Birmingham councilman vows travel will yield national support and cash for …

Birmingham Councilman William Parker at Maclin Park in the Collegeville neighborhood. Parker said the city’s current redevelopment of the green space is part of a large plan to revitalize the North Birmingham community. (Contributed/Birmingham City Council)

Representatives from two major philanthropic foundations will come to Birmingham this summer to evaluate ways to help fund revitalization efforts in a community seeking a comeback.

City Councilman William Parker, who is currently in New York, declined to name the foundations but said officials will tour the North Birmingham neighborhoods of Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont in June and July.

The area, already the site of an intense Environmental Protection Agency cleanup, is primed for private reinvestment, Parker said.

“It’s a unique approach, but that’s the trend and the wave of the future, to marry national foundations with local foundations,” he said. “It’s a model that works.”

With a regular itinerary that includes Atlanta, New York and Washington D.C., Parker makes no secret about being one of the most frequently traveled city officials.

He defended his frequent flier status, calling it essential to drumming up support for broad efforts to improve his district. The efforts and costs will have a long term payback, he said. 

No longer can programs solely come from state, local and federal government funds, Parker said.

“It’s important to be able to meet on a consistent basis with foundations and potential funding partners,” he said. “There are several initiatives where we are looking for funding for parks and also housing. Also there’s some interest in the World Games 2021, so there are conversations about potential investment. Those are the types of conversations we are having.”

For example, Parker said foundation money is available to continue the city’s current work to improve green space in the district.

The $1.5 million city project to overhaul Maclin Park includes building a new swimming pool, new sports fields and refreshed landscaping. The park is a major anchor in Collegeville.

In addition, a pedestrian and vehicle overpass for Collegeville is under construction. The $10 million bridge project is being funded with an $8.1 million mix of state, federal and local money. The city is providing $2.03 million.

Parker said private help will prove essential in the redevelopment of vacant lots around historic Bethel Baptist Church for green space, building affordable housing and recruiting commercial activity to the area.

Parker will travel to Denver on June 7 to again participate in the Clinton Global Initiative.

The councilman last year was among participants chosen to deliver a brief presentation before a crowd of 1,000 people during the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative’s conference.

With an EPA environmental cleanup already underway in the Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont neighborhoods, Parker said private interest will help further long-term redevelopment goals.

The Clinton Global Initiative, he said, provides a platform for connecting with a broad range of philanthropic groups.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to brief the former president and the foundation, it is not only good for North Birmingham, but it is good for the city of Birmingham,” he said. “We’re going back to the conference to update the former president on the progress in North Birmingham.”

Article source: http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/05/birmingham_councilman_hits_the.html

Travel Oregon’s seven free bikes for 7 Wonders kicks off at Mount Hood

The 7 bikes for the 7 Wonders of Oregon scavenger hunt will begin on Monday, June 15, with the first bike hidden somewhere in the Mount Hood area.

One bike will be hidden weekly (except the week of the Fourth of July) until Aug. 8. Following the Mount Hood launch, the free bike scavenger hunt will move to Smith Rock (June 22), the Painted Hills (July 6), the Wallowas (July 13), the Columbia River Gorge (July 20), the Oregon coast (July 27) and will end at Crater Lake (Aug. 3).

This a Travel Oregon promotion. Seven Oregon bike builders created unique bikes designed for riding at each of the seven wonders. These are the bikes that will be hidden and whoever finds them gets to keep them, though this is open only to U.S. residents over 18 years of age.

The first clue will be given out on Monday, June 15, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for people following Travel Oregon and the hashtag #7bikes7Wonders. Look on the Travel Oregon website for a pdf of the general rules, or download it here:

TravelOregon_Bike_Scavenger_Hunt_FAQ.pdf

Travel Oregon will compile all the clues on its TravelOregon.com 7 Bikes hub page. The rules say the bikes will be hidden along a trail some day during the week, not necessarily on Monday. A Travel Oregon representative will be with the bike and someone must find it the day the bike is hidden.

On every Monday beginning June 15 (with a week off for the July 4 holiday), the first clue will be given out, with a second clue coming sometime in the mid-week. Travel Oregon is also working to send out clues by email.

