Aren’t Travel Agents Extinct?


I’m asked a version of this question at every social or networking event when asked what I do.  People wonder how I compete with the Internet.  I consider myself much more than a travel agent – I’m more of a travel “concierge” or personal vacation planner for my clients.  Even though I really don’t consider the Internet as my competition, I do like to stay informed on what is happening in the industry overall. 

I was listening to the radio recently and I heard one of the large online travel agency’s commercials, and their tag line was “Where You Book Matters”.  I found myself surprised to agree with them for once!  Although for different reasons than they were stating.  They were touting their low hotel prices, but I wondered, what really matters to consumers these days?  Is it truly the lowest possible price, or is it value? 

I hear it in commercials all the time – “we have the lowest prices”, “if you don’t shop here, you’ll be sorry” and so forth.  Which tells me that consumers ARE looking for the lowest price on everything.  Times are tough and we need to save money wherever we can.  I’m the same way, but I’ve come to realize that, especially when times are tough, I need to get the best value for my money.  If you’re buying laundry detergent and one store has your brand for $2 less than another, you get the better value by purchasing at the store with the lower price (unless you have to spend $2 worth of gas to get there).  But if you’re purchasing a vacation is price really the only distinction that matters?

What DOES matter to you?  Is it price alone?  Value?  The experience?  By using a qualified travel agent who asks questions to find out exactly what does matter to you, you should have a better experience.  You will have an advocate for you in case there is a problem during your trip.  Your agent should be knowledgeable about the destination you are considering.  She should ask you the purpose of your vacation, what kind of experience you want, what sort of resorts you have stayed in previously, etc.  She should advise you about the differences in the resorts that you ask about, about the category of the room, about the amenities included in the price.  For instance, many hotels have Oceanview room categories, but that doesn’t mean the same thing at each hotel.  In one hotel an Oceanview is truly what it says – you can see the ocean from the window or balcony.  In others, Oceanview means you get a peek of the ocean if you lean over your balcony – if you want the full view you need to book the Deluxe Oceanview.  If an Oceanview is important to you, you want to make sure you book the right category. 

 

Is the resort planning a renovation during the time of your vacation?  Will the pool be closed?  The restaurant?  These are details your travel agent should know, but that online booking engine won’t tell you about.  And, in most cases you won’t pay more for a travel agent’s services for the same itinerary.  Imagine that – a better vacation experience, with personalized service, for the same price as the online agency offers!  Now that is truly valuable! 

Another thing I noticed recently was the cancellation policy of the travel agency division of a large local company.  I’m one of those that likes to read the fine print, and I saw that for hotel only bookings the deposit is $100 per person.  Very reasonable.  However, if you cancel anytime after 48 hours from making that deposit you lose the full $100 per person, even if the hotel’s policy says you can cancel up until the day of arrival.  I have no problem with a travel agency having a cancellation or change fee policy, because we get paid by commission and have spent some time with you and should be paid.  But, if you book online with them and then decide to cancel, do they really need $200 of your money just to process the cancellation?  There were other penalties as well and some other policies that would give me pause if I were booking with them, including charges for changes that were higher than I usually I felt they should be for a more or less do it yourself booking company. 

It DOES matter where you book your travel.  The next time you need to make travel plans what I ask you to think about is “What matters to YOU”?  Consider calling a travel professional and comparing what they can do for you to what you are finding yourself. 

Ask why you should work with them.  For example, I specialize in tropical destinations.  I have earned my Caribbean Destination Specialist certification from The Travel Institute.  I have taken courses from the tourist boards for many Caribbean Islands, as well as several cruise lines.  I’ve taken courses offered by several resorts to learn more in depth information about them.  I’m also a Hawaii and Mexico Destination Specialist and have studied several areas of Mexico in depth.  I have taken many webinars from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau to learn more about the islands.  I have visited about 12 Caribbean islands, some several times.  I’ve visited both Hawaii & Mexico several times, touring different areas.  This is just a short list of my qualifications – the kinds of continuing education I do to keep myself current and up to date so that I can make sure my clients have their Perfect Vacation in Paradise.  A good travel professional does the same no matter what their specialty is. 

Here’s to your next Vacation being Perfect for YOU no matter where your Paradise may be.

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Adventures in Paradise – The End


(I just realized that I never posted my last installment of my Hawaii Vacation – sorry for the delay.  I hope you enjoy it.)

