All Aboard The AMRewards Express

If you are among those who eke out an honest living outside the travel industry and also possess a passion for personal travel, this humble little blog was created with you in mind.  The vast majority of the posts are intended to harmlessly entertain and painlessly educate you about various travel destinations.

However, as time goes by, I seem to have acquired a number of devotees to this blog who, like me, toil in the hot sun (not to mention soft sand) of the travel industry.  Many of those are front line travel agents spending their days . . . and likely a few sleepless nights . . . making their clients’ travel dreams come true.  (A few of them are almost as good as our own agents!  See “shameless plug”.)

This particular post is written with those folks in mind.  You who belong to the first category have my permission to jump off the train at any point that your eyes start to glaze over.  The good news for you is that this post is going to be shorter than one of Paris Hilton’s miniskirts if not quite as titillating.

Loco Motive:  Four Not So Crazy Reasons To Enroll In AMRewardsI was recently asked to contribute an article to one of the travel industry’s premier online trade publications called Travel Research Online.  The article I wrote recommends a new program for travel agents called AMRewards.   The title of the article is:

4 Great Reasons To Climb Aboard The AMRewards Express

I am not going to replicate any of the content here for two perfectly sound reasons:

  1.      It would only bore those of you who belong to my primary audience.
  2.      Equally important, if you know anything about how internet search engines work, you may know that Mr. Google (as well as his first cousins Bing, Ask, Yahoo etc.) frown upon duplicate content floating around in cyberspace.

Thus, if you are a travel agent and are dying to read my provocative article, you could buy a ticket, stand on the platform and jump on the AMRewards Express . . . or I suppose you could just click here.  I highly recommend you step on board this milk run to greater prosperity and higher customer satisfaction.   Don’t worry, there is plenty of time to thank me by way of a small but thoughtful gift later.

As for all my non-travel-professional followers, one quick clarification and I am done.  If you are worried in general that any rewards earned by a travel agent are going to compromise their objectivity in selecting the right vacation for you, let me drive a silver stake right through the heart of that old vampire.  In the first place, several of the items referred to in my article accrue directly to the benefit of you, the consumer, not the agent!  Secondly, travel agents live and die on happy repeat customers.  No agent with half a brain would trade loyalty and trust for a trunk full of trinkets.

Come back soon and I promise you more tantalizing travel tales, all written to the same impeccably high standard you have come to expect from this space.  No, really, I’m serious!

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Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

Michael Batt Talks Travel

If there is anyone I’ve met across the years who seemed destined to fulfill a successful career in “bidness”, as we like to mangle the term here in Texas, it is truly Michael Batt.  Mike is founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group and is the latest travel industry expert to visit us here on Backroom Banter.

Mike is the business equivalent of Roy Hobbs, i.e. The Natural, without all the sub-plots.  If you want a quick overview of his immensely successful corporate career click here.  But honestly, that is just part of the story.  At heart, he is a bold entrepreneur with investments in restaurants, publishing, internet marketing, and only he, God and his tax attorney know what else.

Mike possesses that rare package of gifts the rest of us only pine for.  He has a keen analytical mind that enables him to quickly diagnose the financial health of a potential acquisition.  As you will see when you watch the video below, he is an effective communicator whether chatting one-on-one or captivating a large audience on stage.

Without a doubt, however, the single trait I most admire in Mike is his commitment to integrity.  One of the major reasons he has been able to broker the amazing deals he has with other industry giants is the transparent honesty he exudes in business dealings.  People quickly realize when negotiating with Mike that he has zero tolerance for sharp corners or shady deals.   There is a lesson here for all of us.  The word integrity is related to the word integer, meaning whole, as in whole numbers.  When you are just one thing, both without and within, it spares you loads of game playing.  This is the essence of being real.

You would think a guy with Mike’s immense gifts would at least have the decency to be an arrogant jerk so the rest of us could rationalize our jealousy.  But no, on top of everything, Mike has to go and be a genuinely warm, gracious and kindhearted person as well.  It has been my genuine privilege to count Mike a valued friend over more than a dozen years.

I will share one quick anecdote and on to the video interview.

Mike once told me that he was the son of a Welsh coal miner and was the first in his family to have the privilege of attending university.  Fresh out of school, his first job was with M & M Mars candy company.  As Mike tells it, he drove home flush with his new position and immediately dragged his father from his easy chair and out to his car.  He popped open the boot (trunk for you non-Anglophiles) to reveal hundreds of assorted candy bars.  His dad took one look, glanced over at Mike, coughed out a little mine dust and said, “Let me get this straight, I worked thirty years in a coal mine so you could sell candy bars out of the boot of your car?”  From candy merchant to capitalist mogul,  it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Now enjoy a few minutes with one of our industry’s leading lights as he shares his insights on the remarkable growth of Travel Leaders, the overall state of the travel industry and the merger between two New York powerhouse agencies, Tzell Travel Group and Protravel International. You will even get a glimpse into  how Mike likes to spend his own leisure time.  Just click on the image below to view the interview.

Thanks, Mike, for stopping by.  By the way, do you still have any connections over at Mars?  I really like those Twix bars.

Cancun: A Bundle (or Unbundle) of Fun

Let’s suppose, just for the sake of knocking out another killer blog post, you are a bit of a Mexico travel newbie and you are thinking about going to Cancun and/or the Riviera Maya.Riviera Maya Map  Whoa . . . let’s stop right there because we are barely past the first sentence and we have already encountered the first potential toe stub.  You know for a fact you have heard of Cancun and you are pretty sure you have heard of Riviera Maya . . or was it the Mayan Riviera . . . or perhaps Playacar . . . or maybe Playa del Carmen?

