Tag Archives: travel agent

Expert Travel Agents Know The Best of Both Worlds.

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For a good time…call a Travel Agent!

That’s what it reads on a string backpack I carry every now and then. I often forget about it until someone stops me to ask if I’m a travel agent or if travel agents still exist.

Yes, thankfully, travel agents still exist. They’re also sometimes referred to as travel counselors. But no matter what you call them, they are there not only to help you plan a good time—a good agent has your back, as well.

As wonderful as online shopping has made our world, lately I’ve run into a lot of people who are completely overwhelmed by it. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, the time-suck that you can get dragged into by shopping for something as simple as a sweater often takes you on a never-ending journey when it comes to planning a trip online. And with consumers wanting more memorable experiences, leaving that solely to the online distribution channel is pretty risky.

Yes, the Internet is a wonderful thing but at some point you just need to have a conversation. You need the human touch. Human touch brings inspiration and creativity. That creativity comes from listening to your customer and asking the right questions.

Last month I attended The New York Times Travel Show in NYC and sat in on a panel discussion between industry experts called Forecasting the Future of Travel – Where Will We Be in the Next 10 Years. Much of the focus was on the power of technology in relation to travel agents. The question of whether all these travel technology options would at some point make agents obsolete hung in the air, so it was refreshing to hear panelists Peter Greenberg, CBS News travel correspondent, Arabella Bowen, editor in chief, Fodor’s Travel, David Pavelko, director, Google Travel, Google Inc, and Wendy Perrin, travel advocate, TripAdvisor, rally around the value of the travel agent. While they all made nods to technology, the consensus was that technology doesn’t provide service.

There was a bit of myth-busting too. We hear terms thrown around all the time about what the data is showing. “Big data solves a lot [of problems], but it doesn’t solve the surprise and delight of discovery,” said Arabella Bowen, editor-in-chief of Fodor’s Travel. “There’s no way to get an experience like that except with a travel agent.” Their bottom line was technology can’t replace travel agents.

As technology continues to innovate, travel agents will need to adapt to those innovations and use them to better service their customers. Expert travel agents know how to navigate the online and offline world. They use the best of both worlds to their advantage, combining their knowledge and expertise to provide you with the best possible service.

Finding an agent who specializes in a specific destination or certain type of travel provides more customization around your journey, making for a more targeted experience. This doesn’t mean you can’t still go off and do your own thing. It just means that they’ve done the groundwork for you to get your trip off on the right foot. They are also your go to person should anything go wrong, a human touch. Something the Internet certainly can’t replicate.

If you’ve never used a travel agent and are interested in working with one, T+L’s A-List Travel Agents is a good place to start. It’ll give you an idea of why it just might be worth your while to get a relationship going with a good one.

So, yeah, for a good time—call a travel agent.

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Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 4 –The Province’s Birthplace

photo-10Passing through the harbor town of Pictou, where the summer seasonal ferry to Prince Edward Isle operates, a newly opened food kiosk served up an excellent basket of fish and chips to my road weary travel. It was clean food, the batter light and crispy, the chips homemade. Waterfront Fries prides itself on using grandma’s recipe. It was a great find and one that would put me on a fish and chips trail.

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Things that may you go, pull over!

At the end of the day’s drive, I settled in at the Pictou Lodge Beach Resort, a comfortable hotel with an unobstructed view of the Northumberland Strait. Its budget-friendly accommodations range from standard rooms to log cabins. It’s also got Chef Thomas Carey, whose amazingly delicious seafood chowder took first place in the 2014 Taste of Nova Scotia Chowder Cook-Off. With a reliance on the sea, Nova Scotians pride themselves on the culinary traditions created from the waters that surround them. Tonight, I would learn how to eat a lobster like a local.

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One of the many activities offered at Pictou Lodge Beach Resort.

The lesson was delivered courtesy of Monica MacNeil, who writes EatLikeALocal. She was also partly responsible for my expanding waistline. MacNeil’s skills around this crustacean are impressive, even if I was a buttery mess. She knows good food and if you have any plans to visit, you may want to look her up. An ambassador for all things Nova Scotia, she’s an outstanding guide and a great teacher.

