Givers and Takers in Travel

Dear TA’s,

Since 2020, when people began to travel again, we have seen an increase in the number of travelers who are choosing to book through travel agents/advisors rather than shopping for their trips solely online.

That is great news for our industry, when before, some professionals were even thinking that travel agents might become obsolete.

But unfortunately, in general, most people don’t change their behavior. Those who like to “shop around” will continue to do so. This time, they will go from travel agent to travel agent, making agents work hard to plan an itinerary or get pricing from a vendor, while continuing to consult other agents until “the price is right!” How can you distinguish the “good” shoppers or prospective clients from the “bad” ones?

For those who don’t know me very well, I don’t work as a travel agent, but I am glad to refer friends, family and even not-so-great friends to travel agents who I mentor, and to those who I know the way they work. Until now, I have had no problems doing this. But I, like anyone else, can guarantee that every once in a while, I am totally surprised that I have sent along a “shopper” instead a real prospective client. I must confess that I am not only surprised but embarrassed as well.

My strong advice to all TA’s is to charge a service fee! Many agents have already been doing this for years, but others are still unsure about it. To those who are afraid of losing business by charging a fee, I suggest that you:

A) Create a service fee and if/when a trip is booked, reduce or waive it at your own discretion

B)  Create some “pre-packaged itineraries” where there isn’t as much customization, so the actual time you’re “giving” is less. That way, you won’t feel taken advantage of if you get a shopper instead of a booking.

The travel industry is changing to make things even better for TA’s who know how to manage their time and business. Don’t get caught giving too much to the ones who are takers. You are a professional and deserve to be rewarded as one!

Always cheering for you!



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Another Kind of Luxury Cruise

Luxury cruises are changing and are catering to more cruisers who want to travel in a more purposeful way.  These days, luxury cruise passengers are just as interested in getting access to unique and transformational experiences as they are about being pampered.

Travelers now want to travel far away, but they want travel with intent and purpose. They want to return home changed in some way.  They want to enjoy a deep connection with the destinations that they visit.

There has been significant growth in the demand for upscale “expedition” type cruises that travel to more remote parts of the world such as Antarctica and the Arctic.  Cruise lines are adding more ships that offer passengers meaningful exploration opportunities in addition to an upscale cruise experience.

Luxury cruises have now become a journey of exploration and discovery.  By participating in these meaningful experiences, passengers get to know themselves and those around them even more. Cruisers now have the opportunity to see their chosen destinations more slowly and deeply than in the past.

Over the past 10 years or so, cruise lines have changing their itineraries to cater to these types of passengers. Rather than focusing on panoramic sightseeing tours, they are developing experiences that enable passengers to mix and mingle with locals and do things that locals do. Such experiences might include a food tour through a destination that involves tasting local foods, wine and beer with a local chef. These types of opportunities offer passengers memorable experiences that they can go back home and share with their friends and family.

With that said, luxury travelers still want and expect the creature comforts for which luxury travel has become known. Luxury cruise passengers can now expect meaningful and moving experiences combined with all the amenities that they have come to expect, such as outstanding food, service and accommodation.

Bon Voyage!

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The New Normal

Dear TA’s and Friends,

For quite some time, we have been talking about living in the “new normal.” Exactly what is the “New Normal” and why is it different for every person? That is what I struggle with.

When we talk about individuals who lost a child even before Covid, what is the “New Normal” for that person/family? After 09/11 killed so many? When the Holocaust destroyed so much?

People are resilient. Many believe that we are being tested, and because of that we need to put in all our efforts and positive energy to survive. Many get even closer to religion and pray more. Whatever it takes to make them stronger and help them embrace the “New Normal” even sooner.

I am not a preacher, nor do I intend to tell how people how to deal with their personal demons. Covid affected and is affecting the whole world. Some believe in the vaccine, others don’t – their “New Normals” are different.

What I strongly believe is that we have only one life to live, and that we need to live our best life.

Travel, create memories, see the beautiful world out there before it is too late. Go, explore the beauty before your eyes aren’t able to see anymore. Walk to places before your legs can’t take you there anymore. Smell the sweet perfume of the roses carefully, without grabbing the thorns. Be safe because there is always a “New Normal” out there waiting for us.

Cheers to life!

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Making Yourself a Priority

Dear TA’s,

By now, you probably know that I avoid talking about myself and my personal life. I prefer to focus on my love of, and expertise in travel. I believe that you have more to gain from what I share about those topics.

