Friday, October 2, 2020

Traveling to Jamaica During Covid-19 - A Travel Agents and Customers Experience

Recently I had the opportunity to send guests to Jamaica for a week. One of many!  These specific plans were crafted over a year ago and as things moved closer to their departure they added flights (on their own to their demise) and then Club Mobay arrival service through my office.

During COVID-19 times I have seen A LOT of health protocols change as the borders of the Caribbean islands begin opening one at a time. The changes are happening nearly every day and the release of this information is not easily accessible on the internet. Not nearly as much as people THINK it is. Not only this but there is no standardized requirement. So onward to this experience...

I had been in touch with this couple often and as their plans began coming together they first realized that they had to change their flights with United at additional costs AND they still had to stay an overnight in New Jersey AND pay for a  hotel for the mixup. All to save themselves a few dollars because I quoted them a slightly higher and more reliable flight. Unfortunately for flights, and I digress that I could not do better, Travel Agents do NOT make commissions so we are at the mercy to pay to book these flights and we have to pass those costs onto our customers AS WELL AS our full service and attention. Something people rarely understand. Sadly. So with that said I, like most 100% of the travel agents I know, have to charge plane tickets service fees at $25 per person per ticket for domestic and $45 per person per ticket international. As of right now. Those costs COULD and MAY change in the future depending upon circumstances. Since there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes with these flights AND I am offering a service for my 7/24 attention to all issues - a concierge so to speak in order for my customers to avoid long lines and frustration at the airport when having to make or in making changes for themselves. Who wants to worry while on vacation?  In this case I had price the $25 per person per ticket fee. So they chose to purchase on their own, leaving from another state, an overnight stay at a layover and then onto their destination the  next day just to make it on time to their final destination all for saving a few bucks. Or so they thought. I am sad to report to others that they didn't save a dime in actuality. They actually spent MORE than they would had they purchased their flights and total package through me.

Well the worry does not stop there! For them or for me.

Basically Jamaica is one of the Caribbean islands that has continuously changed their Covid Travel Protocols. Often. Of course countries want to protect their workers, their jobs, their tourism industry and you! They are willing to do so at the expense of inconveniences for everyone but that is just what they must do to keep their borders open. Ok?  So recently they selected to require individuals wishing to come to Jamaica to submit a Negative PCR test from select CAP labs AS WELL AS receiving a Travel Authorization from the government before a person can even fly! All very understandable. 

First of all I'll explain that my customers were from Maine. It is only to explain that each state has a different method and location for testing and rapid testing is not currently available in Maine... anywhere.  And Jamaica no longer does onsite testing. Something else not many know - and that is the case at least of the date of this writing!

So, during the contact with my customers I made it very clear and a simple dated timeline for which they would need to obtain each in order to make their deadline to their destination without hiccups. You'd think since I was hired to do a job for them I would be 100% trusted by them. I suppose ANYONE would question things IF the tourist board website was different than the travel agents advice. Yes, questionable. And it's not just Jamaica, but all countries. Well this was the case here! Some of the websites you visit are actually out of date and the information is not presented correctly. So YES it is STRONGLY advised that you use a travel agent for your experience! This experience and the experiences shared by many others has opened the eyes of many as to our value!

I do not see the issues you or anyone can face while traveling is going away anytime soon. There will always be the stress and hiccups somewhere. For those that have experienced a perfect vacation every single time and have booked for themselves then I salute you. I truly hope you never come to have any issues at all either and that you never truly realize how much money you did not save by doing so.  For those that truly understand my value, again, thank you!

So basically the deadlines were laid out and I reminded them several times to make sure they made their visits with their primary doctors about a week in advance. There was a specific date for each step that needed to be met. ON TIME was cruicial. One of the issues that was faced was the uploading of the Negative PCR test to the Travel Authorization website. So many things can go wrong with this. From inaccurate information from the lab to needing more information. And to those with a positive test result realizing it when you did, that leaves a Travel Advisor making MANY changes for you - A LOT of extra work! The website also gives directions which are out of date. So can customers became very confused with the differences between my advice and the TA website. Such was the case here. Long story short, the doctors appointments were carried out but COVID tests were scheduled too late, the negative PCR test was uploaded too late. The good thing and somewhat frustrating thing for me....

Since their PCR test was uploaded too late, beyond the date I had given them to do so, I had to put a MAJOR rush on obtaining their authorization for before they flew. Airlines will not let you board a plane to Jamaica without it. I cannot even imagine if they had been stuck in New Jersey unable to fly on to Jamaica due to lack in obtaining their Travel Authorizations on time. No doubt they would have had to change their own flights (at a cost) again, possibly staying another night (another cost) or staying in the hotel and extending their vacation as well as having me change their resort timeframe. A lot going into this "would be" hiccup.  I do not recommend that any customer do it this way again by trusting any website. And certainly not by purchasing their own plane tickets.  It was not only a very nerve-wracking experience for me but was also harrowing for the customer. No doubt that it would be for anyone if done the same exact way,

Now came my MAGIC as a Travel Agent which you should hire. This is not the epitome of WHY you should hire me. Although it is not the entire reason or just one reason but it is just one small part of doing what I do and why I'm worth the cost of the service. There are so many MORE reasons to use a Travel Advisor and this is just one example.

In order to get these customers to Jamaica and avoid all the extra money they would have to spend for their misunderstandings and/or questioning who to trust, I made a few quick phone calls to get their Covid Test results and Travel Authorization looked FAST. Thankfully I have many FANTASTIC contacts that are all part of the travel agent community.  Everyone works in a tight little family / team and it really is helpful to any emergency situation such as this was. If I had not acted fast, these customers vacation would have been delayed by at least 2 days. And not to toot my own horn but if they had not used my services at all, they would have had to make a lot of their own changes and at a much higher cost.

So long story short of the experience a Travel Agent: 

1) Saves Time

2) Saves $$

3) Is there

4) Can get you out of a jam

5) Reduces worry

6) Should be trust-worthy

7) Should be counted upon

8) Should be listened to

9) Should be reputable and ethical

10) Should be HIRED!


I love my customers even through all of this. I would work with them again. Why? Because I KNOW they would trust me again and maybe even next time they would allow me to handle every part of their vacation. 

I hope you will too!



Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Battle Between Choosing A Cruise VS All Inclusive Resort

Those potential customers, friends and foes alike - every person that travels or dreams of traveling - at one point or another, is faced with the following question -

Do I want to take a Cruise or go to an All Inclusive Resort? 


Heck, some don't even think of either! Or, something totally different.

There really is NO wrong answer here. It is all about preference and being informed on what each is defined as, what's included or not included, and how each works. It is also about knowing who you are. Knowing yourself and your travel companions, above all. And then comes the decision-maker part of you. A Travel Advisor cannot help you make your decision but they can present what they know and offer the best matches based on what they know. I will always try to foster a close relationship with my customers so that I can provide them with the very best advice and support!

Oh yeah and don't forget the all too common question of - What does each option (or any option for that matter) cost per person?  Either way you go, there will inevitably be a cost for the trip of some kind. However each option varies and this will be discussed in this article.

People are thinking in terms of - Is travel within my budget? 

Some want to know how to get the best bang for their buck. So I ask this, why are you NOT using a Travel Advisor ? Ok so onto the rest of the article...

It's not uncommon for folks to wonder what they can and cannot afford when they wish to travel somewhere. People often misalign themselves into thinking they cannot afford to travel anywhere! Yet they are out buying alcohol, smoking cigarettes, going out to eat every other night, buying things they really do not need (and some things they find out they never should have bought in the first place).  Yet, they WANT to travel. Travel will happen if it's something you really want.

Some folks whom have never traveled, they're either really curious or the idea of traveling is daunting, or now with Covid times hitting, they are scared to travel. Some are just plain homebodies and don't give a hoot!  They absolutely abhor getting on a plane in the wee morning hours just to get to a place as early as possible in order to make the most of their vacation. They hate getting home late so they can stay as late as possible extending their vacation just a little bit longer. And depending upon where they are flying to those flight times can vary. Sometimes, I find the whole 'let's put the whole travel bit out of our minds" business a comical ignorance only because folks can limit themselves. They are misinformed all about travel and do not care to learn otherwise. They do not care to learn of the possibilities and know they can have things their way (within reason). Maybe that is just the Travel Consultant part of my thinking. For, I love to travel and cannot see myself doing anything different in my lifetime. Instead of drinking, buying drugs or cigarettes, travel IS my vice of choice. My habit.  So, I'll try not to judge too harshly if you are one of the above types of people. It's totally OK.  If you are reading this article then you ARE curious and thinking about it regardless of any vices you may have. You want to become informed and educated. You want an experienced individual to tell you all about it. You're in the right place. So, I applaud you!!

People aren't taking advantage of the possibilities that ANY TYPE OF TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE. Especially right now with COVID-times. I'm sorry but it IS possible. Even right now. And you can afford to travel if it is on your bucket list.  While no, you may not ever be able to afford Maldives flying from Maine to Male for example (unless it's the one and done trip of a lifetime...and you are willing to make major sacrifices or you have an unlimited income). You get the idea. For all intents and purposes you CAN afford to travel SOMEWHERE.

