It’s all in the hands of the gods, the Vikings say. So perhaps the goddess Freya, using her powers to alter fortunes, determined that there be three cases of COVID among the passengers on Viking’s first four sailings in Iceland this month—and that I be onboard Viking Sky to tell the tale of our star-crossed voyage.
It’s hardly a story of doom and gloom, though. On the eight-day Iceland’s Natural Beauty cruise we saw a unique piece of the world that’s been on our bucket list for some time.
We sailed the Norwegian Sea and crossed the Arctic Circle; watched the sun set at midnight; saw waterfalls and fjords, the crack in the earth where America meets Europe, geothermal fields and lava fields, and an erupting volcano. We felt like Vikings as we jumped from the sauna to the snow room in the Thermal Suite; I got a blueberry hair rinse and a honey facial that left me smelling like a fruit salad. We ate steak and lobster, and sushi fresh from the untouched waters at the top of the world.
Per Viking protocols, we all wore masks in public places even though we were fully vaccinated Read the rest of this entry »
For customers looking for a unique destination they have not yet visited, AmaWaterways might just have the answer. Last week, it announced a new ship sailing a new river in a new continent to the Ama repertoire.
Colombia’s Magdalena River will host a partnership between Ama and Metropolitan Touring, known and well-respected by many travel advisors for its Galapagos and South America tours, aboard the brand-new AmaMagdalena in time for the holidays in December 2023.
On a press conference via webinar today, the two companies shared their excitement at having found one another, and in bringing the first luxury river cruises to the region. Just “two or three hours” from Florida, the Magdalena River offers beautiful scenery, diverse nature, and the second-largest Carnival in the world. (Also, the world’s best chocolate and best coffee, “and some really good rum,” says Metropolitan Touring’s Francisco Dousdebes.)
“It is the prime river in Latin America,” asserted Ama’s ever-cautious new destination seeker, co-founder and president Rudi Schreiner, who has been scouting “the whole area from Argentina to Read the rest of this entry »
It’s a CEO’s job to be inspirational, and a reporter’s job to be skeptical. But I have to admit, I was moved by Brad Tolkin’s buoyant tone as he kicked off Dream Vacations/CruiseOne/Cruises Inc.’s Travel Advisor Learning Summit on Zoom last week—and inspired by the great tips offered up by the speakers.
Overnight, it seems, all those dire predictions for the travel industry in general and cruising in particular have been put to rest by that pent-up demand industry leaders have been promising through the pandemic Read the rest of this entry »
When Gerrilyn Grant was practicing law, her clients always made an appointment if they wanted to speak with her. But when she opened M&E Unlimited Travel in Montgomery, AL, a decade ago, she was hungry for business—and anxious to appear accessible. “Call or email me any time and I’ll reply right away,” she told potential clients.
But no more.
With a client list of 1,200 who suddenly all want to go on vacation, Grant pulled out her old legal playbook and began requiring appointments. “My phones were ringing off the hook and I was getting email after email; it’s been really really something,” she says. So when her payment app, Square, added appointment scheduling software, she took the lifeline and signed right up. Read the rest of this entry »
“Go Human. Book Human,” say the ads running this week in New York and Los Angeles, on Instagram, Facebook, Google and YouTube. “If machines can’t dream, how will they plan your dream vacation?”
“Don’t let an algorithm plan your vacation,” say others. And for the business traveler or family caught in a Covid spike, “0% of bots understand the pressure of making the last flight out.”
They’re all part of Internova Travel Group’s first-ever consumer advertising campaign, aimed not—as is usually the case—at its existing customers, but instead at the broad swath of consumers who do not use a travel advisor at all. Read the rest of this entry »
ASTA’s annual Legislative Day brought a crowd of travel advisors and consortium executives to Washington to talk travel industry issues and concerns. I caught up with two of my favorite people, Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, and Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion LLC, following their press conference there to talk about some of the biggest concerns of travel advisors.
Here’s what they said: Read the rest of this entry »
You’d think that with a team of full-time employees, plus 52 independent contractors and 11 years of experience in the industry, Jenene Mealey could easily answer any question that comes up. But it’s lonely at the top of any organization, she says—and Travel ALLIES Society, a new support group for agency principals, gives her a level of support she never had before.
