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...
June 05, 2010
First Impressions of Richmond's The Jefferson Hotel
I am not on a press trip, nor am I traveling on assignment. I am in Richmond, VA for my cousin's wedding and it just so happens she and her husband made the wise decision to book rooms at The Jefferson Hotel for their guests. My wife and I are currently staying in Room #248, an Executive Suite, and are having a hard time leaving the room to check out the historical elements of Richmond because the suite is too cozy and elegant. See for yourself in the video below:
I'll share more about the property later, including some footage of the Rotunda, the entrance, the Palm Court, and Lamaire Restaurant, but had to take note of the client service the hotel provides. Unaware that I'm a journalist who will be reviewing the property, the staff has been as cordial as you would expect a southern gentleman or lady to act. From the concierge to the turn-down service, all interaction with employees has been nothing but high class.
A nice touch: the hotel wants to spoil you as much as possible with its car service. Last night, instead of leaving my wife and I to find our way to a local club for the rehearsal dinner, the concierge insisted the hotel's driver take us to where we were going before picking us up later. We already took advantage of this free service this morning when getting breakfast and taking a brief tour of some of Richmond's sites. We knew to bring the umbrella provided by the room when taking a walk thanks to the direct weather report we received under our door last night.
Cool aspect: The U.S. Supercar Tour selected the property as one spot for a stop to provide guests the opportunity to drive a Ferrari, Audi, Cobra, Porsche, Lamborghini and other sports cars for 30 minutes each (for about $1,000 and change). The tour is making stops across the country, and it says something that they picked The Jefferson Hotel.
I'll be sharing more about the property later. Until then, check out these summer and autumn deals below that may interest your clients:
June 01, 2010
A Short Stay at Nashville's Union Station
I just got back from a road trip down to Memphis, Tennessee and, on my way, I was fortunate enough to stay at Nashville's Union Station Hotel, A Wyndham Historic Hotel. And believe me, after days on the road this hotel was beyond paradise for a weary traveler.
The hotel was constructed out of a restored 19th-century railroad station and, while walking into the lobby, I truly felt like I had stepped back in time. Picture wood paneling, two massive clocks and the nice touch of an old-time railroad schedule behind the reception desk. No doubt the most outstanding feature is the 65-foot, vaulted ceiling which is made out of gold-leaf medallions and stained glass.
I stayed in room #620, a Station Master's Suite, which has an enormous bedroom (bigger than my apartment in New York) and a living room just as large. Nothing like ordering a glass of wine from room service and flipping on one of two flat-screen TVs before heading to the bars and restaurants Downtown, which is literally five blocks away. (Just walk down Broadway toward the river.)
The rooms are equipped with Wi-Fi, but for a fee. The business center, however, is free to all guests. There is also a fitness center and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Before I hit the road again, the next morning I made sure to stop at Prime 108, the hotel's restaurant. I recommend the omelette, which is plumped up with your choice of fillings. A side of white cheddar grits adds that necessary Southern touch.
May 28, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 24-28
Ready for the Memorial Day travel blitz? Are you or your clients visiting any of the more popular destinations for the holiday? Either way, thanks for stopping by the Weekly Wrap to check in on what's been buzzing at TravelAgentCentral.com before taking off for the long weekend. This week, there were various comments about cruise trends and "inclusivity," airline mergers and passenger clubs, New Orleans, traveling with pets, and more— quite the way to kick off the summer. Let's get scrolling.
The Travel Agent: Valued by More than Stupid People
As you have hopefully read by now, Ruthanne Terrero updated her list of top reasons to use a travel agent with 10 MORE top reasons to go through a professional. There were some who agreed with Ruthanne, as well as those who didn't, and I went through them last week. Since then, we've got some more feedback I think agents and readers would appreciate.
firstname.lastname@example.org, for starters, not only concurs with Ruthanne but shares a similar experience, commenting:
While you think in this information age it couldn't happen - well think again. Web boards tell them all the time they don't need a travel agent and if they keep reading and researching they can do it and after all that you get the question - what is a gty cabin?
