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Friday, March 08, 2019

How Travel Advisors Get Paid

We're a membership-based travel agency. Join ActiveTravels and pay the $60 yearly fee and you'll receive our monthly newsletters, be enrolled for hotel giveaways, and most importantly, have someone to help with planning and be of service if something should go wrong during travels. Once you join, you fill out a travel questionnaire that helps us custom-design your trip based on your likes and dislikes about traveling. We receive our commissions directly from the tour operators, hotels, cruise lines, etc. that we work with around the globe. You don't pay extra. We simply receive our 10 to 15% cut by sending them business. There are exceptions to this rule. First, airlines only pay commissions on business class seats. So we need to charge you $50 for flight for ticketing. Second, we design a slew of independent itineraries all over America, Europe, and beyond. I just finished designing a 4-month trip to South America for a couple who took a year sabbatical. This includes all logistics-planes, trains, buses, hotels, guides, even a cruise to the Galapagos Islands. This takes a lot of time and often includes small inns or boutique hotels that don't pay commission. So we have to charge the client directly depending on the number of days. But a typical weeklong independent itinerary fee costs $500-$700. 

It's been fun talking about my profession this week. Thanks for reading. Next week, Amy will be back to discuss her recent trip to Ecuador. Have a great weekend and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/08/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, March 07, 2019

How A Travel Advisor Helps Design an Authentic Travel Experience

As a young travel writer, working as a Contributing Editor at Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, I would regularly meet Arthur Frommer in his office in midtown Manhattan. I would come prepared, ready to pitch my 3 to 4 story angles on a sheet of paper and the legendary writer, who made his name penning "Europe on 5 Dollars A Day" in 1957, would politely listen and shoot down every one of my ideas. He then would come up with his own suggestions: "Steve, why don't you do a story on the Caribbean islands that are rarely affected by hurricanes, like the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao?" One of those story ideas I would return to again and again in my travel writing career and, in fact, became the cornerstone of our beliefs when we opened our travel agency, ActiveTravels, 7 years ago. Arthur said to me, "Steve, these big-name American travel companies like National Geographic Expeditions are hiring smaller outfitters to run their trips in each of the countries they visit. Find the best small local ground operator in a dozen countries and pen a story on them. This way, you eliminate the middleman and save a bundle." 

 
Working as a travel writer since 1990, I've had the good fortune to visit close to 100 countries, 46 American states (still missing Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), and 9 out of 10 Canadian provinces (need to get to Saskatchewan). This has given me a wealth of knowledge to help design routes for clients when they travel. But let's be realistic. Even if I've traveled to the African continent 7 times, I'm no expert. In fact, I've barely scraped the surface. And what about those countries still on my Bucket List, like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Uganda. It's simply unrealistic for any travel agency to have expertise on all countries. That's why we rely on local contacts we've made around the globe, these small tour operators Arthur Frommer first introduced me to so many years ago. They live locally, know every nook and cranny of their country like I know every nook and cranny of the Northeastern US, and they have become invaluable in our profession in creating an authentic itinerary that only a local could know. These include a New Zealander who designs detailed self-guided driving itineraries to his favorite sites and B&Bs on the South Island, a naturalist in Sumatra that will help locate the native orangutans, an art historian in Rome who will take you behind the scenes to talk about Caravaggio, and a Ecuadorean yacht owner who takes small, select groups to visit the Galapagos Islands on weeklong cruises. Whenever one of our clients returns with rave reviews for a local outfitter or guide, we add them to a growing list. That's how we find the perfect person to custom-design your itineraries based on your desires. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/07/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

How a Travel Advisor Helps With Hotel Bookings

In a story I wrote for The Boston Globe on "The Key to Getting a Better Hotel Room," I interviewed Jacob Tomsky, author of the best-selling Heads in Beds (Doubleday). Tomsky, 35, spent a decade in the hotel industry, seven of those years manning the front desk at an upscale midtown Manhattan hotel. I asked him is it better to book a room via a travel agent than to reserve through websites like Hotels.com or Priceline? His response: "From a business standpoint, people who book through third-party travel sites are looking for a discount. The likelihood that they'll return to your hotel is close to nil. So discount reservations are our last priority. They're the ones we put next to the elevator." It also doesn't help that these online travel agents or OTAs are reaping exorbitant finder fees from lodgings, up to 25 percent of cost per room from independent properties, compared to the average 10 percent commission for travel agents.

