Traveling Today's Information Superhighway

 With summer just around the corner, Americans are busy researching destinations, booking hotels and looking forward to the big annual getaway.  Optimism is high, as people prepare to  hop into cars, planes, buses and ships to spend quality time with loved ones. In today's fast-paced society, people have transformed the way they plan and how they take vacation. People's expectations are the same, yet how and when they book has changed tremendously.

 When it comes to planning a trip, travelers with children are most likely to plan their vacations quickly, with 48 percent making plans in one month or less, compared to those without kids, of whom 60 percent will take two months or more to prepare.

 Smartphones are rapidly  transforming time spent on our trips. In addition to telephoning friends and family, travelers will use their devices to take pictures and video, wake up on-time, find restaurants , make their way to local attractions, access social media, play games, calculate tips, check out online reviews, book travel and translate languages.

 Grown-ups are not the only ones who take advantage of tech tools. Approximately 1 in 3 households will be taking vacations with children under 12 years of age. Pre-teens will also be treated to electronic devices during vacations this year, and 83% will be enjoying electronics—including TVs, video games, iPods, smart phones and tablets—for both entertainment and distraction.

 When Americans hit the road this year, it will be to visit a new destination , hold a family reunion , relax alone , visit a new culture  or take a getaway with friends . Others will take a cruise, attend a sports event  or seek out an environmental trip.

 

               Cast your Vote for Travel

                      A vote for travel is a vote for... American jobs

 The Vote Travel Bus Tour across America aims to raise awareness on the impact of travel during the 2012 election season.  Vote Travel is not an endorsement of any political candidate or political party; it’s a vote to Get America Moving. The cruise industry’s economic contribution alone is substantial, contributing more than $40 million annually to the U.S. economy and generating more than 350,000 jobs a year. It’s vitally important that this industry and the public stand up and advocate for the importance of travel and tourism.

 The 20,000-mile tour will incorporate major rallies in selected cities, as well as meetings with local elected officials and travel industry leaders. The first Vote Travel rally  took place in Las Vegas on April 12. The current schedule can be found on www.votetravel.org  and every effort to bring this to their attention would accelerate the improvement of the industry.  The tour will continue throughout the country, including visits to the political conventions of both political parties.

 This National Travel and Tourism Strategy is in response to President Obama's recent call for a National approach to promote travel and tourism throughout the United States and the goal is to increase American jobs and spur economic growth by attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors estimated to spend $250 billion annually by the end of 2021.

  Some areas of  focus will be Enabling and enhancing travel and tourism to and within the United States by working to reduce institutional barriers to the free flow of trade in travel services; expanding the Visa Waiver Program; enhancing U.S. visa processing; expanding trusted traveler programs and expediting screening initiatives;  improving the processes for arrival and aviation security screening initiatives while continuing to ensure border security and traveler safety.

 Unlimited Airline Travel:  Costly Deals

"Lifetime" offers from airlines or any other business are rare these days, as companies run the risk of losing money from customers - now with a life expectancy of 78.5 years in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control.Instead, airlines are offering flexible flying within a finite period of time, like months or a year.   Customers may have to fight back for their prior unlimited offers, asone California Bank of America customer successfully did last monthafter a number of bank acquisitions took place.

 American Airlines "unlimited" first class travel program offered an "all-you-can-fly" lifestyle to 66 AAirpass holders, some of whom lived it up so much that American had to stop the program, igniting a rash of lawsuits. Steven Rothstein was treated like royalty after he bought unlimited first-class travel for two with American Airlines in 1987 for $250,000. When the airline realized it was losing more than $1 million from Rothstein alone, not to mention the other 65 pass holders, the company revoked his AAirpass, spurring ongoing litigation about whether he and others abused the system or if American Airlines just made a bad business bet.

 In 1990, American Airlines raised the price of an unlimited AAirpass with companion to $600,000. In 1993, it was bumped to $1.01 million. The next year,  American Airlines stopped selling unlimited lifetime passes altogether. A spokesman for American Airlines said the company did not cancel the AAirpass product, though it did discontinue selling the lifetime AAirpass. One AAirpass product is in the market today, which provides pre-paid, unrestricted travel at a fixed rate. But that's not stopping other airlines from extending unlimited flying offers.

