Change is in the air

by Brian Jewell 22. May 2013 01:26

Change is in the air this spring. It’s not just the flipping of calendar pages that lets us know that life is changing. Examine the group travel landscape around you, and you might notice that it looks remarkably different from the industry you remember of 10 or even five years ago. The passing of the World War II generation and the entry of baby boomers into the group travel market have brought a profound shift in the way we think about tourism.

Along with this new generation and new attitude have come new travel tastes and habits. Savvy tour operators and destination marketers are finding new ways to package trips, even to the cities, states and countries that have been strong players in the tourism market for years.

Group leaders would do well to bring some of this new energy and perspective into the way they plan travel as well. Last year’s itineraries won’t cut it in 2013. This year, it’s time to take some risks and try something new with your travel plans. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done; it just means you have new adventures to discover.

In that spirit, we at The Group Travel Leader always try to highlight a number of new opportunities and new approaches to tourism that you can use to plan creative, enriching group experiences. For example, we recently included a round-up of outdoor music series and venues around the country where you can take your group to hear everything from symphonic performances to indie rock and electronica DJs. We’ve also shone a spotlight on shows around the country that go beyond standard musical revues to offer unique and memorable entertainment options for groups.

For a really groundbreaking experience for your group, consider taking a tour to Cuba. Since the U.S. government created provisions for certain types of group travel to Cuba in 2011, this country has become one of the most sought-after destinations in our industry. I was fortunate enough to visit with a group last summer, and wrote a feature article on my travel there.

We hope our articles inspire you to do something new with your group in 2013. Take a look at these ideas with an open mind, and let us know what you think.

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“What is your secret to passing the time on a long flight?”

by Eliza Myers 24. April 2013 19:36

The staff at The Group Travel Leader, Inc. relate their secrets to passing time on a long flight.

"Fortunately, I have trained myself to sleep on long flights. As long as I have my travel pillow and don’t stare at any bright screens for too long, I drift off into a sort of half-slumber. Ideally, that way I’ll be a little more rested after I arrive."
Eliza Myers,
online editor

"E-readers have been a salvation for me. Long flights are a great time for uninterrupted reading. Instead of having to choose one or two heavy books, I now have a whole library on my Nook and iPad. Of course, I also work in a nap."
Herb Sparrow,
senior writer

"As a mom, passing the time really means keeping my 3-year-old son occupied. This basically involves having a stash of all of his favorite treats, a backpack full of crayons, coloring books, cars and of course his headphones and DVD player with as many DVD options as possible. It’s all about keeping him quiet in order to keep the peace on the airplane and not have the business travelers giving me the evil eye if he starts getting too loud!  If I am alone on a plane trip the answer is simple — I sleep!"
Laura Camic,
sales manager

"My answer is iTunes and an iPad.  Currently on long flights I’m reading “I’m Your Man,” a biography of Leonard Cohen, and listening to Van Morrison’s "Astral Weeks.'"
Mac Lacy,

"I’ve flown twice in the past 17 years, so I asked John Brewer, vice president of sales, Aetrex Worldwide, who flies about 200 days a year for his answer. He said “I get some very good sleep on flights between eight and 18 hours. I watch a lot of movies on long flights.

“Then there is always work to keep me busy. I actually enjoy long flights.  It is a time that’s just mine, no phones, no emails.”
David Brown,
art director

"Long flights give me a great opportunity to catch up on my favorite podcasts. As soon as we’re allowed to switch on electronic devices, I queue up an episode of “Stuff You Should Know,” “Freakonomics” or “The Dave Ramsey Show.” You may also find me playing games like pinball or Tetris on my iPhone while I listen."
Brian Jewell,
executive editor

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Let go of your travel stress

by Brian Jewell 27. March 2013 00:07

“I hate it when I ask for no pickles, and they give me pickles anyway.”

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of first-world problems; there are plenty of little annoyances and aggravations in life that get under our skin. But when you stop and think about them in the context of the wider human race, you realize that many “problems” — like unwanted pickles — happen only because of the enormous prosperity that we enjoy in the United States.

Perhaps pickles aren’t your pet peeve, but I’m sure you can think of a gripe or two of your own. Is the air conditioning in your office so cold that you have to wear a sweater? Do you hate it when your iPhone takes too long to download a video from the Internet? Have you ever grumbled when the morning line seemed too long at Starbucks?

I’m as guilty as the next guy. Many of the things I grouse about daily aren’t existential problems at all but mere inconveniences that blur the edges of my comfortable, connected and convenient life. When I travel outside the United States and see the harsh conditions many people face every day, I realize how much I take for granted and how many of my “issues” are just first-world problems.

I’ve also noticed that those of us who work in travel and tourism can develop our own brand of first-world problems. Whenever I’m around a group of tour operators, group leaders, travel agents or travel journalists, I see a creeping tendency to begin to complain to each other about the travails of our collective work.