After visiting Kona Village Resort we headed to the airport for the flight back to Honolulu.  We stayed at the Hilton HawaiianVillage which is at one end of Waikiki Beach.  This is a beautiful resort with several pools (including the Paradise Pool with several small slides), a fabulous beach, numerous restaurants and bars, shops – both touristy and fancy.  And they have fireworks over the beach every Friday night.  I also had a fondness for the pool with the turtles and penquins. 

            

We started off in the Tapas Tower in an Oceanfront Suite.  The room was wonderful – roomy, great view, and well located.            The only problem was the kids upstairs who started running around at about 6AM.  I requested to move for the last night so Lisa decided to go back to her own place since she was working both days anyway.  I moved to the Rainbow Tower in an Oceanview King room.  I had views of not only the ocean, but also Diamondhead.  I also looked over the main pool area.  I really liked the location of this tower and the view was fantastic – I could sit on the bed and see the ocean – what can be better than that in Hawaii?

             

We had a lot of fun inWaikiki, just wandering around sort of playing tourist.  Of course, Lisa took me to a few of her favorite bars.  One day we toured Pacific Beach Hotel – I had some clients staying there the following month so I wanted to check it out.  It is at the other end of Waikiki Beach from the Hilton.  It’s a great location – right across the street from the beach with no other buildings blocking the view.  They have a 3 story aquarium with all kinds of fish in the lobby / restaurant area.  This is a moderate property, but for the price I think it is great for those on a budget that want to be near the beach.  The rooms are basic, the pool is fairly small, but there are fabulous views, friendly staff, and the food at the lunch buffet was pretty darn good.

            

I had some time to myself so I did a little exploring and had a nice lunch at the Shorebird Restaurant at the Outrigger Reef at the Beach.  More fantastic views, $3.50 Mai Tais, and a reasonably priced lunch buffet. 

I had not really spent much time inWaikiki for quite a few years and what I found is that with a little exploring you can find some real bargains, including some great free entertainment.  Although, if you are looking for a more high end experience you can certainly find that as well.  During all of my hotel tours I was reminded of how misleading some of the room categories can be.  You have to do some investigating to find out what an individual hotel property may consider to be an Oceanview as opposed to a Partial Oceanview (do you have to lean over your balcony railing to see the ocean, will you have a full view of the ocean or just a peek-a-boo?  But the bottom line for me is –Waikiki is a great place if you enjoy nightlife, fine dining, people watching, shopping, or even just relaxing in a lounge chair with a good book. 

It snowed in Gig Harbor the week I returned– I wished I was back in Hawaii right now!  (And with the “summer” we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, I really wish I was back in Hawaii, right now.)

My latest Adventures in Paradise – Hawaii!


I had a fabulous time in Hawaii recently, visiting with my friend Lisa, sightseeing, and checking out several hotel properties. I arrived on Saturday and Lisa’s improv troupe had a performance that night at the Laughtrack Theater. There were 3 groups performing and they were all hilarious. Lisa did great – I’m very proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone and doing this.
The next day she had a face painting gig (as Lavender Lolly) so she dropped me in Waikiki so that I could check out some hotels and do a little sightseeing.
The first hotel I toured was the Ohana Waikiki Beachcomber. This is a very family friendly hotel in a great location near the International Marketplace and across the street from beach access. The standard rooms are fairly basic with a King or 2 Queen beds and flat screen TV’s. Most of the rooms have just a half sized tub, but there are some with full tubs. Jimmy Buffett’s at the Beachcomber is on the property, as is the Surfing Museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed when I was there and I didn’t make it back to see it. There are some great views from the rooms. The Oceanview room that I saw had a beautiful view of not only the ocean, but also the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Some have views of Diamondhead along with a partial Oceanview, and most Cityview rooms have some Oceanview from the lanai. All rooms have complimentary Internet service and refrigerators. There is a pool, spa and fitness center. And there are tons of shops and restaurants in walking distance.

                 
Not to be missed is the “Magic of Polynesia” show which presents the power and lore of the islands through captivating dance and illusion. Dinner Theater and Show are offered nightly, and you don’t have to be staying at the hotel to purchase tickets.
I learned that this hotel will be changing to Holiday Inn Waikiki Beachcomber in November. They will still be managed by Outrigger Hotels & Resorts so the only real change will be the name.
From there I wandered through the International Marketplace. I’m not much of a shopper, but enjoyed seeing the different items available, as well as the koi pond. It had been years since I’d been through there – it really has grown. Of course, it’s always impressive to see the 100 year old Banyan tree and the koi pond.

