April 12, 2012
Hawaii's Airfare Pricing Games Begin
As the East Coast gets ready for nonstop flights from New York and Washington, D.C. to Hawaii (courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines and United, respectively), other airlines are looking to remain major players in the game, increasing service from the West Coast to the islands. This week, Alaska Airlines announced new nonstop daily service between Oakland and San Jose and Hawaii. The airline operates flights from both cities to Kauai, Maui and Kona on Hawaii Island, with 35 flights a week from the Bay Area and Sacramento to Hawaii.
Allegiant Air, meanwhile, also announced flights from their Las Vegas base and Fresno to Honolulu. Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said that the addition of these flights will help to provide additional direct flight access to the state and is estimated to provide $29.8 million in visitor expenditures and $3.25 million in tax revenue.
Hawaiian Airlines, which won't begin flying to the East Coast until June, responded with a 36-hour flash sale—raising an interesting question: Allegiant's main appeal is in its low costs, but the airline charges for carry-on baggage and is decidedly no-frills, whereas Hawaiian promotes itself as the only domestic airline that still offers complimentary hot meals on flights to and from the mainland across all classes. Since the flight from California to Honolulu is not insignificant (approximately five to six hours), will visitors be willing to save money on their ticket only to make up for it in baggage and food fees onboard? And will the difference in fares be significant enough to convince East Coast travelers to fly from the West Coast rather than paying for a nonstop flight? The pricing games have begun—who will win? Sound off in the comments below.
May 16, 2011
On Site: New York to Izmir on Turkish Airlines
IZMIR, TURKEY—En route to Izmir, Turkey, for the weeklong "Living Izmir" press trip, Travel Agent had a chance to experience Business Class firsthand onboard Turkish Airlines, flying out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on Turkish Airlines’ Flight No. 2, connecting onward to Adnan Menderes International Airport in Izmir.
At JFK’s Terminal 1, business class passengers with Turkish Airlines have access to the airline’s shared CIP lounge with Korean Air. It has plenty of plush seats and armchairs, a telephone room, a fairly expansive work area and a rest area and a spread of small snacks and refreshments to keep jetsetters happy.
While flying on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, Business Class clients will immediately notice the herringbone design layout, which gives each passenger his or her own space to stretch out and unwind for the nine- or so –hours-long flight from New York to Istanbul. During the flight, business class passengers are treated to gourmet snacks, from fresh salmon canapés and a sampling of fruits and cheeses to filling entrees and an array of fine wines and spirits. The flight includes a dinner meal service, as well as a breakfast service just prior to landing in Istanbul. For breakfast service, passengers must fill out a menu request before turning down for the night following dinner.
Onboard bathroom facilities are spacious and included L’Occitane verbena-scented toiletries, and Turkish Airlines also offers a wide-range of movies, music, games and television shows from which to choose through its on-demand entertainment system.
When your clients arrive in Istanbul, be sure to advise them to obtain a visa first, which costs approximately $20, and then to pass through Passport Control. Business-class passengers with Turkish Airlines have the advantage of going through a fast-track line (look for window 30) to get through more quickly. This turned out to be a blessing for me, since my flight from JFK was delayed and I needed to make sure I got onto my flight to Izmir.
Lucky for me, I made it on time and to the domestic terminal. The flight to Izmir from Istanbul, which took place onboard a Boeing 737, was very short (a little more than an hour) and Business-Class passengers are also served a light lunch during the flight. Arriving in Izmir, clients will find a modern airport facility, perfectly suited for sending them on their way to explore the region.
Be sure to visit TravelAgentCentral.com often for more updates from Turkey throughout the week.
By: Deanna Ting
December 28, 2010
On the Scene: Traveling During the Blizzard
While spending the holidays in Phoenix with my family, I noticed an amusing Huffington Post article about things that have become obsolete over the last ten years. Included on the list were travel agents, which raised my hackles a bit. I made a memo-to-self to write a rebuttal upon getting home.
Then I tried to get home, and learned firsthand why travel agents aren’t obsolete at all.
The saga began on Christmas day, when we started hearing reports of the imminent blizzard in New York. On Sunday, I called Southwest Airlines to ask their advice for getting back to the city as close to Monday evening as possible. I learned that I could change my flights (Phoenix to Chicago, Chicago to New York), but the next available one was on Thursday. Unwilling to wait that long, I watched the blizzard on TV with plenty of apprehension, but was relieved when I heard that the airports around the city would be reopening at 4 p.m. on Monday. Even better, Southwest still hadn’t cancelled or delayed either of my flights to Chicago or New York, so all signs seemed positive for getting home at a reasonable hour.
Monday morning, I arrived at Phoenix Skyharbor Airport, still checking for any delays. Nothing. I checked in and went to my gate (learning, on the way, that my parents’ flight to Newark had been cancelled and that they would be in Phoenix until Thursday), only to suddenly get a voicemail that my Chicago-to-New York flight had been cancelled. I ran out of the boarding line to ask a gate agent’s advice. No other flights to the New York City area were available, but the gate agent suggested flying to Boston and taking a train to New York. Since the blizzard seemed to be heading north, that sounded like bad advice, so I ran onto the Chicago-bound plane and decided to deal with the problem at Midway.
Now, here’s where a travel agent would have stepped in and saved the day. While I was in the air, she or he could have been calling Southwest or other airlines to get me to the east coast and finding alternate transportation to get me to New York. I could well have had an alternate game plan in place by the time I arrived in Midway.
Sadly, since I booked the flight myself, I had nothing lined up when I got off the plane in Chicago. My best bet was with the gate agents, who offered to put me on standby for a flight to Philadelphia that night and guaranteed me a seat on a plane to Washington, D.C. at 6 a.m. the next morning. (Sad side story: Southwest lost their standby list for the Philly flight, and decided to go by the “honor system” to find out who was first in line. You can just imagine how well that worked.) I was stuck.
