Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Mountains of Switzerland

On a post-college trek through Europe, my friends and I visited the town of Interlaken, nestled in the heart of the Swiss Alps. This is the kind of place you think of when you think of traditional Swiss cities, with mountain dogs, swiss flags, elaborate wooden houses with colorful accents. Sadly no one dressed in traditional folk costumes, but the dolls in the windows were a decent substitute. But we didn't go to Interlaken just for the scenery–and it is stunning. We went there to test our courage. How you ask? Bungee jumping!

One of the scariest things I've ever done, I must say, but definitely memorable and something we'll all cherish forever. I think back to that trip, and I long for the day I can go back and try some of the many other extreme activities this city is known for. Until then, I'll reminisce with some of these photos.

Monday, July 28, 2014

News Update: TripAdvisor's Latest Purchase, Emirates Stops Flying over Iraq and Airline Profits Soar

TripAdvisor Acquires Online Tours Booking Provider Viator

Skift – July 24, 2014

TripAdvisor made a major acquisition, purchasing online tours and activities booking provider Viator for $200 million. Viator has over 20,000 bookable tours and attractions and more than 600,000 reviews, photos and videos from travelers. The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter, making it the fourth one for TripAdvisor in 2014.

MyTake: TripAdvisor is one of the biggest online review sites, and it offers thousands of planning resources. This acquisition boosts TripAdvisor's offerings, and will make it easier for people to plan their trips and get the most out of their destinations.

Los Alamos Banks on TV Show to Boost Tourism

Skift – July 27, 2014

The new show Manhattan premiered last night, putting a small town in New Mexico in the spotlight. Los Alamos is the backdrop of the show about the Manhattan Project, when scientists and staff members built the first atomic bomb during World War II. Local businesses and residents of the town hope the series will boost tourism, just as the hit series Breaking Bad gave powerful exposure to New Mexico. The series is a combination of fact and fiction, which could draw many history buffs to the city, as well as fans of the show.

MyTake: Movies and television have had a major impact on destination marketing. In fact, sometimes a film or hit TV series convinces people to go somewhere more so than the actual destination's promotions. Breaking Bad was very successful during it's five year run, drawing visitors from places as far as Asia and Europe. When people love a show or movie, they want to connect with it, and going to the place it's filmed or where it supposedly takes place is a way to do that. Tours are designed around these shows, giving people a behind-the-scenes look at the production they love. Institutions and businesses will most likely benefit from Manhattan, as long as it's a successful show. We'll have to wait and see.

Emirates to Stop Flying Over Iraq

The Telegraph – July 28, 2014

Emirates announced that it will no longer allow its planes to fly over Iraq to avoid being targets of Islamic militants. Chief executive Tim Clark said planes would be re-routed along other flight paths so as not be hit by surface-to-air missiles from fighters in the troubled country. This comes in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tragedy. Another issue that prompted the move was the announcement that the U.S. was looking into whether Isis troops in Iraq had acquired weapons from Syria which are capable of shooting down planes flying at 30,000 feet or more. Clark said he was not comfortable with the situation, especially since the airline makes up the largest number of flights which pass over Isis-held territory with more than 50 a day traveling in and out of British airports.

MyTake: Flight MH17 changed everything. Not only do government intelligence agencies need to better analyze high risk airspace and provide advice, but airlines also need to make changes in order to keep passengers and employees safe. These attacks are now a reality, and with more and more countries in political turmoil, there is a chance it could happen again. Any airline that takes extra measures to avoid flying over these areas will ease passenger fears, since people will continue to fly, especially for work. Travelers are also more likely to trust that airline and will keep flying with them.

TSA Offers Cash for Ideas to Speed Up Screening

LA Times – July 27, 2014

The Transportation Security Administration is seeking ideas on how to move people through security lines quicker, and are even offering rewards totaling up to $15,000 for the best idea. The system as it stands now is first-come, first-serve, but there are so many different travelers going through security, and they all still go through the same lines–for the most part. The TSA will award one prize of $5,000 and others of at least $2,500 for the best ideas. The deadline is August 15.