“I had to fly 12 hours to get to China — in coach,” we say. “The hotel was out of king rooms, so I got stuck with two double beds.” “My lunch at the conference was cold.” “I had to sit in the back of the bus during our ride through Glacier National Park.”

Although everyone needs a chance to commiserate from time to time, I wonder sometimes if we’re missing the point. Sure, travel has its hassles, and the more you travel, the more vulnerable you become to them. But then I step back and think about the incredible industry we work in. We spend our lives in travel and tourism. We have jobs that our friends and neighbors dream about. We get to see some of the most amazing places on the planet, and very often, we do it at no personal expense.

The next time you feel swimming in travel stress, take a few moments and give thanks for all of the blessings that come with being able to travel.

Travelers get to see, do and experience more every year than most people do in their entire lifetimes. We are blessed indeed. Next time you get held up on the tarmac — or stuck with an unwanted pickle — thank heaven you should be so lucky.

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Why we all travel

by Mac Lacy 21. February 2013 20:50

Most of us who publish this magazine and most of you who read it will travel at the drop of a hat. We live for our next adventure. And if we’re going somewhere we’ve never been before, that’s even better.

All of us have friends or family members who couldn’t care less about traveling. Their idea of a great time is staying put. They don’t like flying, or they don’t like sleeping in a strange bed, or they don’t like eating unfamiliar food. And that’s OK for them but not for us.

Last month in Hawaii, I was reminded why travel is so important to us. At the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) annual conference, association president Terry Dale showed a YouTube video to the audience.

For almost five minutes, I was spellbound.

If you want to remind yourself why you have an unrelenting case of wanderlust, just google “Matt.” When you do, you’ll find YouTube star Matt Harding under his promotional name, “Where the Hell Is Matt?”

What follows is one of the most uplifting videos about traveling the world you’ll ever watch. Matt dances with people from cultures across the globe. People young and old are having the time of their lives just sharing their homelands and their worlds.

As Harding told us, people the world over want to feel connected. And every culture wants to share its unique characteristics with travelers from other cultures.

It’s universal. And only those of us who share that itch to enjoy other cultures can relate to it. Check it out. You’ll see what I mean. It reaffirms everything about why we jump at the chance to pack a suitcase.

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A most interesting fellow traveler

by Bob Hoelscher 12. October 2012 20:44

All of us (hopefully, at least) have a few friends that we can always count on to “be there” whenever we need them. I am fortunate in that my best friend, Graydon “Gig” Gwin, has also been gainfully employed in the travel industry, so we have a lot in common professionally and have been able to regularly supplement each other’s knowledge in our particular areas of interest. 

Our relationship goes back four decades to the early 1970s, when we both worked at the incentive and meeting travel giant, Maritz Travel Company in suburban St. Louis. Although I am now semi-retired, Gig still owns the largest retail travel agency in the “Gateway City,” which specializes in both corporate and upscale vacation travel. But what makes him really unusual is that Gig is one of but a handful of individuals who have visited every single country on the face of the earth (all 320 some-odd of them).

Extensive travel has definitely made Gig into the type of character that makes it a challenge for those he meets to determine whether or not he is pulling their legs, as telling entertaining tall tales has become a Gwin specialty. Even after 40 years of experience, I’m still regularly surprised and amused by some of the things he says and does to complete strangers on the street in foreign lands!

Since Gig’s wife Terrie is not nearly as enamored with being on the road, we have frequently traveled together to places as diverse as Egypt, France, New York City, the Texas Hill Country, South America and Antarctica. Gig has authored an award-winning book entitled Travel Dreams Sold Here – Crafting an Extraordinary Vacation, for which I was privileged to write the chapter on America’s National Parks. This book for leisure travelers is available at

He has also done a substantial amount of travel writing for respected newspapers and magazines, so secondary writing careers are something else we have in common.  Furthermore, he currently serves as a regular guest host for a travel-oriented, nationally syndicated radio program heard in 125 markets. As a speaker, he has entertained over 200 businesses and organizations, so if a truly interesting fellow is needed to liven up a conference or meeting, Gig is certainly worth your consideration.  He can be reached at or (314) 571-6937.

Gig listening to a presentation at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland

At the Budĕjovice Budvar Brewery, Česke Budĕjovice, Czech Republic

Taking a break during evening exploration in Bordeaux, France

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Stopping to smell the roses

by Bob Hoelscher 8. August 2012 19:33

Wild mushrooms in Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Regular readers of my monthly, electronic ramblings are probably already aware that one of my passions is hiking in our national parks and other public lands.  Needless to say, along the trails I do encounter a lot of interesting and inquisitive people, yet I continue to be surprised by others who, even though totally surrounded by the majesty of Mother Nature’s handiwork, still seem unable to “see the forest for the trees.”

