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.)
By: Jena Tesse Fox
September 21, 2010
First Impressions of the Arizona Biltmore
Leaving New York on a Monday on an 8:07 p.m. ET JetBlue flight out of JFK that landed in Phoenix at 1:35 a.m ET was not the most pleasant of travel experiences, mainly because the odor in the air made it pretty easy to guess what the two passengers sitting in front of me ate for dinner (kindly remind your clients that airplanes have re-circulated air and walking to the lavatory to emit noxious gas is good exercise). But when I arrived at the Arizona Biltmore, of the Waldorf Astoria Collection, there was an aura in the air that began putting the unpleasantness behind me. Perhaps it was the Zen-like layout and design of the space, or the finely-tuned temperature in every building. Either way, it was topped off with one of the more perfectly-mixed drinks I've ever had.
Little tangent: In the summer of 2001 I had the pleasure of interviewing jazz legend Percy Heath out in Montauk, NY for the Montauk Pioneer. He joined me for dinner that evening at the Gurney's Inn and lended some advice I'll never forget. Noticing the wear and tear of a full-day's trek in the sun to interview one subject after another in the August heat, Percy slapped his hand on my back and said, "Anytime I have a meal at the end of a long day, I always start with a Bombay Sapphire and tonic with lime... there's nothing as smooth and relaxing in liquid form."
I took Percy's advice, once again, upon arriving at the Biltmore and am pretty sure that Tony the bartender concocted the drink as precisely as possible. Normally, the drink is either too strong or too watered down, but not this time. I thought it was luck, until I noticed that my requested glass of water never went half-empty because Tony refilled it every five mnutes. His service to me, one tired customer, was exceptional— especially in light of the drunken wannabe-player from Los Angeles hitting on a Phoenix local who was really interested in what I did for a living until she realized it probably didn't generate a six-figure income.
I tell this story because it is emblematic, thus far, of how I've been treated during my less-than-24-hour stay. Here are some more prime examples.
* When I woke this morning an ordered some room service for breakfast, the employee at the other end of the phone said it would be at my room in 25 minutes. It arrived 10 minutes after I hung up the phone. I rarely order room service anymore because it usually shows up cold and soggy, but not this time. The day was off to a great start.
* Upon realizing I forgot my toothbrush about an hour later, I called the conierge who sent one up within five minutes and even called at the exact moment to make sure it arrived.
* While I waited for the toothbrush, housekeeping arrived and did a tremendous job fixing up the room. They did it so quietly and smoothly, I barely noticed they were there while I downloaded some pictures and video I took of the property.
These may seem like small and not-so-meaningful moments to you, but keep in mind I've only been here now for about 15 hours. I can only imagine that there will be more to come, especially since every staff member I have met has made the point of taking note of how long I'll be staying here and how often I'll be in my room and/or present on the property. No, I don't think they're gonna hijack my equipment. I think they're taking note of when the best or worst times would be to check on me, my needs and/or the room.
Speaking of the room, I am staying in Room #3323 in the Valley Wing. Check out a brief tour in the video below:
I am here to cover The Lodging Conference 2010, (check in for reports at www.hotelworldnetwork.com this week for updates) which begins tonight, so I took the opportunity to meander around the property this morning before the conference kicks in full gear with one meeting after another.
I can tell you that any golfers, or anyone hoping to make a golfer out of someone, will like it here. There are plentiful putting greens across the resort, most by some beautiful landscape. Perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing section of the property is the Squaw Peak Lawn. Water fountains and meticulously designed gardens and sculptures highlight the outdoor centerpiece, which is adjoined by boutique shops and the property's main bar.
The Paradise Pool is indeed a pleasant oasis in this desert heat. The dining area is kept cool with some mild mist spraying equipment and the water slide is definitely calling my name.
I took a quick peak at the Conference Center as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright and McArthur ballrooms, which are currently being set up for several events taking place this week, and was taken back by how expansive the space is. Makes sense to me as to why The Lodging Conference is being held here. The size and ambiance are more than ideal.
If I get some more time to tour the property, I'll share my experience. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about the Arizona Biltmore and I'd be happy to investigate. Share your questions by posting a comment below, tweeting me (@travelagentmag) or writing at our Facebook page.