Anyone interested in learning about lobsters might find the Northumberland Fisheries Museum Lobster Hatchery a curious place, you can even adopt one.  Newborns are no bigger than ants and it takes years for them to mature to a size large enough where they can settle on the ocean floor. That’s if they don’t get eaten first. Here you’ll see lobsters of all sizes. My favorite was Blueberry, named for her genetic mutation. I was thankful my eating lesson had taken place the night before because in gazing at her beauty I could see no lobster in my future.  Fish and chips were another story.

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The only blueberry in my future is off the shrub.

A visit aboard the Hector was a reminder there’s no place like home. This replica of the ship that made Pictou the birthplace of New Scotland provides a glimpse into the arduous journey of the 189 Scottish Highlanders confined to it for more than a few weeks in 1773. Anyone with an ounce of Scottish blood may want to check it out.

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Mrs. MacGregor keeping it real.

One of the highlights of any road trip is pulling over whenever the fancy strikes. You cultivate a discerning eye and a sixth sense for what looks right. It was a pleasure to witness small-town life with mom and pop run operations, dollar stores, bars and restaurants. That is one of Nova Scotia’s draws. There are also lots of laid back cafes and a cozy one is Mrs. MacGregor’s Team Room. Known for her melt-in-your-mouth shortbread (which also make great gifts), she serves up her own recipe of fresh seafood chowder. In fact, the only thing that seemed to rival a fish and chip trail was the possibility of charting a chowder trail. Good reasons to return.

But the coastline was teasing and I wondered if I’d ever get a chance to step into its so-called “warm waters.”

Next Stop:    Who needs France when you’ve got lavender growing in your own backyard!

Return of the Travel Agent.

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Ienno-Guio-Dia, friend of travelers. (Photo credit: Nicholas Roerich)

Last week’s wintery weather got a lot of play in the news and across the blogosphere. As mentioned in the last post, while the weather wreaked a lot of havoc, travel agents also grabbed some limelight as they came to the rescue of customers stranded in the deep freeze at airports or in places they were trying to make their way to or home from.

On the heels of their success in dealing with the upset caused by the weather disruptions, travel agents are getting another boost. It seems like self-booking online is beginning to drop like those cold temperatures, which has travelers looking towards travel agents for their expertise. For more details around this, check out Travel Agents Back In Demand.

For some folks, getting away from booking online is like weaning yourself off caffeine. We’ve become so addicted to living life through online channels, it’s a hard attachment to walk away from…but it can be done. The same way you bonded to your smartphone, you can bond with a travel agent.

If you’re accustomed to navigating your life through online activity, you probably cringe at the idea of someone else handling your travel. I get it, you like the self-drive aspect. It’s a control thing, especially if you’re good at it.

Most people flock to the web with the goal of finding affordable travel, forgetting that time is money. And while it’s unlikely that millennials will start using travel agents anytime soon, for anyone who has ever been burned by an online travel “deal” or whose online booking has been derailed, there’s security in knowing there’s someone who’s got your back, who’ll go to bat for you, and who acts as a lifeline of sorts. Plus, they’re real and won’t run out of batteries.

After taking a hit from all of the online competition, it’s good to see travel agents on the rise. There’s plenty of great travel booking options to suit every need, let’s not forget that they’re one of them.

Travel Agents Battle Frozen Flights

Hank Cain, Chicago, Polar Vortex

Chicago, a frozen city. (Photo credit: Pilot Hank Cain)

Some people feel a bit pressured over resolutions when the New Year rolls around. If you don’t have any, it’s easy to buy into the belief that you need to make some. At some point, it just becomes overkill.

The thing is, any time is a good time to bring positive changes into your life but the New Year certainly helps. If you’re a travel agent, counselor, advisor, or travel ambassador of any kind, and have been meaning to take a stab at writing about your trips, or publicizing photos or videos of your experiences, then why not use 2014 as the inspiration to do it? Forget about labeling it as a resolution; instead think of it more as a chance to play around.