Again, an agent would been a lifesaver at this point. (Well, maybe that’s too dramatic. Sanity-saver, though, definitely.) No hotels in the area were offering decent prices, and I couldn’t try my luck with any other airline (an agent would have contacts at both, and would have been calling all of said contacts to make the situation as good as it could be), so I had no choice but to sleep in the airport in an unused concourse filled with cots. I and the other pseudo-refugees made the best of it, but a cot isn’t a bed and an empty concourse isn’t a hotel room with a private shower. While I sat on my cot, I booked one of the last available train tickets from Washington to New York at a painfully steep price, and learned that I would have to wait at Union Station for the better part of seven hours for my train home. Frustrated to the point of tears, I managed to fall asleep in the eerily quiet terminal.
The next morning, I was up at 4 a.m. and on my 6 a.m. flight to D.C., where I learned that my checked luggage hadn’t followed me. (Not really surprising, but one more thing to deal with in this mess.) I took a shuttle from the airport to Union Station and am now sitting in the Acela lounge waiting for my train. (The lounge is rather nice--not as many features as airport first-class lounges have, but the chairs are comfortable and there are free sodas, so I'm already doing better than I was at Midway.) I’m also kicking myself for booking my flights to and from Phoenix on my own, and for not getting an agent to help me out. For what it’s costing me to take this train from D.C. to New York, I could have had peace of mind or gotten significantly closer to home in less time. Now I’ll be getting home a good 24 hours later than scheduled—and from other horror stories I’ve been hearing, I’m one of the lucky ones. Some people have been stranded at airports for days.
Of course, it’s not the airlines’ fault that this blizzard hit on one of the heaviest travel days of the year. On the other hand, by cancelling the flights rather than delaying them, and by trying to rebook stranded passengers onto existing flights (many of which were already full), they’re making it all the harder for people to get home. I hear that American Airlines is adding unpublished flights to its schedule—call your contacts there to see if they’ll help get your clients where they need to be. But since Southwest made it very clear that they would only help me get home after they helped everyone who was already booked for their existing flights, I’m rather disinclined to ever fly with them again.
And I’m also rather disinclined to ever go on a vacation—even just to Phoenix to visit family—without an agent to contact for help again. (To add insult to injury, I'm listening to other passengers in the Acela lounge talk proudly about how their agents have helped them through the last few days.)
October 29, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: October 25-29
I just came back from the IHG Americas Investors & Leadership Conference in Las Vegas and, while there, was enthused to hear hotel industry leaders discuss online travel agencies (OTAs) as a thorn in their side. In the upcoming print issue of Travel Agent, I cite this "thorn" as an opportunity for agents to build their relationship with hotel companies, particularly as hotels are looking for the best ways to build their brand and business as the recession, albeit gradually, begins to fade. Checking out the variety of comments left upon my return only reiterated, to me, the benefit that agents bring to the table in this technological age. So let's take a look.
TripAdvisor may not be an OTA, but it is a part of the new age of the Internet that is irking suppliers across the industry as well. For the most part, suppliers are not fond of the idea that anonymous or non-certifable/non-accredited individuals can potentially mar the reputation of a company or product becuase of their subjective or, perhaps, deviously motivated commentary. On that note, it's a little surprising to read that one agent is taking TripAdvisor seriously enough to affect how she does business. Lorraine Kawoczka did so after reading Joe Pike's personal take on the Verandah Resort & Spa in Antigua, stating:
can not sell the Verandah to a family because of negative comments on Trip Advisor
So, basically, it appears as if a travel agent is letting TripAdvisor control the conversation about the property. Doesn't that go against what being a travel agent is all about? Lorraine, if you are reading this, I'd like to know if you did any research besides TripAdvisor or if you let your potential pitches abotu the property end there? It'd be a shame to let anonymous comments trump your expertise in pitching the property to your clients.
Pike responded to Lorraine's comment, writing:
Are you seriously going by Trip Advisor's advice without visiting the property yourself? That's like Roger Ebert not reviewing a movie because another movie critic panned it. By the way, Trip Advisor is not the most reliable of sites since you never truly know who is really 'reviewing' the property or if they have a hidden agenda.
As you hopefully know, Pike is our Caribbean expert, so I would hope agents take his work seriously. I hope Lorraine's instance is not a common practice among agents.
An Agent's Take Receives Our Respect
On the subject of anonymous comments about selling travel, I'd like to follow up by noting a recent blog post we shared after receiving an e-mail from an agent. After reading up on Travel Agent's exclusive roundtable with cruise industry executives, reader and travel agent Karen Dawson of Southlake Travel contacted us to share scenarios she believes are missed opportunities in training. A reader, named Charlene, commented on Dawson's post, writing:
Interesting. Does this mean I can get my stuff published on Travel Agents Central if I email you?
Charlene poses an interesting question. My initial response is, "Yes, if what you share can be considered of use to agents, particularly if it is based on your experiences which features an analysis that can drive the conversation further."
For instance, we won't just publish anything because it is sent to us. It's not like I'd share a 500-word rant by an agent about a property he or she toured. However, I would share the agent's take if he/she discussed what agents need to better sell said property or what he/she believes the property can do to make it easier for agents to pitch said property to their clients. Make sense?
Agents Follow Up on TSA
In early August, George Dooley penned a piece about a Travel Leaders survey regarding airport security and one reader made a noteworthy comment that I cited in a previous Weekly Wrap. For those too lazy to quick through and read the comment for themselves, here it is again, Mike wrote:
Next month full body scanners are going to be installed at the three New York airports. TSA better put up signs informing the people of the possible health hazard. Most people don't know about the radiation these machines zap you with. Pregnant women are at the greatest risk. The American people have the right to know, and it should be their decision if they want to go through those scanners, they need to be informed though. If signs aren't posted, my crew will be at all 3 airports handing out flyers and interviewing people, letting them know how their government is deceiving them again.
I wonder how it went, and so does reader Kathryn, who posted:
@mike, Did you hand out fliers? How did it go? I want to do this in my area...
