All posts in One-on-One

One on One with Greg Geronemus, Co-CEO of smarTours

greg geronemus, smartours.comThis month, ExpertFlyer talks with Greg Geronemus, Co-CEO, smarTours (www.smarTours.com), a discount group tour provider specializing in high quality packages to some of the world’s most fascinating countries. We’ll learn how SmarTours has carved a niche in a crowded and competitive travel tour market for more than 20 years.

“We’re seeing all of South America really shine in 2015, and one of the most pleasant surprises is Colombia. It’s a wonderful, diverse destination, and it’s a wonderful turnaround story for a country that has certainly had its challenges.”

Greg Geronemus, Co-CEO, smarTours


 You say that the persistent labeling of international travel as outrageously expensive is now a misnomer.  Why?

There is a real misconception about the cost of international travel that the travel industry has perpetuated for far too long. Our peers have successfully tricked the American consumer into thinking that international travel must be extremely expensive, and the consequences are tragic, in my opinion. Many Americans simply assume that places like Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America are out of reach, and just as problematic, when travelers come across affordable prices, they are trained to ask what the catch is or look for what’s wrong with the offer. The opposite should be true – the American traveler should expect affordability and ask why all the outrageously expensive travel offers cost so much. Continue reading →

One-on-One with Murat Karakus, Director, Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

murat karakus, turkish tourismThis month, ExpertFlyer talks with Murat Karakus, Director of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office (TCTO), based in New York City. Murat shares the latest and lauded cultural and tourism attractions from this remarkable ancient country. With the oldest known human settlement in the world, Turkey truly represents the cradle of civilization, and many other achievements, including two of the seven ancient wonders of the world; the birthplace of Homer, St. Paul the Apostle, King Midas, among others — And now this bi-continental land pulses as a leading modern day travel destination with a unique blend of traditions, cultures and beauty.

“Turkey has made giant strides in the past decade by increasing its economy to $US820 billion, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, sixth largest economy compared with EU countries and the sixth most-visited tourist destina-tion in the world behind only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy.”

– Murat Karakus, director, Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

It’s difficult to know where to start when one wants to discover Turkey. There are few destinations with as many “firsts” and “only” descriptors. Let’s start with some of the most historically significant attributes. What do historians fall in love with and clamor to see when visiting Turkey?

Turkey is considered to be one of the richest and diverse countries in terms of archaeology and is by far the biggest “open air museum” in the world.

A bridge between the East and West, Turkey has been noted by scholars as the “melting pot” of various peoples and where classical culture was shaped.

As you mentioned, from the first known urban city settlement of “Çatalhöyük” to the historically famous Troy and from the Ionians (the Anatolian Greeks) to the greatest empires of the world – the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman – many cultures were established and flourished here.pot”.

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

As a result of this history, Turkey has 13 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including some of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Another 52 sites have been submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage Listing for further protection of the country’s archeological treasures. In 2014 alone, a total of 518 archaeological projects were underway in Turkey, including 446 excavations and cleaning works, 36 underwater excavations and 96 archaeological surface surveys.

If I was to select a handful of ruins that really showcase the influence of the various empires that have ruled Turkey, I would suggest the following:

• Hittite Capital “Hattusas”:
Hattusas, the capital of the proud and warlike Hittites from the year 2000 B.C. to the year 1180 B.C. Their empire stretched from the Black Sea to Syria. Excavations have uncovered many impressive ruins of Hittite settlements in Anatolia; fascinating artifacts dating from this period are on display in the Ankara, Anatolian Civilizations Museum.

• The Trojans:
The legendary city of beautiful Helen and the Wooden Horse, archeological excavations have revealed nine separate periods of settlement at this site, including ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple and a theater. A symbolic wooden Trojan horse remains at the site today, commemorating the legendary war.

• Roman Empire:
Ephesus: As the capital of Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus is still richly endowed with marble temples, mosaics and a 25,000-seat Great Theater. The city, whose wealth and patronage supported its splendid architectural program, was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and her enormous temple was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. St. Paul spoke here, even the Virgin Mary spent her last days here, and ascended to heaven from a neighboring hilltop.

• Byzantine Marvels:
Underground Cistern, which was the water source for both the Grand Palace of the Byzantine Emperors and for the Ottomans’ Topkapi Palace. St. Sophia Museum, the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Kariye Museum, the old church of St. Saviour in Chora treasuring the marvelous mosaics and frescoes which represent scenes drawn from, the cycle of the life of the Virgin and of Christ which have been restored under the guidance of the Byzantine Institute of Boston.

