May 2017 Travel Column

Giving Dad the Gift of Travel for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day coming up on June 18, it’s time to think about some fun and unique travel opportunities that will give dad the vacation of a lifetime.

If your dad’s idea of relaxation is a round of golf, help him tee off where some of the game’s greats have played. Pebble Beach, five-time host of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, is about 2½ hours south of San Francisco, on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula. While you’re there, take the 17-Mile Drive along the Pacific coast, considered one of the most scenic routes in the United States.

There are plenty of options for great golf vacations. Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, offers Caribbean sunshine, pristine beaches and courses by famed designers that will challenge golfers of every level. Or check out golf courses on the big island of Hawaii, which come with spectacular ocean views. In addition, many major hotel chains offer gift cards can be used for a round of golf at their properties.

Maybe the dad in your life would rather swing a racket than hit a golf ball. Take advantage of the strength of the dollar against the British pound and give him a trip to England to see the action at Wimbledon, tennis’ oldest tournament. This year, it takes place July 3-16. Closer to home, treat him to a weekend in New York City and tickets to the U.S. Open, Aug. 28 to Sept. 10. If dad’s a baseball fan, plan a trip to Miami for the 2017 All-Star Game. The FanFest begins July 7 and runs to July 11, with the game at Marlins Park.

If dad’s a craft beer aficionado, take him to Seattle on Father’s Day weekend for the Washington Brewers Festival, held June 16-18 in nearby Redmond. He can choose from more than 500 beers from 110 Washington breweries, in addition to wine and cider. There’ll be food trucks, music by Pacific Northwest bands and a kids’ playground.

For dads who are active, adventurous travelers, Travel Leaders agents have new tools to help plan the perfect trip.

Travel Leaders has an exclusive arrangement with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, an organization at the forefront of active and adventure travel. While many agents are already experts in this area, the partnership is providing more of them with specialized training to help them build relationships with suppliers. As a result, Travel Leaders agents will be able to offer clients greater access to even more unique experiences around the world.

The market for active and adventure travel has nearly tripled in size over the last five years. According to the ATTA’s 2017 Industry Snapshot, in-demand activities include ecotourism, safaris, hiking, cycling, and trips that focus on food and culture. And there are lots of options. Popular destinations include Scandinavia, South America, southern Africa and the Mediterranean. Among North American travelers, Cuba made the top five this year, along with Ecuador, Peru, the United States and Canada.

For help planning a Father’s Day vacation, contact your travel agent.

20 Years after Turnover, Hong Kong More Vibrant than Ever

Few places on earth are more fascinating, both in terms of culture and natural beauty than vibrant Hong Kong.

This year, on July 1, 1997, marks the 20th anniversary since the United Kingdom formally transferred sovereignty of Hong Kong over to China, ending more than a century of British rule and opening a new chapter in a place where Europe and Asia meet.

Its history, role as an economic powerhouse and breathtaking location make Hong Kong a fascinating place to visit and an ideal starting point for travelers who want to experience some of what Asia has to offer.

For the past two decades, China has adhered to a “one country, two systems” principle when it comes to Hong Kong, preserving the island’s political and economic systems. For travelers, there are a couple of benefits. English remains an official language. And unlike the rest of China, Americans can visit Hong Kong without the time and expense involved in obtaining a visa.

A double-decker sightseeing bus is a great way to get acclimated to Hong Kong, from the upscale shopping area of Causeway Bay to the clubs and restaurants of Lan Kwai Fong to Golden Bauhinia Square, home of the Hong Kong Convention Center, where the official handover ceremony between Britain and China took place. You’ll see all of the influences that have made Hong Kong what it is today, from century-old British colonial buildings to traditional Chinese temples to skyscrapers designed by some of the world’s most renowned architects.

One of the area’s most stunning natural features is Victoria Harbour, separating the island of Hong Kong from the Kowloon Peninsula. While you can travel across by subway, take at least one trip on the Star Ferry, a service that’s been in operation since 1888. Have your camera ready, because the ride is only about 10 minutes and you’ll get spectacular pictures of the skyline. But that’s only one of several memorable ways to experience the view. Take a tram to the top of Victoria Peak for an equally stunning perspective, or a nighttime cruise, when a sound and light show illuminates the skyline.

