March 13, 2012
Opinion: Cancun Tourism Won’t Suffer Despite Latest Warning From Texas
And for the second straight year, the Mexico Tourism Board is not pleased about it, but, in our opinion, shouldn’t worry about it either.
During my more than five years as Travel Agent’s Mexico expert, I can tell you that keeping college students away from Cancun is harder than keep an agent away from a bonus commission, especially when Cancun is just as safe - if not way safer - than it ever was.
Sure, the culture of Cancun has changed since my back-to-back Spring Break vacations there in the late ‘90s. In fact, in 2005 Hurricane Wilma did a pretty good job in erasing a lot of the Spring Break-friendly resorts, aka resorts that didn’t mind a cluster of rowdy teenagers cramming into one room and breaking a piece of a furniture two.
The storm created so much damage to the resorts catering to Spring Breakers that they were forced to invest millions of dollars just to stay open. And when you invest that kind of money, you start getting picky about who you let in the door.
Ever since that, I’ve noticed more and more affluent families making there way to the now four-and-five-star resorts that took over the destination’s famed hotel district; I’ve heard tourism officials proclaim the death of the Spring Break traveler in Cancun and I’ve seen Spring Break staples, like the old MTV hangout, Phat Tuesdays, close its doors.
But although the volume changed, Spring Breakers were still making there way to the resorts.
The Cancun scene of the ‘90s that I enjoyed – and could barely remember (thank God there was no Facebook back then)- is not entirely extinct. The evidence can be found at a resort I stayed at in January– The Grand Oasis Cancun. There is a still a heavy market for younger, party-going guests who want to take part in poolside games, eat chicken fingers by the dozens and flirt with anything with a pulse.
In fact, the resort was pretty packed with guests (we were told these were students traveling in their winter recess) looking to dance the night away without leaving the resort. So business did not appear to be a problem.
For travel snobs like myself, this resort may not be a good fit. It’s loud, it’s cheap and full of Jersey Shore wannabes. But if your clients are into this and they are strapped for cash, this is the resort for them. In fact, rates here start at around $70. For the type of market this resort is looking to attract, it does a very good job.
But more importantly, Grand Oasis Cancun serves as a great example that although Cancun Spring Breakers have seriously dropped in numbers, there will also be a place for them in this legendary party city.
Also, don’t forget that the most of the original spring breakers who put Cancun on the map in the late ‘70s are now most likely mothers and fathers taking their children on family holidays. Perhaps a deluded trip down memory lane sounds like a great family retreat for these clients.
Whatever the reason is, Spring Break in Cancun may never reach the height it hit in the late ‘90s, but I refuse to believe that the Spring Break clients aren’t going anymore. And I refuse to believe the destination doesn’t welcome it, especially during a time in which Mexico is looking for any heads to fill the beds. Whether it’s a past, present or future Spring Breaker, the Spring Break client is essentially responsible for putting Cancun on the map and also for keeping the destination afloat during some of the country’s toughest times.
As far as the latest warning goes, according to MyFoxAustin.com, the Texas DPS has issued a travel warning to college students on spring break, urging them not to travel to Mexico. Authorities are pointing to several recent incidents of drug-related violence in the country, including the murders of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and two El Paso boys last month.
Since last year’s warning, the Mexico Tourism Board has had several meetings with Texas DPS officials with hopes of convincing them that the country was a safe place for spring breakers to travel to. Last year’s warning, however, was geared specifically toward Cancun while this year’s warning concentrates on the entire country.
So how many incidents were reported from last year's Spring Break season?
So, how much did last year’s warning hurt Cancun tourism?
Not at all.
In 2011, Cancun recieved 1,940,671 international visitors, which was up about 3 percent from 2010. In fact, Cancun's numbers have increased every year since 2009, the year of the economic downturn impacted travel across the globe.
In fact, Travel Agent was on hand Monday for Vacation.com and Travel Leaders Group’s “Think Big” 2012 news conference, a state-of-the-company address where both the agency and its travel network shared with media some ongoing trends in the industry as well as an update on its growing products.
One of the most revealing trends with regards to Vacation.com’s tourism product was a surprising, year-to-year upswing in Mexico business despite the negative publicity, including a refreshed travel warning there back in February, that has been eating away at the country.
“If you didn’t look at these numbers or didn’t know about these numbers, I’m sure most of you would have just thought that Mexico’s numbers tanked again,” said Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer for the Travel Leaders Group. “ But the numbers haven’t tanked. And we think that’s a testament to agents. They are addressing clients' concerns and our members are really handling the objections a client has to a destination.”
John Lovell, president of Vacation.com, says most of the “double-digit” spike in Mexico business could be traced to the Riviera Maya. Specifically, Cancun and Cozumel have been the two hottest destinations to come out of the Riviera Maya region.
“Lets not forget that this has something to do with value as well,” McGillivray says. “Mexico has great value with its all-inclusives. This is, after all, where you’ll find some of the greatest all inclusive in the world.”
