George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, the presidents whose heads are carved into South Dakota’s Black Hills. For a Western twist, Steamboat Springs, CO, celebrates with the 112th annual Cowboys’ Roundup Days July 2 to 5, including a rodeo, block party and a parade on the Fourth.
Finally, Washington, D.C., always puts on a big show for July 4th. The National Independence Day Parade features marching bands from across the country, patriotic floats and military units. At the National Archives, a Fourth of July program includes a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The day ends with a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and a fireworks display on the National Mall.
For help planning a Fourth of July vacation, contact your travel agent.
Celebrating Sensational Singapore at 50
Singapore’s rapid development and robust economy have made it one of Asia’s “tigers.” But this center of global commerce has also become known as one of the region’s top vacation destinations. That’s especially true in 2015, as the island nation marks its 50th anniversary of independence.
To celebrate, Singapore is throwing itself a party including a Jubilee Weekend August 7 – 10 that’s packed with events. Highlights include a parade, fireworks and aerial acrobatics by the Singapore Air Force on August 9, the anniversary of the date in 1965 when Singapore became independent from Malaysia. Special programs, including a carnival, are planned at the Botanic Gardens, known for its hundreds of varieties of orchids.
In addition, this fall the country will unwrap two anniversary gifts. A National Gallery, designed as a showcase of Southeast Asian art, opens in November in the old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings that date to the early 20th century. And a Jubilee Walk through the heart of old Singapore will include markers at areas of historical interest.
While the jubilee is a great time to discover Singapore, there’s always something to celebrate including an International Festival of Arts from August 6 to September 19 featuring theater, dance, music and film; the Singapore Grand Prix September 18 – 20, a Formula One street race held at night; and ZoukOut, a dance and music festival in December that’s one of Asia’s biggest beach parties.
A country of 5 million people, Singapore has been shaped by a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and European cultures. It’s a place where visitors can dine at gourmet restaurants or try “hawker centers” filled with food stalls; they can window shop along fashionable Orchard Road or hunt for souvenirs at an outdoor market. In the evening they can head to Clarke Quay, filled with restaurants, bars and clubs, or try the Night Safari for a unique look at the animal kingdom.
One of the island’s newest developments is Marina Bay, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment. The Marina Bay Sands Resort has three 55-story towers capped by an observation deck offering a breathtaking 360-degree view. Other attractions include an 18-hole golf course, a casino, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel and the futuristic-looking Gardens by the Bay.
Afterward, visitors can take a step back in time and visit the Colonial-style Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887, the hotel has played host to famous writers and artists over its long and storied history including Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, no visit would be complete without a stop in the hotel’s iconic Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in 1915.
Finally, be sure to stop by Merlion Park to see the water-spouting statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish that’s Singapore’s national icon, symbolizing its humble roots as a fishing village. The head represents Singapore’s original name, “Singapura,” or lion city, in Malay.
Summer Travel Tips
With Memorial Day fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about summer travel plans, that is, if you haven’t already, to lock in the best fares and rates.
There are three elements to ensuring a great vacation: Decide where you want to go, figure out how to get there and where to stay, and determine what you want to see and do once you arrive.
Everyone has a dream trip. It could be across an ocean or closer to home, on a cruise ship or at a beachfront resort. Maybe there’s a place you’ve longed to see ever since you were a kid, or a spot you visited years ago and want to return to show your own children, or a romantic location you and your significant other have wanted to experience in person ever since you saw it in a movie. Or, it could be someplace you hadn’t even considered.
Once you’ve picked a destination, think about transportation and lodging. Is a direct flight better if you’re traveling with young children? Will you need to rent a car and what size? Since it’ll be your home away from home during the trip, deciding what you want from a hotel is important. Do you need a pool or a restaurant on-site? Do you mind a high-rise or would you rather be in a smaller hotel? Some people want to step outside and be in the middle of shopping, dining and attractions, while others prefer a quieter spot.
The weeks and months leading up to a trip are filled with anticipation. Put that excitement to good use by researching the can’t-miss attractions. If possible, buy tickets before you go to save money and time waiting in line. Wherever you go, summer is a time for outdoor events of all kinds. Find free or low-cost things that the whole family will enjoy. For example, many places have free concerts and festivals or walking tours.
But don’t let the itinerary be your only guide. At least once during your vacation try something new, whether it’s a recreational activity or a restaurant that serves up cuisine you’ve never eaten or a sporting event or performance you might not necessarily attend at home.
Just be adaptable and give yourself room to breathe. When you have a short amount of time, it’s natural to want to try and see as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down and relaxing on the beach or by the pool, sitting in a café and watching the world go by or taking in a spectacular sunset. It’s the quiet moments that you’ll remember as much as the jam-packed ones.
Whether your travel plans involve going solo or with friends or loved ones, getting away for one week or two, a travel agent has the expertise to help you plan your vacation with an eye on your budget. That includes picking from a wide array of lodging choices, to figuring out the best route for reaching your destination, to recommending the experiences that will make the trip linger long after you’ve returned home.
Contact your travel agent.
Europe’s Top Up and Coming Destinations for 2015
Europe is always a popular destination for American travelers but this year, the strong dollar makes it a great time to go beyond the continent’s usual favorites when planning a trip.
As part of its authoritative Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents on the trends they’ve spotted for the coming year, including the top up-and-coming vacation destinations around the world. For Europe in 2015, Croatia tops the list, at 25.2 percent; followed by the Greek Islands, 21 percent; Iceland, 17.8 percent; the Czech Republic, 10.3 percent; and Portugal, 8.8 percent.
Visitors to Croatia will find a country rich in historic sites dating to the Roman Empire and blessed with miles of coastline along the Adriatic Sea that offers opportunities for recreation and relaxation. Dubrovnik, once a maritime power in its own right, is home to one of the world’s best-preserved medieval walled cities. “Game of Thrones” fans will want to take a tour of spots where the HBO series is filmed. The city plays host to a summer festival of classical music, ballet and theater that will be held this year from July 10 to Aug. 25.
The sun-splashed Greek Islands are places to revel in some of Europe’s most romantic locations. Santorini is a popular destination for honeymoons and weddings. Created by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago, it’s famed for gorgeous sunsets, cliff-side villages and ancient ruins. On Crete, the largest of the islands, travelers can explore the maze-like Old Town and the breathtaking Samaria Gorge. Visitors to Skopelos can see where “Mamma Mia!” was filmed.
Iceland’s rugged landscape beckons travelers who want to get close to nature. From Reykjavik, the lively capital, it’s easy to take in a whale watching excursion or a trip to the soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. In June, Ice Cave Iceland opens at Langjokull, giving visitors a chance to explore Europe’s second-largest glacier from the inside. September to April is a great time to view the dazzling nighttime display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
The Czech Republic is a place to soak up the old-world charm of Central Europe. On the must-see list in Prague, the capital, are the 9th-century Prague Castle, which towers over the city; the well-preserved Old Town; and the Charles Bridge, with its stunning views. For classical music lovers, the Dvorak Festival, honoring one of the Czech Republic’s most beloved native sons, will be held in Prague Sept. 7 – 23.
Portugal, with its sunny climate, is a year-round holiday destination. The Algarve, in the south, is known for its sandy beaches, while Porto, in the north, is the home of port wine and offers a fascinating mix of ancient and modern architecture. The Feast of Trays takes place July 4 – 13, in Tomar, in central Portugal. It’s an ancient tradition in which young girls parade through the streets wearing headdresses made from loaves of bread.
For help planning a European vacation, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Sustainability and Business Travel Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
Sustainability has been a guiding principle for businesses for some time. Everything human beings need for survival depends on protecting the environment, on making sure that natural resources, clean air and clean water are preserved for future generations.
Forty percent or more of American and European companies report that their sustainability efforts have brought them a stronger public image, improved employee morale and a more efficient operation.
Now, that emphasis is increasingly expanding to include business travel.
More U.S. and European companies are incorporating sustainability into their travel policies, according to a new study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and sponsored by Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise and National Car Rental brands.
A survey of nearly 300 travel managers found that 57 percent of companies based in Europe and 19 percent of U.S.-based organizations have sustainability initiatives. That’s up from 39 percent in 2012 for European companies and up from 11 percent in 2011 for U.S. firms.
Interestingly, European companies tend to focus on financial and environmental benefits while American firms tout the human relations aspect of sustainability efforts.
For business travelers, sustainability means putting the same emphasis on the three “R’s” – reduce, reuse and recycle – while they’re on the road as they do when they’re in the home office, or even at home.
It means being more eco-conscious during every step of the planning process for a trip, from the selection of transportation – be it airlines, rail travel or rental cars – to the choice of hotels and meeting spaces. Travel agents have the expertise to find the sustainable options that business travelers increasingly require.
The “travel” part of business travel is a major concern for companies.
According to the GBTA survey, among companies that track their environmental footprint more than 90 percent measure air travel. For employees, that may mean taking nonstop flights or traveling by train instead of plane when feasible, as well as using public transportation or renting a more energy efficient vehicle, or even choosing hotels and meeting sites that minimize use of a car.
Corporate policy may also require that employees who travel for business stay in hotels with sustainability programs. And that doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort, location or the services that business travelers need. Major chains including Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood have them in place. They’re all working to increase recycling and to reduce waste, as well as water and energy use.
Business travelers can do their part as hotel guests by forgoing a daily change of bed linens and reusing towels, as well as turning off lights, turning down the thermostat and unplugging chargers and small electronics when not in use.
For travelers who will be using meeting space some chains, such as Hilton, even have calculators that measure the environmental impact of those sessions in terms of energy and water usage. And many hotels have programs to help recycle material left over from meetings, whether it’s unused pens and paper or food and beverages.
All of this means that it’s much easier to go greener when traveling as a road warrior. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Retracing the History of World War II
In the spring and summer of 1945, the United States and its allies accepted the surrender of Germany and Japan, marking the end of World War II. For a world that had seen so much destruction, the victory was a time of celebration and solemnity.
This year’s 70th anniversary offers a chance to recall that era, to visit some of the places associated with World War II and to remember the sacrifices of the men and women of the “Greatest Generation,” who remain in our hearts even as many of them have passed on.
Aviation buffs will want to be in Washington, D.C., May 8 when the 70th anniversary of V-E Day (Victory in Europe) will be marked with a flyover featuring one of the largest arrays of World War II aircraft ever assembled. The next day, about 20 planes will be displayed at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Before the flyover, a wreath-laying ceremony is planned at the National World War II Memorial with the participation of veterans and representatives of U.S. and Allied nations.
One of the most enduring images of World War II appeared in LIFE magazine – a photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in New York’s Times Square when news of Japan’s surrender was announced. To re-create that moment, the Times Square Alliance is sponsoring a Kiss-In on Aug. 14, and all couples are invited to participate. Afterward, pay a visit to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, berthed on the Hudson River, to learn about its role in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
For many European nations, V-E Day is a holiday, marked with festivals, parades and ceremonies. For travelers, it’s an opportunity to remember the past and celebrate a remarkable rejuvenation over the past 70 years.
In London, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph, the United Kingdom’s national war memorial, and a parade the weekend of May 8-10. An air show honoring Allied forces is planned for May 23-24 at the Imperial War Museum’s facility in Duxford.
France pays tribute to Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle with an exhibit at the Army Museum at Les Invalides in Paris that runs through July 26.
Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its liberation by U.S. troops with a festival May 1 to 6. The city, about an hour from Prague, is the home of Pilsner beer and has been designated a European Capital of Culture for 2015.
World War II finally – and officially – came to an end on Sept. 2, 1945, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur received the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Today, in addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, travelers to Hawaii can see the Mighty Mo at Pearl Harbor. A new exhibit commemorating the 70th anniversary, “The War That Changed the World,” explores the everyday lives of people during World War II.
For help planning a trip, contact your travel agent.
Visiting Today’s Cuba Legally
With President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, more Americans are expected to visit the island nation that is tantalizingly close, yet has been mostly off limits since the U.S. severed diplomatic ties in 1961.
Travel to Cuba is tightly regulated through the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and it would take action by Congress to lift those restrictions. However, policy changes in the wake of the president’s December announcement make the process less daunting for travelers.
Current law does not permit travel to Cuba solely for tourism. Americans must have a purpose for their trip that falls within one of 12 categories. Some are specific, such as visits to family or as a journalist. Others are broader, including for professional research and meetings; religious or educational activities; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or of research or educational institutes; participation in performances or athletic competitions; and support for the Cuban people.
While the regulations rule out spending a week relaxing on the beach, they do provide a unique opportunity to truly get to know the country as part of an organized tour. For example, “people-to-people” tours allowed under educational activities may include a walking tour of historic Old Havana, a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home and a chance to take in the country’s vibrant art and music scenes. But the itineraries are also likely to include lectures about culture and society and a range of other activities designed to encourage interaction between Americans and Cubans, such as visits to medical clinics, businesses and community projects.
Up until this year, travelers to Cuba needed a specific license issued on a case-by-case basis. But the Treasury Department has simplified the process, authorizing a general license in each of the 12 permitted categories. That means people will still need to meet one of the categories for a trip but they’ll no longer have to submit a written request for permission to travel. However, individuals are responsible for maintaining records of their Cuba-related transactions for at least five years.
Other changes are designed to make things easier for Americans while they’re in Cuba. There’s no longer a daily limit on personal expenses. Americans will be able to use their credit or debit cards in Cuba, once their financial institutions are set up for it. And travelers can bring back goods worth $400 for personal use, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco products, such as Cuba’s famous rum and cigars.
While the U.S. government has taken small steps to facilitate travel, Cuba’s tourist infrastructure is limited. Hotel accommodations, air conditioning and Internet access likely won’t be available at the level that Americans expect. A half-century of economic sanctions means that there are plenty of vintage 1950s cars on the streets, giving visitors the sense that they’ve gone back in time. But adventurous travelers shouldn’t be deterred. They will find a warm and colorful country waiting to be discovered.
For help planning a trip to Cuba, contact your travel agent.
England Celebrates 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta
Today, it’s a picture-postcard meadow in the English countryside near a stretch of the River Thames. But 800 years ago, Runnymede was the site of one of history’s most influential gatherings.
It was at Runnymede that the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, was sealed on June 15, 1215. Designed to end a conflict between King John and his rebellious barons, the charter was a milestone in the evolution of democratic government and the rule of law. While much of it was annulled or rewritten over the centuries, the Magna Carta enshrined the concept that no one, including the monarch, was above the law. It has endured as a touchstone of individual liberty, serving as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution.
England is marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta with events nationwide, making 2015 a great time to visit, especially for travelers who want to explore British history, the roots of America’s system of government and how the two are connected.
In London, the British Library will examine the legacy of the Magna Carta with an exhibit of paintings, manuscripts and royal artifacts that runs through Sept. 1. Included will be two of the four original documents from 1215 that survive, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and an original copy of the Bill of Rights. Also in London, Shakespeare’s Globe, a re-created Elizabethan playhouse on the south bank of the River Thames, will present “King John” in June.
The anniversary is a perfect starting point for discovering all that England has to offer. Across the country, six trails highlight places with a connection to the events of 1215, including Lincoln and Salisbury, home to the other two original copies of the Magna Carta. In the north, a renovated Lincoln Castle, built in the 11th century, reopens in April with a vault where the charter will be displayed and films that will tell its story. Southwest of London, Salisbury Cathedral, dating from the 13th century, also has a new exhibit where visitors can view the charter and learn about its legacy.
Travelers who want to see where the charter was sealed can visit Runnymede, a tranquil spot in the English countryside about 20 miles west of London. A granite memorial, erected by the American Bar Association, commemorates the Magna Carta as a “symbol of freedom under law.” Nearby is a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Reached via a forest pathway, the memorial is inscribed with words from his 1961 Inaugural Address.
Finally, given the links between our two countries, it’s only fitting that the National Archives in Washington, D.C., joins with Britain in celebrating the anniversary of the Magna Carta. Visitors to the Archives can see a version of the charter dating from 1297, as well as view the fundamental documents of American democracy: the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution. An interactive display explores the connections between them.
For help planning a trip to England or Washington DC, contact your travel agent.
Africa’s Top “Up and Coming” Destinations for 2015
South Africa is by far Africa’s top “up and coming” destination, according to a national survey of Travel Leaders Group agents. But it’s not the only spot on the continent that is drawing attention.
As part of its authoritative annual Travel Trends Survey, 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents were polled about the top spots for travel around the world. Their picks for Africa are: South Africa (41 percent), Kenya (11.2 percent), Morocco (10.6 percent), Seychelles (9.1 percent) and Tanzania (9 percent).
With a highly developed tourism infrastructure and some of the world’s most stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that South Africa is one of the continent’s most popular destinations. A safari should be at the top of the list for any traveler to Africa and South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the best places to view wildlife, including the big five: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard. Another must-see is Cape Town, a bustling, diverse city famed for its harbor and setting at foot of its imposing Table Mountain. Among South Africa’s biggest annual events is the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July, a 10-day celebration of music, theater, dance and film.
Visitors to the east African nation of Kenya have an opportunity to witness one of the world’s most remarkable sights – the annual migration of the wildebeest. From July to November, more than 1½ million animals make the perilous trek from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve in search of food and water. Tourists can view the migration in early morning drives, walking safaris, on horseback or from a hot air balloon.
The Kingdom of Morocco, in North Africa, offers ample opportunity for nature lovers, with its rugged mountains, vast expanses of desert and coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Morocco’s cities, including Casablanca, Marrakesh, Fez and Tangier, with their mix of Arab, African and European influences, are places to become immersed in history and culture. The Festival of World Sacred Music will be held May 22-30 in Fez, a city with roots that stretch back 1,200 years.
Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is a place to relax on pristine beaches and enjoy water activities including fishing, sailing and diving. It’s also a place of natural beauty. The Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin Island is home to an ancient forest including the coco-de-mer palm, which produces the largest nut in the world, and the rare black parrot. The country’s biggest party, the Carnaval International de Victoria, will be held April 24-26.
Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, which takes about six days to climb. For travelers who’d rather stay lower to the ground, the east African nation is home to the Serengeti National Park, teeming with wildlife, and the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, often called “Africa’s Eden.” The Zanzibar International Film Festival, East Africa’s largest celebration of film, music and arts, takes place July 18-26.
Business Travel: Tipping Overseas
Business travelers accustomed to leaving tips in restaurants, for taxi rides and at hotels may be surprised if their work takes them out of the country. While tipping for good service is widely accepted in the United States, it’s not as common abroad and in some places, can be considered downright rude.
In Europe, a service charge is routinely added to a restaurant bill. French law, for example, requires a 15 percent service charge. In the United Kingdom, restaurants will customarily add a charge of 12.5 percent. Tipping is not as widespread in restaurants in Italy but some establishments in larger cities have started to add a service charge of 10 to 15 percent, which must be indicated on the menu. In Germany, if a service charge isn’t included, add 5 to 10 percent for the server.
While not required in cases where there’s a service charge, an additional gratuity for exceptional service is always welcome, although it doesn’t have to be the 15 to 20 percent diners in the United States are accustomed to leaving. An additional 5 to 10 percent is usually enough. If possible leave the tip in cash, both to ensure that it gets to the server and because the restaurant may not have a line for tips on credit card receipts.
Tipping for a taxi ride isn’t customary in Europe but if a driver assists with luggage, it’s appropriate to tip a pound in the United Kingdom or a couple of euros in France, Italy or Germany, or round up the fare and tell the driver to keep the change. Like a taxi driver, a hotel porter who assists with luggage should get a tip, usually a couple of pounds in the United Kingdom or a euro per bag in Europe.
In Australia, tipping isn’t expected but it has become more common to leave a 10 percent gratuity in a restaurant. As in Europe, a tip isn’t necessary if there’s a service charge added to the bill. It’s fine to give your taxi driver the spare change from the fare but it’s not expected. At hotels, give a porter who assists you an Australian dollar per item of luggage.
Unlike the United States or Western Europe, tipping is not part of the culture in Japan. It’s not expected in restaurants or at hotels or for cab rides. Most hotel employees are trained to politely refuse gratuities and, in fact, offering someone money directly is considered rude.
Like Japan, there’s generally no tipping in China, where it’s viewed as charity. Taxi drivers won’t accept gratuities and a service fee is included in most restaurant meals. But the practice has become more common at high-end hotels catering to Western tourists, where it’s allowable, although not necessary, to tip a bellhop or concierge.
For occasions when travelers do need to calculate a tip, a smartphone app such as Tipulator comes in handy. It lets you choose an amount up to 25 percent and calculates the amount of the tip.
To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Disneyland Celebrates 60 Years of Magic
Walt Disney’s goal was simple: to build an amusement park that children and adults could enjoy together, a place where they could experience the magic that he created through his films.
After more than two decades of dreaming and planning, Disneyland, built at a cost of $17 million, opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, California, with 18 attractions in Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street, U.S.A. Some, including the King Arthur Carrousel and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, still operate today.
In 2015, Disneyland celebrates its 60th anniversary, welcoming millions of visitors of all ages and from around the world every year.
Even for those who have been to Disneyland before, there’s always something new to experience. It’s a place of constant innovation, each decade adding more technologically advanced attractions designed to educate, thrill and delight.
Some of the early additions reflected Walt Disney’s own interests in areas such as transportation. (He was a big train enthusiast, so it’s no surprise that there are railroads at Disney parks around the world.)
The Monorail, with its space-age appearance, debuted at Disneyland in 1959, the first transportation system of its kind in the United States. That same year the park’s first roller-coaster style attraction, the Matterhorn, a 147-foot mountain bobsled ride, was introduced.
In the 1960s, Disneyland added two attractions that started out as part of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. “It’s a Small World,” a whimsical boat ride past dolls representing children from around the globe, was created in honor of UNICEF. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, in the fair’s Illinois pavilion, used Disney’s Audio-Animatronic technology, which synchronizes movement, audio and visual effects to create a lifelike figure of the president delivering some of his most stirring speeches. The technology is now used in many other Disneyland attractions, including Pirates of the Caribbean.
Thrilling rides are also a big part of Disneyland and one of the most popular, Space Mountain, opened in 1977 in Tomorrowland. An indoor roller coaster designed in collaboration with a NASA astronaut, it gives riders the sensation of hurtling through outer space. The 87-foot-tall Splash Mountain, which travels through swamps and bayous before ending in a five-story drop over a waterfall, was added in 1989, in the park’s newly dubbed Critter Country.
Of course, characters from Disney films play an integral role in making Disneyland a magical place. In 2013, the park unveiled Fantasy Faire, a village square where young visitors can meet heroes and heroines from Disney movies, and a new musical, “Mickey and the Magical Map,” with Mickey Mouse in his role as the sorcerer’s apprentice.
Naturally, Disneyland has special plans for this year’s anniversary. The Diamond Celebration will launch on May 22 with a new parade, “Paint the Night,” and fireworks show, “Disneyland Forever.” Both promise to be spectacular displays, testaments to Walt Disney’s belief that “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Luxury Travel Trends for 2015
Drawn by its rich history and culture and sumptuous cuisine, Europe continues to be a top destination for U.S. luxury travelers. And according to a new survey, more of them will be planning a special trip in 2015.
Nearly 90 percent of the 844 Travel Leaders Group travel agents who identify themselves as luxury travel advisers say that bookings so far this year are higher than or on par with 2014. In fact, the percentage of agents reporting higher bookings has increased steadily over the past two years.
Agents who specialize in luxury travel have the expertise to ensure that each client’s experience is a captivating one. Even in a familiar destination, there’s a must-see boutique hotel or a trendy new restaurant. What these travelers value most, according to the survey, are luxury accommodations (36.4 percent), followed by First or Business Class air travel (18.1 percent), unique activities (17.3 percent), exclusive experiences (11.1 percent) and ultra-luxury accommodations (10 percent).
Luxury travelers often have the opportunity to revisit their favorite vacation spots time and time again. Although they may spend more than the average American, they still want the greatest value for their money. In 2015, the dollar’s strength against just about every foreign currency makes a trip abroad less expensive than it’s been in years.
For luxury travelers venturing outside North America, a European river cruise is the top destination according to the survey results. And it’s easy to see why. A leisurely cruise provides a great vantage point for taking in the sights along some of Europe’s most scenic and historic waterways, as well as a chance to sample history, culture and food along the way.
High-end travelers remain loyal to the upscale experiences and charms – both Old World and modern – that a European vacation provides. Indeed, four of the top five international luxury travel destinations outside of North America are in Europe. River cruises are followed in popularity by Italy, Mediterranean cruises, France and Australia. Within North America, the most popular destinations are Mexico, Caribbean cruises, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.
But this is a group of travelers with diverse and far-flung interests. They rely on travel agents in planning adventures in new places, as well as revisiting old favorites. Up-and-coming destinations on their list include African safaris, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Croatia, Vietnam and Cuba.
When people talk about life-changing travel, Africa, with safaris to view stunning scenery and wildlife, is at the top of the list. However, the real destination to watch is Cuba, which was already high on the list even though the survey was launched prior to President Obama’s announcement of a process to normalize relations. It shows that there’s a great deal of pent-up demand for legal travel to Cuba, particularly among luxury travelers who want an authentic experience before the country undergoes rapid change and modernization as a tourist destination.
For help planning a trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Top Up & Coming Destinations in the South Pacific
Dotted with island nations of varying size, language and culture, the South Pacific is ready for discovery by adventurous travelers. But with so many excellent options, deciding on where to go in this vast region can prove to be a difficult task.
Each year as part of its authoritative Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group agents weigh in on the up-and-coming vacation spots around the world they’re already booking. For 2015, the 1,226 travel agents put New Zealand (30.4 percent) at the top of their list in the South Pacific, followed by Bora Bora (11.3 percent), Tahiti (11.3 percent), Fiji (9.8 percent) and Bali (7.2 percent).
