June 18, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: June 15-18
I was semi-watching the United States tie Slovenia 2-2 in our team's second match in the 2010 FIFA World Cup today (semi-watching because half of the screen time was spent on my laptop working and, for the record, there were other employees with me— who will remain nameless unless I need to take them down with me), and could not miss the confusion and outrage over the referee's disqualification of a go-ahead goal in the final minutes that would have put our guys up 3-2. Not only was his call vilified by the ESPN commentators (one of which can be considered objective when, in his natural English accent, he said that even as an England fan he felt the U.S. was robbed), but there appeared to be no explanation or citation of what foul was committed.
Fortunately for that referee, the game wasn't taking place in Philadelphia, McAfee Coliseum (where the dreaded Black Hole of Oakland Raiders fans await) or even in Madison Square Garden when Bowe and Golotta are fighting. There are probably hundreds in South Africa right now, and hundreds of thousands across the planet, that want his head. This takes place just after the recent tainting of a perfect game by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga when umpire Jim Joyce made, clearly, an incorrect call at first base (he later admitted his error).
Needless to say, it has not been the best of times for sports referees as of late. Hence, I'm a little on edge this week when it comes to making calls on what readers of TravelAgentCentral.com have been saying as of late. I'd like to think that, over the course of the Weekly Wrap, I've been fair enough and have admitted when incorrect calls have been made. But that could always change. Let's see what happens this week.
Yellow Card of the Week
Mistakes happen and fouls are sometimes committed without any malicious intention. But they still happen. Last week, I had to remind someone that we are not Pet Airways but instead are a media outlet reporting about the airline. A similar instance took place this week when a reader commented on our report about Le Sereno in St. Barts naming a new general manager. Maroussia Nassief Reid apparently believes new GM Javier Vila works with us, writing:
Hello Mr. Vila,
Remember me? Maroussia from the Mayfair......my dad was going to spain so i looked you up and found you close to my caribbean home!!! Please email me so we can keep in touch! My email is email@example.com
Come on, Maroussia. The property's website is right there at the end of the story(here it is again: www.lesereno.com). We enjoy sharing the news with everyone but we can't do all of the following up and networking on our own. Have to call a foul on that one.
Red Card of the Week
As I said, mistakes sometimes happen without any ill will. But then there are those that are not only blatanly malicious, but sloppy as well. Take for instance Jonh London who, when commenting on our new full-timer Meagan Drillinger's report on adrenaline junky travel suggestions, posted:
You call this "for travellers on a budget" ? ($19999 for 1 week)....For that kind of money I can go 2 weeks to New-Zealand, and climb the vulcano's there!
Jonh, or somehow I bet you meant to add your name as "John," there is no package for $19,999. Yes, there is one for $1,999 if you want to go tornado chasing. However, not only are the rest of the packages low-cost (one as low as $96 per night) but the story says the source of the list is one that targets budget-minded. There's no line that deliberately says "these are all highly affordable" or something of the sort. Plus, I am pretty sure New Zealand is not supposed to have a hyphen in it and it's "volcano," not vulcano (Spock plays no role in magma production). You're always welcome to share your two cents, but that doesn't mean your free from penalty if you are not careful.
I enjoy seeing the passion that readers have when it comes to multilevel marketing companies like YTB, but sometimes it's exhausting and could use a break. Such is the case with a recent report by George Dooley analyzing a cheeky column written by Peter Stilphen about whether travel professionals should join an MLM or not. I shared most of the exchanges last week, and there are now more to read. The latest is a call-and-response pattern between denyse and Laura. It began with denyse's initial comment:
I'm a former YTB member and once I learned that there are definitely alternatives for me to sell MORE travel WITHOUT paying $50 per month, I jumped. I needed to sell RCCL and NCL because that's what my clients wanted. I also get much more training and support. My business has increased by 3000% since leaving and I pay $0 per month.
I had talked and talked to various YTB people to get them to see the light. I've come to understand that no matter what I say, unless you see the light for yourself you'll stay there. I don't have the time to keep saying the same things over and over again.
I wish everyone in YTB well who's looking to sell travel. But there ARE better alternatives. Think about your clients. SOME of them HAVE heard about YTB. And your business will not be as successful as it could be while with YTB.
