Group Tour Blogs is a public forum for sharing and commenting on the latest news of interest to professional tour planners. It is one more reason why GroupTourMagazine.com is the #1 online resource for the successful group tour planner.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Photo: Rick Martinez Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, left, poses for a photograph with a fan at the Travel & Adventure Show in Atlanta on Sunday.
Seriously. I actually don’t get The Travel Channel. I’d like to, but it’s not currently part of my cable television package — which I call “extreme basic.”
However, I definitely know who Samantha Brown is. I’ve seen her shows, listened and read her interviews and enjoyed her perspectives on travel.
She is, after all, the fun-loving, thrill-seeking, adventure-embracing host of Travel Channel shows like Passport to Europe, Passport to Latin America, Great Hotels, Samantha Brown’s Great Getaways, Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends and Samantha Brown’s Asia.
I was there, too, representing Group Tour Media to learn and to meet with tour planners, tour operators, other travel industry professionals and the public. But this isn’t about me. It’s about to Brown.
The 42-year-old was born in Texas, but grew up in Derry, N.H. More full disclosure: Derry is the next town over from where I spent much of my childhood in Manchester, N.H. OK, back to Brown.
Anyway, if you have been wondering why Brown hasn’t been working on more for The Travel Channel besides the currently-airing Samantha Brown’s Asia, well, suffice it to say Samantha is “on hiatus.” Those are her words, not mine. She didn’t get much into the details.
It can be understood, though. After all, she has been doing her gig with The Travel Channel for more than a decade.
In case you’re wondering, she auditioned for the job. Her career, after all, has included stints acting (she was a musical theater major at Syracuse University), performing with a comedy troupe, as a spokesperson and as a waitress.
Photo: Rick Martinez Travel Channel host Samantha Brown, left, shares a laugh at the Travel & Adventure Show in Atlanta on Sunday.
These days, Brown is enjoying married life — she and her husband have lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., for more than a decade — and is working on a book: “About travel. What else?”
It is simple to see Brown enjoys — or at least has been enjoying — what she does.
“What makes my job interesting is I get to spend time with and in other people’s lives,” she said.
Brown said she liked doing Great Weekends, which meant domestic travel for someone who typically is on the road more than 230 days annually. For an hour-long segment, it can take more than a week — and a crew of two dozen or so — to film the piece.
“I have a theory we’re different people when we travel on a weekend,” she said of exploring places for Weekends. “A weekend is an invitation for adults to play.”
As might be expected, Brown has plenty of advice on places to visit. But making her narrow it to a handful of places just doesn’t seem fair, at least to me.
However, I definitely liked her recommendation that one must slow down, sit down and observe to fully embrace a place.
As for her tips on what three things to bring on a trip: Earphones (the 25-cent kind); Pinky massage-therapy balls (for an erstwhile rolling back massage at her leisure); and peanut butter (“You just can’t find good peanut butter elsewhere.”)
Who knows when we might see Brown start work on another Travel Channel series where she’s doing things like cliff-diving (as she said thinking to herself: “Wow. That was a really stupid thing you did.”)?
My guess is she’s just looking to find another itinerary she’s ready for.
posted by Rick at 6:17 PM
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Photo: Antonio Olmedo Stuff disappears from view very quickly.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I loved to sit in the very back of my grandma’s silver Chevy Caprice station wagon and stare out the rear window, enjoying the ride in reverse. It felt so fast!
Kids my age riding bicycles whizzed backward and quickly disappeared from view. When we’d catch a stoplight, I’d wave to the driver directly behind us and he or she would usually smile and wave back. Then, we’d motor off and leave that friendly face behind us (or ahead of us; my grandma was a pretty slow driver). The road we’d just traveled would become narrower every second. I loved it.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was on my way to drop off my 18-month-old son at daycare. He still faces the rear in his car seat, but we’re getting ready to turn him around soon. It’ll be nice to see his smiling face in my rearview mirror, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the change of perspective. He’ll get to see where he’s going instead of where he’s been. Then, perhaps, that novelty will wear off as it did with me and he’ll want to feel what it’s like to move forward while looking backward.
I turn 30 on Wednesday and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I don’t know why I put so much emphasis on round-numbered ages, but I do. Realistically, I’m not going to be much different tomorrow than I am today. I know that. Yet, so-called milestones have a way of nudging me into the sappy land of nostalgia and retrospection.
I will say that there is a big difference in the way I see my life and my relationships now that I’m in the travel media business (Next month marks my one-year anniversary with Group Tour Media. What a fast, fun ride it’s been!). I’ve met interesting people from all over this continent and elsewhere. I’m fascinated by their differences, but even more riveted by their similarities. As I’ve been exposed to more and more people and cultures, that’s been the most surprising finding for me: How splendidly similar we all are. We all want to be treated kindly. We all want to be appreciated. We all want to know that what we do matters.