After my recent trip to Mexico I had someone look at me very oddly and ask - Do you have a death wish? No, I do not.  I would not be traveling if I did not know the risks and what I was doing.  😊

All Inclusive Resorts and Cruises are THE MOST affordable trips you can take.

Onto explaining what each option is...

So what is a Cruise?


Some of you may be under the impression that a Cruise is similar to getting into a jetty (a small boat) with the waves crashing everywhere and you're about to die from either falling overboard, sinking or throwing up. Take your pick. I know... None of it is pretty, right?  Well, this is just not the case!  Yeah some of you may have sea-sickness issues and that could be a valid type of objection but STOP before you close this page or totally write cruising off your list for life!  If you haven't tried it, don't knock it.

Stay tuned and I'll get to the whole sea-sickness bit in a moment and ideas on how to deal with it successfully....

Cruise - Safety Considerations


Some of you may be thinking cruises are simply not safe. First off, nothing could be further from the truth. But I get how you're on a ship with 1000's of other people, "stuck" in the middle of the ocean. You're not close to a hospital or you may even be located at the port of another country and get sick. A lot can happen right? It can happen anywhere!! So let me ask you this: Is driving every day to work, safe? Is getting on a roof to shingle, safe? Is riding your bike at the end of a tarred road without a helmet, safe? Is playing pond-hockey without a helmet and full body pads - safe? Is crossing a busy street, safe? Come on people, every day we risk our lives to some degree for one reason or another.  When we cook, when we walk in the bathroom (think slippery floors we didn't know were slippery..), grilling on the back deck - what have you. Whether for pure enjoyment or requirement, we will face inherent risks. We could die at any moment sitting in our chair from a heart attack. By the way, and not to change the subject, but have you ever seen that show "A 1000 ways to die"? If you haven't, then you really aren't thinking of the possibilities that life is just one big plain risk no matter what you do.  Every. Single. Day. I could be sitting in my chair typing this article to you and in a few minutes, my computer could blow up (for absolutely no reason) while I'm typing. Bang, no more hands. Burns everywhere. Maybe even death. Buh-Bye! 

So let's stop with the dramatics Ok? You get the idea. Using cruise safety as a decision-maker for or against is not a fair objection. Unless you are interested in health protocols the ships are taking onboard before and after each sailing then you have a valid consideration. Or which cruise line or ship to sail on. Then I get it. This information is readily available at this link. Be sure to check out the Green Sheet reports located at the right of the page. Hopefully this should ease your fear of cruising as a general possibility. And if you still aren't sold, then you have a different objection. Email me at tammy.estes@estestravel.com and we'll talk through it! Hopefully you aren't the type of person who makes constant excuses for anything and everything and if you are, then you probably should not even be reading this article since traveling will most likely be an "out" for you anyway!

Cruising - Pros and Cons

I can name a million things that may be going through your mind right now but let's try to focus on the Positives and Negatives that I know about from my own experiences with Cruises and Cruising. Also a little bit from my training as well.

Yes, you will get on a ship (do not call it a boat!)  with other people.  (think size isn't important? think again). Yes, you will sail from one port to the next (if that is indeed the purpose of your intended cruise). So you will see more than one country and have limited time in each that is not a week long vendetta. No, you will not have to stick to a regular regimented schedule once you are onboard. You can pretty much do as you please as long as it's legal (to the country of origin). Yes, there are cruises the kids AND the parents can enjoy. Yes, there are Kids Clubs so parents can have a night or day to themselves basking quietly in a hot tub of the adults only section. All included and at a fee. Yes, there are TONS of entertainment options on most ships. And they vary!  Yes, singles can cruise on a ship and meet other like-minded singles. Some at a singles supplement some not. I suggest you find a group singles cruise or let's create one together shall we? Yes, there are accommodating cabins for those with a disability. No, cabins do not have to be too small or no tub, or not enough beds. No, you do not have to get sea-sick.

Phew! A lot of questions and answers here, right? Basically for every person there is a reason, season and cost when it comes to traveling and cruising has no less wear and tear on the issue.

Now that I've highlighted and answered a few of the questions that may have come to your mind, let's move on to specifics.

Cruises and Sea Sickness

I have been asked about people who get sea-sick easily and if cruising is a consideration for them. All I can say is... it is entirely up to you! What I can say is this. With a Travel Advisor such as myself I would do everything I can to make sure you are as comfortable as possible while on board. It IS possible to encounter a perfectly seasickness-free cruise with a little planning and a very small amount of luck! 

One Hint: All cruise ships are built with stabilizers. Those stabilizers vary by the ship size. And their purpose is to stabilize the ship against the waves and motion. That up and down motion, that side to side or forward and backward motion you'd feel without stabilizers - that lends a hand to the the realm of seasickness or no seasickness. Hint Number Two: If you are a severe sea-sick probable individual and items such as seasickness bands, dramamine or other OTC brands of medication do not help you, consult your physician. There ARE medical interventions out there that can allow you to enjoy a cruise. If you haven't tried them all, do not knock it. I know from first hand experience that it's just not a valid lying objection for anybody. At the tender age of 13 I was on a small boat (not a ship) fishing in the middle of the ocean. The waves were rocking us horribly. I was vomiting my brains out off the side of the boat! After that experience, I thought I'd never go out on the water again in any form of vessel. I was wrong and here I am an avid cruiser and fisherman and would take any chance (that I can afford) to  in order to cruise tomorrow! I have been on large ships, medium and small ships, catamarans, small fishing vessels and large fishing vessels. I can attest that no one ship (or a boat) you cruise on will be alike. Hint number three: Where you are positioned is everything.

I have MORE hints for you as a potential customer and would love to talk about them more in depth! No pressure at all and no sales pitch-i-ness. You ultimately make the last call. However I truly hope you will book your cruise through me and allow me to help you plan out all the details with excitement!


Intricacies of Cruise Ships - Compared to All Inclusive Resorts

Ships and All Inclusive Resorts have many similarities and differences. They are both a vacation right?  They can range from small to medium to large. Meaning they will be able to accommodate a certain number of people, a certain amount of and type of shows or entertainment offered at night or during the day, and numbers of restaurants/ bars offered. Sizes also vary by brand not just by ship. The same holds true with all inclusive resorts. To a degree. When thinking of brands think no different than you selecting between the slight specifics of Nike over Basics or a more generalized view between Nike over a Walmart brand sneaker. There are several brands of cruise lines and all inclusive resorts to fit all different types of tastes, requirements, personalities and budgets. The list goes on. So if you really want to know why I do what I do, here it is. Prime example! I can match you to the right cruise or all inclusive resort. I CAN offer you a more enjoyable experience. I CAN give you the details on a specific cruise or all inclusive - not just what you read on the internet.  The internet has a lot and I mean a lot of misinformation everywhere. Photos can be dressed up and be nothing like the actual resort. Which is why we have Travel Advisors like myself who have either been there or know another travel advisor in the network whom has. Travel Advisors in general are held to a certain moral ethic, especially if they are certified.

One thing between a cruise and all inclusive resort that's separate: Time. I know this may seem like a really odd word to use. Keep reading...

 Yes, there are OPTIONS. Many, many options. And we can get down to every nook and cranny if you wanted to. But I won't do that here. So when we talk and I ask you questions about yourself, hopefully you will oblige in answering them and we can have a great conversation that leads you to make a well informed decision! 

You might be the type to shop only the Deals and not care about the specifics. If that is you, be in for all kinds of surprises. And if you are in for surprises and don't mind them, good for you but please book your cruise or all inclusive travel through me. If not out of courtesy then for our economy and keeping all small businesses running! 

I really hate to say this but it's true - if you are a first time cruiser or traveler DO NOT leave your first experience cruising or all inclusive stay up for surprises. Hire someone who knows! Because those same surprises can turn you off to the whole idea of cruising or tripping after your first try. Picking the wrong cruise or all inclusive resort can also set a presidence to all other cruises and all inclusives chosen in the future as well. It's kind of like once you purchase Nike you're never willing to look back and consider to purchase anything else. For most people, they dislike change.

This is why I do what I do as a Travel Consultant. I am like the matchmaker of the cruise and all inclusive "dating" scene! My goal is to be the best at what I can do, for you.


What is included? 

What's included on a cruise will vary from cruise to cruise/brand to brand (most likely). Same for an all inclusive resorts. For an all inclusive resort, the same holds true - to an extent.  We can expect certain things to be included at an all inclusive resort. We can expect that your flight (most likely if it is priced with such), you food, entertainment, your room and certain liquors to be included. On a cruise, we can expect that your cabin, the cruise itself, your port charges and fees, most of your food, most of the entertainment and basic drinks (non-alcoholic and not soda, or coffee) are included at the very bare minimum. Anything else will come at an extra cost either up front in the cruise, as a pre-cruise purchase or while on board. Take your pick. If you are really saavy about choosing a cruise for yourself and money is not an issue, you can choose a brand that is TRULY all inclusive (again what's not included becomes a much smaller issue). Some all inclusive resorts out there may have a restaurant onsite that is at an extra supplemental fee as well. However not nearly as common or perhaps the right word would be to make you aware. Most cruises out there will have your buffet or a few different a la carte restaurants that are automatically included. Then there come what's deemed as "specialty restaurants" and those are not automatically considered as included in the cruise price. The number of included places to eat to the number of at a fee places to eat number may be equal or less. Whilst at an all inclusive resort you may have an upcharge for certain things like Lobster. However, again I know of all inclusive resorts that have lobster included as well! Do you see now how All Inclusive Resort and Cruises can vary and differ even amongst each other? 

