September 2015 Travel Column

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 professional.


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, SinglesCruise.com offers a variety of trips for people looking for fun and adventure with new travel companions, including weeklong Halloween and New Year’s Eve voyages to the Caribbean. River cruises, like Avalon and AmaWaterways, are another 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, contact your travel agent.

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