Category Archives: Travel Apps

As Travel Resurges, TripAdvisor Launches Reco to Match Travelers with Trip Designers

A HelloReco trip designer can curate a trip through Portugal’s Douro to see the terraced vineyards and have a private wine tasting and even participate in crushing the grapes © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The news that the European Union is opening to American travelers has people pulling out and revising their bucket lists and not wasting time to get out there.

Travel is back. We can testify to that from our recent visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Getting flights, hotels, car rentals, even restaurant reservations have become difficult. We were lucky – we booked back in March, but now we see “No Vacancy” signs up everywhere; even Glacier National Park turned away a camper who had traveled 1000 miles, who didn’t have a permit.

The desire to come together – family and friends – and have the special shared life-enhancing experiences, bonds, lifetime memories that traveling provides are propelling an explosion of travelers who are finding, for the first time in more than a year, “no vacancy” and “flights full” signs.

“After a year spent at home, consumers are more eager than ever to travel: 75% plan to go on at least one vacation this summer, and they plan to spend more money on travel than any other category,” a survey by payment network Affirm found. Affirm polled 2,000 Americans on their spending plans and found that half are going all-out this summer once vaccinated, to make up for lost time. 

Travel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.comravel is back! Lines to go through security at Denver International Airport

Meanwhile, travel advisors (a more apt term than “travel agents”) are making a comeback. Bucking the DIY trend that was part and parcel of the boom in online travel sites, the dizzying changes in travel, increased concern for health, safety and security, and scarce availability in face of increased demand and limited supply, combined with a new appreciation for how precious the travel experience and more ambitious travel plans, more travelers, from millennials to retirees are seeking out professionals.

A study by the trade association American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) shows a significant increase in the percentage of travelers who intend to use a travel advisor, from 27% who always or often used an advisor prior to the coronavirus pandemic, to 44% who say they are more likely to use a travel advisor now.

Travelers correctly assess that travel advisors, with deep knowledge of destinations and connections to travel suppliers, have greater ability to get free upgrades (or even actual rooms) at hotels and resorts or know suitable or better alternatives; get complimentary breakfast; access special pricing; steer travelers to experiences and attractions they might not know; and arrange unusual and extraordinary experiences. Significantly for these times, travelers want their knowledge of what’s open and what’s safe, putting the logistics together in the best itinerary, and addressing any emergency or change in condition that may occur once the trip is underway.

Travel is back – and travelers are being confronted with “no vacancy” signs in popular places like Yellowstone National Park. A travel advisor can use contacts, destination experience to book lodgings, attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All of this is driving travelers to rediscover the benefits of using skilled travel professional who knows the destination or type of travel (adventure, ecotour, family travel), how to get the most value for dollar, and has the inside track for putting together all the elements in the most cost-effective way.

The most ambitious example is a new matching service that ironically comes out of TripAdvisor – the online compendium of everything travel, and the parent of a score of online travel sites. Reco from TravelAdvisor (HelloReco.com) does for travelers what Uber does for drivers, offering an online platform linking travelers to a specialist “trip designer” to customize your itinerary (what used to be known as FITs, or foreign  independent travel).

What Reco offers are links to experts in a destination or a type of travel, who essentially offer their skills and you get to choose. You pay a single fee of $200 for their help preparing the itinerary, regardless of how simple, how long, how complex or expensive. It can be a reunion of family members coming from different parts of the country to an andbeyond safari camp in Kenya or a hiking/camping trip to Machu Picchu.

“Reco from Tripadvisor is seeing increased demand for ‘big, trip-of-a-lifetime’ vacations as Americans look forward to traveling again,” said Erik Ornitz, General Manager of Reco, which debuted in December 2020.

“Trip Designers on Reco are helping make long-awaited vacations possible with personalized planning and expert advice on navigating today’s complex world. The excitement of newlyweds actually being able to plan their honeymoon, or families getting ready for a trip together after months apart, is a light at the end of this long tunnel.”

A sampling of recent trips planned for Reco travelers showcases the diversity of destinations and experiences in both international and domestic locales:

Overseeing the planning of these highly anticipated, hand-tailored getaways are more than 300 highly qualified Trip Designers whose expertise spans more than 100 countries.  Each Reco Trip Designer specializes in one or several destinations he or she is personally connected to; many have access to special perks like complimentary room upgrades and breakfasts, even special pricing. Trip Designers work directly with each client on custom plans, and remain in contact to help adjust or change plans throughout the entire trip journey. The one-time fee to hire a Reco Trip Designer is $200 (the trip planning does not include airline travel; also, travel agents typically earn commission from the travel suppliers they book).
 
How Reco Works

Travelers start by simply sharing details and preferences about their next trip on HelloReco.com – such as destinations, the type and purpose of the trip, their interests, who they are traveling with, and budget parameters, in an online questionnaire. The Reco platform immediately matches users with a selection of curated Trip Designers that meet their specific needs.
 