• Ottoman Heritage:
Topkapi Palace Museum, covering 172 acres, Topkapi Palace is a vast assemblage of garden-filled courtyards, richly decorated chambers, kiosks, pools and passageways; the Blue Mosque; the most splendid mosque in the city, built in the early 18th century, distinguished by six slender minarets and walls covered with blue Iznik tiles; the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. This is the largest mosque and was built for Suleyman the Magnificent in the 1550′s by the great architect Sinan; Dolmabahçe Palace Built in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdülmecit which occupies an impressive 2,000-foot waterfront site on the Bosphorus.

Safety is always a concern for travelers flying abroad. There has been unrest in Turkey over the past couple of years. Is it safe to travel to Turkey in 2015? Are there specific areas that are not safe? What should potential visitors know and heed where threats and warnings are concerned?

The majority of travel to Turkey is focused in its west, where Istanbul straddles the bridge between Europe and Asia, and where the Mediterranean and Aegean seas provide the experiences that travelers find go synonymous with traveling through European waters. This is far from the areas that experience regional issues beyond the country’s far eastern borders.

Responsible travelers should always check the official travel advisories of their home country’s relevant government departments. The U.S. Department of State currently has no “Travel Warnings” or “Travel Alerts” issued for Turkey.

Turkey attracted nearly 37 million visitors in 2014 – an increase of more than 5% over the previous year. What is the biggest draw for tourists — what do they come to see and experience when they visit Turkey?

Turkey has made giant strides in the past decade by increasing its economy to $US820 billion, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, sixth largest-economy compared with EU countries and the sixth most-visited tourist destination in the world behind only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy.

Our country is one of the most diverse destinations in the world, with a richness of history, archeology, unmatched natural beauty and superb gastronomy combined with art and diverse culture that spans the ages yet is at the forefront modern innovation. Few countries have as wide a variety of tourism attractions as Turkey, including – and, perhaps most importantly – its figurative and physical position as a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures that embraces visitors from all corners of the globe.

Only about 2% of Turkey’s tourists are US nationals. Is the TCTO trying to market more directly to US travelers? Many Americans first experience Turkey through a cruise and wish to return. Our marketing efforts encourage Americans to spend a vacation exploring the many attractions and destinations throughout the country. Our tourism landscape is particularly appealing to:

• Families who enjoy a combination of a cultural experience, outdoor activities and miles of beautiful beaches

• Couples from young couples and honeymooners to boomers

• Archeology buffs who explore the matchless ruins throughout the country, ancient palaces and mosques, and matchless museums

• Sportsmen who enjoy the golf, ski areas, yachting, hiking, mountain biking, ballooning.

We have allocated tourism funds and endeavors to create compelling and successful marketing, advertising and PR campaigns in North America. We are also working very closely with our tourism partners, travel agents and tour operators to sell Turkey. We hope this will continue to help increase the number of North American visitors to Turkey in the near future.

When Americans think of travel to Turkey, Istanbul is the place that immediately comes to mind. We educate North American travelers about the exciting diversity of landscapes, attractions and experiences throughout Turkey and encourage them to extend their visits and explore the other fascinating regions, such as: Central Anatolia – Cappadocia, Ankara; Aegean region – Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum, Cesme, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions of Turkey.

For first-timers traveling to Turkey, what’s your recommended site-seeing and shopping itinerary?

turkey

Photo: Turkish Tourism and Culture Office

Turkey’s multi-faceted tourism assets appeal to many U.S. travelers, who are particularly interested in Turkey’s history and archaeology, culture, gastronomy and the arts. They also enjoy family travel, resorts and beaches, romance and honeymoons, health/wellness, spas, natural wonders, sports (golf, skiing, yachting, ballooning) and religious travel.

• Istanbul is a fascinating blend of old and new, with some of the most famous ancient palaces and mosques, traditional bazaars and hamams and incredible art and history museums combined with gourmet restaurants and lively nightlife, cruises on the Bosphorus, luxurious hotels, world class spas and trendy boutiques.

• Cappadocia – spectacular natural wonders, cave hotels, underground cities and ancient cliff churches, hot air ballooning; superb cuisine and wineries.

