Archive for October, 2012

Where Are You Going in 2013?

I do a lot of traveling, I read a lot of travel publications, and probably most notably, I continually listen to the interests and curiosities of clients and fellow travelers. It is through a combination of these experiences that I have come up with my own “up and coming” list for destinations. You will no doubt see similar lists elsewhere if you scan through popular travel magazines or other travel-related blogs. While it’s likely that there will be some cross over, it’s almost certain that there will be some destinations that make one list and not another. There’s really no “wrong or right” here, it’s just a matter of perspective, as well as of the audience towards which the blog is geared.

It’s important to note here that because of the type of travel I plan, it tends to be more mid-level to upscale budget wise. Therefore, some of these destinations might not fit for “budget travelers”, as the entry/visa fees, accommodation options, need for a private guide, or airfare alone might put this over their comfort level budget wise. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means it might not be as ideal as another destination if budget is your primary criteria. Because there are plenty that I’d like to suggest, I’m going to go continent by continent in a series of blogs. For organization’s sake, we’ll start at the beginning of the alphabet for today’s, featuring Africa.

1. Namibia: While there are certainly opportunities for wildlife viewing in Etosha National Park, Namibia’s “must see” features also include supurb non-wildlife features. The Namib dessert, Sossusvlei sand dunes (arguably the highest in the world), and the Skeleton Coast – named for the scores of shipwrecks whose “bones” still remain viewable there today, are among the top. For animal lovers, the Skeleton Coast is also a very welcoming environment for fur seals. Namibia is easy to combine with South Africa and/or Botswana. US citizens traveling on a US passport for leisure can generally obtain a visa on arrival in Namibia.

2. Zambia: Zambia is probably not for the first time traveler to Africa, but it is definitely a destination to keep your eye on. It’s most obvious (and popular) feature is Victoria Falls (also viewable from Zimbabwe), and certainly if you’re in Zambia, visit the falls! The country also boasts game reserves and safari opportunities, elephant back safaris, white water rafting on the Zambezi – said to be some of the best rafting in the world and not for the faint of heart, lion and cheetah walks, to name a few highlights. US citizens traveling with a US passport for leisure for can generally obtain a visa on arrival in Zambia.

3. Mozambique: Mozambique lies on the east coast of southern Africa, and thus much of it’s appeal revolves around the water. Most notably, its splendid, un-touristy beaches draw honeymooners and those looking for an unconventional getaway. In addition to its beaches, snorkeling and diving in the Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos, and whale and dolphin watching in the north of the country all point to Mozambique as a haven for ocean-lovers. But the country is also home to six National Parks, among which visitors can see the wide variety of animals as they would expect to find in more “traditional” wildlife-viewing countries, including the Big Five animals. Travelers to Mozambique must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after their stay is completed. While visas are provided at international airports, it’s suggested that visitors obtain a visa prior to entering the country.

The Travel Planner Difference – From a Fast Food Commercial

This morning, I heard a radio commercial for a fast food restaurant – McDonald’s I believe – that perfectly defined the difference between using a professional travel planner (consultant, advisor) as compared to an online travel agency. In the commercial, a man calls the front desk of a hotel where he’s staying and tries to order a breakfast meal from said food place- breakfast sandwich, coffee, something like that. The remaining conversation goes as such, and I’m paraphrasing here:

Front desk agent: “um sir, we don’t have that restaurant here in the hotel.”

Hotel patron: “But there’s a McDonald’s(?) right across the street, and the front desk said ‘anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant.'”

The front desk agent: “Well, we did say that.”

Hotel patron: “Great, can you throw in some hash browns too?”

The front desk agent then presumably goes across the street get the meal, since it is after all a commercial for the fast food place, and it wouldn’t be very good marketing if he didn’t.

The point is, though, that the front desk agent promised “whatever we can do to make your stay better” and truly meant it – including running across the street to get this man’s breakfast sandwich. That, right there, is the difference between working with an unknown online travel agency and a professional planner with whom you develop a personal relationship. When you need something customized, when something goes wrong, when you have a detailed question, you call a mass online travel agency and you get a call center rep. It’s so impersonal at times that they aren’t even allowed to give you their last name or a personal extension to call them back. The reps often times aren’t in the travel industry at all, except the fact that they’re answering phones for an online company. They haven’t had destination training, the individual reps don’t have personal connections with local suppliers on the ground in your destination, hotels don’t recognize that rep personally as an industry professional. This isn’t to say that the companies aren’t known – they’re practically household names thanks to mass market and lots of advertising – but their employees with whom the clients work don’t develop those personal relationships.