August 11, 2011
Best Singles Destinations in the Caribbean
On the heels of Hilton Worldwide’s recently released study on the most popular Caribbean, Mexican and Latin American destinations for singles, I thought it would be fit as Travel Agent’s Caribbean editor to chime in with a few picks of my own.
Now, whether or not you feel Hilton’s study is objective or just based on destinations where there is a Hilton present, their picks, in my opinion, are pretty spot on.
They list Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico all as popular singles destinations. In Argentina, I would also include Bariloche in the Patagonia region simply for the action-adventure opportunities. In Brazil, I would also include Buzios, perhaps the country’s hottest beach destination that has also been described as "the Hamptons of Brazil." In Mexico, Playa del Carmen’s fifth avenue, which is stacked with outdoor restaurants, bars, live music and both high-end and affordable shopping, make it a popular singles destination.
Now let's focus on their Caribbean pick before I sprinkle in some of my own. First off, San Juan - and Puerto Rico in general- is definitely suited for singles travel with some of the best nightclubs, casinos and dining in the region. According to Hilton’s written release on the study, “During the day, the historic city of Old San Juan and surrounding natural wildlife, such as the El Yunque Rainforest, provide fun and adventure perfect for newly found friendships or a day alone.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Now, Port Antonio, Jamaica’s lush, tropical region full of luxury resorts and high end restaurants, is perhaps the only spot in the country that is primarily for couples. The rest of the island's tourism spots, Montego Bay, Negril and Ochos Rios, are all suitable for singles as well as couples and families. I would say Montego Bay would be the best singles spot in Jamaica for its great nightlife and affordable resorts.
St. Lucia is most likely a bit of a surprise since most people consider it a honeymoon and wedding destination. Although the island’s exposure on The Bachelor a few seasons ago cemented its position as one of the most romantic destinations in the Caribbean, its Rodney Bay district is one of the coolest hangout for singles I’ve seen in the Caribbean. In less than a two-block span, you will find at least 10 outdoor restaurants and bars playing music, attracting hundreds of tourists looking to dance the night away,
In the Dominican Republic, Puerto Plata is probably more suitable for singles than couples-friendly Punta Cana, but don’t rule out the Hard Rock Punta Cana for an excellent girls' or guys' getaway. When I was there earlier in the year, I saw the most singles I’ve seen at a resort in the Caribbean in quite some time. This is most likely due to the chill, music scene the property endorses and the monthly concert series its promotes.
In The Bahamas, Paradise Island is excellent for both singles and families whereas the Exumas is where you will find couples. In Paradise Island, singles have Atlantis and other popular casinos to blow some steam off at as well as some great (and very affordable) nightlife spots.
These are just a few picks I came up with, but feel free to chime in with your own picks for best singles destinations in the Caribbean.
October 01, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: September 27 - October 1
When it comes to issues that matter to travel agents, the autumn season is starting off with quite a bang. It's been a bit since I wrote a Weekly Wrap, primarily in part to my recent participation in covering The Lodging Conference 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix (check out www.hotelworldnetwork.com for details). Needless to say, there were plenty of comments to review upon my return, so let's take a look.
When someone posts a comment on a previous Weekly Wrap, I always make a point of leading with it the next week. Rosemary posted a comment on the last Weekly Wrap, focusing on how consumers' search for travel online causes competition for agents, writing:
I wish I had answer, Rosemary, but I'm not travel professional, just a journalist covering your experiences. So I am going to defer to our readers and hope one of them can give you an answer that my experience cannot support.
Shots at Sheehan, NCL
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has received some criticism from readers as of late, most of them posting their take on articles pertaining to the cruise line's CEO, Kevin Sheehan. I'd try to explain, but I'll let the comments speak for themselves.
went on a cruise "jewel" nick for kids. 8/28/10... room was dirty, 8:30 pm they came to keep it. 2 days later we were asked to leave our room so they could clean the rugs @ 8:30 am. When we pulled into port my mother was told that there was no shuttle to take her from the ship so she had to stay behind... she couldn't sit on the balony because they were varnishing it. SHE CRIED THE WHOLE TIME!!!!!!!! when we spoke to someone ( head of hotel mgmnt) he could care less.
carolyn is not alone in her disappointment. When commenting on a nearly two-year-old news item about Sheehan becoming the CEO of the company, TAMMY CAREY, wrote:
WENT ON A CRUISE , HAD BOOKED TO GO TO ATLANTIS, AND HORSEBACK RIDING THE SAME DAY. GOT TO ATLANTIS AND IT STARTED RAINING, AND THE PARK CLOSED. NCL REFUSED TO GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK $596.00 FOR 3 OF US, FOR SOMETHING WE DID NOT USE. WE NEVER GOT OUR TIME TO SWIM WITH DOLPHINS TILL THAT MORNING,. THEY TRIED TO GET ME IN A OFFICE SO OTHER PEOPLE WOULD NOT HERE WHAT TEY HAD DONE. BESIDES ALL THE NO REFUNDS, FOOD WAS TERRIBLE, SEWGE ON THE 8TH FLOOR, JUST A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE COMPARED TO REAL CRUISE SHIPS. THIS ONE SUCKS.LOOK AT THERE RATINGS.