MyTake: Crowdsourcing has become a useful tool for businesses, and now the TSA is utilizing the ideas of everyday people in order to improve the security screening system. This is a smart move by the TSA, especially after the boost in fees last week cast it in a negative light. Now, people see that they want to make the security process easier for travelers, less time consuming and more efficient, and they want to hear from the people it will effect the most. If you have a good idea, you should definitely speak up and submit it. 

Airline Profits Soar

LA Times – July 27, 2014

American Airlines planes © Michael Ainsworth-Dallas News
Many of the nation's biggest airlines reported strong second-quarter profits last week, indicating that the industry may have finally recovered. American Airlines reported $1.46 billion in profit for the quarter, the largest ever for the world's biggest carrier. North American airlines reported an average profit margin of 4.3% so far in 2014, compared with 1.3% for European airlines and 2.6% for airlines from the Middle East according to the International Air Transportation Association. 

MyTake: It's certainly promising to see these kinds of numbers, particularly in an industry where businesses seem to always be in the red. Stable fuel prices and high travel demand certainly helped, and airlines also benefited from keeping seat supply down and prices up, and from continued a la carte-style fees on luggage, priority seating and in-flight amenities. While there is optimism for the rest of the summer, the recent events in the Middle East and Ukraine, could put a damper on travel. If these kinds of events continue, the third quarter may not yield great results.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Travel Trend Tuesday: Travelers Keep Turning to Mobile

© Mediapost
When you're on the road, traveling constantly, your mobile phone or iPad becomes a close friend, keeping you connected, informed and only a finger-swipe away from the answers you need. Travelers' use of personal electronic devices has increased sharply over the last year, as more and more people make smartphones, tablets and mobile apps their go-to travel tools.

In fact, people are so attached to their mobile devices, many are willing to take longer bus or train rides in order to keep using them throughout the trip, according to a study from DePaul's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. No matter what mode of transportation they take, people continue to boost their use of personal electronic devices. The study states that nearly 90% of passengers use electronic devices at some point during their trip.

The mobile shift has had a strong impact on the travel industry, and the latest part of this trend is what travel information company Skift terms the "silent traveler." This person replaces traditional customer service modes with digital options. According to the study:
“The silent traveler is a customer who is conversant and comfortable with online and mobile functionality, all manner of it, and in a first-screen capacity. While the silent traveler undoubtedly turns at times to a dot-com channel…chiefly they are among the individuals for whom tablets and smartphones solve in-destination quandaries much of the time,”
The standard silent traveler tends to skew younger. The survey found that consumers aged 25-34 were most likely (39.6%) to use mobile search and social media "to resolve a travel problem." Mobile's role is even bigger "in-destination," as people use their mobile devices to get local information or make hotel and rental car reservations. This is why HotelTonight has become such a popular app for travelers. It lets people book same-day reservations and view a seven-day window of rate estimates and availability.

So, what can hotels and airlines do to reach this new consumer. A few are already stepping up their mobile initiatives, according to Skift. Delta launched its mobile app over two years ago, and now some 20% of check-ins take place via mobile. Hilton has a mobile platform called Hilton Suggests that lets customers ask questions or send feedback. It also lets the hotel scan social media for any issues at its properties. For Marriott, its mobile check in app has freed up employees to provide a higher-level of in-person service.

The biggest thing brands can do to cater to this demographic is to pay close attention to social media outlets, because that is where most people are going to voice their concerns. Most hotels and airlines have a twitter account and Facebook page, with designated teams that monitor all news feeds and respond to mentions of their company. But it's important to really listen to what the consumer is saying, and guide them to the platforms or tools that will help them with their needs and concerns.

Monday, July 21, 2014

News Update: Crystal Cruises Launches 'Unprecedented' Route, TSA Fees Rise, and the State of Malaysia Airlines

Crystal Cruises Launches 'Unprecedented' Northwest Passage Cruise

Los Angeles Times - July 18, 2014

One of the experiences offered on the first Northwest Passage voyage from Alaska to New York City © Crystal Cruises. 
Crystal Cruises announced its first cruise along the Northwest Passage from Alaska to New York. The 900-mile trip passes through more than 20 waterways, stopping at locations like Canada's Arctic region and Greenland, among others. Crystal will sail the Serenity along the route in 32 days, starting in 2016, making it the first luxury line to follow the passage. The cruise includes hiking, climbing, fishing and even golfing, as well as some "surprise days" for passengers.

