April 2017 Travel Column

Upcoming Earth Day – Eco Travel

With Earth Day right around the corner on April 22, environmentally-conscious travelers abide by the guiding principle to “Take only photographs and leave only footprints.” Today, it’s easier than ever to combine “going green” with just about any journey, whether it is for business or pleasure.

As interest increases in sustainable tourism, more travel agents are imparting their considerable knowledge on to their clients, helping them plan trips to some truly magnificent destinations at home and around the world, without sacrificing their desire to safeguard our planet for generations to come.

Of course, reusing towels at your hotel and taking public transportation whenever possible are two great ways to conserve precious resources. But planning for a green vacation starts even before you leave, by looking for ecologically sustainable products for personal use, such as makeup, insect repellent and even luggage made from recycled materials.

Eco-conscious travelers can ask their travel agent to book their flights on aircraft that have less of an environmental impact. For example, the Boeing 787 uses less fuel than other similarly sized planes, offers quieter takeoffs and landings that help reduce noise pollution and is made primarily of carbon-fiber composite material, which generates less waste in the manufacturing process. Wherever you go, your travel agent will help you find environmentally friendly accommodations, including luxury properties.

Two countries that have been at the forefront of ecotourism are the Central American nation of Costa Rica and the East African country of Tanzania. Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world with numerous ways to experience its natural beauty, from horseback riding to bird watching to hiking in the rain forest, to spotting nesting sea turtles at Tortuguero National Park. Tanzania’s protected areas are home to abundant wildlife including lions, giraffes and elephants that can be spotted in places like Serengeti National Park.

But increasingly, hotels and resorts on every continent are striving to be more ecologically sound and energy efficient.

In the Chyulu Hills of Kenya, luxury treetop lodges use environmentally friendly solar energy, water-conservation methods and work in cooperation with the local Maasai people to protect wildlife and offer an unforgettable safari experience.

Torres del Paine National Park, in the Patagonia region of Chile, is a place of soaring mountains, icebergs and grasslands that shelter rare wildlife. For adventurous travelers, an EcoCamp in the heart of the park provides the region’s first fully sustainable accommodation, in a cozy geodesic dome.

In Japan, eco lodges, like certain ryokans, or inns, work hard to maintain a special atmosphere. Rooms are constructed using traditional materials, meals feature seasonal and regional specialties, and the inns employ staff from the local community. At some inns, guests are encouraged to lend a hand by helping to plant trees and tend to the animals.

Closer to home, it’s easy to be environmentally friendly on a trip to California’s Napa Valley, where you can enjoy fine wine, relax in a spa and find luxurious hotels that meet the highest standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

For help planning an ecotourism vacation, contact your travel agent.

 Americans Appetite for Cuba Grows

Excited by the opportunity to explore a destination that’s been largely off limits for half a century, American travelers are flocking to Cuba. The number of visitors from the United States grew to 614,000 in 2016 according to Cuban officials, an increase of 34 percent over the previous year.

The results of a new survey by Travel Leaders Group indicate that interest in Cuba will continue to grow in 2017. Nearly 22 percent of 1,100 travel agents who focus on leisure trips reported that they’ve already booked Cuba travel for this year, and nearly 60 percent said that their clients have expressed an interest in traveling to the island in 2017.

Indeed, a survey of Americans by the Pew Research Center finds widespread support for ties between the two countries. Three-quarters of respondents approve of the decision to reestablish relations with the island nation that’s less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida, while nearly as many favor ending the longstanding trade embargo.

But before you start planning any journey to Cuba, it is crucial to note that U.S. law still restricts travel to Cuba to 12 authorized categories. Among those categories are “people-to-people” trips that are designed to include a variety of educational and cultural activities, from walking tours of Havana neighborhoods to visiting museums and historic sites to sampling Cuba’s art, music and culinary scenes. There’s also a chance to meet the Cuban people on trips to schools, farms and businesses.

While the law hasn’t changed ­– that would require action by Congress – the options for travel to Cuba continue to expand. Travel Leaders agents reported that their clients are interested in independent trips, in visiting before the country changes dramatically, and in visiting as part of a cruise vacation. Travel agents are experts in the rapidly changing world of Cuban travel. They can help clients consider all the options and craft a trip that fully complies with the law while providing a culturally immersive experience that they will remember for a lifetime.