• Ruins near Izmir/Kusadasi including Ephesus, Pergamon, Aphrodisias, Miletus, Didyma, Priene

• Bodrum: To American travelers, the “resort peninsula” that is the Bodrum region might be the best-kept secret in the world. Along with its “sister resort region” of Antalya, Bodrum is one of the most popular “sun and fun” destinations for Turks and foreigners alike, offering luxurious accommodations in a setting that both respects the area’s fishing village past and revels in its jetsetting present. It’s no wonder why Bodrum has been a vacation spot for A-List celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Beyonce Knowles, Sting, Elizabeth Hurley and Nicole Kidman.

turkish cuisine

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

• Vibrant cuisine, wines, and nightlife: A fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, Turkish cuisine is considered among the best in the world featuring Turkish tea, Turkish coffee and the famous Turkish delight found all over the country.

• Shopping: Authentic carpets, rugs, and kilims are tourists’ favorite items for shopping in Turkey, with more artistic features and creativity in Turkish Carpets than any other carpets in the world. Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is home to one of the largest bazaars in the world and Istanbul is known for its Grand Bazaar. More than just carpets, however, Turkey’s bazaars have jewelry, leather goods, pottery, spices and tea. Visitors also enjoy the fashionable boutiques with designer clothing and decorative housewares.

• Sophisticated resorts, miles of beaches and quaint villages along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts

• Turkey also offers unique experiences such as Turkish Bath and the Whirling Dervishes: Turkey is among the top seven countries in the world and ranks 2nd in Europe with its 1,300 thermal springs. The Turkish bath, or hamam, is the quintessential Turkish experience and is an absolute must to relax. A Turkish Spa is a favorite among tourists as it combines traditional hamam experience with Far Eastern touches like aromatic scents and traditional Turkish massages. The Whirling Dervishes is one of the world’s most intriguing sights, a mesmerizing spectacle of twirling delight.

Where can folks find the best deals and is there a trick to haggling with vendors?

turkey bazaar

Photo: Turkish Tourism and Culture Office

Haggling with vendors is one of the best parts of shopping in Turkey. Some of the top tips to help travelers haggle with respect and get the best deal include:

• First, determine if haggling is appropriate: Are you in a luxury department store or in an outdoor market or bazaar?

• What is it worth to you? An item is only worth what you would pay for it. Discounts don’t mean anything if it’s still more than you want to pay for it.

• Figure out the lowest price: That last amount yelled out as you leave and turn the corner is often the best price you’ll get.

• Obey the rules and don’t hurry: There is no rush to haggling. Bid carefully, if the price is too much, leave and don’t worry about having wasted a merchant’s time. That’s their job and they’re very good at it.

Where do Turkish families vacation in Turkey and what’s your favorite destination?

Turkish families visit Antalya , Bodrum, Izmir and environs. My favorite family vacation place in Turkey is Marmaris.

  • Antalya: Antalya, the Turkish Riviera is the most stunning part of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Beautiful beaches, historic ruins and charming old towns make Antalya one of Turkey’s most popular provinces. The region around Antalya offers sights of amazing natural beauty as well as impressive historical remains such as Perge, originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 B.C., the place with the impressive colonnaded street where most of the statues that are on display in the Anatolia Museum were unearthed.; Aspendos that bears one of the best preserved amphitheaters in the world; Demre: Also known as Kale, the ancient city of Myra, is mostly famous for its connection with St. Nicholas, who was bishop here in the 4th century.
  • Izmir: No trip to Turkey is complete without including a visit to Izmir – the perfect hub to enjoy the full range of attractions that lure visitors to Turkey – a cosmopolitan and accessible city, the most spectacular archeological wonders in Turkey, fantastic seaside restaurants, dynamic nightlife, beautiful beaches and a warm Turkish welcome.

Is there anything that you’d like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered in this Q&A?

Traveling to Turkey from the U.S. is easy, Turkish Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer direct flights from the major cities of the U.S.

• Turkish Airlines, “Best Airline in Europe,” currently flies non-stop direct flights from New York, Washington D.C., Los Angles, Chicago, Houston, Boston, Toronto and it will launch a new route from San Francisco to Istanbul beginning April 13, 2015.

• Delta Air Lines will increase the number of seats it offers on the Istanbul and New York, JFK flight for the 2015 summer season.