 Surf Airlines, a new company based in Santa Monica, Calif., is planning to offer unlimited flying memberships on private planes starting this summer, pending procedural approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Memberships will cost between $800 and $1,500 a month. Surf Air's services are catered toward frequent or elite travelers, offering a respite from long lines and added fees. The company planned to have 500 people apply to be the initial founding members, but due to an "overwhelming response," it stopped taking applications in 15 days and interested people can join a wait list for membership. . Surf Air's first route will be between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but there is an estimated 25 markets in the U.S. in which the company's business model may function.

 The concept, at least, of unlimited private travel has grown in popularity. Jetblue just offered "Go Pack" packages between specific locations, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, for 10, 20 or 30 one-way trips until May 23. Those packages range from $899 to $2099 plus tax with other offerings  for 10 trips between Boston and Washington, D.C.until June 27 for $699 plus taxes. Jetblue has offered unlimited flying deals for the past three years,  in the fall -- when the travel season tends to die down -- the "BluePass" last year in Boston and Long Beach and its predecessor, the more liberal "All You Can Jet" pass which offered unlimited travel among its destinations for about a month. A company spokeswoman said Jetblue cannot comment on future plans, which is considered illegal price signaling.

 Alaska Airlines Air Pass program is another "flexible" flying deal which is designed for passengers originating travel outside the U.S. to budget their trip to see multiple destinations. It's "a popular program for overseas travelers connecting in the U.S. and wanting to see several destinations," said an airline spokeswoman. The prices vary by market or "zone," as described in an Alaska Airlines brochure.

"Individual travelers also use the fares to make it easy to visit multiple destinations in the U.S. as the Air Pass coupons allow more flexibility than published air fares," as per the  Alaska Airlines spokeswoman. Reservations are required on a predetermined routing, there are some blackout dates, and the travel must be booked ahead of time.

 Cruise Industry announces New Safety Policies   

On behalf of the global cruise industry, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the European Cruise Council  announced that the cruise industry has adopted three new safety policies  to be implemented with immediate effect.

The new policies follow the industry’s announcement on January 27 of an Operational Safety Review in response to the Concordia incident and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures, and represent the third such announcement. The previous two related to the new Muster Drill Policy (February 9, 2012) and Enhanced Reporting Requirements to Ensure Consistency, Transparency of Marine Casualty Data (March 21, 2012). These three new policies, which go beyond even the strictest of regulatory requirements, address issues related to passage planning, personnel access to the bridge and lifejackets. The  policies govern:


 Passage Planning – Although cruise lines have followed IMO guidance on passage planning for many years, the policy now deems this to be a mandatory minimum requirement and enhanced by endorsement of the best practices contained in the International Chamber of Shipping’s Bridge Procedures Guide. Each passage plan is to be thoroughly briefed to all bridge team members well in advance of its implementation and it is to be drafted by a designated officer and approved by the master.
 

 Personnel Access To The Bridge - To minimize unnecessary disruptions and distractions. Bridge,  access is to be limited to those with operational functions during any period of restricted maneuvering  or when increased vigilance is required.

 Lifejackets – In addition to the statutory requirement of carriage of lifejackets for each person onboard, additional  adult lifejackets be provided  onboard each cruise ship in excess of the legal requirements so that the number of additional adult  lifejackets not be less than the total number of persons berthed within the ship’s most populated main vertical fire zone. This will ensure that the number of lifejackets carried is far in excess of the number of persons actually onboard the ship.

New Muster Drill Policy

After the Costa Concordia tragedy on January  13, the Cruise Lines International Association and other international cruise organizations on February 9 announced a new emergency drill policy requiring mandatory muster for embarking passengers prior to departure from port after the Costa Concordia tragedy. CLIA was joined in new policy by the European Cruise Council and the Passenger Shipping Association.

This new muster policy, voluntarily initiated by the associations’ members  effective immediately, exceeds existing legal requirements that mandate  a muster occur within 24 hours of passenger embarkation. In some cases, that means a ship can start sailing before all passengers were instructed in the emergency procedures. On rare occasions when passengers arrive after the muster has been completed, they will be promptly provided with individual or group safety briefings that meet the requirements under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

The cruise industry’s ongoing safety review includes an assessment of the human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety. As best practices are identified, they will be shared among cruise industry association members and any appropriate recommendations will be shared with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), European Union and other governmental authorities as appropriate.