May 21, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 17-21
While much of the conversation amongst the travel industry of late has focused on such crises as Icelands's hindering volcanic ash or the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, readers have had some positive, if not constructive, things to share with each other at TravelAgentCentral.com in recent weeks. Let's take a look.
Arizona's Air Travel Addition
While the immigration law in Arizona may have kept some suppliers wary of doing business in The Grand Canyon State, it appears JetBlue is not intimidated as the carrier launches service to Phoenix from Boston. It's great news for the state and anyone involved in selling tourism to the region. Clearly, one reader is excited. Diane wrote:
The state of Arizona welcomes you to our state!! Go Blue...
I know my cousin-in-law, who was a wide receive for the University of Arizona's varsity football team, may not appreciate this but isn't "go blue" also the mantra for the University of Michigan?
More Reasons to Tout Your Profession
You may have read Ruthanne Terrero's initial column which offered 10 reasons to choose a travel agent, and you may want some more. So she delivered with 10 MORE reasons to select a travel professional when planning a trip. Most of the readers were glad with the read, as one would expect. Yet two don't seem two enthused. Jane Ellis wrote:
With today's internet, you'd have to be an idiot to do any of the things described in the article. The article is an argument for common sense and minimal research, not for a travel agent.
Andy Jarosz agrees with Jane, commenting:
These are reasons why people with no commonsense should not travel at all. I seriously doubt any sensible people would make these mistakes, and the people who would do these actions would the type of nightmare customers that an agent would want to avoid! Made my laugh though :)
Before sharing some of the more postive feedback, I'm curious if any readers or agents out there agree with Andy and Jane. If so, why and what do you suggest as an alternative?
Meanwhile, readers like Jess Kalinowsky, clearly disagree with Jane and Andy, stating:
With the advent of the internet, digital photography, et al, everyone thinks they can do it better than a professional! If one believes what they read on the net, then, I am sorry, they deserve what they get, a hotel in the boonies, dirty at that! ANd no "life line" to help them! The Iceland volcano eruption solidified our clients forever! Not one penny was lost, and all were re-accommodated or fully refunded within hours!
More "honest" ammunition!
We don't want the conversation to end here. So keep the comments coming, please.
More Feedback on More Tips
Ruthanne's not the only one dishing out top 10 tips to our readers. Last week, we shared a guest column on how agents can build their revenue-generating e-mail lists for marketing purposes and John Frenaye, a frequent reader and commentator at TravelAgentCentral.com who has engaged readers as well as yours truly in conversations before, shared his two cents, saying:
You need to be very careful about putting names into your marketing database manually. Simply asking for an email address at the end of a phone call IS NOT implied consent to receive your email promotions. It is best to have an opt in(preferable to a double opt in) program to keep you out of trouble with the CanSPAM Act.
And putting your sign up form on your Facebook page is very simple and a good move.
Sounds like good advice to me. Anyone object?
More on Vacation Rentals
The dialogue on agents taking advantage of the niche markets that is vacation rentals continues this week, as Susan throws her hat into the right to solicit business from (and for) agents. She posts:
Vacation rental homes are the way to go. We have many guests who will be staying in a home for the first time vs staying in a Disney hotel, they never go back to hotels. We pay a 10% commission to travel agents and are happy to work with them. Our website is www.orlandovacationhomes.com
If any agents are getting new business through Susan's company, or others, please let us know. We want to spread the wealth (but not in Tea Party fear of Obama policies sense). Susan's offer comes on the heels of a new report on how real estate rentals benefits second homeonwers as well. We shared this story on our Facebook page and received feedback from Stephanie Shaw Gregory, who shared:
I have only had a few request for vacation homes here in the Pacific Northwest. One was a coastal home and one a cabin near Mt. Rainier. Neither places had dealt with a travel agent before but we worked it out and the clients loved the properties...
Seems to me like these opportunities are paying off for agents. Let's hope it continues to gain steam.