One on One with John Golicz, Founder & CEO of the Travel & Adventure Show

This month, ExpertFlyer interviews John Golicz, Founder & CEO of the Travel & Adventure Show, the largest series of travel and adventure shows in the United States. Since 2014, the company’s main focus has been to help hundreds of thousands of travel enthusiasts find, plan and book their dream vacation. John shares his vision for the travel industry, as well as trends and news coming out of this year’s upcoming series of seven shows, starting in Chicago this month, then on to San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“The number one reason attendees come to the Travel & Adventure Shows is to meet with and talk to the experts manning the exhibit booths. 74% of attendees find a trip/destination from a direct meeting with an exhibitor at the show.”

– John Golicz, Founder & CEO of the Travel & Adventure Show

The Travel & Adventure Show is identified as the #1 Series of Travel Shows in the U.S. What metrics go into earning that impressive title?

We’ve been doing this for 12 years, we’ve produced nearly 60 events, contracted 2,800 exhibiting companies and attracted 11,300 unique travel agents and over 1 million attendees! All of that put together has influenced over $2 billion in travel purchases. I think that says it all!

Your regional shows run from January through October in seven markets. How did you end up in those cities – Any plans to expand into New York, Boston, Miami?

We concentrate on top 10 DMA’s (Distinct Market Areas) or top travel markets. While San Diego is a top 15, it fits well with our west coast roster of exhibitors and we reacted to the demand there. We are always looking at new markets and add them as demand from our exhibitors as we deem fit.

Are the shows in each city typically similar? Are the speakers and topics carried over or are there variances?

Each market is different than the others. About 60% of our exhibitors are what I call national or international – meaning they serve many or all markets. 40% tend to be regional. So in Chicago, for example, we see many Michigan, Wisconsin and even Indiana exhibitors and a few from California.

In LA, our largest show, we see over 100 California exhibits and a little of the above. Likewise, the Pacific Rim and Asia has a stronger presence in the West Coast shows, while the Caribbean is better represented at the East Coast shows and Chicago.

Why should a travel aficionado check out a Travel & Adventure Show? What will one find there that they may not encounter otherwise?

The Travel and Adventure Show Series is perhaps the most authentic and intimate medium to plan, research and book a dream vacation. Besides the great inspirational celebrity travel speakers on our main Travel Channel Theater, we have dozens of speakers in every market that present in-depth destination information and tips, tricks and expertise that make it a one-stop-shop for everything you need to have an incredible travel experience.

The number one reason attendees come to the Travel & Adventure Shows is to meet with, and talk to, the experts manning the exhibit booths. 74% of attendees find a trip/destination from a direct meeting with an exhibitor at the show. They enjoy detailed, personalized discussions to learn about local destinations and tours. They want to find how to travel like a local, what they will actually experience from a tour, what time of year to go, what to bring, where to stay, what to see and where to eat. They come armed with detailed questions, and they expect expert answers.

What sticks out the most to me is 81% of our consumers do not trust the internet to give trusted advice when it comes to travel information. I concur as everything to me looks great on the web as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of a lousy hotel, hotel room or destination online. All tours look magnificent and I never see destination advice on a DMO site of danger, or where not to travel. But the vast majority (61%) of Travel & Adventure Show attendees state that they TRUST an exhibitor more just because they are in the show. More importantly, that number rises to over 90% after they have talked with an expert in the exhibitor’s booth!

That’s the magic that happens at every Travel & adventure Show – it’s the reason so many exhibitors come back each year and why over 93% of attendees plan on coming to another Show.

What’s hot in travel right now?

Intriguing vacations
■Cuba: The Obama White House just announced major changes that will make it easier and hopefully cheaper for the average tourist to visit. Look for firmer guidance by February. Then experience a complete different Side of the Caribbean experience. This should create great bargains in the rest of the Caribbean and eastern Mexico in the future as market share fights heat up.

■Brazil: As it prepares for the 2016 Olympics, 400 new hotels are opening and more flights from the U.S. are launching. Go this year.

■Asia cruising: Be the first on your block to see exotic ports like Jeju Province, South Korea and other places none of your braggy friends have visited yet.
■Puerto Rico: New verve in an old destination comes from increasing airline service, no passport needed, and new hotels and resorts.
■Dubai: A big airport expansion and a glut of hotels mean good deals for visitors to this glitzy Mideast city. Busiest airport in the world.

What are some of the burgeoning trends you’re seeing in the travel industry?

  • Vacations nobody used to take, but now everyone is taking European River Cruising
  • U.S. hotel rates: on the rise:
    • Average nightly hotel rate up 5% to $121
    • Mid-range hotel prices up 6%
    • Upper-tier hotel rates up 4-7%
    • Also on rise: vacation rentals
    • Airbnb, the vacation rental service, now has 800,000 listings around the world, bigger than any hotel chain.
  • Airfares: not too bad
    • Now is the time for Europe
    • Transatlantic fares: “depressed” due to more competition. Some forecasts predict fares worldwide falling 5.1% this year.
  • Euro at recent historic lows
    • Local economies a bit stagnant so room rates more friendly
  • USA Outlook
    • Domestic economy fares up 2-5%, but the wild card of fuel prices will push fares down slightly in some markets
    • Domestic business class fares up 2-6%
  • Baby boomers: not dead yet
    • Those born between 1946 and 1964 plan 4-5 trips this year, with 45% taking at least one trip out of the country.
  • Millennials: swarming the globe
    • One third of millennials (ages 18-34) plan to travel more this year than last, and their preferred destinations are Las Vegas, Honolulu, London and Rome.
  • Super trendy destinations
    • Fez, Morocco
    • Catskills, N.Y. (no, we are not making this up)
    • Rotterdam, Netherlands
    • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
    • Wasatch Mountains, Utah
    • Istanbul
    • Chengdu, China
    • Uruguay
    • Portugal
    • Taiwan
    • Romania
      • Source: Lonely Planet
      • Source: Hotwire

What are your best tips for securing air travel cheaply?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines made +$3.3 billion in baggage fees last year. So here is my best tip: CARRY ON!

Yes, you need to pack smart, but a round trip today and 1 checked bag is easily $50, sometimes more. So, even for a 7+day trip one bag it. Use hotel cleaners or local dry cleaner/laundry service. You can clean 3-4 shirts, 2 slacks at the best hotels for well less than $50. You save time at airports, and with today’s full flights, most gate agents will gate check your bag for free if you do not want to lift it. Then all you have to do when you arrive to your destination is grab your bag, de-plane and start to enjoy your trip!

Five Fare Savers!

1. Leave on a Wednesday
It’s the cheapest day to do it, especially for domestic travel.
The day with the most seats is likely to have better supply, and thus … more empty seats that require discounting to fill the plane—meaning they’ll have to release more seats at their cheapest price point.”

2: Book on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time
Studies have found this was the best time to buy airline tickets and shop for domestic travel.

3: Book six weeks in advance
A revealing study from Airlines Reporting Corporation found that the best time to purchase your airfare is about six weeks prior to travel. The reason: Around this time, prices drop below the average fare.

4: Fly out early
The first flight of the morning is usually the cheapest. The next-cheapest flight times are during or after lunch or around dinner time

5. Book connecting flights
Booking connecting flights could save you as much as $100 round-trip.

Just make sure you leave enough time to make your connecting flight in case the first flight arrives late.

 Traditional hotel vs. Airbnb for accommodations?

Three pros and three cons:

Pros:
1. You Can Save Money, Sometimes a Lot
Airbnb apartment rentals tend to cost 21.2% less than staying at a hotel.
And, if you’re on a budget, you can save 49.5% if you decide to stay in a private room at a host’s house instead of staying in a hotel.

Not only that, you can often get a lot more room for your money, making these short-term rentals particularly cost effective for families. Plus, you’ll ordinarily have access to a kitchen of some type, so you can save money on eating at restaurants during your stay.

2. Some Hosts Are Wonderful

Many of the people who host short-term rentals go all out to make their guests’ stay as comfortable and pleasant as possible. If you’re traveling out of the country, a good host can be an excellent resource for learning about a local culture and customs. Stories abound about hosts who become friends with their guests, who return year after year. You ordinarily won’t end up becoming friends with a hotel manager.

3. Some Accommodations Are Fantastic

Rather than stay in a sterile hotel room in a high-rise building downtown, you may find space in a beautifully-furnished Victorian home in a lovely residential area of the city.

Cons:
1. Ads and Descriptions May Be Misleading

The ads, photographs, and descriptions posted on short-term rental websites can be misleading or downright dishonest. Some hosting services check out the places they list before they allow them on their websites, but not all do so. No Corporate Standards.