Meanwhile, Ilze appears to be on the fence, writing:
It's fun to read how stupid people can be but it is a reality. Unfortunately, travel agent can not help a stupid person. Travel agent is needed in case you are not familiar with internet and some basic principles how travel offers are made.
Personally, I think anyone who is a stupid person is usually beyond help. However, I would assume that said stupid person would prefer that all processes involved in taking a vacation remain as easy as possible, and you just can't get that guarantee online. As for those who think agents are only valuable to those who don't use the Internet, all I can say is that if your journey goes wrong and you need assistance that it's much more reassuring (and probably easier) to go through a fellow human for customer service instead of a machine and it's connection to a nearly-limitless world. And this is coming from a web guy.
Cruise Trends & Fees
Susan J. Young has been uber-busy this month. Analyzing everything from the potential wave of fuel surcharges that may be hitting the cruise industry to the potential slowdown of Europe's cruise business. Seeing that cruise vacations are some agents' bread-and-butter, it didn't take long for some to respond on both matters.
Speaking on the topic of fuel supplements, a reader who goes by the name TheAnalyst is not too worried about the future, posting:
There is no chance that Carnival Corp will implement fuel surcharges are lines such as Carnival, Princess, HAL. RCCL and NCL won't either. Wake up. Last time they did this on a massive scale, the cruiselines all got sued by the government.
I think we are pretty awake to ask the question. As airlines add ancillary fees and other suppliers do all they can to leverage more business during the current economic slowdown, who's to say cruise lines won't take a risk and bring back extra charges? Could you blame them?
TheAnalyst also shared his/her two cents on a potential halt in cruise vacations in Europe due to the Iceland volcano incident, as well as British Airways strikes and the turmoil in Greece, among other situations, stating:
Eur/Med cruises are being marketed heavily to the drive markets. In order to understand if these cruises are doing well, you need to talk to Eur. agencies who are being hand fed the cabins by the cruiselines.
Fair enough, TheAnalyst. Have you talked to any Europe agencies and obtained info to share? If so please let us know.
Two other readers commented on the issue, one with positive news and the other with some negative news. Margaret Stein appears to be seeing trouble on the horizon, for instance, commenting:
I have already experienced cruise cancellations due to the volcano issues. I have also lost hotel bookings due to the BA strikes. Overheard conversations at social events confirm travellers' disgust with the inconveniencies of travelling to Europe.
Meanwhile, Jean Szabad is more optimistic, saying:
I have quite a few European Cruises and River Cruises book for travel now through August. The only ones who were concerned about the ash are the two that are on a a Princess Cruise out of London now. They made it ok and I am sure are enjoying themselves now. The other people I have who are traveling don't seem to be afraid to travel and aren't concerned about the Euro. This is probably a good time to buy a European cruise to get a bargain!
So we've heard from both sides. Anyone out there with a story to share to tip the balance in favor of Europe cruises or not?
Airline Mergers & Passenger Clubs
The biggest airline news in the recent weeks has, undoubtedly, been the proposed merger between Continental and United, which would dwarf last year's merger of Delta and Northwest. Our man George Dooley analyzed the situation, asking how it may affect travel professionals.
In case you can't pick up on the sarcasm, one reader, Maria K Todd, MHA PhD, does not appear to think good things will result, saying:
You mean they would have to compete on quality and customer service? Wow! Perish the thought!
Perish the thought indeed, especially when you consider that, on the heels of this news, both US Airways is interested in a merger as is Virgin Atlantic. Even government representatives are not enthused by the idea of a merger. But some, like MLT Vacations, think it's good news. How about you?
Some airline news I think all can agree is good is the recent announcement that American AirlinesAdmirals Club at Heathrow is going to upgrade its . In fact, the news is so good that our friend Jacqueline Johnson shared her thoughts, writing:
Great to hear this. It certainly needed an overhaul and update as it was an awful place to visit.