Susan J. Young is at it again. After writing about potential fuel surcharges on the rise and how they may affect agents, the cruise expert recently explored the notion of inclusive features on cruise ships for clients and what it means for travel professionals. Harold Hodges was the first to reply with some constructive feedback, stating:
While my cruise sales haven't diminished, All Inclusives have picked up even more. Some clients specifically mention that cruises cost more because of all the items NOT included. Since agents know at least some of their client's likes and dislikes, we could sell more cruises if certain items (perhaps even to just a certain limit) were included. $100 in bar credits, onboard credits etc. As the article points out, you must be careful as to what is included, to be sure that you don't exclude previous cruisers on a familiar itinerary. A general credit is probably the best, is of known cost and could be commissionable with hardly any extra effort on the part of the cruiseline.
For those of you agents who are note Mr. Hodges, what's your take? Have you already experienced cruise inclusivity's effects? Is it good or bad for your business? Let us know.
Targeting Traverus, NCL
It's been more than a years since George Dooley wrote his initial report on Traverus, and it's potential place as a multilevel-marketing company. No surprise to me, the comments keep coming in on the subject. There's been a bunch posted over the months, and here's the latest, submitted by Denyse H Turner:
Wow, you all are now defending TraVerus the way "we" had to defend YTB. Feels horrible, right? And since this article was written, some of you have even "seen the light".
I just want to know who has seen this magical light and what exactly is in this light that is so exciting.
But Traverus is not the only company under fire this week, so is Norwegian Cruise Line. In late 2008, Dave Eisen wrote a brief about Kevin Sheehan being named the new CEO of the cruise line and some readers aren't necessarily upset with Sheehan, but aren't too happy with his company. The latest is Gregory Guess who, when responding to another reader's comments, wrote the following:
Good luck getting a response from NCL. I did multiple contracts for NCL and when I needed to leave due to a family emergency they advised me that I could never work for them again if I did. They were correct they will no longer employee me and the worst part is that no one from the company expressed any sorrow for the death of my brother. Great company huh?
Considering the that cruise industry is the bread and butter for most travel agents, this is disappointing to read. I hope your relationships with the supplier improve, if they need to.
Goodbye, Mr. Whitley
As you may have heard, Bob Whitely, longtime president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, passed away last week. In addition to the heavy loss for his friends and family, the travel industry clearly misses the leader. Here's what readers posted on our site to share their thoughts on the man.
I only met Bob and heard him once but remember his kind manner and I appreciated that he wanted to see Cuba opened up for tours which I was glad and surprised to hear him say but his travel experience and professional manner was an inspiration to me and sure to others - He will be missed by many - hope his family has great memories and stories for their comfort
I had the priviledge to know Bob for over 30 years. He was among the true gentlemen in the Travel Indusrty. I will miss my friend and colleague more than words can express but will keep his memory alive with many fond memories
Phil Sheldon, Hanns Ebensten Travel
I participated in the US-Cuba Travel Summit in Cancun last month where Bob was an active participant. He may have been in the industry for a long time, but he was forward-thinking to the end. He was instrumental in trying to bring the various players together to open up American tourism to Cuba in a responsible way. I am grateful for everything he contributed to our industry.
He was a giant. And one of the finest industry leaders ever, My heart goes out to Carol, Kelly, Scott and Shaun.
jack richards, pleasant holidays
Goodbye my friend. It was a privilege knowing you.
Bob Was A real Gentleman and very wise. My prayers go out to his family. Top shelf hall of famer.
Agents have shared their thoughts about Whitley on our Facebook page as well.
Kim Haring wrote:
Sad to know this dynamic man is not longer with us.
David Carnegie shared:
Another of the great Tourism Industry giants who will always be remembered for his Leadership exemplified by his giving spirit. May we all learn to use these attributes from his example. My condolences to Bob´s family and friends. May God Bless You Always.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob's family, friends and colleagues. The industry will miss him, but it moves on. With that in mind, we hope you continue sharing your thoughts on any topic, whether by posting a comment here at the Weekly Wrap or at other articles. Don't forget to contact us at our Facebook page, or at our Twitter page. Of course, there's always AgentNation, where you can talk about any topic in real time. Until next week...
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 30, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: April 26-30
If you have missed the Weekly Wrap during the course of the past few weeks, I apologize for its absence. I was on the road for three separate occasions in April.
A trip to Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso for the announcement that Antonio Banderas is the new face of the company's global campaign (jealous much, Pike?) preceded my attendance at the 2010 Virtuoso Symposium in Mexico City before finishing up just this week at American Express Publishing's Luxury Summit 2010. It was as exhausting as it was engangin and intriguing, plus I got to stay in some cool places. Check out the videos below of the suites in which I stayed when at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, the St. Regis Mexico City and the Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter in Las Vegas.
Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso
St. Regis Mexico City
Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas
But enough of me sharing my travels, let's take a look at what readers have been talking about here at Travel Agent Central.
Names in Travel
There was sad news this as Donald N. Martin, whose firm Donald N. Martin & Company represented the 39-nation European Travel Commission in the U.S. for more than 40 years, passed away April 23. For those who did not know or work with Martin, Evan A. Pezas had some kind words to share about the man:
A sad day indeed for all of us that served in European Tourist Offices in NY.
I was with the Greek National Tourist Organization when I first met Donald Martin. His professionalism and love of Europe were most imporrtant for the success of Europe in the US. We'll miss him.
Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Martin's family, friends and colleagues.
Another name that received recognition from one of our readers was Joan Werner of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York. George Dooley recently interviewed Warner about travel to Cuba as well as her outlook on 2010 for agents. She must have made an impression, at least on Naomi Cogan, who shared:
Joan Werner is an excellent travel agent - very knowledgeable and creative.
That's quite the endorsement. Glad to see Dooley's choice of interview subject is so highly regarded.
Voices on Vacation Rentals
After reading a report about TripAdvisor's top vacation rentals in the U.S. and across the globe, we asked agents at our Facebook page if they felt the niche was a good business opportunity for them. Not only did many respond to our query, but we also received information from vacation rental businesses that are eager to work with agents. Here's some who wrote in, who you may want to look into for some sales:
On behalf of the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA), I can share that vacation rentals represent a huge area of opportunity for agents to become specialists, as the category remains one of America’s best-kept lodging secrets, but is one of the fastest-growing lodging segments today. Nearly 9 in 10 past guests plan to rent again in 3 years, and would recommend a vacation rental to family/friends, according to PhoCusWright.
The vast majority of VRMA member companies across North America work with travel agents and their clients - Commissions may vary from company to company, but rates can range from 10 to 15% on average. Visit http://www.discovervacationhomes.com for a map that lists the most established professional vacation rental management companies by destination, or for more info about vacation rentals in general to help you get started.
WE love our Travel Agents, Global Resort Homes has been in business since 1993 and is a trusted vacation management company in Orlando, Fl. We pride ourselves in high quality vacation home rentals near the Walt Disney and Universal area. #1 vacation destination in the world! We would love to do business with anyone who may be interested. Here is our website www.globalresorthomes.com
Feel free to contact us with any questions.
We love working with travel agents to bring their clients a better vacation rental experience. We know how impotant it is that the agent can trust us with their client, and do pay comission. This is a great way to show more travelers the joys and value of staying in vacation rentals.We service the beach in Oceanside CA, in North San Diego county, and can be booked at http://www.bettervacationrentals.com or call 800-277-2734 for assistance. If your clients want to go to Disneyland & Sea World or the Zoo - this is the perfect spot.
For Hawaii, Tropical Villa Vacations on Maui has a nice selection of beautiful exclusively managed villas and homes. They work with travel agents to offer their clients and nice option to hotels especially for families or groups of friends traveling together. 888-875-2818 x6 www.tropicalvillavacations.com
Nanci Benefiel Owner
Yes, vacation rentals are a good business for travel agents and an untouched market. No need to add a fee as I pay a commission. You asked to hear from suppliers. I have over 100 homes and condos in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico that we offer as vacation rentals and pay all of our travel agents a commission. If you would like to discuss our services or want information please feel free to contact me by e-mail or at our toll free number 1-888-332-8477. Nanci@bajasurvacationrentals.com
But before everyone starts dialing up or surfing to these companies web sites, let's see what some agents said about their experience with vacation rentals.
Tina M Erskine posted:
I will book whatever is in the best interest of the client. There are resources to use that pay a commission and when there aren't I have no problem charging a fee for my services. I am a professional and if a client comes to me, they expect to pay me for my training and experience. Sometimes that means a commission, sometimes, it means a fee. I encourage clients to save money booking air on the airlines website that I find them on ITA Software all the time. Most of the time, they aren't confident enough and are happy to pay my service fee.