When you work with a professional travel planner, though, you do benefit from this customization, this industry knowledge and experience, these personal relationships with suppliers. I know my clients’ travel preferences, favorite airlines and hotel brands, must haves and can’t stands. I have exclusive access to suppliers and ground operators because of my industry partnerships. I can reach out to a hotel contact or tour representative provided specifically to travel professionals in my region only, many of whom I have a established personal relationships with. Finally, I have a very personal interest in each and every client. My business isn’t run on high volume, one and done sales. A happy client is a client who returns, who refers others, and who I am truly helping live out their travel dreams. I work with every client individually, often over the period of several months, and when you get to know someone like this, you want to ensure that they have their ideal trip – it makes you happy to see them happy, as cheesy as that sounds. They’re not just a number going to a call center, they’re someone I now know personally. I think this can be said of many of today’s professional travel planners – certainly many that I know.

This doesn’t mean that a travel planner can fix absolutely any problem at any time. If the flight gets cancelled and the airline you “must” fly on because you want to earn miles does not operate any other flights that day, I cannot get them to schedule one. We are only human and even the most influential of us have occasionally run into a situation that we cannot control – i.e a volcano erupting in Iceland and all airports across Western Europe being shut down. However, in situations like this we can work with our trusted suppliers to find the best and quickest solution, and we can get to these solutions much quicker because of our personal relationships.

This, in a rather large nutshell, is the difference. And, while we as professionals we’d prefer you and not ask us to run across the street and fetch your bagel sandwich for you, I do offer new clients a complimentary consultation, and often we meet at a coffee shop, where I’m happy to buy them a coffee to enjoy while we discuss their future travel plans.

Choosing Your Travel Partner

I love to travel alone. I also love to travel with my family, and I’ve been lucky enough that basically all of my significant others over the years have been very good travelers – perhaps I subconsciously analyze this when meeting someone new! However, I know a lot of people who strongly dislike traveling with their family, or many others, for that matter.

I think the key is knowing yourself, and being very honest with both yourself and others, when choosing your travel companions. What attributes do you require, or strongly hope for, in a travel partner? What are your quirks that someone has to put up with for days or weeks on end if they’re going to travel with you? Here are a few questions that might help you to consider when choosing your travel partners, and especially, your travel roommates.

1. Are you an early riser or a late nighter? No one wants to feel like they’re missing half their vacation waiting for their roommate to wake up. Similarly, no one wants to feel like they can’t enjoy the nightlife becuase they’re travel partner likes to be in bed earlier. This can be one of the trickiest parts of traveling together, and it’s important to know these dynamics up front.

2. What’s your travel style? Do you like to plan things out, go with the flow, or some combination? Planners will go nuts with people who don’t even like to have a place to stay lined up on their trip. Similarly, people who like to go with the flow 100 percent can feel stifled by a planner. Similarly, do you prefer to go nonstop on your trip for the fear of missing something, or take a slower pace and just see what you see?

3. Luxury or low maintenance? Some people consider camping and hostels a fun adventure. Others consider it cruel and unusual punishment and prefer high end hotels.

4. Dining habits. How adventurous are you when it comes to food? Sounds silly, but if you’re looking to try every local street food vendor as you go along and they want three square meals in a nice restaurant, a compromise in one form or another will be necessary.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Probably every trip and every set of travel companions will require looking at different dynamics. Still, you want to have some frame of reference when you begin planning. You most likely won’t see eye to eye on every one of the above. So it’s important to know what’s really important to you, and what you can compromise on. If there’s someone you really want to travel with (i.e. a significant other) but their travel patterns and styles are greatly different than your own, sit down and discuss these and any other concerns you have about traveling with them, and see what agreements you can come to.

Do you have other travel partner “musts” and “no ways”? Would love to hear them!