Another Request for Pet Airways
Although the initial story is now more than a year old, we're still getting a lot of attention to the news about Pet Airways, an airline soley for your favorite traveling companion. Some readers seem to think we have an influence on the company. Unfortunately, beyond their executives reading our reports, we don't have that much power. However, we can certainly hope they read our republishing of comments on their airline, like Diane, who wrote:
Hope you get to northern California soon! Oakland, SF, or San Jose especially!
Did you get that Pet Airways? Business potential is there.
Nice News for New Orleans
To see New Orleans has had it rough during the past few years would be an understatement. But things are looking up, right? After all the Saints won the Super Bowl and more and more travelers are feeling confident in a journey to the region. With that in mind, it's nice to see that, despite the current oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, that the Big Easy is, as of now, unaffected. Still, some are, understandably, wary.
Geri Simpson shared her concern, writing:
All in the article is true, but what I'm concerend about is the future affect of our seafood, much of which does come directly from our waters. It is synonomous with New Orleans cuisine.
Marie shares the worry, stating:
Hurricane season is weeks away. If a Hurricane hits Gulf Coast, hopefully crossing fingers. Has the government any plans on the cleanup if it goes AIRBORNE? Just asking.
I agree with you both. Hence, the "for now." Let's keep our fingers crossed for the city and hope agents are more than confident to sell the destinaion to their clients.
Remember, the conversation never ends here. We want to hear from you. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) Join real-time discussions on anything from the best GDS to use to which European tour sellers to trust at AgentNation.
Have a great weekend!
November 20, 2009
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: November 16-20
Since the last time we last chatted, I've been a pretty busy guy. On Thursday, November 12 (my brother Sean Cassels' birthday— sorry buddy but I had to be somewhere), I flew down to Aruba and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino while covering Hyatt's Travel Agent Awards. Yes, I was in Aruba but it wasn't like I was splashing around in the Caribbean Sea the whole time. I took a property tour, seen in the video below, and am still working on my follow-up for the next print edition of Travel Agent.
Upon my return, I had to perform my civil duty by participating in the justice squad... that is attend jury duty for two days. Fortunately, being married to a legal marketer and the offspring of a doctor and nurse gave the lawyers plenty of reason to excuse me from a medical malpractice case (Attention patient: next time try medical tourism).
Now back in the chilly Northeast and away from near sequestration, I see that this whole Twilight New Moon is the big deal this weekend, Sarah Palin's book tour is mainstream media's dream come true, and professional sports should change the label on marijuana from recreational drug to performance enhancer as Cy Young-winner Tim Lincecum has been busted for possession of pot (not too long after Michael Phelps was caught smoking after winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics).
But as exhilarating as brawling teenage vampires and werewolves, former vice presidential candidates, and hippy athletes may be, we've got other topics to discuss here this week, so let's take a look.
Hate Them, Can't Leave Them
George Dooley's feature piece on airline fees and how they may lead to more disaster in the industry broached familiar territory for travel agents and their clients. One reader, John, shares a recent experience he had and touches on it to iterate his take on where airline baggage fees are leading us, saying:
I was on a flight a few weeks ago when a small passenger was trying to put a large heavy bag in the overhead bin. She lost control of it and injured another passenger who was seated under that spot. If she had been allowed to check that bag for free, the other passenger would not have been injured. I can see what is coming - weigh the passenger and all the bags and charge accordingly. That way everyone is paying their fare share. Run the airlines like a freight company - it cost so much per pound to transport from point A to point B. Charge what it actually costs, plus 15 percent profit and everyone will be happy. Then the airlines can compete again on who has the best meals and best service.
I have to disagree with John's point that everyone will be happy. Something tells me only new problems would arise (especially for agents getting phone calls from clients complaining that they cannot board and that they feel fat). Meanwhile, he could be right about treating passengers like cargo. After all, United Airlines is implementing a pay-more-to-fly-if-you-are-fat policy while Ryanair customers are heavily in favor of a "fat tax" for obese passengers.
Stuck Between A Terminal & A Jetway
Continuing with the air travel and passenger theme, I'd like to address a comment made by Katy about the best airports for getting stranded. She asks:
Being a travel agent, this info will be helpful when choosing connection cities for my clients. Would you be able to expandy on this list and tell us more?