Working with Weiden+Kennedy of Portland, Travel Oregon is gathering photos from all of the scavenger hunts scouting expeditions with the bikes for use during the promotion. 

OregonLive.com will try to keep up with the seven bikes scavenger hunt as best it can, though it is a Travel Oregon project. Look on this website leading up to the June 15 launch for reporting on things to do and see around Mount Hood. If there is reader interest, I will do the same for the other wonders as the summer progresses. And, yes, I can’t believe they left out the Three Sisters, my favorite non-Wonder.

Here are the links to the background for this promotion and information on the bike builders:

Seven custom-made bikes free for the finding to be hidden at 7 Wonders of Oregon

Seven bike builders who built seven bikes for 7 Wonders of Oregon (Photos)

Seven bike rides for 7 Wonders of Oregon (Photos)

7 Wonders of Oregon begin second Travel Oregon ad campaign season on TV, at movies

7 Wonders of Oregon offer opportunities to challenge (or embarrass) yourself

And links to get you ready for Mount Hood:

Mount Hood, seven great hikes around one of 7 Wonders of Oregon (photos)

Mount Hood’s seven bests: best day to visit depends on Hood to Coast start

White River Falls shows frosty formations when temperatures dip in winter

Mount Hood’s Vista Ridge to Barrett Spur: Best backpack trips for late summer, fall

Mount Hood National Forest has many great trails; here are three of the best (photos)

A composite link to my Mount Hood stories from early July 2014.

Lost Lake Resort at Mount Hood draws campers, resort guests to revel in magical setting (video, photos)

Mount Hood Wilderness beckons visitors to Elk Meadows: Terry’s top 10 trails

Government Camp ski bars rock; send best into November runoff (poll, photos)

Mt. Hood Meadows, Hood River ski bars: Send the best into November showdown (poll, photos)

Government Camp tops Mount Hood after-ski fun, can it also top Bend? (poll)

10 best backpacking trips, in Oregon, plus Washington, Colorado, California, more

Terry Richard
trichard@oregonian.com
503-221-8222; @trichardpdx

Article source: http://www.oregonlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2015/05/7_bikes_for_7_wonders_of_orego_1.html

Russia’s travel ban against EU officials sparks fury

(CNN)Russia’s travel ban against 89 European politicians and military leaders from 17 countries has sparked an angry reaction from the EU.

“We consider this measure as totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.


MUST WATCH

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman told CNN, “There is absolutely no justification for this list. And the Russian authorities have not provided any legal basis for the list or for the names on it.

“If Russia thinks this action will cause the EU to change its position on sanctions, it is wrong. The way for Russia to get the sanctions lifted is to remove its troops from Ukraine and comply with its obligations under the Minsk agreements. The EU and member states are urgently seeking more transparency from the Russian authorities for this move,” she added.

An unnamed, high-ranking official at the Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly told Tass, the Russian news agency, that the ministry does not wish to respond.

    “We would like to refrain from comments on names of the people who were barred from entering the Russian Federation, although (their surnames) appeared in some media outlets. At the same time, we confirm that similar lists have been handed to our European partners.”

    He also suggested that the publication of some of the names on the list may have made matters worse, as they “were handed to our European partners as a gesture of trust and their publication may weigh on the conscience of corresponding sides.

    “Just one thing remains unclear,” he added. “Did our European co-workers want these lists to minimise inconveniences for potential ‘denied persons’ or to stage another political show?”

    The official also said that the list is a direct response to EU sanctions on Russia.

    “An answer to some European countries demanding to explain why these names have been put on the lists of persons banned from entering Russia is quite simple: this was done as a response to a sanctions campaign unleashed against Russia by some Germany-led countries of the European Union.”

    Although certain U.S. names are on the list, he said, “it should be mentioned that in this case our American partners act more constructively than the European ones.”


    MUST WATCH

    Western sanctions on Russia have hit the country hard. Sanctions imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine cost Russia $26.7 billion in 2014, and the figure could rise to $80 billion this year, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in April.

    Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, accused Russia of not being transparent: “Despite my numerous previous official requests to the Russian authorities to make the blacklist public and communicate the clear reasons why each individual has been included there, our Members have been repeatedly stopped at the border and the European Parliament has not been officially notified which of its Members are being targeted by the sanctions,” he said in a statement.