Fortunately for you, I can resolve this little mystery, if not in a heartbeat, for sure in a short burst of atrial fibrillation.

Cancun – Properly speaking, this is the resort town on the north-east coast of the Yucatán peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo.  Don’t even try to pronounce the state.  You will only sprain your tongue!

Riviera Maya or Mayan Riviera –  this is the tourist district that has grown up south of Cancun along Highway 307 which parallels the Caribbean coastline of that state we have agreed we not to pronounce.   It used to be called the Cancun – Tulum corridor but someone decided that sounded too much like a dingy hallway in a cheap hotel.

Playacar and Playa del Carmen – Playacar was the original development south of Cancun built around what was then a tiny fishing village called Playa del Carmen.

Assuming you are more interested in a nice vacation than a history/geography lesson, here is pretty much all you need to know.  Both Cancun and “everything south” (feel free to use whichever of the aforementioned terms rolls most easily off your tongue) are served by the same airport and essentially are one giant destination, not that you will get their respective tourist boards to admit it!

In this particular blog I am not going to address the question of which destination might

Cancun Beach

Cancun Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

better suit your particular fancy.  I will leave that for another post.  Instead, I will answer the question that is hinted at in the title:  to bundle or nor to bundle?

Let’s assume you are astute enough to know you should avail yourself of the services of an experienced travel agent.  If you are not yet convinced,  surely you will be after you read yet another stimulating blog post coming soon about that very subject!  I am like Jimmy Durante sans the patrician nose, “I got a million of ‘em.”

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. As I count them, there are three possibilities.  Keep in mind I flunked logic so I could have overlooked something here.

Possibility One:  Fully Bundled

Travel agencies (retailers) work through middle-men (wholesalers) called tour companies whose role it is to assemble all the components of a great vacation into one irresistible package.  These elements usually consist of an airline ticket (scheduled or charter), a hotel package (European, American or All-inclusive plans), a transfer (airport/hotel/airport) and perhaps some activities, tours or excursions.

Possibility Two:  Partly Bundled

Let’s suppose you have amassed more frequent flier miles than a middle-eastern diplomat.  Or maybe you work for an airline and plan to use your airline passes so you don’t need any help with airfare.  Conversely, you could be invited to stay in some patsy’s over-priced, under-utilized time share condominium and you don’t need hotel accommodations but do need an airline ticket and transfers.

Possibility Three:  Unbundled

For this scenario, let’s assume you suffer from stage four masochism and you delight in making things a lot harder than they have to be just for the sheer delight of it.  You decide you are going to get on the net and research every component separately.  Two days and several stiff drinks later, you emerge from your home office with that glassy-eyed, glazed look that only comes from information overload coupled with the paralysis of analysis.

We tolerant travel counselors are not here to pass judgment on any of these approaches (OK, maybe a smidge on the last one).  What we would like you to know is that we can render invaluable service whether you need a lot of help from us or just a little.

Here, let me prove it.  For our final scenario, let’s assume you win two free tickets to Cancun in a golf tournament hole-in-one contest.  Next, you win a seven night stay in a five-star, all-inclusive resort as a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars”.  Finally, your next door neighbor, to whom you recently donated a kidney, just happens to operate a fleet of limos in . . . “Who would have ever guessed?” . . . Cancun, Mexico or all places.

Cancun Sunset Dinner Cruise

Sunset Dinner Cruise

But what are you going to do when you get there?  What tours will you take, in which activities will you partake, which excursions will you book?   Not to worry.  We can even help with even that one small, yet critical, piece of the puzzle.  Click here to peruse a couple of dozen exciting activity options and once you have made your selection, you can just book it online.  See how easy that was?

I intend to devote an entire upcoming post to all the exciting things there are to see and do in this one-of-a-kind destination!  Why don’t you take a second and subscribe at the bottom of this post and be assured of not missing a thing?

Backroom Banter

This brief post introduces a new category I am calling “Backroom Banter”.

In the days ahead, if the Lord tarries and I keep the creditors at bay, I will be conducting one-on-one interviews with notable luminaries in the travel industry, and perhaps a few outside, who meet two criteria: something worthwhile to say and an engaging flair for saying it.

I think it is safe to assume that most of my readers, if not actually ardent travelers, are at the least furtively frittering away obscene blocks of time at work surfing the net andInterview with travel industry leaders daydreaming about travel.  Not to worry, it is our little secret . . . unless your boss reads this blog in which case you may soon have, if not the funds, at least unlimited time for travel.

I thought you might find it interesting to garner insights from travel industry influentials about  emerging trends, timely topics and insider tips.  If I am mistaken, this may well go down as one of the shortest blogging careers in cyber history.  However, if I do a proper job in the guest interviewee selection process, even if the questions are a bit lame, their insightful answers should be able to carry the day.

You will be excited to know I have already drawn a bead on my very first guest which, incidentally, proved quite a challenge since I don’t draw very well and he would not hold still.   While it would be premature to reveal his identity I have already reduced the possibilities by 50 percent or so merely by revealing his gender.  If I now add that he currently resides in North America and, as far as I know, has no felony criminal record, I am practically giving his identity away.

By my reckoning, at this point I have you drooling in anticipation of the first installment.  Either that or you have dozed off and are doing that disgusting thing people do when sleeping on airplanes.   If you want to read the first installment of “Backroom Banter” you will just have to mosey on back, as we practically never say here in Texas.

Who would you like to see take the “Backroom Banter” hot seat?