Passenger safety drills have taken on new urgency  and non compliance of this regulation caused Holland America to actually bounce a passenger earlier this year for skipping  the mandatory emegency drill. On May 12  Seabourn disembarked an elderly couple for non participation in a drill carried out after a second leg of the cruise by the spouse who was ill but who had participated in the first drill.

 CLIA  is providing travel agent members with information to assist customers in preparing for a cruise, and part of that information includes the importance of participating in muster drills as well as reviewing safety material and videos provided in passenger staterooms.  Guests need to be fully aware of the ramifications if they do not show up at a drill  and prior arrangements that should be made  in cases of ill health.

 Getting Married – Congratulations!!

 While  weddings are synonymous to fun and relaxation there are months of  anxious planning that precede the actual event. A number of couplestoday  do not have the time to work out the many details required, yet they want this occasion to be as memorable as possible.  To make  their wedding day unforgettable,  decisions have to be made  - will it be in a traditional church or on a historical bridge, shore-side or inland, indoors or out, formal or casual.

 Destination weddings and honeymoons have become extremely attractive , in part,  because family members are spread out geographically  and this is an excellent opportunity to turn  weddings into family reunions.  Coupled with the fact that 40 percent of celebrations are for  second marriages these days, guests  are incorporating vacations with children thus becoming  big adventures.

 Also a great  demand for milestone celebrations such as anniversaries and vow renewals,  romantic destinations are no longer just for the young. Couples in these markets  seek  more exotic itineraries, longer ocean cruises, quieter river cruises and more active shore excursions.

 The first consideration tends to be for  a destination offering creative options for pre and post activities  that cater to the individual and collective needs of the couple as well as the guests.  The most challenging is to keep the guests entertained as they are transitioning from one space to another.

Cruise ships have gained in popularity as honeymoon and destination wedding venues – with  a variety of age related choices. Everyone wants a perfect and unique day.

 The hardest part,  is nevertheless working within a set  budget which can be a very harrowing exercise.  Fortunately, destinations -  be they resorts or cruise ships offer base packages that can be built upon to include the  special desires of the couple.  Of course this by no means suggests that there are cheap proposals.  Budget-minded couples have the challenge  to balance their budgets while making the occasion a memorable one by focusing  on what they want out of their wedding/honeymoon with  the budget at their disposal.

Whatever the destination , they typically want to go somewhere new and what’s more they may not be aware of how a honeymoon registry works.  According to the Emily Post Institute of Etiquette,  honeymoon registries are a perfectly acceptable gift registry option for today's wedding couples Both couples and their guests will be put at ease when they see the unique and fun list of experiences and activities they can select from to either create their honeymoon registry or to purchasea gift – www.minervatravel.net.

  Hotels 

 New  meeting modules

In the changing tourist industry, hotels have found a new business opportunity in today's mobile, technology-driven world: selling small, tech-equipped meeting rooms for private business gathering.  Westin today will announce EnlargeClose a pilot program to replace,  at least,  some of its old-fashioned hotel business centers with contemporary meeting rooms that offer some privacy.

 After about a year of research into the mobile traveler of today, Westin is convinced that more people want to collaborate while on the move  and are willing to pay for a quiet space that's away from the bustling hotel lobby. This  announcement comes as their hotels - the Westin Arlington in Virginia, Marriott Redmond in Washington State and Ace Hotel in New York City have seen their couch-filled lobbies turn into popular gathering spots.

The emerging trend for small meeting rooms reflects how hotels seek to meet the varied needs of guests who don't want to meet in lobbies or in their rooms to conduct business. It's also  a way that hotels are attracting  professionals living nearby who don't have an office but don't want to go to Starbucks to plug in and meet a client or conduct business.  And the meeting rooms don't cost as much as a regular hotel room or a traditionally large meeting room.

"Hotels are learning that they can have multiple uses per day," says Bjorn Hanson, the divisional dean of New York University's hospitality school."Although the small meeting rooms may not generate the food and beverage revenue like traditional, all-day meetings, there still can be more total revenue if enough people rent them each day.