I think the capital letters alone demonstrate the readers' frustration. It's unfortunate to read these experiences. Anyone out there have a similar or contrarian take on this matter?
More on Cruise West
The news of Cruise West's downfall is a few weeks old but, understandably, some are still coping with the shocking turn of events. Here's what two readers had to say:
As a former CFO and worked under Chuck West , it is very sad to see it comes to this. I did start a new small boat cruise company 14 years ago. It was based on Chuck's basic principal of provide intimate cruise experience with the nature. Chuck's spirit lives on.
Madelyn Tyson of Cruise Planners shared:
I am sorry to hear of Cruise West's need to restructure. Dick West has been a leader in authentic Alaskan tourism for many years. As my husband and I took our photography group on our Alaskan cruise this summer I heard more than one cruiser comment that he wished he could have been able to join Cruise West on one of their Alaska sailings. It's also been a goal of mine to sail with Cruise West. I hope I will still get the chance in the future.
I also am offended by the photograph Travel Central chose to illustrate this article. I do not feel it does Cruise West's superb product justice.
I cannot speak with any authority about the Cruise West situation. But I will note that it was I who chose the image of the stranded Cruise West ship for the story (seen below).
Why? I feel an image of a Cruise West strip stranded on land was emblembatic of the travelers, agents and tour operators who felt "stranded" by the situation. So, that's my bad. Wait, not my bad, my decision. It was not my intent to offend Madelyn or Cruise West.
Cruise Center Call Hours
Another cruise line that got some attention lately was Princess Cruises, which recently reduced its call center hours. For some, it's a schedule adjustment. For Patrick Fok, it's something else. He stated:
Polar supports Princess, Cunard, and Holland America, the three lines we require the least phone contact with. Coincidence?
I don't know if it's a coincidence. But perhaps someone else can add more to this conversation?
Collection of Caribbean Comments
As winter approaches, it's time to start looking at the cold weather getaways clients can find in the Caribbean. One of my best friends, Brad, just spent his honeymoon in Barbados and won't stop talking about the incredible time he had. I wonder if he ran into Anthony Feliciov, Jr. who, after reading news about Barbados' tourism numbers soaring, shared:
Just returned from a weeks stay in Barbados. Beautiful island and will definitely be returning and recommending to many of my clients. Outstanding beaches, great restaurants, and most importantly a very warm and friendly people.
My buddy Brad had the same thing to say about the island and it's people. Any agents looking to learn more abour Barbados should check out our special Featured Channel on the island, where they can get the latest information they need to to sell the destination.
I'm sorry to say Aruba will not be a happy place for me again. It will be a place a girl named Natalie died and was disrespected. So sorry.......But best of luck.
I traveled to Aruba last November, and the Holloway story was unavoidable down there, mainly because anyone I talked to is waiting for that stigma to go away. It's a shame that one incident can mar the island's tourism industry, even five years later. My advice to anyone who feels the same as Joy about Aruba is: get over it.
Again, it's sad. However, if every destination were to suffer due to a lack of tourism after an unfortunate incident that was not directly the fault of said destination, then countless communities would suffering. After 9/11, New York needed tourism more than ever. The same can be said now for the Gulf Region of the United States (just to name another).
Downplaying peoples' misfortunes is not my intent here. My intent is to say that travel brings much needed business (and education) to so many places that those who are able to put bad news aside and still go through with leisure or business travel plans to particular destinations, in my opinion, should be lauded.
Speaking of Tough Situations for Destinations
Let's take Mexico as an example of what I'm trying to say about keeping travel plans going. Needless to say, our North American neighbor has taken a beating over the past few years when it comes to bad news: swine flu, earthquakes, the economy and drug violence that is at the border (not in or near tourist destinations). So when Joe Pike writes about how the country is rebounding, it's interesting to see what some readers have to say about the matter.
First, B.S. wrote:
Ur kidding right? You can't call an inevitable reality "bad press". This is far worse than people living in Mexico are willing to accept. Forget H1N1 or the Mexicana bankruptcy. The reason why travelers from the biggest markets (US & Europe...) are having second thoughts about visiting Mexico is simple: all out violence. The drug war is poisoning it all. No matter what the government tries to say to the world, this will not change overnight and it will only get worse before it gets better.... Nevertheless, I hope the gruesome violence will stay clear from travel destinations in central Mexico and beach resorts so that leisure travelers thinking about visiting Mexico will do so and return as often as possible, taking advantage of the amazing travel deals, service and hospitality that are characteristic of Mexico...
