Friday, January 31, 2014

Bon Voyage, Safe Sailing

The recent news about illness regarding the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas and Princess' Caribbean Princess has raised questions with some travelers. The main question seems to be, 'is cruising safe?' The answer in short is yes!

First, consider the population of passengers and crew onboard.  Some of the larger ship populations are the size of small cities, in some cases, larger than some towns. Unlike being at home after a day at the mall or at a major event, this population is in constant close contact with one and another. Virus, cold and flu germs are unknowingly being carried into public spaces, especially during the winter. No matter how clean your home, workplace or school, someone in the family is bound to pick up a bug and bring it home. A cruise ship, airline or vacation resort is no different. 

So many times when one flies long distances, 3 days later that crummy cold feeling arises. We tend to over look that and chalk it up to jet lag. Likewise when traveling to a foreign destination getting a stomach bug is blamed as food poisoning, but may well be a virus contracted before or during travel. 

Since the first outbreaks of what was once named the Norwalk Virus around  2002, new cleaning protocols have prevented entire ships from becoming ill. Also the outbreaks of Norovirus have greatly lessened. According to the CDC, since cruise ships adopted the Vessel Sanitation Program, shipboard illnesses have waned. This program calls for ships to be inspected at least twice yearly and they can also be inspected without prior notice. If they do not pass inspection they have between four to six weeks to meet the standards. 

I spoke recently with one of my clients who cruised on a ship when a virus was detected. He was so pleased to tell me how well the crew dealt with the salutation and curbed the spread of the disease. He mentioned sanitation stations where hand sanitizer was readily available, constant cleaning of the ship and food being handled by staff wearing gloves and other protective garments. No passenger was permitted to serve themselves at the buffets. 

Royal Caribbean International deserves high marks for the action they took to guard the well being of their passengers and crew. The Explorer of the Seas has a capacity (guests and crew) of 3840. Of that, 700 people, twenty percent, had taken ill to varying degrees on the ship. According to exit reports from passengers, they found Royal Caribbean did all they could to keep the population of ill guests and crew quarantined from the well population. Additionally, most said they would cruise again and were happy with the compensation from the cruise line due to the shortened itinerary.

According to CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, 21.3 million people cruised worldwide in 2013. The CDC reported 7 Norovirus events in the same year affecting 1,238 people. This is less than one percent of the cruise population. Additionally they reported the CDC tracked about 20 million cases of the same virus on land in the US during a one year period. 

Of course no one likes to become ill when traveling. There are precautions you can take if you are concerned about being exposed. Be sure to stock up on your vitamins.You may also want to bring a few items from home to curb side effects from the virus. Ginger products work well to settle one's stomach along with other over-the-counter remedies. Always speak to your doctor first.

If you are curious about the grade the ships have before planning your next cruise, check with the CDC's Green Sheet Report. This document will reveal the name of the ship, date inspected and their score. Any ship scoring under 85 be cleaned again and inspected within 6 weeks. 

So, pack your bags and head for the pier. Bon Voyage






Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pre and Post Storm Travel


Travel is a way of life, whether pleasure or business. Unfortunately Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with our plans.

Some plans are easier to change than others. The days before, during and after a major storm can really test your patience and the strength of your planning. You most likely sit hours by the computer/smart phone looking at your weather app, listening to the radio or watching breaking weather announcements on television. You wonder, "will I be able to travel and what if I can't?"

Sometimes weather interruptions are only regional and will have no effect on your plans. However, if your flight originates or ends in an airport or region having weather issues, your plans may be delayed or canceled. Many of the airlines will now send you a text message if your flight is impacted. Be sure your airline has your mobile number when you make your reservation for this service.

If cancellations are announced by your air carrier, you will be permitted to cancel your flights or change your dates of travel without penalty. If you must travel, the changes to a new flight can be a bit tough to reset, but let your travel agent help you with that. Your agent can view all of the new open flights very quickly through their computer system which has direct access to the airline inventory. If you have planned your travel on your own, you may be able to reschedule your flights via the airline's website. The airlines will work to help you the best they can, but keep in mind, many others have been bumped from flights and there is a finite amount of seats on every flight for each scheduled route.  Also, storm interruptions are considered force majeure, an event or situation out of reasonable control. Put simply, the airlines are not responsible for subsidizing meals or accommodations if you are stuck at the airport away from home. Do not expect them to help you with anything other than rescheduling your flight.

