20. November 2013 23:23
Photo by Mac Lacy
In my 10 years of working in the world of travel journalism, I’ve been incredibly blessed to see some of the most amazing places on earth. And I’m happy to report that many of those places are right here in the United States.
One of my great joys in traveling this country from coast to coast has been visiting the iconic sites that are proudly and uniquely American. Along the way, I’ve been compiling an informal list of places every American should visit once, places such as the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Gulf Coast and the National Mall.
On a trip to New York in April, I added a new place to my list: the National September 11 Memorial.
I was a junior in college in the fall of 2001, and I remember the day the towers fell with alarming clarity, as I’m sure you do, too. The terrorist attacks and the events that followed shook us all and dominated the national conversation for years to come.
It took more than a year to clean up the mess at the World Trade Center site and several years more to decide on what should be built in the center’s place. The design, the deliberation and the construction were a slow and sometimes frustrating process. For a nation looking for closure, the crawling progress on completing the memorial was disheartening. I remember walking around the site in Lower Manhattan on a visit in 2006 and feeling disheartened that all I saw was a roped-off construction site.
In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the National September 11 Memorial officially opened to the public; my recent trip to New York afforded my first opportunity to see it in person. I was not disappointed.
It’s difficult to accurately describe the sense of impact, honor and remembrance that the memorial bestows on visitors. Unlike most memorials around the country that make a statement with large objects, the September 11 Memorial is all about absence, creating a sense of what we collectively lost in the attacks. No skyscraper has been built on top of the former World Trade Center tower sites. Instead, the memorial has two large pools recessed into the ground, with streams of water pouring in over the sides. The pools are constructed in such a way that you can’t see their bottoms, symbolizing the eternal absence left by towers that once stood there and the people who inhabited them.
I spent about an hour at the memorial reflecting on my memories of September 11 and hearing amazing stories from New York locals. It would be easy to spend much more time there. Construction of the official museum is now wrapping up; the museum, which will open next year, will tell the stories of the World Trade Center, September 11 and the national response from a variety of perspectives.
In the midst of all the tragedy of the past year, I found my visit to the September 11 Memorial to be a source of hope and peace.
I wish you and your groups hope and peace as well, both in New York and anywhere else the road takes you.
22. October 2013 01:03
Some works of art take people's breath away. They stick with you long past your short visit. Our staff relate pieces of art that spoke to them while on the road.
"The Pieta by Michelangelo leaves me without words. Housed in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, this marble sculpture does not speak to Jesus’ role as savior as much as it speaks to a mother’s loss of her son.
The artist purposely distorted Jesus’ size as a full-grown man to illustrate that he was still Mary’s child and always would be. Her grief is human, not heavenly, which makes this sculpture all the more compelling for me."
— Mac Lacy, publisher
"As an artist myself, the expression of various artists has always fascinated me. But nothing compares to literally having my breath taken away upon seeing one of Monet’s many large water lily paintings on display at the Denver Museum of Art. I was in high school at the time, and the calming impact the painting had on me was astounding. I stood there looking at it for at least 20 minutes. It was so spellbinding, I didn’t want to leave the room. It was a moment I’ll never forget."
— Donia Simmons, creative director
"I’d studied Mark Rothko while I was an art student in college. Later, while in grad school at the University of Arizona, I fell in love with two of his paintings in their collection.
So, while visiting long-time friends in Houston, I made plans to see the Rothko Chapel. We entered the chapel with very different expectations. My friends were probably expecting to see pretty pictures of bucolic landscape or perhaps beautiful women or historic tableaus.
It quickly became clear that they weren’t expecting what we saw as we entered that large open room. I was immediately transported to that aesthetic region of my imagination by the large dark canvases. My friends — not so much. We stayed an hour or so, while I was absorbed by the power of Rothko’s work and my friends looked for something they recognized — anything they could call art.
They decided that I was seeing Elvis or perhaps Amelia Earhart — it was plain to them was that, clearly, I was seeing something they weren’t.
The moral to this story is that art is a personal thing. It is intensely personal for artists, and it is always a personal thing for us when we experience it. Even when we’re with people we love and share everything with, the experience of great art reaches places within us that only we and God know."