Before I could respond, citing my experiences traveling to the Riviera Maya as well as my time spent in Mexico City, MJ Carr chimed in for me, saying:
The last comment is obviously someone who does not know Mexico well nor travel there. As a US Citizen living in Mexico for 5 years, the press has blown things WAY out of proportion. Who are YOU kidding? Do we tell our own citizens not to visit New Orleans, with a murder rate of 22 per 100,000 now the most dangerous city in the US? Or better yet, should we say don't visit all of the US because of what happens in ONE or a few cities? The violence is almost strictly contained to drugs. Use common sense, stay in tourist areas in daylight, and don't buy our use drugs and you have nothing to fear. The truth is, there is still way more violent crimes against innocent people in the US than in Mexico. Our own press doesn't care to make this known.
But MJ and your friend Kirk aren't the only ones speaking out in support of Mexico. Pike recently spoke with Mexico Tourism Board director recently and (guess what?), the country cites travel agents as a strong reason for it resurgence! Just check out these comments for yourself:
Jennifer Constantinos wrote:
I was in Cabos two weeks ago and the service was superb! That's what my clients are always looking for...
Bryan Alvarez posted:
Mexican destinations are getting better all the time. Customers are asking about other destinations but it's difficult to get the deals that you can get in Mexico. It's important to put things into context since the problems are not taking place all over the country.
luisa Allen shared:
Mr. Sumano seems to forget that in July of last year, Mexico was up to it's neck in the swine flu pandemia, and tourism went down by at least 50%. So the increase is not really that impressive...however, it is good that the correct information about the "violence" is getting out.
Good point about the increase, luisa, and kudos to you for noting that the "violence" is abating. In other words, people, don't stop selling Mexico.
AA Gets an A, from this Reader
For those interested in traveling to or sending clients to any destination in Europe via Heathrow, take note of American Airlines' upgrade of its Admirals Club at the London airport. It received some positive testimonials from two readers:
I can vouch for the renovation. Spent a couple of hours in May. It's superb. A good variety of tasty food, hot and cold, wine beer, liquor, and all of the amenities one could need
Jacqueline Johnson commented:
Great to hear this. It certainly needed an overhaul and update as it was an awful place to visit.
I can only assume that Jacqueline is the same Johnson that writes such insightful pieces about selling wedding travel. That being said, I can attest to how much weight her words carry (hint: it's A LOT!)
It's always pleasant to end the Weekly Wrap on a fun note and this week, it's a "hip" note. It appears that Travel Agent has made a new friend through our report about Travel Insured's light-hearted marketing campaign as of late. Sharing his take on the story was Tony Brent, who wrote:
I'm the Travel Hippie and I think you guys are groovy!
Maybe Tony's complimenting Travel Insured and not us. Either way, thanks for the "free" love, brother.
Whether it's telling us how jive you think we are, how bad you think or choice of pictures are, or what your take is on a matter we cover, we always love hearing form you. So please keep the feedback coming. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Join the conversation in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online for all types of travel agents (maybe one day we'll have a movie made about OUR social network, and hopefully it will be directed by David Fincher and scored by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails— I can dream, can't I?). For those who aren't getting my reference, check out the trailer for "The Social Network" below, which opens in theaters this Friday (been awhile since I dropped a cinematic reference).
July 30, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: July 26-30
Just as the heat wave calms down here in New York City, our message board is lighting up with comments, and I couldn't be happier. This week, there's not really any bickering. No comments were posted asking questions or making comments that could be answered if the reader simply read the article. And it seems several readers are already benefitting from what they are posting here at TravelAgentCentral.com. Let's take a look.
Medical Tourism = Target Market
We ran a cover story about medical travel in 2008, and have been covering various elements of this niche market ever since. But when George Dooley filed an update on the matter this week, speaking with Jack Schafer, president of GlobalSurgeryNetwork, the topic has had a major resurgence of interest when it comes to our readers. Check out the exchange below:
Julie Munro believes medical tourism is a great opportunity, but notes it comes with strings attached, writing:
One of the hard realities of medical travel and health tourism is you are dealing with clients/patients whose lives you may be putting at risk. The Medical Travel and Health Tourism Quality Alliance (MTQUA) online course for Certified Medical Concierge teaches and informs how to do medical tourism "right" - with quality and safety. Medical tourism is much more than an "add on" opportunity. In other words, what do you need to know before sending your mother or your child for medical care abroad? Sources of information include imtjonline.com and mtqua.org
Meanwhile, some agents are looking to jump in on the game and hit the ground running.
Amiee Hamilton posted:
I am a travel agent with a mid sized firm in LA. We have been looking at overseas travel for years and thought it was only about dentists in Mexico and Cosmetics in Costa Rica. I had no idea how large the business was for more traditional procedures but it certainly makes sense. We might not be a large enough agency to get involved in promoting this but I'm sure interested in more information.