Bob Malmerg, meanwhile, seems a little cautious about vacation rentals, writing:
VACATION RENTALS HAVE A LOT: LOCATION, FACILITIES, FEATURES AND ACCESSABILITY. The single most important thing that they do NOT have is MANAGEMENT. Without management what you have is a box with beds. And that's all you have. Do agents really want to assume the risk in such a fly-by-night enterprise? Think it over. Agents have been entrusted with the customers money (which can always be replaced one way or another) but more precious is the time involved, that once spent is gone forever. In risk management, the least attractive of the threee available is to absorb the risk and that's exactly what agents are doing with vacation rentals.
Amanda Drake, whose first comment is also shared above, quickly responded to Bob, commenting:
Bob - When choosing a vacation rental from an established property management company, agents can be assured that there’s a reputable business maintaining and servicing the property and its guests each day. This includes dedicated guest hospitality services & amenities, all of the proper inspections, reservations, housekeeping, landscaping, laundry, a trained customer service staff, etc. Many feel it's the only way to travel! :)
We'd recommend looking for third-party endorsements on the websites of rental management companies, including membership in industry associations like the Vacation Rental Managers Association, Better Business Bureau (BBB) and local property management groups, or approval from AAA, among others.
After hearing from suppliers and agents, do you have any additional thoughts on this market? Let us know.
Arizona, Immigration and Tourism
The Grand Canyon State's recent legal reform about immigration has certainly been a hot topic in the news and political blogosphere. When we received a phone call from an agent saying that clients just canceled a vacation to Arizona, we asked readers on our Facebook page if they were experiencing anything similar. The responses were rapid, so we wrote a piece to share them with our Travel Agent Central readers, and got even more rapid responses. While most of them lean toward politcal views, let's take a look at ones that relate to the tourism industry and travel agents.
Carol was the first to address the topic, posting:
I have many clients who work for a major US city. They have received a directive that they are not to spend city funds in AZ, including no connections in PHX. Many nonrefundable tickets will be thrown away and public funds spent on new ones. Sensible?
And it appears that Veronica is experiencing similar situations, as we writes:
I have a group of women who do a Girls Weekend in AZ every summer. They've called to ask for suggestions for other spas not in AZ!
Meanwhile, Lillian Nawman is pleading for agents to do what they can to keep clients heading to Arizona, stating:
Arizona is in the state of emergency. Their people are scared to death of the atmosphere created there because of the failure of the politicians and government to overlook the critical situation that has been there for years. A boycott on Arizona could destroy their travel industry economyly to say nothing of the other businesses Folks, if you want your country back allow the citizens to DO something about it for a change. When the World Centers collapsed on 9-11 were we told to boycott New York City? Of course not. As for me, I will not discourage my clients to stay away from Arizona. Those Arizonans need our suppport now, and your support too.
It appears Lillian has a backer in June S, who shared:
People should only be allowed to immigrate legally like every other country in the world. If more lazy Americans would work we would not have a labor problem. I will be glad to send my clients to AZ
In addition, we got some outside perspective from an agent in Canada, named dmshea, who posted:
From a Canadian standpoint, the new AZ bill will probably have little effect on travel. Our agency has had no cancellation whatsoever because of the law thus far, and don't expect any! We have a fair few AZ home owners in Western Canada. We are far removed from it and although I don't personally condone it, I guess every state needs to try something to combat the illegal immigration issue.
With the announcement today that the U.S. Travel Association is opposed to any boycott of travel, in addition to the comments shared above, it appears Arizona has a lot of support in keeping tourism alive in the state. There are a lot of nuts out there trying to make our query about the law's effect on tourism some political statement (one even removed his comment from our Facebook page after we called him out for putting words in our mouth), and I would like to politely ask that you don't come round here with that.
I don't say that because I am aligned to one side of the issue or another. I say it because you're just wasting our time and travel professionals' time while coming across as one of those crazies that does nothing but sit on the computer all day and look for pages online to go off on a rant about an issue that, admit it, you cannot directly change yourself. I'm all for free speech in opinion, but that doesn't mean hard political rhetoric (from any end of the spectrum) is going to get a lot of air time here.