MyTake: This is yet another example of travel companies catering to the growing desire for adventure trips. People are eager to try something different and exciting, and Crystal knows that many are willing to pay for an epic adventure such as this. I expect we'll see more cruise companies expanding their offerings to include adventure tour options.

TSA Security Fee Rises

Chicago Tribune - July 21, 2014

The security fee meant to fund the TSA increased today. The fee went up from $2.50 per leg with a $5 cap, to a flat fee of $5.60 per one-way trip with no cap. Basically, a round-trip flight would cost $11.20, but if there are layovers of more than four hours, it will cost more. The question is, does the extra money actually going to the TSA and improved security? TSA officials said they agency isn't getting a revenue hike because Congress directed the money to help reduce the government deficit.

MyTake: If the money were actually going to TSA to streamline the security process and improve the system at airports, I don't think it would be such a big deal. But people are angered by the fact that the industry is already highly taxed, and consumers take the brunt of fees that claim to make flying better. The fact is, security lines at airports continue to be a problem, especially with numerous lanes remaining closed even with hundreds of people waiting. As a result, this fee hike is facing a lot of backlash. Unfortunately, all the complaints probably won't do anything, and the fee will stay the same.

Diagon Alley is the Place to Shop in Orlando

Orlando Sentinel - July 20, 2014

When Universal Studios opened Diagon alley, the new expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it took theme park shopping to the next level. The new area is based on a fictional shopping district from the books/films, and any part of the story fans love is there to purchase, according to industry blogger Jim Hill. The magical shopping complex features just one ride, along with nine shops, a restaurant, an ice cream parlor and a photography studio.

MyTake: Amusement parks are known for their rides, and retail is usually a second thought after food and games. But the idea behind Diagon Alley is to make retail the main attraction, especially since it was such a major part of the series. Harry Potter has such a strong following, it makes sense that people would want to take part of the experience home with them, and they are willing to pay copious amounts of money for these items. I don't deny the commercialization of it all, but people want to immerse themselves in this world, and Diagon Alley allows them to do just that.

What Flight MH17 Means for Malaysia Airlines

TravelPulse - July 18, 2014

After Flight MH17 was apparently shot down by a surface to air missile last week, questions began to arise as to who fired it and if it had something to do with the carrier, Malaysia Airlines. The airline has already experienced another tragic incident this year after Flight 370 disappeared into thin air back in March. The brand was already struggling to maintain its image, and this will certainly have some kind of negative effect on the company, as well as Malaysian tourism. 

MyTake: This was a horrible tragedy that should never have happened. While it was a Malaysia Airlines flight, it was not the airline's fault that this took place. This was completely out of their control, and I think most travelers will take note of that fact. What travelers will be concerned about it flight routes in that region. Many airlines have revamped their flight patterns to avoid flying over Ukraine, but people are still going to be concerned. We might not see people canceling Malaysia flights, but rather any flight that could potentially pass over the war zone. Airlines would be wise to strongly promote the fact that they are not flying over the region, and taking all precautions to avoid it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: A Family Reunion in Italy

This weekend, I will be heading back home to Denver for my Dad's birthday (the big 6-0). I'm very excited to see my family again, and be back in Colorado, even if it's just for a couple days. Living so far away makes you really cherish the moments you have with your family, especially since there are fewer and fewer every year.

With this idea of family in mind, I'm including some pictures from a reunion we had in Italy back in 2008. My friends and I were traveling through Europe on our post-college trip, and met up with my parents, grandparents, brother and his two friends, my aunt, uncle and cousins at a villa in Tuscany, where we spent a wonderful week touring the vineyards and small towns of the region. We took a cooking class in Siena, where we learned to make simple, traditional Italian fare; we hiked around the villa and relaxed by the pool; we enjoyed day trips to towns like Montepulciano and Pienza; and spent a full day in Florence touring the Uffizi Gallery, Il Duomo, Piazza de Signoria and Galleria dell' Accademia, home to the famous David sculpture.