Jim Shuster added:
We're a marketing company that serves the travel industry. WOW - I had no idea that Medical Travel was even an industry, and none of our travel clients did either. How does an entire industry come into being, that SHOULD be a Travel & Tourism product, and we don't even know about it. This is going to become a really big item in the near future and could "change" both the medical and the travel industry enormously ! How do we get involved ?
Other agents made specific calls for assistance to Schafer himself and, although he did not respond directly, he is clearly available for more feedback. Hopefully, he and agents can take advantage of this situation to network for more business in addition to the right travel package for their clients.
Good Health at Sea
Keeping on the medical topic, we got a lot of comments about the latest news regarding regulations for cruise ships while at sea. Simply, and shortly, put, our readers are ecstatic.
Eleanor Anderson stated:
That is a great bill. It is about time. I am a frequent Cruiser.
Norma Swartout shared:
Wonderful = could use those peepholes at least. Thank you.
Gene Shaddix added:
It's great to see the excitement. I wonder if John Kerry had been this aggressive on the policy back in the 2004 election season if it would have made a difference. Probably not.
Speaking of Politics
Oh no! I just mentioned a Democrat when writing about travel! I must be a pundit!
But I'm not. I actually do my best to steer clear of politics because it gets you nowhere. But this week I must address a politics-based comment posted at one of our stories for home based agents. Citing Reuters, we shared the news about a small business bill not passing the Senate this week. We mentioned that Republicans blocked the bill, which they did. We did not say we agreed with them or not. We just shared the facts we found in the Reuters article. Still, someone went into a tizzy.
Did Republicans really block the bill? What happen to "Pay as you Go" that the democrats said they would only accept 7 months ago! Since then they have a party spending us to Mars... There is about 400 billion left from the stimulus. Why not that? There is also $166,800 that could have been used BUT! Nancy "botox" Pelosie had to have a bigger office to the tune of $19,900 a month! Oh yeah, $166,800 is the difference that could have been saved from her $6,000 a month rent. That could feed a lot of hungry children. The $30 billion wouldn't have made the banks lend any money anyway. $12 billion is a drop of water in the ocean. What the banks need is reassurance from the top down that housing, jobs, and deficit control would be adressed. Stay away from polotics in your forums.
Dennis, if you click through to the Reuters article, GOP representatives proudly said they blocked the bill. So that answers your first question. Secondly, it's Pelosi, not Pelosie. And yes, she is a botox queen who, in my opinion, is hard to watch on TV. Thirdly, it's politics, not polotics (unless you are reading your high horse with a mallet in hand). Finally, we'll gladly stay away from "polotics" in our forums if you stay away from our sites if you are going to go off on such oddly passionate tirades.
Domincan Republic: Bad for Cruises?
We reported this week that the Dominican Republic is going to host an annual cruise ship conference and you would think that would be great news for the Caribbean island. Not so, according to Eleanor Anderson, who wrote:
I was in Santa Domingo with Carnival Cruise Lines several years ago. Went on a Tour bus into old town. Police escorted us the whole time and it was recommended by Cruise line not to go anywhere on your own. I hope they have improved on that because it was a little scary.
That's unfortunate to hear. Perhaps this conference will shed light on this apparent security issue. Have any agents out there (or their clients) had a similar experience when cruising to the Dominican Republic?
Keep the Ideas Coming
Needless to say, the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast region is goingwhere nowhere, fast. With that in mind, George Dooley shared a piece with our audience with the goal of gaining agent interest on selling travel to the region and supporting the U.S. Travel Association. Although it wasn't a proposed idea, Gwyn Gordon did share some relevant feedback, commenting:
Just to let you know that I own a condo in Ft. Walton Beach, Fl- in the Florida panhandle & am here today. The media needs to let the public know that there is no oil to be found anywhere here. The beaches are as they always are - white luscious sand. It's beautiful! We have lost income from our rentals unnecessarily. Thank you.
This is the kind of information agents and travelers need to hear and share with each other. I hope more readers out there can chime in to support the areas.
Azul Fives, Agent-Friendly?
When Joe Pike wrote about the highly-anticipated Azul Fives opening in Mexico last month, we initially received several excited comments from readers about the property. But the latest raises an issue as to whether the resort can do more to benefit travel agents or not. Patrick wrote:
The Azul Fives has been heavily promoted as a timeshare for the past two years, both online and at the Karisma resorts. Indeed, I've lost several upscale clients the last two years to onsite timeshare salesmen. I understand that timeshares are an important part of the total revenue mix in Mexico and as such are unavoidable. Its time for Karisma to step up and begin a program to compensate travel agents (either through cash or marketing dollars) for clients lost through timeshares purchased onsite. After all, are we not the original referring source?
Has anyone else had this experience that Patrick has gone through? It seems to be a massively unfortunate shame that a new property, which must be tempting to all kinds of travelers for a visit, is not leveraging the travel agent community to sell vacations. I encourage anyone who has had any contact or business with Azul Fives to chime in here, as it's important to know what's going on with this new property's relationship with the agent community.