For example, Americans can take advantage of regularly scheduled air service to Cuba for the first time in 50 years. Delta Air Lines opened the first U.S. airline ticket office in Havana in November and now seven other U.S.-based carriers fly between the United States and points in Cuba through regularly scheduled flights. In addition, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have sailings to Cuba scheduled through November.

Among affluent travelers, Cuba ranks high as an international destination. Travel agents who work with luxury clients put the country 12th in overall popularity, after Spain and before European Baltic cruises. For these travelers, it’s about the exclusiveness of the experience. They’re attracted to the mystery of exploring a new destination and learning about a culture that’s largely unknown, even among Americans who have traveled widely all over the world. And several luxury properties are scheduled to open in Cuba this year, including the 5-star Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana, making the trip even more enticing.

To explore all the options for a trip to Cuba, contact your travel agent.

Cinco de Mayo Hotspots 

While it’s not widely observed in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo – May 5 – has become a time to celebrate Mexican history and culture in cities across the United States, and everyone’s invited to the party.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a victory by the Mexican army against the better-equipped French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The victory was a matter of pride for Mexicans living in California in the 19th century. Over 155 years, Cinco de Mayo festivals became an annual tradition in many U.S. communities, usually taking place during the first weekend in May.

With its large Mexican-American population, California is home to some of the biggest festivals. In Los Angeles, historic Olvera Street, with its Mexican marketplace, cafes and restaurants, is the site of a three-day party, with mariachi bands, folk dancing and piñata games. San Francisco’s celebration takes place May 6 in the Mission District, a center of the Latin American community. The day offers events for adults and children alike, with music, dancing and more than 75 vendors selling an array of food, artwork and crafts.

Texas is also a great place to go for Cinco de Mayo festivities. In San Antonio, the celebration takes place in the city’s historic Market Square, a three-block outdoor plaza. It’s the largest Mexican market in the United States, with more than 100 shops and stalls selling authentic arts and crafts and restaurants serving gourmet Mexican cuisine. In Dallas, the annual Cinco de Mayo parade takes place May 6. But the Saturday before the holiday, April 29, it’s Taco Libre at the Dallas Farmers Market, a celebration of the city’s best taquerias, bands and the uniquely Mexican professional wrestling known as lucha libre.

Denver holds its 30th annual Cinco de Mayo celebration May 6-7 in Civic Center Park, with music and dancing from morning until night, vendors selling Mexican folk art, a children’s carnival, a parade Saturday morning, a taco-eating contest and Chihuahua race. Of course food is a big part of the celebration. Visitors will enjoy some of Colorado’s best Mexican cuisine, including the annual Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off.

The Cinco de Mayo festival in Portland, Oregon, celebrates Mexican culture as well as ties with sister city Guadalajara, Mexico. It takes place May 5-7 in Portland’s beautiful Tom McCall Waterfront Park, overlooking the Willamette River, and features mariachi musicians and artisans from Guadalajara, along with carnival rides and a children’s activity area.

For Mexicans, the victory commemorated by Cinco de Mayo was one event in its long struggle for independence, so it’s not widely celebrated. The exception is Puebla, where every year festivities, including a parade, mark the victory. About two hours south of Mexico City, Puebla is one of Mexico’s oldest cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its cuisine, crafts and Spanish colonial architecture. It’s also a great spot for active travelers, with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and paragliding.

For help planning a Cinco de Mayo getaway, contact your travel agent.

Giving the Gift of Travel for Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day coming up May 14, it’s a great time to plan a getaway for the mom in your life – or give her a gift that she can use to plan her own trip.

A weekend in Quebec City will give mom the charms of France without a trip across the ocean. Take a tour around the walls that surround old Quebec and spend time in its cafes, shops and historic buildings. The iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel has a spa package available year-round that’s perfect for a day of pampering.

For moms who love live performances, plan a trip to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina. The festival, which runs from May 26 to June 11, has an eclectic lineup of music, dance, theater and opera. Founded in the 17th century, Charleston’s cobblestone streets are fun to explore. Browse the four-block City Market and try restaurants serving up the best of Southern cuisine.

If mom loves a cruise, several lines, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, offer shorter three-night trips to the Bahamas from ports in Florida. To get a taste of the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Holland America Line has an overnight cruise that leaves from Vancouver, Canada, on Mother’s Day and arrives the next day in Seattle.

A weekend trip to New York City is always a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day. Treat mom to afternoon tea at one of the city’s iconic luxury hotels. Or take her to the New York Botanical Garden, where there’s a Mother’s Day Weekend Garden Party May 13-14, with brunch, music and activities for the whole family.

Of course flowers are a traditional Mother’s Day gift. If your mom loves flowers and gardens, take advantage of the dollar’s increased strength against the British pound and plan a trip to London for the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show. Put on by the Royal Horticultural Society, it showcases the best in garden design, and this year it runs from May 23-27.

Give mom a fun, relaxing weekend of sightseeing in San Francisco and pair it with a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The 3-hour Mother’s Day ride travels past California’s vineyards and comes complete with a multi-course gourmet meal that includes, of course, a wine tasting.

If your mom loves fine arts, take her to see perhaps the most famous mother on canvas. “Whistler’s Mother,” a portrait of his mother, Anna, painted by James McNeill Whistler in 1871, is visiting the Art Institute of Chicago through May 21. Stop by and admire it, along with the rest of the museum’s treasures, after a Mother’s Day brunch and cruise on Lake Michigan.

For the mom who enjoys planning her own trips, give her a gift card for a cruise line, hotel chain or airline that she can use to design her dream vacation. Hotel cards can often be redeemed for dining, a spa treatment or a round of golf in addition to a stay.

For help planning a vacation on Mother’s Day or beyond, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel – Moving up to Front of Line When Flights Are Canceled

Flight delays and cancellations are more than just an inconvenience for business travelers. A missed flight could mean missing an important meeting or conference, throwing off their whole work schedule.

There are numerous reasons why flights might be delayed or canceled. In January, a computer outage caused delays and cancellations of about 300 flights for one major airline, followed less than two weeks later by similar problems at another, leading to flight delays across the United States.

Exacerbating problems even further are poor weather conditions – everything from wind to rain to snow to fog – that routinely interrupt air travel. A major winter storm in February led to the cancellation of more than 2,300 flights at airports in the New York City area alone. But technology and Mother Nature aren’t the only culprits. In March, a mouse on a plane caused a four-hour delay in a flight from London to San Francisco.

While the causes of cancellations and delays are varied, one thing is certain. Having someone to call, who knows them and their needs and can offer immediate assistance, is invaluable to a business traveler. That’s where a travel agent who specializes in the needs of business travelers comes in.

Just as it is the job of the business traveler to keep up on the latest in his or her industry, it is the job of a business travel agent to know airlines, airports and schedules inside and out. Travel agents have developed close relationships with carriers through years of working with them and can put that knowledge to use for their clients when there’s a delay or cancellation. Travel agents also keep close tabs on anything that could be causing flight delays, from the weather to system outages, so that they can alert their clients and help them reach their destination for work, or get back home again safely.

If you’ve ever been at an airport when there’s been a major problem with delays and cancellations, you know what it’s like – hundreds of frustrated passengers who want to be on the move and overwhelmed airline representatives doing their best to get everyone where they need to go. The scene can be a bit chaotic and stressful for everyone.

As a traveler what you want at that point is someone on your side, whose job it is to assist you personally. You want to be able to get a person on the phone quickly who can help. That’s where a travel agent has your back. He or she is a lifeline, a professional with whom you’ve developed a relationship, who knows where you’re coming from and where you need to go. You’re not just a number waiting on hold. Most importantly, your travel agent has helped numerous clients in similar situations and can draw on the high level of expertise that comes with experience.

That expertise means agents who specialize in business travel can often get their clients the last seat on the next available flight, in effect moving them up to the front of the line.

For help planning a business trip, contact your travel agent.



Beyond Sydney by Ferry

As Australia’s largest city, home to the iconic Opera House and the country’s busiest airport, Sydney naturally gets a lot of attention and visitors. But travelers who venture beyond the city center will find much more to explore.

A ride on one of Sydney’s popular ferry routes is a great way to get around. Seven routes operate as part of the city’s public transportation network, traveling across Sydney Harbour and west along the Parramatta River. While the ferry rides are an integral part of many Sydneysiders’ daily commutes, they also offer spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Manly, a suburb north of Sydney, is home to one of Australia’s most popular beaches, as well as the spot where the first World Surfing Championship was held in 1964. Once you arrive after a 30-minute ferry ride, the beach is a short walk from the ferry terminal along the Corso, lined with palm trees and filled with shops, restaurants and pubs.

The Taronga Zoo is just 12 minutes from Sydney by ferry. Founded in 1916, it is home to 4,000 animals from more than 350 species. Of course you’ll see giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees and zebras. But what makes a visit to the zoo particularly special is the chance to see animals native to Australia – some you’ve no doubt heard of, like koalas, kangaroos and Tasmanian devils, and others that you may never have heard of, like the Southern hairy-nosed wombat.