    He concluded that he would “speak to Russia’s Ambassador to the EU” on Monday and take matters further, if necessary.

    The list allegedly includes former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

    “Nick Clegg played a leading role in the last government against Russian aggression in Ukraine,” a Liberal Democrat spokesperson told CNN. “We can safely assume that Nick being banned from Russia is a reaction against this. Nick remains a fierce and vocal critic of Vladimir Putin and his regime.”

    Belgian politician Mark Demesmaeker tweeted his reaction to apparently seeing his name on the list: “Putin puts me on his black list. Not welcome in Russia. Too much honour for me, Mr Putin!”

    Ukraine’s ambassador to the Republic of Latvia, Yevgen Perebyinis, also tweeted a sarcastic response: “#Russia’s “black list” of EU politicans is the list of most devoted friends of #Ukraine. Honoured to see 5 Latvians among them. Thank you!”

    Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, tweeted his thoughts on a more serious, underlying issue: “Worth to note the Putinregime fears dialogue and freedom of speech, the #Blacklist is not a show of strength but of weakness, #Russia.”

    Article source: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/31/europe/russia-travel-ban/

Travel Troubleshooter: Iceland trip has cold turn of events

Q: My wife, Elizabeth, and I are faithful readers of your column. We never thought we would have to write to you with our tale of woe. But here we are. Last year, we booked a five-day Northern Lights Reykjavik tour to Iceland. We also bought a travel-insurance policy from Travelex. As a precaution, we booked our flight from Dallas to Boston on Southwest Airlines a day early, to ensure that we would make the late-evening tour departure.

Unfortunately, there was a snowstorm in Boston, and our flight from Dallas to Boston was canceled. We scrambled unsuccessfully to book any flight on any airline that day or the next.

The tour flight, Icelandair 630, departed on schedule, and we were canceled out. The terms of our Travelex policy state that “delays resulting from inclement weather, or mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation” are covered. It also says it covers “arrangements canceled by an airline, cruise line, motor coach company, or tour operator, resulting from inclement weather, mechanical breakdown or organized labor strikes that affect public transportation.”

My claim that Southwest, as a common carrier, failed to get me to Boston in time for the tour flight due to weather was denied because my Southwest flight was not insured by them. However, I did not make any claim for the flight – only that its cancellation prevented me, due to weather, from making the tour. Anything you could do to rectify this will be appreciated.

David Ayres, Plano, Texas

A: Your insurance should have covered your trip. That’s one of the problems with travel insurance; some of the definitions are amorphous, so even if you think you’re in good shape, you might not be.

Travelex defined the insurable portion of your trip as the tour, which started in Boston. But your trip began in Dallas, so that part wasn’t covered by insurance. In the end, you argued with Travelex over your ability to make it to the tour because of the inclement weather, so essentially, you were taking the Dallas-to-Boston segment off the table.

Travelex was splitting hairs, but then again, so were you. That shouldn’t have been necessary. Your travel-insurance company should have been on your side, looking for a reason to honor your claim, not deny it. After all, you had insurance, and your flight was delayed and your trip was canceled. Isn’t that why you bought insurance in the first place?

When a dispute doesn’t go your way, you can formally appeal it in writing. If that doesn’t work, you could take this up with your state’s insurance commissioner or attorney general. Often, a polite inquiry by one of those parties is enough to get the insurance company to do the right thing.

I contacted Travelex on your behalf. The company reviewed your claim and the additional information you sent me. “The claims administrator did make a recommendation to the underwriter to make an exception outside of the terms and conditions of the policy,” a Travelex representative told me. “The underwriter did review and approve the claim for payment.” It is honoring your claim for $2,310.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of ”How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at celliott@ngs.org.

Article source: http://www.sacbee.com/entertainment/living/travel/travel-troubleshooter/article22375365.html

Couple follow passion by opening travel agency – Daytona Beach News

But when he completed his studies, he found there were no available travel industry openings in the small town where he grew up.

He decided instead to enlist in the Marine Corps and following his military stint went into the commercial cleaning business in the Indianapolis area.