As always, don't let the conversation end here. We've been having great discussions about tarmac delays at our Facebook page this week, as well as conversations about hotel inspection lists at AgentNation, the only social community online for all kinds of agents. Of course, you can always hit us up at our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) or post more comments below and elsewhere at TravelAgentCentral.com. Until next week...
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
January 05, 2010
Continental’s First Class Service to Cancun
And we can say the service is comparable to most top-of-the-line carriers. Now, it was only a roughly four-hour flight and not the 13-to-15-hour journeys we’ve taken aboard first class before, so there was less pressure on our friends at Continental.
Nonetheless, the service was top notch and we wouldn’t have been disappointed if our flight was longer than it was. There were roughly 20 seats or so in First Class, all spread out adequately from each other, giving you enough space to store some carry-on bags in front of your seat, still without enough room to stretch your legs. This is something I keep an eye on since I hate stowing my smaller bags up top and then fighting for them as soon as the seat belt light goes off when the plane lands.
The food was also very good. It was a morning flight, so I ordered the sausage and eggs, which were delicious. Now, there was no champagne on the flight so my First Class ritual of making a Mimosa my first beverage of the journey was foiled. Instead, I opted for a Bloody Mary. The drink service was perfect. A flight attendance circled our seats like a shark at all times, waiting for an empty glass or a request for another.
The movie selection couldn’t have been better either. Each chair gets its own separate television, which unfolds from the armrest, much like the food tray. The screen can be rotated from the left or right, making it easier to escape the glare if someone nearby chose to leave the window shade up. I went with the “The Informant,” a drama/comedy starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, vice president turned informant who prompts the U.S. government to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation. The movie is pretty simple and not much really happens, but I think Damon should be nominated for an Oscar. He was that good.
The trip was part of a Continental Airlines Vacations (managed by MLT Vacations) promotion of its new Select Escapes packages. Select Escapes is a custom, user-friendly luxury package in which clients can put together their own luxury getaway to Mexico, choosing everything from resorts to excursions with the click of a mouse. Look for an in-depth story on MLT Vacation’s Mexico offerings, our stay at Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita and our full trip to Mexico in upcoming issues of Travel Agent magazine.
January 04, 2010
Our Stay at Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya
RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico— We recently returned from a four-day stay at AMResorts’ flagship Zoetry property, Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita, and Travel Agent can say without hesitation that it is one of the finest luxury resorts we’ve ever stayed at in all of Mexico.
We stayed in room Mombasa (all suites have names), a one-bedroom, beach-level, luxury suite with a plunge pool. The resort has just 90 rooms and is located on a very quiet part of the beach between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, so if it's quiet you are looking for, this is the place to be.
The food was absolutely amazing, especially the property’s La Canoa restaurant, an elegant AAA Four Diamond restaurant that features the resort’s French chef's "La Cuisine de los Soles," a delectable fusion of styles using the spices and chilies of several warm weather countries. You would never be able to tell this was an all-inclusive as all restaurants are a la carte and premium liquors are included.
But the best part of this resort, hands down, was the service.
Need an extended checkout? No problem.
Would you like a full bottle of wine delivered to your room? No problem.
And the best part of our treatment there was that no one at the resort knew who we were, so we can honestly say this is how they treat all guests and not just the ones who will be writing about them.
The trip was part of a Continental Airlines Vacations (managed by MLT Vacations) promotion of its new Select Escapes packages. Select Escapes is a custom, user-friendly luxury package in which clients can put together their own luxury getaway to Mexico, choosing everything from resorts to excursions with the click of a mouse. Look for an in-depth story on MLT Vacation’s Mexico offerings, Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita and our full trip to Mexico in upcoming issue of Travel Agent magazine.
October 14, 2009
Guess What? Mexico's Had a Lucky Year
Despite what you may have read or saw on the television, I think this was actually a pretty lucky for year for Mexico.
That’s right, you read that correctly.
Ok, sure, I too was among the long list of reporters and other media members who began to think this country was jinxed in 2009. And how could you not? It seemed as though one bad occurrence was happening after another. But now that the year is winding down and it appears as though Mexico has dodged yet another possible hurricane in the ongoing weakening of Tropical Storm Patricia (now Remnant Storm Patricia), the year doesn’t look as bleak as it did when the “negative” news first began surfacing.
Let’s re-assess the year, shall we?
Ok, there was gang violence near the Mexico border. Ok, we’re human first and professionals second, so violence anywhere is sad and tragic. But as a travel trade writer or any member of the industry, this didn’t affect (or at least should not have affected) business at all.
It was the perception of the news that affected business and not the news itself for the simple reason that not one tourist was caught in the middle of the drug war that plagued one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
I’m not breaking any news when I tell you every country has a dangerous zone. Picture that area in your city and think real hard: when was last time you vacationed there?