Truly, and in a manner of speaking, THIS is why you need a Travel Advisor to help you. To flesh out the very details of what's most important to you and finding the right match! It's not just about booking and being done with it.  The right match is important for a cruise or for an all inclusive or even for a simple hotel night stay (unless of course you truly do not care what you spend and what kind of stay you have so please by all means play russian roulette with your investment and emotions).

What's not included?

What's not included in a cruise are port fees and charges. If you obtain a quote, you want to make sure the quote shows this. If it does not, ask. Just like you want to see that everything is included with an all inclusive vacation most likely! Lead in rates are lead by the term lead in. Get it? The other thing that is never included in a cruise are "the" gratuities. Unless you ask for it to be! 

    Tips

Now, what are "the" gratuities you may ask and pay close attention to the "the" word here. On every single cruise you can expect to pay a daily required gratuity. The gratuity is simply not negotiable in most cases. You cannot go on board and decide how much to tip your steward based on that required gratuity. They will charge it to you regardless. Either at your choice of before, during or after your cruise. Sure, you can provide an additional tip to everyone you meet on a cruise if you want to but it does not replace the up front or on board required gratuity cost expected of most every cruise line. There are very few brands that will have all tips included. Remember when I said cruises and all inclusives can vary even amongst themselves? Well, the idea of gratuities can be similar to All inclusive resorts in a way but not every way. You can expect to pay gratuities (tips) individually at an all inclusive resort upon your own accord and the amount you tip is up to you if you so wish. There is no required gratuity rule. Perhaps an expected gratuity rule at some resorts. Be informed.  That term "if you so wish" is not part of the deal with cruises! For some All inclusive resorts, tipping can actually be discouraged (except your transfers). and can also be reasons that an employee gets fired! So while on vacation always factor in your tips, become knowledgeable about tips, how you wish to tip, and for what!  Maybe you have a preference and you'd like to tell me right up front " I want something where I don't have to worry about tips at all". Simple right?  Sure is! Just be prepared to pay whatever it will be in the difference of the trip itself. It's pretty simple to those people who book themselves on line to try and save $5. What they don't realize is... they're going to pay it anyway on the back end somewhere. 

I have customers who ask me "what should I tip?" , "Who should I tip?", etc. While I can give you hints, and give you the requirements if any exist, I cannot make your ultimate decisions for you. If you have a requirement to share with me it is my job to do my best to meet that requirement, want and need.

Alcohol

Alcohol is usually a sticking point when deciding between an all inclusive vacation vs. a cruise. I'll make it really simple in this section and tell you that on a cruise your endless intake of Alcohol is not included. At an all inclusive resort you are guaranteed an endless intake of Alcohol for the price. And again like I mentioned earlier it is possible to find that one cruise type that includes it with an additional fee tacked on through pre-cruise purchases. Just be aware of the types of alcohol that is included at either a cruise or all inclusive or even the variety of brands/types of stays. If you are the Dom Perignon or Bud-light every-night-of -the-week drinker please be up front about your requirement. I really do not want to see you disappointed. One other thing I can tell you is that no matter which you choose, alcohol selection and availability will vary. May it be by location, cruise or all inclusive type, brand, drill down, you get the idea.  So if you have preferences about alcohol here's your chance to consider it.


Options with Either

Another thing that truly amazes me about cruises and all inclusive resorts are things that no one really looks at. Not usually until they have experienced a few different cruises or all inclusive resorts they begin to catch on. The choice for their next vacation becomes a whirlwind of options and choices. Again, so why are you not using and booking with a travel advisor? 

Which place you choose is not always as important as the What you choose. I have seen cruises and all inclusive resorts both offer incredibly detailed and not so detailed butler services or pool side or beach side drink service. I have seen all inclusive resorts that offer private room service entry. Some that offer burgers and hotdogs while others that offer caviar and some that offer a mix. I have seen cruise brands that offer one style of layout for all their ships in general and rarely mix it up regardless of size in ship. I mean if you care about going through a casino to get to your restaurant that might matter to you.  I've seen all inclusive resorts with the most up to date electronics in the rooms that would make your head think of the jettisons. Say, what?! Blinds that go up and down over a window overlooking the ocean and beach next to your private oversized jetted tub. One panel that controls the degree of temperature AND the lights and you have no idea how they work much less they even existed. All inclusive resorts that have walk around service offering afternoon treats from skewered fruits to foie gras and pate to satisfy you from putting on those clothes while you bask from a beach chair. Cruises that have cushioned pool chairs to plush your bum and sooth your back vs. pool chairs that will make you go "ow". The list goes on.

One thing is certain: Time. How much time do you want to spend at your intended location? For How long? How many locations do wish to visit? What locations do you wish to visit. 

No matter what you decide to do you will need to spend time weighing it all out.  No one ever said taking a vacation was easy. Let me help you with the heavy lifting!! 

Now whether you choose between an all inclusive resort or a cruise, there is a particular kind for you in every category. 


 






Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly : Vacation Timeshares

 Have you ever been asked to attend a small meeting in exchange for something FREE? 

I think we can honestly say that most anyone that has traveled anywhere has, at some point, been offered something FREE in exchange for attending a "small" talk. 

We may have been at an all inclusive resort relaxing and enjoying our vacation and BOOM! We are pestered about attending one mercilessly until we do. Not all all-inclusive resorts allow this and many don't today and sometimes you'll see them marketed anywhere you go. Even in the comfort of your home via telemarketers. Phone calls, emails, fliers, or simply being approached anywhere in public, etc. 

You get the idea...

I think those with experience in attending those "small talks", know what those small talks are....a sales pitch to a timeshare. Some of us are smart to avoid them as many see them as time wasters (time taken away from lounging at a pristine pool while on vacation) and some just don't like being pressured into buying something.

Some of us new to the subject are taken in without doing their own due diligence. They go to the "small talk", get sucked in and BAM(!), they are now owners of a beautiful timeshare. Man, those salesmen are good!

Ok, so let's put the bias aside for a moment and talk about them. 

During those timeshare discussions, we are driven hard to make the purchase and "put up wet" in a fleeting instance. You may or may not actually walk out of the room with your intended objective to own a FREE item.

As attending those small talks,  I've been there and from all my experience with them and those I know that have been involved with them or even purchased one, I think it's worth a moment to share my unbiased (I'll try) observations and knowledge to the GP. Many might disagree with me and be totally happy "owning" one. But let's take a moment shall we?

What is a Timeshare?


Let's explain what a timeshare is. A little history if you will (and for those that do not like history, I'll try to keep it brief).

Timeshares came out in the early 60's in the United Kingdom as potential Vacation Options . In the US it came to be in the 70's.  It is vacation home sharing. You may be offered a term license for a certain number of years by a company owning the accommodations rather than an actual ownership in real estate. True story. However it might not be sold to you as such.  The property "owner" (the buyer of the timeshare ie. You) could alternate your selected vacation weeks. It required trust and in effect, still does. Term licenses are now timeshare contracts. And this is where owning a timeshare can get a bit sticky and often confusing for many. 

Years ago, at the promise of a free spa experience at an all inclusive resort, even I experienced confusion about a timeshare. I was (almost) sucked into buying one. Almost. Thankfully as with any impulse purchase I was inclined to wait, go home and think about it. For many the offer or "deal" might be on the table for a very short time.

Timeshare Contracts

Back in the day, timeshare contracts were pretty simple and straight forward. The company actually owning the timeshare promised to maintain the property and offer a certain type of accommodation for a certain number of years.  The one buying into the contract and timeshare (You) may be frozen and charged maintenance fees and other fees on top of the cost for the timeshare for the length of the term (say for example, 25 years). Read the fine print! You really didn't "own" anything except you had a right to visit a said property at a certain time selected and for a certain amount of time. That's it. In that respect not much has changed with regard to timeshares. Contracts however have become more confusing today than ever. 

The original plan for selling (and buying) a timeshare (or even points to have a partial stake in one) was to offer vacationing options to those that enjoyed vacationing often as a way to save money. And I mean we ALL want to save money when going on vacation or purchasing damn near anything today. Who doesn't? Hey, that extra dollar might actually pay for that soda at the store we want later!  Ok, back to it. While hotels and fees expanded over a period of years,  timeshares were said to stay the same over a record number of years for the term of the contract (Some today are indefinite so be careful). Over time contracts have changed and law makers have gotten involved. 

Timeshare Resales.

Timeshares have also scammed people with regard to timeshare resales. In retrospect and like I mentioned you aren't technically owning real estate as if you owned a house. You are owning "a right" and in some cases like I mentioned "points". Sure, you can try to resell your timeshare (If and when the contract allows) but re-selling can be damn near impossible and tricky. Real estate folks might tell you they can help you. Again, you are at the mercy of added expenses. The idea of "investing" in a timeshare for the purchaser is most likely lost over time due to the all the fees and costs that go along with "owning" a timeshare. Notice how I write in quotes - believe me when I say I'm being sarcastic but with an element of honesty worthy of attention. 