Hotels respond most favorably to repeat business. If a property like Relais Christine in Paris knows I call them first when booking my clients in that city, they will respond by giving our client the best service and room. Also, a good travel agent knows to call the hotel 2 to 3 days before you arrive to speak to the general manager or director of sales and "VIP the client." It's a business of people serving people. The more you can connect with the hotel, the better your stay. If this is your first time in Paris in 10 years and you only represent yourself, realize you don't have the same leverage as 50 bookings a year at the same property. If you're booking a 4 or 5-star property on your own, you're also missing out on hotels sweetening the pot during your stay. ActiveTravels is aligned with the travel consortium, Virtuoso. When booking one of the upscale properties in that network, we can offer free upgrades, complimentary spa services and breakfasts. 
 
Then comes the research that goes into finding that dream hotel. Google "Italian villas" and you'll see over 59 million results. Have fun with that research. That number will surely increase with the deluge of travel content. In fact, travel advisors have even coined a phrase for the client who spends far too much time researching on his computer, "analysis paralysis." The whole scene is reminiscent of the financial sector a decade ago when investors were enamored with the $10 E-trade. Why use a financial advisor when I can trade on my own? Well, because you don't want to spend a good chunk of your life micromanaging your investments. Today's travelers want someone with expertise to give their stamp of approval, having personally stayed in these lodgings or having known clientele who have stayed there. Thankfully, travel agents no longer sit behind their desks all day researching a trip from afar. They're often on the road gaining valuable expertise by visiting those hotels. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/06/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

How a Travel Advisor Helps with Flight Delays

Last week, we had three clients miss their flight connections and one ActiveTravels member break his clavicle and ribs on a motorcycle accident in Phuket, Thailand. Before our clients even got off their planes, they were rebooked and ready to go on the next available flight. No standing in line for hours at the customer service desk with all the other passengers. The man with the broken bones is still healing in a hospital, but we were able to cancel and reschedule his first-class flight with a slight change fee. In this Do-It-Yourself World, you're led to believe that you can easily book travel on your own. That's certainly true, but when a mishap happens, which is inevitable when you travel, it's good to have someone working on your behalf while you're still on a plane with no WiFi. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/05/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, March 04, 2019

Your Flight is Cancelled: What To Do Next

We arrived around 10 am at the Bangkok Airport with more than enough time to catch our first flight that day to Hong Kong, which would then connect to our Boston flight home. We checked the Cathay Pacific website before we left the hotel and our first flight was on time, as scheduled. But unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We were told at airport check-in that our first flight had technical problems and would be delayed. There was no way we could make the connecting flight in Hong Kong and the next flight from Hong Kong to Boston would be exactly 24 hours later. Uggh.

Travel overseas, especially on a connecting flight and this same scenario is very likely to happen to you. You can jump up and down, pout, and say life's not fair, or you can take a deep breath, pause, and try to get yourself home as quickly as possible in a relatively comfortable manner. We were lucky to have a great person at the Cathay Pacific desk in Bangkok working on our behalf. First and foremost, when an airline cancels or delays a flight due to technical problems, they are under contract to get you to your destination on any airline, not just the airline you booked. Cathay Pacific understood this and led us over to the British Airways check-in to try and catch the flight to Heathrow and on to Logan, but it was too late to get on the flight. He then brought up two other options, fly Lufthansa 11 hours later that day, connecting in Frankfurt, or fly Emirates through Dubai at 8 pm, arriving in Dubai at 1 am. We would then wait at the Dubai Airport until the 8 am flight to Boston the next morning. Neither was particularly appealing. 
 