Katy, glad to help. For starters, click through the related story link about the 10 best and worst airports for sleeping, where you'll get more informatio about other airports.
From my personal experience, I can name two airports and one terminal where I've been stuck for awhile and was not destroyed by the experience. Chicago's O'Hare airport may be famous for delays, but its easy access to public transportation to the center of the city and back was quite convenient when I had a five-hour layover there back in 2004. With 90-minutes of roundtrip travel time, I was able to enter the Windy City and grab a beer while watching Bears fans throw a conniption over one Rex Grossman.
Meanwhile, as much as I understand many would not want to visit Philadelphia (I lived there for two years), it's airport is also easily accessible/departable via the city thanks to public transportation.
Finally, as much as New York's JFK is a living hell for some, JetBlue's Terminal 5 is pretty kick-ass. The free Wifi, array of shops and dining, the salon (in which I have not yet partaken but have heard good things) and the proximity of bar service near all gates was quite ideal as I journeyed to Aruba last week (granted the Bloody Mary the bartender comped me to bring on the plane my have slanted my judgment here).
But I am just on person, and I am not an agent, so what say you readers? Can you help Katy and I expand on this list of airports where it's not so bad to get stuck?
American Airlines, Anxiety & Angst
There were two stories we recently published that invovled American Airlines (AA) which received some interesting comments. This first was about the ongoing tussle between AA and Virgin Atlantic over Japan Airlines (JAL). I have no opinion on the matter, so I'm steering clear of who I would say is right or wrong in this situation. But it appears an AA employee, going by the name Ryan M, felt the need to state his company's case on the matter, writing:
Once again, Virgin’s comments are long on accusations and rhetoric and short on the facts. American is opposed to a Delta-Japan Airlines (JAL) tie-up for the same reason we are confident our transatlantic immunity application will be approved: to preserve and enhance competition.
SkyTeam with a Delta-JAL combination would account for nearly 60 percent of U.S.-Tokyo passengers, as opposed to oneworld’s approximate 44 percent share of U.S.-London passengers. AA and British Airways only account for about 40 percent of U.S.-U.K. traffic, whereas Delta-JAL would consolidate the positions of the two largest U.S.-Japan carriers with more than 60 percent share of U.S.-Japan passengers, leaving oneworld with just a 6 percent share.
The bottom line is we’re aiming to level the playing field for alliance competition in the transatlantic market and to prevent an unlevel field for alliance competition from evolving in the transpacific.
Ryan, it's an honor having your eyes perusing our site. I am not taking sides here, but I'll say I had a pleasant experience flying AA from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico and then over to St. Thomas for my recent honeymoon before flying back from St. Thomas to Miami and then back up to New York (and yes, the Miami airport deserves its placement in the top five airports for getting stranded mentioned above), so if you want to help me out with another flight sometime I'd be very happy. I've never flown Virgin, if that helps persuade you :)
Another commentator had some curious words to share about AA, but they were not in defense of the airline nor about its competition with other carriers. This time, it was about the recent announcement that ARC and AA are going to develop a dupicate ID tool to avoid mishaps with overbooking flights. Sounds like an interesting idea, but for NYC Travel Agent it sounds a little Orwelian, sharing:
I'm very curious on how a fool-proof system will be created to make matches on duplicate bookings?Something tells me they will use their access to now-required APIS & Secure Flight data in order to create the cross-check ...legal use? Privacy matters?
I think something being so publicized and, hopefully, regulated could avoid trouble related to NYC Travel Agent's concerns, but I'm not industry expert and the only type of law I am adept at is communicaiton law (say whatever you want as long as it's true). Privacy concerns will never go away. Hardcore liberals accuse the government of using security as a reason to invade privacy whereas hardcore conservatives say healthcare reform will contribute to the removal of our civil liberties. But I think NYC Travel Agent is right in raising this issue right away. Does anyone else share his concern or, perhaps, think he/she is getting too paranoid like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory?