If you are seriously considering owning a timeshare, make sure you do your due diligence and read (not just read, but understand) the contract. Make sure you have your lawyer read the contract.  Make sure you do your research on the company or even the real person selling the timeshare. Be careful.


Are Timeshares and Stocks alike?

Some like to compare a timeshare with owning stock.

 You are buying the use of a unit, paying an up front cost, along with maintenance and other fees (keep in mind the sellers have to consider and somehow pass off the costs from the many incentives and giveaways to entice those to join in on these "small meetings" ), choosing your slot in the year to visit the unit and when you are not using the timeshare, others with similar interests are. In some cases your contract may include "points" in order to further entice you into the purchase.  With regard to stocks, you are purchasing a number of stocks to have stake in the company - an ability to make a decision about what a company does (however small depending upon how many shares you decide to own) through a decision vote. It rarely means a whole lot if you are poor like me or not buying many shares, yet you'll look to make a return on the purchase later at some point. The stock price might rise and fall over time. And if you are not careful in choosing selected stock (company) a company could actually go out of business. There, you've lost your "investment" with regard to any resale of the stock you purchased. If you are really lucky, through the years of owning the stock (a piece of paper), you may make money in the resale of the stock. They're both Risks and even a little bit like playing poker.

If you do attend such a "small talk" keep reminding the sales guy "whats the purpose of "owning" the timeshare again?" Sorry, my sarcasm is getting away with me... and I hope you'll forgive me. It isn't toward you. It's toward the little guy whose trying to sell the timeshare. Nothing is straight forward. If you don't like car salesmen you probably won't like timeshare salesman that much either.

Who benefits and the Drawbacks?

No doubt, the people selling the timeshare are to benefit a lot. They sell timeshares to make money. A lot of...money. Some sell timeshares to be free again or to get out of paying those pesky increasing maintenance fees  Yet if you think you're an entrepreneur and wish to own a slice of that pie by buying a building to create a timeshare think again. Complexities abound!

As for you, the buyer of a timeshare (not the building), you are stuck to the contract. And I hope you have the money to keep such a contract in check. If you are a solid vacationer and don't mind going back to the same place (this could get boring people...) again and again and again, you may actually like a timeshare. If you are the adventurous type, avoid it like the plague. You will not be happy. Maybe at first the excitement will overwhelm you but later on you'd regret the purchase.

With regards to timeshares, there is a HUGE resale market. Meaning there are many people out there trying to resell their timeshares. There are far more people selling a timeshare than buying one.  If that doesn't give you pause to reconsider, consider wisely. As a buyer you can sometimes pick up units for less than what the other  individual(s) paid for the use of the unit. (wow, why not do that right? No. Just No. It's still not an investment. ) Wait. How old is that unit again....? You do not know WHO you are buying the use of the unit from. Are they an entrepreneur or are they like you, just a simple buyer who later (will) feel(s) they got duped into purchasing something they now don't want or just want to be released from the contract and maintenance fees?

Like owning a car, the moment you drive it off the lot, it has depreciated.  It is extremely rare that a timeshare will increase in value.  And folks, was buying into that timeshare worth what you gained of that FREE item for attending "the small talk"?  I highly doubt it.

While you are paying monthly or yearly maintenance fees, those fees will most likely increase over time. For the amount you paid in maintenance fees, you could go to a hotel or resort you've never gone to before (what an adventure!) and pay the same or less. 

Let's look at the overall difference.... I buy one timeshare with a contract of  $10,000 one time fee for over the course of 25 years. I pay maintenance and other fees at $800 a year over the course of the 25 years = $20,000. If the maintenance fees rise year to year that amount will be more. But for sake of the conversation let's keep going. That right there has you at $35000 over the course of 25 years. And we don't know what other fees are or are not included now or later on down the road. You may end up be paying for your food, rental car, flight in addition to all that. Let's take the value of $400 per day additional for a 2 person family (I may not be exact in the figures depending upon your level of lifestyle) on a 7 night "visit" (please do not call it a vacation ...yet). That breaks down to $70,000 over the course of 25 years. (Don't forget you may be doing the cooking only if you are smart...) - The total you are up to now is $105,000 over the course of 25 years which breaks down to $4200 a year. Let's not forget the many flights you will have to purchase over that time either. That is only if you go for a 7 night stay each year (and not two or three weeks which we can add more for those additional costs).  If I don't go,or can't as scheduled, the $4200 + flights per year is lost. And your vacation increases next year to the same place you've visited (many times - bored yet?) before. 

Now to compare... 

If you go to several different inclusive resorts in several different locations over the course of 25 years (all meals, drinks, entertainment, flights included - great, unlike these timeshares where you have added expenses of those items) your average expenditures would or might be around $1500 per person for a decent 7 night stay once per year. That's a total of $3000 over the course of 25 years = $75,000. Break that down per year and you're still paying $3000 per year (no added expenditures). If you don't go one year, your money is not lost as you didn't already spend it.

$2800 (optional) per year vs $4200 (required) per year. You do the math. At $2800 per year you also get the use of a travel agent (I am not trying to be biased here just honest) to help you. With a timeshare, any help you got, you got here on this page or from your own research.

If my math is off, please correct me but I guarantee you going on vacation to an all inclusive resort or cruise is a much better and convenient option.

To get out of a timeshare can also cost you anywhere from $4000 to $12000 or more and can take years to do. Not paying a timeshare comes at additional costs, hurting your credit score and more!

If you are truly interested in a timeshare, please consider actual ownership of a property (real estate) instead:  be it a second home, a camp, a camper on a lot, what have you. Just not a timeshare.  And in this article we can't go into an RCI timeshare which is another whole ball of wax, but no less grueling and complex to consider. If you already think a regular timeshare can be a scam, just wait.... and if you don't think a timeshare is a scam, keep doing your due diligence. 

On to more considerations...

When you own a timeshare you are not free to do as you please with the unit while visiting. With an all inclusive I digress it may be the same consideration BUT you do have the choice of the all inclusive you pick (right?) While you may have privacy of the unit while you are "visiting" you will be sharing it with god knows how many other people in a year. And you don't know those people either. Do you have the right to paint the walls a different color, add new furniture, rebuild that balcony, deck, patio? 

You aren't able to rent out the timeshare when you are not taking advantage of it (visiting it).  You will not and I repeat not generate income from that small stake in the use (sellers like to call it "ownership") of a timeshare. You may or may not get the enjoyment of it, for a while, but little to nothing else.

Owning a timeshare seems to market to the young and inexperienced or the older market. The ones somewhere in the middle are most likely to handle their due diligence to consider and run the other way. And I'm not saying everyone will get sucked in. Some will and some do. I'm just pointing out what I know.

 So I hope this article does someone the common decency of considering more than what you've read or heard before. 

I do hope it has helped. I may be a Travel Advisor that plans & sells vacations (and not timeshares) and I can't help you on selecting a timeshare (I'm a travel advisor not a seller of timeshares) BUT I am as honest as they come when I help someone. I work for you. I am not just here to sell. Sure, I make commissions on curating vacations and that's my method of living and while I may seem biased on timeshares in some parts of this article, please know that it couldn't be further from any bias. Awareness is so important.

Thank you for reading and as always I am here if you have questions. Please post any questions you might have below or indeed connect with me by Emailing Me











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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Can We Drink Dom Perignon? Separating Fact From Fiction

What is All Inclusive?

What do we think of when we hear the words "All Inclusive" now add the word.... Resort.....Soooo?



A Little Story...

When I visited my first ever all inclusive resort in the Caribbean it was for my honeymoon. Eons ago. We are talking merely out of College, which to me was nearly 30 years ago. Times were different then. 

Being the type of person that I am, (Class A personality here...) I researched by visiting my local travel agency. Back then, unlike you have it, we didn't have the great WWW to do any research ourselves on anything at all past telnet-ting stuff. If we had a friend or a friend of a friend that had "Been there or Done that before" we might be able to gain some insight but it still could have been biased insight too. For not every person is the same or has the same wants and needs. That's just the way it was and to some degree still is comparable.. 

So I would walk in the travel agency and get brochures and fliers in order to conduct my research, review available prices and sales. I'd take the eye-catching brochures home, pour through them and admire all the glorious beach photos, beautiful sunsets, stunning room ideas and read about what was "included".  Admirably so, I was SOLD and knew I wanted to visit one for our honeymoon and my future husband to be was also excited.

Not a lot was explained in what was "not included" however.  Back then I didn't realize that not all all-inclusives were the same. I didn't realize that there were different price points and WHY. Just a lot I didn't know being a very new "all inclusive resort traveler". I had just traveled a lot for business and educational purposes prior to this and of course wide-range domestically. Yeah, yeah everyone wants to focus on the positive right? They aren't interested in telling you straight up, unbiased, simply in a brochure. They aren't going to scream at you out loud in their brochures saying "Bud Lite Beer is not served here". Go figure. You think you just assume. We didn't know this then! And heck you may not know this now....