Mike, if you're reading this, please share how it went. Kathryn, I'd love to hear how it goes with you in your area. I've traveled to several parts of the country within the last six months (from a trip to Las Vegas in April in addition to my latest stint there, as well as some time in Phoenix), as well as two trips to Mexico. During that time, I haven't run in to any devious situations with airport security. But then again I don't check luggage and, being a blond-haired, blue-eyed WASP who gets a shave and a haircut before every business trip I take, probably don't raise many eyebrows when passing through security. Still, since 9/11, airport security has, and forever will be, changed. If new security measures make the travel process more frustrating or uncomfortable, that's not good for anyone. Hence, it's great to read that people like Kathryn and Mike are keeping a sharp eye on the process. I encourage other agents to do the same, particularly through conversations with their clients.
The TSA was also cited in a recent comment by a reader, this time on our recent cover story about Roger Dow and the U.S. Travel Association. Rick Long provides some inciteful thoughts when posting:
The inbound travel business, like most service business, must rely on repeat and referral business to truly succeed. The acquisition is much lower than marketing to first time visitors. Without significantly improving the arrival experience for inbound visitors, it's of little consequence how much money we spend to promote tourism. Initial dollars should be spent improving a broken system in order for later promotional dollars to be spent more efficiently. It's not rocket science. It's a genuine and sincere welcome to the USA and an efficient arrival experience. Custome and immigrations and TSA must view our inbound visitors and guests and not passengers and treat them accordingly.
I concur, Rick. Well put.
NCL Gets Praise & Criticism
Norwegian Cruise Line has been in the news a fair amount lately, primarily due to the recent CruiseOne and Cruises Inc conference aboard the NCL Epic, in addition to reports of the cruise line releasing new ships in 2013 and 2014. On the topic of NCL's new ships, reader Martin, citing the NCL Epic shared:
The lack of an atrium of any sort made it feel like a suburban shopping mall. The upcharge to even use a suana was a bit much and the pool areas entertainment spots were almost impossible to see from most angles. Entire front of ship cut - off for the "ordinary" pasenger. Only accesible to the upgraded ones. Awful design.
I'll just say that I'm glad Martin is using his own experience, and not comments on TripAdvisor like Lorraine, to deliver his criticism.
Meanwhile, another agent clearly has a different take on the NCL Epic. Commenting on the wrap up of the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc conference, oscarcruises wrote:
Andy Stuart, NCL, and the EPIC ROCK!!!!
That's nice to read, oscarcruises, but could you explain why you feel that way? Just asking.
Join an MLM, Gain a Lover?
It's been awhile since the Weekly Wrap shared somments regarding multilevel marketing firms in the travel industry and, for the most part, I am glad. Most of the time in which MLMs are cited, there's vitriole and more emotional-based comments instead of logical conversation. But this week, there's an adorable combination of both as Nick N notes on Travel Agent piece that asks if you should join an MLM or not:
I enjoyed reading all the comments on the site. To me, MLM is very good.The times and effords you had spent will be fully repaid….ONLY IF you are single. LOL. Let me explain….. About 4 years ago, a girl that I really liked, asked me to join. And I did join…because of her. We went meeting together, had lunch together and finally she became my girlfriend. I told that to my single buddies and they listen to me. One of my buddy got married with a girl he meet at a MLM meeting…. So, if you are single, have problem finding girlfriend, please join MLM. Wear nice clothes, talk professionally, show your interested in there stories, never said a bad thing about MLM at the meeting, you will find your soulmate in no time. Just my two cents, MLM’s members, please dont hate me.
Sounds like MLMs may have a new pitching incentive for people to join. My only question is, what happens if/when your relationship ends? Does your membership in the MLM go with it?
As always, don't let the conversation end here. Keep sharing your comments by posting one below or at any of the original articles. Don't forget to write us at our Facebook page or send a tweet to our Twitter page. You can also join in on or start travel industry discussions in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of travel agents.
Until next week.....
May 28, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 24-28
Ready for the Memorial Day travel blitz? Are you or your clients visiting any of the more popular destinations for the holiday? Either way, thanks for stopping by the Weekly Wrap to check in on what's been buzzing at TravelAgentCentral.com before taking off for the long weekend. This week, there were various comments about cruise trends and "inclusivity," airline mergers and passenger clubs, New Orleans, traveling with pets, and more— quite the way to kick off the summer. Let's get scrolling.
The Travel Agent: Valued by More than Stupid People
As you have hopefully read by now, Ruthanne Terrero updated her list of top reasons to use a travel agent with 10 MORE top reasons to go through a professional. There were some who agreed with Ruthanne, as well as those who didn't, and I went through them last week. Since then, we've got some more feedback I think agents and readers would appreciate.
firstname.lastname@example.org, for starters, not only concurs with Ruthanne but shares a similar experience, commenting:
While you think in this information age it couldn't happen - well think again. Web boards tell them all the time they don't need a travel agent and if they keep reading and researching they can do it and after all that you get the question - what is a gty cabin?
Meanwhile, Ilze appears to be on the fence, writing:
It's fun to read how stupid people can be but it is a reality. Unfortunately, travel agent can not help a stupid person. Travel agent is needed in case you are not familiar with internet and some basic principles how travel offers are made.
Personally, I think anyone who is a stupid person is usually beyond help. However, I would assume that said stupid person would prefer that all processes involved in taking a vacation remain as easy as possible, and you just can't get that guarantee online. As for those who think agents are only valuable to those who don't use the Internet, all I can say is that if your journey goes wrong and you need assistance that it's much more reassuring (and probably easier) to go through a fellow human for customer service instead of a machine and it's connection to a nearly-limitless world. And this is coming from a web guy.
Cruise Trends & Fees
Susan J. Young has been uber-busy this month. Analyzing everything from the potential wave of fuel surcharges that may be hitting the cruise industry to the potential slowdown of Europe's cruise business. Seeing that cruise vacations are some agents' bread-and-butter, it didn't take long for some to respond on both matters.