 Marriott also has been experimenting with how to present meeting space for smaller groups of people intent on collaborating, although its new rooms, called Workspring by Marriott, aren't yet seen as a replacement for a hotel's business center.Marriott plans to create smaller meeting rooms that are decked out with technology, flexible furniture, power outlets and snacks to  take the place of some of its larger meeting rooms that aren't being used as much as they were in the past and for  people who aren't necessarily staying at the hotels.

 In New York City last year, the futuristic Yotel pioneered the small meeting room concept when it opened.

 Sandals management change- will end its lease with the owners of the Beaches Sandy Bay resort  in Negril, Jamaica, effective Aug. 31. Guests booked at the resort after Aug. 31 may transfer their reservations without penalty to Beaches Boscobel (near Ocho Rios) or Beaches Negril. Meanwhile, the resort's owners will close the property for the month of September, but the resort will re-open under their management afterwards.

 TSA Cares  - Helpline for Travelers with Disabilities

 The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced the launch of TSA Cares, a new helpline number designed to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions, prior to getting to the airport. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787 2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint.TSA Cares will provide passengers with disabilities and medical needs another resource to use before they fly, so they know what to expect when going through the screening process. This additional level of personal communication will help ensure that even those who do not travel often are aware of  screening policies before they arrive at the airport.

 Every person and item must be screened before entering the secure area of an airport and the manner in which the screening is conducted will depend on the passenger’s abilities and any specific equipment brought to the security checkpoint.

When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance, either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA. It is recommended that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary.

 The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST, excluding Federal holidays. After hours, travelers can find information about traveling with disabilities and medical needs on TSA’s website. All travelers can contact TSA using Talk To TSA, a web-based tool that allows passengers to reach out to an airport Customer Service Manager directly, and the TSA Contact Center, 1 866-289-9673 and TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov, where travelers can ask questions, provide suggestions and file complaints. Travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to contact TSA Cares or can e-mail mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov  

Justice Department's Revised ADA Design Standard            

 The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design took effect March 15. The standards are part of the revised regulations for Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The new standards will make buildings and facilities accessible to more than 54 million Americans with disabilities. The accessibility requirements apply to many kinds of facilities, including sports stadiums, court rooms, amusement rides, swimming pools and play areas. The requirements for existing swimming pools will be extended for 60 days.

Many of the challenges and much of the confusion over the standards, which were established in September 2010, stem from the DOJ’s ruling in late January that pool lifts must be built permanently into the side of the pool deck; they cannot be portable devices that can be rolled out to the pool or Jacuzzi, then rolled back into storage.

 The motor-powered lifts are not the only game in town. Other available solutions range from sloped pool entries to specially designed pool stairs to transfer walls that enable disabled people to hoist themselves out of their wheelchairs onto a poolside ledge to ease entry into the water.  

 But from a practical standpoint, chair lifts are seen as the best way for hoteliers to meet the regulations, because the other solutions all require extensive construction.

Warnings of safety issues

  The American Hotel &Lodging Association’s  argues, unlike portable chair lifts that must be rolled out to the pool or spa by a hotel staffer, permanent chair lifts can be operated without any staff supervision, which presents a safety issue for disabled swimmers and a considerable liability issue for hotels. Most hotel pools don’t have lifeguards, so anybody can use a permanent chair lift, climb on it and damage it,” said Kevin Maher, the American Hotel &Lodging Association’s senior vice president for governmental affairs. “You’re essentially putting a diving board at the shallow end of the pool, and that’s a huge concern.”

 Even so, the costs associated with the new requirements might be the bigger issue, especially for hotel operators that are unaffiliated with a major brand. While portable chair lifts generally range from $3,000 to $5,000, fixed chair lifts can cost double that because of the construction required to retrofit existing pools. Additionally, while portable chair lifts give hotels the flexibility of using a single device for multiple pools and Jacuzzis, the requirement that chair lifts be of the fixed variety means that a hotel would have to build one for each of its water features, further multiplying costs.

              Destination Britain 2012

 2012 is certainly a year that the British will not easily forget nor can the country leverage more spotlight as it battles to safeguard the environment for future generations.  Going green is the general goal but the catering to the volume of visitors in every associated area of the travel industry will be colossal.