I haven’t cracked the code entirely on how to deal with the bad angels that hold us back from putting pen to paper but I do believe that giving yourself time to play is one powerful arrow to have in your quiver. And that’s the great thing about writing, or taking pictures. Because when you start playing with an idea you go places in your mind that aren’t set up with boundaries and “do not enter” zones. It’s the ultimate playground. And there’s a bonus to playing, you get happy—and who doesn’t want to be happy?

This week, travel agents have been busy bees, working overtime helping their customers out of a frozen jam. Between holiday travelers trying to make it back home or business travelers hitting the road again, the recent snowstorms that socked the Midwest and Northeast grounded thousands of flights. Things got worse when something called a polar vortex delivered a bone chilling, deep freeze that settled in across much of the country and the temperature plummeted into the single digits.  Chicago, with record-breaking temps of -15 degrees and a wind chill of -47 that gripped the area, seemed to take the brunt of it and looked like a city suspended in a giant ice-pool. Niagara Fall froze.  But when JetBlue canceled thousands of flights it was the icing on the cake.

The polar vortex even gripped Niagra Falls. (Photo credit: Reuters)

The polar vortex even gripped Niagara Falls. (Photo credit: Reuters)

For anyone who booked their travel online, you could tap away on that smartphone and it wasn’t going to do you much good. Without the likes a travel agent or airline rep trying to sort it all out for you behind the scenes, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you were getting on a plane. Yeah, I know, I’m tossing the clichés around but it’s kind of hard not to play with them given the circumstances.

Any time there’s disaster that affects air transportation, travel agents hustle to get travelers where they need to go. These days, most folks find it hard to believe there was a time when if you wanted to fly, you’d have to use a travel agent. With all of the online options out there to book travel and hotels, it’s understandable. Especially for anyone who came of age using the Internet.

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Boston’s frozen flights.

Although it’s faced mammoth competition from online services, the travel agency industry is still holding its own. It continues to prove that travel agents matter, but it shouldn’t take bad weather or a disaster for consumers to recognize their value.

Right out of the gate, 2014 presented travel advisors with the perfect opportunity to prove their mettle but there’s a lot more that they bring to the party and I hope they share it. With all of the competition out there in the travel zone, agents and advisors shouldn’t feel awkward about tooting their own horn.

It’s a new year—be bold, be brave, have fun with it. Play.

Remembering a Globe Trotter.

He traveled from here to Timbuktu and lots of other places.

He traveled from here to Timbuktu and lots of other places.

A particular piece of news caught my eye last week when I read about the death of William Haeseler III.

Who, you might ask?

For most people, the name probably doesn’t ring a bell.  It didn’t ring a bell for me either but the fact that he spent his life traveling around the world did.  The fact that he spent his career as a travel agent did, and the fact that he wrote about his travels in a weekly column got my attention.

Except for obituary mentions, when I googled Mr. Haeseler he doesn’t show up anywhere.  I looked for Mr. Haeseler on Facebook and on LinkedIn but didn’t find him there either.  It’s possible he had a presence on those social media sites and that his profiles were pulled down quickly, but I don’t think so.  What he did have was a presence in the travel industry.  Along with his wife, he led tours to remote destinations like Antarctica and Timbuktu. You never hear of anyone going to Timbuktu.

He also won National Geographic’s geography contest.  The prize? Around-the-world vacations for him and his wife.

Mr. Haeseler knew his stuff.  Originally from North Tonawanda, NY, he traveled to over 150 countries.  He even wrote a book, My Whole Life Was A Vacation.  His weekly column, Globe Trotting, ran for more than 20 years in his local paper.  This guy clearly lived and breathed travel and used his position as a travel agent as a platform to shout about it. That, I’m sure, generated a boatload of business for him within his local community and perhaps even further afield. No one told him it was part of his job, no one told him it wasn’t.  I suppose it just seemed natural for him to share his experiences and love of places.  It was a passion and when something becomes a passion it injects desire, discovery and inspiration into your personal and professional life and you want to share it.  He died at 83.