2. Some Hosts Are Not So Wonderful

When you book a short-term rental through a website like Airbnb or VRBO, you’re not dealing with a corporate entity like Marriott or Hilton. Every host is an individual, and is different. Some people know what they’re doing, but some don’t. A rotten host or one who is overly intrusive could turn your vacation into a nightmare.

3. Your Rental Place May Not Be Secure

The place you stay may or may not have good locks, but it likely won’t be anywhere near as secure as a hotel, which may have professional security personnel on the premises, computerized door entry cards, security cameras, and room safes.

Be careful, use reputable sites that check properties, do your homework and check reviews, local maps etc

What are your favorite domestic and international destinations to check out in 2015?

Super trendy destinations:

  • Fez, Morocco

For visitors, the medina of Fès el-Bali (Old Fez) is the city’s great drawcard. It’s an assault on the senses, a warren of narrow lanes and covered bazaars fit to bursting with aromatic food stands, craft workshops, mosques and an endless parade of people.

  • Catskills, N.Y. (no, we are not making this up)

Adventure and peace. Fine cuisine. Friendly, homey diners. Breathtaking vistas. A quaint covered bridge over a babbling brook… It’s all here in the Catskills.
Skiing, golf, FOODies, Art Beauty – all drive able in North East

  • Rotterdam, Netherlands

A stark contrast to Old Europe – In your face Architecture – ART & Design Center Flourishing and innovative food Great night life – Its not all about Amersterdam

  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Tucked away on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the ‘Silver Port’ region packs in all those Caribbean dreams. Think beach nightlife in lively towns, spectacular hiking and mountain biking, and – of course – miles and miles of that famous Caribbean sand.

Best of all, Puerto Plata is one of the few places where you can escape the tourist hordes while still enjoying world-class tourism infrastructure – all for a price that’s significantly lower than you think.

  •  Wasatch Mountains, Utah

The greatest snow on Earth!

  • Istanbul

Europe meets Middle East – breathtaking multi cultural great port for cruising.

One-on-One with Markus Ruediger, Star Alliance, Media Relations Director

Mark Ruediger, media relations director, star allianceIn this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Markus Ruediger, Director of Media Relations at Star Alliance, about the global reach and perks that airline alliances, such as Star Alliance, bring to air travelers.

With 27 participating air carriers, the Star Alliance Network brings together networks, lounge access, check-in services, ticketing and dozens of other services to improve the travel experience for customers, wherever they are in the world.

Star Alliance member airlines fly to more destinations than any other airline alliance in the world – which means easier travel and quicker connections. Airline members are conveniently located closer together in airports and “connection teams” are installed for faster transfers and smooth traveling. Common airport facilities, coordinating schedules and a range of new technologies are frequently shared among Alliance members..

“Alliances in the travel industry will continue to exist for the simple reason that no single airline or entity could possibly offer the expanded benefits enjoyed through a network.”

– Markus Ruediger, Director Media Relations, Star Alliance

What are some of the recent changes/improvements that have occurred within the Star Alliance and what distinct value does the network bring to travelers as compared to oneworld and SkyTeam?

2014 saw a variety of developments at Star Alliance. In terms of network, we welcomed Air India in July, improving access to one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.

The highlight of this year was no doubt the completion of a major airport infrastructure, London Heathrow’s Terminal 2 – the Queen’s Terminal – our new home at Britain’s premier hub.  The combination of a state-of-the art terminal and having all member carriers located in the same building, has vastly improved our customer proposition.

During the course of this year we also made further investments in our Star Alliance branded lounges. The Paris – CDG lounge was refurbished and in addition to providing more space, it now sports many of our new design features, while having a Parisian flair. At Sao Paulo Guarulhos Airport we opened a new lounge which was designed by Brazilian architects and features mainly materials from Brazil. Continue reading →

One on One with Bill Hanbury, CEO, Bermuda Tourism Authority

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Bill Hanbury, CEO of the newly created Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA).

Hanbury shares his vision for Bermuda Tourism, which is now under the management of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, an independent, private, tourism enterprise focused on revitalizing Bermuda’s tourism industry, stimulating the economy, creating a welcoming environment for hospitality investment and restoring Bermuda to a world-class tourism destination.

Bill Hanbury, CEO Bermuda Tourism Authority“Our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK.  Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations.  So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets.  We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product.  We need to get on their “consideration list” again.”