After settling on some photos / brochures I liked, I went back to the travel agency and sat down with my travel agent to talk. Just talk. I was not opening my wallet just yet. It wasn't because of the travel agent itself as it was I still felt I had no idea what I was doing and I wanted a professionals opinion. I was having a terrible time making up my mind. My travel agent was very open with me, honest, and kind about the world of all inclusives. Plus, she had some great tips about the countries I was interested in (back then I didn't know which country I wanted or why I just knew I was sold on the idea of an all inclusive). After talking a bit about what I desired to see and do, what I envisioned my honeymoon to be like, she originally suggested Costa Rica. Heck what I did not know until very much later (like as a travel agent) there are not that many all inclusive resorts in Costa Rica and there still aren't today!  She was basing this much upon my desires and explanations (I would not learn this until much later becoming a travel advisor myself that not only does picking an all inclusive or not matter but the country we wish to visit!). The woman simply knew more than I did. The whole idea of just selecting a country blew my mind right out of the water. I just wanted to select an all inclusive and be done with it. I'll just leave it at that for now. 

What really shocked me was she did not use a brochure to explain why she picked that country. Instead, against her advice, we ended up settling on Sandals Royal Caribbean resort in Jamaica simply because we liked the photos of the resort! She agreed it was also a good choice (having been there herself and knowing of other travel agents who had been too). The brochures did the job and SOLD me on the resort IMMEDIATELY.  I didn't care about the rest. Not the country, not the little details. It never crossed my mind that there were "little details". Brochures had and still have the power to do such things as control your mind so gloriously. If it did not, it would not be advertising!! 

After the honeymoon, and although we had a fabulous time, we really wondered if we had gotten our money's worth. Are all all-inclusive resorts the same? What did we miss out on? Was that the absolutely BEST out there? Did our choice exceed our expectations? 

We spent approximately $6000 on our honeymoon. And although we enjoyed what we got (not then knowing any better) the curious inside of me just wondered - Did my Travel Agent know something I did not know? The amount we spent just hung in my mind and it was a quarter of what we spent on the wedding itself. I knew I wanted us to have a FABULOUS wedding and honeymoon. That's all I knew at the time. And who doesn't?! 

I was hooked from then on concerning all-inclusive resorts. Who can deny the beauty of an ocean front sunset as you open your double balcony doors?  Listen to the surf from afar and the palm trees gently swaying just beyond our reach. I'm telling you, it's the little things we couldn't deny...

Changes but No Changes....

Today, we have the internet, still those same gorgeous photos beckoning us and we can look without ever getting in our cars, driving into town and walking into a travel agency for a brochure.  One thing is the same though. From all inclusive to all inclusive, one thing remains constant. What's included and what isn't is a question in our minds. It can be what does or does not exceed our expectations. Not all all inclusives are the same. Not all all inclusives are "all included" either. What's "all included" is a mindset for us really and is so different than the words "all inclusive". We have our ultimate expectation. The definition of all inclusion varies. All you know when you start out is.... your meals, drinks, your entertainment, your room are all included for one set price. It's all paid up front for your convenience.  And sometimes those all inclusive packages will include flights too. This is true.

We aren't looking at the miniscule here. We are looking at the base, the overall general idea of what an all inclusive resort is SUPPOSED to be.  I think it's worth it to understand the miniscule when it comes to money and value for your money. For, as I would learn later, many, many all inclusive resort visits later, it's IMPORTANT in matching what we think of as "just an ok vacation" to "wow I couldn't have picked a better vacation". Get the gist?  Only a travel advisor will know unless you too have been to many of them yourself. It's far more important than you could ever know when it comes to getting the very best and making you the very happiest possible during your time away.  It is no different than what it should be - like buying a car or a house in a way. (maybe a lot less daunting and just more fun). 

Our vacation is an investment. An investment for memories, love, family, our own sanity and I'm sure a whole lot more than what I'm thinking of right this moment. You get the idea, right?

What we now know....

As a travel advisor myself now I can appreciate that each experience I have had at each all inclusive resort or brand of all inclusive resorts I have ever visited has been different. I walked away from each with something and memories that I will forever cherish. There have been resorts that have totally just made me go WOW and there have been resorts that have made me wonder why they are even still an all inclusive resort. Like -- really?! With each visit I observe "the right fit" clientele. I observe "the offerings" and take an in depth look at the reality. However, those visits I have made I have experienced. Not just visited.  It is I think what has made me an expert to all inclusive resorts in my field. (and so much more). I "get" now why I should have listened to a travel advisor eons ago. While my gut instinct MAY have been real and something to follow, having an open mind to the inclinations of my travel advisor could have opened a whole new world to me and explained "what I did not already know". 

You've just gotta open the door and explain "what's your top priority" in a resort. And what's your "don't want" in a resort. You can't hold anything....back!

Even today many all inclusive resort visits later to different resorts, I am mildly surprised to learn I don't know everything there is to know still.  I, like all other travel advisors, are still learning. We learn even from you. Yet we have each other in an unbiased view of the world that you can't find on the internet, and certainly not in any magazine or brochure. Painted images just don't do an all inclusive resort enough justice sometimes and sometimes they do far more than the reality! One of the fantastic reasons why we can justify having a travel agent in our back pocket. (and yet, for so many other reasons not explained here).

Getting down to details...

We want to pay careful and close attention to words like "premium" - premium liquors, "Luxury" - luxury all inclusive resort, "ocean view" - ocean view room, "ocean front" - ocean front room" , "fine dining" - restaurants and more. Even just the word "all inclusive luxury resort" can be equal to buying a lamborghini or simply buying a Lexus. It can be equal to buying either a Ford or a Chevrolet as well.Then once we choose we have to consider the base model, and upgraded models and then add ons. All inclusive resorts? Not a lot different!  There's an all inclusive for nearly every budget over a certain expected amount. Your travel agent can tell you the minimum you can expect to pay for any type of all inclusive resort but that doesn't necessarily mean if you pay for said resort, you will come home happy! 

There are reasons for these words and yet sometimes they can be all fluff!

Great Questions to ask yourself....

What kind of All Inclusive do you dream of visiting? 

How much do you have to spend? Is even going to any kind of all inclusive a possibility?

What kinds of restaurants do you like eating at? What kinds of hotels do you enjoy staying in when visiting anywhere else?

See, so many questions we might ask you but there's a reason. I CARE about where you go. I CARE if you have a good time and if your expectations are exceeding or merely met.  What I can offer you no different than you can offer yourself is your opinion when you return too. We all have a different opinion about something too.

Don't trust your vacation to your own devices and research. You may still not get the clear picture....

So what do you think classifies an all inclusive? Tell us the all inclusives you've visited and WHY or WHY YOU DID NOT have a good time? It's all relevant and all important.










Friday, July 31, 2020

Why Some Travel Agents are Apt to Charge Fees Now (and why some of us won't) - Covid Times

Travel Agents have NOT ONLY become a gateway to planning and booking travel but now ALSO guardians to the health and well being of their customers. 

How do you feel about this? Do you agree we are worth a fee on top of our commission?

First off I'd like to point out from the title of the article that NOT ALL Travel Agents charge certain fees. To date, I have charged only very few for extreme or extraneous circumstances.

Some of you may be wondering why COVID has changed or will change this for many agents but the fact of the matter is that times have changed and continue changing. This has not yet given me the decision to change and charge fees.  Yet.

I guarantee you thought it's a HOT topic with many agents right now. And for good reason.

COVID-19 has changed the way we look at and experience travel. Online Travel Agencies such as Travelocity, Expedia and the big giants handle only Bookings. They are not providing you with a service tracking your trip nor bear any responsibility to taking care of you or "being by your side" when, for lack of a better term to use, all hell breaks loose. Have you ever had something go wrong at the airport or a resort only to feel your stomach tighten in knots making you react in ways you wish you didn't? Exactly my point. (by the way I do not recommend that ANY of my customers react on their own - this is why I am here - to cast your worries my way and give me the benefit of a doubt).

Those giants don't care where you go or what you do or what problems you experience not even how you feel. They care about their bottom line. The rest becomes your issue. They'll sell you anything and be happy to regardless of any false advertising that goes into photos or descriptions or anything else. They haven't "visited" these sites or attended "FAMS" which are events that allow Travel Agents to get to know properties in person. They are casting caution to the wind knowing they cannot be sued for a choice their customers made. About the only thing they can do is worry most about a negative review. And we have seen a lot of those in the news these past few years!  They aren't attending FAMS to see if descriptions and photos are correct or even what's unknown- the changes - the subtleties. And these purchases you make and your own work in planning a trip are now leading to a lot more misinformation. It's the way of the world. People seem to like it because it's become "too easy". Yet, the ones who pay the price for that ease know all too well what our worth as a Travel Agent really is.

The smart ones leave it up to those with expertise. 

Private Travel Agents such as myself ( and many others - we are not a dying breed! And I am not going to be biased and say we are right for everyone or for every reason, season and need ) we are however giving you a service. More than just any service right now. It's not just about expertise or opinions or anything else. It's about having facts and resources at our disposal that you do not nor does anyone else have.