New Zealand’s popularity isn’t surprising. Its spectacular landscape has become familiar to Americans from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films and there are many “Middle-earth” locations for fans to scout out including Mount Victoria, within walking distance of the city center in Wellington, the country’s vibrant capital. From June to August, winter comes to the Southern Hemisphere and in New Zealand, it’s a time for festivals, including the Maori New Year, a celebration of native culture marked nationwide.
As the largest island in French Polynesia, Tahiti conjures up romance. But as an economic and cultural center, it offers visitors a wide variety of activities, from shopping for local crafts in a bustling marketplace to browsing in museums to participating in outdoor recreation such as golfing, hiking and diving. For sailing fans, the Tahiti Pearl Regatta takes place in late April and early May, featuring competition during the day and entertainment each night.
The smaller French Polynesian island of Bora Bora is surrounded by a lagoon of turquoise water teeming with marine life that can be viewed by snorkeling or from a glass-bottom boat. The island boasts a number of luxury resorts and spas, including thatched-roof overwater bungalows. For a taste of Polynesian history and culture, Heiva, an annual event that includes traditional music, dance, crafts and sports, will be held this year from June 19 to July 26.
An archipelago of some 300 islands, Fiji has a sunny climate, miles of white sand beaches and soft coral reefs that are perfect for scuba diving. Accommodations range from luxury resorts to backpacker hostels to resorts that feature ecological tours. Wherever you go, you’ll hear “Bula!” the country’s universal greeting. It’s also the name of a festival featuring food, music and dancing from July 31 to Aug. 7 in Nadi, the hub for international travelers.
Bali is an island and province of Indonesia that has something for everyone whether it’s mountains and waterfalls, surf and sand or history and culture. A primarily Hindu region in a mostly Muslim country, a visit to one of Bali’s temples should be on every traveler’s list. Pura Besakih, on a slope of Mount Agung in East Bali, dates from the 11th century and is the largest. Among the island’s more unusual celebrations, the BaliSpirit Festival, featuring yoga, dance and music, will be held from March 31 to April 5.
Travel Agency Industry Reinvented
In February 1995, U.S. airlines first capped and then cut travel agency commissions, one of many events including the advent of credit cards, computer reservation systems and the dawn of the Internet that led some to predict – incorrectly – the demise of the travel agent.
But travel agents viewed these challenges as opportunities for rethinking their business model. Over the past two decades they reinvented themselves, becoming more dynamic, nimble and robust as they focus on serving the diverse needs of individual clients. As a result Travel Leaders Group, North America’s largest traditional travel agency company, says that the industry is stronger than ever and reaching a vital new audience – millennials.
Surveys point out numerous reasons why more consumers have turned to travel agents over the past few years for help planning vacations. From an intimate knowledge of destinations to assisting before, during and after a trip, today’s professional travel agents offer unique expertise and are there when clients need them the most. In fact, according to Travel Leaders, the number of agents who are available to their clients round the clock and also during their travels has grown exponentially.
Interestingly, a recent study by MMGY Global found that significantly more millennials used the services of a travel agent during the past 12 months than older generations. This is a generation that loves to travel, to go far afield and seek out new experiences. Millennials rely on travel agents’ knowledge of destinations and suppliers across the country and around the world. They also want the sense of security that comes with knowing there’s somewhere to turn if they need help while away from home.
In today’s travel agency industry, travel agents are increasingly able to provide travelers with an array of amenities and services that they wouldn’t be able to obtain on their own. For example, the Select Hotels & Resorts Program from Travel Leaders offers more than 600 of the most prestigious luxury and ultra-luxury properties around the world. Amenities include complimentary breakfast, as well as early check-in and late check-out and room upgrades when available. The company’s Worldwide Hotel Program enables agents to provide clients with highly competitive rates at approximately 34,000 properties worldwide.
Traveling to a place you’ve never been, especially if it’s a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or know the culture, can be a daunting prospect. That’s why today’s skilled agents work with destination marketing companies (DMCs) embedded within those countries. DMCs like Travel Leaders’ In-Country Partners enable agents to provide clients with additional insider knowledge in finding the best local vendors, the most unique hotels and resorts and the most knowledgeable guides. It’s all designed to give travelers a personalized, in-depth and culturally authentic experience no matter where they go.
Finally, today’s travel agents understand that when consumers are online “shopping” for a travel agent, they want a true specialist. Travel Leaders’ Agent Profiler was the industry’s first online tool to enable consumers to find the perfect travel agent by selecting from a range of specialties, destinations and other search options. Agent Profiler 2.0, unveiled last fall, incorporates improvements that make it even easier for travelers to connect with the person who can best help them plan their trip. Contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: Top Business Trends for 2015
For road warriors – the business travelers – the focus of their travel is their business at hand. But getting to their destination and back again is a job in itself as managing a business travel budget grows more complex.
Today, it’s more than just identifying the cost of airline tickets, hotel night stays and car rentals. The airport security check-in, the ever-increasing amount of ancillary fees and corporate policies for booking seats on long flights require careful planning.
A survey based on responses from 429 Travel Leaders travel agent experts who identified that their portfolio consists of 50 percent or more of business travel clients shows the many ways that they’re actively working with clients to make a trip successful.
For business travelers, clearly the most valuable part of working with a travel agent is having someone to provide assistance at every step, with instant access to an expert before, during and after their trip. Beyond that, the business travel agents were asked about the services that will be most valuable to clients in 2015. At the top of list is 24-hour service (37.3 percent). There’s no substitute for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have someone to call in the event of a problem. Other top services deal with waivers and favors from airlines (21 percent) and tracking and using nonrefundable tickets (13.5 percent).
Ancillary fees are increasingly a fact of life for travelers. Survey respondents picked the most frequently charged fees that their business travel clients encounter. At the top of their list is the fee charged by airlines for changing flights (73.7 percent), followed by fees for upgraded and/or premium seat assignments (53.9 percent) and for baggage (53.2 percent). Also on the list are hotel charges for Internet access (17.7 percent), “resort” fees (11.7 percent) and hotel parking (10.3 percent).
Company policies vary for “front of the plane” travel on domestic and international flights, an important consideration for businesspeople who have to hit the ground running.
When asked about the policy a majority of their business travel clients have in place, 29.8 percent responded that only executives may select First or Business Class on all flights, 27.7 percent indicated that First or Business Class is never allowed on domestic flights and 17.2 said only executives taking flights over five hours may choose First or Business Class. For international travel, 25.9 percent of respondents said that only corporate executives may select First or Business Class on all flights and 13.8 percent said all travelers may select them for flights over eight hours.
Getting through airport security in an efficient and timely manner is one of the biggest concerns business travelers face. TSA Precheck allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screenings at participating U.S. airport checkpoints. More than 22 percent of the respondents to the Travel Leaders survey indicated that a majority of their corporate clients are approved for TSA Pre, and more than 23 percent indicated that between 41 percent and 50 percent are approved. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Top Domestic Destinations for 2015
It may be the 49th state but it’s number one in the eyes of travelers planning a domestic trip in 2015.
Alaska, enjoyed via a cruise ship, has dethroned Las Vegas as the top U.S. vacation destination, according to a new survey by Travel Leaders Group, which polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents. While the four most-popular destinations are separated by tenths of a percentage point, Alaska’s rise from fourth to first place is a seismic shift after a decade and a half in which Las Vegas and Orlando jockeyed for the top spot.
Orlando and Maui retain their second and third spots, followed by New York, moving up from fifth to fourth place, and Las Vegas, dropping from first to fifth. Rounding out the top 10 domestic vacation destinations for 2015 are Honolulu, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.
Cruises are a great way to view the stunning mountains and glaciers of America’s largest state. Silversea Cruises, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal offer a variety of Alaska itineraries, most starting from Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia. Popular ports of call include Ketchikan, rich in native culture with one of the world’s largest collections of 19th-century totem poles. For anglers, salmon thrive off Ketchikan’s icy waters. And cruises can be packaged with inland excursions for an up-close look at Alaska’s wilderness.
Orlando’s theme parks are getting spruced up for 2015. Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort offers new restaurants, attractions and vacation bungalows. New Orleans comes to Universal Studios Florida from Feb. 7 to April 18 with a Mardi Gras festival that features concerts, Cajun food and parades. Perhaps the biggest attraction opening in 2015 is the Orlando Eye, a 400-foot observation wheel at the I-Drive 360 complex.
Maui, dotted with small towns and resorts, is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It boasts miles of pristine beaches and scenic drives, including the winding Hana Highway. Travelers can explore Hawaii’s past at the historic whaling village of Lahaina. World Whale Day, one of Maui’s most popular annual events, features a parade, carnival and artisans’ fair. This year, it will be held Feb. 14 in Kihei, on Maui’s southwestern shore.
New York City moves up to number four on the list and in the city that never sleeps, there’s something for everyone. Chinatown celebrates the Lunar New Year with a parade Feb. 22. Sample fine dining during Restaurant Week, Feb. 16 to March 6. And the Whitney Museum opens its new home in Lower Manhattan in May, celebrating contemporary American art.
Las Vegas hosts the Rock in Rio Festival in May, bringing some of music’s biggest names to the city. Country superstars Brooks and Dunn perform with Reba McEntire at Caesars Palace beginning in June. Finally, this year Las Vegas welcomes the Grand Bazaar Shops, a retail and dining complex designed to capture the excitement of the world’s great open-air markets.
For help planning a vacation to any of these destinations, contact your travel agent.
Top International Destinations for 2015
When it comes to international travel this year, Americans are heading for the water – to sail on it or relax near it. But they’re also doing so in some far-flung ports of call, including some that are relatively new for cruises.
A Caribbean cruise is the top international vacation destination for 2015, retaining its first-place ranking from 2014, according to a new survey by Travel Leaders Group, which polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents. At number two, also unchanged from 2014, is Cancun, Mexico.
But across the pond, things are changing. Europe is drawing American tourists in the highest numbers this millennium, capturing eight of the top 15 international destinations in the Travel Leaders survey including London, which jumped three spots to number three. European river cruises and Rome complete the top five.
Rounding out the top 10 international destinations for 2015 are Mediterranean cruises, Paris, France; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya, Mexico.
As cruise lines including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line launch new ships, there are more options for relaxation and exploration. The eastern Caribbean, a popular choice for those on their first voyage, includes such ports of call as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Southern Caribbean destinations, including the West Indies and Aruba, offer a chance to enjoy more remote, unspoiled scenery. Western Caribbean cruises sail to, among other places, Jamaica and Mexico, the latter providing an opportunity to explore Mayan ruins.
Cancun, Mexico remains a strong draw with its miles of beaches and activities for every age and interest, from history to shopping to hiking to watersports. Among this year’s noteworthy events, the annual Food and Wine Festival takes place March 12-15, with some of the world’s best chefs offering lectures, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and other activities.
Just a hop across the Atlantic, London, with its wealth of museums, churches, palaces and pubs – as well as iconic, familiar sites, is a natural starting point for exploring Europe. One of the British capital’s most famous fictional residents, Sherlock Holmes, is the subject of an exhibit at the Museum of London that runs until April 12. In 2015, England marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo with a display at Windsor Castle, a short train ride from London.
River cruises are a relatively new, yet increasingly popular way to experience old-world European cities via leisurely voyages along the continent’s most scenic and historic waterways. Viking Cruises has a 15-day trip from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Avalon Waterways offers a variety of European river cruises, including ones built around special interests as varied as beer, golf, art and jazz.
And finally, Rome, the eternal city, beckons travelers with its mix of history, food and culture. Among the not-to-be-missed sites are the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and Vatican City, including the Sistine Chapel, where a new lighting system enables visitors to get a better look at the magnificent artwork. This summer the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla will once again provide a stunning backdrop for opera performances.
For help planning an international vacation, contact your travel agent.
Stronger U.S. Dollar Puts International Travel within Reach
Thanks to a significantly stronger dollar, it’s a buyer’s market for Americans who’ve dreamed of seeing the world. And according to the results of a new survey, more people are deciding to make that dream a reality.
Each year, Travel Leaders Group unveils its authoritative Travel Trends Survey, including responses from 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents. They are overwhelmingly positive about 2015, with client spending expected to be the same or higher, bookings on par with or greater than last year and travelers venturing farther from home on vacation.
Nearly 84 percent of respondents expressed optimism about the outlook for their business in 2015, a percentage that has been increasing steadily over the past five years. Eighty-five percent report that 2015 bookings are on par with or greater than the same time last year. And 96.5 percent say that clients will be spending the same or more on travel in 2015.
Travel Leaders Group reports that it is coming off a record year in terms of sales volume, a large percentage of that growth fueled by clients traveling further afield internationally and accepting what they perceive as a new normal in pricing – from higher international airfares to increased hotel costs, much of that determined by the value of the dollar against foreign currencies.
Already in 2015, most agents indicate that bookings are up over the past year and that clients are spending more. A historic shift in the value of the dollar should accentuate this trend, with travelers increasingly getting more for their money as they venture abroad.
With the United States enjoying a stronger economy than many countries, the U.S. dollar is in the midst of its best run in over a decade. The dollar has strengthened against just about every foreign currency, stretching further than the Euro, Pound, Yen and even the Canadian and Australian dollars.
International travel is now cheaper for Americans than it’s been in years, making 2015 a great time to cross a long wished-for trip off of a bucket list. Not only are some of the most popular destinations within reach, the stronger dollar also offers a new opportunity to discover up-and-coming vacation spots around the world.
And whether they’ve set their sights on a vacation across the border or across an ocean, American travelers will have more money in their pockets to spend once they arrive at their destination, from sightseeing to shopping to entertainment to restaurants to a pint at the pub.
Judging by the Travel Leaders survey, Americans are taking advantage of that stronger currency. Eight of the top 15 international destinations for 2015 are “across the pond,” including London, Paris, Rome, European river cruises and Mediterranean cruises. In fact, European river cruises, the single hottest destination trend in travel last year, jumped another spot to number four on the top international destinations list. And London surged from sixth to third place, just behind Caribbean cruising and Cancun, Mexico.
For help planning a trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.
Asia’s Top “Up and Coming” Destinations for 2015
Asia is a region of tremendous variety, with opportunities to explore bustling cities, ancient cultures and natural beauty including places that are just beginning to open themselves up to Western tourism.
For Americans who have a trip to Asia on their wish list, Travel Leaders Group polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents on their up-and-coming destinations for the region as part of its annual Travel Trends survey. Vietnam (27.5 percent) is at the top of the list, as it was in 2014. Next is Thailand (22.8 percent), followed by Burma/Myanmar (11.2 percent), Maldives (9.3 percent), Cambodia (5.2 percent) and Philippines (5.2 percent).
Vietnam is a growing draw for tourists, including Americans. While facilities can be basic in rural areas they are increasingly well-established in cities, as well as in resort areas such as Nha Trang, known for its beaches and scuba diving. Visitors to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, can walk along elegant boulevards and get a glimpse of Vietnam’s French colonial past.
Thailand has unveiled a 2015 campaign called “Discover Thainess.” Festivals are planned highlighting different aspects of Thai culture, beginning with a celebration of the Lunar New Year in February. Other special events will focus on music, martial arts, food and fashion, all designed to give visitors a deeper understanding of the country and its people.
After a long period of isolation, Burma (today known as Myanmar) is starting to encourage visitors. Travelers will likely start their trip in Yangon (Rangoon), the capital. The magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda that dominates the skyline is a must-see. For a look at old Myanmar, take the road to Mandalay, the country’s cultural capital, where ancient traditions of music, art, dance and drama live on.
With a sunny climate, white-sand beaches, turquoise reefs and deep blue water, the Maldives is a great spot for a vacation that combines relaxation and outdoor activities. Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is home to more than a thousand species of fish and other underwater creatures, with opportunities for diving, surfing and swimming.
Cambodia today is a stable constitutional monarchy that has put out the welcome mat. In the capital, Phnom Penh, visitors can stroll along a riverfront lined with pubs, restaurants and boutiques. But it’s the country’s Angkor Archaeological Park in the north that is the top draw. The park contains magnificent ruins of the Khmer empire including the Angkor Wat temple complex. Annual celebrations include the Khmer New Year in April and the Water Festival in November.
The Philippines is highlighting an array of events for every taste in 2015. In April, the Flavors of the Philippines Festival will coincide with a gathering of some of the world’s greatest chefs for Madrid Fusion Manila. Also that month is the Aliwan Fiesta, bringing together representatives of many of the country’s colorful festivals for a three-day party. And the small island of Boracay, an increasingly popular destination, hosts an annual International Dragon Boat Festival.
Business Travel: Trends in Business Travel for 2015
As the U.S. economy continues to improve, so does the climate for business travel, according to a new survey from Travel Leaders Group.
Over 45 percent of Travel Leaders Group’s agents who are focused on business travel report that their clients will be traveling more in 2015 than last year, an increase of over 7 percent.
The survey results are based on responses from 429 Travel Leaders Group owners, managers and frontline travel agent experts from throughout the United States who identified that their portfolio consists of 50 percent or more of business travel clients.
While agents are optimistic about the coming year, they’ll continue to look for additional opportunities to assist clients in making sure that getting to their business destinations goes smoothly. And that means focusing on the biggest areas of concern for this group of travelers.
In the survey, 68.5 percent of respondents cited delayed flights as a top concern for business travelers, followed by limited seat availability at 42 percent, ease of passing through security, 33.1 percent; earning frequent flyer/loyalty points, 32.9 percent and travel costs, 28.7 percent.
While the concern about delayed flights and limited airline seat availability dipped in 2015 from the 2014 survey, concern about the ease of passing through airport security increased, as 33.1 percent of respondents cited it, compared with 28.3 percent the year before.
Because more airports and airlines are participating in the program, it’s not surprising that more Travel Leaders business clients are willing to complete the application and interview process for TSA Precheck, which allows travelers to experience expedited security screenings at participating U.S. checkpoints. Instead of removing laptops, shoes and liquids from carry-on bags every time they’re at the airport, they sail through security so they can return to their business more quickly.
Managing business travel budgets is more complex than just identifying the cost of airline tickets, hotel stays and car rentals. Keeping costs down while traveling is challenging when encountering an increasing number of ancillary fees.
Extra charges for items such as changing flights, 73.7 percent; upgraded or premium airline seats, 53.9 percent; and baggage fees, 53.2 percent; continue to be those most frequently encountered by business travelers, according to the survey.
The greatest value in working with a travel agent comes from having instant access to an expert before, during and after a trip. Asked about the services that will be most valuable to their clients in 2015, beyond the instant access, the top responses were: 24-hour service, 37.3 percent; waivers and favors, 21 percent; and tracking and using nonrefundable tickets, 13.5 percent.
Finally, when asked about the company policy a majority of business travel clients have in place for U.S. flights, 29.8 responded that only executives may select First or Business Class and 27.7 responded that it’s never allowed on domestic flights. For international travel, 25.9 percent responded that executives only may select First or Business Class on all flights, while 13.8 percent said that all business travelers may select them for flights longer than eight hours.
To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Marking the Bicentennial of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
It’s been 200 years since William, prince of Orange-Nassau, returned from exile in England and proclaimed the Kingdom of the Netherlands, installing himself as King William I. To mark the bicentennial, the Dutch are celebrating their culture, industry and history, making 2015 a perfect time to visit.
Festivities run through the fall, culminating in Amsterdam in September. While there’s much to see and do in the lively capital with its scenic canals, the entire country has a great deal to offer travelers, from the flower-growing region in the south; to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port; to The Hague, seat of government and traditional home of Dutch royalty.
The Netherlands has a rich trove of museums and many, including Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum, have exhibits related to the bicentennial. Hundreds of prints, drawings, posters, cartoons and photographs illustrating Dutch life from the 19th century to the present are part of the exhibit “Two Hundred Years of the Kingdom of the Netherlands” that runs through March 8.
The Hague is a great place to explore the royal history of the Netherlands. Bicycle and walking tours take visitors past sites where Dutch royalty have lived, worked, shopped and prayed for 200 years. One former 18th-century palace is now a museum dedicated to the work of artist M.C. Escher. As part of the bicentennial, the newly restored Glass Carriage, built in 1826 and used by the Royal Family on ceremonial occasions, will be displayed from March 17 to June 21 at the Louwman Museum, which houses more than 250 antique cars.
Flowers are one of the Netherlands’ best-known exports. Tulip Day on Dam Square in Amsterdam, which will be held on Jan. 17, marks the beginning of the season that runs through April. Each year, the country’s growers build a garden with tens of thousands of tulips and people are free to come and pick a bouquet to take home.
In the spring, millions of visitors flock to the Bollenstreek, or bulb region, to view enormous fields of colorful tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. The kingdom’s 200th anniversary will be the theme of the annual Flower Parade that takes place April 22 to 26. Flowers are used to decorate a procession of floats and luxury cars that winds through the area, culminating in the market square in Haarlem on April 26. In Breezand, a 90-minute train ride from Amsterdam, the Spring Garden, featuring thousands of bulbs and floral arrangements, will mark the bicentennial. This year, it will be held March 5-9.
Each year, Amsterdam holds a citywide party to celebrate its monarch. With the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander in 2013, what was Queen’s Day is now King’s Day and in 2015, it will be held on April 27. There are events for all ages and visitors can expect a sea of orange on display. Amsterdam is also the spot where the country’s bicentennial celebration will conclude, on Sept. 26, with the theme unity in diversity.
Celebrate “The Sound of Music” Golden Anniversary in Salzburg
Nestled in the Alps, Salzburg is known for its well-preserved historic city center, as the birthplace of Mozart and as the setting for one of the most beloved films of all time.
Fifty years ago this March, moviegoers were introduced to the story of the singing von Trapp family and their flight from the Nazis, as well as to one of Europe’s most charming cities, when “The Sound of Music” premiered in New York on March 2, 1965. Subsequently, the film went on to earn the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Today, travelers to Salzburg, Austria’s fourth-largest city, can take in sights connected to the movie, as well as explore an area rich in history, architecture, culture and natural beauty.
At the top of the list for movie fans is a four-hour bus tour of locations where “The Sound of Music” was filmed, including the 16th-century Nonnberg Abbey, home to the young postulant Maria, played by Julie Andrews; Mirabell Gardens, where Maria and the von Trapp children sing “Do-Re-Mi”; and Leopoldskron Palace, which served as the von Trapp family residence.
The tour is merely the starting point for Salzburg’s “Sound of Music” connection.
The Villa Trapp, the original family home, is now a hotel but you don’t have to be a guest to get a peek inside. Visitors can take a 45-minute tour of rooms where the von Trapps lived and view an exhibit on the family. Salzburg’s Marionette Theater performs a captivating 1 hour and 45 minute version of “The Sound of Music” in English from May through September. The theater also has an exhibit of items that belonged to the von Trapps. If you’d like to see the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical onstage, it’s running at the Salzburger Landestheater until May.
The von Trapps aren’t the only famous musicians to have come from Salzburg. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in the city on Jan. 27, 1756. His birthplace and a re-creation of his childhood home are both open to visitors. A museum displays Mozart’s musical instruments and other artifacts to tell the story of one of the world’s greatest classical composers. And each year around his birthday the Salzburg Festival hosts a series of classical music concerts during Mozart Week, which in 2015 will be held from Jan. 22 to Feb 1.
While Salzburg is closely identified with “The Sound of Music” and as the birthplace of Mozart, the city is also known for its stunning palaces, castles and churches. Picturesque Old Town, with numerous examples of Baroque architecture dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pedestrian-friendly area, with its narrow streets, is a great place to walk and window shop. Overlooking Salzburg is Hohensalzburg Castle. Built in 1077 and one of Europe’s largest fully preserved castle complexes, it’s accessible via railway or a 30-minute hike. The Hellbrunn Palace, built 400 years ago as a summer home for Salzburg’s archbishop, is famous for its Wasserspiele, or trick fountains, that dot the grounds.
25 Years of Wonder in Namibia
Twenty-five years ago, on March 21, 1990, Namibia gained its independence from South Africa. Since then, the southwest African country that borders the Atlantic Ocean has thrived, becoming one of the continent’s most stable democracies.
Today, Namibia offers a wealth of opportunities for adventurous travelers. It’s a place of great natural beauty, including a vast desert and towering sand dunes. National parks are home to an abundance of plant life, as well as animals roaming in their natural habitat. And although it’s an arid country, there are plenty of opportunities for water-based recreation, from a dolphin cruise off the Atlantic coast to canoeing, windsurfing and fly-fishing. A variety of lodging is available, from luxury hotels and campsites to lodges and guest farms.
Namibia prides itself on its conservation efforts, incorporating protection of the environment into its Constitution. As a result, the country has one of the largest wildlife populations in the world, encompassing hundreds of species including large numbers free-roaming black rhinos, cheetahs, lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos and elephants. Among the country’s many wildlife preserves, Etosha National Park stands out as one of the finest in Africa.
The Kalahari Desert, the world’s largest continuous stretch of sand, extends 350,000 square miles across Namibia, neighboring South Africa and Botswana. Thanks to a modest amount of rainfall, the Kalahari also supports plant life – with a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. It offers visitors a sense of solitude and beauty that has often been compared to a spiritual experience.
The vivid pink-to-orange sand dunes in Sossusvlei, in the Namib Desert, are perhaps the country’s most scenic attraction and are a must-see for visitors to Namibia. They’re among the world’s tallest dunes, some rising more than 1,000 feet. The colors are especially stunning – and are most photogenic – in the morning and evening light.
For a change of pace, Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, offers a blend of European and African cultures. Located in the center of the country, it’s a great place to begin or end your trip. The city still bears traces of the country’s German colonial past, including an annual Oktoberfest. You’ll see that history reflected in the language, architecture and restaurants. The city center has a European feel, with bustling shops, cafes and a marketplace. Tours are available of historic sites, including the Alte Feste (Old Fort) and the Lutheran Christuskirche (Christ Church).