Days directly before and after a major storm can become a nightmare at the airport. Passengers with a reservation on a flight which is expected to be canceled may change their plans to leave a day or two prior to the storm or days immediately after the storm. The airports are going to be serving a high volume of travelers. Lines will be long! Be properly prepared. If you are able to effect an online check-in with your carrier, this will get you into the baggage check line faster, even if you cannot print out the boarding pass. The lines for TSA security checks will also be longer. Have your passport and boarding pass out before you reach the security check point. Don't waste time looking for everything as you are called to be checked. Instead of getting to the airport  2 - 2-1/2 hours prior to your flight, add a half hour. If you get through the lines quickly, sit back, relax with a beverage and a good book. You may want to have some extra items with you in your carry-on to get you through a long wait like toothpaste/toothbrush, contact lens solution if you wear lenses, extra dose of medicines you need and even a change of clothes.

Another scenario, you have a connecting flight from your international destination to your home/gateway airport. You can leave the destination to your first connecting airport, but not to your home airport immediately. If you can find a hotel near the first domestic airport the best option is to leave your destination on your scheduled flight. Your chances of getting home sooner rather than later are greatly increased since you will have more flight options to reach your home airport. 

Most hotels will relax their cancellation policies and penalties if you are unable to arrive on time. They may have travelers also stuck at their hotel who need to remain in their rooms if they are in a region affected by the weather. When traveling outside the affected region, the hotel still may assess a small penalty since they held the reservation in good faith for you and did not open that room to another guest. Just remember to advise the hotel of your situation.  If you are prevented from leaving a destination, the hotel will more often that not try to offer the room you are in at the same nightly rate. If they cannot keep the room open for you, their staff will usually help relocate you nearby or close to the airport. Again, in a situation like this, contact your travel agent. They will also be able to help you either keep your reservation at your hotel or help you with making new arrangements.

One international resort with which I work closely often releases a storm statement. They reassure their guests detained at in the destination continued services at a greatly reduced rate until they can depart on their flight. They also offer guests expected to arrive, but cannot, the ability to reschedule their vacation within the same calendar year without penalty. Unfortunately there are resorts/hotels which do not follow suit or will charge a small penalty for cancellation. Always check the cancellation policies ahead of time.

Cruise lines are a bit more difficult. Since cruises depart on an unyielding schedule, the cancellation policies are much stricter. Unless the cruise line needs to cancel the entire cruise due to weather conditions at sea, your weather woes will not change their penalty policies. However, many cruise lines will see you get to the next closest port if your cruise sails without you if you have made your air reservations through the cruise line. This will depend upon the cruise line, conditions for delay and cruise ports on itinerary.

The best way to be sure you keep your money in your pocket while traveling is protecting yourself with a good travel insurance policy. Read the policy carefully though. In cases, such as the cruise lines, the policies may not refund your money in full. You might only get a partial refund or a credit for another cruise if you purchase the cruise line policy. Your airfare might not even be addressed at all.

When purchasing a travel insurance policy, it is highly recommended to buy an independent travel policy. Be sure to read the coverages. Many will also help you recover funds for travel delays as well as cancellation. Keep all of your receipts for expenses incurred during your delay if you plan on making a claim to your insurance company. You will also need proof of cancellation or delay from the airline.  Consider the travel insurance as part of your travel investment. We never expect bad things to happen like blizzards, hurricanes or bellowing volcanoes to put a wrench in our plans, but weather phenomena rears it's ugly head when we least expect.

Most importantly, when storm delays happen, please, bring your patience with you. Everyone is experiencing the same delay as you. They may be going on vacation, visiting a sick loved one or closing an important business deal. The staff trying to help you is usually doing all they can. With the overflow of people staff  will be overwhelmed too. They can't open the airports, clean the runways, or fly the plane. The nicer you are to them, the nicer they will be to you. Just smile and let them know you know they are trying to help. 

Hopefully you will never experience a long weather or emergency delay. If you do,please try to stay calm. It will make the inconvenience a little easier to bear for you and all around you. 




Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happiness of a Travel Specialist

It is often said, if you are happy with your profession, you chose wisely. Funny thing is, the travel profession chose me. Some would say it was kismet, fate. 

There are strange perceptions about the travel industry and being a travel consultant. Mostly I hear how lucky I am that I get to travel all over for free anytime I want. Well, not exactly true. Yes, there are invitations to travel for learning experiences, but sadly they are not free. However it gives me the ability to share the experiences with my clients. 

The other day while in NY at the USA Today office for interviews, a colleague and I were talking about the good, bad and ugly of our profession. We both agreed the good far outweighed the other to options for us. This profession gives us the opportunity to share our love for travel and open the world to others who want the happiness travel provides. 
From USA Today NY Midtown Office

One of the best parts of this business is sharing knowledge of wonderful destinations, cultures, history, people and more. I get excited with each new request, no matter the request. It could be a short beach style vacation or an extended journey to the ends of the earth. Just knowing, in the end, my clients will have the travel experience they want is my satisfaction. 

Mostly, it is the thank you at the end of the journey or the picture sent during the vacation that says it all. When I see the smiling faces or a beautiful view taken during an excursion, it is confirmation of a job well done and a promise kept to my clients. Very few professionals get to have that type of satisfaction from their work.
View from Pucon, Chile

Of course as a travel consultant, bad days do happen. Airlines are delayed or cruises canceled because of weather. There is a rush to try to make other arrangements to 'save the day.' Sometimes changes are possible, but sometimes Mother Nature gets her way. 

One such story happened this week. I received a call from a friend who is a concierge at the Hudson Hotel in New York. He explained they had a lovely couple from Australia as guests. Unfortunately due to a situation in the Galapagos, their trip was canceled. They did not want to stay an extra 8 days in New York, but wanted a warm Caribbean beach vacation where they could dive as well. Oh, did I mention this was December 23rd and they wanted to travel December 27th? 

The search began! Trying to coordinate a new flight out of the NY area and an available resort, still affordable, a real challenge. Not to mention, getting them back in time to Miami for their next flight the following week.  I could not let this couple down. By the end of the day a room at a luxury adults only hotel was cleared from the waitlist and one of the last available flights out of New York was secured. They are all set to go. A few extra hours after 'office hours' were needed to get everything set, but in the end, it is the result that counts. Yara and Justin are very happy and their photo they sent last night, says it all. 
Travel Happiness - Yara and Justin

To my past and current clients, I want to say thank you for your business and all of the thanks and pictures over the year. On to next year with more wonderful journeys to plan and more pictures to come.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Travel Professional Continuing Education



About a month ago a disparaging editorial was published in Woman's Day about travel consultants. Since the article was posted, the editorial staff at Woman's Day has apologized for not scrutinizing the article for the inaccuracies and an interview with woman who has not been active in the travel business for years. 


One of the many inaccurate points of the article was travel consultants are not knowledgeable about destinations and only 'push' vacations that have an incentive back to the agent. Many consultants are knowledgeable and only recommend the travel most befitting their travelers. If we didn't, we would not have repeat clientele or referrals.  


Like other professionals, we have access to continuing education both through seminars series and travel opportunities. While we cannot constantly travel, a good travel advisor should try to take at least one or two travel opportunities if possible each year.  The opportunities keep our knowledge sharp and ties with our suppliers current. This is the information we need to remain at the top of the travel industry to service you, our clients, the best.


I was asked recently to contribute to one of our travel forums about the importance of continuing education through travel sponsored by our travel partners (tourism boards, hoteliers, cruise lines and suppliers). I would like to share portions the article published today with you, my friends and clients.
   

The Importance of Continuing Education 
 Adrienne Sasson, Rubinsohn Travel, Tripologist since 2007

As a travel advisor for 16 years, I always stress the importance of continuing education. The world of travel is always changing and we must stay current to plan the best experiences for our clients. 

I was invited this year to Indaba in South Africa with the South African Tourism Board. Having planned the destination for clients it was finally my turn to visit.