I don’t quite know what drives individuals to be in such a big hurry, or the attraction of simply getting to the end of a trail and return to the point of origin as quickly as possible, seemingly in order to embark upon yet another perfunctory adventure. In the tour industry, we’ve all heard stories about international visitors to the Grand Canyon, who, after a brief look over the rim at Arizona’s awesome gorge, have apparently seen as much as they want and are ready to press on to Las Vegas.         

My point is simply that there is beauty to be found almost everywhere.  Nevertheless, if one does not pause along the way to look for that beauty, or to bend over for a closer view, then he or she is missing out on a whole world of fascinating discoveries. I’d much rather make just half of a given trail and know that I experienced as many of the wonders encountered along the way as possible, than be able to boast that I made it all the way to the “bitter end.”      

Hopefully the accompanying, recent photographs provide an idea of the type of sights that many people seem to just rush on past. I sat on a rock in Mount Rainier National Park for at least half an hour to take in the splendor of the glacial lake and mountain ridge shown. Even though this rock couldn’t have been more than 100 feet off of the “beaten path,” not one of them paused along the way long enough to see what they were missing while I was there! So please, do yourself a big favor when you’re out in the wild and stop to smell, see, photograph or otherwise experience the things that are just beyond comprehension with a cursory glance.

Flowers after a rainstorm at the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Eatonville, WA

Glacial lake and Goat Island Mountain in Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

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Travel Thoughts

Hard work makes great memories

by Brian Jewell 18. June 2012 22:14

The four hardest-working days of my year are coming up this month. But they don’t take place here at the office; in fact, they have nothing at all to do with my job.

I spend four hot, sweaty days each June on a farm in Wilmore, Kentucky, for the Ichthus Music Festival. This contemporary Christian music event is the oldest festival of its kind in the country, and it attracts up to 20,000 visitors from throughout the South and Midwest.

Ichthus is dear to my heart — I first went to Ichthus as a child with my brother and my father to see my favorite band perform. Throughout my teen years, the festival was the regular highlight of my summer. I would get excited just thinking about all of the music, the fun with my youth group, the junk food and the late-night camping. I always enjoyed the shows and appreciated the ministry that took place during the course of the weekend.

As an adult, I began to see Ichthus not just as a place to have fun, but also as a chance to volunteer and help make a difference in the lives of today’s youth. I’m now part of the festival’s steering committee and head up a team of volunteers who take care of the needs of the artists while they’re on the property.

The steering committee has been working since January to prepare for this year’s festival, but the real work starts when the gates open on Wednesday, June 20. The artists arrive early and leave late, which means that my team and I are on duty from 7 in the morning until whenever they leave, sometimes hours past midnight. The days are incredibly stressful and exhausting. And I love every minute of them.

I first went to Ichthus because I loved music; I began working with the organization because I love the ministry behind it. Each year, our work affects the lives of thousands of teenagers and young adults. It’s this combination of fun and ministry that makes the work so worthwhile and brings me back to the festival year after year.

I’m telling you all this because I see a lot of similarities between what I do at Ichthus and what you do as group travel leaders. Many people believe that traveling is all fun for you, but of course, you know better. Although it is fun, it’s also a ton of work. But the work is worthwhile, because you’re touching a lot of lives along the way.

So this travel season, when the stress mounts and the road gets long, remember the love of travel that got you started in the first place. And remember that the fruit of your group’s travels will long outlast the hard work it takes to make it happen.

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Why travel and insurance go hand in hand

by Herb Sparrow 11. May 2012 22:50

The excitement of preparing for a trip, especially one that is out of the country, should also include careful planning. One of the most critical things any overseas traveler should have is travel insurance that covers trip interruptions and medical emergencies.

I had a firsthand experience about the benefits of insurance on a 10-day Panama Canal cruise on the Island Princess with cruise-operator specialists Susan and Russ Rosenberry of Islands in the Sun. I purchased a policy from Travel Guard, one of several capable and reliable companies, on my own, although you can purchase insurance through a tour operator or the cruise line.

The second night at sea, after a long and enjoyable dinner with Susan and Russ, I began getting a pain in my lower abdomen that became progressively more intense as the night wore on. Having had an attack of pancreatitis three years before, I suspected I was having another attack. Pancreatitis is not something to take lightly.

I finally dialed the emergency number around 5 a.m. and went to the ship’s medical center, where they put me on intravenous pain medicine and did blood tests and X-rays. By midafternoon, the ship’s chief medical office determined I needed to be put ashore at our first stop in Aruba for further tests.

I was taken by ambulance to the Dr. Horacio E. Oduber Hospital in Oranjestad, where I spent nearly four days.