What's In A Word?
Hurricane Ida has come and gone and seems to have been the worst of the season. It sadly killed hundreds in El Salvador before disrupting many cruise itineraries in the Gulf Coast region near Florida and Alabama. Our own Dave Eisen wrote about the subject, choosing "Hurricane Ida Wreaks Havoc Along Gulf Coast" as the headline, and one reader did not agree on the choice of verb and adjective. Paul Graber, commented:
I think the headline is sending out the wrong message.
Because Paul neglected to share what in the headline was wrong and what he thinks a better message would have been, it's not easy to answer this statement precisely. On one hand, I think anyone who was on those cruise ships or about to embark would consider trip cancelation and storm-battling havoc. On the other hand, when places like Panama City report that the storm left them "unscathed," then perhaps the headline was a tad dramatic. Still go you to read it though, right?
Crucon Cruise: Good or Bad?
In the last weekly wrap, I addressed Maria Jones' critical comments on the company and asked readers to reply in agreement with or in contrast against Ms. Jones. Peter Blank answered the call, stating:
I have found Leana and CruCon customer service to be responsive and especially quick to apply price reductions.
Thank you Peter for chiming in. We now have one for and one against the company, so who is going to jump in and be the tiebreacker in this rubber match of comments? Anyone? Anybody? Bueller?
Guess who's back?! Don't be surprised, YTB remains one of the more highly-contested topics of conversation round these parts of the Internet. So when Dooley reported on the company's third-quarter earnings (or lack thereof?), it was only a matter of moments for someone to chime in. And that someone was Jay, who asked:
Will someone please pull the plug on this scam?
It may take awhile Jay. Despite YTB's court troubles in California as well as in Illinois, it is likely not going away anytime soon. Fallout from court settlements can take forever (I know from experience as I await word on what's happening after Tishman Speyer lost its appeal of a class action lawsuit over rent stabilization in Stuyvesant Town neighborhood). Best of luck to all of us, eh?
Beauty Queen Babble
No, we're not talking about Sarah Palin's stint as a beauty queen contestant nor are we talking about Carrie Prejean's little display on Larry King, we are talking about Miss Texas USA Brooke Daniels. We have mentioned her a few times before as a result of her attendance at the Miss Spain contest in Cancun, and some people are ANGRY! Check the comments for yourself, because this latest one, posted by someonewhoknows, just has me confused:
I don't understand how people can judge from afar???? I wonder what they thought about the stockers who were obviously watching them the whole time.....you are just sad girls who dont have lifes!! Btw thier mother is beautiful and far from preggers!
I think someonewhoknows means stalkers, not stockers. That aside, as amusing as I find this I am confused as to a story can elicit such raw emotion from some commentators, which then only spawn more craziness. But I'm not going to complain, it makes this part of me week that more interesting. Anyone else want to throw some turpentine on this brush fire?
Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, I won't be writing the Weekly Wrap next week so we'll be in touch again later in the month. Until then, don't forget to keep these conversations and topics of discussion going in real time at AgentNation, the only social community online that is for all kinds of travel agents and professionals. Log in and/or sign up today.
June 22, 2009
Virginia is for History Lovers
As the school year ends and families prepare for summer vacations, parents can keep their kids’ education going with a tour of central Virginia. The cities of Richmond and Roanoke offer a bounty of opportunities for children and adults alike to learn about the history of the state, the South, and the country itself.
The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar is built on the site of the Tredegar Iron Works, a major factory that was active from before the Civil War to the 1950s. Two years ago, the eight-acre site was recreated as a museum that shows the many different sides of the War, offering three perspectives on every issue: the North, fighting for the Union; the South, fighting for their homeland; and the slaves, fighting for their freedom. (A good exhibit, director Christy Coleman believes, raises more questions than it answers, and the museum follows this philosophy.) To more fully tell the story of the War, the museum focuses on its causes and its legacies, including the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s and the election of President Obama. Children are especially welcome at the museum, and one wall is papered with notes from kids that express their impressions of what they’ve seen. Visitors can download an audio tour of the museum to their iPods before arrival, and a typical tour of the exhibits takes about an hour.