We began in Durban, with a day full of seminars which included Indaba, South Africa's travel trade show. Both the seminars and trade show provided invaluable information and networking with preferred suppliers.excitement for South Africa and over 4000 photos. My clients are excited to hear about the trip and see the photos... Though we cannot get to every destination we desire, when the opportunity is right, don't pass it by. A small investment in education can make the difference for both the travel consultant and the client.  

Following a tour of the Rovos Rail and an evening on the Blue Train, I can knowledgeably recommend rail as a luxury travel choice for South Africa. From Durban, we moved through Cape Town, Kruger National Park, Johannesburg and Soweto. My Twitter and Facebook following along.

A short flight to Mpumalanga began the safari experience, number one on my bucket list. Home for the next three days was Lions Sands in Sabi Sands. With rangers and trackers in open jeeps, we set off for the first safari as sunset fell upon the bush. Imagine telling me telling my clients about looking over the bush from a tree top suite, having cocktails. 

Johannesburg was next. The most unexpected experience was Soweto. The history and rebirth of a nation came alive after visiting Mandela House and the Hector Pieterson Museum. 


One of my favorite parts of travel is driving through local areas and observing daily life. Here the rural roadsides were dotted with impromptu markets for housewares, food and curbside barbershops. These special insights are like precious gems.


Twelve days went by quickly. Reluctantly I boarded the flight with renewed


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Amazing Vacation


A question was posed to me a short time ago about what is the most amazing vacation. My first thought was how much time have I to answer this question?

The world is huge and the vacation choices just as vast. There really is no ‘one size fits all’ vacation. Travelers glean different experiences while on the same vacation. Many times I have asked couples or friends who have returned for comments about their trip. After hearing their reviews I wonder if I sent them to the same place.  One may tell me about their gourmet delight while the other is sharing a story of a breath-taking view or bungee jumping.  
 
 

The amazing vacation is in your eyes and depends upon your personal desires. Many times couples are so diverse matching the perfect vacation takes time to create, putting together pieces for both personalities. The holiday which was perfect for your cousin or best friend may not be the right one for you.
 
Some breaks are for lazing on the beach, turning everything off, even your social media. This might mean the islands of the South Pacific or high atop a mountain in a luxury resort with your partner and a good book. Other getaways may be relaxing by the pool or beach mixed with a few excursions to get a taste of the culture and scenery. Perhaps the answer is Las Vegas or Macao for gambling, shows and exciting nightlife.
 
 


Adventure seekers might choose kayaking class three white water raids or repelling down the face of a mountain. There are those who prefer soft adventure in a hot air balloon over the savannahs of Africa while animal herds graze below.  Alternatively, the adventure might be diving the deep blue sea to feed the sharks or surfing the pipelines of Hawaii.

Vacation trends gaining popularity are tours which immerse the travelers deeply into the culture of the destination. Gourmet tours, homestays and voluntourism are a few tour styles of this trend.

Gourmet tours, popular in Italy and France have expanded to many new countries. Cooking classes, winemaking and olive oil pressing enhance the learning of the surrounding culture and local language. The homestay tours add to experience by staying with a family to better understand the local color and culture, first hand. The homestay however is not suggested for the novice traveler.

Voluntourism usually consists of small groups visiting an impoverished area. Some of these trips focus on schools, orphanges and hospitals. The guests bring necessary supplies with them to donate and spend time at the institution to learn more about the needs and services they provide. At times, professionals like Doctors Without Borders not only donate supplies, but also their time to evaluate and admínister services to patients not able to be cared for locally.
  
The most amazing vacation can be as simple as possible, sheer adventure, a cultural experience or a little of each! The choices are infinite. Speak with your travel advisor or contact me for your next journey.
 
Adrienne Sasson, The Travel Specialist
Rubinsohn Travel
Jenkintown, PA 
800-501-8519
 

 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

To Cruise Or Not To Cruise





To cruise or not to cruise, this seems to be the latest travel debate. The media have jumped on the Carnival Cruise Lines mishap this past week showcasing everything and anything that can go wrong on a cruise vacation. How fair have the media been to Carnival's "Fun Ships?" One major media outlet could not even get the fact straight about other cruise lines related to Carnival. Is it fair to let sensationalism of the media reign over rationality?