 Each one of us has a career in something - we all (no matter what career we have) make money for a reason. Know-how, expertise, negative and positive experiences. In the age-old of being a Travel Agent (I'm talking pre-1990's here), it was mostly about booking trips because back then it was a service you couldn't get anywhere else (the www was still rather new). Travel Agents were paid commissions on everything. And you certainly could not go online to get your own tickets. Paper tickets weren't yet a thing of the past. Then pre-covid times, and then after the blast of the WWW, it was about providing a service and still a lot of travel agents (for FOMO = fear of missing out) weren't charging any fees at all EXCEPT in the cases of cancellations, rebookings, reissuing, paper tickets, etc. The stuff that really put us "in the black" had we not done otherwise. These were and are often extraneous circumstances. Many just weren't charging service fees. That also has a lot to do with competition and not realizing their own value I suppose. We had to compete with the internet not just with other private agents. Now we have COVID times. How are we competing now? Where it's not just booking but providing a service in MANY areas some that are not travel. We somehow became personal therapists, online booking agents, researchists, babysitters, troubleshooters, insurance agents and now health advocates. The certified are still deemed as experts in our field yet there's a certain something else we are becoming. And becoming trained on.  Not only do we need to have some knowledge of Travel Insurance products in order to sell them (we are not adjusters...) we now need to have a lot of knowledge and the energy to keep up about health protocols everywhere. And the health protocols are changing LITERALLY EVERY DAY. COVID has created an uncertain travel in and of itself. It is and has become an overwhelming amount of work. It's just a whole different realm of travel I don't think any of us as Travel agents / advisors / consultants (whatever you'd like to call us...) could have expected to be dealing with a year ago.

And you know what? A lot of Travel agents are right now working and doing it all for FREE. Some only charge based on your own negative choices or mistreatment as to how you approach travel. For example if you don't show up for your flight and you don't cancel you obviously were not receiving a refund on your plane tickets. Are you really going to DEMAND (no not ask) DEMAND us to go get that refund for you?  When you cancelled (and not for COVID cancelling your flight) who did the extra work to make sure you got on another flight? Or Your refund? Or your Voucher? Who made sure you got on the next flight on a delayed or cancelled flight pre-covid times? Who made it easier for you than having to fight a line of people at the check in counter or phone lines?  Do you think you were not going to pay the airline for changes? So in retrospect you are not necessarily paying US the fee at times. We are passing that buck and we are the ones taking that responsibility upon ourselves or doing only as you demand and insist upon. And Airlines don't even pay us commissions. We make nada. Nil. Yet, we work for YOU. I work for you. And the best kind of customer I can think to have is the one who can go with the flow, trust in me and give me the chance to do my magic. What I was taught to do.

We were working for FREE a lot before COVID times, (Behind the scenes), but now a lot of us will go out of business and close our small businesses due to the many FREE re-bookings, cancellations, chasing refunds, etc. and UNPAID commissions because cruises have shut down, flights have shut down, borders have closed. It has already happened. We are still not a dying breed. We are becoming more important now than ever before.  We aren't earning a dime for doing any of the work right now. No, I'm not complaining about the work or how I get paid or even about helping my customers. I'm just simply passing you the information to realize WE WORK TO GET PAID JUST LIKE YOU WORK TO GET PAID. We work hard. We want to see you happy. We love appreciative customers.

 Travel agents primarily work on commission. We often don't get paid until months after you travel. When you don't travel our commissions are not protected. And in between the time you decided to travel and work with us and use our advice and help to the time you decided to cancel or things got cancelled, we still worked for you.  

That commission we EARNED is like a "Thank you" from the suppliers for selling their products. Nothing else. It isn't for the work or for your appreciation. It isn't a tip. It isn't a paycheck. It isn't a salary. We don't get paid to do training that is involved with anything we sell. We don't get paid for the FAM trips. Many think we do this "for the free travel". Let me be the first to tell you that we do not and I repeat NONE OF US TRAVEL FOR FREE. 

 It has become a small commission and many travel agents have no choice but to work only part time taking on another job or running a full time job on the side, because of this fact. This isn't to complain. IT IS TO EDUCATE!! 

So now how do you feel about the changing times with Agents deciding to come out charging fees now?  

I'm sure this article is going to get a lot of groans. I get a lot of comments about how I cannot be afforded as a person's travel agent so people do the work themselves. Or because "they trust themselves" or because "they like doing it".  Where is the misinformation anyone?  What's TRUE: WE CAN BE AFFORDED. When I tell people that I can be hired for Free people don't know whether to think I'm lying to them or want to know what the fine print is. Where do they read it? Who can blame anyone for that right? I can't. When I hire someone I look for the fine print. When I purchase something I look for the fine print. When I sign a contract I look for the fine print. So I get it. I understand. But the truth of the matter is - I can be hired for FREE.  I run my business my own way. I make my own rules. I CHOOSE my own customers. I don't discriminate. And if I do charge a fee I try to be fair. I've left it up to people to "pay me what you think I'm worth" and I've been surprised with $100 before or a pair of sneakers and a delivery of chocolates, thank you cards and the like. Many people have surprised me. And it has been a wonderful eye opener. It does make me feel wonderful when customers RESPECT my time and UNDERSTAND what I do and why I do it. How hard I worked for them. And it shows appreciation. Something that many Americans still lack. (again, the way of the world....)

Will I change my charging schedule? Hard to tell. If I do, you will be the first to know. I can tell you this. I am worth every penny and more than what I make. You may not see it. You may not feel it. I may not brag about what I've done behind the scenes (I am somewhat modest) and I am learning that people need to be educated more about the work I do do. The work that all Travel Agents do. 

So please share with me what your thoughts are on the subject below. Keep those comments rolling in because I am learning from each and every single one of you every day.

Travel Agents still exist for a reason.


The Traveling Deaf - Covid Times

Prior to my recent trip to Mexico on a Wedding Familiarization Trip... 

I was faced with the dreaded question - Do I really want to go to Mexico? What if I can't hear someone talking to me with these masks on along the way there? How am I going to deal with the situation? Will I get pushed aside by someone and sent to a government facility for lack of better answers that I didn't truly know what I was answering to?  You can imagine the many thoughts and questions I had prior to going! I seemed to worry MORE about this than contracting COVID-19! 

Go figure....

Some who know me well know I use a cell phone sometimes. Do I use it well? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. It depends on the situation. Yet we have text messaging, facebook messaging, zoom and a whole host of other ways in which we can communicate.  

Masks are an issue! 

Masks have turned into a glitch for many traveling Deaf individuals. Hey, even me. Whether you are choosing to be Deaf (because you choose not to wear a hearing aid or get a cochlear implant), are simply Deaf (and not choosing) or a Cochlear Implant user. Either way you're still Deaf!! The Cochlear Implanted individual is just simply reminded of it during these traveling COVID, SAFETY and MASK times. Whether its a simple trip to the convenience store or a trip to  Mexico! Thus, my reasoning for the "What that hell, I'm going anyway" response. I'm facing difficulties today no matter where I travel to but I am getting better in my own response to these incidences. Like all Deaf anyway we have had to learn to conform because no one else is going to conform to our Deafness because they choose not to change their way or even make an effort. We have come to expect it (although it doesn't make it right...)  but that won't make it so. Rome (like release of education and acceptance) was not built in a day!

The masks used by most are fully covering the mouth area making it impossible to lip-read.  While lipreading is not my only vehicle for communication with others, it is a huge help. When it used to be something I HAD to use (Prior to being cochlear implanted and simply using a hearing aid), it became something that aided me after becoming cochlear implanted. I still rely on it. If it's not available to me, then I need to concentrate quite hard to make sure I'm "getting everything".

For those of you that do not know me personally, I am a "Deaf Travel Agent". And I do specialize in Deaf travel. While it's not the only area of expertise I specialize in, it is my go-to. When I became a Travel Agent I wanted to be there for EVERYONE. It did not matter who you are! A lot of travel agents can say they want to do the same but I'm sure not with the same empathy or understanding that I have. 
 I feel I have special experiences in travel that made it more possible to understand without a doubt what it's like for the Deaf to travel. Combined with my absolute LOVE for traveling and all things travel so here I am. 

 The Deaf can travel ANYWHERE like you or me but they are also limited to WHERE they feel most comfortable traveling and HOW. The world has not yet advanced to the point where American Sign Language is everywhere. The world has not yet advanced to the point in education where it "hits home" to the hearing on how to work with anyone that has any degree of hearing loss. We are all different but to differing degrees we experience differences compared to you. A lot of you do not have any idea what you need to do to help us. Many just turn and run (walk or avoid) the other way. SO for those hearing customers have had built up the courage to work with me, I thank you "for not turning away simply because I am Deaf". You have made me a believer that we can all work together.

Even though I am a Deaf Travel Agent I am for all intents and purposes a Cochlear Implanted wearing Deaf Travel Agent. My cochlear implant is what I like to call "bionic hearing".  Does anyone remember watching the Bionic Man as a kid? I do and I love referencing myself as just that. I feel special to know special things not everyone knows!

So what is a Cochlear Implant you might ask....and what is it currently doing for me? The photo here shows what my cochlear implant looks like (even the color!) and a photo similar to how I wear mine.

 
I know it might look like something out of the space age and you're probably thinking - why the heck would she wear something "So gaudy" or noticable and "What does this have to do with travel?" and for those that are Deaf (and you may say "not like me")  - Why did she wish to change what god made her? Doesn't she love Deaf culture and being Deaf enough to "stay Deaf"?  -  Yes, I love Deaf culture and yes, I am STILL Deaf! No matter what. It is what it is. You can't excuse it away, make excuses or decide what I am and what I am not. I am proud to be who I am. It wasn't about changing the way God "made me". How do you know what "he made me" for I am still a person not that much unlike you? 
I still have feelings and thoughts and live a life not that much different from you. Hearing or Deaf.

