Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Your Advocate...The Travel Agent

We get a lot of clients who come to us for help in planning their vacations because they don't have time to do it themselves or they need help with a complicated itinerary or they just need help with a destination that they are just not that familiar with etc.  Some even come to us because they have read somewhere that travel agents can save you money.

Those are all great reasons for using the services of a travel professional, but one of the reasons that gets overlooked is that we are the client's advocate when things don't go according to plan.  While we all hope everything goes as scheduled and things are better than expected during the vacation, things can happen that are out of the control of the client as well as the travel professional.  And when things do come up that are unexpected and not as you hoped, you want someone in your corner who will fight for YOU, not the resort, or the cruise line or the airline etc.

Case in point.  Sandals Grande Antigua announced a few days ago (from the time of this writing) that they were closing the resort from Sept to December for "major repairs."  Well as you can imagine, vacationers who were looking forward to their tropical getaway during that timeframe just had their entire vacation uprooted.  Yes, Sandals is offering options to the guests who cannot change their travel dates etc, but so many are left with the question of, "what do we do next?"  I should say that the ones who did not use a travel professional are left with that question.

Our clients know exactly what their options are.  One such client didn't have to hear the news and panic because our consultant, Julia, had already heard and was putting together the options before the client had heard the news.  Within a day, the client was given an alternative that fit their schedule and fit what they were expecting for their vacation.   The client did not have to try to get in the phone queue with Sandals or with one of the online booking companies and spend their valuable time trying to figure things out on their own.  They did not have to spend hours of researching what was available to them for alternate resorts etc.  It was taken care of by their travel professional who interacted on their behalf with the tour operator and resort.

So hopefully you see that we do more than quote and book vacations.  We stand ready to assist our clients when assistance is needed and make sure their best interests are being represented when things come up before or during someone's well-deserved vacation.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All Inclusive vs European Plan

The all inclusive fad is in full swing.  So much so that we get a lot of requests for all inclusive resorts for destinations here in the U.S., even though there are basically none.  It seems everyone thinks all inclusive is the way to go.  Well is it really?  The answer to that question is no and also yes.  Let me explain.

Actually before I explain the no and yes answer, lets make sure everyone truly understands what an all inclusive resort is.  A resort that is truly all inclusive will include all meals, all beverages, room service and even whats in the minibar in the rooms. There are a few exceptions to this but 99% of all inclusive resorts will be offering all of your food and drink for one packaged price.   This is in contrast to resorts that are not all inclusive or European Plan (EP), as some are called.  EP simply means no food or drink are included with the exception of the occasional breakfast daily or a resort credit of some sort which are usually offered as promotional items at the time of booking.

So are we clear on the differences between the two?  All inclusive resorts allow you to pay one price for all of your food and drink AT the resort and resorts that are EP will be charging you for any food and drink that you consume onsite at their resort above and beyond the room rate you might have paid.

So some are probably reading this thinking, "why on earth would I want an EP plan when I can pay one price and get all of the food and drink included?  Well the answer depends on the type of traveler you are.  If you want a beach, some sun, and you really don't want to move yourself from the pool or ocean for your entire trip, then an all inclusive is a great option.  If you are not one who needs top cuisine or craft cocktails, then an all inclusive is a great option.  If you have children and you don't want to have to worry about what they are about to order off of a menu while on vacation, then an all inclusive is a great option.  If you fit into one of those 3 categories, my answer would be yes, an all inclusive is the way to go for you.

BUT...if you are not in those 3 categories, then here is why an all-inclusive may not be a great option for you.  First, all inclusive resorts tend to "dumb down" the food and drink quality.  What I mean by that is demand for non stop food and drink makes it hard for the resorts to keep up and the quality suffers.   They have gone the way of the cruise lines.  Cruises used to be known for excellent cuisine and pampered service.  Now, cruisers can't wait to get onboard so they can hurry to the buffet and eat as much as possible before then heading to their stateroom so they can get ready for more food at dinner to only be followed by a trip to the all night pizza or burger or cookie stations around the ship. The constant demand for food has created a situation where cruise lines have to cut down on quality just to keep up with the constant demand for more and more food.  Well, all inclusive resorts are now faced with the same issue.  They know that as long as they can keep food in plentiful supply 24/7, their average guest will be satisfied with their stay.   They can no longer afford the best of ingredients and the time needed to produce true gourmet cuisine.  So if you like to taste incredible dishes while on vacation, you may be better off at a resort that is not all inclusive and where you pay for the actual amount of food you consume.