Avoid this Beach
We'll end this week on a lighter note, about a state that's not Arizona. Awhile back, one of our interns wrote a brief about the top 10 most dangerous beaches in the world. Recently, someone added their own choice of beach to the list. The reader goes by the name top ten beaches of the world, and he/she/it(?) wrote:
All 10 beaches are dengerous. But i think Long Beach Island, New Jersey is very dengerous.
I wish the reader would say why he/she/it(?) thinks the New Jersey beach is "dengerous," but there's no details. So I searched for some video about it and stumbled upon a nice piece about the region by Erik Hastings, who I met when in the Riviera Maya in Mexico while in town for the Iberostar event. Check out what he found about the area and judge for yourself.
Seems like a pretty "non-dengerous" place to me. Did I miss something?
As always, we don't want to conversation to end here. Whether it's about the issues cited above, or any others for that matter, we always want to hear from you. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Log in to AgentNation, we have a discussion thread about the Arizona situation, among others. We look forward to hearing from you.
October 14, 2008
The profession of travel writing affords many benefits. None more special than seeing the world and interviewing noteworthy subjects. My latest trip to the Southwest would satisfy both. My first stop was to Las Vegas and Palms Place, the newest luxury addition to the Palms Casino Resort. There, I’d have the opportunity to meet and speak with George Maloof, Jr., owner of The Palms, and a man who I had already gotten to know through—of all mediums—TV. Yes, I’d be breaking bread with the guy who partied with Hugh Hefner and, who, famously is seen in the shot of Pamela Anderson running up to The Hef in his eponymous sky villa at The Palms, dressed in nothing more than her birthday suit on the E! Network reality series, "Girls Next Door." Maloof had the foresight to combine his hotel venture with pop culture. It’s paid off in dividends.
Sadly, my anticipated tête-à-tête was never to materialize due to a logistical snafu. Not to worry, that’s why Bell created the phone. Regardless, I still stayed a night at one of the hottest resorts in Las Vegas. The Palms really gets it right: the perfect mix of nightlife, food and accommodations. Of course, entertainment is its calling card with the likes of Ghostbar, Moon, Rain and The Playboy Club all catering to a variety of tastes and people. Now, Maloof has added Palms Place, which is a more upscale sibling to The Palms Casino Resort, offering sleek chic accommodations with amenities to match. All studios, one-bedroom suites and penthouses have something you won’t find at most Vegas hotels: hardwood floors and balconies.
Moon at The Palms
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recount my visits to two of the cooler suites at The Palms—the Hardwood Suite and Hugh Hefner Sky Villa. I am a huge basketball fan, and the Hardwood Suite is a basketball fan’s dream come true. Sure, it’s $25,000 per night, but where else are you going to find a room with a hardwood basketball court? Other cool touches include beds that are fit for those over 6-feet tall (yes, Shaquille O’Neal has stayed a night) and an actual locker room, albeit luxurious, unlike the one you used in high school.
Next, I checked out the granddaddy of them all: the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa. It was like walking onto hallowed ground. Ah, if these walls could talk. Well, at least we have the E! Network to give us a glimpse at what goes on in a suite that commands $40,000 per night. The cantilevered hot tub overlooking The Strip is particularly incredible.
All good things must come to an end. Luckily, my trip had just begun. Next up, Encantado, an Auberge Resort, in Santa Fe, NM. You don’t meet too many people who have visited New Mexico (or maybe I just don’t), but the feeling is something different, especially for someone living in New York—that’d be me. The hour-long drive from Albuquerque is a lovely primer—Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level, so it feels that you are almost parallel with the clouds.
The resort itself would be tough to find if not for a sign. It sits back in the foothills of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. To say the view is otherwordly does not give it justice. The resort is as elegant as its surroundings with 65 casitas featuring outdoor patio areas and kiva fireplaces inside. Each casita has unsurpassed amenities and cool touches like heated bathroom floors.
Dining and spa take center stage. The Terra restaurant under the direction of Chef Charles Dale serves up regional fare: on the opening night, I ate a steak about the size of my head. The Spa at Encantado is a slice of heaven with 15 treatment rooms and suites, along with special areas for both men and women. Nothing is more invigorating than taking a plunge in the outdoor hot tub, then making a dash into the eucalyptus infused steam room. The property has only been open for a little more than two months and Robert Redford has stayed twice. Need I say more?
By: David Eisen