Organized tours can be a great way to experience Namibia over a short period of time. Abercrombie & Kent offers a 9-day tour that includes a desert safari, a chance to explore the dunes of Sossusvlei, a drive through nature reserves and a visit to a traditional village. Travcoa, a leader in luxury travel, has several Namibia packages, including an 8-day excursion with a visit to the Twyfelfontein rock engravings, some dating to 26,000 B.C. G Adventures offers a 14-day journey that begins in Cape Town, South Africa, then heads to Namibia and Botswana before concluding at Victoria Falls, which straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Crisscrossing Europe Unimpeded by Border Controls
Stopping at the border to get your passport stamped used to be a rite of passage when visiting Europe but 20 years ago, a new era of borderless travel was launched that makes tourism easier and more hassle-free than ever.
The Schengen Agreement, named after the winemaking village in Luxembourg where it was signed in 1985, took effect on March 26, 1995, when it was implemented by the five original signatories – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – plus Portugal and Spain.
Expanded over the years, the agreement allows people to move freely across a large swath of the continent that has grown to include 26 countries spread over more than 1.5 million square miles. (It does not, however, include Ireland or the United Kingdom.)
It was designed to give 400 million European citizens genuine freedom of movement, as well as to enhance security. Internal border controls were eliminated while external controls were strengthened. The agreement was part of a move toward European integration that began in the 1950s. Born out of the devastation of World War II, the hope was that greater cooperation among countries would prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again.
In addition, the agreement has been a boon to tourists, allowing them to take advantage of everything the continent has to offer while skipping long lines at border crossings. If you’re a traveler who likes to have your passport stamped in every country you visit, you’ll probably be out of luck. But fewer lines means you’ll have more time to experience the sights, sounds, tastes and cultures that make up a European vacation, including more time to search for unique souvenirs.
A U.S. citizen can enter any of the countries in the Schengen area without a visa for up to three months. Simply present your valid passport for inspection and go through customs at the first external border. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your intended date of departure, so check the expiration date before leaving home. You’ll have to comply with entry requirements for each country.
Once admitted, there’s no need to show your passport again as you move from country to country, sampling all that Europe has to offer as easily as if you were traveling across the United States. All flights between Schengen countries are considered domestic flights.
The area includes the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway, through Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe, down to the Western European countries of Germany, France and Italy, to Spain and Portugal at Europe’s southern tip.
It is worth noting that not all European Union countries participate in the Schengen Area, at least not yet. In addition to Ireland and the United Kingdom, which have been allowed to opt-out, non-participants who will someday be included are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. Additionally, there are a number of non-European Union countries that participate: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. And if that doesn’t seem complicated enough, the micro-states of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are not included in the Schengen Area.
The State Department advises that you just make sure your passport is stamped upon entry and exit from all Schengen Area countries. Travelers are responsible for proving that they have entered the area legally. When you leave the area, you must wait another three months before applying to reenter without a visa. And just remember that border controls can be reintroduced as a temporary security measure.
For help planning a European vacation, contact your travel agent.
Business Travel: What Business Travelers Want Most
Business travelers place a premium on getting where they need to go with a minimum of fuss and when they’re away, it’s understandable that they want to be as productive as possible while enjoying some of the comforts of home.
Virgin Atlantic’s “Ten Maxims of the New Business Traveler” finds that today’s professional increasingly views travel as an opportunity, both to benefit their career and broaden their horizons. According the study, 9 in 10 respondents mix pleasure with every business trip and more than half extend their trip for leisure.
Spending time in airports is a fact of life for these travelers, so getting through security should be as painless as possible and after that, they want a place to unwind and dine while waiting for their flight.
Half arrive more than an hour early to maximize time in the lounge. More than 80 percent get a bite to eat and 65 percent use Wi-Fi, making free and reliable connections a must. In the air, they want to relax, with 70 percent checking out in-flight entertainment or reading a book, while only 3 percent get right to work.
A FlightView survey found that more than half of business travelers would consider purchasing amenities offered via their cellphones: in-flight Wi-Fi (65 percent), seat with extra legroom (55.4 percent), ticket upgrade (50 percent) and early boarding privileges (43 percent).
On arrival, the priority is getting settled, especially if there’s a meeting right away. Hotel chains are working to make check-ins faster through with apps for Android and iPhone users. Hyatt now enables travelers to check-in to their rooms online – they merely have to pick up their room keys at a kiosk upon arrival.
For travelers who are on the job while on the road, their hotel room is a temporary office. They want a comfortable chair and desk, appropriate lighting and electrical outlets within reach. Business travelers need to be able to send and receive work emails, track their itinerary, check flights and stay in contact with family members.
It’s not surprising that a recent survey by the business travel website Skift listed free Wi-Fi as the most important factor for business travelers when deciding where to stay (35 percent), followed by close to office/meeting (28 percent), free breakfast (25.5 percent) and enrollment in a hotel’s loyalty program (11 percent). (A recent study in the United Kingdom yielded similar results among British travelers, with 67 percent saying that free Wi-Fi is their top consideration when choosing a hotel, followed by 65 percent who picked location and 58 percent who cared most about getting a good night’s sleep.)
Finally, for many business travelers, staying fit on the road is a concern. “You have changing time zones, you have delays. It’s easy to get disoriented, and it’s easy to get tired,” says Gregory Florez, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. With more business travelers seeking out options to work out on the road, hotels are responding by upgrading their fitness facilities, lending workout gear and even outfitting rooms with exercise equipment.
To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914 In 2014, Europe has been marking a somber anniversary – 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. But alongside solemn ceremonies to remember the fallen, one hopeful moment is being commemorated, the Christmas Truce of 1914. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day a century ago, British and German soldiers along the Western Front in Belgium put down their weapons and climbed out of the trenches in an unofficial cease-fire. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts and even played soccer. The memory of that fleeting moment has endured as a beacon of peace in a century of conflict, celebrated in books, plays, films and music. In December, travelers to Belgium and England have a unique opportunity to see the sites where the truce took place, as well as take part in events marking the centenary. At Stratford-Upon-Avon, about 2 hours from London, the Royal Shakespeare Company is presenting a new play, “The Christmas Truce,” inspired by a British officer’s wartime cartoons of life in the trenches. It runs through Jan. 31 and is recommended for ages 9 and above. Many seasonal concerts in and around London are marking the centenary. On Dec. 13, the Teddington Choral Society presents a “Christmas Truce” oratorio at St. James Church in Hampton Hill, combining a soldier’s reminiscences with carols sung in the trenches. The Epiphoni Consort, a chamber choir that explores themes related to humanity and spirituality, performs Dec. 20 at Christ Church Chelsea with a concert titled “The Christmas Truce: Carols and Readings.” Perhaps the most iconic images of the truce are the impromptu Christmas Day soccer or “football” matches between British and German soldiers in the no-man’s land that separated the two armies. “Crossing the Field: WWI, Football & the Christmas Truce” draws on works by artists from Belgium, Germany, France and the United Kingdom to examine the power of sport to bring people together. The exhibit runs through Jan. 10 at London’s Pitzhanger Manor Gallery. Travelers can gain a much deeper insight into the story of the Christmas Truce and “the Great War,” as it was originally known, through visits to battlefields, memorials and museums in the Flanders region of Belgium. The site most closely associated with the truce is eight miles south of Ypres. A cross at the edge of a field near the hamlet of Saint-Yves marks the spot of a Christmas Day soccer match 100 years ago. It will be the centerpiece of centenary events, including concerts and an international reenactment, from Dec. 19-21. Nearby, in the municipality of Comines-Warneton, the World War I interpretation center Plugstreet 14-18 Experience is hosting a Christmas Truce 1914-2014 exhibition. During a Dec. 22 event at St. Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres, British author Michael Morpurgo, best known for his World War I children’s novel “War Horse,” will take part in a Christmas Truce concert. The event will feature a reading of Morpurgo’s play about the truce, “The Best Christmas Present in the World.” For more information about visiting Europe in December, contact your travel agent. The Perfect Holiday Gift? Give the Gift of Travel Everyone has a “bucket list” of places they’d love to visit. During this holiday season, what better way to surprise a friend or loved one than by helping them achieve their dream with the gift of travel. Whether the person on your list loves to explore new places or go off on a relaxing getaway, a Christmas or Chanukah gift can set them on the path to their destination by contributing to transportation, lodging or sightseeing costs. Most major airlines, including Delta and United, offer gift cards that can be sent to the recipient or delivered via email with a personal message. Carriers will have different terms and conditions for their use, so be sure to check the fine print. And airline gift cards can generally only be used to pay for transportation, not for baggage fees or any other services including class upgrades or in-flight purchases. For the train buff, and for travelers who dream of an overseas adventure, a Rail Europe gift card can be a great way to explore the continent. But getting there is only the beginning of the fun. Hotel gift cards open up a world of possibilities and luxury for the recipient. They’re offered by the major chains, including Hyatt and Hilton, and are accepted at most of their properties. And they’re good for more than reserving a room. Cards can be redeemed for a spa treatment, restaurant meals or hitting the back nine on a golf course, whether or not the cardholder is a guest at the hotel. If you know where your favorite traveler is headed, give them some help with seeing the sights. CityPass offers up to 50 percent off the combined admission prices to attractions in 11 destinations from New York to San Francisco, and booklets can be purchased online as gifts. A nationwide survey of travel agents conducted by Travel Leaders Group identified Orlando, Fla., and Caribbean cruising as the top domestic and international vacation destinations for the remainder of 2014, so there’s a good chance that your friends or family have those perennial favorites on their list. For the person whose ideal vacation is spending time at sea, gift cards can be purchased for many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line. In addition to helping pay for the trip, they can be redeemed for a variety of onboard purchases, including spa treatments, at the gift shop, a meal at a specialty restaurant or, in some cases, for shore excursions. If you know someone who’s headed to Florida, Disney gift cards can be used like cash at theme parks, resort hotels and on the Disney Cruise Line. The card comes in a custom enclosure with your personal message. Gift cards are also available from many other Orlando-area attractions. For advice on giving the gift of travel, or using a gift card you’ve received, contact your travel agent, who just might have gift certificates available that you can use toward virtually any travel purchase. Ringing in the New Year Around the World On New Year’s Eve, it’s a party virtually all over the world. If you’ve ever wanted to join in, here are six places where they ring out the old and ring in the new in spectacular fashion. Breathtaking Sydney Harbour is the gathering spot for New Year’s Eve in Australia’s biggest city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, rising 440 feet, serves as a dramatic backdrop for the evening. From nightfall until sunrise, the bridge – affectionately known by locals as “The Hangar” – will be lit with images that evoke this year’s theme, “Inspire.” Festivities begin with an airshow, followed by the Harbour of Light Parade, an illuminated flotilla of more than 40 boats, and culminate in fireworks at midnight. In Hong Kong, spectators line Victoria Harbour – which separates the bustling island from Kowloon – for the New Year’s Eve countdown. A dazzling fireworks display launches from the waterfront and moves inward, enveloping the skyline of this vibrant, cosmopolitan city. New Year’s Eve is the busiest night of the year in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s premiere entertainment district. The small square of streets is a center of nightlife, filled with bars, clubs and restaurants. Located near the southern tip of South Africa, Cape Town is nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, providing a stunning setting for a New Year’s Eve celebration. At the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a complex of shops and restaurants, there’ll be seven hours of live music before the midnight countdown from the 19th-century clock tower, followed by fireworks. For New Year’s Eve nightlife, restaurants and bars in the Cape Quarter will be buzzing with activity. The Scots word for the last day of the year is “Hogmanay” and in Edinburgh, it translates into one of the world’s greatest New Year’s Eve celebrations. The fun begins on Dec. 30, with a torchlight procession to the city center for a sound-and-light show and fireworks. The next evening, bands turn the streets of Scotland’s capital into a gigantic outdoor party, leading up to midnight fireworks from Edinburgh Castle and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. In South America, Valparaiso – a port city on the Pacific Ocean and Chile’s cultural capital – is known for its rich history and colorful architecture. On New Year’s Eve, Plaza Sotomayor becomes the hub of a dance party that goes on until dawn. Revelers camp out along the city’s beaches to watch one of the largest fireworks shows in South America. Launched from more than a dozen locations, it’s known as the “cascade of Valparaiso” for the sparks that shower down onto the water. New York City has ushered in the New Year from Times Square since 1904. This year’s 100th anniversary party starts at midafternoon on New Year’s Eve. Hats and balloons are handed out and musicians entertain the crowd leading up to 11:59 p.m., when a crystal-covered sphere weighing 11,875 pounds descends 70 feet in 60 seconds from 1 Times Square. At the stroke of midnight, the numerals “2015” will shine high above and revelers below will be showered in a blizzard of celebratory confetti. To plan a New Year’s Eve getaway, contact your travel agent. All Hail “The King” – Elvis’ 80th Birthday For fans of the “king” of rock ‘n’ roll, the first week in January is a time to celebrate and in 2015, it holds special significance. Memphis puts on its party clothes and spins some records on the turntable to mark what would have been the 80th birthday of Elvis Presley on Jan. 8. Naturally, festivities revolve around Graceland, the mansion purchased by the 22-year-old Elvis in 1957 for $102,000 and now a tourist attraction drawing more than 600,000 visitors a year. A reception and tour for members of the Official Graceland Insiders kicks things off on Wednesday, Jan. 7. The next morning, Jan. 8, everyone’s invited to an Elvis Birthday Proclamation Ceremony at Graceland, followed by complimentary cake. That afternoon, at the Holiday Inn Memphis Airport, fans will have an opportunity to hear from those who worked closely with the king in “Conversations on Elvis.” Bring your blue suede shoes, because the day winds down with a dance featuring Elvis’ greatest hits. On Jan. 9, fans will have a chance to see Elvis larger than life, as the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Memphis, a historic 1920s movie palace, screens two of his most beloved films, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Viva Las Vegas.” Birthday weekend events conclude Saturday, Jan. 10, with a Tribute to Elvis concert by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. It features Terry Mike Jeffrey, who portrayed the young singer in “Elvis – An American Musical.” Of course, fans can visit Graceland throughout the weekend, learning about Elvis from his humble beginnings to international fame. Tours are offered of the mansion as well as exhibits on Elvis in Las Vegas and Hawaii, Graceland’s stable, and the king’s collection of automobiles and custom jets. Finally, visitors can pay their respects at the Meditation Garden, where Elvis and members of his family are laid to rest. But there’s much more to see and do in this vibrant city of 650,000 people on the banks of the Mississippi River. Take a riverboat cruise to see the Mississippi in all its beauty. Walk along Beale Street, a haven for lovers of barbecue and the blues that’s lined with shops, clubs and restaurants. Tour Gibson’s Memphis guitar factory to watch the world-famous instruments being made. Step back into history at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. Located at the site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the museum tells the story of African-Americans’ struggle for equality. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the Memphis Zoo, one of only four in the United States to house giant pandas. And don’t forget to stop by the Peabody Hotel for a must-see attraction, the march of the Peabody ducks. At 11 a.m. the hotel rolls out the red carpet for its five North American mallards. They spend the day in the lobby’s marble fountain before marching back to their rooftop suite at 5 p.m. For help planning a vacation to Memphis, contact your travel agent. Business Travel: Clearing U.S. Customs Abroad No one likes waiting in line to clear customs and immigration after arriving back in the United States from a foreign trip, especially business travelers for whom any delay can be costly. To help speed up the process, U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates preclearance facilities at 15 airports in six foreign countries. The purpose is twofold: It enables fliers to skip customs and immigration upon arrival in the United States and it improves security by allowing officials to prescreen for potential threats before passengers board U.S.-bound planes. Preclearance is available at airports in major cities across Canada, as well as in Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Ireland and, most recently, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Customs and Border Protection also conducts immigration pre-inspection on ferries, cruise vessels and trains in Victoria and Vancouver, Canada. Technology has made the process relatively speedy. Automated kiosks allow travelers to submit biographical information and answer customs declaration questions before their interview with a CBP officer, which takes less than a minute for U.S. citizens. The agency is experimenting with an app that would let airline passengers submit their information via smartphone or tablet. Processing covers anything a traveler is bringing into the United States, including luggage, clothing, souvenirs and other personal effects. However, business travelers should be aware that it doesn’t include commercial goods for importation to the United States. Preclearance is focused solely on processing passengers, not cargo. Through preclearance, the same immigration, customs and agricultural inspections normally performed in the United States are instead completed before departure from the foreign airport. This reduces wait times at the busiest U.S. airports, because pre-cleared passengers can skip the process. And it enables those passengers to go about their business immediately, as if they’d arrived on a domestic flight, including making connections, getting to that important meeting or simply getting home. While preclearance has expanded in recent years, the concept isn’t new. Travelers coming to the United States through Toronto Pearson International Airport have been able to take advantage of it for nearly 60 years. The agreement has helped strengthen business and tourism ties by allowing nonstop flights from Toronto to smaller U.S. cities that don’t have Customs and Border Protection operations at their airports. Today, preclearance facilities are also available at airports in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Recently, officials have announced plans to expand the program, with an eye toward key airports in Europe and Asia. In December, Department of Homeland Security teams are visiting airports that have expressed interest in hosting a preclearance facility. Next month DHS, in consultation with the State Department, will draw up a priority list of locations and begin negotiations with foreign governments. It’s expected that the process will take two to three years to complete. According to Customs and Border Protection figures, 18 percent of commercial air travelers arriving in the U.S. in fiscal year 2013 were pre-cleared, a number that officials would like to see rise to 33 percent by 2024. That means business travelers can be on their way much more quickly when traveling from top international markets – after all, time is money. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Caribbean Destinations Among Fall’s Most Popular Destinations With the arrival of cooler weather, it’s no wonder that four specific spots in the sunny Caribbean are among this fall’s most popular international vacation destinations, according to a survey of 1,054 travel agents associated with Travel Leaders Group – that’s in addition to Caribbean cruises ranking first among fall’s top international “destinations.” Among land-based destinations, Cancun, Mexico, is number 2, followed by Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (8); Montego Bay, Jamaica, (9); and Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya in Mexico, (10). All offer a variety of hotels and resorts along white sand beaches, beautiful turquoise water and activities for all ages – whether their interests run to recreation, shopping, sightseeing, nightlife or just sitting back and relaxing. Cancun, on the Yucatan Peninsula, is Mexico’s largest tourism resort area, with a 17-mile beachfront Hotel Zone. New attractions include Xoximilco Cancun, where visitors enjoy traditional music and a Mexican feast while traveling along canals on gondola-like boats; and Xenotes Oasis Maya, which offers tours of limestone pools fed by subterranean springs. Cancun is an area rich in marine life and ancient history. Go snorkeling or take a glass bottom boat tour for a close-up look at the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, teeming with exotic fish. About two hours west are the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Punta Cana, located in the eastern Dominican Republic, faces the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for more than 40 miles of stunning beaches, luxurious resorts and golf courses designed by some of the game’s greatest names. To experience the area’s natural beauty, visit the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park, with more than 500 species of plants and 11 lagoons. And the waters off Punta Cana provide some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing. Events this fall include the Punta Cana Poker Classic, Nov. 4-9; and the Merengue & Caribbean Beats Festival, Nov. 22. Christopher Columbus sailed into Montego Bay in 1494 and since then “Mo Bay” has grown into a bustling city, welcoming visitors with an easygoing vibe. Explore Jamaica’s history at a sugar cane plantation, or take a downtown walking tour with a stop at the new Montego Bay Cultural Center. Spend time browsing the “Hip Strip” of shops and clubs on Gloucester Avenue; go swimming at Doctor’s Cave, founded in 1880 as a sanatorium and now one of the island’s most famous beaches. Get a taste of some of Jamaica’s finest cuisine during Restaurant Week, Nov. 14-22. Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya and just south of Cancun, is an old fishing village that has become one of the country’s newest resort destinations while preserving its small-town charm. It’s also the location of Mexico’s only PGA Tour event, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Nov. 10-16. Tourism in Playa is centered on the “Quinta Avenida,” or Fifth Avenue, a pedestrian walkway lined with shops, bars and restaurants. For music-lovers, Grammy-winning guitarist Pat Metheny headlines the free Riviera Maya Jazz Festival Nov. 27-29. Riviera Maya hosts the Cancun Challenge Men’s and Women’s NCAA basketball tournament Nov. 25-29. For help planning a Caribbean vacation, contact your travel agent. Taking in the Big Apple for Thanksgiving Who doesn’t love a parade? And in November that means the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as much a holiday tradition as turkey with all the trimmings. Started in 1924 by department store employees, using animals from the Central Park Zoo, the parade has grown into a 2½-mile procession of giant balloons, colorful floats and marching bands from around the country. Except for a brief hiatus during World War II, it’s become an annual event. The 88th parade steps off at 9 a.m. Nov. 27 at 77th Street and Central Park West, ending at noon in front of Macy’s in Herald Square, at 34th Street. Approximately 3.5 million spectators will line the route. For the best viewing, head to the beginning. To get a behind-the-scenes look, watch the helium-filled balloons being inflated from 3 to 10 p.m. the day before near the Museum of Natural History. This year’s balloons include Snoopy, who’s appeared in 33 parades, more than any other character. But that’s just the start of festivities in New York over Thanksgiving weekend and beyond. It’s a magical time, a chance to see the city all decked out in its finery. Since 1931, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been part of New York’s holiday celebration. In early November, the tree arrives on an oversized flatbed truck, with a New York Police Department escort, and is lifted into place by a giant crane. (Last year’s tree was a 76-foot Norway spruce donated by a Connecticut family.) The lighting ceremony takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3. While you can see the tree day or night, it’s best viewed in the evening, when the 45,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star on top truly shine. The Christmas tree remains up through the first week in January. Rockefeller Center isn’t the only place to see New York City sparkle. Department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, unveil their window displays in November, and they often have playful, seasonal themes, such as letters to Santa. Also by November, Manhattan’s holiday markets will be open. At Bryant Park, on 42nd Street, you can watch ice skaters and sip hot chocolate while browsing through more than 125 shops selling unique gifts, including clothing, jewelry, decorative items and more. No visit to New York is complete without a taste of the city’s cultural offerings. Late November is a perfect time to take in two holiday attractions: the high-kicking Rockettes in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” and the graceful dancers of the New York City Ballet in “The Nutcracker.” In addition, many Broadway shows have special Friday matinees the day after Thanksgiving. For a different track, try the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, a 20-minute ride from Grand Central Station. Running from Nov. 15 to Jan. 19, it features model trains winding their way past more than 150 miniature New York City landmarks. To learn more about what New York City has to offer at Thanksgiving, contact your travel agent. Three New Cruise Ships Set to Excite Travelers Taking a cruise remains a popular choice for fall travel and with more than a dozen ships launching over the next two years, consumers will have even more options. In a nationwide survey, 1,054 Travel Leaders Group agents picked the new ships that have them most excited. Their top three: Quantum of the Seas (Royal Caribbean); Viking Star (Viking Ocean Cruises); and Norwegian Escape (Norwegian Cruise Line). Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, with a capacity of 4,180 passengers, will set sail in November out of Cape Liberty, N.J., for her inaugural season. She’ll travel throughout the Caribbean and the Bahamas before departing in May for a new homeport of Shanghai, China. Designed as the world’s most high-tech cruise ship, Quantum passengers will track their luggage via smartphone, make purchases with the tap of a wristband and enjoy Internet access matching the fastest broadband connections onshore. New attractions include North Star, a jewel-shaped glass capsule attached to a mechanical arm that rises more than 300 feet above the sea; RipCord by iFly, a skydiving simulator; and SeaPlex, an entertainment complex with bumper cars, roller skating and a circus school. Continuing its tradition of presenting Broadway musicals, Royal Caribbean will welcome “Mamma Mia!” onboard. In place of set mealtimes, Quantum of the Seas will offer Dynamic Dining. Passengers can make reservations online, choosing from 18 restaurant concepts including collaborations with celebrity chefs such as Britain’s Jamie Oliver. In April, Viking Cruises, the world’s leading river cruise line, will debut the 930-passenger Viking Star, its first oceangoing vessel. During her maiden season the Viking Star will travel to Scandinavia and the Baltic, as well as the western and eastern Mediterranean. Ports of call will include cosmopolitan cities and destinations that appeal to vacationers interested in history, art and culture. Passengers on the intimate, light-filled ship can choose from five categories of all-veranda staterooms and restaurants offering global cuisine as well as local specialties, with plenty of opportunity for al fresco dining. Among the ship’s highlights are a Scandinavian-style spa; two pools including a glass-backed infinity pool cantilevered off the stern; venues for musical performances, lectures and a cooking school; and a two-deck Explorers’ Lounge offering dramatic views. Norwegian Escape, with a capacity of 4,200 passengers, is the largest ship to date from Norwegian Cruise Line. Beginning in November 2015, she will sail to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and to the Bahamas from her homeport of Miami. The Escape offers a range of staterooms including Studios, cozy spaces for solo travelers; and Norwegian’s signature “ship-within-a-ship” complex, The Haven, ultra-luxurious accommodations that come with a personal concierge and include a private restaurant, pool and spa. Two innovations popular on its sister ships will be incorporated in the Escape: The Waterfront, a quarter-mile promenade of shops, bars and restaurants; and 678 Ocean Place, three decks of dining and entertainment, including Norwegian’s largest-ever casino, with 357 slot machines and 28 gaming tables. For information on these and other cruise options, contact your travel agent. For More Americans, Vacations Start with Luxury Accommodations Americans’ appetite for luxury vacations remains strong – and that typically starts with pampering themselves by staying in deluxe accommodations, according to responses from a recently released nationwide survey of travel professionals. Staterooms on luxury cruise ships, 5-star hotels/resorts and boutique hotels are the top trends for fall among luxury travelers, based on survey responses from 770 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents affiliated with Travel Leaders Group. Approximately 90 percent of luxury-oriented survey participants report their bookings have increased or remained steady for luxury hotels, cruises, suites on ships, tours and First/Business Class airline tickets. Asked what accommodations they book most for their clients, 43.5 percent of respondents answered luxury cruise ships, followed by 5-star hotels/resorts at 43.1 percent and boutique hotels at 40.5 percent. For these travelers, accommodations are the single most important component of a trip. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of biggest growth areas is in the category of luxury hotel bookings. Nearly 92 percent of respondents indicated that they are higher than or on par with last year. That’s an increase of 6.8 percent over results from the 2013 survey. The choice in hotel accommodations can change the entire tenor of a vacation – making a good vacation great. While there are hotels available in virtually every price category, those who book online may miss out on a wide variety of amenities including complimentary breakfasts and wi-fi, along with upgraded rooms, that come with booking a hotel through a travel agent who has access to a host of special rates that aren’t available through the Internet. When it comes to cruises, more than 87 percent of those polled indicated that their luxury cruise bookings are equal to or better than the same period last year. And travelers’ desire for onboard suites remains strong, with a vast majority of those surveyed indicating that bookings have increased or remained the same. Bookings for luxury tours and First Class/Business Class airline tickets both increased slightly this year. Nearly 90 percent of agents say tour bookings are higher or the same as last year, an increase of 3.1 percent. And a significant majority – 88.5 percent – say that First Class/Business Class airline ticket purchases are the same or higher, an increase of 1.7 percent. Although the increase in airline ticket purchases isn’t large, any rise is substantial, especially considering the ongoing consolidation of the U.S. airline industry. That has resulted in further limits to available inventory. The survey results show that Americans are spending money on luxury travel at a rate equal to or better than last year. But like anyone, luxury travelers want to spend their vacation dollars wisely. “Make no mistake, clientele looking for unique, bespoke travel experiences do not spend money frivolously,” says Barry Liben, CEO of Travel Leaders Group. “They demand value, as any traveler should.” To learn how to get the most value out of every vacation dollar, talk with your local travel agent. Business Travel: Fall Travel Trends There’s more to business travel than flying from here to there. And if a recent survey of business-oriented travel agents is any indication, more business travelers will be on the go this fall. As part of its 2014 Fall Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 346 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents who indicated that 50 percent or more of their portfolio is made up of business travelers. Those travel agents said they’re getting busier. Nearly 86 percent of survey respondents reported that business travel bookings are better than or on par with this time last year. It’s not just hotel and plane reservations, either. Agents associated with Travel Leaders Group are responsible for a wide variety of services for business travelers. In addition to flights and accommodations, they handle car rentals and execute Duty of Care procedures. For most business travelers, a car rental is part of the package. A majority (55.2 percent) of Travel Leaders Group agents surveyed reported that more than half of their clients request a car rental in addition to their airline reservation; 30.3 percent said that between 21 percent and 50 percent of their business travel clients require a rental car. In last year’s survey, the figures were 54.7 percent and 32.4 percent, respectively. When asked which rental car category a majority of business travel clients book, 77.7 percent said midsize and 15.6 percent reported travelers request a full-size car. In 2013, the answers were 78.6 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively. While models vary by car rental company, midsize vehicles might include a Toyota Corolla, Pontiac G6 or Dodge Avenger. Full-size cars include a Nissan Altima, Ford Taurus or Chevy Impala. With the car rental industry consolidating, options have become fewer for business travelers. At the same time, drivers are facing rising taxes and fees, including state and local surcharges applied to airport rentals. A travel agent can be invaluable in finding the best deal. The Travel Leaders survey also asked agents about situations business travelers might encounter that could have an impact on their safety or disrupt their trip. In an increasingly global business world, employees may find themselves in countries where they don’t speak the language. Or, they could be in an unfamiliar location in the United States. In either case, travelers may need help arranging alternate flights or accommodations in an emergency. Survey participants were asked which types of incidents required them to execute Duty of Care procedures, spelling out preparations for the employee’s well-being. These provisions are written into a travel policy developed with a corporate travel manager or travel agent. The top responses were: airline emergency, civil unrest in an international country and earthquake. In 2013, the top responses were airline emergency, hurricane and civil unrest in an international country. Duty of Care is an important element for business clients, who are responsible for the safety of their employees whether they’re at their desks in the office or on the road. Talk with your corporate travel agents about their expertise in addressing situations in which your travel may be interrupted, whether it’s due to civil unrest, natural disaster or other emergency. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Top Domestic Destinations for Fall 2014 Fall is officially here and savvy travelers recognize that the season is not only one of the best for sheer value, but there are also typically fewer crowds. Nevertheless, travel bookings for this fall are actually up year over year, according to a recent survey of 1,054 travel agents associated with Travel Leaders Group, the nation’s largest traditional travel agency company. In Travel Leaders’ Fall Travel Trends, 60.2% of the agents polled said that their bookings were higher than last year, while another 28.6% said they were even. Orlando reclaims the number one spot for autumn as 34.3% of the surveyed agents said that the home for Walt Disney World is among their five top domestic destinations they’re booking for fall. The hot new attraction in Disney’s Magic Kingdom is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, an adventurous family coaster that promises a “first-of-its-kind ride system that swings up and down large lifts, cruises across sharp banks and swaying around exhilarating hairpin turns.” No wonder Disney describes it as “the rockingest, rollingest, twistiest train ride ever.” In October, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center bids farewell to the Maelstrom ride to make way for a new attraction based on the hit movie “Frozen.” While visitors to Epcot will have to wait until 2016 for that crowd-pleaser to open, they can enjoy that park’s new Epcot Food & Wine Festival, now through November 10. Of course, Orlando is not the only popular fall destination. Rounding out the top ten are Las Vegas (#2), Maui (#3), New York City (#4), Honolulu (#5), San Francisco (#6), Chicago (#7), Los Angeles (#8), Washington (#9) and Boston (#10). While Las Vegas dropped a notch out of the top spot on the fall survey, autumn is the perfect time to visit, especially as cooler – yet still warm – temperatures there allow for more outdoor time. Many hotels now feature al fresco offerings. A great example is The LINQ – a new outdoor entertainment, dining and shopping district that’s centrally located along the famous Las Vegas Strip. The LINQ includes the High Roller, billed as the “World’s Tallest Observation Wheel” at 550 feet tall. Hawaii’s lush island of Maui may rank third on the list for fall, but that’s because the surveyed agents identified four individual places throughout the Valley Isle as particularly popular. So popular is the island known for its quaint villages and artist communities that readers of Condé Nast Traveler have continually named it the best island for close to two decades. The most popular area is Lahaina/Kaanapali/Kapalua, which is populated with some of the island’s leading hotels and restaurants. The areas around Kahului, Wailea and Maken/Kihel were also named by the agents. At number four, New York City is a great destination anytime of the year, but it’s hard to beat in the fall. It’s also the place to be in the lead-up to the end of year when iconic holiday cheer is eagerly dispensed throughout Manhattan – whether it’s visiting Radio City Music Hall for the annual Christmas Spectacular beginning November 7 or taking in the holiday tree at nearby Rockefeller Center. Honolulu rounds out the top five domestic destinations. Certainly no visit to Honolulu is complete without a stroll along Waikiki Beach. But history also abounds, especially on December 7 – the anniversary of the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. Visitors can pay their respects through a poignant journey to the site of the submerged USS Arizona. The best time to visit the Memorial is in the early morning before tour buses arrive. To visit any of these outstanding domestic destinations this fall – or any other time – contact your travel agent. Europe’s Top International Destinations for Fall 2014 What’s the best time of the year to travel to Europe for the greatest value while temperatures are still relatively warm? Travel experts agree that it’s one of two shoulder seasons – spring and fall. So it’s no wonder that this autumn, five of the top ten international destinations that have already been booked are in Europe (the other five are in the Caribbean). According to a recent survey of 1,054 travel agents associated with Travel Leaders Group, the nation’s largest traditional travel agency company, those European destinations that are most popular this fall include London, England (#3); Rome, Italy (#4); European river cruises (#5); European Mediterranean cruises (#6); and Paris, France (#7). For the record, the rest of the top ten includes Caribbean cruises (#1); Cancun, Mexico (#2); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (#8); Montego Bay, Jamaica (#9); and Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya in Mexico (#10). Fall is an excellent time of year to visit London, because of event-worthy openings taking place through the remainder of the year. While this European cultural capital bustles year-round, this November emphasis is placed on the king of culture, otherwise known affectionately as the Bard – William Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company offers Henry IV – Parts I and II at the Barbican, while a stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1998, “Shakespeare in Love” opens. Also opening this year is the Shard – Europe’s tallest building – situated on the south side of the Thames River; the Shard’s Shangri-La Hotel offers dramatic and sweeping views of the United Kingdom capital that had previously been reserved for visitors to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel that opened at the dawn of the new millennium. If you’re looking for a Roman holiday, autumn is the best time to savor the “Eternal City,” especially as the summer crowds have given way to a much less frenetic atmosphere. Rome’s sophistication and style, excellent cuisine (Thursday is the traditional gnocchi day) and ancient marvels (like the Colosseum and the Pantheon) all continue to captivate. But it also serves as the gateway to Vatican City, a walled enclave surrounded by Rome and ruled by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. Yet it is notable for being the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world. Whether you wish to experience Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica or want to enjoy an audience with the Pope (Wednesdays are the day to plan your visit), fall visits afford some of the best opportunities without its notoriously massive crowds. If you’re more interested in seeing many of Europe’s cities both within its interior and along the continent’s Mediterranean shores, cruises offer a very popular option during autumn. As river cruising continues to boom – European river cruises have leapfrogged over Mediterranean cruising to number five – the fall is an exceptional time of year to enjoy this culturally rich experience, particularly with themed cruises built around the Christmas markets. Like river cruising, Mediterranean cruises allow travelers the luxury of only having to unpack once while seeing the world go by quite literally from their staterooms. Although Cole Porter famously wrote “I Love Paris (in the Springtime),” the change of color here in the fall is every bit as lovely. Now that most Parisians are back from their long August holidays, the City of Lights (or La Ville-Lumière) truly comes alive in the fall, most notably with its Festival Ile-de-France that celebrates the end of summer with concerts spread all over Paris at venues selected for their beauty and cultural significance. As one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Paris is beckoning you to visit in the off-season. To learn more about these and other European options for fall, talk with your travel agent. The Caribbean Calls – Fall 2014 With its close proximity to the United States, the Caribbean ranks as the top international destination being booked for the fall – that is, by the ease, comfort and style afforded by cruise ships, most often departing from either Fort Lauderdale or Miami. That ranking is according to a recent survey of 1,054 travel agents associated with Travel Leaders Group, the nation’s largest traditional travel agency company. In addition to Caribbean cruising, four other destinations within the region are also among the top ten in their own right: Cancun, Mexico (#2); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (#8); Montego Bay, Jamaica (#9); and Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya in Mexico (#10). The Caribbean Sea is naturally the primary focal point of any Caribbean cruise. But with more than 700 cays, islands and reefs spread out across this azure-colored sea, visitors who experience the Caribbean by cruise can enjoy a wide array of options and enjoy islands with their own unique charm and individual flavor. Cruises are primarily devoted to three regions: the Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean and Southern Caribbean. Eastern Caribbean cruises are the most popular, in part because of the ease in getting there and the abundance of cruise lines serving the market. Most islands on the itineraries offer a European vibe, from colonial architecture to cuisines that mix traditional dishes with a Caribbean flair. Itineraries can often include such islands as Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although not technically within the Caribbean, many excursions also include ports of call in the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. Western Caribbean cruises, which often start in places like Galveston, sail to ports of call that ring the sea from the islands on the north and the Mexican and Central American destinations on the west. Thus, places like the snorkeling paradise of Belize, the island of Cozumel off the Yucatan peninsula from Cancun and points in Jamaica and the Grand Cayman are popular ports of call, particularly with divers who want to enjoy vibrant reefs. Southern Caribbean cruises offer perhaps the greatest diversity of multi-cultural experiences with British, French and Dutch influences abounding. A favorite for many are the three islands that are often referred to as the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – all of which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In addition to the vast number of individual itineraries from which to select, there are more cruise lines and ships of varying size and scale serving the Caribbean than any other part of the world. As with selecting any cruise, it’s important to discuss with your travel professional what you want to enjoy and experience the most. In addition to discussing overall budget and itinerary, you’ll want to consider whether you’d prefer to be on a large ship or a smaller one. Your travel professional should be able to make a recommendation based on all of your preferences. To learn more about Caribbean cruising and why it’s the top international “destination” for fall, contact your travel agent. ATMs Versus Credit Cards When you travel, should you primarily use cash or credit cards for your transactions? This age old question is back in the news as Bankrate, Inc. – which monitors the banking industry – came out with its list of six American cities where cash apparently is no longer king, due largely to the high costs associated with automatic teller machines (ATM) usage. According to Bankrate, which surveyed banks in 25 of the top U.S. markets to determine the average fees for ATM use, “Banks across the country are boosting all kinds of fees. An ATM surcharge, or a fee for using a bank’s ATM when you’re not an account holder at that bank, is among those fees on the rise.” Bankrate notes that the national average ATM fee is $2.60. But you’ll pay more to withdraw cash in these cities: •Milwaukee has the highest average ATM fees, clocking in at $2.95. •Phoenix comes in second with a $2.89 average fee. •Houston and Cincinnati are in a third-place tie at $2.78. •San Francisco and San Diego tie for fifth at $2.69. Also beware that you’ll likely pay even more to withdraw your own money in places that are frequented by travelers, including airports and casinos. ATM fees of $4.00 or more are often the norm. In addition to the actual fees charged by the ATM, it’s very possible that you’ll pay double if you’re using one that’s not owned or affiliated with your bank or financial institution. Most banks charge fees for transactions made via competing banks. On average, a customer is charged a total of $4.35 for each transaction, according to Bankrate. Fees charged by banks for using an ATM not owned by them has jumped five percent in the last year and 23% over the past five years. Fortunately for travelers who insist on having cash in their pockets, there are now various free smartphone apps that allow them to find surcharge-free ATMs easily. They include Allpoint, which includes 55,000 locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Australia; MoneyPass, which allows free transactions at “tens of thousands of surcharge-free ATMS coast to coast” so long as your banking institution participates in MoneyPass; Co-Op Network, the largest credit union ATM network in the world, offers nearly 30,000 surcharge-free cash machines for participating credit union members; and MasterCard Nearby, which allows users to filter its more than 2 million ATMs worldwide to find those without any surcharges. Of course, as ours becomes an increasingly cashless society – in which the ease of mobile payments, online shopping and credit card use continue to rise – Apple is now experimenting with a variety of apps that will ultimately allow users to make payments at the point of sale. As the home to both iTunes and its ubiquitous App Store, Apple now has over 800 million registered accounts – all backed up with credit card information. Which brings us back to the credit card – the piece of plastic that smart travelers keep in their wallets and purses. With the advent of affinity cards such as the Delta Skymiles card, travelers not only earn more miles (or points) through their favorite frequent flyer (or traveler) accounts, but they also are able to check bags for free and receive other complimentary amenities. Plus, the tide is finally turning on credit cards that charge you a foreign transaction conversion fee; most recently, Delta Skymiles and US Bank have discontinued charging you for any transaction made in a currency other than the U.S. Dollar. Being well-armed with both credit and ATM cards – along with apps to help you locate no-surcharge ATMs – will help you save money through all your travels. Business Travel: Airline and Hotel Trends for Fall 2014 If you’ve noticed that there are far fewer seats available on your flight – with far more passengers sitting in those middle seats – you’re not alone. According to a recent survey of 346 travel agents affiliated with Travel Leaders Group, 86% of them said business travel bookings are better than or on par with this time last year. Coupled with data indicating that leisure travel is also up – at a time when consolidation of airlines means that there are far fewer seats to be had in the first place – and suddenly it becomes even clearer why planes are flying at capacity. In its business travel survey, Travel Leaders Group found that there was a 3.3% increase in those agents who said year-over-year bookings are higher. When asked, “Comparing your overall 2014 business travel bookings so far to your 2013 business travel bookings at this time last year, which is true?” 57.2% said booking were higher than this time in 2013. That’s the highest level in three years. Those stating that their bookings were lower declined substantially year over year, with only 14.2% providing that response this year. Additional findings indicated a double-digit increase from 55.9% last year to 66.8% this year among the number of business travel agents stating that “11% or more” of their business travel airline bookings are in First or Business Class. Just two years ago, only 51.3% fell into this camp. Travel Leaders attributed this to a lack of available upgrades to First or Business Class due to the consolidation of airlines – meaning more clients are paying to ensure they are seated at the front of the plane. Of course, not everyone is flying in first or business class. When asked for the top reasons why their business travelers fly in coach, the top response was “company policy” (56.9%) followed by “cost” (35.8%) and “hoping for upgrade” (1.7%). Taking a closer look at corporate travel policies and business travelers’ flight selections, the agents were asked, “When booking flights for your corporate travelers, do they most often choose …” A mere 8.4% stated “lowest fare, period” while the top responses were: “A flight (not the lowest) based on time of departure/arrival – as long as it meets the corporate policy” (44.8%); “the lower fare for nonstop, even if there is a lower-priced connection” (30.9%); and “a flight (not the lowest) based on preferred air carrier – as long as it meets the corporate policy” (13.0%). As for hotels, 68.2% of the surveyed agents reported than more than half of their clients book a hotel along with their airline reservation – that’s up from 67.3% a year ago. This upward movement provides some hope for corporate travel managers who work hard with their travel management company (TMC) to negotiate rates with hoteliers. The survey also revealed an uptick in agents stating a majority of their business travel clients are selecting “Luxury” (e.g. Fairmont, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, etc.) and “Upper Upscale” (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, etc.) categories of hotel accommodations. When asked “Which hotel category would you say the majority of your business travel clients book?” 70.2% of agents stated the “Luxury” and “Upper Upscale” categories, while 25.4% indicate “Upscale” and “Upper Midscale” categories; in 2013, the percentages were 63.9% and 31.8%, respectively. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Cosmopolitan Atlanta – 150 and 75 Year Anniversaries Atlanta, by far the South’s largest city, is also the region’s most cosmopolitan. It’s no wonder Georgia’s capital is often referred to as “Hotlanta.” But 150 years ago, Atlanta was literally ablaze, and a couple of milestone anniversaries harken back to the Civil War events that unfolded in 1864. This November 11 marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Atlanta when General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his Union Army to troops to burn city to the ground. At the time, the city’s population was barely at 10,000, yet it had become such a vital transportation hub, that it was transformed into a critical supply line for the Confederates. The essence of the Battle of Atlanta was captured in an immense panoramic painting that is currently housed in the city’s Grant Park. The Atlanta Cyclorama is world’s largest oil painting with a circumference of over 350 feet – the panorama is cylindrical, with observers taking it in from seats on a rotating cylinder in the center. Painted in 1885-86, the historical artwork features a three-dimensional foreground (if you look closely, you can even see a soldier who looks like Clark Gable). To commemorate the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum is hosting events both on-site and around the city through the rest of the year, including “Art Against the Wall: The Battle of Atlanta at 150” – a free art exhibit at Atlanta’s Gallery 72, now through October 5. Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell also captured the Battle of Atlanta in her Civil War-themed novel Gone with the Wind, which was first published in 1936 – three short years before its translation into a silver screen classic. A former journalist, Mitchell wrote the book at her home, a turn-of-the-century Tudor Revival building that has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Margaret Mitchell House is now open to the public. Less than a mile down Peachtree Street from the Margaret Mitchell House is Atlanta’s “fabulous” Fox Theatre. Seventy-five years ago, the former movie palace figured prominently into the world premiere of the big screen adaptation of Mitchell’s work – not as the venue for the first showing of the film, but instead serving as the starting point for the official parade kicking off the festivities. On December 15, 1939, more than one million people were drawn to Atlanta to celebrate the movie, which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1939. Like the Margaret Mitchell House, the Fox Theatre earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. While it came close to being razed in the 1970s, the Fox Theatre now serves as an impressive live-performance mecca. In addition to offering 60-minute guided tours, the opulent venue plays host to a variety of acclaimed shows. Over the next six months, audiences will flock to the Fox to see artists like Jason Mraz, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd and musicals including Disney’s “Newsies” and “Wicked: The Musical.” Atlanta also offers visitors a wide array of experiences typically starting at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport – the world’s busiest – where hometown airline Delta Air Lines just opened its Delta Flight Museum. With a metropolitan population of over 5.5 million, this global city is home to such must-see attractions as the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the High Museum of Art and CNN’s Atlanta Studios. To learn more about visiting Atlanta, please contact your travel agent. Commercial Airline Industry Centennial In this Space Age when space stations and unmanned missions to Mars are no longer a fantasy – and a full 45 years after the first man on the moon – it may seem hard to believe that 2014 only marks the 100th anniversary of the world’s airline industry, which began in earnest just ten short years after Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Consider all the major airlines that are no longer in existence – either because of mergers or simply management issues – like Continental, Eastern, Northwest, Pan Am and TWA, just to name a few, and it makes the thought of their ascent beginning a scant 100 years all the more mind-boggling. But in 1914, visionaries Percy Fansler and Thomas W. Benoist capitalized on Kitty Hawk’s tenth anniversary by launching SPT Airboat Line, which provided commercial air service, albeit briefly, between two Florida cities: St. Petersburg and Tampa. Using three wooden, open air-wing seaplanes, the journey across Tampa Bay at 65 miles per hour took all of 23 minutes – dramatically less time than the two hours it ordinarily took by boat or the grueling 20 hours required by the still relatively new automobile. While today’s jumbo jets can carry over 500 passengers, it was a decidedly different flying experience for full-fare paying passengers. Each Benoist Airboat was a two-seater aircraft, meaning there was only enough room aboard for one pilot and one passenger on each of the two daily roundtrip flights offered. While there’s no record of peanuts being served on those flights, the one-way fare of $5.00 was anything but at the time; in today’s dollars, the ride would cost $116. So wildly anticipated was that first commercial crossing of Tampa Bay on January 1, 1914, that a parade preceded the flight and 3,000 spectators turned out to watch history being made. The first passenger was determined by auction, with former St. Peterburg Mayor Abram C. Pheil bidding $400 for the honor of flying at a reported altitude of only about fifty feet – some 35,950 feet lower than most long-haul aircraft today. Yet Benoist had a clear vision for the future of aviation noting, “Someday, people will be crossing oceans on airliners like they do on steamships today.” Now, 100 years later when his extraordinary dream has become an everyday – yes, ordinary – occurrence, the very first commercial flight continues to be celebrated. Not only are events taking place this year, but in the lead up to the centennial – underscoring just how far aviation had come – an original Benoist pennant flew aboard the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery in 2011 with astronaut Nicole Stott. Throughout this year, the St. Petersburg Museum of History is the place to be. The museum’s signature exhibit is housed in “The World’s First Airline Gallery,” devoted to the story of commercial aviation beginning with the first flight of SPT Airboat Line. A full-size working replica of the original Benoist Airboat is on display. For more information on getting to Tampa Bay and other attractions there, please consult with your travel agent. Travel Insurance Provides Peace-of-Mind During Travels Recent headlines about Iceland’s most active volcano served as a stark reminder to many Europe-bound passengers that in the blink of an eye, unforeseen circumstances can suddenly disrupt travel plans, no matter how well you may have prepared. That is, unless during your travel planning, you had the foresight to protect your trip with travel insurance. The only true way to ensure that each trip goes off with a minimum of glitches is to purchase third-party travel insurance (versus policies sold directly by the airline, cruise line or tour operator that is supplying your travel experience). Travel insurance guards against all the unknowns, both at the most personal levels and at times when emergencies occur well beyond your control. Given that we live in a non-refundable age, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to lose all the money I’ve invested in my family’s vacation if this trip is cut short or canceled?” If you’re traveling abroad, you should also be aware that most health insurance policies in the United States will not offer coverage outside the country; this should prompt you to ask yourself, “Can I be 100% sure that absolutely nothing will happen where we’d need medical care?” If you answered, “No,” to either question, you should guard your travel investment with travel insurance. Here are some of the top reasons why you should consider travel insurance: Issues Precluding or Delaying Travel – You never know when the unexpected will occur that can completely derail your plans before you’ve even started your journey. Whether you experience a sudden medical issue or job loss, travel insurance has you covered. Medical Emergencies – It’s in our nature to think we’re immune to becoming ill, injured or even worse during the course of our travels. But all too many travelers face the unexpected and then are forced to pay significant and unanticipated out-of-pocket costs. Travel insurance not only covers you, but you can also purchase medical evacuation insurance for the extra peace-of-mind when visiting popular places where medical care may be questionable. Other Issues While Traveling – What if something happens back home that requires you to cut-short your trip, including the death of a loved one? What happens when you lose a valuable item during your travels? There’s travel insurance that can protect you in both cases. Travel Supplier Closures – Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that on occasion, some businesses go out of business – and the travel industry is not immune. This only reinforces just how crucial it is to buy third-party insurance as opposed to one that offered directly by the supplier. But it’s also a smart idea to work with a travel agent who can counsel you on strong suppliers. Overall, travel protection insurance covers many contingencies, depending on the type of trip planned. There are various types of policies from several trusted insurance companies – such as Allianz and Travel Guard – to protect non-refundable trip deposits and payments should your travel be canceled or interrupted for any reason. They also can include affordable family rates and competitive car rental coverage. Most policies also provide primary medical coverage so you can get emergency medical attention immediately, without having to access your own health insurer. To learn more about the travel insurance coverage that’s right for you, contact your travel agent. Maximizing Your Hotel Dollar A recent Associated Press story took inventory of a growing array of fees that some hotels are adding to their guests’ bills. Taking a page from the airline industry, it appears on the surface that hotels are seeking innovative ways to charge for items that were previously free. So what is a consumer to do? Except for vacations where you’re staying with family or friends, most of us stay in hotels of varying amenities. Fortunately, over the past few years, the U.S. hotel industry has been booming. According to CNBC, “many in the industry say they expect the good times to keep rolling for a few more years until supply catches up with demand.” That, in turn, means that there are more properties at every price point. More competition is good for consumers. But even better news is that there are a number of ways to avoid paying fees at hotels. Perhaps the most important one is not to make your hotel reservation directly through the hotel. You’ll only have access to what that specific hotel is offering, meaning that you’ll have no comparative information on which to base your decision. Second, don’t fall for the hotels’ own “best rate guarantees.” The hotel rate you may be shown directly by the property may not be indicative of all the extras you might ultimately end up paying for. Plus, if you’re browsing online, thanks to the growing use of “cookies,” the rate you initially saw may no longer be available the next time. Third, if you’re going to visit online booking sites, use them for comparison purposes only. The best use of such sites is to see what other travelers have experienced with the property you’re considering. But just like booking through a hotel directly, booking through online sites rarely provides you with access, if any, to value-added amenities, such as complimentary breakfasts or free Wi-Fi. The best way to get the best rate at a hotel plus added benefits is to book through a travel agency. Today’s top travel agents not only have access to competitive rates at most hotels worldwide, but because of their buying power, they also have access to plenty of perks that are provided to guests. For example, in addition to the free breakfasts and Wi-Fi mentioned above, travel agents who have access to the Travel Leaders Group Worldwide Hotel Program can offer their clients complimentary parking, room upgrades and the last available room at over 34,000 hotels globally – even if it is not showing as available on a hotel’s website. If you’re looking to splurge on your hotel, you should ask your travel agent if they have access to a luxury hotel program like Select Hotels & Resorts, which can provide similar amenities as outlined above, but also provides room upgrades at check-in (based on availability), early check-ins and late check-outs (also based on availability) and special VIP amenities. That way, when you’re comparing notes with your fellow guests, you’ll have peace-of-mind that you booked your accommodations like a pro. For more information on value-added amenities for all your hotel stays, contact your travel agent. Business Travel: Upcoming Changes to Frequent Flyer Programs Savvy business travelers have long sought ways to be rewarded for their frequent flights. At the top of this list is participating in frequent flyer programs that reward them for their patronage. Those who fly the most on one particular airline can score upgrades and plenty of other rewards – including “free” travel – as they pile on the miles. They can also enjoy such benefits as priority check-in, waived baggage fees, airport lounge access, and even expedited TSA Precheck screening. Since the dawn of frequent flyer programs in the 1980s, the ways travelers have earned their miles proliferated to include purchases made with the airline’s credit card to using the airline’s hotel and car rental partners. Yet fundamentally, the core way of earning miles has remained largely the same – travelers have been credited with one mile for every actual mile flown. However, this way of accumulating mileage – and with it the accompanying “status” levels conferred on the top frequent flyers – is about to change dramatically. Beginning in 2015, airlines like Delta will begin crediting mileage based instead on the price of the airline ticket. While this approach has its critics, it may ultimately be a net positive for those individuals who fly the most: business travelers. Delta was the first legacy carrier to announce changes to its program and other airlines have followed suit. For its part, Delta Air Lines has offered a mileage comparison calculator to help its customers determine how much more – or less – they’d earn next year on their most frequent itineraries. Starting with those who have no status with the carrier, they’ll earn five miles for every dollar spent. However, current status brings with it more miles per dollar spent: seven miles per $1 for Silver Medallion members (those who currently fly 25,000 miles per year), eight miles per $1 for Gold Medallion members (those who currently fly 50,000 miles per year), nine miles per $1 for Platinum Medallion members (those who currently fly 75,000 miles per year), and 11 miles per $1 for Diamond Medallion members (those who currently fly 125,000 miles per year). Delta attributes its upcoming change as “to better reward customers who spend more with Delta.” But it is also promising to create more redemption options and increase award seat availability at the lowest price points for all of its frequent flyer customers. Fortunately for those road warriors among us who live their lives on the road, they’ll enjoy significantly less competition for those immensely valued upgrades once they begin flying in 2015. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
25 Years after the Fall of the Wall: Berlin Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down amid shock and glee when the East German government announced the lifting of travel restrictions on November 9, 1989. Erected almost overnight in 1961, the iconic symbol of the Cold War once divided not just Germany, but the world. After three reinforcements during 28 years, the barricade was finally, and literally, torn down by the people nearly as fast as it went up. Once 87 miles long, today only bits and pieces remain as symbols of freedom, of triumph over oppression. In 2014, special events and exhibitions will mark the anniversary throughout Berlin. While you should work with your travel professional on a customized itinerary, here are a few things to consider in commemoration of this historic event. •The Berlin Wall Light Installation, November 7-9, 2014◦ To celebrate a “symbol of hope for a world without walls”, thousands of illuminated helium balloons will run more than seven miles across the center of Berlin, from the former border crossing at Bernauer Strasse through Mauerpark, then near the River Spree and the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie. At five spots, white balloons will be released to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. If the weather cooperates, the light installation will be visible from outer space. •Berlin Wall Memorial◦ For a deeper understanding of the divided city of Berlin and a chronicle of the Cold War period, visit the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre. Learn about the Wall’s construction, impact and dramatic events. Evocative indoor and outdoor displays include historical films, original documents and news from the period. From the watchtower, you can see preserved parts of the border facility and a memorial to victims. •East Side Gallery◦The East Side Gallery is one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall left standing. Located near the center of Berlin on Muhlenstrasse, the open-air gallery is nearly a mile long and consists of 105 paintings from artists around the world. While parts of the mural have been marred by graffiti, the art remains a fascinating, colorful and moving international memorial to freedom. •Walk the Wall◦ Follow the double cobblestone rows throughout Berlin to trace the path of the Wall, designated periodically by copper plates “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989” (mauer is the German word for wall). See the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie and more. The cobblestones are not continuous as the “infamous death strip” has now been replaced by modern high-rises and multiplexes, so you will need a map or, better yet, a Mauerguide, which is a handheld map with GPS, audio and video. For more information on getting to the Berlin Wall and other attractions there, please consult with your travel agent. Autumn in New England Amber. Bronze. Crimson. Gold. New England’s brilliant fall foliage lures leaf peepers far and wide every autumn. After all, what’s better than experiencing a panorama of fiery colors, hiking down wooded trails and enjoying the quaint townships of the New England countryside? You just need to decide when to go and where to stay. Peak foliage timing changes every year, so check with your travel professional on the color forecast and special deals, especially midweek getaway packages. New England towns are ready to cater to the needs of fall travelers, whether you want to stay in a historic clapboard inn, a B&B or a posh hotel. Here are a few of our favorite places: •Acadia National Park, Maine◦ Acadia National Park is located along Maine’s northern rugged coastline, about 50 miles southwest of Bangor. With a diverse vista of woodlands, lakes and mountains, the park is ablaze with color in the fall. Hike trails by foot, bike or horseback, and be sure to see the view from Cadillac Mountain. For a taste of small town life on the American seacoast, stay in one of several nearby villages, including Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor or Seal Harbor. •Camden, Maine◦ There may be no prettier combination of shoreline, village, forest and mountains than Camden, Maine. Situated in the middle of Maine’s rocky coast, Camden is a jewel of vivid color in the fall. The town itself has a tall ships harbor, superb dining, and plenty of shopping and antiquing. Nearby opportunities include vineyards, apple-picking orchards and hiking and biking trails. •The Green Mountains and Route 100 Scenic Byway, Vermont◦ The Route 100 Scenic Byway is 138 miles of natural beauty hugging the Green Mountains as it stretches from Vermont’s border with Massachusetts up to Canada. Route 100 passes through 20 towns of historical significance, cultural interest and small town charm, including Stowe, Warren and Weston. If you want to get your ice cream fix, visit Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury. •Woodstock, Vermont◦ Charming and wholesome, the 18th century town of Woodstock, Vermont, doesn’t have a traffic light or a chain store in sight. That makes the center of town a great place to stroll, shop for one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, or enjoy gourmet restaurants, bakeries and pubs. Experience the working farm culture, hike nearby trails or play the 18-hole masterpiece golf course. •Kancamagus Highway and Exeter, New Hampshire◦ The Kancamagus Scenic Byway spans 34 miles from Lincoln to Conway, New Hampshire, with breathtaking views of the White Mountain National Forest, Swift River and Sabbaday Falls. The pristine area offers numerous hiking trails and campgrounds. Less than two hours from Conway is the historic town of Exeter, which features its quintessential general store, many excellent cafes and art galleries, and nearby covered bridges. To learn more about visiting New England, please contact your travel agent. Now Is Time to Book Alaska Cruises for 2015 Heralded for its vast rugged shoreline, snowy mountains and majestic glaciers, Alaska remains an unspoiled frontier largely because its top attractions are relatively remote. That’s why there’s no better way to experience the sublime natural beauty of Alaska than by cruise. Cruise lines offer itineraries and port excursions that appeal to every type of traveler, whether you want high-end pampering or a family-friendly vacation. Most Alaska cruise programs include these highlights: •Breathtaking voyage through Tracy Arm Fjord •Skagway, the formerly lawless town and starting point of the Klondike Gold Rush •Historic Juneau, Alaska’s picturesque capital •Ketchikan, home to Misty Fjords National Monument •On-board experts to point out sights and wildlife •Optional shore excursions such as dog sled expeditions, zip-lining and floatplane sightseeing Alaska cruises are growing in popularity, so work with a travel professional about a year before you want to travel. They will help you figure out the best deal, ship and program to meet your needs. Here are a few options to consider. •The Disney Wonder: a 7-Night Alaskan Cruise for the whole family Disney excels at the family-friendly vacation, and the Disney Wonder is no exception. The ship combines elegance with an array of multi-generational activities. Plenty of areas, activities and entertainment are tailored to children, tweens and teens… and the ship also has adult-only areas to give parents a vacation too! The Disney Wonder sails round-trip from Vancouver to Tracy Arm for two breathtaking days at sea, then on to Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Consider spending a couple of days in beautiful Vancouver, Canada – a vibrant metropolitan city with panoramic views and top-flight attractions. •Celebrity Cruises: Journey through Alaska aboard the Celebrity Millennium Updated in 2012 with spa-inspired decor, the Celebrity Millennium has new cabins and verandas, coolly modern dining and bar venues, and an Internet lounge. With soft colors, elegant public spaces and floor-to-ceiling windows, the ship wows at every turn. The Celebrity Millennium offers a range of Alaska cruise options, including departure points from Vancouver or Seward, and trips from 7 to 19 nights. Nearly all journeys include stops at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, but you can also venture further north to Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage and the ever-inspiring Denali. •Holland America: Explore Alaska aboard the Amsterdam Experience more elbow room with mid-sized cruising on Holland America’s Amsterdam, a regal ship that beautifully fuses old world charm with modern amenities, including a multi-million-dollar art and antiques collection. Onboard activities include cooking classes, digital workshops, and an Astrolabe that tracks constellations and planets. Choose from 7- or 14-day round-trip voyages from Seattle to Alaska, or select one of several land-first options that offer one to three days for exploring the wilds of Denali and the Yukon. Luxury in the Air: Etihad Airways Raises the Bar Competition for the jet set has never been richer. And, with on-board chefs, nannies and butlers, luxury travel has never been so, well, luxurious. The bar for first-class service and posh surroundings was recently raised a notch by Etihad Airways, a high-end Mideast carrier that caters to the rich and famous on routes to or through some of the world’s wealthiest cities, like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Indeed, Etihad is one of several fast-growing airlines that leverage hubs in the Gulf to connect passengers to cities on other continents. For example, Etihad offers flights from several U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Dallas. Here’s a brief look at what the world’s elite may experience when traveling in First or Business Class on Etihad Airways: •Chauffeur service – A fleet of luxury cars and chauffeurs provide discreet, safe door-to-door service. •Etihad butler – A butler is onboard to manage any in-flight or post-flight planning needs that can’t be handled by flight attendants. •On-board three-room suite or private apartment – Designed for up to two passengers traveling together, The Residence features a living room with leather sofa, a separate bedroom and on-suite bathroom. Or try the private First Apartment, which includes a flat-screen TV, wardrobe and bar, as well as a leather armchair and ottoman that opens into an 81-inch long bed. •Business class – User-centered design yields a surprising sense of space and convenient storage areas. The seat converts into a bed with a special mattress so you can relax on long-haul flights. An 18-inch touchscreen TV with noise-cancelling headset delivers new movies and classic entertainment. •Pre or post-flight spa treatments – Treat yourself to a beauty treatment, massage or realignment at the Sixth Senses Spa, available in the lounge of all Etihad destination cities. •First class lounge – Enjoy on-screen entertainment on a Bang & Olufsen flat screen TV, spend time in the cigar lounge or champagne bar, and freshen up with a spa-like shower while your clothes are ironed and your shoes polished. •Food – World-class chefs can prepare your favorite dish, as well as other gourmet meals or snacks in five-star ambience, accompanied by a hand-picked boutique wines. •Airport family room – The family room is stocked with toys, books and TV to entertain your children. And if you need a break, qualified nannies will watch your kids for you. •Airport business amenities– Stay connected and keep business operations moving with Apple computers, broadband Internet connection and printing facilities. Business Travel: The Down-Low for Carry-Ons Airlines are cracking down on restrictions for carry-on bags. This may sound inconvenient, but it could actually be good news if you can travel light. After all, fewer travelers with overstuffed bags translates into faster, easier onboarding. That being said, you may be surprised to find that your relatively small, wheeled luggage is now too big for the overhead bin. In fact, if it doesn’t fit in the size-wise metal frame at the gate, you may have to go back to check-in, where you’ll likely encounter a fee to check your luggage. Although enforcement varies, the current restriction for carry-on bag dimensions is 22x14x9 for American, Delta, United and US Airways. AirTran, JetBlue and Southwest are slightly more generous with dimensions set at 24x16x10. Of course, you can also bring a purse, laptop or small personal item, but it must fit under the seat in front of you. While most major U.S. airlines don’t charge a fee for one carry-on, budget carriers may. Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines charge anywhere from $25 to $100 per carry-on bag. Nearly all the airlines (except Southwest) are charging fees for checked luggage, starting around $15 and running up to $30 apiece for the first bag or two. After that, fees skyrocket: extra, overweight or oversized luggage can cost up to $200 per bag. Dimension restrictions vary on foreign carriers, so make sure you check out their policies before leaving for an international trip. In addition, while most U.S. airlines don’t have carry-on baggage weight limits, some foreign carriers do (and the weight fees can be hefty, up to and over $150 per overweight bag). If you want to tighten your belt when it comes packing your bags, here are a few tips to consider: •Balance the need for wheels – Wheels and a frame can lighten your load, but they also take up quite a bit of space. To make the most of your carry-on space, consider a soft tote that can expand but still manages to meet size requirements. •Rethink what you “need” to bring – Be more discriminating when packing. Make decisions before you put everything in your luggage, as we tend to want to throw in a few extras after a bag is packed. And remember, you can always buy as you go. •Use and lose – Disposable items, like shavers and old clothes, are a great way to lighten the load on your return, especially if you have to bring back paperwork or business tchotchkes. •Go monotone – Pack one color theme (black or brown) to cut down on the need for more shoes and other accessories. •Downsize – Travel-sized toiletries can save a lot of space… and don’t forget that most business hotels have good health and beauty products. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Relaxing Speed and Style: Traveling by High-Speed Rail Since the first bullet train shot across Japan 50 years ago, our love affair with rail travel has evolved from romantic symbols of the past to visions of a space-age future. With sleek, stylish cars, gleaming stations and deluxe service, High-Speed Rail (HSR) is a growing mode of transportation, particularly in Europe and Asia. Generally, “high speed” refers to trains with minimum speeds of 124 to 155 miles per hour, and maximum speeds of more than 200 mph. HSR travel usually comes with close-to-airfare prices, but the relaxing scenic byways and convenient city center-to-city center destinations can translate into extra sightseeing, less stress and shorter overall travel time. Below are a few countries with HSR and some information about what to expect, but be sure to talk to a travel professional about your specific itinerary. Germany – Germany’s Intercity Express, aka the ICE train, is the fastest way to travel on the Deutsche Bahn railway. Five different ICE trains provide service between several major European cities, including in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Comfortable and spacious, every ICE train provides bistro or restaurant dining. Seats can be reserved by location and type: face-to-face, in rows, or at tables, in family friendly sections, silent cars or high cell phone reception areas. WiFi HotSpots are available on many ICE trains to enable Internet connection. France – France’s TGV is the world speed record holder for conventional high-speed rail. Every day, 450 trains carry passengers throughout Europe at approximately 201 mph. First and second-class seating have spacious legroom, fold-down tables and power outlets. All trains offer WiFi access, family areas and cell phone spaces. Discounts are available for advanced booking, youth, child and senior travelers. Spain – Spain’s Ave has an extensive high-speed network connecting major cities, including Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Barcelona and Valencia. Even Ave’s Economy Class (called Tourist) has many amenities, including power outlets, video and audio services, and reserved seating. The Ave is very family friendly, with nursery and play areas, as well as children’s board games. China – While visiting China, train buffs will want to experience the world’s fastest train: the Shanghai Maglev, which reaches a top speed of 268 mph. The Maglev has no wheels, axles, steel rails, or overhead electrical. The cars float above the track using electromagnetic force. For about $7 per trip, visitors can travel the 19-mile distance to and from Shanghai airport in less than 8 minutes. But don’t worry, your head won’t spin! The cars are fitted with decelerating glass so passengers can enjoy the view. Clean, comfortable seating with luggage racks, the Maglev connects to the Longyang Road Metro Station, which has extensive service throughout Shanghai. Discover the Striking Beauty of Slovakia and the Czech Republic Twenty-five years ago, the Velvet Revolution ended more than 40 years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which subsequently divided peacefully four years later to form Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Today, these two central European countries offer travelers a combination of extraordinary history, modern sophistication and natural paradise. Since Slovakia and the Czech Republic are slightly more off-the-beaten path compared to some of their European neighbors, you can get a great value for your travel dollar. Work with your travel professional to uncover deals and create a custom itinerary, but here are a few of our favorite sites: Prague – The grandeur of Prague is undeniable. A thousand years ago, Prague was founded on the banks of the beautiful Vltava River. The city is comprised of one architectural wonder after another, including arched bridges, medieval cathedrals, gold-tipped spires and ancient castles. The famed Charles Bridge, which separates the historic Old Town from the “Lesser Quarter” that is home to Prague Castle, is adorned with 30 statues. The cobblestone streets belie the metropolitan elegance of Prague’s top-rated restaurants, concerts and theaters. Or, you can always relax in one of the city’s many brew pubs! Czech Countryside – Experience the lush, legendary and breathtaking landscapes of Bohemia, Moravia and Bavaria by visiting any of the countless vineyards, villages, chateaux and gardens. Unravel history in the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora, where you can see marvelously preserved Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture. Bratislava – The capital of Slovakia sits on the shores of the stunningly blue Danube River, less than an hour away from Vienna, Austria. At the heart of Bratislava is historic Old Town, with charming narrow lanes leading to an open square from the Middle Ages. Stroll down the cobblestone streets and stop at one of Bratislava’s many beer bars to enjoy a taste of the country’s favorite beverage. Overlooking Bratislava are the ruins of Devin Castle, built in the 13th century to protect the western frontier of the Hungarian Kingdom. A number of sightseeing opportunities lie within a two-to-three hour drive from Bratislava, including manor houses, monasteries and wineries. The High Tatras Mountains also provide great opportunities for hiking, rafting and cycling. Slovak Paradise National Park – In northeast Slovakia, trek through the trails of the Slovak Paradise National Park to see its myriad landscapes: mountain meadows, canyons, gorges, ravines, plateaus, karst and waterfalls. Dare to visit the mesmerizing icefalls and stalagmites of nearby Bosinska Ice Cave, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. After a day of exploring, treat yourself to a dip in one of Slovakia’s many hot spring spas, known for their curative abilities. For more information on traveling to Slovakia and the Czech Republic and viewing the sights, contact your travel agent. Off the Beaten Path: Why Fall Vacations Are Worth the Wait Autumn vacations offer something special. The crowds ebb, the weather cools, the fall colors blossom as the leaves begin to change. In some places, the prices drop. Many destinations offer special events, discounts and packages to attract the off-peak traveler. In fact, some of the best deals are found between early September and Thanksgiving. Talk with your travel professional about your vacation desires and special deals, but here are a few great excursions to consider for post-Labor Day travel. Where to go: The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive – Fall foliage, farmers markets and festivals are just a few of the reasons to visit the sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which starts at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, and winds up 469 miles later in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. The Parkway connects to Skyline Drive, a 105-mile winding road that offers 75 overlooks with panoramic views of the changing autumnal colors. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are popular activities in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which also give access to the Appalachian Trail. Visit any number of quaint towns, natural wonders and historic sites along the way, including the Natural Bridge, and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Oktoberfest in Brazil – In Brazil’s southern city of Blumenau, you can experience one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations in the Americas. Blumenau is a picturesque valley town on Itajai-Acu River with a large population of people with Germanic ancestry. Approximately 700,000 people attend the Blumenau Oktoberfest, which includes singing, folk-dancing, shooting matches and, of course, plenty to eat and drink. Loire Valley – Crisp, cool days and nights beckon for a delicious glass of wine in the beautiful vineyards of the Loire Valley in central France. With the summer tourists gone, you can enjoy leisurely castle tours or bike rides in the towns that dot the hills and valleys along the Loire River, with a brilliant backdrop of intense fall colors. Also, harvest season is an ideal time to see a working vineyard, and enjoy a wine tour and tasting. You will have your choice of where to stay from stately chateaux to charming bed and breakfasts and more rustic “gites.” Rhine River Cruise – Alpine glaciers and streams flow into the Rhine River and wind through Switzerland, northern Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Drenched in history, the shorelines are dotted with fairytale castles, gothic cathedrals and legendary fortresses. The Rhine also offers sophisticated European cities – a river cruise can take you through Basel, Strasbourg, Wiesbaden, Cologne, Utrecht and Rotterdam. Nevada Sesquicentennial From the rocky Mojave Desert to the tree-lined Sierra Nevada Mountains to metropolitan gambling havens, Nevada offers something for everyone. This October is the 150th anniversary of Nevada Statehood, and the state is ready to celebrate with parades, parties, culinary events, balloon festivals and even International Camel Races. Work with your travel agent on a customized itinerary, but here are a few places to consider: Las Vegas – The infamous town of Las Vegas has attracted a wide array of visitors to its casinos since nearby Hoover Dam construction began in the 1930s. Las Vegas has evolved in recent years to become a bit of everything for everyone – a family destination, a romantic getaway, and a party town – while maintaining its reputation as a gamblers’ mecca. Today, Las Vegas offers some of the world’s finest dining, shopping and headlining shows. Lake Mead – Created by the historic Hoover Dam and melting snow, Lake Mead’s sparkling blue waters offer 759 miles of shoreline for boating, fishing and camping. This National Recreation Area provides spectacular views, good weather and year-round activities. Numerous hiking paths surround Lake Mead, including the historic Railroad Tunnels Trail, created for locomotives to carry materials in and out of the Hoover Dam construction site. Hoover Dam – One of the world’s great engineering marvels, the Hoover Dam is an awe-inspiring 726-foot tall concrete mass along the Colorado River. The Observation Deck provides a panoramic view of Lake Mead, the Colorado River and the dam itself. Take an elevator 530 feet down into the Black Canyons as part of the Powerplant Tour. Films, audio, guided and self-paced tours are available. Reno – Nestled at the bottom of the glorious Sierra Nevada Mountains, Reno echoes the romantic era of the Old West, and has the historic sites to match. Famous for its casinos, Reno also offers top-flight restaurants, golf courses and family entertainment, including nearby ghost towns and the occasional rodeo. The mountains and desert provide plenty are ideal for outdoor activities, including hiking, biking and photography. Carson City – Named after legendary explorer Kit Carson, Nevada’s state capital was built in 1870 and exudes the Old West still today. Historic landmarks, museums and mansions aren’t all Carson City has to offer. Nearby are the Divine Nine: top-rated golf courses designed by pros such as Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller, set against magnificent Sierra Mountains. After a day of gambling, golfing or sightseeing, check out the Carson City Hot Springs to relax and rejuvenate. Tahoe – Nestled between snowcapped 10,000 foot-high mountains in California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is crystal blue and breathtaking. Warm weather activities include hiking, boating and golf, while the cold weather brings world-class skiing, skating and snowmobiling. Relaxed and easy-going, Tahoe City is a picturesque town for shopping, dining and nearby gambling. Business Travel – Airline Fees: What’s Up and How to Keep Them Down Increasingly, airline passengers are noticing that they’re being charged fees for a variety of items that previously were free. Frequently referred to as “ancillary fees,” this additional revenue stream is improving airline profitability, which means you’ll be seeing more of them. While fees vary by airline, here’s a snapshot of recent fees, and advice on how to minimize the impact. Baggage •Checked Bags: A checked bag or two usually costs between $15 and $30 apiece. After that, fees skyrocket: extra, overweight or oversized luggage can cost up to $200 per bag. •Carry-Ons: Most airlines still don’t charge for one carry-on, but they are stricter about size requirements. Budget airlines may charge $25 to $50 for a carry-on. Ticket Changes •Charges for changing your ticket vary dramatically, from $20 to $200, but usually less for same-day travel. Boarding Passes •Some budget airlines may charge $10 for printing out your boarding pass at the airport. Seat Selection/Preferred Seating •Some budget airlines charge $10 for the option of choosing your seat, but most carriers still provide that service for free… unless you want “preferred seating.” Desirable aisle and window seats near the front can run $20 to $100 or more, depending on trip distance. Priority Boarding •Want to board early along with First Class passengers? That privilege could cost you $9 to $25. Inflight Food •While most airlines still provide a complimentary beverage and snack (the customary nuts, pretzels or cookies), additional food is usually available from $1 to $15. Be prepared as most airlines only take credit cards. Inflight WiFi •Not every airline offers inflight WiFi, but if they do, the costs vary. Some charge by the hour with prices starting around $5, while others offer a flat rate per-flight. Some airlines offer daily, monthly and annual packages. Since ancillary fees can make a real dent in your travel budget, work with your travel professional to minimize the impact. Here are a few tips: •If you usually travel on one particular airline, see if they have a credit card that offers discounts and perks, like priority boarding. •Before choosing the carrier for your trip, check out how the fees add up. For example, if you’re bringing lots of luggage, the budget airline may cost more than you think. •Book online, and watch for add-ons. Some airlines offer products and services like travel insurance that require you to opt out if you don’t want them. •Know your airline’s dimensions and restrictions for carry-on and checked luggage. Make packing light easier by choosing one color theme (brown or black) to cut down on the needed shoes and accessories. •Check-in online exactly 24 hours in advance. If the carrier allows free seat selection, you can get best seat possible at that time. •Road warriors should look into WiFi packages vs. paying per flight. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
25 Years After the Fall of the Wall: Hungary If you remember the Cold War, you may recall that the Iron Curtain that separated the Soviet Bloc of nations from Western Europe first cracked in Hungary, 25 years ago this summer. The Iron Curtain was both an ideology and series of physical barriers – including the famous Berlin Wall – that prevented free movement between the Soviet Bloc and the west. Hungary began to dismantle the barbed wire fence along its border with neutral Austria as early as May 1989. Immediately, East Germans began traveling through Hungary to cross into Austria and on to West Germany. By September 10, the Hungarian government gave official permission for East Germans to use Hungary as a conduit to the west; in October, Hungary left the Soviet Bloc and established a democratic government. That November, the Berlin Wall began to be demolished as well. It’s likely that people who travelled through Hungary to the west stopped for a while in Budapest, the stately capital city on the Danube. The river forms a natural border between the distinctive halves of the city, Buda and Pest. They are joined by a series of lovely bridges over the Danube. On the west bank, hilly Buda features the Castle District. Buda Castle was a mainstay of the city’s defenses through dozens of sieges, from 13th century Mongol raids through the 1944-45 Russian siege. It’s a fascinating place to admire stunning Baroque architecture and learn about Hungary’s long and often turbulent history. On the east bank, the more level Pest features long, tree-lined avenues like Andrássy Avenue, a UNESCO World Heritage site that extends from beautiful Heroes’ Square. Pest is home to many of Budapest’s museums, as well as trendy boutiques and cafes. After a day of touring, visit a thermal spa for a therapeutic bath or massage. Then, have dinner in one of the many fine restaurants (Hungary’s flavorful cuisine offers much more than goulash). During warm weather, open-air beer gardens and dance floors seem to pop up all over the city. Budapest is easy to reach by air, usually with a stop in London, Paris or Amsterdam. If you fly into London, you can also travel to Budapest via train. One of the most relaxing ways to reach Budapest is a river cruise along the Danube, which is a great way to see more of Hungary, too. To find your way to Budapest, talk with your travel agent. The Star Spangled Banner at 200 Two hundred years ago, America was in the War of 1812 – sometimes called the Second War of Independence – against Great Britain. In September 1814, after burning much of Washington, D.C., the British moved up Chesapeake Bay to attack the port city of Baltimore. On September 13 and 14, British warships bombarded Fort McHenry, guardian of Baltimore’s harbor. A Baltimore lawyer named Francis Scott Key watched the battle. When it ended on the morning of September 14, he was relieved to see the fort’s American flag – an enormous, 30 foot by 42 foot banner sewn by Baltimore flag maker Mary Pickersgill – still flying over Fort McHenry. Key was inspired to write a poem, “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” which later became the lyrics for America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That same flag, carefully preserved, is now on display at the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of American History in Washington. And, to honor the 200th anniversary of the battle, the flag and the national anthem, a group of seamstresses are hand-sewing a replica – just as large as the original – at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. Baltimore will celebrate Fort McHenry’s great victory of 1814 during a week-long “Star-Spangled Spectacular” festival, September 6-15. Tall ships in the harbor, flyovers by the Blue Angels, concerts, parades and fireworks will all be part of the fun, culminating in the raising of the replica flag and other special Defender’s Day ceremonies on September 14. Fort McHenry is just a quick water-taxi ride from Baltimore’s beautiful Inner Harbor neighborhood, which is filled with places to visit. The attractions include museums, like the American Visionary Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Industry; historic ships, including the USS Constellation, the only Civil War-era ship still afloat; the National Aquarium, one of the largest in the world; Baltimore’s World Trade Center, which offers panoramic views of the city; and the Camden Yards Sports Complex, which includes Oriole Park and the birthplace of baseball legend Babe Ruth. There’s also a great collection of bars, clubs and restaurants at Power Plant Live!, an entertainment district just a block from the Inner Harbor. To select a hotel in the Inner Harbor and plan other details of your visit – during the Star Spangled Spectacular or any time – talk with your travel agent. Malta Marks 50 Years of Independence About 50 miles south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea lie the sun washed islands of Malta. First settled around 5200 BC, Malta has always been prized for its beauty and strategic location. A series of world powers – including Phoenicia, Rome and the Knights Hospitaller – ruled the islands from prehistoric times through 1814, when Malta became part of the British Empire. In 1964, Malta became one of the world’s smallest independent nations, and is now part of the European Union. Just under 500,000 people live on Malta’s three inhabited islands – Malta, Gozo and tiny Comino – but three times that many visit each year, attracted by peaceful coves and beaches, limestone cliffs, a lovely climate and a relaxed lifestyle. There’s little precipitation from March through October, and even the winters are warm. Despite its small size, Malta has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites of cultural importance. These include the Hypogeum of Paola, the world’s only known prehistoric underground temple; the city of Valetta; and seven megalithic temples, thought to be among the oldest free-standing structures in the world. Maltese legend holds that giants built the temples; research into exactly who built them, and for what purpose, is ongoing. The city of Valetta contains an array of historic buildings, including some that date from the city’s 16th century founding by the Knights Hospitaller. Highlights include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, built soon after the Knights held off an invasion by the Ottoman Empire in 1565; the Grandmaster’s Palace, originally built for the Grand Master of the Knights but now home to the office of Malta’s President and House of Representatives; and the National Museum of Fine Arts, which dates from the 1570s but was rebuilt in the Rococo style in the 1760s. Valetta’s wine bars and restaurants have menus that will feel familiar to fans of Italian cuisine, but have a unique Maltese twist. The national dish is fenek, or rabbit stew; bragioli (thin slices of beef stuffed with veal and herbs) and lampuki (also known as mahi mahi) are popular, too. Malta has a variety of options for lodging, including converted farmhouses, villas with private pools, and hotels. On the luxury end of the spectrum, you can choose from more than a dozen five-star hotel and resort properties scattered across Valetta, the ancient city of Mdina, and the island of Gozo. To start your plans for visiting this relaxed haven in the Mediterranean, ask your travel agent about Malta. Satisfaction with Airport Security Improves Satisfaction with airport security procedures has improved, according to a survey conducted by Travel Leaders. When asked about their satisfaction with airport security, 87.5% of 2,719 consumers surveyed said they are satisfied or neutral, up from 82% last year. Travel Leaders also asked if the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre✓™ expedited screening program makes a significant difference in security screening time. The majority of respondents, 62.7%, said they don’t know, which may be because 60% said they had not experienced expedited screening during the past year. Membership in the Pre✓ program is a top recommendation for travelers who want to move through airport security more quickly. At reserved screening lanes in 118 U.S. airports, Pre✓ members can keep on their shoes, light outerwear and belts; keep laptops in their cases; and keep liquids/gels in their carry-on bags. Pre✓ membership is available to the customers of a growing list of airlines: Sun Country recently became the 11th airline in the program, joining Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America. If you’re not a member of Pre✓, ask your travel professional about joining the program. And, if you’re not part of the program, there are still lots of things you can do to smooth your path through airport security. Preparation is the key: •Place your plastic bag of toiletries and other items in liquid or gel form, which you’ll need to put into a bin at the security checkpoint, in an accessible part of your carry-on bag. The same goes for your computer. •If you plan to wear a belt with a metal buckle or large pieces of metal jewelry, consider packing them in your carry-on bag until you are through security – if you wear them and forget to put them in screening bins, it will hold you up. Also, if possible, wear shoes that slip off and on easily. •Before entering the airport, check your pockets. Remove anything you find – spare change, tissues, your cell phone, car keys – and put them in your carry-on bag. •Have you picture ID or passport and your boarding pass in hand as you approach the screening checkpoint. As soon as these items have been checked, put them back in your bag so they won’t be misplaced. •If possible, choose a screening line with more people in business attire and fewer families with strollers and diaper bags. Put your liquids/gels, computer, jacket and shoes into bins on the conveyor belt, followed by your bag. Now, you’re ready to pass through a scanner and be on your way. Happy traveling! Business Travel: Finding the Right Luggage Business travelers need durable luggage that can withstand being pushed into airplane storage bins, getting caught in the rain while sitting on the tarmac, being tossed into airplane cargo holds and taxi trunks, and even bumping up against other bags while making the rounds at a baggage claim carousel. For luggage, being durable used to mean being heavy. If you haven’t purchased luggage for a while, you may be surprised by the lightness of today’s soft cases, made of tough fabrics like ballistic nylon; and hard cases, made of polycarbonate and other lightweight plastics. These stronger-yet-thinner materials provide more interior space, too. When looking for a new bag, think about how much you usually pack. Most bags that meet carry-on size requirements have space for two or three days of business attire and other necessities. If you generally need a larger wardrobe, you’ll need a larger bag. If you usually wear a suit for business travel, you may want to look for a garment bag: some meet carry-on requirements while easily holding one or two fresh suits. Wheels are important, and there may be two or four of them. Four-wheeled bags are usually easier to maneuver down narrow airplane aisles and put very little drag on your arm and wrist. Two-wheeled bags require a little more muscle to move, but are more stable, especially when rolling over uneven surfaces. If you want to lock your bag, choose one with a Transportation Safety Administration-accepted lock – that means it can be opened for inspection by TSA staff without damaging the lock or the bag. Inside the bag, look for zippered dividers, pockets, and other compartments that will help you separate large and small items, and worn and clean items, along with side pockets that can easily be used for laptop computers. Some garment bags have special compartments for shoes, which is a nice touch. Look for a handle on top, for easy lifting when the bag can’t be rolled; and a handle on the bottom, which will help you pull it out of a storage bin or lift it into a car trunk. There’s a lot to consider before you make an investment in a new bag; so, the next time you have an hour before a flight, visit an airport luggage shop. You may not purchase a bag there, but a salesperson who understands what business travelers need in their luggage can give you good advice to carry with you. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Up and Coming Destinations in Central and South America As more and more Americans have passport in hand and are exploring destinations further away from home, Travel Leaders recently surveyed its expert agents throughout North America to learn which Central and South American destinations they deemed the top up-and-coming. Those topping this list included Peru, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador and Argentina. Peru. The allure of Machu Picchu, a mountaintop community built by the Incas around 1450, is irresistible. The fact that it is somewhat difficult to reach only adds to its mystique and allure for the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who go up the mountain to marvel at the polished stone structures and stunning views. Many of these visitors also discover the beauty of Peru’s colonial cities, including Lima and Cusco; the pristine rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon; and the lovely beaches along the country’s 1,500-mile Pacific coast. Brazil. At nearly 3.3 million square miles, Brazil is nearly as large as the United States. Each region of this vast country has a unique character, from the sparsely populated Amazon Basin to the cities influenced by waves of European immigrants. There’s a lot of new development in the cities that will host World Cup matches this summer, which will also serve Brazil well when Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. Panama. Some visitors come just to see the iconic canal, an engineering marvel that created a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Beyond the canal, this slender isthmus link between Central and South America is surprisingly diverse. Dense jungles provide habitat for an amazing variety of wildlife; the warm and humid climate turns cooler in mountain towns like Boquete; and Panama City is a modern capital with a beautifully preserved historic district. Ecuador. Ecuador is another small country of incredible diversity. The Pacific coast has wonderful beaches; the central highlands offer the cities of Quito (the entire city is a UNESCO World heritage site) and Banos (a center of adventure tourism); and, just east of the mountains lie the rainforests of the Amazon. The Galapagos Islands, a remote archipelago known for unique and fearless wildlife, are about 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast. Argentina. Many visitors focus on the city of Buenos Aires and its historic core, including the neighborhoods of La Recoleta and San Telmo. There are wonderful places to explore far beyond the city, too, including the central plains of the Pampas, the high plateau of Patagonia and the Andes along the western border. Then there’s the stunning Iguazu Falls that straddles the border with Brazil, just miles away from Paraguay. Vegetarians won’t go hungry, but Argentina is a fantastic destination for lovers of beef, the mainstay of the country’s diet. To make your plans to visit any of these up-and-coming destinations, talk with one of our travel agents at 281-480-1988.
Interest in Traveling to Cuba Grows For close to 50 years, travel to Cuba was completely forbidden for most American travelers. But in 2011, all of that changed with the easing of U.S. regulations that strictly prohibited Americans from traveling to the destination that’s only 90 miles south of the United States. The U.S. Treasury, which administers the half-century old regulations, loosened those restrictions to allow for what it deems as “People-to-people educational exchanges.” According to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, these exchanges “take place under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes programs to promote people-to-people contact. Under this policy, the license is issued to the organization that is running the people-to-people programs.” In turn, this has opened the door for private tour operators, such as Globus, to receive licenses from the U.S. Treasury and provide intrepid travelers with the rare opportunity to see this island nation from the perspective of a true educational exchange. According to a recently conducted poll of 246 Travel Leaders travel agents across the United States, 55.3% indicated that their clients have expressed interest in traveling to Cuba – 11% said that they’ve already booked clients using this unique people-to-people exchange program. Naturally, travel agents also are clamoring to learn more about Cuba by participating in the people-to-people exchanges. One such Globus Cuba Experience commenced in February when the tour operator escorted 50 Travel Leaders on a journey to Havana and beyond for an extraordinary people-to-people educational exchange. “As an increasing number of our clients are expressing interest in traveling to Cuba, we want to ensure that our agent owners thoroughly understand the options they can legally offer,” explained Roger E. Block, CTC, President of Travel Leaders Franchise Group. “We were very proud to partner with Globus in providing our leading Travel Leaders with this rare opportunity to experience Cuba as few others have.” Because of the very nature of the people-to-people exchange requirements, the itinerary was devoid of any leisure activity such as beach time. But it included interactive sessions in Havana, Mantanzas and Cardenas with Cuban artisans, baseball players, dancers, musicians and others, all with historic backdrops – and even Cuba’s ubiquitous 1950s automobiles – that participants could see and experience. Block added, “Through this enriching educational exchange, we hope to foster a greater awareness among our agents for what their clients could potentially expect when visiting Havana and other Cuban destinations that are already popular with visitors from abroad.” To learn more about how you can legally experience Cuba through a people-to-people exchange, contact your travel agent professional.
The Savoy Celebrates 125 Years Winston Churchill took his cabinet to lunch there. Celebrities, from Noel Coward to The Beatles, have stayed and entertained there. And, a baby elephant once delivered a birthday cake to a millionaire during a “Gondola Party” in the flooded courtyard. For 125 years – through times of prosperity and hardship, including two World Wars – the Savoy has been one of London’s most prestigious and elegant hotels. Now managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the hotel has continuously maintained its status as one of the world’s finest. The Savoy was opened in August 1889 by Richard D’Oyly Carte, a theatrical producer who famously brought together dramatist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. Profits from Gilbert and Sullivan’s successful comic operas financed the hotel, which stands right next to Carte’s Savoy Theatre on the Strand, just steps from the River Thames in the Westminster section of London. The Savoy was the first hotel in Britain lit entirely by electric lights and with lifts powered by electricity. Each lavishly furnished room had its own ensuite bathroom with hot and cold running water – rare luxuries in the 1880s. The hotel’s first manager, Cesar Ritz (who later founded the Ritz Hotels) and chef Auguste Escoffier set a high standard for quality that continues today. Guests of the hotel’s signature restaurants still enjoy some of Escoffier’s original recipes, such as the peaches and ice cream dessert called Peach Melba. After operating continuously for more than 100 years, the Savoy closed temporarily in 2007 for a renovation and restoration of its interior and exterior. Three years and £220 million later, the hotel reopened with many of its original features in place and new comforts offered by updated structural and mechanical systems. All of the river-facing rooms are decorated in the English Edwardian style; rooms that look out on the Strand are in Art Deco style. “The Savoy is still the Savoy, only better,” wrote a reviewer in the Daily Telegraph. For long-time fans and new guests, the famed hotel is offering a 125th anniversary special rate for stays of three nights of more in selected accommodation categories. For the summer months, the hotel is also offering packages that include a cruise on the River Thames – with champagne. And for those who simply want a taste of The Savoy, consider booking a traditional afternoon tea there during your London visit. To plan your stay at one of the world’s finest and most historic hotels, talk with your travel agent. Visiting Yosemite National Park In 1864, in the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln took the time to sign the Yosemite Grant. The grant ceded the scenic Yosemite Valley of the Sierra Nevada, as well as a stand of redwood trees called the Mariposa Grove, to the state of California. It was the first time that land has been set aside specifically for its preservation and enjoyment by the public. Later expanded and further protected as a National Park, Yosemite is 1,200 square miles of breathtakingly beautiful granite mountains, valleys, waterfalls and groves of giant Sequoias. June 30 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant and the beginning of the park as a national treasure. Yosemite’s well-known landmarks include El Capitan, an impressive cliff of pale granite that presents a challenge to even the most expert climbers. Half Dome is an imposing granite dome seemingly sliced in half by a giant’s knife. The park’s higher elevations support beautiful subalpine meadows, often snow-covered in the winter but sprinkled with flowers in warmer weather. The park is also famous for its waterfalls, including Yosemite, Ribbon Falls and Bridalveil Falls. When the snow melts or after a rare summer thunderstorm, visitors can enjoy hundreds of ephemeral, or short-term, waterfalls as well. Yosemite also has three stands of spectacular giant sequoias: the Mariposa, Tuolumne and Merced Groves. Yosemite’s lodging for visitors ranges from campsites to elegant rooms at The Ahwahnee Hotel. Appealingly rustic lodges offer everything from “tent cabins” (canvas tents with cement or wood floors) to bunk rooms designed to accommodate families. The nearest airports include Fresno-Yosemite International, about 90 minutes from the park’s south entrance, and Modesto City-County Airport, about 90 minutes from the west entrance. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco or Reno and catch a motorcoach tour to Yosemite. While it can be difficult to find parking inside Yosemite, you can park a car in several nearby towns (including Merced, Mariposa, Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes) and hop on a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) shuttle. There are other wonderful places to explore near Yosemite, including unusual geologic features at Devil’s Postpile National Monument; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks; and the historic gold mining country of Tuolumne County. To plan your visit to Yosemite, talk with your travel agent.