 Starting with the Centennial commemoration of the Titani in Northern Island, there began  the march of  visitors into and through Britain. And this will be  followed by  a parade of  tourists to a number of celebratory events.  To name only a few are the 50th anniversary of the Beatles in Liverpool, the reopening of the National Football Museum In Manchester, the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens, the World Shakespeare Festival with thousands of artists from around the world taking part in almost 70 productions across the UK. and the 400th Anniversary of the Costwold  Olimpick Games otherwise known as Shin Kicking.  Shin kickers are uniting and trying to get the sport into the Olympics, as a branch of wrestling. In order for shin kicking to become an Olympic sport it has to be able to prove its popularity by being played in 75 countries in four continents by men and 40 countries on three continents by women. Today, the sport is dominated by men. While shin kicking continues to be popular in England at Costwold Olimpick Games, it has not branched out overseas. For now it seems that shin kicking will only get its 15 seconds of fame on "Sports Center".

The Diamond Jubilee celebrating the Queen’s 60 years on the throne  gives not only the British but everyone fascinated by the Royal Family a platform for pageantry and reveling.  But it is the four year Olympic and Paralympic Games that will be the highlight of the various events that are being in held in Britain. For London, these Games offer a rallying point designed to bring the city and its people into the 21st Century, reviving what was the traditional heart of the city – the East End, an area with incredible history completely destroyed by bombing during World War II.  Just outside Central London at Stratford, the  oganisers wanted to leave the 2012 Olympic Park as an icon of the Games that would tower above the East London skyline long after the Games are completed.

 London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics was produced with partners including WWF and Bio Regional and promised to deliver the world’s first sustainable Olympics -  an event that would live within the means of the Earth’s resources.  When London won the bid, world renowned architects were tasked with designing landmark sports facilities for the new Olympic Park in London’s East End.  Thanks to initiatives such as low flush toilets, waterless urinals and rainwater harvesting from roofs the new sports venues will use at least 40% less water than equivalent buildings. Another ambitious target is for 100% of visitors to travel to the Olympic Park via public transport.

 The competitors, coaches  and supporters of  the Paralympics are also on their way  to London.  These Games are open to six disability groups, including athletes with amputations, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disabilities and other which includes disabilities such as spinal bifida, multiple sclerosis and more.

 The 126th Championships at Wimbledon 2012  will see the finest players from over 60 countries compete in the five main Championships events. In  the second week of the Tournament, these players will be joined by Juniors, Veteran and Wheelchair competitors, playing in their own events on the Championships' lawns.Around 700 pupils from local schools compete annually for the prestige of being selected as one of the 250 ball boys/girls at The Championships

 The world’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities will also be congregating in London to take part in the Massive World Pride 2012 Parade in July.  The gay scene unfortunately has yet to fully embrace the green agenda.  Matthew Todd, editor of the UK’s best selling gay magazine Attitude and advocate of environmental issues indicated with a hint of regret that contemporary gay culture suggests we are all shallow, fashion-obsesses, drug-using sex maniacs and that isn’t the reality for most of us.  We are all people.  We have spiritual connections like everyone else.  The planet is important to everyone.

 .Despite a pledge that London’s hotels signed to keep prices reasonable during these events, apparently room rates have been spiraling to two or three times their normal price.  Even if London’s beds are all full, the country’s fine rail network means that visitors need not be more than a couple of hours away where hotel rates should by comparison be more flexible.

Fuelled by factories of the industrial revolution some 200 years ago when artist William Blake wrote his famous poem about ‘dark and satanic mills . in England’s green and pleasant land’  it is indeed reassuring to know that participation in any of these events offer choices for a vacation in rural Yorkshire, for instance or a campsite in Cornwall even as it is important to be green in a city such as London.

Testimonial

Some years ago, I decided that I was going to create some shared memories so that when my grandkids get  older, they would remember the good times we had together.

Consequently, two years ago, I took my eldest grandson, who had turned 17,   to Greece via Italy.  We spent two days in Venice and seven days cruising the Greek islands.  To borrow my grandson’s words, “it was awesome!”  We rode a gondola and bought the famous Venetian  glass jewelry.  A book which I had read at 16 became alive again – ‘The Merchant of Venice.”

In 2011, a party of 14 of us went to Turks and Caicos Islands.  9 members of this group were grandchildren according to a 7 year old, she had a ‘Blast’.  This year a party of 8 will be cruising to Bermuda.  I know that we will have a marvelous time, thanks to Minerva Travel which has been booking all my travels over the last 5 years. Yvonne. McP

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