When I was younger, I wanted to be more “exotic,” whatever that means. I’m sure my son will want to be, too. He’ll hate his name (“Ogg” is pretty brutal in elementary school. It is, after all, only one letter away from “Egg.” I’m glad that potential bullies are probably too young to read this, though I’m sure they’ll figure it out on their own.). He’ll curse his boring house and his boring parents. I won’t know how to play his video games and he’ll call me old.
I can’t wait. But at the same time, I’m in no hurry, especially since everything is moving just a bit faster these days than it did when I was a kid. It’s nice to know that no matter what way my son and I are facing, we’re both heading in the same direction. Still, I think I need to hop in the back seat with him soon — for old times’ sake.
posted by Aaron at 4:38 PM
Monday, October 24, 2011
Photo: Amanda Black Rural landscapes are an ideal location for group tours, especially in the fall.
When the leaves put on a show and there’s a chill in the air, most of us get the urge to spend a little bit time outside. I heeded that call a little while ago, and, well, I won’t spoil it any longer. I had a rotten time.
I visited a popular outdoor attraction, which will remain nameless, that is very popular in the fall. This place has apple orchards, a corn maze, wine tasting, shopping, a bakery and plenty of other things to do.
Apparently a million of my neighbors decided to join me at this fall-friendly location.
It was not fun. The lines were running 30 or 40 people deep, and you had to pay for everything you wanted to do.
I left with a cookie and a frown…I’m a committed claustrophobe, so that was a big part of my experience. I don't always have a good time when things are crowded. But I know my experience could have been better.
In fact, the last time I visited, it was utterly delightful.
The last time I visited, I was a on a group tour.
Photo: Amanda Black In the fall, many people head outside to have some fun.
Someone else arranged the visit, made reservations, paid the bill, even purchased the apple cider doughnuts. A representative came to say hello and give us the lay of the land. In short, we were treated as welcomed guests.
I wish more people, especially people in my age bracket (Gen. X) and younger, would discover the joys of traveling in groups. Community is an important hallmark for younger folks. It makes perfect sense that group travel would be something we'd enjoy.
After all, who doesn't want to be treated like a star?
When my now-toddler son was an infant, we’d turn on one of those white noise machines next to his crib every night at bedtime. It was supposed to sound like a waterfall.
I hated it. I thought it sounded more like radio static. However, it seemed to help him sleep, and it annoyed me less than the other “channels,” which, if I remember correctly, included seagulls dying in a nuclear holocaust and a rainforest full of robots.
Sweet dreams, little guy. We’ll see you in the morning — as long as we defeat the machine army tonight, of course. Enjoy your soothing device.
For whatever reason, I developed the bad habit of falling asleep with the TV blaring at a pretty young age. Perhaps that’s because it was my babysitter most nights and it made me feel safe. Please, save your pity. After all, were it not for that seemingly sad fact, I might not have a career in media!
Truth be told, I still have trouble falling asleep without the TV on, especially in strange places.
They have a great story to tell. Fewer than 200 days after the May 2010 Tennessee floods wreaked havoc on middle and west Tennessee, south-central and western Kentucky and northern Mississippi, the 2,881-room resort reopened better than ever despite having suffered extensive damage. With all the impressive redesigning and modernizing, it was a classic example of turning a negative into a positive.
My fifth-floor room overlooked the heavily renovated Cascades Atrium and The Falls Bar, where guests sip handcrafted cocktails while listening to the steady washing of twin waterfalls.
Even with the balcony doors closed, I could hear the gentle pouring and mixing of the waters from my room.
That’s nice, I thought. Then, I flipped on the TV and fell asleep.
About 3 a.m. that first night, I awoke and noticed the TV was off. Hmmm. Now I know I didn’t do that. Maybe it was on a timer. Perhaps the machine army surrendered? I patted around the bed for the remote, but couldn’t locate it. As I reached to turn on the bedside lamp, I paused. I listened to the waterfall and its steady whooshing. I concentrated on the nearly imperceptible changes in flow. Soon it all washed together and I drifted off.
I awoke that morning feeling better rested and more invigorated than any other time in memory.
One of two things needs to happen soon: Either we make a family trip to Gaylord Opryland, or I buy my kid a waterfall.
Naturally, as a Detroit Tigers fan, I was hoping the Tigers would prevail over the Rangers. But that did not happen, and I’ll have to be content with what the Tigers accomplished this season, which in my opinion was quite a lot.