This is when you consult Google Flights or Kayak to ensure they are offering all options. Our son, Jake, found a 4 pm flight to Dubai on Emirates, which would get us into Dubai at 9 pm. Could they put us up in a hotel in Dubai that night so we could get a good night's sleep before the 8 am flight to Boston the next morning? At first, the Cathay Pacific rep hemmed and hawed, but then agreed to get us on this flight and purchase the hotel room for the night. When we arrived in Dubai later that day, we realized he went one step further. An escort met us upon arrival and led us to an in-transit hotel located smack dab inside the Dubai airport. We didn't need to go through Customs or even go through security again the next morning. All we did was wake up and walk to our gate. But none of this would have happened unless we first did our research, found the earlier flight, and asked for the night's hotel. So if you're ever in this same situation, remember to relax, do the flight research quickly, and be assertive.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/04/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, March 01, 2019

Kayak with Beluga Whales in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill is known as one of the best spots in early winter to spot polar bears. Natural Habitat Adventures gained acclaim as the first outfitter to bring visitors to this destination. Now, they're praising the year-round attractions of Churchill. Venture on one of NatHab's summer trips and you're guaranteed to raft and kayak with beluga whales. More than 3,000 of these friendly white whales congregate at the mouth of the Churchill River for summer feasting. You may also spot polar bears on the horizon.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/01/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

South African Luxury on a Budget

Think a safari has to be exorbitant, especially when staying at 5-star accommodations? Not necessarily true. African Travel is featuring a 12-night itinerary to South Africa in September, with stays at some of the top properties in the country, including the wonderful Twelve Apostles just outside of Cape Town, Rhino Sands Safari Camp in Mayoni Private Game Reserve, and the Oyster Box in Durban. Cost starts at $5995 per person, including the international flight from New York. Book this trip before March 31, 2019 and you'll receive an extra night at the Oyster House for free. Please contact ActiveTravels for more information. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Royal Air Maroc to Fly Direct from Boston to Casablanca

Morocco has become an increasingly popular destination for our clients at ActiveTravels in the past several years. The only challenge for people leaving from Boston is that there was no direct flight, meaning they usually had to transfer at JFK or Lisbon's Portela Airport. Thankfully, that's about to change on June 22nd. Royal Air Maroc has just announced that they will be flying direct from Boston to Casablanca 3 times weekly. Total flight time on the Boeing 787-8 will be 7 hours, 25 minutes westbound and 6 hours 35 minutes eastbound. Royal Air Maroc will also be joining One Alliance in 2020, so soon you'll be able to use your American Airlines miles to find seats. Once in Morocco, we work with a fantastic ground operator who packages together all lodging, guides, drivers, and restaurants to make your experience as seamless as possible. A typical 10-day itinerary will include Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, the glorious seaside village of Essaouira, and at least one night at a Bedouin camp in the Sahara Desert. Please let us know how we can help. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/27/19 at 05:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Country Walkers Turns 40

Country Walkers, the tour operator that likes to slow down to appreciate the splendor of the world on two feet, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019 with a slew of new trips to far-flung locales like Zambia, Chile, and New Zealand. But we really like the itinerary to Sri Lanka, an 11-day jaunt coined "Sri Lanka: Ancient Temples & Tea Trails." The February trip is already sold out, but there's still availability on the December trip. We had dinner in Bangkok recently with a woman who has traveled all of Asia on 2 to 4-hour flights. She told us she loves Sri Lanka and returns there often. Fantastic scenery, history, culture, and people. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/26/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 25, 2019

Clark Art Institute Launches Free Snowshoe Program

Located in Williamstown in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, Clark Art Institute is a treasure trove of Impressionist paintings by Monet, Degas, and no fewer than 30 works by Renoir. American artists are well represented by rooms of Homers, Sargents, and Remingtons. The grounds are also exquisite, set on 140 acres of rolling hills and forest. And now the museum wants you to venture outside as well as inside, offering visitors a chance to borrow a pair of snowshoes for free. The Clark has installed a snowshoe rack and benches adjacent to the west side of its Manton Research Center building. Snowshoes are available in three sizes for both adults and children to borrow. While there, see the Turner and Constable show, on view through March 10th, along with a show on Thomas Gainsborough's drawings, on view through March 17th. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/25/19 at 06:00 AM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

ActiveTravels.com is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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