                     
I then crossed the street to the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. Fortunately I was able to take a tour of this hotel as well. The rooms and views are fabulous. The lobby is very welcoming, with a relaxed, seated reception area. There are Hawaiian artifacts displayed in the lobby – you really feel you are in Hawaii at this property. There are 3 restaurants here, Chuck’s Steakhouse, the Hula Grill, and of course, Duke’s Canoe Club which is Oceanfront. Actually, they are all oceanfront, but Duke’s is on the lower level. After walking through both the Hula Grill and Duke’s, I was hungry so when the tour was done I went back to Duke’s for lunch. Mahi Mahi sandwich with waffle fries and a couple of Stella’s and I was feeling great.               Duke’s also offers life Hawaiian music nightly. And for great entertainment, the Outrigger also hosts the “Society of Seven” show Tuesday – Saturday. This show has headlined the Outrigger Waikiki Main Showroom for over 30 years.

The Outrigger on the Beach offers daily cultural activities such as hula lessons, lei making and ukulele lessons. This hotel is in the heart of Waikiki with a beautiful stretch of beach and plenty of activities at the resort as well as all around you.
I also took a walk through the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort – I didn’t take a tour, just walked through the lobby, shops, etc. Another beautiful, although huge, resort in a fabulous location.
I hadn’t spent any time in Waikiki in quite a few years. This was a great morning for me to re-orient myself to where things are. I did some wandering and window shopping until my friend called to say she was on the way to pick me up so we could head over for our 3 nights on the Big Island.

If you’d like to see more photos, you can find them on my Facebook page.

I Took the Hawaii Superferry


I was on Maui a couple of weeks ago working with a corporate group that was having their annual symposium.  Thanks to them, I spent 6 nights at the always fabulous Fairmont Kea Lani.  This resort is not only beautiful, the staff is incredible.  It’s so nice to come up to the front desk or even the valet desk and hear “Hello, Ms. Young, how are you today?  How may I help you.”  And of course, when you first arrive they have a lei, cold towel and juice for you.  I love it there!

I decided to go over to Honolulu at the end of the trip to see my best friend, Lisa.  I debated about whether to fly or try the ferry, and decided on the Superferry.  I’m glad I did. 

Inside of Superferry

Inside of Superferry

Although it takes 3 hours, it is a pleasant trip.  It was incredible seeing Maui as we left – you don’t realize how big the islands are when you are there. 

Leaving Maui on the Superferry

Leaving Maui on the Superferry

 
Maui from the Superferry

Maui from the Superferry

 

Then we passed by Molokai – I really didn’t realize how big it is.  I will have to plan a day trip there on my next visit. 

Molokai from the Superferry

Molokai from the Superferry

The best part was coming into Honolulu.  You come in from the east so you get to see Diamondhead from the opposite side from what you see from Waikiki. 

Diamondhead from the Superferry

Diamondhead from the Superferry

Then you pass by all the hotels – I loved seeing the pink of the Royal Hawaiian in the middle.  Unfortunately, my camera batteries died during the trip so I don’t have as many pictures as I wish.

You can purchase food and beverages onboard for a very reasonable price.  A good size soda was $1.50, a large fruit cup $3, salads and sandwiches around $5.  There is also a gift shop onboard. 

The only thing I didn’t like about the ferry was that there is very little outdoor deck space.  The weather was beautiful and it would have been nice to be able to sit outside and enjoy the scenery.  The only place outside with seating is the back deck.  There are also 2 small side decks where you have to stand. 

I will give a few pieces of advice if you decide to take the Superferry. 

  • Don’t take too much carry on luggage.  You can check luggage when you check in and they offload it really quickly on the other end.  You have to go up about 25 steps from the dock to the ferry, then another 20 or so to the passenger deck once onboard.  And down again at the other end.
  • Do upgrade to the Premium Lounge.  The whole ferry is very nice, with a lot of comfortable seating.  However, the Premium Lounge is in the front of the boat and you get a fabulous, panoramic view along with extra plush seating. 
  • Do take motion sickness medicine.  I have never gotten seasick and I have been out in small boats when Puget Sound was pretty rough.  I did get a bit nauseous on this boat coming out of Maui.  It may have been because I started in the back of the boat where you could smell some exhaust.  It was very rough coming out of Maui and again into Honolulu.
  • Do arrive when they tell you to.  They say they end check in 30 minutes before sailing.  This is because they have to shuttle you from the check in building to the boat.  If you are late, they will leave without you. 
  • The car rental companies will shuttle you to and from their lots to the ferry.  I had asked one of the car rental companies prior to my trip if there were any car rental lots at the ferry dock.  They told me that my clients would have to take a taxi to either the airport lots or one of the hotels.  I saw rental shuttles both in Kahului and Honolulu. 