— David Brown, art director
"I have seen many famous paintings in my lifetime, but the one that stands out the most to me is “Washington Crossing the Delaware” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although I've seen this photo in many history books through the years, I was in awe of the shear enormity of this painting once I saw it in person. The painting stands over 12 feet tall and 21 feet wide!"
— Kelly Tyner, director of sales and marketing
"I encountered one of the most recognized works of art in the world when I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. I'll never forget my surprise at the small size of the portrait. Instead of being disappointed, I felt impressed such a small painting had inspired so many people and works of art."
— Eliza Myers, online editor
23. September 2013 21:48
I rarely use this column as a soapbox, but one particular element of traditional travel has been getting under my skin lately. So I hope you’ll indulge me for a few minutes while I make my case for this idea: “Elegance” is outdated.
You may not realize how prevalent the idea of elegance is in tourism. But when you begin to notice it, you’ll discover that it’s everywhere. Many resorts, cruise lines, restaurants and other tourism companies use their atmosphere of “casual elegance” as a selling point. Many of the best international airlines — those that fly to destinations in the Pacific or the Middle East — use television commercials to brag about the elegant experience their passengers will have if they fly in first class.
Elegance isn’t a bad thing. But I question whether it is still relevant in the world of travel and tourism. When I read that I’m going to be participating in a swanky event or visiting an establishment that has a dress code of casual elegance, I feel frustrated, not excited. When you say “elegant,” I hear “stuffy.” What is so fun about that?
I realize that elegance was once part and parcel of the travel experience. I’ve heard plenty of people talk about the “good ole days” of air travel, when everyone wore their Sunday best to board a plane. Films like “Titanic” can paint enticing portraits of sea travel in the Gilded Age, when passengers dressed in black tie to attend elaborate dinner galas onboard. These romantic images seem to appeal to people. But they’re not realistic.
When we think about the good ole days of elegance in travel, we often forget that the only people who could afford to fly across the country or sail around the world were people of extraordinary financial means. Travel had to be elegant because it was also very expensive, the domain of rich people. And in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the wealthy lived a life of rigid opulence that would make most of us uncomfortable today. If you’ve ever seen an episode of “Downton Abbey” and squirmed at the thought of wearing those period clothes to dinner, you know what I’m talking about.
Today, we’re a world away from the elegant age of travel. Flying, cruising and vacationing at resorts are popular among the American middle class and working class. We use hard-earned money and scarce vacation time to take these trips. The last thing we want to do is dress up like we’re going to work.
If you think about it, the trends in travel today are moving in the opposite direction of elegance. Many travelers don’t get excited about going to fancy restaurants — instead, they’re turned on by great local gastropubs and barbecue joints. We hear over and over that people are looking for experiences that are more authentic. And authentic life is rarely elegant.
In my opinion, the tradition of elegance in travel is a holdover from a generation that is quickly aging out of the market. Baby boomers are notoriously independent, and their children are known to wear jeans to even the most formal events. Requiring travelers from either of these generations to dress up for nightly dinners is no way to attract them to travel.
After all, it’s their vacation, and they’ve paid for it. Why should they let someone else tell them what to wear?
19. September 2013 20:36
Bear Stew, McCleary, WA Bear Festival
Last month I complained about there being so many cruise and travel industry awards being given these days that it is virtually impossible to determine who or what is really the “best.” However, I also commented that there are certainly companies and places out there that are indeed worthy of accolades, so following are several of these which have come to my attention during my travels over the past couple of years. Please be aware that this in no way intended to be anything resembling a “Top 10” list!
GREENVILLE, SC – Extraordinarily attractive, intelligently-planned downtown area
LAS VEGAS McCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Exceptionally efficient and friendly TSA staff
SUBWAY – Amazingly consistent (and tasty) products at stores worldwide
NORTH DAKOTA – Excellent interstate highway rest areas
CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK, SC – Fascinating natural environment in a national park few travelers have ever even heard of
GRAND PORTAGE NATIONAL MONUMENT, MN – Incredible living history presentations in an equally obscure national monument
VIKING CRUISES – Innovative new ocean-going cruise line
MICHIGAN - Countless well-maintained roadside parks throughout the state
WALGREENS – Outstanding, very effective customer service program
CLAUDE MOORE COLONIAL FARM, VA – Wonderful colonial fairs…spring, summer and fall
FLIGHT 93 NATIONAL MEMORIAL, PA – Beautiful landscaping design
McCLEARY, WA BEAR FESTIVAL – Unusual (and delicious) featured food item…bear stew!