We could all learn a thing or two from Mr. Haeseler.  Travel agents who toy around with writing about their experiences need to come out of the shadows.  Be bold, take the first step, trip, fall, get up and do it all over again.   Just keep at it, make it a habit. Sound your voice.  It may or not be squeaky but the only way to know is to share it.

It’s easy to cuddle up in the arms of resistance but it’s a dangerous place to live if you want to stay relevant in this ever-changing industry.

Thank you Mr. Haeseler for your exploratory spirit on and off the page.  Thank you for sharing and for showing us how it’s done.

Read more about William Haeseler III.

Howl or Stare, It’s The Time of the Season.

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Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on another part of the world.
–Mary Ann Radmacher Hershey

Sunrise. Sunset. These two daily occurrences loom large for travelers no matter their budget. Wherever you may go, these natural—and free—gifts often feature in photos as the main event or as a backdrop to our travel experiences. Depending on the destination, travelers often set their day by that bright and brilliant starburst but there’s another player with a different kind of pull. The moon.

Some travelers plan their trips around this great big ball in the sky. You know who you are. It might seem nutty but knowing when the moon is full is a major bonus to your journey. While some folks might not be able to alter their travel plans based on the lunar calendar, travel advisors who keep this little gem in mind might just add a unique experience to a customer’s trip. Knowing this bit of info may earn you a bit of star status in their book.

Cruising by the light of the moon.  (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

Cruising by the light of the moon. (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

A full moon is beguiling, romantic, and hypnotic. Whether you’re on a beach or on the deck of a cruise ship, it lights up the ocean like a Hollywood movie set. Lakeside or hillside, a full moon is a major gift when you’re camping. Road trippers take advantage of the added value of its silvery light, and surfers love it. A full moon safari walk is magical. Yosemite under its light is otherworldly. Moonlight kayak tours are peaceful and meditative. And while I’ve never been, I hear the infamous Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan in Thailand is off the planetary chart. I’m sure there’s a lot more than howling going on there.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

Where are you or your customers this week? There’s a lot happening in the heavens right now. Especially if you’re outside the scope of city lights. Wherever you are, look up.

Talk about celestial seasonings, Venus and Saturn joined forces on Monday and will stick around for the week. They ride low after sunset but anyone with access to a telescope, whether you’re on a ship or in your backyard, will be able to glimpse Saturn’s rings. The star attraction, the full Harvest Moon peaks tonight. I stopped and stared at its near perfect formation last night on my way home, while the sun set behind me. Uranus will cozy up with the moon on Thursday, September 19. Otherwise known as the “green giant,” it’ll come so close that their combined wattage will equal 8 full moons side by side. Get out those binoculars, shoot for the moon and you’ll easily pick out that planet.  I’ve got no  idea what Pisces has to do with this picture but something’s fishy.

It'll be a starry, starry night this week.  (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

It’ll be a starry, starry night this week. (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

Lastly, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, I guess it’s time to say goodbye to the summer as autumn enters center stage on Sunday. Bittersweet, yet, but thankfully fall graces us with foliage rich with jewel tones and with more reasons to travel.

If you can work in the full moon on October 18… all the better.

Toronto—From Good To Great.

Super Toronto's Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Super Toronto’s Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Travel is discovery and it’s a delight when you stumble upon a new favorite thing. Whether it’s music, dance, food, a cocktail, beach, park, campsite, a person, exceptional experience or an intimate moment. Large or small—it doesn’t have to work for anyone else—it just has to rock your world. I discovered my new favorite thing recently in Toronto. It’s Coco Café—coconut water with a kick of espresso, a hint of sugar, and dash of low-fat milk. I popped into a café for an iced coffee but walked out with an obsession. Crazy for anything coconut, the coffee buzz was a bonus. So there you have it, that’s my new favorite thing.cococafe

But obviously Canada’s largest city has lots more to discover than my new favorite drink. As it’s grown over the years, Toronto’s sprouted neighborhoods with a fantastic mix of ethnic cultures, food, arts and entertainment. Leslieville is a working and middle-class area, celebrated for its artistic vibe, retro shops and good eats. Chinatown and Kensington are the most multi-cultural hoods in Toronto. If you’re not adverse to a group tour, you may want to check out Urban Adventures. They offer small (no more than 12 people) guided tours. You’ll learn some history and get to experience some of what makes these heritage neighborhoods standout. Looking for another angle? The Planet D offers photography tours.