Overall, my review is take the Superferry at least once.  It is another way to see the beautiful Hawaiian islands.

My First Cruise (or When I Fell in Love with the Caribbean)


When I was growing up traveling consisted of camping, usually near my grandmother’s summer place in Central Oregon, but sometimes at the Washington coast.  Our one big family vacation was when we rented a small travel trailer, packed up the station wagon, and met up with some cousins at Yellowstone.  We thought that was really exciting!

My Grandmother did travel, however.  She went on cruises with some lady friends every so often.  I really don’t remember how often, but I do remember hearing her stories and seeing her pictures.  She was a very refined lady, very into the arts and very well read and I admired her.  I decided at an early age that a cruise was the ultimate vacation (it must be if Grandma Thompson went on them) and that someday I would go on one.

 

Finally I was able to for my 40th birthday.  I told my sister a couple years ahead of time to start saving – about 8 months before my BD I said “I hope you’ve got some money saved – we’re really going”.  My sister and I chose an Eastern Caribbean cruise sailing out of San Juan.  This was long before I got into the travel business – we booked the air and all through a TA and ended up flying a red eye the night before we sailed, something I would never suggest to anyone.  By the time the ship sailed we were pretty worn out – but adrenaline kept us going.

 

We had 5 ports on our 7 night cruise on the Carnival Inspiration.  We sailed out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Our first port of call was St. Thomas.  What a thrill it was to wake up and be in this beautiful Caribbean port!  (We were a little too excited and exhausted to really have noticed anything in San Juan.)  We did some shopping and took some photos around town and looking back to the pier with the 3 ships docked there (this was 11 years ago – a bit different than it is today).

After shopping we took a boat tour with snorkeling.  Now this is the life!  The sun!  The sand!  The bath-water warm, clear, blue water!  Seeing the fishies up close and personal!  The people that we met – I loved every minute of it. 

To digress a moment, I had been to Hawaii to visit a friend a couple of times.  I’d visited both Oahu and Maui.  They are beautiful, and back in the early 80’s and 90’s much less crowded than today.  But I didn’t get the same feeling there as I did sitting on that beach in St. Thomas. Our second port of call was St. Martin.  We had to tender in at Phillipsburg – and again we spent our morning shopping, sightseeing and chatting with the vendors we met.  After shopping, we caught a taxi to Orient Beach.  Now this was really beautiful – white sand and blue water as far as we could see (or so it seemed).  Even a naked person or two – unfortunately none that probably should have been parading proudly down the beach.  Another wonderful day. 

The next day was Dominica.  We knew there was no shopping or beaches to speak of so we took a ships tour.  There were about 10 of us in the van with our guide Rupert George.  I’ll never forget him – he was so cute, sweet, charming and knowledgeable.  We went to a viewpoint overlooking Roseau, then hiked through the rainforest to the Emerald Pool.  We also went to a lookout where we could see Trafalgar Falls.  This island is incredibly beautiful.  During our drive we passed several rivers (supposedly there are 365 of them) and beautiful flowers and of course the rainforest.  During our stops we met many of the locals who took pictures for us, sold us some wonderful soaps and other souvinirs, a little band when we came out from the Emerald Pool who insisted we take our picture with them.  I really do feel that the best asset of the Caribbean Islands are their people.  As we were heading back down toward Roseau we saw several small guesthouse type hotels – I leaned over to my sister and said “I could be very happy here for a very long time!”

Next was Martinique.  Very French – we walked around town a bit, but I didn’t get the same feel here as I had at our other stops.  We took a ferry over to a beach and spent most of our time there.  It was beautiful – many, many sailboats anchored off shore.  We did some swimming – the Caribbean Sea is so healing to my soul – I just can’t get enough.

Our last port was Barbados.  Unfortunately it was a holiday there and almost everything was closed except for a few craft vendors near the pier.  Supposedly there was a parade, but we missed it.  We walked around town a bit, then decided to take another boat tour.  It was lovely – we got to see a lot of the coast and did some more snorkeling.

The cruise experience itself was everything I had expected and more!  The service, the food, the people we met, the entertainment and the ship itself.  The only bad things I could say about this was that the Travel Agent we used should have suggested an Oceanview cabin rather than Inside, we had early seating for dinner which made us rush, and that red-eye to San Juan – we really should have come in a day early.  Also, 5 ports on a 7 night cruise is a lot!  I prefer to have at least 2 full days at sea.  But, it taught me valuable lessons on how to interview clients and get them the correct arrangements.