A segway tour heads to the Tredegar Iron Works
(Side note: Segway of Richmond offers
tours of the city from the eponymous machines, giving a view of
Richmond inaccessible from cars…and giving families a fun way to bond
while they’re at it. It takes a few moments to relearn balance, but
once you get the knack of a Segway they’re quite a lot of fun. Tour
guide Tony Pitts offers a fun and very informative running commentary
on the buildings and monuments as visitors glide by them.)
For a more personal perspective of African American and feminist history, the Maggie Walker House honors a local legend who overcame prejudice and sexism to become a pillar of her community. Maggie Walker was born to a former slave a few years after the Civil War, and through pure determination and hard work rose to become the first female bank president in the United States in 1903. (The bank still exists.) From Richmond’s Jackson Ward district, Walker became a leading figure in the African American community, establishing a newspaper, a department store and other businesses that provided opportunities for black professionals. Her home has been preserved as a museum that honors her many accomplishments, and registered as a National Historic Site. Tours are available throughout the day, and admission is free.
The re-creation of Maggie Walker's bank
Near the Walker museum is The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia. With a series of rotating exhibits, the museum celebrates not only Richmond’s African American community, but also their heritage in Africa and beyond. Current exhibits display the fashion designs of JW Robinson Horne and study the connections between Virginia and the West African empire of Mali.
No visit to Virginia’s capital would be complete without a visit to its capitol building, of course. Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the style of a Greek or Roman temple, the capitol is a centerpiece of Virginia’s history. A combination of museum and active political hub, the building continues to blend classic and contemporary. Visitors can see the room where the state decided to secede from the Union, and then walk down the halls to the current Senate and House of Delegates.
The state capital building
Jean-Antoine Houdon's life-size statue of George Washington stands in the central hallway, surrounded by busts of every American president born in Virginia. (A bust of the Marquis de Lafayette, whose military expertise helped America win the Revolutionary War, also has a place of honor in the hall.) The statue focuses on Washington’s many careers, with a fasces (a symbol of governmental power), a sword and a ploughshare all displayed around the great leader.
The statue of George Washington inside the state capitol building
Outside of the capitol building are numerous statues of notable Virginians; tucked to the side is a recent addition to the pantheon. In 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns (niece of civil rights activist Vernon Johns) organized a student strike at the segregated Robert Russa Moton High School, demanding improved learning conditions. The strike was one of the first steps that lead to the Brown v. Board of Education decision three years later, and a statue of Johns and her fellow students (as well as other figures central to the civil rights movement) recognizes their sacrifices and accomplishments. Created by sculptor Stanley Bleifeld, the artwork is a very emotional and inspiring tribute to the people at the heart of the civil rights movement.
In Farmville, visitors can see the schoolhouse where Johns organized her strike, and can sit in the very auditorium where she encouraged her fellow students to demand equality. The school is being converted into a museum that will be completed by 2011, although some rooms are ready to be toured now. Bob Hamlin, the museum’s president, was himself a student at the school until Prince Edward County’s school board decided to eliminate public education rather than integrate in 1959, and offers a wonderfully personal take on the school’s place in Virginia—and national—history.
The memorial to Barbara Johns
Roanoke was a transportation hub in western Virginia, and today remains the commercial and cultural center of the Roanoke Valley and southern West Virginia. The Virginia Museum of Transportation houses antique cars, buses and trains (outdoors on the original tracks) to celebrate this heritage, as well as an enormous diorama with working model trains and detailed explanations of how engines work. Any fans of trains or classic cars will want to see the refurbished machines and learn the details of how they work.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation
By: Jena Tesse Fox
February 25, 2009
90 Minutes In New Orleans
An amenity-laden cruise ship is “the destination” to many cruisers. I definitely get that. After all, today’s ships are modern floating resorts, so why should anyone want to leave?
That said, I’m among those who view an amenity-laden cruise ship as a fun, pampering means to the destination. Seeing the world’s sites is to me, the greatest joy of cruising.
