March 2015 Travel Column

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.”

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


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.

For help planning a trip to the South Pacific, contact your travel agent.


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.

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.

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