Once in a while, like today, I take the time to talk about some personal experience because I truly believe that if I can make you aware of something, or help you learn from my mistakes, I could be helping you tremendously.

It is easier for me to care about and advocate for others than I do for myself. Let me share with you that in addition to being a travel lover, I am a power walker. I walk fast (not run!) 8-10 miles a day, 7 days a week.  This is my mental relief; I just enjoy so much.

For the last 3 months I have been having shooting pains in both of my heels. Right away, I knew that I had plantar fasciitis. After a month of pain, I mentioned it to a friend who recommended a great acupuncturist to me. I like acupuncture, so it seemed like an easy fix.

Seven weeks later, the pain continued. Sure, I hadn’t listened to the acupuncturist when he told me to reduce my walking to 3 miles a day. Why? I “needed” my mental fix.

Like the red light in a car asking for maintenance, I ignored and postponed – until I stopped. I couldn’t put my feet on the ground; the pain was excruciating.

Luckily, a very well-respected podiatrist could see me the same day.

I’m now off my feet until I am better. I have physical therapy 2 times a week, special shoes to wear at home, splints to wear while I sleep, special orthotics casted especially for me, special tennis shoes, exercises to do at home 3 times a day, and if I want cardio (I definitely need it!) I can do stationary biking for now.

At first, I felt very sorry for myself.  But once I had a one on one talk with myself, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will continue with my plan to power walk a half marathon on November 7th. And the best news, my physical therapist believes I can do it, and so do I!

Thank you for letting share my story. Please don’t ignore your pain! Get it checked out right away even if you think it might go away!

To life, and to health!

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What Color is Your Cruise?

Is Your Cruise Ship Safe? How To Check Its COVID-19 Status

A real concern for people interested in booking a cruise is the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak once on board.  There have been some cruise ships with documented cases of the virus, despite the strict protocols and precautions in place.  There are ways to be informed about the specific cruise ship you are interested in booking.

Of the 24 ships currently sailing in U.S. waters, 15 have reported cases of the virus.

Because  COVID is so contagious, travel isn’t without risks. However, having current information can help travelers make better-informed decisions, while assessing their own risk by taking into account their own health status.

As I have written about before, there is a color-coded system developed by CDC which provides information about the COVID-19 status of cruise ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters. Each ship is assigned a color status—green, orange, yellow, red or gray.

The color-coding for each ship is based on data from the previous 7-day period as well as the findings of any CDC investigations. To recap: Green: No COVID-19 cases or COVID-19-like illnesses are reported onboard; Orange: Reported cases are below the CDC threshold for investigation; Yellow: The ship meets the threshold for investigation (for crew or passenger COVID-19 cases); Red: The ship is at or above the threshold for passenger and crew COVID-19 cases. Based on CDC investigation, the ship is subject to   immediate return to port or delay of the next voyage; Gray: The ship operator’s health and safety protocol hasn’t been reviewed or confirmed by the CDC; this only applies to ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida that chose not to follow the CDC Conditional Sail Order (CSO) voluntarily.

You can find the status of ships sailing in U.S. waters here:

https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise/cruise-ship-color-status.html

Many cruisers feel very comfortable at sea.  As the Delta variant has emerged,  health and safety protocols have become even more stringent in terms of requirements for pre-cruise testing, vaccinations, and the use of masks. The safety measures and protocols in place on a cruises is much higher than for other modes of travel. The vaccination status of each passenger is known and tracked; each cruise ship has certain medical facilities and procedures for testing and dealing with COVID in place. However, anyone who is not fully vaccinated should avoid both river and ocean cruising worldwide for now.

Deciding to take a cruise during the pandemic is a very personal decision. For some, it may seem safe and worth the risk, but others with pre-existing health concerns or who really want to limit their exposure may want to postpone their departure. The CDC color code system offers information to aid in making this tough decision.

In my humble opinion, there are no gatherings of people that can be 100% safe and guarantee NO COVID.  I think that if a ship’s colors are good, a passenger’s health is good, canceling is not a guarantee that they won’t get Covid somewhere else (a party, to church, etc.) 

Enjoy life and create new memories!

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Bells Ringing to New Groups

Dear TA’s,

I am a true believer that when life throws you lemons you should make the best lemonade. If you want to be even more creative, mix up some dough and make a sweet lemon cake!

The COVID era is not done yet. Rules are still being implemented for travel and business in general, but one thing is definitely true, people are still falling in love and wanting to get married, despite this whole mess (and others are having kids as well!)

If you are trying to look for wedding venues in the US, the good ones are already sold out and the prices are much higher than they used to be. Also, the rules for large gatherings are different from state to state. Many grooms and brides are finding that having a destination wedding will be more affordable for them. By doing this, they are better able to select their guests and create a big party, combined with a nice vacation for the whole group.

Most destination weddings are taken in Mexico and The Caribbean. Both of these destinations are close enough for easy travel, but each follow different rules for Covid since they are different countries.

The Travel Agents/Advisors who are taking advantage of this market can work with the wedding destination to book the groups. Some travel agents prefer to work only on individual bookings (not groups) because sometimes groups can be overwhelming. Another idea is to work just with honeymooners which is still a very much up-and-coming market that needs lots of hands on attention, with great commission.

These suggestions are based on lots of research, and I hope you can use my ideas. If you need to pick my brain, feel free to do so!

To love and to travel!

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I left my Spark in San Francisco

Dear TA’s,

Sorry Tony Bennett, I really tried! After some beautiful days in Napa we drove to San Francisco to finish our well-deserved vacation. Actually, the trip started really well with a delicious lunch at Le Garage in Sausalito. Sausalito continues to have charm and it is beautiful to see San Francisco from there. But then we arrived in SFO, we drove to the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, on the top of the hill next to The Fairmont. It is really a classic, it was bought by a Chinese company and because of Covid, nothing has been done to it and it looks neglected. Of three small elevators, only two were working. A long line forms to go up in the elevator, especially in the late afternoon with those who want to have a drink on the 19th floor at the scenic Top of the Mark.

Driving around the Fisherman’s Wharf is so sad, it reminds one of a deserted town, very few shops are open, the streets are so dirty and there are homeless everywhere.

Anywhere other than the Russian Hills and Lombard Street feel very unsafe for walking around. Even when going by car to any supermarket or drugstore, there are signs everywhere saying not to leave valuables inside the car to avoid theft and vandalism. Many of the cable cars have graffiti all over them.

The last time I enjoyed San Francisco was 15 years ago, and then the city was really beautiful. I still enjoy seeing Fisherman’s Wharf on a video program through my tread mill when I exercise, but the reality is much different.

I highly recommend using the airport SFO, renting a car, having a nice lunch in Sausalito and then driving to Napa or Sonoma for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, but definitely avoid the city for now.

Los Angeles and San Francisco were once beautiful. It’s not necessary to go into politics, but my suggestion is to avoid the cities as much as you can, despite the fact that I live in LA!

Cheers!

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Napa and Surroundings Part 2

Dear TA’s,

I mentioned last week that there would be a part two to the part one about Napa and its surroundings. The wineries deserve a whole blog about them! You don’t need to be a wine connoisseur to appreciate the wine from that area and for those who are not so much into wine, I am sure you will find at least one wine you like, there are so many varieties.

Honestly, if there is a silver lining from Covid for visiting and tasting at the wineries, it is that you can do it by appointment only and they have a limited number of tables and seats. Everything is mostly outside. In other words, for wine lovers like me, it is heaven going by appointment only, avoiding lines and a busy conglomeration of people, and being able to enjoy the delicious wine in peace. How could life be better? LOL!

Napa and its surroundings have so many wineries, you would need months to visit them all (doing 2 or 3 a day). We were there for 4 days and 1 day in SFO. We are already members of 2 wineries, so we decided to visit a couple of our favorites that we are not members of: Caymus, Peju and Bremmer, and some new ones to fall in love with (and we did,) Pine Ridge and Alpha Omega.

At Caymus we discovered Sea Sun, one of their brands of Pinot Noir. Even though I am not a Pinot drinker, this one is so smooth and delicious that we had to buy some.

We were one of three couples and maybe from getting older, I noticed that I can’t tolerate as many tastings, so I split my taste with my husband, which was fine with the winery. The price of the tasting is complimentary once you purchase wine. Between the 3 couples it was easy to purchase a case of 12 wines and delivery was free. Actually, it was so easy to buy cases of wine, we returned from the tastings almost empty handed, we just purchased some extra Sea Sun Pinot Noir for our dinners as great treat.

There is no way to go wrong experiencing the wineries in Napa and surroundings, especially now that you need to make appointments. Make sure to ask how much the tastings are, if the tasting can be split between 2 people, and if it becomes complimentary once you purchase the wine. Some of them are even complimentary to begin with.

Sure, you can find wineries for $150 a taste that cannot be split, and bottles of wine for over $300 each. The same way you can go to The French Laundry Restaurant and pay $350 per person for the meal plus drinks. It is a matter of money but, taste as well. The choice is ultimately yours!

Cheers!

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Napa and its Surroundings, Part 1

Dear TA’s

I love to talk about my favorite part of California, Napa Valley and its surroundings. When I come here my heart just relaxes. I feel like the world stops so I can enjoy every minute, and even Covid rules and worries don’t upset me. I feel like I’m in heaven.

Actually, every time I come to Napa I always stay at the same hotel (The Westin Verasa Napa). I tell my husband that one day I want to retire, live in Napa and work part-time at a winery. Then I go back home and forget my dream until the next time I visit.

Right now, I am sitting on the sofa in my room at the Westin Napa. The view from my room is so peaceful. I love going to Oxbow Market for my breakfast, but first we always stop at Model Bakery for some special treats. The biscuit is everyone’s favorite, and then we head to Ritual Coffee Roasters for the most delicious coffee (even though I drink Chai latte). Casa is an innovative kitchen with New Mexican Cuisine and 100% gluten free (my personal heaven, since I am gluten intolerant). 

I get my infused olive oils and Balsamic vinegars at Olive Press inside the Oxbow Market. I am completely hooked. When I get there, Ruth or Becky know me. It was funny how Becky even recognized me with my mask on from far away and started to walk towards me. Both of us were wearing masks, and we hugged (I honestly forgot we weren’t supposed to). 

For lunch we usually eat in St. Helena since it is between wineries (check Napa and Surroundings Part II). I highly recommend The Market restaurant. Even if you need to eat inside, they have invested a lot in air filters, and remodeled the whole restaurant, so you feel safe eating indoors. Although there are other restaurants in St. Helena, many times we prefer to come back to Napa and enjoy The Oxbow Market and Gott‘s Roadside before enjoying the pool a bit until around 3:30pm before heading to another winery. After all, these are the long days of summer, and we want to be sure to take advantage of the hotel’s swimming pool.

Evenings we enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants Napa offers: La Toque, Cole’s Chop House and TORC. All need reservations and are within walking distance of the hotel (La Toque is next door to the Westin Vernasa Hotel with an entrance inside the hotel).

My experience in Napa and its surroundings was even better after Covid. I felt that even though many places are still short of staff (like all over the US) by making reservations everywhere or downloading their app and pre ordering meals where possible, my family and I never felt neglected or waited in lines (something that stresses me immensely).

This vacation was very soothing and relaxing and I can’t wait to go right back!

Cheers!

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Specialization in Business + Clientele



Dear TA’s,
 
Those who follow my blogs know that I love mentoring travel agents/advisors. Over 30 years of experience as a Tour Operator selling to travel agents taught me a lot about relationships and how to guide my new clients.
I am honored to pay it forward, and hope all of you can do the same, and spread kindness in this world in some capacity.

I always advise the benefit of specializing in an area of travel to my mentees; by areas, by activities or by interests. For example, singles groups, Latin America, safaris, scuba, etc. By focusing on an area, you, the travel agent, can become well-known for that specialization, and referrals will come practically ready to book without you having to work so hard against the “competition.”  The great advantage of this is the more you specialize, the less competition you will have. But if you make that specialization so exclusive, the number of prospective clients may be so small that business could be sporadic.

Let’s address clientele.  Over and over on social media, I see business people with strong opinions who have found this to be a platform to voice their thoughts. By doing this, they are limiting their clientele to those who share the same opinions as themselves. This is one way of defining their businesses model, but definitely doesn’t show tolerance. Tolerance is that despite having a strong opinion about a certain topic, (that should be shared only in private between personal friends and family) understanding that others may have opinions different than your own, and even so, continuing to do business with those people, regardless of your differences.

The choice is ultimately yours. You are in charge of your life and your business. You can choose if you want to sell travel to just a pool of people who think exclusively like you, or to anyone who wants to travel.
 
Cheers to you!

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