And the very best thing!  On the last night we played Bingo and won a free cruise in a Verandah Suite.  I’ll tell all about that in another post.

I apologize that I have no pictures.  I tried scanning some but they did not come out very well.

Maui – Fairmont Kea Lani


I promised a couple of weeks ago that I would post about my stay at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui.  I was there at the end of October with a corporate group I work with.  This was great for me as they paid for my room – ah, one of the many perks of my business.  The Kea Lani is in Wailea, a part of Maui I had never stayed in before. 

 I was extremely impressed with the Kea Lani.  Not only is it a beautiful property, but the staff was incredible!  I spent quite a bit of time in the lobby to greet our guests so I got to know several of the valets and front desk people.  They took great care of me, bringing me bottled water and keeping me entertained.  Adam and Russ at the valet desk (and young Troy?), and Kelly Ann and the others at the front desk – well I just can’t say enough about them.

The Kea Lani is an all-suites hotel.  The suites are a spacious 840 square feet.  There are also 22 villas.   As I mentioned the grounds were beautiful.  I also liked the fact that the Kea Lani has an adults only pool.  And it gives the feel of a small hotel spread out over its 22 acres.  It also has a small private beach area.  This is the perfect place for family vacations, romantic getaways, a wedding or corporate events like the one we had. 

Kea Lani Gazebo       Fairmont Kea Lani        dscn0875.jpg      Kea Lani Beach

 There are several restaurants and bars on the property.  Nick’s Fish Market is supposed to be fabulous – I only had dessert there and it was wonderful.  Several of our group ate there and said it was all it was said to be.  Then there is the Polo Beach Bar and Grill or the Caffe Ciao.  And, if you are in a hurry like I often was, there is the Caffe Deli where you can get a sandwich, salad or other quick items to go.  And the room service was superb as well.  I ordered a fruit plate for breakfast the first morning and it had a wonderful selection of papaya, grapefruit, orange slices, kiwi with a dipping sauce as well as a couple of generous slices of banana nut bread.  I couldn’t eat it all so it went into the refrigerator for a snack – all the suites have a fridge, microwave and coffee maker although there is not actually a kitchen.

 Room Service Breakfast

 My best friend, Lisa, lives in Honolulu and came over for a couple of days.  I had not been to Maui since 1994 and it was nice to have someone to explore with.  It has grown so much (like most places).  We took one day and drove into Lahaina and did some shopping and ate at Bubba Gumps on the waterfront.  The next day we just went into Kehei and did a little more shopping at the craft markets there and had dinner in town. 

 We also did some shopping at the Shops at Wailea.  I’m not really a big shopper, more of a looker and follower of Lisa who loves to shop, but we found a couple of great shops here.  Most of their items were out of my budget but they did have some really fun stuff.  If you find yourself in the Wailea area you must stop at Fifi & Bootzie and the Enchantress Boutique.  You will find some delightfully fun items here.  We also had some great drinks and fun with the bartender at Longhi’s Restaurant.

 After Lisa had gone back to Honolulu I took a drive up to Kaanapali to have a look around.  Being in the travel business I always like to get a feel for where the hotels and resorts are located.  I mostly just drove – I actually went as far as Kapalua.  It was a pretty drive and I stopped at a small park for a few pictures.  A friend had recommended a small, more local type, restaurant and I managed to stumble across it, so I stopped for lunch.  It was just as good as I’d been told and the prices were really right in comparison to most of what you find in Maui.  Here are a couple of pictures of Aloha Mixed Plate Beachside Grill.

 Aloha Mixed Plate Restaurant Lahaina Maui         dscn0916.jpg

 We also attended the Luau at the Wailea Marriott on Thursday evening as a group.  I was quite impressed again with the staff.  I had been given some mis-information about where our seating would be and also how the vouchers for dinner would be handled.  The staff was very helpful and did everything they could to accommodate my group.  I was a little concerned about how the food would be since it was a buffet, but everything was fabulous.  And there was a wonderful selection – something for everyone.  The entertainment was wonderful as well – my pictures did not come out or I would share some here.

 I enjoyed my visit to the Fairmont Kea Lani and Maui.  I do have to say, I am more of a Caribbean girl and prefer Caribbean Islands to Hawaii especially now that Maui is getting more built up.   But, if you are planning a trip to Maui I highly recommend the Kea Lani!