After an initial conversation via messaging within the platform, the traveler chooses one of the trip designers and pays a $200 hiring fee for the selected Trip Designer to begin designing, planning, and booking a custom itinerary for a stress-free and highly memorable travel experience. Throughout the process (pre-, during-, and post-trip), Reco connects travelers with their personal Trip Designer and saves all important travel documents and confirmations. The Trip Designer remains available to Reco users throughout their trip and can also navigate and help manage any changes or cancellations.

“Every trip designer has either lived in destination they specialize in or traveled there many times,” Ornitz  said. ”They are incredibly knowledgeable about destinations they are creating itineraries for – most have contacts at the beautiful hotels, know the concierge, can get room upgrades, complimentary breakfast. For example, trip designer Danny specializes in culinary and wine experiences through Portugal and Spain; an American, he has lived there for over 10 years and has gotten to know so many of the wine makers (that most don’t know about) that he can get clients in to meet the winemaker for private tastings.”

A visit to Rully castle, Burgundy France. European Union countries including France are reopening to Americans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Traditional travel advisors have already been seeing renewed interest among travelers who appreciate the time-savings, and reduction in stress that comes with trip planning. Very often, travel experts can also build in greater value and savings or taking advantage of special pricing.

I tell Ornitz that I find it a bit ironic that Reco, which is old-school people-to-people is a subsidiary of ‘new-school” online travel.

“It is a bit old-school but also new school – that’s what we’re excited about,” said Ornitz, whose role in TripAdvisor was to run its new ventures team.

“The travel economy is large, with lots of innovation. TripAdvisor.com is the world’s largest travel site but we see startups, small companies, doing things we haven’t done. The ventures team was born out of that. We looked for a start up that expanded our reach, our scope in travel.

“Quickly, we started talk to customers – TripAdvisor has access to data about travel but also travelers. TripAdvisor came into the industry to help travelers DIY – linking to every hotel, activity, restaurant, so you can pull your trip together. Millions of people do that every day. But we also heard about special trips, occasions, places people had never been, more complex itineraries, and people asking, ‘Can I get more help?’ We dove into the world of travel advisory and custom travel planning – what can we do to help those travelers looking for good advice, local knowledge, insight? How can we serve them?

“On other side, there are a phenomenal number of travel advisors, some in industry for years, some just started, who launched a career on Instagram or social media.

“Reco was born out of the idea of matching those – TripAdvisor with travel advisors – for curated trips – custom, bespoke, luxury.”

Reco is not a travel agency, but rather recruits travel advisors who may be part of different host agencies. Essentially, it is a platform that connects travelers with travel experts, who are independent.

The travel advisors – who may be part of prestigious agencies like Virtuoso or Signature Travel Network – are vetted in order to be part of the Reco platform. They may also be earning commission on the travel services they book, which is why they can afford to do the work on a $200 flat fee.

“Two things are unique with Reco: we pride ourselves on curating trips with amazing trip designers, and matching travelers with them – a lot who have never worked with advisor, and have no clue how to find such a trip designer.” That’s what the Reco platform does.”

He expects clients to span a demographic spectrum – millennials to retirees – and everything from safaris and food-and-wine trips to destination weddings.

One of the specialty areas that caught my attention was the ability to help design trips for families who have autistic and special needs children.

“As a company, we care about inclusive travel, helping travelers with all sorts of needs travel better. As a team, we are thinking about different ways we could embody that mission to be an inclusive travel company, and several trip designers said it is difficult for family with autistic children to travel – especially with all these [COVID-19] restrictions.” There are five trip designers whose specialty is working with families who can curate such trips.

“It shows we can accommodate special needs, complex travel. It is an initial effort by us to serve those families, helping those families travel again in a world where it is harder to travel.

“It goes to the root of Reco – we are all about custom travel, matching people with right designer who can meet their needs, whatever they are.”

HelloReco.com, a wholly owned subsidiary brand of TripAdvisor, Inc., is currently available for U.S. residents and is also available as an iOS app. An Android app will be available in coming months. Visit www.helloreco.com to start the process.
 
Tripadvisor is one of the largest travel guidance platforms in the world, helping hundreds of millions of people each month travel better, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 884 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby. A travel guidance company available in 49 markets and 28 languages, Tripadvisor facilitates travel planning of all types. 

In addition to www.helloreco.com, Tripadvisor’s online travel brands and businesses include: www.bokun.iowww.cruisecritic.comwww.flipkey.comwww.thefork.com (including www.lafourchette.comwww.eltenedor.comwww.bookatable.co.uk, and www.delinski.com), www.holidaylettings.co.ukwww.housetrip.com,
www.jetsetter.comwww.niumba.comwww.seatguru.comwww.singleplatform.comwww.vacationhomerentals.com, and www.viator.com.