– Bill Hanbury, CEO, Bermuda Tourism Authority

When one thinks of Bermuda, pink sandy beaches, long shorts and the legendary Devil’s Triangle come to mind.  What are the attractions that you are most proud of?

Yes, we are well known for those fabulous beaches, colorful Bermuda shorts and the Triangle legends, but Bermuda is “so much more”.  Much of Bermuda’s attractiveness is based on our nautical and marine resources and history.  From scuba diving and deep-sea fishing to sailing and power boating, if you’re in Bermuda the sea touches everything.  And because of our strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean we have a nautical history of wrecks, fortifications, cannons, pirates and buccaneers that spans over 400 years.

It’s been about 6 months since Bermuda tourism completed its transition from a government run department to a privatized tourism authority. What are some challenges the new tourism board is facing? What are some of the key changes tourists should know about?

The biggest challenge we face is convincing the Tourism Authority’s stakeholders, both on and off the island, that marketing tactics have to be executed differently than they have in the past.  Because of unfavorable economic conditions starting post-9/11 and continuing into the extended Great Recession, Bermuda lost ground to both Caribbean and emerging destinations in the Middle East and Pacific Rim.  Through this difficult time, Bermuda failed to embrace the new digital channels that have transformed tourism marketing globally.  Tourists will now notice that Bermuda is shifting to the internet to provide better information and travel offerings which are more in line with market expectations.

Additionally, our product offering has not kept pace with what some would call “experiential” tourism, where guests don’t want a “curated” travel experience, but rather they need to touch, feel, see, smell and taste the destination in their own way and on their own timeframe.  That’s actually where you’ll also see the big changes.  We want to give visitors more information before they arrive and once they’re on the island so they can experience Bermuda in a more adventuresome way.  And because of our low crime, across–island accessibility features and cleanliness the Bermuda tourism product bodes well in this new era.  It’s what the 21st Century tourism audience demands and it’s what Bermuda intends to offer.

Why do people want to visit Bermuda?  What is the island’s biggest draw today?

The number one draw has always been our pristine beaches and moderate weather.  We have dozens of beaches to visit while on Bermuda.  Two of my favorites are Horseshoe Bay Beach and Sea Glass Beach.  Horseshoe is one of the premiere beaches in the world. Wide, pink sands, clean and majestic…any trip to Bermuda necessitates a visit to one of the world’s most beloved beaches.  It continually ranks among the World’s Top Ten on just about everyone’s list.

Sea Glass Beach, is certainly not as well-known as Horseshoe, but for snorkelers it’s a slice of paradise.  The beach is home to bits-and-pieces of centuries of marine history.  Because of the ocean topography and tides, Sea Glass Beach is constantly churning-up pieces of glass, pottery, china and other interesting fragments of our nautical past that arrive near the shore from wrecks and age-old “garbage” thrown overboard by crews of former visiting vessels.

Accessibility is also a key factor as to why people visit Bermuda as we’re less than a two hour flight from many East Coast cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta). Americans also clear U.S. customs before arriving back home which is a big draw.

For decades, Bermuda was known as a supreme destination for some of the world’s elite, and home to wealthy expats. Is that changing as economic power from the East grows?Are you facing competition from other destinations that are viewed as more trendy?

Bermuda now has many international businesses on our shores that have close ties to the East.  We welcome these connections.  However, our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK.  Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations.  So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets.  We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product.  We need to get on their “consideration list” again.

Bermuda wants to be known as an upscale luxury destination and we fully intend to compete with the elite upscale destinations in the world.  Remember, we still have all those beaches, golf courses, historic sites and nautical assets that propelled us onto the list of the world’s top destinations in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  We intend to return to that position in the global marketplace.

Is there a time of year that is more desirable to visit Bermuda?  Are there unique attractions and events travelers can enjoy in every season? How do hurricanes and severe storms impact visitation?

Bermuda truly is a year-round destination with short, daily nonstop flights from various cities in the US and Canada.There is no off-season in Bermuda.  The weather is more than acceptable year-round…in the mid-80s in August and the mid-60s in February.  I moved here from Upstate New York this past January.  We left three-feet of snow in our front yard with below-zero temperatures.  We arrived in Bermuda and for 30 days in a row the temperature rose to plus 65 degrees.  January through April are great times for: golf, scuba, arts and culture, visiting forts, plus beach walks during the day and beach fires at night.