He married his wife Sherry in 1988 and three years later the couple launched Owens Commercial Cleaning. After relocating to South Daytona in 1995, their business grew to 60 employees and its customers included Stewart-Marchman-Act and Palmer College.

The couple received an unsolicited offer to sell their company last year, and after much deliberation agreed to it. The sale was finalized in September. It’s a decision that Owens said freed him and his wife to pursue their longtime dream of opening a travel agency.

The Cruise Planners business that the couple run out of their home near Sunshine Park Mall offers a wide range of cruise and destination wedding packages, as well as land vacation and tour packages. Mike Owens also has become a certified Special Needs Group accessible travel advocate and is a graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge and Norwegian Cruise Line’s online travel agent program NCL University.

Cruise Planners is a network of home-based American Express travel representatives.

Mike and Sherry Owens recently spoke with The News-Journal about their decision to become Cruise Planners franchisees.

Why did you sell your commercial cleaning business?

MIKE OWENS: We have two grown children. We thought they would take over someday, but they weren’t interested. … Then when we were approached by a South Florida company (Stockton Maintenance Group), we decided at this point in our life we were ready for a change.

You and your wife were living in Indianapolis before relocating to South Daytona. What brought you down here?

MIKE OWENS: My wife had two aunts who were living in Daytona Beach Shores and we’d come down for vacations. A little over 20 years ago, we decided to move here permanently. We just liked the area.

SHERRY OWENS: The weather had a lot to do with it.

Over the years, when you and your wife were running your cleaning business, did you do much traveling and did you go on cruises? If so, how often and what is it about cruises that you find so appealing?

MIKE OWENS: We’d take two to three cruises a year, When you go on a cruise nothing else matters. There’s so much to do but you can also just find a book and listen to the water.

SHERRY OWENS: When we’re cruising, it’s just so relaxing and everything is there.

What was the most memorable cruise you’ve been on to date?

MIKE OWENS: About two years ago, we took a seven-day cruise to the eastern Caribbean with my parents, aunts and uncles. We all had adjoining rooms. It was a very nice trip. We met a lot of nice people and the entertainment was good. On that trip, we met a financial planner who basically lives on cruise ships all year long. It made me think wow. It’s amazing. And he’s done it for several years. That’s his life. He’s in his mid-60s now. He’s enjoying his life.

With so much competition these days from online travel websites such as Expedia and Orbitz, why go into the travel agency business?

MIKE OWENS: Now that the baby boomers are in the position of life where traveling and retirement are coming into play, that’s becoming a big market for the travel industry now. One thing about baby boomers is that they like to be catered to, some might say pampered, as opposed to their parents’ generation who liked to do everything themselves. That’s what we can offer. We can put together complete travel packages that include hotel accommodations, car rental, etc.

SHERRY OWENS: We enjoy seeing people having a good time.

Is there anything you’ve learned from your previous business that you are now applying to your new travel agency?

MIKE OWENS: Our previous business was focused on customer service. It’s the same thing with our new business. Providing excellent customer service … that’s the secret for any business.

What’s it like to finally fulfill your dream of working in the travel industry?

MIKE OWENS: It’s a return to what I originally wanted to do. It just worked out 30-something years later.

For more information about Cruise Planners, the Owens can be reached at 386-682-3902.

Article source: http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20150530/BUSINESS/150539952/1024?Title=Couple-follow-passion-by-opening-travel-agency

Best of California: See which photos won travel contest

From Yosemite’s towering El Capitan to Napa’s lush vineyards and the stunning Pacific coastline, California provides some of the most majestic travel photos in the world. And readers highlighted that beautifully in our first Best of California travel photo contest.

We received 3,806 photos in the contest, all shot within the last year, from one tip of the state to the other. From those entries, our photo staff painstakingly narrowed the field to finalists and then selected one grand prize winner and six runners-up, all featured here.

The grand prize winner will receive a three-night stay for two at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, provided by the Bay Area News Group. The six other winners receive $100 gift certificates from Mike’s Camera.

Gilroy resident Rick Bottomley’s image of sunrise on Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay won the grand prize shot. The luminous quality of the light and the photograph’s composition helped Bottomley’s photo stand out from the pack. Our judges described the image as “a good example of a travel photograph that makes a viewer want to go see the place for himself.”