Speaking on the topic of fuel supplements, a reader who goes by the name TheAnalyst is not too worried about the future, posting:
There is no chance that Carnival Corp will implement fuel surcharges are lines such as Carnival, Princess, HAL. RCCL and NCL won't either. Wake up. Last time they did this on a massive scale, the cruiselines all got sued by the government.
I think we are pretty awake to ask the question. As airlines add ancillary fees and other suppliers do all they can to leverage more business during the current economic slowdown, who's to say cruise lines won't take a risk and bring back extra charges? Could you blame them?
TheAnalyst also shared his/her two cents on a potential halt in cruise vacations in Europe due to the Iceland volcano incident, as well as British Airways strikes and the turmoil in Greece, among other situations, stating:
Eur/Med cruises are being marketed heavily to the drive markets. In order to understand if these cruises are doing well, you need to talk to Eur. agencies who are being hand fed the cabins by the cruiselines.
Fair enough, TheAnalyst. Have you talked to any Europe agencies and obtained info to share? If so please let us know.
Two other readers commented on the issue, one with positive news and the other with some negative news. Margaret Stein appears to be seeing trouble on the horizon, for instance, commenting:
I have already experienced cruise cancellations due to the volcano issues. I have also lost hotel bookings due to the BA strikes. Overheard conversations at social events confirm travellers' disgust with the inconveniencies of travelling to Europe.
Meanwhile, Jean Szabad is more optimistic, saying:
I have quite a few European Cruises and River Cruises book for travel now through August. The only ones who were concerned about the ash are the two that are on a a Princess Cruise out of London now. They made it ok and I am sure are enjoying themselves now. The other people I have who are traveling don't seem to be afraid to travel and aren't concerned about the Euro. This is probably a good time to buy a European cruise to get a bargain!
So we've heard from both sides. Anyone out there with a story to share to tip the balance in favor of Europe cruises or not?
Airline Mergers & Passenger Clubs
The biggest airline news in the recent weeks has, undoubtedly, been the proposed merger between Continental and United, which would dwarf last year's merger of Delta and Northwest. Our man George Dooley analyzed the situation, asking how it may affect travel professionals.
In case you can't pick up on the sarcasm, one reader, Maria K Todd, MHA PhD, does not appear to think good things will result, saying:
You mean they would have to compete on quality and customer service? Wow! Perish the thought!
Perish the thought indeed, especially when you consider that, on the heels of this news, both US Airways is interested in a merger as is Virgin Atlantic. Even government representatives are not enthused by the idea of a merger. But some, like MLT Vacations, think it's good news. How about you?
Some airline news I think all can agree is good is the recent announcement that American AirlinesAdmirals Club at Heathrow is going to upgrade its . In fact, the news is so good that our friend Jacqueline Johnson shared her thoughts, writing:
Great to hear this. It certainly needed an overhaul and update as it was an awful place to visit.
Another Request for Pet Airways
Although the initial story is now more than a year old, we're still getting a lot of attention to the news about Pet Airways, an airline soley for your favorite traveling companion. Some readers seem to think we have an influence on the company. Unfortunately, beyond their executives reading our reports, we don't have that much power. However, we can certainly hope they read our republishing of comments on their airline, like Diane, who wrote:
Hope you get to northern California soon! Oakland, SF, or San Jose especially!
Did you get that Pet Airways? Business potential is there.
Nice News for New Orleans
To see New Orleans has had it rough during the past few years would be an understatement. But things are looking up, right? After all the Saints won the Super Bowl and more and more travelers are feeling confident in a journey to the region. With that in mind, it's nice to see that, despite the current oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, that the Big Easy is, as of now, unaffected. Still, some are, understandably, wary.
Geri Simpson shared her concern, writing:
All in the article is true, but what I'm concerend about is the future affect of our seafood, much of which does come directly from our waters. It is synonomous with New Orleans cuisine.
Marie shares the worry, stating:
Hurricane season is weeks away. If a Hurricane hits Gulf Coast, hopefully crossing fingers. Has the government any plans on the cleanup if it goes AIRBORNE? Just asking.
I agree with you both. Hence, the "for now." Let's keep our fingers crossed for the city and hope agents are more than confident to sell the destinaion to their clients.
Remember, the conversation never ends here. We want to hear from you. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) Join real-time discussions on anything from the best GDS to use to which European tour sellers to trust at AgentNation.
Have a great weekend!
May 14, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 10-14
Before we get started this week, I'd like to suggest agents (particularly those with clients who are eager to visit Great Britain) take time this weekend, or sometime soon, to go see the new Robin Hood film by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and William Hurt. I had the privilege of seeing an advance screening this past Wednesday and, in my layman's opinion, not only is the film a subtle and original take on the legendary figure (that is neither hoaky nor driven by a Robin Hood that speaks with an American accent- sorry, Costner), it has some beautiful scenery that could further entice clients to make the journey across the pond. The backdrop of the film can remind clients about the bucolic regions of the country where they can go to truly escape and, perhaps, get in touch with the original sources of thei heritage. Visit www.visitbritain.com/en/campaigns/robinhood for more and you'll see what I mean.
That being said, let's take a look at what readers have been saying at TravelAgentCentral this week. I'm glad to report that most of the comments this week have been focused on helping agents through advice or warning.
More on Vacation Rentals
We've been discussing the potential impact that vacation rentals can have on an agent's business for almost a month now, and the conversation is not going away just yet. In fact, two readers shared some information on the topic just this week.
First up this week was michael chisholm, of Wimco Villas. He wrote:
As a sales agent working for a villa reservation company, we help Travel Agents all the time as we apprciate the need to further the villa vacation market. The company I work for, www.wimco.com represents villas in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe and Nantucket and ALL our destinations have on island support for vactioners. In the ever expanding vacation rental marketplace, specialising in specfic destinations is important as this provides better accuracy overall.
Perhaps you are weary of potentially subjective information coming from a supplier, which is understandable. Therefore, I suggest you listen to Amanda, who posted:
Staying in hotels on vacation is a thing of the past! So many more people love the option of getting a vacation rental and having more privacy and more space. Not to mention how affordable they can be. I believe that vacation rentals are a great market for travel agents. I myself book vacation rentals and get nothing but great reviews.