So, when a recent Carnival Fantasy five-night voyage from New Orleans to Mexico was over (and a great experience it truly was), I bemoaned the fact that my flight was leaving just after mid-day. I was headed to the airport – without seeing anything in the Big Easy.
So Close, Yet So Far
Along with dozens of other Carnival passengers, I dutifully prepared to board the airport-bound motorcoach. It was about 8 a.m. I knew that upon arrival at the airport, I’d have hours to wait.
If my flight would have departed a bit later I could have booked Carnival’s half-day, post-cruise tour excursion and airport transfer, a relatively good value at $55. But that would have been too late for my flight.
I was caught in no-man’s land – that unfortunate circumstance in which one has too many hours at the airport and not enough time to book a half-day tour of the destination. But from the ship, I could almost see the promised land. I knew the French Quarter was just a mile or so from the pier.
Alas, I was here and I was going to miss it. Or, was I?
In a split second decision, I asked the Carnival representative at the motorcoach parking lot where the cabs were. She pointed me in the right direction, I slid into a cab and boldly told the driver, “Café Du Monde!”
Off we went – motoring through the warehouse district, by Harrah’s Casino and along the fringes of downtown. I had one impression: “clean and neat.” No signs of Katrina’s visit here.
Café and Beignets
Within 10 minutes, I was seated at my own table at Café Du Monde, a French café near
Jackson Square. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the 70s. I had a blessed sense of appreciation for the simple joys that travel delivers for any of us in the travel business. Even grabbing a few minutes here or there in an exotic locale is simply priceless.
Soon, I was savoring Café Du Monde’s house specialty -- three flaky beignets, basically square French-style fried fritters (aka donuts) topped with powdered sugar. Café Du Monde has been serving up this fare since 1862. The bill itself seemed stuck in time. One order of beignets was $1.82. Including coffee, my tab was $4, a bargain.
Café Du Monde isn’t so much a place as an experience. Beyond the beignets, it’s a great place to watch people. New Orleans has its share of quirky types in the French Quarter, making the “watching” even more enjoyable.
The locals were out in force walking their dogs, many of which comically resembled, not surprisingly, the owners themselves. A street entertainer created colorful balloon art. Tourists snapped photos.
But after a half-hour of bliss just watching life in the French Quarter unfold, I knew the clock was ticking. By 8:45 a.m., I headed over to Jackson Square. While I wanted to just stroll, I also was toting a carry-on suitcase and a computer bag.
Carriage Ride into History
Presto, in front of me at the curb appeared a lone red-and-white carriage. It was early yet, so the long line of carriages that typically wait there hadn’t yet materialized. The mule seemed healthy and well-groomed.
“I usually take four people at $60 apiece, but because it’s early and there aren’t a lot of folks lined up, I’ll take you solo for $50 if you like,” volunteered the go-getter who was the carriage driver. Fondly remembering similar rides in 1998 and 2003 with relatives and friends, I agreed and hopped onboard.
Usually, these rides can stir up some incredibly tall tales. Blessedly, this driver was entertaining and highly informative, but he stuck to the facts – a treasure trove of dates and happenings – and left the jokes behind, which I greatly appreciated.
In about 30 minutes, I received a wonderfully comprehensive carriage tour of the French Quarter. The experience flew by quickly as the driver talked, the mule traveled and I snapped photos. It was a whirlwind tour.
From Bienville’s statue to the Bonaparte House, from St. Louis Cathedral to Pat O’Briens, from Antoine’s to the Cabildo, local bars, historic buildings and the French Market, the city’s history and soul came alive with every turn my carriage took. Gold, green and purple Mardi Gras banners fluttered in the soft breeze. My driver explained the meaning – gold is power, green is faith, purple is justice.
I savored the sights of lovely wrought-iron balconies; historic homes; and French style buildings with open-air courtyards. I glimpsed the bar where Harry Connick Jr. got his start. And without the driver’s banter, I would have missed noticing an innocuous, multi-million-dollar French Quarter home owned by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
Impressions of a Cabbie
Around 9:45 a.m., my carriage driver – who went the extra mile for service – was kind enough to hail me a cab. He volunteered. I did not ask. It’s the kind of proactive service you’ll find from many in this city during these times.