In many ways, that was a hallmark for all the winning photos. They entice us to visit or put us right into the scene.

You’ll see that with many of the finalists’ photos, as well. They can be seen in our “Best of the Rest” slideshow below.

— Ann Tatko-Peterson, Staff

Article source: http://www.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/ci_28223626/best-california-see-which-photos-won-travel-contest

Only two teams will out-travel the Raiders in 2015

Raiders fans are used to burning up those frequent-flyer miles by now.

The Silver and Black travel the third-most miles for any visiting team in 2015, according to stats compiled by CBS Sports.

The two teams eclipsing Oakland? Their Bay Area neighbors, the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins.

The latter team would’ve pushed Oakland to No. 2 on the list if not for a Dolphins-Jets game in London this fall.

Playing in the West is so prohibitive that of the six teams playing in London this year, only those Dolphins will out-travel the Raiders by season’s end.

Fellow AFC West members San Diego (No. 4) and Kansas City (No. 7) made the top 10. But the Chiefs play in London, too, so that skews their figures.

(h/t Silver Black Pride)

Article source: http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/only-two-teams-will-out-travel-the-raiders-in-2015-053015

European Union anger at Russian travel blacklist


Former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is reportedly among those banned

The European Union has responded angrily to Russia’s entry ban against 89 European politicians, officials and military leaders.

Those banned are believed to include general secretary of the EU council Uwe Corsepius, and former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Russia shared the list after several requests by diplomats, the EU said.

The EU called the ban “totally arbitrary and unjustified” and said no explanation had been provided.

Many of those on the list are outspoken critics of the Kremlin, and some have been turned away from Russia in recent months.

The EU said that it had asked repeatedly for the list of those banned, but nothing had been provided until now.

“The list with 89 names has now been shared by the Russian authorities. We don’t have any other information on legal basis, criteria and process of this decision,” an EU spokesman said on Saturday.

“We consider this measure as totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency,” he added.


Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the ban was “not based on international law”

The list of those barred from Russia has not been officially released, although what appears to be a leaked version (in German) is online.

A Russian foreign ministry official would not confirm the names of those barred, but said that the ban was a result of EU sanctions against Russia.

“Why it was precisely these people who entered into the list… is simple – it was done in answer to the sanctions campaign which has been waged in relation to Russia by several states of the European Union,” the official, who was not named, told Russian news agency Tass.

The official said Moscow had previously recommended that all diplomats from countries that imposed sanctions on Russia should check with Russian consular offices before travelling to see if they were banned.

“Just one thing remains unclear: did our European co-workers want these lists to minimise inconveniences for potential ‘denied persons’ or to stage another political show?” he said.

EU sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, and they have been extended amid ongoing fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.


French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy is an outspoken critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists on Friday that the list had been shared with EU diplomats and that three Dutch politicians were on it. He said that the Netherlands would not abide by the ban as it was “not based on international law”.

British intelligence and military chiefs, including MI5 director general Andrew Parker, former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers and chief of the defence staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton are reportedly on the list.

Former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind told the AFP news agency that he had “read the reports in the media [of his ban] but not a word from the Russians”.

Britain’s foreign office said: “The Russian authorities have not provided any legal basis for the list or for the names on it.

“If Russia thinks this action will cause the EU to change its position on sanctions, it is wrong.”

Also said to be on the list are French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and the EU’s former enlargement chief Stefan Fule.

‘A decent club’

Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, said that her country has asked for an explanation from Russia.

Eight Swedes are on the list, including Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt.

“I’m more proud than scared and this gives me more determination to continue… If the Kremlin takes me and my colleagues seriously it means we’re doing a good job,” Ms Bildt told AFP.


Karel Schwarzenberg: “I consider this a reward”

The former Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, also said he was pleased to have made the list.

“When I saw the other names (on the list), I found out I was in a very decent club. I consider this a reward,” he was quoted as saying by the CTK news agency.

Other countries with names on the list reportedly include Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.

Article source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32949236

Travel agencies relevant in digital world by maintaining the human touch

The summer travel season is starting to pick up. And while the Internet seems to be in the business of helping travelers plan their next dream vacations, local travel agencies said their expertise still is a viable and needed option.