“Pack your bags, children, we’re heading to East L.A.”
When was the last time you saw a scenic postcard distributed from there? My guess is probably never because tourists never, or at least should never, vacation to a place that is dangerous. Or, in the case of Mexico’s U.S.-bordering towns, a place that was a bit unsafe (kind choice of words) long before 2009.
Now, the swine flu. Man, did this get exaggerated or what? The first case was discovered in Mexico. But how can say Mexico is to blame for it? I mean, that's just silly. Hypothetically, lets say I visited 15 countries in the last year, came across thousands of people who have also visited 15 countries in one year and then I got sick a few days after I return home. Would it be fare to say New York, where I work, is to blame for this?
And now the good.
Mexico was spared by Mother Nature yet again on Tuesday and Wednesday when Tropical Storm Patricia shrunk quicker than Michael Keaton’s head in Beetle Juice.
This was the second major weather threat Mexico dodged in the last few months with Hurricane Jimena being the other.
Secondly, I was in Cancun in the beginning of the summer and I noticed something. Its beaches are back. When I was there in 2008, pretty much all of the hotels’ beaches were nonexistent, completely eroded away.
Ok, there's still some work to do, but at least from the naked eye, it appeared as though one-third have returned without the need for some fake, man-made beach.
Lets put it this way: I’m visiting Mexico in December and I’m bringing my mother. If I thought Mexico wasn’t one of the greatest vacation spots in the world to visit or if it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t be bringing my mother there.
Mother Nature has brought Cancun’s beaches back and has protected Mexico from a serious hurricane in 2009. Because of this, Mexico has had a luckier year than most think. But human nature can be stronger than Mother Nature sometimes and it’s human nature to be afraid. It’s human nature to focus on the negative. Me? I’m somewhat of a momma’s boy. I’m listening to Mother Nature and in December my mother is too.
August 14, 2009
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments August 10-14
The heat is getting to the masses in politics, sports, and entertainment. Vitriolic arguments about health care at town halls have flooded the airwaves and web, the Red Sox brawled with the Tigers (I think because they're bitter about getting swept by the Yankees but that's my New York subjectivity), and OMG John and Kate got into argument last night and the police showed up. Theses scuffles are, to me, only semi-exciting in comparison to the showdown going down in District 9 this weekend.
As you could expect, there's been some tussling going on here at TravelAgentCentral, especially if multilevel marketing companies and Joystar are involved. But we'll get to that in a moment.
Vivá La Mexico!
From the H1N1/swine flu outbreak to gang violence, Mexico has had a rough going in the tourism industry this year. But fortunately many in the industry still have faith in the destination— as evidenced in a comment posted by Andrew Paul on Joe Pike's story on how the country is regaining ground. He wrote:
Great collection of articles. It's good to see Mexico may be through the worst - even though most of the bad news was hype.
They're Not Like Us!
As you may have noticed, I enjoy citing obscure cinematic references with any chance I get. An easy one has been comparing the competition between travel agents and companies like Orbitz or Expedia etc to the ongoing battles between humans in machines in such franchises as Terminator and Transformers. But I think I'm exhausting that shtick plenty. So, as Lisa Sweet shares her opinion on a report that online travel agencies are showing an increase in leisure travel demand, I'll stick to the subject. She wrote:
Those are NOT Travel Agencies! Priceline, Expedia and Orbitz! Those are the dimiz of real Travel Agencies who have real knowledge and experience! Those are just the "Walmarts" of the travel industry, trying to put real Travel Agents and Travel Agencies out of business with their less than truthful advertising and embellished promises! They are making the travel economy worse, not better as people find out they get no help, their hotels they booked are not like the pictures, or close to where they thought, and they can't change their air easily as promise! Gives the travel industry a bad name.......especially, calling them Travel Agencies, when they are definitely NOT! Please do not associate them with our name!
We've used the term online travel agency, or OTA for short, in many instances on this site (like here) and have so with concerted effort to separate them from real travel agents. It may get confusing to the laymen or outsider of the travel industry, so I understand Lisa's concern. However, I think she, and you reading this, should check out some good news regarding these evil machines: George Dooley's report on how consumers are leaving the Internet for humans when it comes to booking travel.
I Don't Like Him!
In June, David Eisen reported that former Disney Cruise President Thomas McAlpin will lead Residensea Ltd as the new CEO. A month and a few weeks later, someone had something to say about that. Daizy wrote:
Tom is arrogant and didn't make it any further than Director at Royal Caribbean and only four years as President at Disney. Good luck ResidenSea!
I know nothing about McAlpin, so I cannot say whether I think Daizy is being harsh or not. However, if this Daizy is anything like Daisy de la Hoya from the recent realty TV show train-wreck "Daisy of Love" then I must admit I don't trust her in judgment in men.