Lisa is another non-supplier who is a strong supporter of this niche market, stating:
When in Hawaii, staying in a vacation rental whether it is in a villa or a home, it is the only way to go. I had the opportunity to work with the friendly staff at Tropical Villa Vacations, who showed a genuine concern for all of my travel needs. The location that we chose was perfect!
The fact that so many comments have been coming in on this topic over the course of a month (which is like years in Internet timing) is more than encouraging, to say the least. I hope agents take the opportunity to keep sharing more on the topic both here and at a discussion thread on AgentNation.
Speaking of AgentNation
Last week, we reported on Expedia's new Travel Agent Affiliate program and, although there have been no comments posted (yet) directly on the story, we've received feedback at our discussion thread on the matter at AgentNation. If you haven't signed up and/or logged in yet, here's what some agents had to share on the matter.
Angie was the first to respond, writing:
I am excited about this because now clients can't say "we booked it on Expedia". They will know we can get them the best price available no questions asked. I do have one question. I am trying to sign up online for the free sign up before June promo. It wants my bank info. Is that so they can bill us the 50dollars?
Meanwhile, user macaw_mom does not appear as enthused as Angie, posting:
I am not that excited. I see the online agencies like this worried they are losing to the True Travel Agent. Commission levels for TAAP are: 10% for Expedia Special Rate hotels $6 per booking for Agency Hotels 5% on vacation packages (flight+hotel, flight+car rental, flight+hotel+car rental). Note Minimum 3 night/3day Land Content 3% on vacation packages (flight+hotel, flight+car rental, flight+hotel+car rental). Note Less than 3 night/3day Land Content 10% for activities I just booked a 7 day vacation - Hotel/Air - my commission is $347.00 If I did it through Expedia - at 5% - my commission would have been $160.00 I work hard for my money - to build my business not theirs If people want to book from Orbitz or Expedia, I say okay... In 2010 I have seen an increase in customers, who say they are tired of spending so much time on the internet finding the best price. I will remain "true" to my agency & my customers, without affiliating with these online booking companies.
What's your take? Is the Expedia program an opportunity for agents as online travel agencies (OTAs) seek new relationships or is it, perhaps, a waste of time too late in the game? Agents chimed in on the subject at our Facebook page as well. Here is what some of them had to say.
Dedra Shahan wrote:
While it's wonderful to be recognized as valuable, I can't help but think these giant companies will market direct to our clients thus becoming Their clients. My prefered tour operators will price match. I work with companies that have always valued my expertise.
Laure Poffenberger shared:
They are chasing their tails now & realize what a great asset using a travel agent is. So much of travel just cannot be planned over the Internet & when there is a problem our clients want help from someone the know & trust. I in turn want to use a tour operator that I know & trust. I think OTA's are in trouble & are grasping at straws.
What are your thoughts? Hit us up by posting a comment below or at the original posting. You can also join the conversation at our Facebook page, send a tweet to us at our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) and join the discussion in real time at AgentNation.
Readers Request Answers
Sometimes, we write a report about a new business or supplier and some readers, apparently, believe that means we are that same business. That's flattering, in some regard, as they consider us the ultimate source of information on the matter. But as an organization that does its best to cover all aspects of the travel trade, it can be hard to answer specific questions.
For instance, we've received a lot of attention to our initial report on the introduction of Pet Airways to the industry. Most recently, one reader inquired about potential flights to Europe on the carrier.
Gisela Gonzalez Flores-Clarke wrote:
Your service looks fantastic!! When are you opening flights to Europe? I need to travel to England twice a year and need to bring my 5 kilo Yorkie. Sending him in the hold is definately not a option for me!!! I do hope you start service to Europe asap!!!!!!!!
I wish I had an answer for you, Gisela. With the company now just more than a year old, I kind of doubt they will be doing flights outside of the United States just yet. However, perhaps if you take a gander at the Help section Pet Airways web site you can find the answers you need, be it a timetable on potential flights or a straight up answer if it is going to happen, ever.
James Collier recently commented on a story in a similar manner. After learning about Tourism Ireland's new Golden Trekker for seniors riding Irish Rail, he commented:
This development is very welcome, my sister was born in UK of Irish parentd and they returned to Ireland when she was 2, she went to nurse in UKwhen she was 18 and has lived there since. She comes to stay with us each year and this will be very useful. I write for the Senior Times and I would appreciate an e-mail of this information and any other useful information for seniors travelling, including reserving seats, etc.
116 Sea Park, Malahide
James, I'd be delighted to help you by sharing any information I can find. However, you did not provide an e-mail for me to contact you. Can you post it in a comment or contact me at email@example.com and I'll see what I can do? Until then, if any agents and readers out there can share additional information on this program, that would be a great help. It runs through the end of the year. Here's the Tourism Ireland web site, which may provide answers: www.tourismireland.com.
America('s Vacation Center) is Under Attack!
Two months ago, there was a lot of attention on the temporary demise of Travelport and it transitioned to discussions on how an agent's leads may be affected. But as much as the conversation was based around Travelport, one reader brough America's Vacation Center (AVC) into the fray.
Mary brought it up, writing:
Beware of AVC They will take 70% of your commission and all referrals generated from that one lead will be their's, again taking 70% commision. I was promised the referrals as my own, which I thought would be worth giving up that initial commission,but boy was I wrong. I was hounded on every extra person that booked their trip and asked if they came from their live lead. They took that customer as their own because they were referred.. Also, all of my customer base that I put into their system at the time so I could market to them, are still being marketed to by AVC after I quit them as my host agency. That is so wrong. Just my 2cents worth.
Note that this is Mary's opinion and not that of the staff her at Travel Agent. Regardless, that's disappointing to read. Anyone out there able to support or rebuff Mary's take on AVC? I'd like to learn more (and I doubt I'm alone).
Advice for an Editor
Normally, an exchange between readers and writers/editors on the site involves our staff responding with some information to help our audience. But this week, we was a bit of the reverse happen as our own Jena Tesse Fox journeyed to Durban, South Africa for the 2010 Indaba trade show (the largest in Africa). Read her most recent report here.
But before Jen hit the trade show floor to share reports, she took a seemingly endless journey across the Atlantic Ocean, most of it pleasant thanks to South African Airlines. On the topic of drinking too much or not enough coffee before a flight, reader Alfredo Tor-Paz made a suggestion to Jena, stating:
In spite of the strong coffee, never drink so much caffeine after 6pm, it is a very good airline, SAA, my comment, would be over the transfer to domestic, there is no place to complain much....have you tried to fly via the USA??? Horror, thanks for reminding that, I still prefer transferring thru JNB...my grain of sand or salt.
I am currently in the midst of what has been numerous attempts to cut back on coffeed, and it is indeed hard. Still, Afredo's comments are spot on regarding drinking it at night. Hopefully Jena takes his advice before flying back next week.
Speaking of next week... we'll catch up again on what's causing buzz around the industry and at TravelAgentCentral. Keep the comments coming (below or elsewhere) and don't forget to extend to conversation to other outlets such as our Facebook page, our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) and in real time at AgentNation
May 12, 2010
South Africa, Day Four: South African Airways & More Indaba
Today began with a breakfast hosted by South African Airways (and with speeches by representatives of same), followed by a media panel with several members of the SAA team.
Siza Mzimela, CEO of SAA, was excited about the airline’s growth, and mentioned two new routes that the airline will be flying (she wouldn’t say where, however, until the deal s were inked), the new planes they would be getting, and the new partnership with JetBlue. (This partnership means travelers can check their luggage in Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Seattle and pick it up when they arrive in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. Pretty cool.) Staff and crew are being increased (especially in preparation for the World Cup—had you forgotten about that yet?), security is being improved across the board (especially in the baggage departments, we heard), and plans are in place to expand into South America.
When the airlines meetings were finished, we headed back to the trade show floors for one last spin. A few highlights:
* Namibia recently received an impressive grant to boost their infrastructure, and several million of that has been earmarked for tourism. A comprehensive Namibia Tourism web site (www.mcanamibia.org.na) is in the works, and should be complete in a year. A new Hilton is scheduled to open around September in the capital city of Windhoek, and a new Kempinski will start construction later this year. Beyond that, Shareen Thude of the Namibia Tourism Board (www.namibiatourism.com.na) said, existing hotels are upgrading and renovating their rooms in hopes of becoming the hot new destination.
* The word “safari” apparently means “journey” in Swahili (my hotel has awful internet access, otherwise I’d look it up and confirm, so I’ll just take Kenya Tourism Board rep Anne Kanini’s word for it). In Kenya, there are lots of different kinds of safaris, and—from the pictures Kanini showed me—some pretty impressive sights to see while on them. The country sits on the equator, and certain species—like giraffes--are divided by the line. Visitors can see the “Big Five” within a four hundred-meter drive, she added, especially at the Maasi Mara. She also mentioned the “Obama Effect,” with tourists coming to the village where President Obama’s Kenyan family still lives. Serena Hotels are popular throughout the country, and there is a Fairmont in Nairobi. (www.magicalkenya.com)
* Cullinan Diamonds offer tours of their diamond mines as well as completely unique and exclusive jewelry designs. (And when they say exclusive, they mean copyrighted. You’ll never have to worry about someone else showing up to the party wearing the same necklace!)
* Here’s a unique option for animal-lovers who want a different kind of safari: Dr. Peter Brothers runs African Vet Safaris, which brings visitors out into the wild to help tag and care for endangered species. There are different kinds of trips available for different people, from casual interest to veterinary students looking for hands-on experience. The guests’ funding of the trips, Brothers said, helps the company’s conservation efforts, and the excursions offer a new perception on the issues facing the environment and the animal kingdom.
Tomorrow, we head off to George, Knysna, and the Views Hotel.
May 07, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 3-7
What a couple of weeks it's been when it comes to news that relates to and/or directly affects travel. From the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its potential impact on Florida, to the Arizona law regarding illegal immigration. I can't think of the last time there were so many stories for agents to comment on, especially with an absence of YTB or other constant hot topics. So let's dive right on into them.
Arizona's Law & Affect on Tourism
Last week, I shared a few of the initial comments from agents and others regarding the controversial law's impact, or lack there of, on travel to the Grand Canyon State. So, in the interest of avoiding someone feeling left out, here's a look at some of the more recent statements posted here at Travel Agent.
Commenting on our open forum on the matter, Rick Long appears to believe it is not a travel issue at all, saying:
This is no more a trend than when people cancel for any of a myriad of seemingly trivial reasons. This is an illegal immigrant matter with people on both sides of the issue. Let's not make it a travel and tourism issue unless we see some real evidence to substantiate it.
I am going to respectfully disagree with you, Rick. Although it may not be major and/or braod evidence, we've recevied a few reports from agents saying that either their clients are pulling out of travel to the region or that they would prefer not sending their customers there. Also, when the U.S Travel Association weighs in on the scenario, I think it certainly becomes a travel and tourism issue, but perhaps I'm wrong? I'd like to hear from anyone who disagrees with me. (UPDATE: The U.S Chamber of Commerce weighed in on the issue today as well.)
Meanwhile, when reading the news about the U.S Travel Association's stance on the issue, several other readers shared their two cents.
As a daugher of immigrants, it's not fair for illegals to sneak over the boarder while others wait 15 - 20 years to come in legally.
The majority of the people in Arizona support Bill 1070! And it is about time we start following the laws. I believe that tourism will be supported by others who believe in the law. What part of illegal does this country not understand.
Bradley R. Olinger added:
While I do appreciate the position of the travel industry in this, I also understand that this is a problem that needs a better approach rather than just jailing illegals. I feel the best option is to offer the illegal immigrants that are of otherwise good character a road into citizenship through better regulation. This xenophobic approach to immigration does not work in a nation built on immigrants. After all, most Americans had an immigrant in their own ancestry, so why let what should be a minor political problem cripple both an industry and a society.
Obviously, this issue is not going away anytime soon, and we invite more comments on the matter as it continues to develop.
Fuel Supplements Making A Comeback?
It's been nearly two years since agents needed to address or be concerned with the issue of cruise lines charging surcharges to counteract rising oil prices. But, after an announcement by Cunard that the line is preparing to add a fuel surcharge, it appears agents may need to be concerned again. And some are already expressing their disappointment.
Libbie was the first to comment, writing:
It's like airlines charging for luggage. I would feel much better about these companies I'm representing if they would simply raise their prices to cover all costs and eliminate the games. My message to these large companies is this: Be honest, so we can be honest, and everyone will have much more respect for you!
Harry Jones agrees, posting:
I concur w/Libbi. Make the fare all inclusive. Add ons etc just get folks more upset w/everynoe, lines, oil ocmpanies, travel agents etc etc.
What's your take, agents? Would you prefer an "all-inclusive" price if rates will be raised? What other alternatives would you prefer if this issue is here to stay?
Pay for What You Get
Speaking of cruises, we wrote a brief last year about a new cruise line's cheap jaunts to the Bahamas, and one reader does not appear too happy about the sacrifices you must accept if you are going to pay a low price. Lucy Mae was not too pleased, posting:
just sailed on this ship and all I can say is BE SCARED BE VERY SCARED. They will put you in a broom closet as your room even if you paid for an upgrade. They charge for almost everything. 2.00 for an ice cream cone, 21.00 for soda, 15.00 for a drink. The crew was great, the cruise line was not. I reported to the Florida Attorney General, Coast Guard and the Better Business Bureau. They didnt even go over the life jacket drill with the passengers that got on late. I was one of them. They changed the sailing date of my ship without telling me, they changed my room classification without giving me a refund for the upgrade I paid for. Dont do it, spend the extra money and go on a better cruise line.
I think her last sentence says it best. If you want guaranteed quality and experience, go somewhere that isn't marketing itself as a low price option. Hopefully Lucy's report to the Florida Attorney General, Coast Guard and BBB will illuminate the situation more for agents and their clients.
Take Advantage of Crisis in Bangkok
Political unrest has been infecting Thailand since late 2008. According to all of the reports we've read or written, travelers and tourists have remain unharmed from the political protests, most of which have been peaceful demonstrations. Commenting on a recent report that Bangkok is still safe amidst the protests, one reader encourages other to leverage this opportunity to save money.
John Nathaniel commented:
I think it is safe despite all these disruptions and tourists’ accommodation has become easier with some terrific Bangkok hotel discount that is now available.
Any agents out there seizing the opportunity to pass value on to their clients? If so, let us know and we'll share your experience with our readers.
Let's Hear It for the Flight Attendants!
As much as some airlines are either cutting back on services or increasing fees, you can always count on an airline's flight attendants to do what they can to make your flight more enjoyable. That's why we were happy to share United Airlines' recognition of these sky employees, and one of our readers is just as happy to read the news.
Speaking on the matter, Pat wrote:
Flight attendants have given their lives for the safety of passengers. If airline companies (particularly United) really want to show their appreciation, why not give them a new contract that is up to date and financially acceptable rather than continually asking for concessisons?
Pat, I assume you are a flight attendant, friends with one or related to one. Or, perhaps you've had a pleasant experience on every single flight while admiring their hard work. And I fully agree with you. Hopefully, reflecting on 80 years of their service will encourage United and other carriers to make these hard-working employees happier with their position.
Contest? What Contest?
Last month, I was in the Riviera Maya in Mexico for an event in which Iberostar Hotels & Resorts announced that Antonio "Desperado/Puss in Boots" Banderas is the new global face of the brand. I attended the event as a member of the press trip to the region and had the opportunity to explore the many properties at Iberostar Playa Paraiso (and I highly recommend it to agents and their consumers, be they families, couples etc). But when we filed our very first report on the event, it appears that an agent feels she was left out of a contest that, to the best of my knowledge, never existed.
Gerrie Power Sears stated:
I can not imagine why the United States was left out of the contest to win a vacation at the Iberostar resorts in Mexico or Punta Cana ect. I would have liked to send this offer to my many clients that I have sent to these properties.
Thank you for your reply,
Gerrie Sears: Leisure Manager
Gerrie, I'm sorry if there was anything written that implied there was a contest to win (I'm pretty sure there was no such mention). Had there been a contest, we would have definitely reported it. In addition, if it was solely for Mexican entities, I would have been up in arms as well. Sorry for any confusion that was caused. I still highly suggest agents look into the property. It was an outstanding, albeit exhausting, experience.
As always, the conversation doesn't end with the week, so please keep the comments coming. Post your opinion below or at any of the stories linked to above (and check out our content throughout the deep recesses of the site to learn more). You can always share your opinions with us at our Facebook page, at our Twitter page, and at AgentNation. We want to hear from you, and we want to share your feedback with our readers.
Until next week...
April 02, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: March 29-April 2
As the sun remains unobstructed and the temperatures inch toward 70 degrees in New York, it is indeed a Good Friday. Though it would be an Even Better Friday if we had a federal holiday like they do in Canada (anyone heading to Whistler Blackcomb for some new snow?), Great Britain and other countries. I envy all of you that have today off from work. But I'll stop complaining because I'm heading to the Riviera Maya in Mexico next week (take that Pike) for an exciting event that I can't tell you much about just yet. But I will say it involves a movie star and an excellent hotel brand. I'll fill you in when I get back after putting the Weekly Wrap on hiatus for a week. But for now, let's get scrolling.