I’m also compelled to mention the Bermuda Festival which is now in its 40th year and is one of our premier cultural events. The Festival presents a culturally diverse collection of illustrious performing artists from around the world during a four weeks run starting in mid-January.  The Festival rivals some of the finest artistic offering of any destination.  This year some of the artists include:  Yo-Yo Ma, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Ellis Marsalis, the English Chamber Orchestra and China Circus.

How would you describe the people of Bermuda?  What are some of the culturally and historically significant places and things visitors should experience?

Bermuda has been known for decades as a nation of hospitable people.  In fact, in survey after survey, one of our greatest tourism assets is our emphasis on friendliness and service.  It’s in the country’s DNA and every resident is well aware of the economic value of tourism, so there is a continuing emphasis on this asset.  The new Bermuda Tourism Authority intends to build on this commitment to quality customer service as we work with the hospitality industry and the public education system on-island implementing an array of new education and training initiatives.

We like to call it:  “Proper Fun”, this wonderful synthesis of British culture and island vibe that best describes the Bermuda experience.  So in one day you can visit a British Fort, have high tea in the afternoon, have a quite dinner of authentic island fare and then dance the night away to Calypso music on the beach.              

What’s the best and most economical way to get around Bermuda? How safe are those scooters you see everywhere?

We have a wonderful fleet of service-oriented taxi drivers who know the island’s history and its most interesting attractions like the back of their hand.  I consider them an important part of our Island’s hospitality equation.

You can’t miss a ride on our highly efficient ferry service.  No visit to Bermuda would be complete without a ferry trip to Dockyards on the Hamilton Ferry.  You’ll navigate through some of the finest yachting and sailing waters in the world on your way to a former British naval base that to this day reflects the majesty of the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th century. It’s a fun and affordable way to explore the island and mingle with the local community; and the views can be stunning.

As for scooters, many of our visitors totally enjoy the freedom that comes with this mode of transportation.  However, if you haven’t had much experience on a motor bike or driving on the left side of the road, I would leave it to the safety of taxis and the ferry.  No reason to spoil a wonderful vacation on our island paradise.

Where do you recommend visitors seek accommodations?  What are some options on the luxury side, middle of the road and cheap deals, particularly for younger travelers and students?

With outstanding four-star resorts and solid three-star hotels, Bermuda has an extensive range of accommodation offerings for travelers who know and appreciate quality.  www.gotobermuda.com is a terrific source for finding just the right property in your price range.

For travelers on a budget, the best option is to discover our more economical lodgings, many of which are located on the properties of individual Bermudian homeowners.  Bermuda Rentals, AirBnB and Home-away can provide an impressive inventory of colonies, mini-resorts, villas and individual rooms that will meet the needs of just about any traveler.  This is a wonderful way to get “up-close and personal” with Bermuda’s most important tourism asset: our people!

What else is there to know about Bermuda and projects that are in the works with the BTA – how are you revitalizing the industry?

There are several hotel brands that are actively looking at Bermuda for development as our tourism economy continues to pick up speed after an extended period of decline.  We believe at least three new hotel projects will be underway in 2015 with openings anticipated in 2017 and 2018.  Most recent is Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are breaking ground on the new Ariel Sands Hotel Cottage Colony with approximately 85 rooms (33 cottages and 6 suites), fine dining restaurant, salt-water tidal pools, tennis courts, salon, gym and a spa. Slated to be complete Q1 of 2017. The Ariel Sands property has been in Michael Douglas’ mother’s family since the 1840s. The $85 million hotel redevelopment began last week!

Certainly, the new gambling legislation that will allow gaming on certain resort properties should assure these project go forward in an expeditious manner.  There are also a number of significant existing hotel renovations and developments underway totaling over $100 million.

Bermuda is one of the final two destinations with the opportunity to host the 35th America’s World Cup, the world’s most prestigious sailing competition, in 2017. A decision on the host location is expected before the end of the year.

Local development and design firms are working on the feasibility of transforming Dockyard’s Victualling Yard into an all-weather entertainment venue. The initial design plans feature a contemporary roof design, year-round alfresco dining and a large event space as well as food and beverage, retailers and a condo hotel.

Sections of the historic Railway Trail continue to be developed and a critical footbridge is expected to open in December 2014.  Recently a handful of sites along the trail, including a historic railway building, that were closed for the last 30 years have been opened to the public for mixed recreational use such as hiking and biking.