Take into consideration the fact the ship did reach a safe port with all passengers aboard and no serious illness or injuries reported. They also sought out one of the Truimph's sister ships cruising in the same vicinity to render aid with more food and other supplies for the crippled ship.

According to CLIA (Cruise Line International Association), the number of cruise line passengers has risen to over 17.6 million, over 10 million guests between the years 2000 through 2013. All of these people can't be wrong! Ships have become floating cities with passenger capicities reaching well over 2,000. Some passengers elect to stay aboard while in the ports of call to enjoy the amenities onboard. More ships are being built and expect to be debuted in the next two years, Carnival included.

If one thinks about the accidents reported for cruises lines, statistically they are very low. There are more road vehicle accidents (cars, buses, trucks, etc.) each year. Within the past few weeks, several motorcoach accidents have been reported, some with serious injuries and deaths. They were just a glimmer in the media's eye. With close to 1,100 ships sailing from North American ports, it is almost surprising more incidences with mechanical failures do not occur. Then again, the US Coast Guard inspections are very strict. Ships can be inspected up to 60 times a year for areas including environmental, safety and health (CLIA Issues and Facts 2011).

Yes, passengers as well as crew were very inconvenienced and uncomfortable. Due to the distance from a safe land destination and the condition of the seas, the attempt to disembark over 2,000 people to another vessle could have proved catestrophic. The crew does deserve recognition for making sure the engine fire did not spread and cause additional damage to the ship. The CEO and other executives at Carnival also merit some credit for not trying to keep the media in the dark. Their comments to the media were made after they had all of the facts. They acted quickly to make sure once the passengers arrived safely at the first available port, they were transferred efficiently to hotels and / or chartered flights. Additionally all passengers will be fully refunded plus an additional $500.00 and a full credit for a future cruise. Some reports place the cost of this event to Carnival well over 80 million dollars.

While the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigates the engine fire, the Carnival Triumph will be in dock. Cruises for the ship have been canceled until April.

And with this in mind, thousands of people are arriving at the piers this weekend for their cruise. Perhaps they are thinking about this in the back of their minds. However, they are most likely looking forward to the ports awaiting their arrival, relaxation, good food and fun. Along with my colleagues in the travel industry, I wish them all a bon voyage.






Monday, July 26, 2010

Southwest Airlines, A New Low In Customer Care

Yet another caution about looking for the cheapest services. A few days ago, in a previous blog, I cautioned about choosing the cheapest online travel option when booking a vacation. Now, a new caution, Southwest Airlines.


Southwest Airlines recently made a change to their "contract of carriage." This is the area which acts as the overall disclaimer of the airline to the passenger. The "contract of carriage" is a rarely read area which is posted online for all airlines explaining their contact of services and liabilities to you, their customer. It details their responsibility in the case of delays, lost luggage and flight cancellations.

The popular airlines has now added mechanical failures as "an act of God" as part of their "contract of carriage" to limit their liabilities to you, their client. Customer service
clearly takes a backseat to their revenue. According to reports, this was done a few weeks ago without any media announcement. This basically means they believe "mechanical failures are outside their control."

I do understand that airlines do need to delay flights for various reasons. Many of those reasons are truly beyond the control of the airline. Recently passengers flying in Europe and through Europe experienced wild cancellations and delays because of a sudden spew of volcanic ash from Iceland. In a decision of safety and well being for both passengers and crew, flights had to be grounded. Other acts of mother nature or God have grounded flights when it has been determined safety is an issue. Personally, I'd rather wait on the ground and be delayed than fly in unstable conditions.

Maintenance is a major responsibility solely borne by the airline. Prior to planes directed to the gates, full checks of all systems should be made. Yes, there are times when an alert pilot or flight engineer finds a problem while going through their check points before take -off. For that, we need to be appreciative. Again, our safety should be the main issue.

However, for an airline to call their maintenance issues "an act of God" is a far stretch. This is their responsibility, part of their contract to you, the passenger, their client, to keep you safe. All business owners need to step up to the plate for customer service, including the airlines. If you think this is wrong, let Southwest Airlines know. Go on to their website and comment on their customer service area. Silence by you, the passenger, will let them think you don't care. Sometimes, silence isn't golden.