Laura then chimed in:
Just because you WISH that MLMs didn't have a legitimate (and successful) business model doesn't mean they don't. No, YTB is not my host. There are a lot of businesses that sell their products through the MLM model...Avon, Stella and Dot, Discovery Toys, etc. Traditional travel agents have my respect...I was one myself...but they do not OWN the product of travel. It is not their decision who gets to sell travel and who doesn't. Sorry.
To which denyse responded:
Laura, I don't think this article is talking about ANY MLM outside of travel. Yes, Avon, Mary Kay, Discovery Toys, etc are successful MLM business models.
The issue with TRAVEL MLMs is that the profit margin in travel is not large enough to support a MLM business model. Therefore, you HAVE to recruit in order to make money. Those other businesses promote products. Travel MLMs promote travel websites - that's not a product. That's a marketing tool.
There is not one SUCCESSFUL travel MLM. All of them have issues. Even the ones who "claim" success have added additional products to their company so the reps can earn money.
Time out. I'm taking a break from this one on calls. But I'd enjoy to read what others have to say.
There's been some major stories taking place about air travel— only during the past few days, weeks, months and years— from airline mergers to added fees, and they are obviously of concern to agents. Two recent developments that have caught the attention of some readers are the proposed merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines as well as American Airlines latest unbundling of fees. The former is the larger story, and Bradley is taking it quite seriously, stating:
This merger needs blocked. Ultimately, it will force airlines to keep merging until there are only one or two mega-airlines left. What this is doing is creating a position where domestic flights will cost far more than international flights. This hurts the airlines and the consumer, with us travel agents stuck in the middle.
Sounds like a good point. Does anyone out there disagree? I don't, but perhaps I'm making a bad call here.
Meanwhile, Alex appears to be on the fence regarding the issue with American Airlines, writing:
I'm a bit torn on this issue - specifically on the idea of paying a fee to reduce another fee you may or may not incurr. Also, can we file this as another fee related to baggage? With assigned seats, the only real reason to be first on board is to grab overhead bin space for your luggage - space which has become far more precious since baggage fees have driven passengers to bring more and more baggage as carry-ons. Bin space was never meant to handle the influx of passengers trying to avoid fees - if more of these bags were capable of being checked without a fee, would this kind of pre-boarding even be considered to be a perk?
I think you are on the right track, Alex. Whether it's been for business or leisure, I've tried my hardest to pack carry-on luggage only to save time and money. In the end, it seems travelers will have to decide whether to spend more on convenience or being well-equipped. This doesn't seem like a winning situation for anyone besides the airlines, those bastards.
Note to the Peanut Gallery
I am no stranger to sarcasm and Darrell Turner apparently isn't, either. From the sidelines, he makes an interesting point this week about the UK Culture Secretary's new tourism plan but I can't help but sense some heckling in his tone when he comments:
This is a great strategy, for the UK. But let me think about it a minute. Gee, if the USA did the same, and if Germany and Thailand and Spain and Italy did the same, we could collectively choke off 10 or 15% of international travel. The British can vacation at home. We'll vacation at home. Germans can vacation at home. International Airlines can reduce their routes, and all will be happy. Right??
We can and may. Or, maybe we can hear colorful tales from the Brits and Germans, among others, about some enriching and/or exciting journeys that they've taken within their homeland and become inspired to make that journey ourselves? That seems plausible to me.
Moment of Silence
No matter what's taking place on the playing field, the sidelines or elsewhere, there are some instances when all teams and fans take an appropriate moment to honor something important. This week, the travel industry lost a friend in John Shands, executive vice president of Leisure Alliance, who passed away after a battle with cancer. Christopher Flores of the Airlines Reporting Corporation's (ARC) Verified Travel Consultant (VTC) program immediately took a moment to honor Shands, saying:
You will be missed, John.
I am sure he will be. We here at Travel Agent are keeping Shands' family, friends and colleagues in our prayers.
As always, the conversation never ends here. Keep sharing your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you by posting comments below or one other articles. Write us at our Facebook page or send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag). Of course, you can always discuss topics in real time at AgentNation. We want to hear from you. Until next week...
By: Kirk Cassels
June 11, 2010
2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: Play Ball!
True confessions time: I'm probably the least-knowledgable person on the Travel Agent staff when it comes to football or soccer, or any sport other than baseball. (And even then, I sometimes find myself asking my friends, "Did Derek Jeter just score a touchdown?")