In Kowloon, take a leisurely stroll along Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare. Be sure to spend time browsing and bargaining in two of Hong Kong’s famous street markets, the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market, where more than a hundred stalls sell everything from clothing and accessories to electronics and antiques. Also in Kowloon, the Hong Kong Museum of History offers a compelling and comprehensive look at the past, including British rule in the 19th century, the Japanese occupation during World War II and the handover to China.

Travelers to Hong Kong can choose from a wide range of accommodations. The Kerry Hotel, on Kowloon’s waterfront, is a new luxury property with panoramic views and proximity to shopping and transportation. For a classic experience, try Kowloon’s elegant Peninsula. Dating from 1928, it’s Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, known as the “Grande Dame of the Far East,” and filled with antiques and artifacts that recall the glamour of a bygone era.

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

Visiting the Happiest People on Earth

While it is typically the sights that draw tourists to specific destinations, most frequent travelers will cite the destination’s people, their culture and spirit that ultimately make for a memorable vacation. So why not consider visiting the happiest people on earth and enjoying the scenery along the way?

When it comes to the world’s happiest people, Scandinavians lead the pack according to a new United Nations report that ranks 155 countries.

Norway jumped from fourth place last year to first place in the 2017 World Happiness Report, with Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland rounding out the top five.

What is it that makes people in these countries so happy? All rank highly in key measures, including freedom to make life choices, generosity, healthy life expectancy, income and good governance. Having a strong social support network also plays a big role.

Here are some ways that travelers can get a glimpse of what makes each of the five unique and happy places.

Switzerland has a diverse culture with three principal languages – German, French and Italian. Regional traditions remain important, from celebrations that mark the change of seasons to festivals in major cities like Geneva and different cuisines across this tiny country. Check out the yodeling competition in the town of Brig from June 22-25; the Geneva Festival from Aug. 3-13, which takes place around Lake Geneva, with hundreds of free concerts; or the processions in alpine villages in September and October when cows wearing floral headdresses and jangling bells return to the valleys after a summer spent in mountainside pastures.

Given that Denmark, Norway and Finland are relatively close to each other, it’s easy to visit them all on one extended trip, offering travelers a chance to experience Northern Europe.

If there’s one word that describes Danish culture, it is hygge (pronounced “hooga”), loosely translated as coziness, enjoying the good things in life with friends and family. It’s a concept that has been embraced by other Nordic countries, including Norway, Finland and Iceland.

A vacation is the very definition of hygge, a chance to unwind and slow down. For foodies, that can mean sampling the best of the region’s cuisine, from Scandinavian staples like fresh seafood to restaurants that pioneer New Nordic, with chefs using traditional ingredients in inventive ways.

Concerts, festivals and outdoor activities are also ways to experience Scandinavian life.

Summertime in Denmark is a great time to take a bicycle tour of Copenhagen and end the day dining along the waterfront in Nyhavn. There are plenty of sites that will captivate, whether it is the magnificent Amelienborg Palace (comprised of four identical buildings) or the quirky “stairway to heaven” found at the top of the Church of our Savior. Epicurean adventures can be found all over this city, that has long been home to some of the world’s top rated restaurants.

For a taste of Norway, travelers can enjoy the charming grace to be found in Oslo. Or they can head to the Peer Gynt Festival Aug. 4-13 in the resort town of Gala, a celebration of art, music and theater that includes lakefront performances of Ibsen’s classic play, with an English audio guide.

To understand the culture of Finland, head to the sauna. It’s a national pastime, a chance to relax and cleanse the body and mind. There are several in Helsinki, including near bustling Market Square.

Iceland’s culture has been shaped by its geography of glaciers and volcanoes and remote location in the middle of the North Atlantic. There’s a strong sense of tradition and a bond with nature. Places like the Laugavegur hiking trail, considered one of the most scenic in the world, make Iceland an exciting option for active travelers.

For helping planning a trip to the world’s happiest countries, contact your travel agent.

Latest Trends in Cruise Vacations

With destinations as varied as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, European waterways and, increasingly, Alaska, more Americans are setting sail on cruise vacations in 2017.

In a recently released survey by Travel Leaders Group of 1,062 agents who book cruises for their clients, nearly 87 percent said that their 2017 bookings are equal to or higher than last year, with interest in luxury and premium cruises especially strong, increasing by 10 percent and 8 percent respectively. A Western Caribbean cruise is the most popular itinerary, followed by Alaska, the Eastern Caribbean, European river cruises and Mediterranean cruises. Barcelona, Rome and Venice are among the most popular spots for travelers who want to set sail on the Mediterranean.