I’ll be tuning in to see players like Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz of the Rangers.
But there’s more to the World Series than what happens on the field.
Mayors place friendly bets in connection with the World Series.
What struck me is not that tourism marketing agencies are getting involved — it’s how they they are getting involved. Face is the key word.
Here’s the wager: The city that loses the World Series will have to change their organization’s Facebook profile picture to show their CVB or CVC president in the opposing team’s cap, holding up a sign exclaiming their love for the winning team.
“I am totally confident the comeback Cardinals will reel in the Rangers and reign supreme over the baseball world,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. “Arlington is in for a Texas-sized disappointment.”
Burress replied, “I hope Kitty looks good in Rangers RED, and smiles big for the camera!”
These destination marketing organizations are actively promoting their Facebook presence. It’s another marketing tool.
At Group Tour Magazine, we also have a Facebook page.
A release from the St. Louis CVC said Ratcliffe and Burress appreciate the excitement and economic activity in the St. Louis and Arlington communities this week, and they are happy for members of the hospitality industry who will be working extra shifts as a result of their team’s success.
What promotions are you dreaming up for your Facebook page? You do have a Facebook page, right?
posted by Dave at 11:52 AM
Monday, October 17, 2011
PRNewsFoto/Meadowood Napa Valley Meadowood celebrates the 2011 Napa Valley harvest season.
Am I allowed to admit this? I don’t know much about wine.
I’m not completely uninitiated—I do know a bit about terroir and I can tell a Shiraz from a Sauvignon. I’ve visited tasting rooms in Michigan, Virginia and New York and learned what made each place special.
But ask me to indentify the underlying vanilla and tannin notes in a particular wine, I’m lost.
And finding a good wine in a store sends me into a tizzy. I don’t mind buying a bottle or two at a tasting bar, but how do you pick a wine without tasting it first? I’m drawn to cute or well-drawn labels, but you can’t just judge a wine by its label. Then do I grab a wine that I already like? My favorite is Gewürztraminer, a fruity white wine. (Ask me to indentify the notes, and I would say Kool-Aid, so don’t ask me).
Should I buy another bottle of Gewürztraminer or try something new? How much should I spend? Cheap wine isn’t always bad, but sometimes price isn’t reflective of quality.
I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. After all, it takes years of study to become a Master Sommelier.
This week, the Global Culinary Tour takes us to Napa Valley.
Meadowood, nestled on 250 private acres in the heart of California’s Napa Valley, is helping answer these questions. Its newly launched Our First Wine Cellar is available for guests of the Meadowood Hotel and helps them create a wine cellar at home.
The property’s resident wine experts guides participants through tasting and purchasing wines to serve in the months ahead as well as other that will age well and be available to serve for years to come.
As guests meet the winery proprietors and winemakers, they'll not only build their cellars. They will capture stories to share with the friends and family gathered around the dinner table for intimate meals or special celebrations. Meadowood's Sommelier or Master Sommelier will consult with guests in advance to learn more about tastes and entertaining style and prepare an Our First Wine Cellar itinerary, complete with a map that will allow them to navigate wineries with ease.
For those of us involved in the business of communicating about travel and tourism, technology is usually great.
Word processors allow us to easily position the right words in the right places. With digital cameras, we can see immediately how the photo turned out — and discard it if it’s not quite what we wanted. Digital video can get uploaded in seconds.
With websites and email, information usually zips across the U.S., Canada and around the world without a hitch.
Social media sites, smartphones and apps are helping us become even more connected.
Just yesterday, for example, in the space of 10 minutes I received emails about a new narrated bus tours in San Jose, Calif.; a Facebook contest by the Natchez Trace Compact that offers the chance to win a $500 travel package along the parkway; and the Illinois Office of Tourism’s Enjoy Illinois travel app that is now out for Android users.
This week, fans and followers of the tech industry were saddened by the loss of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who succumbed Wednesday to pancreatic cancer after a heroic struggle. He was 56 years old.
Jobs, who grew up in the center of the computer technology universe in California's Silicon Valley, dropped out of Reed College in Oregon after only one semester.
A visionary and creative genius, Jobs built the Apple empire from humble beginnings in his garage with little more than an idea and unconventional business acumen rarely matched in the industrial world. He started Apple in 1976 with his friend, Steve “Woz” Wozniak.
The company saw its share of triumph and tribulation until the release of the Apple II in 1977. From there, Jobs carried the company to lofty heights, reinventing existing markets such as personal computers, MP3 players and smart phones (products already in existence) and revolutionized those industries until Apple had a stranglehold on the market–and the competition.