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

If you prefer not to run with a pack, the subway and streetcar system make navigating the city a breeze. Toronto’s easy to get around and you’ll be able to cover good ground, on foot as well, depending on the amount of time you have. From eating to exercising, here are some local, popular, and touristy things to see and do around the city.

Arts & Entertainment

Art Gallery of Toronto (AGO) – Culture vultures can get their art fix here at the one of the largest museums in North America. The AGO holds over 80,000 works in its collection and will soon premier the Ai WeiWei According To What? exhibit from August 17-October 27. The excitement this artist generates is drawing locals, and visitors from across the country and the border.

CN Tower – What would a visit to Toronto be without a peek inside of what the American Society of Engineers classified as One Of The Seven Wonders Of The Modern World? With a 360-degree view of city, the Tower also features a restaurant, entertainment, exhibitions and events.

The Toronto Islands – One of the city’s top attractions, these islands are just a 10-minute ferry ride from the city. Beaches, biking, canoeing, kayaking, festivals, picnicking—depending on how you like to hang, there’s something for you on one these islands. If you’ve got kids, there’s an amusement park and a petting zoo, too.

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Distillery – formerly a derelict zone of Victorian industrial buildings, in 2003 a group of creative developers transformed the area into an atmosphere that’s now heralded as one of Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destinations. With one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, and cafes, it’s a great place to hang out—day or night.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – this town is overflowing with film festivals but it’s this one, held annually for ten days in September, that set’s the city on fire.  TIFF has established itself as the premier event in the industry and built up Toronto’s city cred. Cannes and Tribeca have nothing on it, and it’s the world’s largest public film festival.  If you have any plans to visit Toronto during September 5-15, act fast—get some tix, see some flicks and don’t forget the camera.
Yummy Stuff

St. Lawrence Market – one of my favorite, previously mentioned, haunts in Toronto, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Bring an empty stomach and leave very happy and probably with lots of good stuff. The quality and variety of fresh food offered at this market from fruits, veggies, fish, meat, spices, herbs—you name it—is nuts, so go there and go crazy.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

With no shortage of bars, cafes and restaurants, it’s challenging to list all the faves but here are a few standouts. For quality Italian fare, check out Buca. If you’re in The Danforth, pop into Mezes for authentic Greek cuisine served family style. Need a java jump? The Rooster Coffee House was voted one the best cafes by Toronto Life. With two locations, they make it easy for you to get your fix.

Exercise

Flemingdon Park Golf Club – This 9-hole public course is located in the Don Valley, just minutes from the city center. They rent clubs, carts, bags, and have a practice driving net.

Sunnybrook Stables – Like to ride? I do. These stables are in midtown Toronto but you’ll feel miles away. From beginner to advanced riders, the instructors—and the horses— are excellent.Horse play at Sunnybrook Stables. (Photo credit: Sunnybrook Stables.)

Sundara Yoga – When you stay in a hotel, it’s easy to just plod down to the gym. Break form, be adventurous and check out where the locals do it. Located in historic Cabbagetown, Angela Jervis-Read runs a yoga studio that’ll welcome you with open arms. Her specialty is Yin yoga and her instruction is encouraging without the woo-woo weirdness that can sometimes turn folks off to its benefits.

Sleepytime

There are loads of hotels all over the town. Depending on your budget, and the area you want to stay, here’s where a travel agent can cut your work in half. A few recs off the top of my head are The InterContinental on Bloor Street, which is well located; The Omni King Edward, in the financial district, and The Drake in the Queen Street West area.

Getting There

Depending on where you hail from, Toronto is easily accessed by rail, bus, or car, and of course…air.  If you’re flying, check out Porter Airlines. With this carrier’s excellent service, they’re at the top my list. The biggest plus is that they fly directly into Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, which will put you right smack in the city so you can hit the ground running.

Toronto is all grown up but its evolution is nowhere near over.  Been there? Share your story…and your new favorite thing.