Yes, More YTB
So our good man George Dooley wrote a brief about more financial troubles for YTB just yesterday and, to no surprise, the comments have been pouring in ever since. What's also not surprising is that the comments, once again, involve evoking what (one person believes) God wants (and right before Easter!) as well as feedback from John Frenaye, JJ and (guess who's back, back again) Peter Stilphen. The last time I added my commentary on the exchange between certain individuals about YTB here at the Weekly Wrap, it came back to me and I responded. Instead of wasting your time making this all about me and others, I'll just simply republish what has been stated thus far on the latest YTB item and you can judge or comment for yourself:
Rosie started it off, writing
This is a shock? The only shock to me is that this MLM rip-off is still around at all. They should be dead an buried by now. MLM is a rip-off, plain and simple. And people who know nothing about travel passing themselves off to others as "travel agents" is a sad reality in our industry...too bad for the public and for those of us who take this seriously as a profession. There seems to be no shortage of dimwits with the need to fund get-rich-quick-schemes which rips them off.
John Frenaye then added:
Yes I agree---"shock" is not the right word. When I had this info on my blog yesterday I titled it "As Expected".
It will be interesting to see the ultimate condition in 15 days.
Jesse responded to Frenaye, posting:
I'll tell you what's NOT a shock.... John Frenaye using news about YTB as an opportunity to get traffic to his blog for attention to his ideas. Well-played, but predictable.
Then Peter Stilphen chimed in, saying:
John and I have been predicting YTB's demise for a long time. Same M.O. and news as Joystar before they went down. Let the travel agents and the suppliers who still support them beware. Your losses are just around the corner.
YouShoptoSave then added to Jesse's take, stating:
I agree with Jesse. Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity. The stabs and jabs from John will never hurt the founders of YTB because of their faith in God.
Then JJ joined the online dialogue, commenting:
YTB is hemorraghing money because of their busines practices and it's everyone else's fault? What is wrong with you people? IF you are serious about selling travel there are a myriad of hosts out there that are finacially stable, offer a better commission split and training.
Finally (at least as of now) Jesse came back to talk to Peter, writing:
Wow Peter Stilphen's back! Where have you been! Is that really you or just allegedly you? Talk about YTB and JoyStar all you want Peter, just don't talk about Traverus right?
I am exhausted just reading the exchange. Let's move on.
Remember to Read the Publish Date
Two weeks ago, I shared a comment by a reader who was apparently trying to update them on the iTrek situation when we here at Travel Agent were already on top of it. I mention that because another reader posted a similar statement this week, claiming our information was months old. Commenting on Jena Tesse Fox's piece about preparing for the British Airways strike, Keith Patrick wrote:
The information on the BA strike is a month out of date! Really not very useful if you are travelling and wondering if you are going to be able to get home in the coming week.
If you click through to the story, you'll notice the report was published March 1 and Keith's comment was posted April 2. Not sure how Keith surfed to that specific page but he obviously missed Jena's updates on the strike situation. Publish dates are there for a reason and readers can always browse our site to get the latest information on ongoing stories here at Travel Agent.
Good Luck Chuck
Senator Chuck Schumer's office is in the same building as Travel Agent's here in New York. I've never run into him, but there was this one time I couldn't enter the office because people protesting Schumer's policies handcuffed themselves to the front door of the entire building. Chuck recently made his presence back into the Travel Agent office when Dooley wrote a brief ditty about the Senator's desire to have NASA space craft put on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to boost tourism. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially since I live on the other side of town from the museum and won't be affected by the crowds. But Rob doesn't seem too enthused about the idea, writing:
What a bunch of B.S. The retiring Shuttles should be displayed at Kennedy Space Center, the Air and Space Museum in DC, and Huntsville Alabama. What the hell did New York have to do with the Shuttle program. Schumer is a blowhard.
I assume Rob is from Washington, D.C. or Huntsville, AL. He has a point that New York doesn't have much to do with the space program. However, the name of the museum is the Intrepid Sea, Air & SPACE Museum, so I think that has just a little bit to do with it. If I see Schumer, I'll share Rob's gripe in person.
Machu Picchu Reopens
JUST IN TIME
Just in time for what, Carl? Are you going there? Do you have clients going there? Is there a sequel to Mel Gibson's Apocalypto that somehow connects its way from the Mayans down to the Incas? Give us the dish!
Cruise Price Increases: Good or Bad?
The most substantial topic which received comments this week was Susan J. Young's report on how travel agents feel about the imminent increase in cruise prices. There's no name calling, no bickering and no elusive statements, just some nice feedback from two agents— each taking a different side.
naoj was the first to respond, writing:
As an Agent I am pleased. When the cruise prices are as low as they are we do a great deal of work for very little money. The only thing that bothers me is the same is happening as the Airlines have done..........put the fare down really low then increase it quite high.......the public then thinks prices are going to come back down and waits.... We will see.
Steve then shared is counter-argument, stating:
I really think this is a much too dramatic price increase. The economy is still very bad and I think this will scare away a lot of potential cruisers.
Which begs the question: is Steve or naoj right? Based on our recent poll on the matter, it seems most agents would agree with Steve. But that doesn't mean the discussion has ended. I encourage you to keep it going, whether it's by posting a comment below here or on the original reports, shared on our Facebook page, sent to us at our Twitter page, or discussed in real time at the thread on AgentNation.
Hope to hear more from all of you, and look forward to reading them all when I get back from Mexico. Until then...
January 22, 2010
Flying the Heavy Skies?
The British tabloid media this week reported that Air France will "force" overweight flyers to pay for two seats, or they will be prevented from boarding for "safety reasons."
Air France has officially denied the accusation, stating on their website that "Air France has no intention of making heavier passengers pay for a second seat."
In a statement, the airline continued: "Since 2005, Air France has been offering heavier passengers the possibility of purchasing a second seat at a 25 percent discount, to enhance their own comfort and safety...The only recent change to Air France’s policy on overweight passengers is to refund passengers the cost of the second seat, if the cabin is not fully booked." If the plane is fully booked, however, the passenger must still pay 3/4 of the total cost of the seat, adding hundreds of dollars to the trip.
Air France isn't alone. In April, 30,000 potential Ryanair passengers voted in favor of charging excess weight fees for very large passengers, and United announced that passengers unable to "fit into a single seat in the ticketed cabin" would have to purchase an extra ticket.