A Great Year to Visit Cape Town – World Capital of Design for 2014 Near the very southernmost tip of entire African continent lies Cape Town, almost universally considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities. With the fabled Cape of Good Hope just a car ride away, South Africa’s Mother City is nestled between two World Heritage sites: Robben Island and Table Mountain. Robben Island contains the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held before the fall of apartheid – tours of this facility provide visitors with a poignant reminder of the price that was paid for freedom and equality. (In fact, it was only 20 years ago that Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s President.) But visitors to this historic place will also likely be impressed by the island’s wonderful view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. The majestic, flat-topped Table Mountain provides an awe-inspiring backdrop for Cape Town. A hike or cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain will reward you with sweeping views of the city and Robben Island in Table Bay. Such dramatic surroundings seem fitting for the city that is serving as the World Design Capital for 2014, selected over the likes of Bilbao, Spain, and Dublin, Ireland. The honor of being the World Design Capital, bestowed by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design every two years, means the city has used design as a tool to reinvent itself and improve social, cultural and economic life. The World Capital of Design is such an important cultural tourism event that The New York Times put Cape Town at the very top of its list of “52 Places to Go in 2014.” Cape Town’s World Capital of Design program includes hundreds of projects around the city. Exhibits show how an office development can use displaced ventilation to eliminate “sick building” syndrome; the benefits of non-motorized transportation; and links between the development of the human mind and the origins of design, to provide just a few examples. There will be food design events and a marathon, and public art projects are underway in each of the city’s 111 wards. There’s much more to see in and around Cape Town, including the scenic, rocky headlands at Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Both are in Table Mountain National Park, which is also home to African penguins, ostriches, red hartebeest and even a few cape mountain zebras. Cape Town has lovely beaches, and surfing is a popular pastime. You can stroll along the renowned Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where there’s lots of shopping, dining and entertainment. Catch a ferry to Duiker Island to see the colony of fur seals; or, visit Long Street to admire the Victorian and Cape Dutch architecture. For more information about visiting Cape Town, talk with your travel agent. Up and Coming Destinations in Asia for 2014 In its latest annual survey of travel trends, Travel Leaders asked its agents which emerging destinations in Asia and Southeast Asia are being booked most often by clients. Here are the top five: Vietnam – As in 2013, Asia’s top up-and-coming destination for 2014 is Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to urban cultural centers like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam has incredible World Heritage Sites. Hoi An’s old town provides a look at a 15th century Vietnamese trading port. Ha Long Bay is full of spectacular monolithic islands of limestone set in blue-green water. The Marble Mountains of Da Nang province – full of caves, tunnels, and grottos decorated with Hindu and Buddhist relics – rise dramatically from a flat landscape. Burma (Myanmar) – Moving up from third in 2013 to second in 2014, is this fascinating country with beautiful scenery, lovely beaches and majestic temples and palaces. While tourism in Burma has been encouraged since the early 1990s, infrastructure has been slow to develop. However, this will likely change now that its relations with the United States have dramatically improved in recent years. An excellent way to see some of the country’s incredible sights is to take a river cruise up the Ayeyarwady River from Yangon (Rangoon) to Mandalay. Maldives – A nation of coral islands off the southwestern coast of India, Maldives is on the top five list for the first time. About 80 of the islands have been developed as idyllic tourist resorts. The low-lying islands offer beautiful blue lagoons fringed by white sand beaches and palm trees. You can visit a spa, sunbathe, snorkel and dive, and enjoy a wide variety of water sports. The Seychelles – Another island group in the Indian Ocean, The Seychelles also makes its first appearance in the top five this year. Just a few of the more than 100 islands are inhabited. The beaches are pristine and uncrowded; the warm waters are fine for fishing, windsurfing, diving and snorkeling. Resorts also offer diversions like tennis, golf, squash, horseback riding, biking and hiking. Indonesia – This archipelago of more than 18,000 islands that separate the Indian Ocean from the Pacific, rounds out the list. Major islands include Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Java, Papua (part of the island of New Guinea) and Bali, arguably the most popular destination for western visitors. Top attractions in this diverse country include the Baliem Valley of Papua, popular for trekking; Borobudur, an impressive Buddhist temple at Magelang, Java; and Komodo National Park, home of the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. Accommodations for tourists vary in these parts of the world. However, your travel agent can provide information and advice about lodging, dining, cultural practices and more. 100th Anniversary of World War I On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife were assassinated near the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo by a nationalist group that wanted independence for Serbia. By July 28, Austro-Hungarian forces began the invasion of Serbia. The conflict grew into the Great War, which today is known as World War I. The war involved all of the world’s major economic powers, killed more than 9 million soldiers, wounded more than 21 million, brought more women into the workforce, and created a new world order. By the end of the four-year war, four major empires – German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman – no longer existed, while new nations were formed in Europe and the Middle East. To mark the 100th anniversary of the war, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will host “Peace Event Sarajevo,” June 6-9. This event will feature keynote speakers and workshops on topics such as active nonviolence, science and peace, and dealing with the past. There will also be a peace trail, music and dancing, a film festival and more. If you’d like to attend, your travel professional can help you find places to stay and dine in this beautiful city. In the early months of World War I, Germany invaded neutral Belgium, and much of the population suffered as a result. This year, more than two million visitors are expected to tour Belgium’s many historic World War I sites. A host of special events are scheduled, including an August 15 commemoration at Liège, where the Fort of Loncin was destroyed and many of its soldiers remain buried in the rubble. There will be ceremonies on August 20 at Visè, one of several cities in the Meuse valley that were devastated by the German army. August 23 will bring a commemoration of the Battle of Mons, which will incorporate music, poetry, sound and light. To honor those lost in World War I and the lessons of the war in Europe this summer, talk with your travel agent. In addition to sites associated with the war, you can plan to visit other attractions, such as the remnants of the ancient city of Daorson near the town of Stolac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is full of Ottoman architecture; or, the distinctive Atomium building and the many other sights of Brussels, Belgium. Your travel professional can help you discover all the possibilities. The Eiffel Tower Turns 125 While just about any year would be the perfect time to visit Paris, France, this year will see a very special anniversary celebrated as the iconic Eiffel Tower turns 125. At the time it was built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, the Eiffel Tower was looked upon with skepticism. Hundreds of workers had spent two years assembling the tower’s intricate iron framework. Still, some Parisians feared the tower was not structurally sound, or simply thought it was ugly. The tower was supposed to be a temporary structure, but it’s still standing 125 years later, helping define the Parisian landscape. The tower narrowly escaped destruction at least twice: in 1909, it was about to be demolished when city officials decided to save it for use as a radio-telegraph station (the tower is still used to broadcast radio and television signals). During World War II, there were orders from Germany to destroy the tower, but the command was not carried out. Today, the graceful tower is considered to be an architectural wonder and attracts more than six million visitors a year. Three levels are open to visitors. Level 1 houses a restaurant, Le 58 Tour Eiffel, where you can enjoy traditional French cuisine while looking out on the Trocadero area of Paris. On level 2, renowned chef Alain Ducasse’s Le Jules Verne Restaurant has served fine French cuisine for 30 years. Level 3 is an observation platform: at 906 feet above the ground, it’s the highest publicly accessible point in the European Union. Ticket prices are very reasonable and are determined by how many levels you visit, whether you use the elevator or stairs, and your age. An adult ticket to use the stairs up to level 2 (note that there are about 300 stairs to level 1, and about 300 more to level 2), is only €5 (currently about $6.77 in U.S. dollars). To use the elevator to levels 1 and 2 is €9, and the elevator to all three levels is €15. The price is reduced for visitors 12 to 24 years of age, and again for those 4 to 11 years, as well as individuals with disabilities and their companions. Children under four are free. Group rates are also available. If you’re looking for a travel challenge, it would be fun to visit the world’s replicas of the Eiffel Tower, including the Blackpool Tower, Blackpool, England; Long Ta Tower, Harbin, China; Tokyo Tower in the Minato section of Tokyo, Japan; and the Las Vegas Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you’re still looking for another reason to visit Paris this year, consider the 25th anniversary of the Louvre Pyramid. This grand entrance to the world’s largest museum is another famed architectural gem that was initially met with derision. Twenty-five years later, it is has become a vital part of Paris’ landscape. To learn more about seeing Paris and all of its architectural wonders, talk with your travel agent. Business Travel: Wi-Fi Trends It’s going to be a busy year in business travel, and the majority of business travelers will be looking for flights with in-flight Wi-Fi service, according to Travel Leaders Group’s survey of 2014 Business Travel Trends. In-flight wireless Internet access has only become available in the last few years; still, nearly 60% of Travel Leaders’ business-focused agents said the service is already “very important” or “an absolute must-have” for their business travel clients. Among all airlines, Delta Air Lines offers the most inflight Wi-Fi on more than 2,400 daily flights on over 500 aircraft serving the continental U.S. and Alaska. A Wi-Fi Mobile Pass, which allows flyers to send and receive mobile messages using applications like iMessage and Facebook Messenger, is available for only $1.95 on a flight of two hours or less; the price goes up for longer flights. For full Internet access while in flight, a Delta Wi-Fi pass is $14 for 24 hours, $39.95 for a month, or $469.95 for a year of surfing above 10,000 feet. Other airlines are experimenting with satellite-based Wi-Fi on domestic and international flights. Often, flyers can select from two connection speeds: standard and accelerated, with standard typically starting at about $4. Wireless internet access has become commonplace in business hotels, which is a good thing considering that more than nine out of 10 Travel Leaders’ business travel experts (95.1%) said it’s either an “absolute necessity” or “very vital” to their business clients. While many hotels offer Wi-Fi at no extra charge, some place a premium on this service; these fees are often waived for frequent travelers who are enrolled in hotel programs; Starwood even waives these fees for frequent flyers on Delta. When asked how much their business travel clients will tolerate paying for hotel Wi-Fi service, the top response from Travel Leaders Group’s experts was “$10.99 or less per day” (37.10%), followed by “$11 – $15 per day” (29.1%). As you make your business travel plans for 2014, your corporate travel professional can help you find flights and hotels with the Wi-Fi access you need. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
Top Domestic Travel Destinations for 2014 What are the hottest domestic U.S. destinations already being booked for 2014? In their never ending battle to reign supreme, it’s Las Vegas vs. Orlando. But this year, the destination where what happens there stays there very narrowly edges out the perennial family favorite. Travel Leaders recently asked its front-line agents throughout North America to share the domestic destinations they’re booking most often for the New Year. The top responses are: 1. Las Vegas, Nevada. High rollers, take note. Caesars Entertainment is building a new open-air retail, dining and entertainment district called the LINQ that includes what’s billed as the world’s tallest observation wheel named in your honor: the High Roller, standing at 550 feet and featuring 28 glass-enclosed cabins offering great views of the famed Las Vegas Strip. If you’re seeking live entertainment, the biggest news on the Strip is the new resident artist at Planet Hollywood, Britney Spears, and her show, “Britney: Piece of Me.” Headliners will pop up in Vegas throughout 2014, from The Eagles and Elton John to Lady Antebellum and David Guetta. Later in the year, the glamorous SLS Las Vegas Hotel and Casino will open in the space previously occupied by the legendary “Rat Pack” era Sahara Hotel. 2. Orlando, Fla. Walt Disney World Resort – the idyllic collection of family friendly theme parks, water parks, golf courses, hotels and restaurants – always offers something new. Disney is completing its expansion of the Fantasyland themed area, by more than doubling its size. As part of the expansion, the exciting new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride is expected to make its long-awaited formal debut in early 2014. There are also new rides featuring Disney favorites Dumbo, Belle and Ariel. 3. Maui, Hawaii. Maui’s beautiful beaches, mountains and valleys beckon, but if you’re looking for a change of pace, spend a day touring the Maui Ocean Center at Ma’alaea Harbor Village. The three-acre marine park is starting 2014 with a “Crazy for Koholā” event that celebrates the annual return of humpback whales to the waters around the island. 4. Alaska Cruises. Some of Alaska’s most stunning scenery is best enjoyed from a cruise ship sailing along the state’s southeastern coast, including areas that are simply not accessible any other way. The breathtaking views can often include calving glaciers, misty rainforests, majestic mountains and glorious wildlife. More than 20 ships from major cruise lines will offer Alaska cruises from May through September – talk with your travel professional to choose the right one for you. 5. New York City, N.Y. All eyes will be on the Big Apple this February as festivities surrounding this year’s Super Bowl XLVIII make the “City that Never Sleeps” more alive than ever. Sure, the big game itself might be played across the Hudson River in New Jersey, but with Broadway (between 34th and 47th Streets) transformed into Super Bowl Boulevard, football fans can meet and greet their favorite NFL stars, enjoy concerts and even experience a special 60 foot tall, 180 foot long Toboggan Run. Beyond sports, there are always new shops, restaurants, attractions and nightlife venues cropping up in the diverse neighborhoods of New York, making every visit a new experience. Savvy travelers are booking their 2014 vacations early to make sure they get the flights and accommodations they want at the best prices. To visit these or other popular U.S. destinations during 2014, talk with your travel agent soon. Top International Travel Destinations for 2014 The hottest vacation trends for the New Year are just that both literally and figuratively as Caribbean cruises and Cancun once again top the list of top international destinations being booking already for 2014, according to the recent Travel Trends Survey by Travel Leaders. Front-line travel agents throughout North America shared the international vacation destinations they are booking most often for their clients: 1. Caribbean Cruises. The islands that dot the Caribbean Sea offer blue skies, turquoise waters and sandy beaches, and a cruise ship will take you from one to another with the greatest of ease. Some new ships will sail in the Caribbean during 2014, including the highly anticipated Quantum of the Seas from Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway. These exceptional cruise ships are destinations unto themselves. Each has features that will make the time between islands as enjoyable as the islands themselves. 2. Cancun, Mexico. With some of the most beautiful, crystal clear water found anywhere, Cancun is a nearly perfect beach destination. But one of its most celebrated and environmentally-friendly new attractions can be found under those sparkling blue waters in Cancun’s Underwater Museum, which contains over 400 original sculptures within the protected National Marine Park of the Yucatan Peninsula. Additionally, visitors can also explore some of the nearby “Treasures of the Caribbean,” including Contoy Island, where there’s an abundance of beautiful birdlife; and the charming fishing village of Puerto Morelos. 3. Mediterranean Cruises. The beautiful and massive Mediterranean Sea has many diverse and captivating regions worth exploring. Whether you’re most interested in the sophisticated Riviera or the ancient history that can be found in Turkey or Greece or taking in the dramatic coastlines found in Croatia and Italy, you can enjoy some of Europe’s best traveling by sea. Mediterranean cruises have grown in popularity in part because they offer the opportunity to experience it all from the comfort of your cruise cabin, meaning you only have to unpack once. 4. Rome, Italy. There’s a reason why this destination has earned its well-deserved moniker as the “Eternal City.” With ancient sights at almost every turn, including the instantly recognizable Colosseum along with the nearly 2,000 year old Pantheon, Rome offers visitors multiple opportunities to span millenniums easily. Plus, it’s further buoyed by the individual heralded as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” who resides in the city state within the city – the faithful are flocking to see the popular Pope Francis, who provides regular blessings in Vatican City. 5. European River Cruises. River cruises are an increasingly popular way to see the interior of Europe in stylish comfort. Some river cruise lines also provide options for some additional time on land: Viking River Cruises just introduced “Land Extensions” for cruises that visit The Hague, The Netherlands; Bruges, Belgium; Krakow, Poland; Nuremberg, Germany; Nice, France; and Lake Geneva, Switzerland. To make your reservations for these or other popular international destinations, talk with your travel professional. Top Luxury Destinations for 2014 It’s often said that luxury is in the eye of the beholder. What some may find extravagant may seem merely pedestrian to someone else. Still, others think of the opportunity to indulge in truly unique experiences few are afforded as the ultimate luxury. Whatever your definition of luxury is, you can be assured of two things when it comes to travel in 2014. One, you can find the luxury you seek all around the globe, and two, your travel professional can help you find just what you’re looking for. A recent survey of Travel Leaders’ front-line agents revealed that the luxury their clients desire the most – by a wide margin – is to have deluxe accommodations. But this is followed by the desire to enjoy bragging rights through unique and exciting activities offered in the places they visit. Since getting there is said to be half the fun, it should come as no surprise that third on the list is first or business class air travel, which can help set the tone of a truly memorable journey from beginning to end. Where are these discriminating travelers choosing to go during 2014? Here are the luxury travel destinations being booked most often by Travel Leaders agents throughout North America: 1. European River Cruising. Enjoy the luxurious comfort of a river cruise ship as you glide from one charming town to another along Europe’s historic rivers – such as the Seine, Rhone, Rhine or Danube – or through the historic canals of The Netherlands. The deluxe vessels not only provide gourmet meals and surprisingly spacious accommodations, but they also feature a wide variety of excursions that can transport you even deeper into some of Europe’s most fabled places. 2. Italy. A hands-on epicurean food tour of Italy is a perfect complement to the country’s renowned luxury accommodations. Imagine sampling and learning to cook with truffles in Bologna; balsamic vinegars in Modena; ham, pancetta and aged parmesan in Parma; pizza margherita in Naples; and fine Chianti in Tuscany. 3. Mediterranean Cruising. Several luxury cruise lines regularly sail the Mediterranean, including Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, and Regent Seven Seas. Some itineraries offer overnight stays in selected ports, giving you more time to explore and enjoy the local culture. 4. Mexico. While Mexico remains a favorite choice of sun-seeking travelers on a budget, there are a growing number of luxury waterfront properties from which to select along the county’s Caribbean coast, which includes Cancun and the Rivera Maya; and along the Pacific coast, from Los Cabos to Puerto Vallarta. Some of most venerated hoteliers have fashionable addresses in the capital, Mexico City, which provides a multitude of culture and high-end shopping amidst spectacular history. 5. Australia. In addition to Australia’s fabled cultural cities led by Sydney and Melbourne, an abundance of Aussie culture includes some of the best vineyards on earth. But a luxury tour of the Outback may appeal to the adventurer in you – at the country’s “Red Centre,” visitors can experience the peaceful, yet humbling Uluru (Ayers Rock) in lux accommodations. For divers and even snorkelers, there’s nothing like the fabled Great Barrier Reef, which provides ample opportunities to get up close and personal with an array of aquatic life unlike anywhere else in the world. To put a little or a lot of luxury in your vacation plans for 2014, talk with your travel agent. Top Cruise Destinations for 2014 All-inclusive pricing, wonderful on-board dining and entertainment, and the opportunity to visit multiple ports are well-known reasons to choose a cruise vacation: and, the toughest part may be deciding where to sail. Travel Leaders recently asked its front-line agents to share the cruise destinations they are booking most often for 2014: 1. Alaska. From May through September, most major cruise lines have at least one ship cruising past the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Alaska. You’ll want to take advantage of opportunities presented by shore excursions to walk on a glacier, follow a historic Gold Rush trail (by train, not on foot), or get closer to whales and other impressive sea life. 2. (Tie) Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean. The Western Caribbean offers sun, sand and surf, as well as remnants of ancient Mayan civilization in Central America. This cruise region includes Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and islands and ports along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize and Honduras. Home ports for these cruises stretch from Florida to Texas, helping to minimize home-to-port travel. Eastern Caribbean. The Eastern Caribbean has a wonderful variety of islands – the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Martin/St. Maarten, as well as the Turks & Caicos and The Bahamas (although those two groups are technically north of the Caribbean). Home ports, once limited to Florida, now stretch as far north as New York. 4. European Rivers. Cruises of the Rhine, Danube, Seine and other historic rivers are a wonderful way to see interior towns and scenic countryside. River cruise ships are built small and low, but are typically quite luxurious. Some newer ships even have the type of amenities featured on ocean-going ships, such as outdoor pools, multiple dining spots and balconied staterooms. 5. Mediterranean. For those who find it difficult to select a specific vacation destination around the Mediterranean Sea, a cruise is the way to go. How else could you travel from Spain to France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey with such ease and comfort? Some longer itineraries also include islands like Majorca or Malta, or a port call in North Africa. For more information on the terrific variety of cruises available to these destinations (you can choose a small or large ship, a contemporary or luxury cruise line, a short or long itinerary), call one of our travel agent at 281-480-1988. Business Travel: 2014 Business Trends Business travel is expected to increase during 2014 – and that’s according to road warriors and the travel agents who serve them. As part of its comprehensive 2014 Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders asked its front-line travel agents what their business clients are saying about trends for the New Year. When asked how business travel during 2014 will compare to 2013 based on client feedback and actual bookings, 5.4% of agents responded that it will be significantly more; 33% said somewhat more; 39.4% said business it will be about the same. Only 5.7% predict it will be less. The agents were also asked about the concerns business travelers expect to have during 2014. The top six answers follow, with a few notes about how business travel professionals can help. 1. Delayed flights. Travel delays can wreak havoc on a tight schedule of client visits and meetings. Fortunately, business travel professionals easily help their clients search for alternatives to delayed flights, which may get them to their destinations sooner. 2. Limited airline seat availability. For the past several years, airlines have been cutting the number of daily flights, as well as entire routes. As a result, it can be challenging to find an available seat, especially when traveling on short notice. A business travel professional can help by researching alternate airlines and flights, and even alternate airports. 3. Earning frequent flyer/loyalty points. Some airlines have tightened up the availability of frequent flyer points during the past year or two, but business travel agents can provide advice on earning maximum points – and, using them for maximum rewards. Travel professionals also work to ensure those loyalty numbers are included in itineraries so that upgrades for the most frequent of travelers can automatically occur. 4. Travel costs. Travel agencies can negotiate discounted rates with airlines, hotels, car rental agencies and more. This helps business travelers contain the cost of travel and focus on maintaining their own customer and supplier relationships. 5. Ease of passing through security. The ability to move through airport security quickly can make all the difference when rushing to catch a flight. More than 75% of Travel Leaders’ business-oriented agents said they have clients who are approved for the TSA Precheck program, which provides an expedited screening process. 6. Making sure someone “has their back.” This role is tailor-made for a travel professional. Business travelers should contact their travel agents whenever they need to change travel reservations or run into unexpected travel difficulties while on the road. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
2014 Winter Olympic Games February 2014 will bring the 90th anniversary of the first Winter Olympic Games, held in Chamonix, France; and, the very first Winter Olympic Games to be held in Russia, in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. If you want to see the competition unfold in person, here are a few things to know. If you’re going, pack for a range of temperatures. Sochi is actually Russia’s finest summer resort, with a subtropical climate and mild winters. However, there’s plenty of cold and snow in the mountains around the city. The ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana will host the outdoor events; indoor events will be held at the brand-new Sochi Olympic Park on the shore of the Black Sea. If you happen to have a Visa card issued in Russia, you can purchase event tickets on the official Winter Olympics website, tickets.sochi2014.com. If not, you can purchase individual event tickets or ticket packages through CoSport, an authorized reseller, at cosport.com. At this writing, there were tickets available for many events, including figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey, alpine skiing and ski jumping. Tickets for the Winter Paralympic Games, March 7-16 in Sochi, are also available through CoSport. Every attendee needs to apply for a Spectator Pass, which will be valid for the entire Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, at pass.sochi2014.com. Anyone who is not a citizen of the Russian Federation must also obtain a Russian visa. To find out how to apply, visit russianembassy.org: look under Consular Issues/Visas. You must also have a passport that has at least two completely blank pages and will be valid for at least six months after you depart from Russia. As soon as possible, meet with your travel agent to book your flights and lodging. Sochi has many hotels, but you might also consider staying in a private apartment or on a Black Sea cruise ship. If you have time to do some touring, Sochi has wonderful historic sites, museums, monuments and parks. For more information and help making all of your arrangements, talk with your travel agent. Then, get ready to enjoy the splendor of the Winter Olympic Games! Discovering St. Louis Back in 1763, Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, set off from New Orleans to establish a fur trading post near the meeting of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. February 15 will mark the 250th anniversary of the day they founded the city of St. Louis, which quickly established itself as an important port on the Mississippi River. In fact, the area had been a capital city long before Laclède and Chouteau arrived. Between the year 600 and 1400, Native Americans built a city just across the Mississippi from St. Louis: the remains can still be seen at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. St. Louis has long been nicknamed “Gateway to the West:” the impressive Gateway Arch, which frames the city’s downtown and historic center, is a monument to the western expansion of the U.S. Be sure to visit the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the nearby Old Courthouse, a significant building where the slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom. In 1904, St. Louis became world-famous as the host of the 1904 World’s Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympic Games – the first time the Olympics were held outside Europe. Forest Park, a large and beautiful park on the city’s western edge, still has structures from that time, including the building that houses the St. Louis Art Museum. Waves of immigrants gave distinctive character to the city’s historic neighborhoods, as did race-restricted neighborhoods (a practice that was legally enforceable at the time). One of St. Louis’ best-known ethnic neighborhoods is The Hill, an Italian enclave where restaurants serve toasted ravioli, a signature dish of the city. After dinner, head to a club that features the St. Louis blues, a style of blues music that puts the piano front and center. St. Louis is proud of its brewing heritage, and free tours of the Anheuser-Busch brewery include the historic Brew House, the Budweiser Clydesdales’ stable, and an opportunity to taste some Bud in the Hospitality Room. The city also loves its major leagues sports teams: Depending on the season, you can watch the St. Louis Blues play ice hockey, the 11-time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals play baseball, or the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams play at the Edward Jones Dome. For lots of ideas about where to stay in St. Louis, talk with your travel agent. It Was 50 Years Ago Today… Some call it “the night the changed America.” On February 9, 1964, The Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan television show. Just 77 days before, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and a gloomy America needed a diversion. A record-setting 74 million people tuned in and the mop-topped foursome – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – began their American invasion by performing six songs, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Not only were The Beatles a tremendous hit in 1964, their music still influences today’s rock and pop artists. And, there are a number of places in the U.S. and the U.K. where you can celebrate their music and influence on popular culture. Liverpool, England, was the childhood home of all four Beatles. The former homes of John and Paul now belong to the National Trust and are available for tours. You can also visit The Cavern Club, where The Beatles played hundreds of times. London is also full of Beatles memories, the most popular being 3 Abbey Road, the address of the former EMI Studios where the Fab Four recorded most of their songs. A photo of The Beatles crossing the street outside the studios became the iconic cover of the album “Abbey Road.” If you travel to Las Vegas, you can celebrate the legacy of the Beatles by seeing the Cirque du Soleil production of LOVE at The Mirage. The show’s award-winning soundtrack was created using the master tapes from The Beatles’ studio sessions, and the songs are brought to life by Cirque du Soleil’s amazing acrobats, aerialists and dancers. New York City is where the Beatles stepped onto Ed Sullivan’s stage. For those wishing to see the same stage as the one in which the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, they need to get tickets to see David Letterman at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater. The Big Apple is also where Lennon lived in the historic Dakota Apartments on the west side of Central Park. Lennon was shot and killed as he entered the building on the evening of December 8, 1980. Since 1985, Central Park has included a memorial to Lennon, Strawberry Fields, which centers on a beautiful mosaic called “Imagine.” About a year after Lennon’s death, George Harrison died of lung cancer. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still tour regularly, though at this writing no dates were scheduled past December 2013. For more ideas about celebrating The Beatles on your travels, talk with your travel agent. Valentine’s Day 2014 Will your Valentine’s Day getaway be a last-minute invitation to toss a few things in a suitcase, followed by a drive to a local hotel? Well, you can do things that way, but if you plan your getaway now you can lock in great values at some premier – and supremely romantic – destinations. Where should you go? Just about every media outlet, and everyone you ask, has a list of the most romantic places on earth. Here’s one that we borrowed from Forbes.com, which focuses on international destinations that are just a little off the beaten path. Madrid, Spain, is full of historic streets, expansive public squares and beautiful parks. Buen Retiro Park, Madrid’s most popular, is perfect for a romantic stroll. Completely surrounded by the city, the leafy park has many beautiful sculptures and monuments, and a serene lake at the center. Plaza Mayor, the city’s central plaza, is a wonderful place to sit at a café table, sip a drink and watch Madrid go by. Eze, France, is a hilltop village on the French Riviera with an incredible view of the Mediterranean Sea. Just about every square inch of Eze is romantic: if you can tear your eyes away from the view, you can walk hand-in-hand through the medieval village, which is filled with shops, galleries, restaurants and secluded courtyards. Brussels, Belgium, has been a center of business, culture and politics for hundreds of years. It also has all the ingredients for a romantic getaway, including those famous waffles, fine chocolates and pralines. Must-sees for romantics include the Grand Place, one of Europe’s most beautiful squares; and the triumphal arch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Cinque Terre, Italy, has five lovely villages that cling to hillsides along the Italian Riviera. Few roads lead to the villages; instead, take a train from the city of La Spezia. The villages are connected by passenger ferry and walking trail, so you can visit them all to admire the water views and colorful buildings, sample local wines and olives, and feast on fish caught that day. Sydney, Australia, is at the height of summer on Valentine’s Day, and its wonderful beaches – Bondi, Tamarama, Coogee and more – are natural attractions for romantics. You can tour the soaring architecture of the Sydney Opera House; enjoy a picnic in the Royal Botanic Gardens; and stroll the harbor area via the Circular Quay. To make reservations for these or other romantic destinations, talk with your travel agent. Mobile Devices Get More Face Time on Flights The need to turn off and stow away cellular phones and other electronic devices until your airplane rose above 10,000 feet might not have been the biggest hardship of frequent flying; still, business travelers have welcomed the recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decision that enabled airlines to allow the use the mobile devices throughout a flight. For years, the FAA said that the use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing could interfere with the aircraft’s communications, navigation and other systems. However, an FAA study conducted last year concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals. This ability varies with each type of aircraft, and each airline must prove to the FAA that its aircraft are able to handle the interference. Along with the availability of WiFi on a growing number of flights, the ability to keep mobile devices – including tablets, e-readers and cell phones – powered up (though in airplane mode) is helpful to business travelers who want to catch up on work while on the plane. However, note that you still can’t make phone calls or send texts while in flight: cellular service must still be turned off prior to departure of the airplane. Now that the FAA has given the a-okay, it’s up to each airline to determine its specific mobile device usage policies. Major airlines, such as Delta and United, have already put their policies into effect: in fact, Delta has allowed the use of mobile devices throughout a flight since November 1. Specifically, Delta allows passengers to use tablets, smartphones and e-readers, in airplane mode, throughout a flight. However, laptops must still be stowed during takeoff and landing: the airline believes their greater size and weight could be a safety concern during any turbulence. United has a similar policy, and notes that flights equipped with WiFi services still allow WiFi connections above 10,000 feet only. However, the airline is exploring options to provide gate-to-gate satellite WiFi. Both Delta and United make it clear that the captain may still ask passengers to fully turn off all mobile devices in certain circumstances, such as poor visibility during landing.