Travel Guard, which is picking up all of my medical expenses on the ship and at the hospital, was in daily touch, monitoring my situation. The company arranged for a hotel room after I was discharged and arranged for my return flight home in business class along with a ticket for my daughter, who flew down to accompany me home.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t purchased the insurance. Since it was an emergency, my health insurance might have reimbursed me for the medical costs, which I would have had to pay upfront, but I doubt it would have helped me get home.

I would also like to thank Princess Cruises, whose U.S.-based passenger assistance officers Mary Kessler and Don O’Neal were also in daily contact to offer any assistance I needed and called to make sure I had gotten home OK.

The medical staff on board, headed by Dr. Deon Venter, were very professional and competent in stabilizing my condition and making me as comfortable as possible for a full day and night at sea.

In Aruba, Carol Angie, managing director of the port agency, and Henry van Loon, the agency’s boarding officer, also looked after me, getting my luggage off the ship and storing it. Carol brought my carry-on with my toiletries to the hospital and took me to the hotel after my discharge and to a pharmacy to have a prescription (they call it a recipe there) filled.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped me.

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Multi-generational travel brings blessings

by Donia Simmons 20. March 2012 01:26

When my husband’s parents invited us to go on an Alaska cruise with them last May, it proved to be an opportunity of a lifetime!

For me, this was my first cruise, but his parents, who are seasoned cruise goers, were heading back to Alaska for the eighth time. They are both in their 80s and just celebrated 60 years of marriage this last December. Travel has always been a very important part of their lives, and we were overjoyed to share this time with them.

In the late 1940s my husband’s parents caught the travel bug while stationed over in Germany after World War II, and they have been traveling ever since. His mother has been to China, seen the Monarch butterfly migration to Mexico and visited the Taj Mahal. They have both been around Cape Horn, passed through the Panama Canal, cruised the Russian waterways, seen the Holy Lands and extensively traveled Europe, Canada and the United States.

I would have to say they’ve covered almost everything you could ever have on your bucket list.

The past few years, travel has proven to be much more difficult as his father’s Alzheimer’s progresses and his mother’s recent stroke and failing knees have begun to take their toll. Time is precious, and both of us realize it. That made this opportunity to cruise together such a blessing!

Our presence allowed his parents the security of knowing that plane departures would be met, boarding passes were already printed, wheelchairs or transportation would be waiting at the gates, and we were there to assist them when they got turned around on the cruise ship or at port.

Our children in turn got to spend precious time with their grandparents in a secure and fun environment. Meals were the highlight of all our days with waiters that entertained us with magic tricks and created napkin animals for the children to play with. Mr. Lyndon, our headwaiter, played a round of tic-tac-toe with our daughter every night — much to my husband's parents amusement — which culminated in a championship match on the last night of the cruise.

The grandparents enjoyed daily ice cream treats with the children, watched them swim and Grandmother read books to them at night as we watched whales and icebergs go by from the large window in our room.

I am confident that as the years go by that more breathtaking than the Tracy Arm Fjord, more captivating than the pristine views and more memorable than seeing our first humpback whale will be the treasured times we spent together with loved ones.

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Just go for it!

by Eliza Myers 18. February 2012 01:18

“Drivers in India like to play the game of chicken,” said Anil Bahal, my India tour guide with Globus, as we watched cars weave through traffic. “They like to drive at you until the last second. Driving in India may not be half the fun, but it is half of the experience.”

Watching the cars moving haphazardly through the traffic near Agra, India, I felt very thankful to have an experienced Indian driver at the steering wheel. Just looking out the window, I saw four people on a motorcycle, cows wandering beside the road and about 20 people sitting on the roof of a moving bus, since there was apparently no room inside.

India is an exotic destination, no question. It is a total culture shock to most Americans, who aren’t used to seeing cows walking down main street or giant monkey-shaped statues next to places of worship. I was clearly out of my comfort zone, and I loved every minute of it.

I tried to soak up everything about the fascinating country while I was there. I shopped at a local market, tried flavorful menu options and even danced in a wedding procession outside my hotel.

I hate to think of all the fun memories I would have lost if I had felt too fearful of the unknown to go. People who know little about current events told me that it’s too dangerous to go to countries like India. I received similar warnings about Israel, Jordan and Mexico, and had extremely safe and culturally profound experiences in each of those countries.

Choosing the more alien destinations over the familiar favorites can end up being a worthwhile decision. Sure you can always go to your favorite beach for relaxation, but it shouldn’t be the only traveling you do. Travel to exotic destinations can teach you not only about those places but also about yourself and your culture by comparison.

Always encourage yourself to try new destinations, even if you may feel uneasy about it at first. The security of traveling with a group can help people explore regions of the world they wouldn’t have dreamed of going on their own. In the end, I always have the fondest memories for the more adventurous trips like the one to India.

The traffic in my hometown was oddly quiet once I returned.

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