As director of outside sales at Canary Travel, a brick-and-mortar agency in Cleveland, Mealey is responsible for growing, educating and mentoring the team, as well as building relationships with suppliers and handling her own multi-million-dollar book of business. But no matter your expertise, she says, it’s just not possible to know everything a travel professional in a high-level management position needs to know these days. Read the rest of this entry »
The Haven moves aft, the sea comes closer, the rooms get bigger. The Waterfront doubles in size, wraps around the deck and adds a global food hall. There are new infinity pools, glass bridges and an outdoor lounge. And, to add to the excitement, some lucky travel advisors get to sail free.
In a series of hints, tweets and press conferences, Norwegian Cruise Line ended months of relative quiet this week with one big reveal of what it has been quietly working on while the pandemic raged around it. The Norwegian Prima, the first new ship and new class in a decade, goes on sale today. Read the rest of this entry »
If ever there was a perfect time for a guided vacation, this is it.
As bored, but wary, travelers consider heading out their front doors, many still are concerned about how to navigate the ever-changing regulations, capacity restrictions, and chance of coming down with Covid far from home. If you can’t take your favorite travel advisor along with you, a guided vacation seems like the next-best thing.
Companies like Adventures by Disney, Collette, Globus, Insight Vacations/Luxury Gold, Tauck and Trafalgar, and the travel advisors who sell them, are reporting growing interest and sold-out tour groups to top US destinations—even in April and May of 2021. Collette’s website shows its Painted Canyons of the West, which includes five national parks, is sold out for all three May departures; National Parks is sold out for May Read the rest of this entry »
I sure am looking forward to the return of cruising. I love the sea, a good meal, and a great mojito—topped off by some interesting entertainment and conversation. But, four weeks after being fully vaccinated and starting to travel again, I’m really just pining for some good old-fashioned customer service.
I’ve been following the typical post-vaccine travel pattern: Two brief land excursions with family, then one domestic airline flight, on Delta, my favorite airline, with the empty middle seats. True, I haven’t yet gone to a luxury hotel or one of the all-inclusives in Mexico and the Caribbean, where I hear staff has been jumping through hoops to make guests feel welcome. But here in the US, I’m feeling concerned that our customers, eager as they are to see a piece of land that’s not in their hometown, will come home disappointed by the experience. Travel is just not fun right now. And I’m really hoping the cruise lines deliver on their promise to turn that around. Read the rest of this entry »
“We opened at 5 am and the bookings were coming in fast and furious,” says Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain, referring to the response to the vaccine-required cruises that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity are offering from Bermuda, St. Maarten and the Bahamas in June and July.
In short, Royal Caribbean isn’t waiting for those free test cruises it was promising customers, in order to meet the CDC protocols for reopening (though see below for more on that). This summer, travel advisors and their customers seem happy to get a vaccine and wear a mask—and pay their own way while they do it Read the rest of this entry »
If every cloud has a silver lining, coronavirus has brought plenty of time to rethink the way we do business. As their customers hunkered down and phones fell silent, travel advisors turned to one another for support—and their many conversations have ushered in new alliances that promise increased revenues for all the partners.
In just a few of the stories I’ve come across lately, Jackie Magid and three fellow ICs formed a “collective” where they pool sales under a unique IATA number, while also each keeping their own business. Paul Cathcart and Carol Andrews are splitting villa rentals in Europe Read the rest of this entry »
Sitting over dinner one night in February, Vicki Freed and Brad Tolkin realized both their companies had come up with the same plan. They would help rescue their partners and friends—and the travel agency channel on which Royal Caribbean and World Travel Holdings depend—by offering low- and no-cost loans to tide them over until the expected flood of travelers hits the road. Or the seas.
The Royal Caribbean program is the more audacious, offering three-year interest-free loans to travel agencies that earned a minimum of about $4 million (the exact number differs state by state) from ships in the Royal Caribbean Group with departures between July 1 to December 31, 2019 (the last full six-month period before the pandemic). Agencies can borrow up to 25% of their aggregate commissions in that period, to a maximum of $250,000 Read the rest of this entry »
Take one new tax law that passed on December 27. Add payment delays at the IRS. Top with one global pandemic. “This is one of the nation’s most important tax seasons ever,” says IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
In short, lots of issues lie in wait for taxpayers this year. Travel advisors surely understand that it is important to talk to a professional when making important decisions in a rapidly changing environment. But as you work with your tax advisor, here are some new developments to consider Read the rest of this entry »
“For the first two weeks of January, I felt like a genius,” says Lynn Clark.
