July 2016 Travel Column

Traveler Satisfaction with Airport Security Is Mixed

Summer is peak vacation season and for many travelers, and for those traveling long distances, it often includes a trip through airport security before they board a flight to their destination.

A new nationwide survey by Travel Leaders Group finds that while most Americans are satisfied with the current state of airport security, the percentage of dissatisfied flyers is growing.

In a poll of 3,431 consumers conducted right in the midst of the busy spring break period – when headlines first started to appear about longer lines at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at airports – a majority, 63.6 percent, expressed satisfaction with the level of airport security. But the percentage of travelers who said that they were dissatisfied rose to 17 percent, up from 11.6 percent in 2015.

Despite news reports about longer lines for security at many U.S. airports, more than half of those polled, 52.3 percent, said that they were “OK with the amount of time it takes” to get through airport security, an increase of nearly 8 percent compared with last year.

One reason more travelers are expressing satisfaction is that a larger number of them are enrolling in TSA Precheck. This TSA program offers approved travelers an expedited screening process. Indeed, the survey results show that 20.3 percent of respondents use it all the time, an increase of 6 percent over 2015. When asked whether they’ve experienced expedited screening at an airport over the past 12 months, 54.3 percent said that they had.

Travel Leaders Group works closely with the Department of Homeland Security to help its agents advise clients about ways to decrease the wait at airport security. That includes educating clients about TSA Precheck and Global Entry. The latter program provides expedited clearance through U.S. Customs for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. Even semi-frequent flyers can benefit from these programs. Nearly a third of respondents – 32.4 percent – have registered and been approved for TSA Pre, while 18.6 percent are enrolled in Global Entry.

When asked which security measure passengers would most like to eliminate, the top response, not surprisingly, was removing shoes, at 31.5 percent. It’s led the survey for the past three years. Another benefit to TSA Precheck and Global Entry is that passengers who sign up for the programs do not need to remove their shoes, computers or 1-quart bag carrying liquids at 160 U.S. airports.

Of course, there are other ways for flyers to try and cut down on wait times. For example, travelers may be able to fly into less busy airports near their destination or book flights at times of day that are less crowded. Your travel agent has the expertise to explore those options and see whether they meet your needs.

At the airport, look around for a shorter security line, even if it means a longer walk to the gate. Once you’re in line, help keep things moving by wearing shoes that are easy to remove and have your boarding pass and ID ready for inspection. Leave off belts and jewelry until after you go through security. And don’t wait until the last second to tuck cell phones, wallets, keys and other metallic items into your bag – you don’t want to be “that person” who is holding everyone else up.

For help planning a trip, and for information about the TSA Precheck and Global Entry programs, contact your travel agent.

With Easing Restrictions on Cuba Travel, Interest Grows

Interest in traveling to Cuba, along with options for travelers, has grown steadily since President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States would normalize relations with the island nation.

In a survey of 3,431 U.S. consumers conducted by Travel Leaders Group, nearly 11 percent of respondents said that they would “go immediately” to Cuba if all U.S. government restrictions were lifted, an increase of 4 percent since 2014. Another 16.4 percent said that they would go as soon as they believed Cuba was ready for Americans, a 5-percent increase over the past two years. Meanwhile, the number of respondents who said that they have no interest in going has dropped substantially, to 35.1 percent from 47.6 percent in 2014.

There are still restrictions on travel to Cuba. U.S. law does not (yet) permit trips that are solely for tourism. Travel must fall into one of 12 categories, including people-to-people cultural exchange tours that are allowed under educational activities. Other categories include family visits, humanitarian projects and professional research. Your best bet is to work with a travel agent who can assist you in determining which category is right for you.

But even keeping those limits in mind, the choices for intrepid travelers are getting more varied all the time.

For example, since March it’s been legal for solo travelers to visit Cuba, as opposed to going on a tour. Going alone means determining your own itinerary, but you’ll still required to follow U.S. regulations regarding the purpose of the trip. (You’re not supposed to book a beach vacation.) You should also keep a record of your activities, including receipts, for five years. It’s not an easy option but a travel agent with expertise in Cuba can help.

Another new way to go is on a cruise. In May, Fathom launched its seven-day cruise to three Cuban cities including the capital, Havana. Fathom has designed its cruise with the “people-to-people” category in mind. The trip includes 3½ days of shore excursions, with all nights spent aboard the 704-passenger Adonia. Passengers will explore the country’s culture, cuisine and historic sites while meeting artists, musicians, business owners and families to learn about the everyday lives of the Cuban people. Onboard, they can enjoy all the amenities of a modern passenger ship.

If you’d rather go by air, that’s about to become easier for Americans.

In June, the U.S. Department of Transportation gave its approval for regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba for the first time in five decades, from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul. (Currently only charter flights are operating.) There’ll be up to 10 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and each of Cuba’s nine international airports, other than Havana. Air travel could start as early as this fall. Routes from U.S. cities to Havana will be announced soon. U.S. carriers have requested nearly 60 flights per day to the Cuban capital.

However you’d like to visit Cuba – solo, on a tour or on a cruise ­– contact your travel agent for the most expert advice and up-to-date information.

For Many Cruise Ships, Their Journeys Begin in Italy

Italy has a long history of shipbuilding and seafaring. In the early 20th century, shipyards in Genoa and Trieste delivered cruise liners that were renowned for their elegance and engineering. One of them, the Rex, set a record for crossing the Atlantic in 1933.

Today, the heir to that tradition is Fincantieri, one of the world’s leading shipbuilders. The company, which has its headquarters in Trieste, has set a standard for craftsmanship, design and technology. If you’ve taken a cruise, there’s a good chance you’ve sailed on a vessel built in one of its shipyards – or will in the future.

Fincantieri has built more than 70 cruise ships and its customers include just about every major cruise line. Among them are the Viking Star, the first oceangoing vessel for Viking Cruises, the leader in European river journeys; Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth; and two ships for Disney Cruise Line – Magic and Wonder.

The company has orders for a dozen more ships, including the MSC Seaside, the first in a new class of “smart ships” and the biggest ever built by a Fincantieri shipyard. It’s set to begin service in December 2017 and will sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean. The ship is designed for warm-weather destinations, with outdoor spaces that will bring passengers closer to the sea and catwalks with glass floors that will let them feel like they’re walking on water. The Seaside will include a wraparound promenade with spots to shop, eat and sunbathe, as well as cuisine from around the world and, for thrill-seekers, the longest zip line of any cruise ship.

Shipbuilding is a modern industry but it has many traditions that connect it with the past.

In April, the coin ceremony for the MSC Seaside took place at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy. This event is held when the ship’s keel is laid, marking the official start of construction. A coin is welded into the hull of the ship, in order to ensure good luck and a long life at sea.

In June, a ceremony was held at the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa to mark the first cutting of steel for the Ovation, which will be the newest ship in Seabourn Cruise Line’s fleet of smaller, ultra-luxury vessels. The Ovation is scheduled to begin sailing in spring 2018.

The launch is the most thrilling step in the shipbuilding process. It’s a time of pageantry, when the ship is blessed before its maiden voyage.

In April, Holland America Line and Fincantieri held a handover ceremony for the Koningsdam in which the captain was presented with a bottle containing the first water that touched the hull. A naming ceremony took place the next month in Rotterdam. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, the ship’s godmother, christened the Koningsdam by cutting a ribbon that released a magnum of champagne into the ship’s bow. The Koningsdam will sail throughout the Caribbean from its port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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

Botswana at 50: The Place to See Elephants

If an African safari has ever been on your travel bucket list, this year there’s added incentive to make that dream destination come true.

Botswana, in southern Africa, is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence in 2016. The country is a thriving democracy with ample facilities for tourism. It’s also a place of unrivaled natural wonders, from the vast Kalahari Desert to the lush Okavango Delta, to the varied wildlife of Chobe National Park.