Although my knowledge of technological gizmos and doodads extends only to the keyboard and the “undo” button, I can appreciate the revolutionary impact Jobs’ efforts had upon the travel industry.
Smartphones, laptops and MP3 players have become smaller, faster and more powerful than ever. Greater and greater quantities of data can be stored and retrieved faster and faster on increasingly smaller gadgets, and while this certainly has improved the way the world does business, it almost as certainly has affected something infinitely more important: the ability to travel cross-country with teenagers.
Cries from the backseat of “Are we there yet?” have been replaced largely by silence, except for the steady tap, tap, tapping of busy fingers flying with amazing aplomb at breakneck speeds over miniscule keypads.
Not perfect, but like the Apple II, it’s a huge step in the right direction.
Also, now that hand-held devices are mobile and powerful enough to accomplish tasks in near-real time, booking flights or making hotel reservations are a snap.
Thank you, Mr. Jobs.
I myself do not have an iPhone, an iPad, or even an iPod (I could never get the little gadget to stop deleting my playlists!), but you do not have to be a techno-nerd to appreciate an innovator and a true titan of industry.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs.
Your contribution to the advancement of society will ensure you a legacy that will live on forever.
posted by Rick at 5:36 PM
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Photo: Steven Scherbinski Runners participate in the 2007 Grand Rapids Marathon in Grand Rapids, Mich.
I never even knew I liked running. Now I can’t get enough of it most days.
I turn 30 this month, and I’m proud to say I’m in the best shape of my life. There is no way I could have succeeded without such an awesome support network of family and friends. Y’all rock.
Speaking of y’all, the other reason I’m excited is I get to visit Nashville, Tenn., on a media research trip Oct. 11–14. This is my first time to Music City and I don’t really know what to expect. I’m told, however, that my preconceived notion that the city is all about country music will be smashed, and for that I’m grateful.
Nothing against the style, really. It’s just not my thing. But who knows? Perhaps I’ll be singing a different tune when I return. As I approach what many of my elders consider a baby milestone, I’m beginning to learn that a lot of things I’ve believed about myself aren’t necessarily true, and that’s a good thing.
I was originally scheduled to be in Nashville through Oct. 16, but that’s half marathon day. I need a little down time to prepare. I’ll also need to squeeze in a practice run or two while I’m there, which will be challenging. These trips are known for full plates of activities — and amazing food — so there usually isn’t a ton of extra time.
Running is a great way to see a new place. In September I was on another media trip in Mackinac Island, Mich., where pedestrians and bicyclists fill the streets. If you’re curious, the loop around the island is about eight miles. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to tackle it. Next time.
Photo: Crowne Plaza Beach Hollywood Hotel Hotel fitness centers, like this one at Crowne Plaza Beach Hollywood in Hollywood, Fla., can be a godsend when trying to keep to a routine.
Since my schedule was tight, I was appreciative that my Mission Point Resort accommodations included gym access. This was a type of offering I never cared about until just recently, but now I see it as a godsend. Being more routine-driven these days makes me thankful for little things that make my life easier to manage. I include on-site gym access in that list, along with Wi-Fi and late checkouts.
How do you or your groups maintain healthy routines on the road?
posted by Aaron at 11:57 AM
Monday, October 3, 2011
Photo: PR Keukenhof Between Amsterdam and The Hague, you'll find some amazing gardens at Keukenhof.
It was a cold and chilly night last Tuesday, but the atmosphere was rather warm inside the little sandwich shop. I met with the some of the ladies from the gym to say goodbye to Karen, who was heading back to Florida. She’s recently widowed and was spending time with her sister, Nancy, up in Michigan.
She excitedly talked about her upcoming trip — a river cruise of the Netherlands. The trip is taking place next spring and the duo couldn’t be more excited. Karen is spending some of the life insurance money, and Nancy sold some antique furniture. Reminded that life is short, both decided it was time to take the vacation of their dreams.
And their dream was a visit to the Netherlands in the spring. When you look at the pictures, it’s easy to imagine why this was the most desired trip. In April, the Netherlands bursts into blooms with millions of tulips. Because Karen and Nancy are booking their tour early, they’ll receive free admission to the ever-delightful Keukenhof, the famous garden home to millions of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and other spring bulbs.
Photo: PR Keukenhof Keukenhof Gardens are some of the most visited gardens in all of Europe.
What lessons so I take from this? First of all, travel is a delightful part of life—and one that can bring joy at time when life is filled with pain.
Secondly, tour planners can turn major attractions into an incentive for booking early. Everyone wants to go to the blockbusters, so they’re willing to pay. It makes perfect sense to add in free admission to one of these big places as a reward to those who book early. It worked for Karen and Nancy.