This little piece of technology allows me to hear sounds I never heard before. Not just create sounds louder like a hearing aid would but actual sounds related to specific things that make very specific noises for very specific reasons. How much people take sound for granted! Definitely NOT I. I now love to hear music, peoples voices, the dog snoring, my child coloring with markers, the wind whistling or the rain pattering on my roof. I can now "recognize" those sounds. And yet, there are still a lot of sounds I don't know what the heck they are or where they came from!

It takes me a while to "get used" to what those new sounds are. I had to train my brain from the moment I became implanted to figure out what sounds were and how communication relates to the world. I had years of aural habilitation, practice reading unabridged books and watching lyrics to music on youtube. This has allowed me to hear voices in a way I could not hear before. I had the help from hearing individuals with this. I was fortunate and lucky that the cochlear implant has worked for me the way it has. Not everyone may have the same luck. I had to re-learn how to communicate with the Hearing Society and Hearing Culture (yes you do have your own culture much like we do!). And I am still learning! Boy, do I love learning....

Getting a cochlear implant was a personal choice, one I do not feel other Deaf should criticize as we are all different and wish to experience different things in our lives. As a person I am a bit of a risk taker and I believe we should try to live life to its fullest for life really is too short. My environment here in Maine is not like what my environment was in Washington DC during my Gallaudet college times where I had more choices in how I communicated or related to others. I CHOSE to become implanted years after moving back to Maine because " I was ready". 

So onward to my experiences as a Deaf Travel Agent of late.

This might spin you out of control in your mind thinking "well she can hear now what's she complaining about..." I'm not "complaining" about anything. I just wish to show the world that I am STILL Deaf for all intents and purposes and the Cochlear Implant is not perfect. I HAVE BEEN affected by the whole mask wearing thing during these uncertain COVID-19 times. I feel DAUNTED by these masks!  Not because I don't believe they work or because I don't want to wear one or don't think anyone else should wear one but because they have become a hardship for me.  Yet it has also challenged me in a way nothing else has to date! I decide as I sped off to Mexico, I was up for the challenge! I faced my fear and here are my observations....

1) At the airport, I still have the ability to "pre-board" the plane.  For that that have any kind of disability (and please do not go into this spiel of I am Deaf and Deaf is not a disability world...) the fact is if you cannot hear, you are Deaf. You need assistance to some degree. It doesn't make you stupid, careless or anything else. You just simply need assistance for some things. End of point.

With regard to social distancing however I didn't really know "Where I should be standing" on the little markers in this "pre-board" line at my gate. Did I have my own "pre-board" social distancing line to follow? My own boarding number? Short answer..... No, I did not. I asked what to do (during Covid times now) and was told that I would just be taken on with the other pre-boarders. Nothing had really changed from before except....I could still social distance in my own manner of speaking. No numbers, just plain common sense. 

Did others social distance from me? Those doing un-American type things, no not everyone did. But I've faced that in the grocery store too so what-tha-heck. Social Distancing in the US of A folks needs work at best. No matter where you go. We can control ourselves but we cannot control everyone else - who decides to make bad choices that not only affect them but affect us too. So here's a good one for the woman in the airport I came to dislike - keep your mouth shut and don't spit or talk if you are going to take that face mask off during lunch! Same difference. Be courteous of others! Either way, the airport did the best they could with regards to social distancing. Still, and this goes for the American's everywhere and not related to Deafness at all, but you need to learn how these place markers and your plane ticket is related so you are standing in the right spots!! One thing that the airports could learn is probably to place the numbers seen below on the above white square boards affixed to the posts instead on the yellow spot markers. Well since they aren't in any process of doing that... yet... make it your business to learn how it works. On your ticket you are given a boarding position. You are no longer given just a gate number and seat number. Seat number no longer matters. But I'll get to that in a moment. This boarding position number is the same number you are supposed to be standing on in line. So learn and pay attention people. Social Distance!!





2) Open Seating is now available. 

For anyone with a disability of any kind or for sake of not offending another individual who wishes not to reference themselves as disabled in any way, this open seating business combined with pre-boarding business is pretty darn great! Once I was on the plane I could sit anywhere I liked as long as it wasn't the middle seat.  If I wanted to sit up front in row 2 I could choose to do that. Row 1 was reserved for the Stewards/Stewardesses of the plane so move your butts out of that seat!  How this helped me was that although I could not hear the loudspeakers on the plane or even in the airports for that matter and my eye sight is failing, I still had a keen eye on the people aiding others while on the plane and they knew when I needed help and when I did not. I could be one of the first ones off the plane or the last. Since I could not read their lips much like I can't for anyone on the loudspeaker and it takes an INCREDIBLE amount of work to try and hone in on what the loudspeaker is saying amongst all the plane and people shuffling noise, I didn't feel the need to. I didn't feel that I was really missing out.  I was up front what did I care? I had eyes and I knew when to get off the plane. I knew where my exit row was. Even a stewardess said Thank you to me in ASL. I was good and I felt comfortable and relaxed. I even fell asleep! (and I wasn't afraid to stay asleep through exiting of the plane...)

3)  Some employees made exceptions and lowered their mask.

I'm not saying everyone did this. But there were exceptions where I continuously said "What? I cannot hear you I'm Deaf and you're wearing that mask" or "I'm sorry but I cannot read your lips and I need to in order to hear you". This happened at the check in desk and until they saw my own notes that I wanted placed on my ticket saying that I am Deaf they just didn't seem to get it. Until they did and it was stalling their work so they lowered their mask to say "I can take your bag now..." or "go to gate number...". Obviously I can read a ticket...and if you'd pointed to my bag I could have gotten the hint to give it to you.

I am not afraid to say what I have to say on my travels. I get my point across. In this respect they were willing to accommodate in their own fashion and by their own ability in comfort by slightly lowering their mask (I guess they saw this as their only solution at the time or speed was an issue - sometimes our brains don't always think the right things to say or do in the moment). By lowering their masks slightly enough to see their lips,  I could read their lips and then covering their mouths back up again. Was this safe? You may be saying NO. Would airport personnel (HR) had a field day on it? Probably so.  At least they tried to communicate with me and knew I needed the information. Were there better options to this? Yes. A few. Take this for example:


This is the ClearMask

It's not the only mask out there as a solution but it's a good one.

I know they might not be economical for all to purchase but for large airports, resorts and the like, trust me, you can afford it! So why aren't you using them? I suppose like anything else, we are the afterthought.

This happened on very FEW occasions for me. I did meet a few who were unwilling to lower their mask even for a second. This was even more annoying for me. I then had to learn quickly that if I wanted their masks to stay on and they were unwilling to lower it, then I had to take action and lean in REAL CLOSE to hear them. Point my ear toward their mouth and concentrate to listen. Thankfully I'm glad I had that ability. For those that do not wear a cochlear implant I can see the issue!! Was this safe? Probably not. Were there better solutions? Well enough said. You get the idea.

I did what I had to do and they did what they had to do and somehow I made it to Mexico and back. I might not have got to hear everything, understand everything, but I made it home without getting put into a government facility for simply being Deaf. This, I was originally afraid of over being afraid of catching COVID-19. Remember! 

4) No one asked me questions through immigration and security (unless I did not follow the rules... those known or not known) which was a HUGE change from before COVID-19.  

Security and immigrations employees simply wanted me to lower my mask for a moment (communicating this by lowering their own mask) in order to show them that my face looked the same as on my passport photo.  It took all of 1 minute to occur and then I was on my way. I wasn't asked where I was going, how long I'd be there or what my business was there This was a nice change!! And I felt relieved for it was one of my biggest concerns prior to leaving Maine.

The only issue I remember having was on my way home from Mexico getting through security to get to my gate and having vanilla packed in my carry on and not my checked luggage. 

If you can avoid doing this folks, please do. Buy your souvenirs while on the island during your stay and not as an afterthought as I had this time. For lack of a better excuse I just had no time to do this during my FAM and at my own lack of thinking in the moment I purchased as an afterthought. So that TSA employee had to ask questions and again, I explained my situation. Again, mask lowering, social distancing. The guy knew social distancing was key in mask lowering. Nice move. 

Additives:

Like those little unknown fillers in our food products we have additives to this as well. 

My experience is not like everyone else's but for the Deaf (all Deaf...) we would be EXTREMELY appreciative if you selected your masks carefully!  Hey, even if for understanding safety sake and we do care about our own safety just like you may. I don't expect miracles. I'm just simply HOPING people out there will READ THIS and CARE. Everyone seems to care about the BLM movements, LGB movements, Politics, Roe Vs Wade and what have you.... Can you CARE about us too perhaps? We are tired of being an afterthought....CARING about us has been all we ever wanted.

And for my Deaf friends out there, I hope this article helps you feel safer about traveling. Take the risk. We can't change the choices some people make. It doesn't matter if we are Deaf or Hearing or whatever we are. We can for all intents and purposes learn to go with the flow in life in order to find enjoyment rather than sadness or fear.

As a Deaf Travel Agent, I can most definitely have your plane tickets written to MAKE SURE they know you are Deaf at the airport and I can most certainly let them know at the resorts and hotels. While I cannot guarantee the stupidity of some Americans in thinking you need a wheelchair at the airport gate (how the heck did they ever come to this conclusion right?!) I can say that people out there ARE learning. We still need to communicate. So communicate yourselves freely!!


Your Travel Agent
Tammy :)










Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wedding FAM trip to Mexico - COVID times

On a Recent Trip to Mexico....


From July 20 - 27, 2020 I was invited to attend a Karisma Wedding FAM trip in the Riviera Maya Mexico. Part of my job as a travel agent is to attend such events (and many more...) in order to bring the world of travel to my customers. It allows me to send folks to bright and beautiful destinations to celebrate love, life and the freedom to roam! Not always do I report about these travels in my blog (I often show pictures on my facebook page), but I felt this one could prove worthy to the GP due to travel during COVID-19 times.  After debating long and hard due to the fact that we are facing a USA wide level 4 travel ban and yes COVID-19 is a dangerous disease affecting millions out there, I made the decision to go. I knew I did not want to risk giving this disease to my friends and family or god forbid any of my customers. I knew the risks involved and I knew too what I needed to do in order to protect everyone. While nothing is guaranteed I felt the risks have been worth the effort. It is part of the job. Would my family agree with me? Probably not but that's besides the point. I'm back, alive and well and tested!

So on Day 1, I opted to stay at a local hotel near our state airport in South Portland Maine for an overnight at the Embassy Suites hotel. Beautiful hotel and generally they have nightly cocktail bar open with a free cocktail for guests and  hors d'oeuvres and a morning breakfast. All of which were shut down. Breakfast items were at a minimum. Due to Covid-19, guests were met with glass enclaves separating them from the check in desk and a bottle of hand sanitizer you can find anywhere. Guests are required to wear masks. *gasp* as if this was surprising right? In our room we were able to don-off the mask and let loose. Good night folks... early morning departure to come!

Day 2, I was brisked away to the Southwest Airlines gate at Portland International Airport. The Airport requires mask wearing (all do nowadays...) and I'd be guessing that there are temp checks happening everywhere (you just do not see them and this is as a Travel Advisor what I am told...). Again glass dividers at the check in desks and you are off to your gate. Social distancing markers exist for your safety. Do all American's follow them? Honestly? No. Being Americans are being simply un-American and a lot of them have absolutely NO IDEA what they are doing from the moment they read their ticket to the time they get to such social distancing markers. Markers at the gates have boarding and position numbers. Southwest was allowing only 5-10 people on at any given time and it was OPEN SEATING (which I must admit, I quite liked!).  Southwest is not offering liquors but a simple cup of water and a small treat on the way. If you were caught not wearing your mask you were asked to put it on and if you do not comply you are removed from the aircraft. (Way to go Southwest)

After my plane ride to Cancun, I felt like I had not only entered into a totally different country. While the airport was virtually bare due to in part not a lot of people traveling (they didn't know Mexico is open or was willing to run the risk). At this new found friend of mine, I wondered "Why isn't the USA following suit?" - Hey we could be learning from this country! I saw several airport workers in Cancun wearing FULL PPE hazmat suits! Those that were wearing masks were wearing them as instructed and as they were intended and properly! And some workers were wearing  not only masks but face shields too! Boy I thought Mexico is taking COVID-19 seriously and by god they do!! In Portland and Baltimore airports I was seeing folks simply wearing masks (and in some cases not wearing them appropriately) and you might have gone on to feel slightly uncomfortable if someone was standing a bit too close to you at times. This, in fact, made me often want to yell at people to get the h*ll away from me but I am way too kind. I just moved my own body when I could.  Temp checks were happening all over the place in Mexico and there were people standing by in the airports and at resorts to make sure everyone complied in getting their temps checked or social distancing followed. If you were found to have a higher than normal temp you were whisked off for additional assistance.  My luggage was properly wiped down not only at the airport but before I got in my transportation vehicle and then before my luggage entered the resort. Before getting into my transfer I was offered hand sanitizer again. I was starting to feel like I am in the twilight zone yet everything was so easy and simple and nothing I had to do but agree and go with the flow so before long I was at my resort only to see another set of health protocols taking place for each individual prior to entry. I did feel safe and actually taken care of each step of the way.

Wiping down of luggage again, more hand sanitizer, a temp check (not by means of an age-old traditional way have you...) but something far simpler. Kudos to the folks who did much of this work unassumingly. Hats off to you!! Some temp checks at resorts did temp checks differently not by scanner at all but by a no-touch scanning device. See the two types below - one as a scanner on your arm and the other by means of a camera. Then, I'd step on this mat (looked like a door mat) and it was filled with this sanitizing cleaning liquid for our shoes. Then another mat to dry them off before we stepped into the resort. Never once in all the many times while in Mexico that I used hand sanitizer did my hands feel sticky or dry or chapped. 




I was then greeted with a refreshing cocktail at each resort. These steps were always repeated 1, 2, 3, 4 at each resort I visited (a total of 7). I did not get sick of this and I just felt comfortable and safe.
I gladly took the cocktails and enjoyed my time on the many resorts. Now on to other health protocols I noticed....
Most of the resorts were only operating up to 30% capacity. Some just simply looked "empty" or you had to go looking for actual guests staying at the resorts. One resort I visited, The Margaritaville Island Reserve Resort had just opened in March 2020 during COVID shutdown so they were operating at minimum capacity 17% while I visited. I saw a few folks here and there on their balconies or patios.  So from this aspect at the resorts I felt there really is NO BETTER TIME to visit than now! Especially if you are looking for a quiet getaway.  However on the flip side.... I visited a resort where you can find more livelier attendance.

One resort I visited, Valentin Imperial Riviera Maya, was a larger resort but I noticed more people congregating in the oversized pool areas (one of the largest I have ever seen btw). They were spread out unless they knew one another. I also saw them in the restaurants. Again, social distancing took place at restaurants, the pool and entertainment locations. Masks were not required in these places except by staff. And staff often wore not only masks but face shields as well and some wore gloves. The swim up pool bars at all resorts were mostly closed but you could get cocktails if you got out of the pool or only went up one or two at a time. In no way did I notice crowding anywhere or the inability to get away from others lacking in social distancing protocols.
Some rooms you stay in may have a card on your door knob that looks like the above photo. Other resort rooms may actually have tape over the door. Basically this is to tell you that no one has been in the room since sanitization measures took place inside the room. This occurs at each check out and these resorts have to follow strict sanitization measures to meet COVID clean inspections and response. Whenever I find the right fit for you it is guaranteed that such resorts have these health inspections in place. That they take health measures seriously.

Certain areas of all resorts were limited or shut down. At the Generations multigenerational family resort I noticed that the kids club was closed.  You would find other areas of activity involving any intense touching of items that were not easily cleaned off limits or shut down at other resorts too. It just makes sense until which time things change or new health protocols are put in place to allow these areas to function safely.

With regards to restaurants.... now if you are not the kind to bring your phones with you everywhere you go or you are somehow technically inept I wish to have you know that paper menus are not offered everywhere you go. For the majority of the restaurants I visited there were throw away paper menus available. On one property there were no throw away paper menus available. So be sure to ask me before you choose a resort to find the right fit for you. Resorts not only used QR codes for restaurant menus but for daily activity schedules, room service menus, maps and other areas of interest. 


So what more can I say with regards to traveling to Mexico during COVID-19? I can definitely recommend working with a travel agent before you consider traveling anywhere, even if you select not to choose us - Yet, I hope you do choose us! 




We will look out for you every step of the way. The fact that we took this risk to go on a trip somewhere right now shows you we care about your welfare. We WANT to make a trip as seamless and easy as possible. We want you to feel worry-free. 




While I may not recommend travel just anywhere and everywhere right now I can say that if you DO wish to travel right now that Mexico IS an option. That does not mean you should not follow mask wearing protocols while on property (a lot of people traveling there did not -- they certainly felt safe didn't they! - which only tells me that you should! I mean... Do we really know where these people from the USA are from? No). I was thinking of this every step of my trip and with every person I passed. 

There were very few times when I did not wear a mask and they were: 1) When I was eating 2) when I was drinking (which was only in a restaurant) and 3) When I was in a pool or the ocean. 

I was touring properties as part of a group so I was not alone for the first 3 days of my trip. I did have a room to myself and ate alone a lot but that was ok with me. More to enjoy! The final 4 days of my trip I did a more personalized FAM trip organizing my own stay with onsite management and the wedding groups. I took COVID measures seriously throughout the trip and when I got home I submitted to the dreaded up-the-nose COVID-19 PCR test and am happily doing the 14 day mandatory quarantine now. The test, while not required when I returned back to Maine, I took in order to protect my friends and family members. I visited my doctor the day after my return and she requested that I get it done in the office "due to high risk travel". Hmmm... you know what? I felt more at danger in the USA traveling than I did going to Mexico! Go figure....USA right now IS a high risk area. More high risk than any other country. So please keep that in mind when you travel.

I have a daughter and a pug that I love with all the world so to me any uncomfort I may have felt taking a COVID test is well worth it. The test did not hurt, it was just mildly uncomfortable. I have not experienced any symptoms upon return. Am I happy I visited Mexico? Yes! I'd do it again in a heartbeat.