While the allure of a Caribbean cruise to millions of American travelers is undeniable, what’s truly impressive is the phenomenal growth over the past two years in Alaska cruises. Cruise ships brought more than 1 million visitors to the state in 2016 and the number is expected to grow in 2017. The Alaska cruise season runs from May to September, and cruise lines are deploying more ships than ever to keep up with the increased demand, allowing a record number of travelers to experience the breathtaking sights of America’s last frontier. For example Holland America Line, which is celebrating its 70th year of sailings to Alaska in 2017, is rerouting a ship from Europe for the summer season, bringing the cruise line’s vessels in the region to seven, with 135 total departures.

Cruise vacations routinely pop up at the top of Americans’ favorite international destinations on Travel Leaders Group’s Travel Trends surveys. Given the number of options, it’s easy to see why.

Travelers can choose from larger ships brimming with activities to smaller vessels that provide much more intimate experiences. Travelers are also opting for river cruise experiences; particularly popular is the chance to sail along Europe’s rivers that dock right in the hearts of historic cities. There are also specialized voyages that offer something for virtually every interest, to ships that offer a unique perspective on magnificent scenery from Alaska’s glaciers to the sun-drenched Mediterranean.

On a cruise, travelers can easily visit several locations as their hotel room comes with them. And with activities for all ages, they’re great for families that want to plan a multigenerational vacation that includes grandparents, parents and children.

Luckily, travelers have someone to help them sort through all of the tantalizing choices and plan the perfect cruise vacation.

To help meet the needs of their clients, cruise travel agent specialists are constantly educating themselves, both through firsthand experiences and with in-depth training from suppliers. While that level of expertise requires a significant investment of time, it enables these cruise experts to become trusted resources, able to create ideal getaways. The goal of these travel experts is to ensure that they’re meeting each client’s needs by matching them with the right cruise line, ship and itinerary that will give them a perfect trip.

For help planning a cruise vacation, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel: Free Wi-Fi Continues to Expand

Nowadays it’s crucial for business travelers to stay connected throughout their trip, whether they’re waiting for a flight or in their hotel room.

More than a decade ago, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas became one of the first airports in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi. While there are some holdouts, customer demand is making unlimited access more the rule than the exception. The same trend is taking place at hotels, although in both places it often comes with a condition. Hotel guests may have to join a loyalty program to get free Wi-Fi and at airports, travelers may have to watch brief ads. In both cases, a higher connection speed is often available for a fee.

The Global Gateway Alliance, an advocacy organization for New York City-area airports, released a study last year on Wi-Fi at the nation’s 20 busiest airports. It found that 15 of the 20 offer unlimited free access, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth. Of the five that don’t, Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York, Newark Liberty in New Jersey and Chicago’s O’Hare offer 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi. Miami-Dade airport only allows free access to travel-related websites, including airlines, hotels and car-rental agencies. Many of the busiest airports outside the United States have also joined the move toward free Wi-Fi, including Hong Kong and London’s Heathrow Airport.

In hotels, high-speed in-room Internet, plus wireless access, is now the industry norm, expanding to 98 percent of properties, according to a 2016 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. But access to free Wi-Fi isn’t a given. Some chains, like Hilton and Starwood, offer it to guests who sign up for free loyalty programs. Although complimentary Wi-Fi can vary even within chains, it is frequently offered at some brands regardless of whether or not guests are loyalty-program members.

Hyatt Hotels began offering free Wi-Fi at all of its properties worldwide in 2015. Kristine Rose, Hyatt’s vice president of brands, said at the time, “Internet connectivity is no longer an amenity. It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expectation. Travelers shouldn’t have to remember which brands or locations offer it for free or the strings attached to get it.”

Public Wi-Fi is open to everyone, and therefore at risk of hacking. Travelers can protect themselves by checking to ensure they’re on a legitimate network, looking at the browser’s URL bar to make sure the site address begins with “https,” indicating higher-level SSL encryption, and keeping their software up to date.

Travelers who find themselves out of range of free Wi-Fi can still connect to the Internet via their smartphone. On the iPhone, for example, users would go to Settings, then Cellular, and Set Up Personal Hotspot. Business travelers who are on the road a lot should look into purchasing a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. These palm-sized devices generally run longer on a charge and offer a more reliable connection than a smartphone.

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

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