But after two weeks in South Africa last month, and after touring the brand-new Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, it's impossible not to get caught up in World Cup fever now. Even I'm paying attention and getting excited about the games, and about what they mean to South Africa as a nation. For the next month, the whole world will be watching the country's major cities and towns and getting a taste of this gorgeous country— some of them, possibly, for the first time. With luck, the games will spark more interest in tourism and bring a whole new generation to a place they never thought they'd visit.
So, who is this decidedly un-soccer-savvy traveler cheering for in the games? Well, the U.S., naturally, but having just come back from Australia, I wouldn't be too sad if the Socceroos took home the trophy. But how wonderful would it be if an African nation won the World Cup at the very first games to be played on African soil?
Here are some pictures of Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, where Germany will play Australia on Sunday; and—from a distance—of the new Cape Town Stadium, where Uruguay will play France today.
Cape Town Stadium
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Inside the Moses Mabhida Stadium
May 11, 2010
South Africa, Day Three: More World Cup, and Big Reptiles
After hitting the trade show floor at Indaba in Durban, South Africa, Jena Tesse Fox visits one of the FIFA World Cup stadiums and has close encounters with snakes and crocodiles.
People of the ancient world built magnificent temples to their gods. Today, we spend small fortunes to build skyscrapers—or stadiums. Durban’s new Moses Mabida Stadium is a gorgeous feat of architecture; spacious and airy from every angle, with a truly cool bridge over the top that serves as a cable-car track on one side (for great views of the city) and a bungee platform on the other. (I’m not making this up. We watched a man swing down from a wall! For real!)
After a quick walk through the new stadium, we were seated in the prime seats as a group of tourism and FIFA professionals took to the field (well, a raised platform off the field) to argue about how South Africa has handled the World Cup so far, what they expect to happen when the games begin, and what will happen when the final whistle blows. Monhla Hlahla, CEO of Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), pointed out the renovations of South Africa’s airports (including the brand-new King Shaka International Airport in Durban, which can handle the biggest planes) as a sign of long-term investment. “When the economy grows, traffic will increase,” she said, adding that landing fees are in South Africa’s currency—the Rand—rather than in dollars or euros, which keeps prices low. She did acknowledge, however, that the World Cup would not cure all of the country’s economic problems. “The world is challenging our economy,” she said.
Security was also a major concern (after several riots broke out at other World Cup games in the past), and Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of Police, said that he had traveled to several countries to learn how to handle those nations’ more— shall we say— excitable fans when they get too excitable. By understanding how each country has cooled hot heads in the past, Cele hopes to keep the games— and post-game events— from getting out of hand.
For the afternoon, we got away from the city for a few hours and drove to PheZulu Safari Park, a tourist attraction with a re-created Zulu village, performers and local guides to explain what daily life was like for the Zulu people in the area. Even better, the park is situated at the top of a large hill with breathtaking views over the surrounding hills and valleys. (And I mean that literally. Watching the sun set over miles and miles of hills made me stop breathing for a few seconds. It’s amazing. No photograph can do it justice.)
The Crocodile and Snake Parks make up another notable section of PheZulu. We walked around large enclosed ponds filled with crocodiles sunning themselves in the afternoon heat. (We were told that the staff always counts how many crocs are in each section, just in case one is hiding in an inconvenient spot…) One croc, 105-year-old Junior, was kind enough to jump out at us with his teeth bared…and, yes, I shrieked like a little girl. (C’mon, if a massive reptile jumped out at you, you’d shriek, too.) Best of all, I got it all on video…including my very embarrassing screams and nervous giggles.
We then headed up to the Snake Park, where we learned about the various vipers indigenous to South Africa, and how deadly they actually are. (Turns out, it takes some snake venom hours, sometimes days, to become lethal. If that’s true, why did Cleopatra choose an asp to dispatch her? One of those mysteries we’ll probably never solve…) I got to play with a very friendly boa constrictor named Fluffy who, I was told, would probably not hurt me if I put him (her? Who can tell?) around my shoulders. Probably.
May 10, 2010
South Africa, Day Two: World Cup, Durban & Indaba
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa addresses the audience at Indaba
In the United States, we have "casual Fridays." In South Africa, they have "football Fridays," when everyone wears soccer jerseys. It makes for a pretty great visual.(And for the benefit of our North American readers, I’ll use the word “soccer” from here on in, unless I’m quoting someone directly. Seriously, though, why do we use the word “football” for a game where players barely touch the ball with their feet? But I digress…)
With the FIFA World Cup just over a month away, all of South Africa is caught up in soccer fever, and this Indaba conference could practically be called World Cup Indaba. Everyone is excited about not only the World Cup, but about the attention the world will be paying to South Africa as a nation, and Africa itself as a continent.