Tips for a Smooth Holiday Trip – Through Airport Security Many great holiday vacations begin with a flight, but before you can board the plane you’ll need to pass through airport security. Here are some tips to help ensure that your trip through security goes smoothly. As you’re preparing your carry-on bag, remember that certain items are not allowed in the cabin of the plane with you. Lots of specific information is available at www.tsa.gov, but in general: You can bring liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes if they are no more than 3.4 ounces each. Plus, all of these small containers must fit in a single, 1-quart size, clear plastic bag. You’ll need to remove this bag from your carry-on and place it into a bin to be screened at the airport security checkpoint. You cannot bring sharp items (including most scissors), firearms, ammunition, flammable or explosive materials, chemicals meant to disable someone (such as pepper spray), or any type of tool more than seven inches long in your carry-on bag. With the forbidden items in mind, take a good look at any gifts you’re planning to carry with you: a big jar of homemade pomegranate jelly for your aunt? A decorative saber that will look great over your cousin’s fireplace? Put them in your checked baggage, or ship them ahead of you – in fact, shipping gifts in advance can also help to significantly reduce what you have to pack. You can also ease your journey through security by dressing as simply as possible. Before going through a metal detector or imaging machine, you’ll have to remove everything in your pockets, your belt (unless it has no metal), bulky jewelry and your shoes, so make sure these items are easy slip off and on. You’ll have to remove your jacket, too: if you’re going somewhere warm and really won’t need it, leave it at home. Thanks to Precheck from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), eligible passengers can pass through security very quickly without removing shoes, laptops and the one quart, clear plastic bag. But even if you are eligible for Precheck, it’s still wise to have you liquids in that bag in the event you’re randomly selected for additional screening. The days just before and after Thanksgiving, Hanukkah (which coincides with Thanksgiving this year), Christmas and New Year’s Eve are among the busiest travel days of the year. So, be sure to arrive at the airport at least two hours before flight time (three hours for an international flight). And, ask your travel professional for more advice about ensuring a smooth start to your holiday travel. Pack it in for the Holidays Do the phrases “holiday travel” and “pack light” ever go together? “Holiday travel” and “pack smart” might be a better combination, especially if you follow these tips as you pack your bags: Roll your clothes. Many frequent travelers swear by rolling their clothes instead of folding. Rolling can save space and result in fewer wrinkles, and it works especially well with casual items like t-shirts and jeans: simply fold them in half and roll from the bottom up. Use the rolled items to fill in the spaces around any folded items, which will help keep everything from shifting during travel. Invest in a comfortable and versatile pair of shoes. Shoes are some of the bulkiest, most space-hogging items you can pack. Wear your versatile pair and bring one other. Pack only as much as your bag can comfortably hold. Overstuffing a bag isn’t good for the items inside, which tend to come out very wrinkled, or for the bag – zippers and other fasteners have been known to break under that kind of stress. To extend the life of your bag and your clothes, don’t overstuff. Send bulky items ahead of you. Dressy shoes, hiking boots, ski clothes, sun hats and other items you won’t need until you get to your destination can be shipped ahead of you. The cost of shipping may be considerably less than the cost of checking extra bags (often $25 per bag or more, each way) or paying overweight charges. Holiday gifts can be shipped ahead of you, too. Or, you could choose an ideal and extremely practical gift, such as travel gift certificates for all of your loved ones – your travel professional will be happy to assist you! Don’t pack a hair dryer or clothes iron. Most hotels have them in every room or available to borrow from the front desk. Keep the toiletries you pack to a minimum as well: you probably don’t really need three moisturizers or four colors of nail polish. Be strict with yourself about the quantity of clothing you pack. You can wear the same sweater with different shirts, the same shirt with two different scarves, the same dark-wash jeans with all your shirts. If things get spilled or splashed on you, there are likely to be laundry facilities where you’re going. For more ideas about packing smart for the holidays, talk with your travel agent. Upward Trend in Airfare Doesn’t Dampen Travel Airfare costs are trending upward, especially to select vacation destinations, but travelers aren’t cutting back on vacation plans, according to the Fall Travel Trends Survey recently conducted by Travel Leaders. For example, the average roundtrip airfare to Hawaii is approaching $1,000; roundtrip airfare of $1,300 or more to Europe is becoming more common, too. Of course, it all depends on where you’re originating from – typically, cities on the East Coast get the lowest fares to Europe, while those on the West Coast have the best fares to Hawaii. Despite the rising airfares, 85% of Travel Leaders’ agents say said that client bookings are the same or higher than last year at this time, compared to just under 81% in 2012: a strong indication that interest in travel is not waning. Some of the upward trend in airfare may be due to travelers’ purchases of extra amenities, such as additional leg room, early-boarding privileges, or in-flight wireless internet access. Still, the survey results indicate that travelers are not scaling back. So, what can you expect to pay for airfare to your favorite destination? According to the Travel Leaders’ Fall Travel Trends survey, following are average costs per airline ticket, per person, for: • Destinations in the 48 contiguous states: 67.5% of Travel Leaders agents indicated an average cost of $300-499, while 17.9% indicated $500-599. For comparison, in 2012 the percentages were 73.6% and 12.6%, respectively. • Alaska: 64.1% of agents indicated average cost of $600-899, compared to 59.3% last year. • Hawaii: 51.8% of agents indicated average cost of $700-999, compared to 56.3% last year. And, 28.8% selected “$1,000 or more” in this year’s survey. • Caribbean: 47.6% of agents indicated average cost of $500-699, and 19.5% indicated $700-799. In 2012, the percentages were 52.4% and 15.4%, respectively. • Mexico: 53.5% of agents indicated average cost of $400-599, compared to 61.3% last year. And, 21.3% indicated $600-699 in this year’s survey. • Europe: 42.4% indicated $1,300 dollars or more (compared to 31.1% in 2012), while 46.2% of agents indicated $1,000-1,299 (compared to 53.3% last year). As you select your next vacation destination, remember that your travel professional can help you offset any increased airfare cost by counseling you on extra value in other elements of your vacation. For example, your travel professional will have access to special offers and discounts for hotels, resorts, cruises, tour packages and more, which can help you be more comfortable with higher airfare costs. For more specific information, talk with your travel agent. Trends in Luxury Travel For a true vacation getaway, more travelers are looking for luxury in their transportation, lodgings and tours, according to the Fall 2013 Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders Group. Based on survey responses from 536 U.S.-based agency owners, managers and frontline agents who book luxury travel, more than 80% indicated that “bookings are higher than or on par with last year” for luxury tour bookings (86.2%), luxury hotel bookings (85%) and luxury cruise bookings (84.4%). In addition, 88% of survey participants indicated that bookings for suites aboard cruise ships are “higher than or equal to last year” according to 88% of survey participants. All of these responses underline a genuinely positive economic trend. Even better, Travel Leaders notes that luxury travel is not limited to people of a certain socio-economic status. Thanks to carefully negotiated agreements with luxury travel and tour providers, travel professionals can offer luxury options to travelers with a wide variety of vacation budgets. In addition, travel professionals have access to discounts and special offers that can put luxury travel within reach for more of their clients. The specific results of the Travel Leaders’ Fall Travel Trends Survey indicate a significant increase in the interest in luxury travel during just the past year: • Luxury Hotel Bookings: The vast majority of Travel Leaders agents (85%) indicated that their luxury hotel bookings are higher than or on par with this time last year. That’s up from 82.4% of agents one year ago. • Luxury Cruise Bookings: More than 84% of agents said their luxury cruise bookings are equal to or better than this time last year, compared to 81.7% a year ago. • Cruise Suite Bookings: When asked “Compared to this time last year, have your year-to-date bookings of cruise suites increased, remained the same or decreased?” 88% of agents said bookings have increased or remained the same, compared to 86% last year. • Luxury Tour Bookings: When asked about luxury tour bookings, 86.2% of agents said these bookings are higher than or the same as this time last year, an increase of 4.6% from 2012. • First Class/Business Class Airline Bookings: Again, a significant majority of agents – 82.7% ‒ said their first class/business class airline bookings are higher than or the same as this time last year. Of course, luxury ultimately is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem luxurious to one traveler may be subpar to another. Therefore, it’s critical to talk about your expectations carefully with your travel agent as you plan your next vacation. Business Travel: Travel Credit Cards for Road Warriors A credit card or two is an essential tool for anyone who travels on business: with a widely-accepted credit card, you don’t need to carry too much cash or exchange much cash for local currency, and you’ll always have the means to pay for unexpected expenses on the road. Because you definitely need to carry a card (or two) with you, why not choose cards that deliver rewards you can use? There are credit cards that can earn you extra amenities, free hotel nights, and/or free flights. In choosing a card, a major consideration is your ability to use a specific hotel chain and/or airline on the majority of your travels. For example, if you are able to use one airline consistently, you’ll be able to earn rewards more quickly using that airline’s credit card. For example, Delta’s SkyMiles card earns a mile for every dollar spent: purchases of Delta tickets and services earn double miles. When you accumulate enough miles, it can translate to a free flight. In addition, a Delta SkyMiles Gold or Platinum card gives you access to a Delta Sky Club for just $25 a visit; a SkyMiles Reserve card has a higher annual fee, but you’ll have complimentary Sky Club access and priority status for available seat upgrades, among other benefits. Most airline cards also provide benefits like early boarding privileges and a free checked bag, so look beyond those common amenities. The MileagePlus Card from United just added a special benefit for international road warriors: purchases made with a MileagePlus card outside the U.S. are not subject to foreign transaction fees. In addition, you can use your accumulated miles for room upgrades and special features at more than 700 hotels and resorts around the world. When considering travel cards, try not to be too influenced by their initial sign-up bonuses (which often consist of bonus miles). Pay more attention to the rewards that the use of the card will deliver to you over time. And, don’t let an attractive card offer steer you away from the hotel chain or airline you use most often – it doesn’t make sense to switch from the travel providers that serve you best for the sake of a credit card. For more advice on choosing a travel credit card, talk with your corporate travel manager. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
This Fall’s Top U.S. Destinations There may be no place like home, but more Americans are choosing to travel in the fall and early winter – even during the holidays, according to a new survey. Travel Leaders recently conducted its largest fall Travel Trends Survey ever, gathering data on actual travel bookings from nearly 1,000 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and agents. Almost 80% of those polled said bookings for Thanksgiving and for Christmas/New Year are the same or higher than at this time last year. And, these travelers aren’t necessarily going to grandmother’s house, unless she happens to live in Las Vegas, Orlando, New York City, Maui or Honolulu – the top five leisure travel destinations in the U.S. for the remainder of 2013. There’s always something new to see or do in Las Vegas, the glittering desert city that constantly reinvents itself. There are new shows and restaurants on the Strip, like Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana and Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace. Things are happening downtown, too: Fremont Street is getting ready for SlotZilla, a 12-story, slot-machine-themed platform for a new two-level zip line ride. Orlando’s theme parks can also be relied on for something new to delight visitors. In addition to a new Transformers 3D ride, Universal Orlando has opened the streets of the mythical Springfield of The Simpsons. Pause for a Krusty Burger and a Duff beer before hopping on the Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, a ride hosted by aliens Kang & Kodos. For some of the best holiday shopping, visit New York City. And, while you’re there, take in a holiday show. There’s the enduring Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall; A Christmas Story at the Theater at Madison Square Garden; and the New York City Ballet’s presentation of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Add a walk down Fifth Avenue and take in the tree at Rockefeller Center – home to Radio City Music Hall – and New York City is sure to put you into the holiday spirit. The diverse landscapes of Maui – from the mountainous interior to shorelines dotted with white or black sand beaches – draw visitors all year long, but November is the start of the winter surfing season. If you’ll be taking your first lesson, try Launiupoki, good for novices and more experienced surfers. Honolulu’s beach culture combines with the shopping, dining and cultural attractions you expect in a sophisticated city. And, when the sun goes down, the clubs come to life. There are wine bars, live music venues and dance clubs: one of the newest is The Standard on Ala Moana Boulevard. To give yourself a holiday treat in one of these destinations, talk with your travel agent as soon as you can! Top Choices for International Destinations For more families, gathering at the holidays means traveling together. It may surprise you, but “traveling with family to an international destination” is the top reason for travel during the holidays, according to the Fall Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders. And, according to actual booking data gathered by the survey, the top five choices of international leisure travelers range from sunny warmth to classic European destinations. The top choice for international travel for the remainder of 2013 is a cruise of the balmy Caribbean. From Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, cruise ships delight passengers with traditional decorations, holiday-themed performances, favorite foods and more. It’s wonderful to let someone else do all the preparing, cooking and cleaning while you simply enjoy yourself and relax. Cancun, the lovely resort town on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, is the next most popular choice. The beach is gorgeous and there’s great snorkeling and diving. In fact, 11 new pieces were just added to the Cancun Underwater Museum, a man-made reef comprised of fanciful sculptures. There’s now a dry-land version of the museum that shows replicas of the sculptures, too. London, England, is third on the list, and the cultural life of the city ramps up in the fall. The first half of October features the London Restaurant Festival, when chefs across the city offer their finest dishes. The London Film Festival takes place in the second half of October and will feature hundreds of films and shorts in venues around the city. Nearly tied with London is Rome, Italy, a city that’s full of incredible antiquities. A visit to the Vatican, home of many artistic treasures and the center of the Roman Catholic Church, can truly resonate during the holiday season. If you need a dose of contemporary culture as well, check out MACRO, Rome’s relatively new (it opened in 2002) Museum of Contemporary Art. You can also see Rome as part of a cruise of the Mediterranean, which rounds out the top five international destinations. It’s a great opportunity to take in some holiday traditions in each port of call, which can stretch along the Mediterranean coast from Turkey and the Greek Isles to Barcelona. You can still fit an international travel experience into 2013, but don’t delay – talk with your travel agent soon. Traveling During the Holidays With the Family It’s wonderful to spend the holidays with people you love, and spending time with family is the top reason to travel during the fall and early winter holidays, according to a new survey by Travel Leaders. But, that doesn’t always mean gathering at home: more travelers want to spend their family time during the holidays exploring an international destination together. As part of its largest Fall Travel Trends Survey ever, Travel Leaders asked nearly 1,000 of its agency owners, managers and agents to share what their clients are saying about their reasons for holiday season travel. The top five, in order, are: • Traveling with family to an international destination • Taking an international vacation to a beach destination • Traveling home to see family • Traveling with family to a domestic destination • Taking a U.S. vacation to a beach destination The same survey asked Travel Leaders’ professionals which international destination is most popular among their clients. The top choice is the Caribbean by way of a cruise, a great choice for a family vacation. Today’s cruise ships have accommodations, dining, entertainment and activities to please everyone, from the youngest to the most senior family members. Imagine reestablishing your family bonds while sailing in carefree comfort among lovely islands. Families who prefer an international beach destination most often choose the resort town of Cancun on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. In addition to relaxing on the beach, families can try out some water sports, visit the Xel-Ha aquatic theme park, ride a zipline or an all-terrain vehicle, or take a day trip to historic Mayan ruins. Favorite domestic destinations include the perennial favorites of Las Vegas and Orlando, two of the entertainment capitals of the U.S. For a domestic beach vacation, top choices include Maui, Honolulu, and Fort Lauderdale. Travel Leaders’ agents also report that vacation travel bookings are robust: 80% say booking are equal to or higher than last year at this time. That’s an indicator that more vacation travelers understand the value of working with an agent, too. “Traveling during the holidays can be unpredictable, and by working with a travel agent, travelers can have their very own built-in safety net, allowing them to fully relax and enjoy the season,” said Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben. “We excel at saving our clients time and finding them the best value – many times with added amenities our clients couldn’t get on their own.” Protect Your Dream Vacation You’ve planned, you’ve saved, and you’ve reserved your dream vacation. Now, it’s important to protect your dream by selecting the right travel insurance. Travel insurance can safeguard the investment you’ve made in your trip by providing coverage for unexpected interruptions or illnesses while you’re traveling. It can even cover your costs if you need to cancel your trip (and, hopefully, reschedule it for a later time). Insurance companies such as TravelGuard can provide you with one or more of the following types of coverage, depending on your needs. Trip cancellation insurance covers you if you, or someone you are travelling with, needs to cancel, delay or interrupt your trip. Unfortunately, even the most carefully made plans can be affected by unpredictable events: for example, bad weather, illness or changes in work responsibilities. Travel medical insurance provides protection if you become ill or injured on your trip. If you already have medical insurance, your plan may not cover you for medical costs outside the U.S. or Canada: if you plan to travel internationally, check with your medical insurance provider. If your coverage doesn’t extend to your destination, consider purchasing travel medical insurance. Be sure to check that the coverage you purchase includes any pre-existing medical conditions that you have. Travel major medical insurance provides the same protection as travel medical insurance, but is designed for people who will be traveling for a long period of time – six months or more. This may be the right option for you if you’ve booked a world cruise, for example. Emergency medical evacuation insurance provides coverage when it’s medically necessary to transport you to another medical facility. This is useful coverage when you will travel to a remote area or countries where medical care is not only below our standards, but also where transport costs can easily top $10,000 if you need to be evacuated. Accidental death insurance will provide payment to your surviving beneficiaries. It’s not pleasant to think about, but this coverage can provide you and your loved ones with extra peace of mind. Many travel insurance companies also offer specialized coverage. For example, Allianz offers annual travel insurance plans, which can be a good choice for customers who plan to take three or more trips – either leisure or business – within a year. TravelGuard offers coverage specifically designed for cruise ship vacations, golf vacations and extreme sports vacations. To find out more about your travel insurance options, talk with one of our travel agent. Business Travel: Fall Business Travel Trends Some positive economic indicators are coming from the business travel market, according to the results of a new survey conducted by Travel Leaders: • Overall business travel is up. More than 84% of the surveyed Travel Leaders agents who specialize in business travel said their volume of bookings is equal to or better than last year at this time. This continues a three-year trend of increases in year-over-year business travel bookings. • More road warriors are getting comfortable in first class. The number of agents who said they are making more than 10% of their business clients’ airline reservations in first-class or business-class increased this year to 55.9%, compared with 51.3% last year. • Cost is no longer the top reason for traveling in coach: When asked why their business clients fly in coach, the agents’ top response was “company policy” (52.6%), followed by “cost” (43.1%). In the 2012 survey, that was reversed – “cost” was the top consideration (50.6%), followed by “company policy” (44.3%). • Hotel reservation requests are also trending upscale. When asked which category of hotel the majority of their business clients book, 63.9% of Travel Leaders agents said “Luxury” or “Upper Upscale,” while 31.8% said “Upscale” or “Upper Midscale.” Last year, the percentages were 55.0% and 39.3% respectively. “Our findings, based on our business travel bookings, certainly mirror the country as a whole – we are seeing growth in some key areas, which demonstrates positive news economically,” said Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben. “We continue to work with our corporate clients to increase the adoption of their travel policies by their traveling employees, which in turn benefits their bottom line. The more they can take advantage of special negotiated rates with key air, car and hotel suppliers, the more they can continue to have their employees ‘on the road,’ which is vital to their corporate growth.” To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.
River Cruising It’s been a landmark summer on the rivers of Europe, where cruise ships were filled with passengers who discovered what makes a river cruise special. Sleek river cruise ships are designed to glide under low bridges and into docks along historic rivers like the Rhine and the Danube. Because they generally carry just 100-200 passengers, the ships are intimate and relaxed. You won’t find the kind of large-scale dining and entertainment that ocean cruise ships offer, but everything on your river cruise ship will be top-notch. With the growing demand for European river cruises, lines like Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways have been adding to their fleets. One of the most spectacular cruise ship launch events ever held took place March 20, 2013, in Amsterdam, where Viking River Cruises christened 10 new ships in a single day. In fact, Viking is now in the Guinness Book of World Records as having “the most ships inaugurated in one day by one company.” All 10 are Viking “Longships” equipped with innovative indoor-outdoor viewing areas and luxurious two-room suites. With an eye toward environmental protection, they have solar panels and efficient engines, too. Viking plans to break its own record in 2014 by launching 12 more longships. The Avalon Waterways’ fleet is adding two “suite ships” this year, which have 200-square-foot Panorama Suites and 300-square foot Royal Suites designed for great views of the changing countryside through a wall of windows. Avalon Waterways will launch three more ships in 2014. Not only is there a wonderful selection of European river cruise ships to choose from, there’s a great selection of itineraries, too. Imagine sailing the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland; or, cruising the Danube through (or along the borders of) as many as 10 countries, from Germany east to the Black Sea. Wine lovers can sail the Saone and Rhone through France, or the Douro, which runs through the heart of Portugal’s wine country. To choose the European river cruise ship and itinerary that are perfect for you, talk with your travel agent. Don’t wait long – 2014 cruises may fill quickly! Dallas, 50 Years Later At the west end of downtown Dallas, Texas, is the Dealey Plaza Historic District, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Fifty years later, Dealey Plaza looks much as it did in 1963. The street signs, lights and surrounding buildings have mostly been left as they were – a contrast to the modern Dallas skyline behind the plaza. any visitors to the city come to take a solemn look at the place where the popular president was killed. Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine, is believed to have fired the fatal shots from a sixth-floor window in the Texas School Book Depository building. Today, the building’s Sixth Floor Museum draws 350,000 visitors a year, second only to the Alamo as the most-visited site in Texas. There are other sites connected to the assassination, including the Hilton hotel (formerly the Texas Hotel) in Fort Worth, where the president and his wife spent the night of November 21, 1063; Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the president was rushed into a trauma room; and the Texas Theatre, where Oswald tried to hide. The city will observe the 50th anniversary with church bells, military flyovers and readings of Kennedy’s speeches. It will also be a day of public service, with volunteers working at organizations like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Special Olympics. Of course, there’s much more to Dallas than its connection to the slain president. Check out the Bishop Arts District’s eclectic shops, galleries and restaurants. Take in a terrific view of the city – including a bird’s eye view of Dealey Plaza – and a great meal at the rotating Wolfgang Puck restaurant, Five Sixty, at the top of Reunion Tower. The Fair Park is worth a visit whether or not the Texas State Fair is taking place. It contains museums, the largest Ferris wheel in North America and many beautiful Art Deco structures, including the main entrance to the Cotton Bowl stadium. If you’re a fan of the television drama “Dallas” – cancelled in 1991 but revived in 2012 – exteriors were shot at Southfork Ranch, 20 miles north of Dallas, where you can take a tour and see some show memorabilia. Dallas has a multitude of places to stay, see and dine – for more ideas, talk with your travel agent. The Top Five Friendliest Destinations in the World Of all the pleasures of travel, one of the best is getting to know people who live in the places you visit. So, why not visit the friendliest destinations in the world, as named by Condé Nast Traveler? Florianopolis, Brazil This cosmopolitan city is on the island of Santa Catarina, “The Island of Magic,” connected by bridges to the Brazilian mainland. The modern city and its colonial-era center are on the island’s north end; the south end is quieter, with villagers focused on traditional pursuits like fishing and lacemaking. The outgoing people of this lovely island will be happy to point you toward the wonderful beaches and thermal springs. Hobart, Tasmania Visitors receive a warm welcome in Hobart, capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania. This busy port city, set between the foothills of Mount Wellington and the ocean, is a gateway to the East Antarctic (though the local weather is much more temperate). Visitors love Hobart for its scenic beauty, multicultural vibe, historic neighborhoods, terrific dining and vibrant music scene. Thimphu, Bhutan At the eastern end of the Himalayas, the small country of Bhutan believes in growing its GNH (Gross National Happiness) just as much as the gross national product. Nestled in a verdant river valley, the friendly residents of the capital of Thimphu share their proud traditions in literature, the performing arts, weaving, painting, embroidery and architecture with visitors. Be sure to see some of the beautiful monasteries in this predominantly Buddhist area. Queenstown, New Zealand Perched on an inlet of Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown is an all-season resort area. Visit this welcoming town to enjoy the scenery, which includes the aptly named Remarkable Mountains; to sample the wines of the Central Otago wine region; or to ski, paraglide, hike, scuba dive or watch cricket or rugby, depending on the season. Charleston, South Carolina The very best of southern hospitality and charm welcomes visitors to Charleston, S.C. It seems there’s always a festival going on, as well as live music and theater, plus tours of historic homes, forts and museums. Charleston is a fantastic place to eat, with seafood-based specialties like she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and low country boil. To make plans to visit these or other “friendliest” destinations, talk with your travel agent. TSA PreCheck Program Set to Expand If you’ve ever thought that you would gladly pay a fee to shorten your wait for airport security screening, you may soon have the opportunity to do just that. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced a pilot expansion of its PreCheck program, which provides expedited security screening to qualified passengers. The pilot is expected to draw more than 88,000 applicants during its first six months, and more than 450,000 during its first 18 months. Special screening lines reserved for members of the PreCheck program are now available in 40 airports across the U.S. Travelers who use these lines can avoid some of the usual screening procedures: for example, they can usually keep their shoes, belts and jackets on; and can leave computers in their cases. All of this translates to faster screening and enables the TSA to devote more of its resources to situations that raise security concerns. Until now, PreCheck membership was available mainly to members of trusted traveler programs run by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), including the Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS programs, at a cost of $100 for five years. Now, several airlines – including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America – are issuing invitations to their frequent traveler club members to participate in PreCheck. Later this year, the TSA will begin to take PreCheck applications from any traveler willing to pay an $85 fee and submit background information, including fingerprints. Once approved, membership in the program will be good for five years. Passengers will be able to submit background information online via a secure web portal, while fingerprints and other biometric data must be submitted in person at an enrollment center. The first two enrollment centers – at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis International Airport – will open this fall. The TSA plans to add more enrollment sites, and to implement the program at more U.S. airports. Note that TSA does not guarantee expedited screening for PreCheck members, because stricter security measures may be necessary at times. To find out whether you qualify for PreCheck membership, talk with your travel agent. Business Travel – Advantages of a Chip Card If you haven’t travelled internationally lately but plan to do so soon, check your credit cards for an EVM chip. EVM is a global standard for chips embedded in credit and debit cards to store identifying information about the card owner. They’re commonly referred to as “chip cards.” Unlike cards with magnetic strips, which provide the same owner information each time they are used, chip cards encrypt data differently during each transaction. As a result, they are much more secure, and much more difficult to use fraudulently. The changeover to chip cards began in Europe a decade ago, and they are now used in about 80 countries around the world. But, chip cards are not common in the U.S. – at least, not yet. Some resistance has come from retail organizations, which must install a different type of reader for chip cards: the cards are not swiped, but inserted in a payment terminal. However, card issuers, financial institutions and retailers have set a deadline of October 2015 to put EMV payment systems in place in the U.S.: that’s when liability for fraud will shift from card issuers to merchants whose equipment does not support EMV. Currently, several card issuers – including Barclays, Chase, Citi, and USBank – are ahead of game and already offer chip cards to U.S. customers. While magnetic strip cards are still readily accepted in many tourist areas overseas, the lack of a chip card can be problematic if business takes you away from the usual tourist path. Cashiers in countries where chip cards are dominant may not be familiar with or know how to process magnetic strip cards. You can politely inform them that they are still required to swipe the card, but that can be difficult if the two of you don’t have a common language. And, imagine the difficulty that could ensure when trying to purchase train tickets or get cash from an unattended machine. Before you leave for your international trip, check with your card issuers to ask if you can trade your magnetic strip cards for EVM cards. Don’t accept a response that your magnetic strip cards can still be swiped overseas; your trip will go more smoothly with a chip card. To ask about our Corporate Travel Program call 281-40-1988 x3109, or visit our web page.