24. July 2013 00:23
Why does international travel matter?
We have such a wealth of great places to see here in the United States. Our country enjoys a diversity of cultures, histories and natural landscapes that is rivaled by few other places on earth. The old domestic tourism mantra “See America First” encourages us to spend our free time and travel dollars exploring our home country, and there are enough great experiences in America to keep even avid travelers occupied for years. So why is it important to travel abroad?
Pose those questions to 100 people who have traveled overseas, and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. Travel is inherently personal after all, and every traveler’s reaction to new places, people and experiences will be personal as well. This means that everyone will see the value of his or her own international travel experiences through a slightly different lens. One thing is certain, though: Nobody who has ever gone abroad will tell you that international travel isn’t worth doing.
Of course, I can’t speak for all of those people, but I can tell you about some of my personal motivations for traveling outside of the United States. Going abroad introduces me to the people of the world and reminds me that I am a citizen not just of my country, but of the entire globe. Meeting African tribesmen, Chinese housewives, Polish students, Mexican dancers and Jordanian nomads demonstrates how wide and diverse the human race and its cultures are. And yet, every one of those encounters underscores something deeper: Although many things differ between nations and races, many more things unite us in our common humanity.
Those kinds of personal encounters often help bridge gaps between nations and cultures that sometimes appear to be at odds. The more I travel, the more I come to understand the subtleties of our world and the more I value people who live in places far from my own home. Mark Twain observed this transforming power of international travel. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” he wrote in “The Innocents Abroad.” “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
At The Group Travel Leader, we’re big believers in the power of international travel. Everyone on our staff has spent time abroad, either on work, study or vacation. Several of us have been fortunate to spend extended periods in foreign countries, giving us a love of travel that we carry into our daily work in the tourism publishing business.
With that in mind, we created an International Travel issue of the magazine with features on some of our favorite foreign destinations, as well as tips on taking your travelers to some of the world’s most famous festivals and events.
We hope you will consider planning an international trip for your travel group. There’s a big world out there full of adventures and unforgettable experiences waiting for you. Take a trip abroad, and you’ll find your own reason to treasure international travel.
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.
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."
"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."
"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!"
"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.'"
"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.”
"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."
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.
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.
16. January 2013 19:49
“Are you ready … for a disaster?”
A roadside billboard with this message greeted me each morning throughout the month of September. The first time I saw it, I actually got a little nervous. It made me think about things I had never thought about. After visiting the website posted on the sign, I discovered that September was National Preparedness Month.
I realized that our family wasn’t prepared for any type of disaster. I thought a lot about whether or not emergency preparation was something we should plan for.
In the end we decided that disaster preparedness was important for our family. Better safe than sorry, right? We now have an emergency kit in the car, one in the entryway closet and “go bags” for each member of the family. We’ve stored away a supply of food that could feed us for three days in case of an emergency, and we’ve gathered phone numbers for every critical service and family member under the sun.
Will we ever need to use these emergency supplies? I sure hope not. But if we do, I will feel better knowing that we have a plan in place, and that we are better equipped to face the elements or other unknowns than we were before.
As travel planners, you certainly know the importance of being prepared for the unknown, and you may have encountered your own kinds of disasters while traveling with your groups. Many of you buy travel insurance so that you and your travelers will be covered in the case of illness, inclement weather or other unforeseen issues. If you aren’t currently taking these steps, perhaps it’s time to think through the possibilities a little more. It will give you peace of mind and the confidence that you are ready to face the challenges that an emergency might present in your travels.
How are you preparing? Go to our Facebook page www.facebook.com/grouptravelleader , and let us know the clever ways in which you have prepared for travel emergencies.