 _______________
 © 2021 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

State Department Implements New Travel Advisory System, New Info Hub for US Travelers

A biking and wildlife safari in rural India: India has been issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory, with a particular warning for women not to travel alone since rape is one of the fastest growing crimes. Also it warns of terrorist or armed groups active in East Central India, primarily in rural areas. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On January 10, 2018, the Department of State launched changes in how information is shared with U.S. travelers, replacing Travel Alerts and Warnings for countries that warrant them to a new system where every country has a Travel Advisory with a level ranging from 1 to 4.  The advisories are hosted in a redesigned hub for traveler information, travel.state.gov.

“These changes are intended to provide U.S. citizens with clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” the State Department stated in a press advisory.

  • Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk. There is some risk in any international travel. Conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States and may change at any time.
  • Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.
  • Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. During an emergency, the U.S. government may have very limited ability to provide assistance. The Department of State advises that U.S. citizens not travel to the country or leave as soon as it is safe to do so. The Department of State provides additional advice for travelers in these areas in the Travel Advisory. Conditions in any country may change at any time.

The Travel Advisories for each country replace previous Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts. While the State Department will issue an overall Travel Advisory level for every country, levels of advice may vary for specific locations or areas within a country. For instance, U.S. citizens may be advised to “Exercise Increased Caution” (Level 2) in a country, but to “Reconsider Travel” (Level 3) to a particular area within the country. Detailed Travel Advisories also will provide clear reasons for the level assigned, using established risk indicators, and offer specific advice to U.S. citizens who choose to travel there:

  • C – Crime: Widespread violent or organized crime is present in areas of the country. Local law enforcement may have limited ability to respond to serious crimes.
  • T – Terrorism: Terrorist attacks have occurred and/or specific threats against civilians, groups, or other targets may exist.
  • U – Civil Unrest: Political, economic, religious, and/or ethnic instability exists and may cause violence, major disruptions, and/or safety risks.
  • H – Health: Health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, are present. The issuance of a Centers for Disease Control Travel Notice may be a factor.
  • N – Natural Disaster: A natural disaster, or its aftermath, poses danger.
  • E – Time-limited Event: A short-term event, such as an election, sporting event, or other incident that may pose a safety risk.
  • O – Other: There are potential risks not covered by previous risk indicators. Read the country’s Travel Advisory for details.

The State Department stated it will review and update each Travel Advisory as needed, based on changes to security and safety information. Additionally, U.S. embassies and consulates will now issue Alerts to replace the current Emergency Messages and Security Messages. Alerts will inform U.S. citizens of specific safety and security concerns in a country, such as demonstrations, crime trends, and weather events.

Revamped Website, Travel.State.Gov

The Department’s newly-redesigned hub for traveler information,travel.state.gov, will host all Travel Advisories, recent Alerts issued for each country, and an interactive map in mobile friendly formats.

Country pages on the site will continue to include all travel information currently available, including details about entry/exit requirements, local laws and customs, health conditions, transportation, and other relevant topics.

To receive security and other important updates while traveling, U.S. citizens can enroll their travel plans in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (step.state.gov), and follow on Twitter (@travelgov) and Facebook (facebook.com/travelgov).

Enjoying a sailing adventure in the Philippines. The State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Philippines: Terrorist and armed groups continue plotting possible kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist and armed groups may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. © Sarah Falter/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We posed additional questions to a spokesperson for the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs:

How was the new Travel Advisory system created? How has it been received by travel professionals and travelers?

“Over the past year, we received feedback about our consular safety and security messaging from State Department colleagues throughout the world and from our many outreach activities to the public and other government stakeholders.  This feedback helped us tailor our new Travel Advisories to the information travelers need most.

“The revisions to consular safety and security messaging improve the Department’s ability to inform the public in an efficient and comprehensive manner.  Information is easier to find, understand, and use. Travel Advisories ensure U.S. citizens receive important advice for every country, applying a consistent worldwide standard.”

“Our goal was to improve our communications with U.S. citizen travelers to provide clear, timely, and reliable safety and security information worldwide. So far, the feedback was been positive.

“One thing I’d point out: it’s important to read the full Travel Advisory for the country your visiting.  In some cases, we have different Advisory levels for different parts of the country.  Mexico, for example, is a Travel Advisory Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution, but some areas of Mexico are Level 3 and 4.  So it’s important to read each Advisory carefully.”

How do you determine the overall level for a country?

“We consider many factors to determine the Travel Advisory level for each country, including crime, terrorist activity, civil unrest, health, natural disaster/weather,  and current events.  We clearly explain the reason for the Travel Advisory level and describe the safety and security concerns.