It was an incredible trip and I love that I was able to spend it with my family. I hope we can have another reunion like this someday soon, but for now, I'll just reminisce with these pictures.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wanderlust Wednesday: Isn't Maltese a Kind of Falcon?

I sometimes get this question when I tell people my heritage, and that I'm part Maltese. Yes, it is. You've probably also heard of a Maltese Dog or the Maltese cross, but it's also a nationality used to describe the people that come from the small islands of Malta in the Mediterranean (Malta, Camino and Gozo). While I have never been there, I've always been very curious about the country, especially since I have a small connection to it. I do have family there, apparently, but Malta is still such a mystery to me, and I wondered if that's the case for other people outside Europe. Turns out, it is. But Malta has been stepping up its game lately in an effort to become more than just a vague dog breed reference.

Valletta, Malta's capital city © Wikipedia
According to TravelPulse, the Maltese Tourism Authority is working on an educational program for agents who can then spread the word throughout the U.S. about Malta. After all, it has a lot to offer. This culturally rich region is influenced by Phoenician, Roman, Greek, Arabic and North African cultures, thanks in large part to its location, right in the middle of the Mediterranean. It's packed with history, beautiful landmarks, stunning old-world architecture and breathtaking beaches and coastlines.

St. Paul's Cathedral, Mdina © Wikipedia
Despite it's small size, Malta boasts eleven – yes, eleven – UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Valletta (the capital city), and seven Megalithic Temples. The main island of Malta is where most of the action is, and that's where many of the major churches and attractions can be found, including St. John's Co-Cathedral with chapels dedicated to each dedicated language division of the Maltese Knights, there are nine. Mdina is at the center of the island and is known as the silent city, since no cars run through it. I imagine the towns to have a similar look and feel as many of the European ones I've visited, especially in Italy.

Blue Lagoon Bay, Comino © Wikipedia
Most of the temples are located on Gozo, a tiny island known for its rugged landscape and lovely coastline. This would be a great place to take a trek or walking tour to experience the natural beauty of the countryside. Camino is the smallest island, sitting at only 1.3 square miles, but people still visit to spend time at the Blue Lagoon, with crisp, clear water that's perfect for snorkeling.

I'm excited to see if Malta can boost its tourism numbers, especially from the U.S. market. In 2013, the country attracted 19,052 Americans, up 8.2% from the previous year, so that's definitely an improvement. I think the biggest things to overcome are the lack of knowledge about the islands and the low number of direct flights. Educating travel agents is huge, since they play a big role in promoting destinations to travelers looking for something off the beaten path. They can also tout Malta cultural riches, which many Americans, I think, would be very interested to hear about. If the island can work with other European destinations and airlines, they should be able to offer more flights in and out of the country. But it would also be great to do some active marketing in regions where Malta gets most of its visitors, because return business is also important, and word of mouth is extremely powerful.

Malta is still a big mystery to me, even with my few hours of research. I believe a much more in depth look at the country is in order, and so I will be adding it to my wanderlust list of destinations.

Monday, July 14, 2014

News Update: Alaska Airlines Offers More Overhead Space, Greyhound Adapts to Next Generation and Airport Charges for Breathing Clean Air

Alaska Airlines to Increase Size of Overhead Bins

Los Angeles Times - July 14, 2014

Boeing's Next-Generation 737 and 737 Max planes © Marian Lockhart / Boeing
Alaska Airlines announced that it will be the first airline to get Boeing's Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX planes, which are equipped with overhead bins designed to handle 50% more luggage than standard bins. The new bins will hang a few inches lower than traditional bins, and are said to hold about 174 standard carry-on bags. This will allow more passengers to carry on their personal items without worrying about overhead storage space running out.

#MyTake: The boarding process has gotten a little ridiculous in recent years, especially after airlines started charging for checked bags a few years ago. Now, people are cramming as much as they can into their carry-ons so they don't have to pay, and bins are filling up quickly because people's bags are incredibly large (yet still manage to fit up there, somehow). In order to snag that limited space, people line up around the door and crowd in as quickly as they can. It's a nightmare. So having more overhead bin space is a great solution, and Boeing has guaranteed that at least 50 more bags will be able to fit in the bins of its new planes. That is a lot of extra baggage–no pun intended–people can take with them.