As I have now embarrassed myself by admitting I watched that show, I will fill in those of you who are not in the loop on what I mean. Daisy de la Hoya tried to win the heart of former Poison frontman Brett Michaels in season two of "Rock of Love." She lost to a woman that Brett dated for a few months before ditching so he could have a third season of hooking up with drunk groupies and make some money off of it. So she got her own show and was the one choosing a new mate. In the end, she choose an unemployed, aspiring musician who lived with his father until getting kicked out. His name is Christopher Lee but she affectionately called him "London." The first night of the show, London drank until blacking out and passing out. He then left the show because Daisy bothered him. But then he came back and bothered everyone, and she still chose him because he was what she wants, though admittedly not what she needs. So I think you get the point now. And if you don't, go to vh1.com and look the show up. I think you'll concur.
The Usual Suspects
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like here at Travel Agent to go through a week in which someone did NOT take the time to post a comment about YTB, Joystar or alleged multilevel marketing companies. Actually no I don't, because that will never happen. But I'm leaving YTB alone this week, as it seems there may be a new name to throw in the mix.
After reading about the latest bankruptcy news about Joystar and how some agents may get their money back, Joyce raised a flag about Global Travel, saying:
Now that Joystar i out when will they look into Global Travel. You can buy an Iata card from them for $16.00 talk about card mills this is the biggest. I have several friends who bought cards from them aand get the benefits I do. Something is wrong with this picture.
This sounds like an investigation for George Dooley. So Joyce, I'll shoot him a note on the subject. Maybe Dooley will get an opinion from John Frenaye on the matter, who has been the subject of conversation here on TravelAgentCentral as well.
Earlier in the year, Dooley interviewed Frenaye about the dangers of multilevel marketing companies and card mills, and the story got several comments from the months of February through April. The conversation had since died down until, this week, reader Carol addressed John directly, asking:
For john Frenaye: you stated you knew many host agencys that charge no fee to join and no website fee with a 80% split. Could you please email me a list. I am all over that one.
John, I know you read this site because I have posted your submitted comments personally (unless someone is pretending to be you, which I doubt). Carol didn't include her e-mail, so unfortunately you cannot contact her directly. So, if you can, come on back and share the list she requests, or at least get in touch with her either here or perhaps on AgentNation, the only social community for all types of travel agents. Can you help out?
As always, keep the comments coming here or in real time at AgentNation. We love hearing from you, and I love watching the words fly.
April 27, 2009
Only a mutated form of a contagious respiratory disease that affects pigs and humans could keep me away from this year’s Tianguis Turistico.
Enter the swine flu scare.
Suffice it to say, I am not in Acapulco, the site of this year’s Tianguis Turistico, but rather in my office in New York City, where I didn’t laugh as hard at the people wearing surgical masks on the train. They didn’t look any cooler, but they sure looked a bit smarter as reports indicate that New York has also seen cases of the flu that looks like something straight out of I Am Legend.
I informed my contacts in Mexico that I would not be attending after
the initial Friday report on the unusual, part-animal, part-human flu
spiraled out of control on Saturday.
Allow me to put into perspective how big of a blow Mexico got dealt with this latest public relations nightmare. Tianguis Turistico is perhaps the Super Bowl of Mexico trade shows. And this year’s was slated to be one of the most important in recent history because it was going to give Mexico the perfect platform to prove it was safe despite all the drug-related crimes in the U.S. bordering towns that gave the destination its first public relations disaster.
Although I will not personally be in Acapulco, my colleague Jose Barreiro already arrived on Saturday before the news escalated. We will be relaying information from Barreiro to you throughout the day as well as other updates. As of this morning, Barreiro told me that a few clubs in Acapulco have been closed, several meetings at the show have been canceled and all flights from Acapulco that avoid Mexico City are “booked solid.”
Tianguis Doesn’t Skip a Beat
My colleague Jose Barreiro just e-mailed me to tell me that Tianguis Turistico is surprisingly going on without a hitch:
“What's amazing to me is that Tianguis seems like business as usual,” he told me. “Yes, there are the occasional masks but for the most part people here are conducting business and with a very 'this too shall pass' attitude.”
And it should be noted that this was written shortly after tremors from a 6.0-magnitude earthquake near Acapulco caused the center to evacuate. According to CNN a strong quake measuring 6.0 in magnitude struck southwestern Mexico and it was felt about 175 miles away in Mexico City, according to a CNN producer and the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS measured the quake's epicenter in the state of Guerrero about 43 miles northeast of Acapulco. The preliminary magnitude is 6.0, but that could change.
“People are already piling back in to the convention center ready to talk business and sell Mexico,” Barreiro told me. “I am really amazed even after all these years in the industry. It's like the travel industry has become super resilient ready for anything that's thrown at it.”
All the major hotel companies are at the show, including all major Mexican state tourist boards.
“So, while I am a little freaked out, the people representing the Mexican travel industry make me feel safe with their calm and determined approach towards life.”