“The information used to formulate Travel Advisories is collected from a range of sources, such as crime statistics and other information that is publicly available, information gathered from U.S. government sources, as well as assessments by our embassies and consulates.  Travel Advisories also take into account decisions made to protect the security of U.S. government personnel overseas and ensure that U.S. citizens receive appropriate security information.

“This analysis is undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations.  Travel Advisories represent our commitment to protect U.S. citizens traveling  and residing abroad by providing them important safety and security information.

“Travel Advisories are based on safety and security conditions that could affect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad, not on political considerations.” 

Cuba-US People to People Partnership booth at the New York Times Travel Show: The US State Department’s Level 3 travel advisory (Reconsider Travel) for Cuba is controversial. The government says it is based on “health attacks directed at US Embassy employees” but Canada’s embassy had a similar episode and did not withdraw its diplomats, no other incidents were reported and tourists continue to come. Indeed, International Tourism Fair in Madrid recently judged Cuba “Safest Destination in the World.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the Obama administration there was an attempt to make it easier for travelers to come into US. How has the Trump Administration changed the way visitors are treated? Travel into the US from abroad is down 4-6% in 2017 – an otherwise a banner year for international travel – which is estimated to cost the US economy $4.5 billion and the loss of 40,000 jobs. Is this something the State Dept is concerned about?

“The Department of State remains committed to efficiently processing applications for legitimate travel to the United States.

“At the same time, every visa decision is a national security decision, and we must ensure that applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States.   We have never hesitated to spend additional time evaluating visa applications to this end.

“However, we do recognize the importance of international travel and tourism to the U.S. Economy. 75.6 million visitors traveled to the United States in 2016.  These visitors spent $244.7 billion and supported 1.2 million jobs here in the United States in 2016.  The U.S. travel industry (international and domestic) is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, contributing $1.6 trillion in economic activity.

“Together with other agencies, we are in contact with industry groups and work with them regularly to discuss concerns and opportunities.”

Some 15 countries around the world have travel alerts about travel to the United States because of gun violence. Can you comment?

“Our responsibility is to provide information for U.S. citizens traveling overseas.  We’re aware that some countries have their own travel alerts, including regarding the United States, but we’d have to refer you to those countries for information on how they develop their alerts.”

During the Obama Administration, there also were programs to facilitate and encourage young people to travel abroad, take foreign internships, join programs like Peace Corps, coordinated through the State Department. Can you comment on such programs under the Trump Administration? 

“Again this year, the Open Doors student mobility numbers showed an increase in American students studying abroad, topping more than 325,000 American students in academic year 2015/16. Increasingly, U.S. colleges and universities are making study abroad an integral component of the higher education experience for Americans.  And more U.S. students than ever before are taking advantage of study abroad opportunities in a wide range of countries.

“To help facilitate this growth, the State Department launched the U.S. Study Abroad Office in 2015 with the goal of further increasing and diversifying U.S. participation in study abroad, including diversity of study, geographic representation and diversity of institutional types, as well as diversity of study abroad destinations around the globe. We work with U.S. and foreign institutions to expand opportunities and highlight the value of studying abroad. Our Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program increases participation in study abroad by providing resources to federal Pell grants recipients, and Critical Language Scholarship Programs provide training in over a dozen foreign languages critical to U.S. foreign policy priorities.

“Study abroad helps students understand the perspectives and values of others, enabling them to succeed in our diverse workplaces, communities and educational institutions. The State Department supports American colleges and universities in their efforts to increase study abroad. You can find more here: https://studyabroad.state.gov.”

Biking through Albania, a country totally unknown or misunderstood by Americans: The State Department designates Albania as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is the position from the State Department about the benefit of international travel – Americans going abroad and foreigners visiting the US – in terms of fostering people-to-people understanding?

“All of us who work in this field know how vital exchange programs and international study is to our shared future. It is one of the key means for the next generation of global leaders to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our global economy, foster progress in our societies, and address shared challenges.

“When people go abroad, they make connections that broaden their worldview.  They become part of an international network of individuals with the shared experience of navigating new and unfamiliar languages, cultures and institutions, as they gain knowledge and develop resourcefulness and critical thinking skills. This experience is especially crucial for young people who will increasingly compete and interact in an interconnected world.

“The State Department sponsors exchange programs to increase mutual understanding and respect between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, as a goal of U.S. foreign policy.  These include the International Visitor Leadership Program and Fulbright Program, our flagship exchanges, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, Critical Language Scholarships, high school exchanges, as well as support for the global network of EducationUSA educational advising centers that provides information on U.S. study to international students worldwide.”

See also:

New York Times Travel Show: American Travelers Resilient In Face of Crises

New York Times Travel Show: Despite Trump Policy, Americans CAN Travel to Cuba!

_____________________________

© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures