Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Give a little, get a lot: How to help your travel provider help you

In the past, all a person had to do was pick a location & dates, call their travel agent and say " I want to go to Maui for a week, get me a ticket" and the agent, solid & steady on the surface, yet frantic just beneath it, would handle everything (no wonder they were called "the good old days").

Boy, have times have changed, YOU are now responsible for picking the location, dates and securing the arrangements.  While for some, this independence is a dream, for many, it's a nightmare.  Longer working hours combined with the routine stresses of life create more of a need for a vacation while providing less time to create one.

But there is hope, by using your time wisely, you can use less time (we like playing with words). Providing your travel service provider with as much information as possible at the onset of planning will help them create the trip of your dreams, just the way you envisioned it.

In addition to the location and dates, provide them with:

*The time of day you'd like to leave & return: Morning, Mid-morning, etc. are helpful but still vague.  Using a timeframe (10:00-noon) is more to the point and helps the provider understand the boundaries (for instance we are more likely to use book the 9:30 am instead of the 1:00 pm if the 10:00 am is not available).

*Whether you're more concerned with schedule or budget: For the record, cost is an issue for everyone, no matter the economic climate, so we can't really assume that you would or won't pay the extra $50 to get your exact flight.

*Your seating preference: John T. Smith doesn't tell us that you're 6'2", only you can do that.

*What additional products you'll need:  It may be your first time visiting a location, but you may have family there that doesn't drive, so while you will not need a hotel, you probably will need transportation, car or cab?

*An idea of your dream travel vision: "I want a beach" is vague.  "I want a beach with a few children as possible" has starting potential...

Then, there are these helpful hints for booking:

*Make sure to provide your name as it appears on your ID when BOOKING (arranging) your travel and use your name as it appears on your CREDIT CARD when PAYING for your travel.  Security makes this very important to remember.

*Provide all frequent flyer/affinity club numbers for credit when booking.

*Make all of your special requests (such as aisle seating or a ocean view room) when booking so that the provider has enough time to make this happen.

Was that so hard?  Ok, maybe it wasn't as instant but it didn't take all day either...

Travel Agents: Do We Still Need Them?

With so many options for booking travel these days, we're all overrun with choice, convenience and an efficient way to get it.  Travel agents, once the only way to create a trip, has been hit the hardest in the DIY digital age.  In fact, with so many ways to create the trip of your dreams, they hardly seem necessary at all...

But they are...and here's why

The Airline Transport Association (ATA) is a group formed by and consisting of the major domestic airlines to look after it's own interests & concerns.  Although it was originally formed by the domestic carriers, memberships and benefits have been extended to the foreign carriers.  The participants found the (mostly unknown) benefits of such great value that very few opt-out of the system.  In fact, the foreign carriers created a partnership of it's own, the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) that works very closely with it's domestic counterpart.

One of the beneficial services was the creation of the Area Settlement Plan (ASP), created by the ATA's regulatory agency, the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC).  The plan is a banking like structure created to facilitate and ensure the timely payments for airline tickets.  To do this, the ARC knew that it would require the assistance of an entity that could serve as both middleman and embassador.

Enter the travel agent...

While there are many different travel products (cruises, tours, etc), and all have the option to apply for ATA membership under the ASP, the travel agent is still the best general solution because air travel is the most convenient (and sometimes only) way to travel.

To ensure that the airlines are dealing with legitimate travel service providers, a stringent set of standards must be met before membership to the ARC is granted, the most important:
-That the entity has a commerically zoned, designated outpost (a storefront) and
-That a bond of $10,000-$60,000 be posted to protect the airlines for any liability resulting from a travel agency default.

Once the conditions have been met and membership granted, the entity is given a unique 8 digit number (the ARC number) which identifies it as an "airline friendly" business and allow for the collection of commission on sales of airline tickets.

How does that translate?
Individuals may purchase tickets for themselves, their families and a limited amount of others, but larger groups will run into difficulity, especially because of the heightened security due to the events of 9/11.

But what if I'm not in a group?
Travel agents can still be of assistance in the following ways:
-The Package Tour:  Because many service providers, venues, tour companies and the like still know the value of a travel agent, they are willing to work with them to create packages of activities not readily available to the public at large (such as "nightclub tours").  However, specialized special intrest clubs (like Things To Do) also negotiate such deals to grow it's memberships.

-Corporate/Small Business: If you have a business that requires travel, nothing beats a qualified travel agent.  Their experience and knowledge is more than enough to handle the demands of a growing business and relieve the stress of the business owner...

Soulcial Therapy Travel is a travel concierge/travel services provider.  Our focus is to supple the necessary information to help individuals create the travel experiences they desire.  Although we provide booking services as a natural extension of our business, we are not a travel agency and further, we use their services to assist our booking efforts in certain instances.  This post was created out of our sincere respect for the work that they do and for the contribution they provide to our industry.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ten Places To See Before You Die (Domestic Version)

Yes, everybody has their favorite and many books have been written on the subject.  So, why another list?  Well, because at ST Travel, we believe in the experience of travel more than the action...

Fountain at Central Park
New York City: She's a beautiful, impeccably dressed lady that's loud and has a mean wild streak, yet still manages to be cultured, diverse and engaging.  She'll never let you suffer a micro-second of boredom and because of it you will either fall madly in love with her or never want to see her again.  Either way, it's absolutely worth finding out!

Los Angeles Skyline

Los Angeles: This city has stars in her eyes, literally!  If a city is so fantastic that the nation's wealthest and most popular flock to live there, it warrants an investigation. LA's always been accused of being a superficial city, but it deserves the benefit of the doubt.  It's a wide open, naturally beautiful, city with plenty of beaches and sunshine.  Who wants to be grumpy with those surroundings,  even if you have a million reasons to be...

The fountains at The Bellagio
Las Vegas:  The saying goes, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", but whatever is happening must be very good (or addictive) because people can't stay away from this vibrant city.  It's flashing lights act as a siren song, luring people all over to world to make and lose fortunes, get married and divorced and have helluva time doing it.  But don't be fooled, Vegas is so much more than casinos and eternal nighlife, she has many interests. Love nature? She has an enormous backyard and many tours to help you navigate it.  Want to entertain the kids? She has options for that.  Want to shop till you drop? The city of excess has more than enough options to help you with that.  You want to relax? Yes, she can do that to, on or off the strip.  Just remember to follow the code of silence...

Powell Street Streetcar
San Francisco:  LA is an outspoken, vivacious party girl (like, totally) and that may be a bit much for some to handle.  So, for those who like their parties (and party gals) a little more sophisticated, you may want to consider San Francisco, even the weather's more mature! (so always pack a jacket).  She's the city by the bay, whose courted by the military and has a entourage of "painted ladies" as beautiful as she is.  She's reserved and well-mannered, yet still knows how to party (as a visit to Chinatown will prove).  Union Square's the reigning tourist trap and shopping mecca with good reason, it's an interesting place to spend time (most of which will be spent people watching).  When you've had your fill, you still have options: Funky history lesson (Haight-Ashbury), Architectual history lesson (Coit Tower), or maybe Picnic (Presido Park).  There are other interesting residential neighborhoods to visit, but you'll have to find those out on your own.  A lady likes to know you're really interested before she gives up all her secrets...

Vineyard, Sonoma Valley
Napa/Sonoma Valleys:  Located just 45 minutes South East/West of San Francisco (respectively) are the wine countries of Napa and Sonoma.  Napa, the most famous of the two, takes it's job very seriously, as all things wine and wine-making are showcased and celebrated.  Sonoma, however, is gaining popularity because of it's diversity  in wine, culture, environment and luxury.  What you will find in both: Enough tasting rooms to make any oenophile happy,  countless options for delicious food to accompany the wine and natural beauty that serves as both an elegant backdrop and an engaging playground.  Don't try to choose a favorite, just think of both as a world worthy of exploration...

"Artistic" Miami Beach
Miami: What do you get when you combine water, stunning natural beauty, man-made beauty and a tropical climate? The highly energetic playground of Miami.  This city boasts the 24 hour excitement of New York, the bright lights of Las Vegas and year round temperatures designed for showing off skin.  Fun-lovers, start your engines...

Decatur Street, New Orleans
New Orleans: The last stop of the party circuit goes out with a bang! No city parties harder than the home of Mardi Gras!  New Orleans is in many ways,  a contradiction in terms and that's the best thing about this city.  Here, you can party for 24 straight hours, have a quiet stroll through some of the most beautiful architecture in the country, sample cuisine from all around the world (or just from each of the 50 states) and then have a romantic evening under the stars (and trees) with free jazz in the background...aaahh, Joie de Vive! Bon Temps!

Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City:  Are you scratching your head right now? Don't.  The Vegas of the east is worth seeing for one reason: It has an ocean and Vegas doesn't.  The significance of this addition is that it adds a jovial, youthful spirit to an otherwise serious place.  Vegas enourages you to speed up, Atlantic City encourages you to slow down.  Vegas encourages you to get it all in, Atlantic City encourages you to take it all in.  Vegas encourages you to make a family, Atlantic City encourages you to enjoy your family.  The AC Boardwalk serves as architectual wonder, sightseeing super-highway, memory lane, and a little fantasy land...

St Louis:  The addition of this city is sure to spark some debate as many can and will find what they feel are other, more worthy cities, but that's sorta why St. Louis appears here.  Yes, you have your Chicago's, Dallas' and Atlanta's, but St. Louis has two important things that these others don't: Innovation and Creativity.  There are a million little things that add up to make St. Louis very interesting, here are a few of my favorite examples: The Arch; casinos in the middle of downtown; a city park with neon colored water; miraculous culinary mis-steps that are so good it left a certain Chicago-born President speechless.  St. Louis is a place that should be explored, it's a big city with a hometown feel, and that in itself, is very original...

Washington, DC: This city doesn't just gain a spot on this list because it's the nation's capital.  Washington DC is here because of its many personalities: Government is it's profession, law-making and management it's persona, and   eclecticism it's personality.  There is no one thing to see in here, the whole is the sum of it's parts: Museums for education, neighborhoods for sightseeing, rows for restaurants, areas for partying. To experience DC is to know DC (and you'll have to visit to understand exactly what that means).

Monday, March 7, 2011

City Profile: New York

New York Skyline at night

Welcome to city profiles!

This guide of condensed location information is designed to assist you in your vacation planning.  It contains generalized information on the best places to stay, see and play broken down by category.  If you have any specific questions, email me: or if you would like me to plan a vacation for you, like the page on Facebook: Soulcial Therapy Travel.  Happy Travels!

*Special Note on NYC:  You'll notice that all of the hotels featured are located in Times Square.  Although there are many great hotels all over the city, this area was chosen for central location.  Times Square is literally, in the middle of everything and navigating the city is easier from here.*

Best Neighborhoods:
Battery Park City
Canal Street/China Town
Mid Town
Times Square
Union Square

Best way to travel:

Best Tourist Traps:
The entire city

Best Tours:
Greyline NYC

Best Shopping:
5th Avenue

Herald Square
Madison Avenue
MeatPacking District
Union Square

Best Nightlife Neighborhood(s):
Meat Packing District
Times Square
...and everywhere else