European Travel is Up...

Travel Pulse - July 14, 2014

Europe is still the world's No. 1 tourist destination, according to the results of the European Travel Commission report "European Tourism 2014 - Trends & Prospects." The report found that Europe had 563 million international arrivals and more than 50 percent of the market share for worldwide tourism. Despite the positive news, it's uncertain how long Europe will hold the top spot, especially with all the other alternatives out there. The ETC acknowledged that it must continue to innovate with its offerings and marketing to inspire and excite potential travelers.

#MyTake: Europe has long been a popular destination, so it's no surprise that it's at the top of the tourist destination list. However, I am slightly taken aback that other destinations have not overtaken it yet. Think about it, so many places around the world are much more accessible thanks to the advances in airline technology and the expansion of populations – not to mention all those modern-day adventurers exposing us to the lesser-known places. The fact is that travelers are evolving, and Europe is no longer the exotic destination it once was even five years ago. The unfamiliar coasts of Southeast Asia have gotten a lot of attention from travelers lately. I can count at least a dozen people I know who have visited Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in the last six months. Europe has a lot to compete with, especially as more and more destinations entice travelers seeking the new and undiscovered.

Greyhound Revamps its Image for the Next Generation

USA Today - July 14, 2014

Greyhound has been around for 100 years (2014 marks that moments birthday!), and the company has been revamping its image to appeal to the next generation of travelers. The company now offers free Wi-Fi on much of its upgraded fleet, offers new express routes with non-stop service to major cities and will roll out a mobile app for more convenient booking. Greyhound is also touting its extra leg room (something you don't get on a plane without spending more money) and its complimentary internet that keeps you connected the whole trip (again, unlike airlines that charge for that perk). The company says it plans for more than 90% of its coaches to be either brand new or refurbished by the end of the summer, and these upgrades include leather seats, power outlets and free Wi-Fi. Bus stations have also been updated with plasma TVs and eco-friendly amenities.

#MyTake: While bus travel lost much of its appeal when airlines and trains took off, it is still a convenient and economical way to travel. And many Millennials can take advantage of a cheap ticket and a trip that lets them stay connected the entire time. Plus, the hassle of airports (security lines, baggage fees, long wait times, weather delays) has given Greyhound an opening to promote it's frequent trips, low fares, no wait times and plenty of storage space. Those sound pretty nice to someone who might be fed up with airlines. Still, the time factor continues to be something to combat. Even with getting to the airport two hours early, a flight from one end of the country to the other is still much faster than a bus.

Airport Charges Passengers for Breathing Clean Air

CNN - July 11, 2014

In a world of never-ending travel fees, we're used to paying for priority seating and checked bags. Now, one airport in Venezuela has started charging for "clean air." Basically, anyone flying out of Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas has to pay a fee of $18 (127 bolivars) to pay for a new air conditioning unit that the airport says "eliminates contaminants" and injects ozone into the atmosphere to improve the environment. 

#MyTake: I have almost become numb to all the new fees that keep popping up in air travel. But this is just petty. I really don't have any analysis of why the airport thinks this is necessary. And according to twitter comments, the airport should be focusing on other things besides the air quality. Apparently the bathrooms are horrible, the toilets have no water and there are stray dogs wandering around. Also, this newfangled AC doesn't seem to actually make the airport any cooler, according to travelers. So, basically, this is just annoying and shouldn't have been implemented.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Going Dutch in Amsterdam

Yesterday, the Netherlands and Argentina battled it out for the last spot in the finals of the World Cup. The winner of the match would take on Germany in the championship. I was a bit torn during the match. I have some Dutch heritage and I've visited the Netherlands, so part of me wanted the men in orange to pull through. But I also wanted to see a South American team make it to the finals, and Argentina was a bit of an underdog, so my heart went out to them. In the end, Argentina prevailed! And while I am incredibly happy for them, and I plan to cheer them on against Germany, I couldn't help but be a little sad for the Netherlands. I had their back four years ago when they took on Spain in the finals, and this year I was rooting for them the whole tournament. As they left the field yesterday, I couldn't help but think back to my visit to Amsterdam back in 2008 and how much fun I had partying with the Dutch. In honor of the Netherlands and throwback Thursday, here are a few images from that memorable trip…

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wanderlust Wednesday: A Spa Getaway

Work has been a non-stop stress-fest. Hundreds of emails, looming deadlines, last-minute projects, hours of editing and fact checking. It's enough to drive anyone a little crazy.