Soon I was en route to the airport. On the way, I chatted up the cabbie about tourism. When you want to know what’s really happening anywhere you just ask a cabbie.
My cabbie came to New Orleans 30 years ago to attend Tulane University’s graduate school, but let the good times roll, as he explained it. He never did go to Tulane, but he partied hearty. He’s now married and lives in the New Orleans area, and loves it – save the economy.
His view was that the city was doing remarkably well in its post-Katrina recovery when the economic melt-down hit. A working class guy, he sadly noted that there were some 1,600 cabbies pre-Katrina, but today that number is down to 800 or so, with more dropping out daily due to the economic crunch.
One problem, he noted, is that New Orleans isn’t just a tourist town, it’s a convention city. And lately conference participants – already booked to attend – simply are failing to show up. For the auto dealers’ convention, for example, thousands simply didn’t show up – likely a fall-out of closing dealerships across the nation.
That said, my cab driver along with everyone else I met during my short foray into New Orleans clearly appreciated tourists and convention goers. These folks know right in their pocketbook what travelers and conventions mean to the city’s economic engine. So if your clients want to mingle with “friendly” folks in their vacation destination, they’re likely to find them in New Orleans.
Never a Better Time
Today, many hotels and cruise lines have great deals. The city isn’t overrun with tourists, so your clients generally will have a less crowded experience, except during big event periods.
Appearance-wise, the French Quarter, the Warehouse District and downtown looked terrific. I know some residential areas remain in serious need of repairs and help is still needed. Fortunately, people are still coming to work in the recovery effort. The bloggers participating in the second annual John Heald Bloggers’ Cruise on Carnival Fantasy, for example, came in pre-cruise to assist with local clean-up and repair work in one of the hardest hit areas of the city.
Safety issues? I didn’t have any concerns based on what I saw in my short time in the city. Perhaps the best advice is what my carriage driver volunteered: “Just be aware of your surroundings. Don’t flash money.” That’s good advice wherever one travels in the world.
New Orleans still wows tourists. It definitely had me at the taste of that first beignet. Of course, my tally for my short foray – about 90 minutes in the French Quarter – was more expensive than the motorcoach tour offered by Carnival. Other, more affordable options such as grabbing a shared van from a French Quarter hotel to the airport, may have saved some bucks. But in my case, speed was crucial.
My tally for the morning excursion totaled $109. That included $10 for the cab ride and tip from the pier to Café Du Monde; $4 for beignets and coffee; $50 plus a $10 tip for an excellent carriage ride tour; and $35 including tip for the cab ride to the airport.
A New Perspective
Was it worth it? That’s a resounding “yes.” Prior to this brief excursion, my impressions of New Orleans were rooted in the pre-Katrina past. Today, I have an updated view of the city’s tourism heartbeat.
I arrived at the airport a comfortable two hours before my flight. I could have stayed even a bit longer downtown, but I didn’t want to be rushed and chance missing my flight.
Upon arrival at the airport, I immediately noticed two bloggers from my cruise eating beignets at an airport restaurant. They bemoaned that their beignets definitely weren’t as tasty as the beignets from Café Du Monde. They were shocked to hear I’d actually gone to the French Quarter from the ship on my own. “We should have done that,” they responded in rousing unison.
People sometimes are skittish about trying something not on the schedule in an unfamiliar destination. But as long as your clients don’t cut the return ride to the airport too close, it’s possible add on a quick, mini-excursion.
Ninety minutes in the French Quarter certainly isn’t a lot, but in my case, it was a blessed fun. The experience reinforces my view that cruising – in this case on Carnival Fantasy -- is a great vacation. It delivers pampering and inclusive value onboard. It also gives travelers access to the world’s great destinations. New Orleans is certainly one. And the Big Easy unfolds just a short cab drive away from the pier.
By: Susan Young