It only makes sense: The audience for the World Cup, both live and on worldwide TV, “gives brand awareness, and is an opportunity you can’t pay for,” said Roshene Singh, CMO of the conference, on its first day. The exhibits at Indaba cover a range of industries, covering accommodations, tour operators, car rentals, airlines, other products and nine provinces as destinations, as well as other Southern African countries and Kenya. By the end of the show, she expects over 13,000 attendees, between visitors and exhibitors, and they had to turn exhibitors away due to space constraints. (For the record, the entire campus stretches out over 60,000 square meters.)
But, she added, “the real legacy of the World Cup will be how much tourism continues afterwards.” Many new hotels have been built across the host cities; the roads and public transportation services have been improved; and employees have undergone training to accommodate the influx of guests that is expected in the next two months. “We are on a path where we can only improve where we are,” Singh said. And the influx they are getting for Indaba is a great dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
On The Trade Show Floor
While the main buzz from the officials in Durban may be about soccer, there was a greater variety of conversation on the floor. Among the 2,000 exhibitors, I spoke to:
* Jewel Africa, a small chain of high-end jewelry stores (and by “small” I mean the company only has two outlets) in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The goldsmiths will create bespoke pieces, marketing manager Kim Miller told me, and they offer private shopping events.
* For those not satisfied with just shopping for gold, the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town celebrates the history of gold in South Africa, and (so I was told) inspires modern gold design. (Check out their late-night tours, which include a glass of wine sprinkled with gold dust.)
* For a more sobering museum experience, the Apartheid Museum recognizes South Africa’s more painful history, but also celebrates how a political prisoner became president.
* South Africa’s wines have become increasingly popular, and some wineries are now doubling as chic getaways with luxe hotels. Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards is a boutique property in the Franschhoek valley with 22 rooms (six of them suites) named for different varietals of grapes grown on the property (Shiraz, Merlot, etc. The Reserve Suite looks particularly nice, with a private Zen garden and Jacuzzi.) Cool touch: To guarantee that every room has a view of the valley, some of the rooms are built into the hillside, reachable by underground hallways. Since the rooms below blend into the landscape, guests in the upper rooms have unobstructed views. With 17 hectacres of vineyards, guests can go picnicking or even enjoy a wine-tasting on horseback. Agents should contact Marika Kok (011-27-21-876-2770, firstname.lastname@example.org).
* Drifters Adventours offers custom-built tour busses and several game lodges in Kruger National Park and Uganda. For a more active experience, guests take part in setting up and breaking camps, cooking, and other aspects of a tour.
* Wilderness Safaris are game lodges in seven Southern African countries (and the Seychelles) that focus on sustainability and responsibility in the wild. The brand’s Premiere Camps and Classic Camps are the most luxe, Carli Saxby told me, but all of their properties are three-star or above. The property in the Seychelles, for example, is the only hotel on North Island, and was recently renovated, while the Little Ongava has just three rooms that Saxby calls “palatial.” (It also overlooks a water hole where animals come to drink, and includes a blind in the brush where guests can watch the animals up close.) And each camp is unique: One camp, Abu, rehabilitates former circus elephants to help return them to the wild. The camp at Kafue offers a deal in which guests staying three nights are treated to a hot-air balloon ride—which, being largely silent, doesn’t scare away the animals below, offering a perfect chance to see wildlife at its peak.
I’m usually pretty cynical about ceremonies and speeches, but even I was quite impressed by the production put on to officially open Indaba (this was after several hours of conferences, meetings and the trade show being open, of course). Naturally, there was a soccer theme, but it all fit in quite nicely. Dr. Zweli Mkhize, premiere of KwaZulu-Natal, pointed out that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, and that this year is a celebration of “the efforts of the African people to free themselves.” Dr. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, earned cheers when he declared simply, “Yes, we are ready. Yes, this World Cup will happen.”
Even remarkable performances by a drumming group and the Drakensburg Mountain Boys Choir couldn’t top the cheers for the President of South Africa himself, Jacob Zuma. “The stadiums are ready. The host cities are ready. South Africa is ready. The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place,” he said. He called the five new stadiums that have been built for the World Cup the “crown jewels” of the country, but warned that a soccer game is only 90 minutes, and that the games were only the beginning of a new era for South Africa. All South Africans, he added, “would deliver a memorable event by being good hosts.”