I am in desperate need of a spa day – or week. I was reading about a few high-end spa options in Las Vegas, including one at Sahra Spa in The Cosmopolitan with a private suite that includes a living area with TV and wet bar, personal treatment room with two whirlpool tubs, steam room and shower. Definitely sounds nice! I'm not sure it's within my price range, but when it comes to overall wellness, I think it's worth a splurge.

I'm not exactly sure where I would want to go on my spa vacation, but somewhere tropical or deep in the mountains sounds nice. A truly remote location where I can disconnect, relax and rejuvenate. The latest issue of Destinations Travel Magazine had a short article about the importance of wellness, and how vacations are essential to our health and happiness. I definitely agree, and maybe on my next trip, I will take part in some of this luxury…

All images credited to Destinations Travel Magazine
…But until that vacation comes, I will continue to power through work, eagerly awaiting the day I get to kick off my shoes and just let go.

Where would you like to spend a spa vacation? Share your thoughts! I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Topic Tuesday: GOP Picks Cleveland for 2016 Convention

This just in: the Republican National Committee selected Cleveland to host the 2016 presidential convention.

Cleveland Skyline © Wikipedia
This is a huge win for the city, which beat out Dallas for the convention. Cleveland convention officials view the event as an opportunity to promote the city as a great meeting and convention destination, as well as a solid leisure destination. The city has undergone billions in new development and renovations downtown, and is eager to show off the recently opened 750,000-square-foot convention center.

The city will provide venues and security for the four-day event, and provide hotel rooms for the estimated 40,000–50,000 delegates, journalists, party officials and guests that will descend upon Cleveland in the summer of 2016.

But apart from the convention center, meeting spaces and hotels, Cleveland will also take the opportunity to promote its culture, nightlife, dining scene and attractions. These conventions bring a lot of national attention to the city that hosts them, as well as many writers who will document their experience, not just at the convention and during the presentations, but also around the city.

So, what can visitors do in Cleveland? A lot, actually.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame © Wikipedia
The top attraction has got to be The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, showcasing the evolution of the musical phenomenon through dozens of ongoing and temporary exhibits. You can see John Lennon's Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar, or artifacts from contemporary artists like The Black Keys.  The venue also hosts concerts throughout the year, and the gift shop is free to browse.

Interact with nature at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, or come face-to-face with wildlife at the Cleveland Aquarium or Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. There are plenty of museums covering a range of interests, from art to history to sports. Marvel at the 45,000 works of art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, discover bones, gems and more at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, or pay homage to one of America's favorite pastimes at the Pro Football Hall of Fame (located in Canton).

West Bank of The Flat © Wikipedia
If you prefer the outdoors, Cleveland delivers there too. The city is called the "Emerald Necklace," due to its lush greenery and thousands of acres of hiking, biking, boating and swimming. Do some kayaking right downtown, in The Flats, or take a nine-mile bike ride at Cleveland Lakefront State Park.

Foodies will revel in the selections at Cleveland West Side Market, featuring more than 100 vendors selling meats, cheeses, baked goods and prepared foods. And speaking of food, you'll find an incredible array of dining options, including delicious spots from celebrity chef Michael Symon such as Lola, Lolita and B Spot. Cleveland's diversity also makes it a great food destination, with a plethora of ethnic restaurants that run the gamut of traditional, family-run establishments to trendy, must-go-there-now hot spots. You can also enjoy a number of distinct bars, breweries and wineries – yes, wineries, 50 to be exact!
West Side Market © Wikipedia

Cleveland also offers great shopping, unique annual events and festivals, thrilling nightlife and entertaining sporting competitions.

I think the convention will definitely be a boost for Cleveland, a city that seems to be rising and is ready to show the country what it's made of.