Holly Kelly, travel consultant at Cedar Valley World Travel in Cedar Rapids, has been in the business for several decades and has seen plenty of changes within the industry. Today, she said she always chuckles when she hears people say that instead of working with a travel agent they booked on Expedia or a similar travel website.

“Those sites are a travel agency, but they aren’t providing customer service,” she explained, noting that they are simply based online.

“Our clients come to us for our expertise and because they want someone to be there should something go wrong,” Kelly said, noting that Cedar Valley World Travel has been in operation for 75 years. “If you haven’t experienced a problem while traveling then you aren’t as apt to understanding the value in that.”

Local travel agents also are quick to point out that travel planning shouldn’t be all about anticipating the worst.

“As the travel agent, I help arrange all elements of the trip and calculate pricing to get the best deals,” Kelly said. “I make sure all the documentation is in order and that all the groundwork is done to make it a smooth trip.”

Even with the explosion of travel websites, blogs and apps, local travel agents said the Internet has not been all bad in terms of hurting travel agencies.

“The travel industry has actually been on the Internet for much longer than the general consumer, probably 30 years,” Kelly said. “It can be a wonderful thing to see more pictures and information online when booking travel.”

Kelly noted that she’s used Google Maps in the past to help her determine wheelchair accessibility on tours she was planning.

At the heart of the travel agency model is customer service.

“We know which tour operators will come through for you, and that is not always information you can get online,” Kelly said. “Some of the stuff you read online is from someone who has been there one time. We are experienced travel agents who know these destinations.”

“You can’t just rely on what you see online,” added Lisa Gilliatt, president of Destinations Unlimited in Cedar Rapids. “We actually send our agents to all corners of the world so that they are very well-traveled and know what they are selling.”

At Destinations Unlimited agents are asked to specialize in a particular destination.

Destination weddings, for example, are becoming a popular trend and require special considerations.

“So we sent our travel agents to these destinations to meet with the wedding coordinators and get to know the properties and what they offer our customers,” Gilliatt said.

Destinations Unlimited, which has been in business since 1984 and employs 22 people, operates in three divisions — leisure, corporate and group tours. Gilliatt noted that the transactions are completely different for each of their divisions.

“When we are booking corporate travel, we are looking for the most cost-effective way to get someone from here to there.

“We know the ins and outs of the travel industry and are looking to streamline the travel process for our clients.”

Destinations Unlimited also plans about 10 to 15 group tours per year, based on customer suggestions and requests and their own knowledge of popular destinations.

Cedar Valley World Travel plans owns a fleet of motor coaches for group tours.

“We also own our own fleet of motor coaches,” Kelly said, noting that she enjoys going on these trips, say, to Branson or Mackinaw Island.

“For our group travel, we are with our travelers from point A to point B. For some it’s an added level of comfort to have us there to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

The cost of using a travel agent is a common misconception in a world where travelers are often looking for great travel deals.

“We get the exact same prices you do online,” Kelly said of airline tickets, noting that travel agencies are not turning a large profit, if any at all, on booking airfare for travelers.

“We charge a $10 per person booking management fee,” Gilliatt explained, noting that other compensations to the travel agency come through the hotels and tour companies. “But we want to stress that this is not just about the transaction. It’s about the service we provide before during and after your travel.

“It’s a minimal investment to ensure a perfect well-earned vacation.”

Changes within the airline industry have affected the work of travel agents in recent years as well.

“There were more checks and balances with the airlines years ago,” Kelly noted.

“They really had to provide good customer service because they answered to the travel agents. Now that business is so spread out and people aren’t always going directly through the airlines, they are less accountable for their actions and there seems to be a lack of customer services within the airlines.”

Kelly noted this can be particularly tough for small travel agencies when booking group travel, should any pricing errors be made when pricing airfare tickets. Kelly explained that the travel agency has financial accountability to the airline for all tickets purchased and any price adjustments.

“We don’t own the airline, of course, so there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said.

Article source: http://thegazette.com/subject/news/business/travel-agencies-relevant-in-digital-world-by-maintaining-the-human-touch-20150530