Second, if you are a traveler that likes to get out and see and do and eat more of the food that the destination actually offers, then you may be better off by not doing an all inclusive.  If you pay for an all inclusive resort, you are paying for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all snacks.  If you were to venture off the property and come across a great place to eat, you would most likely not eat there because you realize you have already paid for all of your food while on vacation. Staying at a non-all-inclusive gives you the freedom to eat wherever you please including great options away from the resort.

And third, if you enjoy sitting in a wonderful lounge and enjoying a cocktail that was produced by a true mixologist, then all inclusive resorts are most likely not for you.  Again, because things have been dumbed down at all inclusives, top spirits and beer are not always available and please don't count on being wooed by anything a bartender may produce at an all inclusive.  Can they make a margarita or a mojito and it taste ok?  Sure!  But they are again producing drinks as fast as they possibly can because they have to keep up with those vacationers who like to have 2, 3 or 4 drinks in their hand at one time.

Now this sounds like I am poo pooing all over all inclusive resorts but really I am not. I am just making sure everyone sees and understands what you get for the price you pay.  Going on vacation with wrong expectations is usually why you see some really bad reviews on travel review sites.  Someone saw an all inclusive that was supposedly 4 star and thought they were going to get the same quality of food and drink as they would have at a real 4 star resort that is not all inclusive.

So before you jump on the all inclusive bandwagon, please talk to a travel professional and let them explain to you the pros and cons before you spend your hard earned money on your next vacation.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Modern Travel Agent (Part 2)

Awhile back I had written a post with the intent of answering a lot of questions that we receive frequently which really boil down to this one..."what is the difference between using you or going on the internet and doing it myself?"  I focused that post on explaining who we are as modern day travel agents.  Please feel free to go back and revisit that article at your leisure.  But I feel a part 2 is required because we still get asked a lot of questions that lead me to believe that a lot of potential customers have no real idea of what we do and how we work & benefit them when it comes to travel planning.

So instead of focusing again on who we are, lets focus this article and who we are NOT.

1.  We are NOT cyber robots.  That seems obvious but when people compare us living and breathing professional travel consultants to the likes of Booking.goodluckwithgettingwhatyouthoughtyoupaidfor and cyber gnomes, it makes me think the obvious is not so obvious.  When you call or email or text or do a face to face visit with us, you are speaking to real people who have real families and live in real homes just like you do.

2.  We are NOT order takers.  We do not encourage our clients to do all the work and all the research and spend countless hours on hoards of websites perusing scores of travel options and then simply take what they want and hit the "book it" button.  Instead, we do all of the work, spend our time and energy scouring the resources we use, as professionals, to find that perfect vacation that fits what our clients told us they wanted out of that perfect vacation and then we send that perfect option to the client for their final approval before anything is ever booked.

3.  We are NOT the cheapest option.  Many will come to talk to us only because they think or they have heard that travel agents are cheaper than the internet.  While some travel agents attempt to buy a client's loyalty by offering kickbacks or huge discounts, we are not that agency.  We offer the best value.  Value is very different than cheap.  If someone is looking for the cheapest option, then there are countless websites saying they are the cheapest which means no one will really know if they received the cheapest price.  Do you pick your Dr's based on them being the cheapest?  Do you pick your lawyers or financial planners because they said they were guaranteeing to be the cheapest?  We don't expect you to choose to work with us because we are the cheapest either.

Modern travel agents are again thriving because of the things we are as well as the things we are not. Clients are coming to us because we save time and energy.  They are coming to us because they trust our knowledge and experience and can offer ideas that they may never have thought of.  They are coming to us because they appreciate our service and love knowing we are THEIR agents, not the resort's or the cruise line's or the tour operator's etc.

So are you wanting to take a dream vacation and don't know where to begin with the search process or can't seem to pull the trigger because you are overwhelmed with countless options and opinions from friends and online reviewers?  Search out a professional travel consultant (i.e. us here at H&K) and let us show you why you will never want to try to book a vacation without our
help again.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Non-vacation Vacation

Before we get started...lets peruse good ole Webster's Dictionary and refresh our memories of what the word "vacation" actually means.  Go ahead...I will give you a minute if you want to look it up yourselves.  While you are doing that, I will fill everyone else in on what Webster has to say.


1) a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday

2) freedom or release from duty, business, or activity

3) a part of the year, regularly set aside, when normal activities of law courts, legislatures, etc., are suspended

Now I thought most adults and even most younger children had a pretty good grasp of what the word meant, but from I am seeing these days from friends, peers, family members etc is telling me that our Country has totally lost the notion of what it really means to take a vacation.

Families pack up once, maybe twice a year (if they are really lucky) and head out on vacation and one of the absolute must-packing-items is a small laptop.  Well most won't call it a laptop but instead will call it a "smart phone."  But let's be real.  That device you carry in your pocket that now requires its own sub-packing list (i.e. charging cords, portable chargers etc) is in all reality a mini laptop because it does pretty much the same thing a laptop can do.  It sends and receives email.  It can access files.  It has everyone's database installed for the most part.  It edits pictures and can post to all social media outlets.  Oh...and to ensure you stay connected to your work, it rings and dings even while on vacation in foreign countries thanks to international cell plans and sim cards.

So imagine for a moment sitting on a tranquil beach somewhere in the South Pacific.  Palm trees are swaying.  The crystal clear blue seas are lapping up on the beautiful white sand beach.  Got a visual? Now picture everyone sitting on that beach with their laptops open and everyone is typing away.  Quite a sight it would be, eh?  If we actually saw a bunch of people doing that while surrounded by such beauty and tranquility, we would be flabbergasted by such people who can't seem to get away from their work long enough to enjoy some time reflecting on more important things in life and letting their brains and their bodies truly vacate.  If you really want a horrible visual...imagine those same folks with their laptops open and their spouse and children are sitting their being ignored during a time when the family was supposed to be enjoying some time away together.  

Well lets do some self-examination real quick.  There is nothing different between the person sitting on vacation with their laptops open and the person sitting in that same spot staring down at their smart phone all the time.  All the smart phones have done is make it less conspicuous when people are spending their days on vacation wrapped up in work and what is going on back at the office or home.

It's sad, but we have become a nation that no longer truly understands the importance of taking time away from work.   Recent studies have shown that there is even a horrible trend that is being called "vacation shaming."  Co-workers and bosses are shaming those who actually try to take off their allotted vacation time as if it is some less-than-honorable thing now to want to spend quality time with those who should mean more to you than your work.  The shaming should really be going the other direction, right?.  Why are we not shaming the ones who think work is more important than family and health and spiritual wellness?

This non-vacation vacation trend has been getting worse and worse as the years go by and, for some reason, it is more of a US trend.  Other countries have long recognized the need for time away from work and balance in their life.  Countries like France.  The French receive around 30 days of vacation.  Guess how many they actually take on average?  If you guessed 30 you were correct.  Germany also gets around 30 days off of work and they take an average of 28 of those days off.  Finland, Austria, Italy all have around the same number of days off and the majority of the workers take almost all, if not all of the paid time off of work.

Where are we here in the USofA?  We are WAY down the list...almost dead last in fact.  We get an average of 15 days off of work and most only take 12 of the 15.  Some will act as if that is something to be proud of.  But lets also see where we are on another list.  We are third only to India and China when it comes to anxiety, depression and drug&alcohol use.  Go figure!  We wear this work honor badge like it is something to be proud of while our society suffers from mental stress and disorders.  What relieves stress and anxiety?  Balance in life can lead to a much less stressful and anxious life.  Balance meaning taking time to focus on other things than just work and jobs.

Many no longer allow themselves to be free from duty or business.  Many no longer suspend work to go find rest and recreation.  Too many sacrifice the things that hopefully last longer than some job such as their family or their spiritual life. Too many are wasting the precious moments they have with their spouses, kids etc while they bring work with them on the very thing that is supposed to be a break from work and stress and anxiety...that thing we used to call...vacation.

So what happens to us if this trend continues?  If more and more of us decide work is more important than being "present" with those we care most about, what happens to our mental and physical health? Ask yourself a question.  If you were to become ill due to stress and anxiety at work and you were hospitalized, how many of your co-workers or bosses would be there at your hospital bedside?  How important would that job really be if you Dr gave you bad news about the state of your health?  Would you say, "excuse me Dr, but I need to check my email real quick before you continue with your prognosis."?

That is where a lot of you are headed if things don't change.  You sit there now engrossed in your phones never giving your brain and body a chance to rest and recoup.  You sit there ignoring what is around you while you check texts, emails, voicemails etc and all the while your body and mind and family are begging you to stop.  Meanwhile your mental and physical health is declining as is your life expectancy.

So stop.  Stop and take a look around you for Pete's sake.  Stop and ponder what is really important in life.  Stop before you regret the moments lost, moments you will never ever get back.  Stop and take a real vacation for a change.  Your body, mind and soul and for sure your family will appreciate you for doing that.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Travel: A True Gift

This month's post is brought to you by one of H&K Luxury Travel's travel consultants, Amber Dixon.  She is a great resource for family vacation planning and we are proud to have her as a guest writer for our blog.  Enjoy her insights and tips.

As a parent it is so easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of school, homework, activities, cooking and laundry – not to mention making sure you are raising your children to be decent, productive human beings.

One of the greatest gifts I have been able to give myself and my children has been one on one travel. I was recently in New York City with my middle son, Thomas, and it was the best trip ever. Just the two of us – no siblings, no spouse, just us. We were able to focus on the things that Thomas likes to do, move about the city more quickly than if we had more people in tow, and he had my undivided attention. But the greatest part of traveling one on one with one of your children is that you learn things about them that you didn’t know before – like the simple fact that Thomas likes kid shows that aren’t animation and wanted to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie.

Traveling with kids – no matter how many – always brings unique challenges and you can make the most of your vacation by making some simple choices and thinking ahead.

1.  Choose Your Flight Times Wisely
Do as I say, not as I do. We live a couple of hours away from the closest large airport so when we travel as a family we generally pick a late morning/early afternoon flight so that we don’t have to wake up and get everyone ready at the break of dawn. I chose an early morning flight for our one on one trip to New York City which required us to leave our house before 6 am. That was a mistake. Thomas was tired by the time we got to New York City and we spent most of the first day just hanging out and had an early bed time. A later flight would have allowed us to sleep later and be more adventurous our first day in the city.

2.  Let Your Kids Do Weird Things
Thomas loves pigeons. When we were in Washington Square Park there was a man who was feeding and holding pigeons. Now, this is not normally something I would encourage my children to do because it seems ridiculously dirty.  But I could tell Thomas really, really wanted to hold and feed a pigeon as he stared longingly as some other kids joined in. So I handed him a few dollars to donate for the bird seed and he had the absolute time of his life with those pigeons!

3.  Consider Your Kids Interest
Maybe the most important thing to consider when traveling with kids is what they are interested in. No matter where you travel if your days are full of only things that interest you as the parent then your kids behavior is going to be less than ideal. Thomas loves candy so we made several stops at candy stores, including Dylan’s Candy Bar. We also took into consideration that Thomas loves dance, drums and was interested in seeing the One World Observatory when planning our days. We also chose to see STOMP off-Broadway and Thomas belly laughed throughout the show because it fit his taste in entertainment and humor perfectly.

4.  Be Flexible
When traveling with kids even the best plans need to be tweaked. One of the things we wanted to do was eat at the Cookie Do restaurant that has recently become a viral sensation. But, due to the weather (it was cold and rainy) I knew that no one would be happy to wait in the two hour line. We also spent more time than I would have preferred playing in Central Park but at the end of our trip that was exactly what Thomas needed to do before traveling home.

So take your kids to explore new places! It is one of the most precious gifts you can give your children and yourself.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Europe Without The Long Flight

Has visiting parts of Europe been on your bucket list for years, but you can't pull the trigger because of the time it takes to get there and the length of trip needed to do it right? Maybe the overall cost of a European vacation has you unable to make the decision to give it a go.  Well I have some great news for you.

I have this little secret that I am about to share with you so let me have your undivided attention and listen closely.  What if I told you that you can see 16th Century architecture, pastel colored buildings similar to those on Italy's Amalfi Coast,  piazzas similar to those in Rome, and have the culinary experience that matches that of Barcelona or Paris, but you only have a 3 to 4 hour flight and half the budget you might think you need? Would you be in for that?  Who wouldn't, right?  But there are tons of travelers here in the US that ignore this hidden gem and opportunity every time they make their vacation plans simply because...its in Mexico.  That's right, Mexico!