For a fun day trip, take a ferry to Parramatta, about an hour from Sydney. Located on the Parramatta River, it rivals Sydney as a city center, with many companies and government offices located there. For tourists, Parramatta offers great dining, beautiful parks and some of Australia’s oldest buildings, as well as a thriving nightlife and cultural events.

The Parramatta visitor center, on Church Street, is a 10-minute walk along the river from the ferry terminal. Church Street, known informally as “Eat Street,” is considered one of the best spots to dine in Greater Sydney, with restaurants catering to every taste, from Asian and Mediterranean to Middle Eastern, as well as places to get a burger or pizza. There’s also a farmers market on Friday through the end of April, with more than 20 vendors selling locally grown fruits and vegetables, freshly baked breads and sweets.

Founded in 1788, the same year as Sydney, Parramatta offers a chance to delve into Australia’s past, with many examples of 18th– and 19th century buildings that mark the arrival of British colonists. Historic sites include Elizabeth Farm, birthplace of Australia’s wool industry, the elegant Old Government House in Parramatta Park and the Lancer Barracks, with a museum that traces the history of Australia’s oldest surviving and most decorated regiment.

In October, the popular Parramatta Lanes food and cultural festival takes place, with gourmet street food, pop-up bars, live music, art and performances held at eight uniquely themed spots throughout the city. In January, Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres complex becomes one of the venues for the Sydney Festival.

For help planning a trip to Australia, contact your travel agent.

If you are a frequent road warrior, you know that time is money, and that applies to getting through airport security screenings quickly so that you can concentrate on business. So it is important to note that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is making changes to the way it runs its expedited screening program at the nation’s airports, and that could have an impact on you as a frequent flyer.

TSA Precheck allows enrollees to get through security quicker and with less hassle – qualifying passengers don’t need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or light jackets. Travelers pay an $85 fee good for five years, fill out a brief application online and schedule an in-person appointment that includes a background check and fingerprinting. (Frequent international travelers sign up for Global Entry, which not only provides expedited customs and immigration screenings upon re-entry into the United States, but also includes TSA Precheck.)

Until now, TSA security personnel haven’t always been very rigorous about who gets to go through the TSA Precheck security line. Some flyers found, to their pleasant surprise, that their boarding pass was marked for the expedited line regardless of whether or not they were part of the program.

However, as of this year, that is changing. TSA spokesman Mike England has stated, “Starting early February 2017, TSA will significantly reduce access to expedited screening for non-enrolled travelers.” England said that since TSA Precheck started in 2011, some travelers have been allowed access to the expedited security line on a flight-by-flight basis. He predicted that the change would affect “very few” travelers.

Business Travel: Changes to Expedited TSA Screening

For business travelers who are enrolled in Precheck, the change could help lessen congestion at the lines for expedited security screening, although the process already goes fairly quickly for most flyers. The TSA reported that 98 percent of Precheck passengers made it through the security line in less than five minutes in December.

More than 4 million people are enrolled in TSA Precheck, and one likely reason for the policy shift is that officials expect that number to increase. In January, the agency announced that the program has been expanded to 11 new airlines, for a total of 30 carriers operating at more than 180 airports. Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia said that partnering with the new airlines will “substantially increase our trusted traveler population.”

The ease of getting through security is among the top concerns cited by business travelers in recent Travel Leaders Group surveys. For this group of airline passengers, missing a flight could mean missing a key meeting or conference. So anything that makes the process go a little more smoothly would benefit them.

Even before flyers get to the security screening, they have wait in line to get their identification checked. New technology is helping with that, too.

A company called Clear operates at more than a dozen airports nationwide. Enrollees pay an annual fee and have their identification authenticated using biometrics – a fingerprint or an iris scan. At participating airports, they look for the Clear kiosks, scan their boarding pass, then tap their finger on a pad or blink to verify their identification. Once that’s done, a Clear representative escorts them to the front of security screening. Clear promises enrollees that they will complete the ID process in 5 minutes or less.

For help planning a business trip across the country or around the world, contact your travel agems like right, left and straight ahead.

Of course, it’s highly important to be polite in any language. Learn how to say: “My name is” and where you’re from. Please, thank-you, excuse me, I’m sorry, pleasure to meet you, good morning, good evening, hello and goodbye – and even how to make a formal toast – will go a long way wherever you are in the world.

For help planning a business trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.

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