Known as the “Land of the Giants,” Chobe National Park is home to one of Africa’s largest and most diverse wildlife populations, including an estimated 120,000 elephants. The wildlife visitors may spot on an afternoon game drive includes giraffes, buffalo, lions and leopards, as well as hundreds of elephants making their way to the Chobe River to drink, bathe and play. A river cruise along Botswana’s border with Namibia offers another excellent way to spot wildlife and get up close to the park’s hippos. It’s also a great vantage point for photography. And the park is a paradise for bird-watchers, with more than 460 species recorded there.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta is an ecosystem created by the Okavango River flowing into the Kalahari Desert, resulting in a labyrinth of islands and waterways filled with lush vegetation and rich wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, leopards and hippos. A recent survey found 122 species of mammals, 71 species of fish, 444 bird species and 1,300 species of flowering plants. In addition to some of the best safari experiences in Africa, the area also boasts some of the continent’s premier camps and lodges. A great way to explore the delta is by mokoro, a traditional canoe.

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is perfect for travelers who want a more remote wilderness experience. It’s a place of sand dunes and grasslands. The northern part of the reserve teems with wildlife. Stars light up the sky at night and you’ll be amazed at their brilliance.

The capital of Botswana, Gaborone, has grown from a small town at independence in 1966 to a bustling city of about 250,000 with a lively nightlife, whether you want to listen to music, go dancing or try your luck at a casino. You’ll also want to shop for traditional Botswana crafts, including baskets, pottery, woodcarvings, weavings and jewelry. Kgale Hill, a major landmark, offers panoramic views of the city and is a great spot to catch a spectacular African sunset. Gaborone’s annual International Music and Culture Week, which this year will be held from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, is a showcase for art, jazz, fashion, choral music, theater and poetry.

Formerly a British protectorate, Botswana became an independent nation on Sept. 30, 1966. Every year, the country marks Botswana Day with a two-day holiday, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The festivities begin early in the morning with people blowing horns in celebration. The fun continues late into the night with concerts, dance contests, parades and cultural events throughout the country.

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

Business Travel: Corporate Travel Grows in First Quarter

In an encouraging sign for the economy, domestic business travel grew in April for the first time in more than a year, according to a leading industry organization.

The U.S. Travel Association is a nonprofit organization that represents the travel industry, which generates $2.1 trillion in U.S. economic output and supports 15 million jobs. Every month the association publishes a Travel Trends Index, which measures the pace and direction of travel to and within the United States, both for leisure and business. A number greater than 50 indicates an expansion of travel volume, while a number below 50 indicates a decline. (The association also projects travel volume over three months and six months.)

In April, U.S. domestic business travel measured 51.7, a “noticeable rise” and the first positive year-over-year gain since March 2015. (The association defines a trip as travel that involves either a hotel stay or an airline flight.) Overall, the April Current Travel Index rose to 52.2, the 76th straight month of growth for the travel industry, which continues a six-year expansion.

“The big takeaway here is that April was the beginning of what we anticipate will be the inversion of many previously long-lived travel trends, amid continued overall growth,” according to David Huether, the association’s senior vice president for research. Part of the increase is attributable to the Easter holiday falling in March, which pushed some business travel into the next month. Still, Huether notes that the growth in domestic business travel for the first time in 13 months is “a major reversal.”

While April’s report was encouraging, the association has more of a mixed outlook on business travel over the long term. Business travelers may take more trips overall, but their spending may not be as robust.

Over the next six months, according to the association, “While forward-looking business travel searches and bookings are growing, economic prospects for domestic business travel remain muted through October 2016.” Still, the outlook for the total travel market – business and leisure travel combined – remains positive, with overall U.S. travel expected to grow by about 2 percent through October.

What does this research mean for business travelers? While there’s been some growth in the number of trips, travelers and travel managers alike will continue to keep a careful eye on the bottom line.

That’s where an experienced corporate travel agent can be of invaluable assistance.

These business travel specialists have the experience to help road warriors find the best flights, rental cars and hotels that fit their work requirements and their company’s budget. And they’re available for their clients whenever and wherever they’re on the road, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re ready to help them rebook a flight, change a hotel stay or deal with any other travel-related matter that may come up. With a corporate travel agent looking out for them, business travelers can stay focused on the business at hand.

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

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Kelly Westin

Kelly Westin

Marketing Manager
I specialize in Marketing and have a passion for travel. Learn more about me and view my contact information►
Kelly Westin

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