Let me formally introduce you to one of my favorite travel destinations in the whole wide world...San Miguel de Allende.  San Miguel who you say? San Miguel de Allende.  This beauty of a city is located in the hill country in what I refer to as the central, lower half of Mexico.  Its a little over 160 miles northeast of Mexico City and about 75 miles or so from Leon (airport code BJX) which is the airport most travelers fly into when visiting the area. The distance from the airport is not a bad thing.  The mountainous scenery between airport and San Miguel is beautiful and worth having your camera at the ready during the drive. Plus, you won't have any of the beauty of San Miguel spoiled by the noise of airplanes landing and taking off.

After you skirt the outer edge of Guanajuato (another amazing historic city) and venture through a couple of smaller villages on the drive, San Miguel finally reveals itself and you can't help but feel a little emotional.  You have officially stepped into an era when things were simpler and life was about friends and family and shared meals and faith.  The cobblestone streets are all the proof you need to prove this place is special and amazingly preserved and protected from major tourism and commercialization.  Residents here don't look to escape to another part of the world after graduation.  They realize what they have and what they have is very very special.

Our hotel of choice for this experience was the Belmond Casa de Sierra Nevada.  It is a gorgeous property which was once an old hacienda now converted into a luxury boutique hotel. While the layout is not a traditional hotel design, the grounds are beautifully landscaped and rooms are elegantly yet simply decorated.  The check in desk, main bar and restaurant are situated in a way that you feel like you have entered someones luxury home after walking through the front door.  You feel stress and the outside world disappear.  Is this a bunch of hyperbole you ask? Trust me when I say it is not.  This hotel captivated me as did San Miguel. Tip:  Upgrade to the deluxe junior suite.

Another hotel visited during our stay was the fantastic Rosewood San Miguel de Allende just a few blocks from the Belmond.  This is a bigger hotel and not as close to the main squares of San Miguel but it would be hard to say its not equal in all other aspects of luxury accommodations.  The rooftop bar offers one of the best (if not the best) views of San Miguel.  It's a must do at night.  And it is closer to more of the local residential areas of San Miguel where you can venture into the nearby park on the weekends and see families enjoying some play time or watch a local pick-up game of soccer or basketball.

So you have reached San Miguel, you have checked into your beautiful hacienda and now you are ready venture out.  Make sure your camera phone is fully charged before you do because you will want to snap a pic at every corner.  As you make the first corner from the Belmond towards the main square, you get the first glimpse of historic La Parroquia de San Miguel Arc├íngel, the parish church of San Miguel.  It is a magnificent sight.  My recommendation is to grab a seat on one of the many park benches around the square that faces the church and sit and take it all in and listen for the ringing of the bells.  Stop in one of the pastry shops on the many side streets that shoot off of the main square and sit and enjoy seeing what old Mexico was really all about.

But don't stop you stroll the streets you will stumble upon many of the other squares and churches that makes this city a dream location for those that love historic architecture.  The Templo de San Francisco and the Nuestra Se├▒ora de la Salud Church are must sees and each are surrounded by beautifully manicured trees and squares.

Once you start will see that you are somewhere special.  The quietness of the side streets pour into the lively squares where you can sit and savor great food while listening to a musician take you back to the 16th and 17th century by their simple strumming of a guitar.

Are you a foodie?  If so, you have to come to San Miguel.  The menus are diverse.  Fresh seafood is brought in daily from the Pacific and the local chefs take pride is their using of ingredients indigenous  to the area.  You can enjoy everything from shrimp tacos to pork belly sandwiches to the best ceviche found on the face of the planet accompanied by the best wines from the mountainous regions around San Miguel.  

Into shopping?  Some of the best boutique clothiers in the world can be found in San Miguel as well as skilled and world renowned artisans selling their hand made, hand painted crafts.

So can you see why I titled this blog the way I did?  San Miguel offers everything that most major destinations do all throughout Europe and is much much easier to get to for those of us here in the U.S.

So are you ready to see the jewel of Mexico?  We sure hope so because you will not be disappointed that you decided it was ok to go to Mexico and forgo the beach.