Heading into Wave season in the middle of a Milwaukee winter, she had upped the hours of the four retail agents at her Travel Leaders franchise from one day a week to three, on condition they call two clients a day—not to sell, just to “remind our best customers we’re still here, and kind of get the pulse of the market.” The clients loved it, and it was generating sales.
Then came January 12. The CDC announced that all inbound travelers must test for Covid before departure, and quarantine in place if they test positive. “We thought ‘OMG,’ it’s all going to go again!”
Clark wasted no time. She immediately went into ClientBase and pulled up the 114 bookings for customers headed for Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica for January through April. Then she started emailing. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s a new year; it’s a new world; it’s a new job altogether for travel advisors in January 2021. And as always, while the world waits for travel to come back, travel advisors are adapting to the new reality.
While a lucky few are proceeding with business as usual, most are on the hunt for alternatives to the tried and true. They are working with new partners. Teaching and mentoring. Taking on new positions. Finding new niches and new destinations to sell. And, even just plain retiring to the ranch.
What can you do, after all, when you have a $16 million business and 33 employees—and then your niche disappears overnight? That’s what happened to Suri Pillai, a Canadian travel advisor who specialized in coach tours and river cruises in Europe. Until Covid hit.
His answer? Go where the business is. Read the rest of this entry »
To check out Part 1 of this two-part article, please click here.
Tripadvisor is offering its 463 million monthly customers easy access to a professional travel advisor—and you have to give them credit for going ahead with the rollout of the Reco program this month, in the midst of a global pandemic. The travel advisors who have signed up are being patient, though. After all, the program costs them nothing but time (which many have plenty of)—and holds the promise that the world’s largest online booking site will be sending them a stream of new fee-paying customers when travel comes back.
“This is our chance to have a crack at the luxury market that is not using travel advisors, our chance to convert DIYers Read the rest of this entry »
In an unusual year for travel, a partnership between an OTA and established travel advisors is arguably the most unusual alliance of all.
And yet, say the advisors who signed up, the global pandemic has them thinking it’s a good time to rethink they way they do business. Tripadvisor’s Reco program promises to put them in front of 463 million potential travel buyers a month, to show these do-it-yourself bookers just how important a real-life travel advisor can be—and to set $199 in the public’s mind as a base fee for working with a professional travel advisor.
Charged 18 months ago with developing new products for the world’s largest booking site, Tripadvisor’s New Ventures Directors Sean Graber and Erik Ornitz “were not big users of travel advisors,” Ornitz acknowledged when we chatted, and were only vaguely aware of the role of consortia and host agencies Read the rest of this entry »
Question of the day: Will mandatory covid vaccines cure the fear of traveling and get customers back on the road—or will customers feel bullied and refuse to travel at all?
As in all things 2020, the answer is a clear split decision. Travel advisors have strong—and differing—opinions. And meanwhile, big industry players are moving forward with implementation plans.
Apps designed to make traveler information (including covid test results and vaccines) accessible via QR code include The CommonPass app, in testing by JetBlue and Aruba; IATA’s Travel Pass, in testing with British Airways parent IAG SA; and the travel security firm International SOS’s AOKpass, being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan. Dangui Oduber, Aruba’s minister for health, tourism and sport, said the island already is testing a screening program that will include vaccinations by the end of 2021. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said proof of vaccination will be a condition for travelers entering or leaving Australia on the carrier’s planes. Read the rest of this entry »
The phones already were ringing, travel advisors say, when the promise of a vaccine set off a new kind of WAVE season in December. And suddenly, 2022 is looking to be the year we all have been hoping for—where unspent travel budgets, great promotions from suppliers, and visions of Covid-free travel finally meet.
“Of course everyone has been hearing about the vaccine for months, but now there is a tangible date—and that has made people comfortable enough to make concrete plans to travel again,” says Laurel Brunvoll, owner of Unforgettable Trips in Gaithersburg, MD, who sold eight guests on a Silversea Baltic cruise within 45 minutes of emailing them last week. “A lot more people are ready to plan new trips. They feel it actually could happen.” Read the rest of this entry »
In a different world in 2019, most presentations on “How to Grow Your Travel Business” suggested groups as a great way to attract new customers and maximize your revenues. In 2020, that advice is just another victim of Covid-19, as travel advisors find that keeping groups on track and safe can be harder than they expected. Here’s advice from those who have been there—including some who had Covid-19 join their party.
As a new spike of the virus crosses the country this week, Cruise Planners agency owner Jeff Page finds himself all dressed up with nowhere to go. “Most people are hunkered down—but my luxury clients want to go,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »