Agencies book social media on their itineraries

Like other businesses, travel agencies are harnessing the power of social media to increase their reach and name recognition. Some are testing the waters, while others have developed a sophisticated online presence with content that is fresh and engaging.

It’s hardly a secret that an increasing number of travelers are going online to do much of their trip research and planning. Rather than view the Internet as competition, savvy travel agencies are using it to communicate with potential clients. According to an April 12 article in Travel Weekly, Facebook’s 350 million users share more than 3.5 billion pieces of content every week. If travel agencies aren’t on Facebook, chances are they’re not where their clients are.

Social media gurus preach a common theme to businesses: Don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other media to troll for new customers. Instead, provide worthwhile content that establishes your expertise. Over time, sales will result from people who realize your value.

Based on discussions with several agencies using social media, that advice is being followed. Agencies are filling their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs with travel tips, up-to-the-minute travel trends, destination information, photos and last-minute specials, enabling travelers to follow agencies whose online content is useful, find an agent with expertise in the type of travel they’re considering and easily communicate online with travel professionals.

Barry Richcreek, owner of Richcreek Vacation Center in Lower Paxton Twp., has utilized social media for the last four to five years. He mostly provides information and shares videos, such as the “Carnival Paradise Flash Mob” from YouTube. He occasionally posts travel specials, but only if they’re really good. His primary goals are to increase his agency’s name recognition and establish his reputation, so that when followers are ready to travel, they’ll contact Richcreek. “When someone wants to take a trip, I want them to think of us,” he explained.

His emailed newsletters often serve as the start of a new relationship. The newsletters invite readers to find the agency on Facebook. Once they join, they become ambassadors by sharing Richcreek’s travel tips and video postings with their friends. That, of course, is one of the main advantages to any business that uses social media: Information sent by someone the recipient knows and trusts is a priceless endorsement for the company that provided it in the first place.

Social media is the future of new travel business from younger travelers, said Rosemarie Malpass, president of Uniglobe Travel Management Consultants in Mechanicsburg. Malpass, who has been in the travel business for many years, but is relatively new to the social-media game, has used her Facebook page, Twitter and blogs to tout her agency’s expertise in destination wedding planning, list travel deals and promote her agency’s “Referrals Cash Back Program.”

Wings Travel Group in Blue Bell, jumped on the bandwagon about three years ago after staff members participated in a trade conference whose speakers told the attendees that social media was their future. Sue Stechman, branch manager of Wings Travel’s Lancaster office, agreed that social media is the way to connect with younger travelers. But she’s also finding an older audience that’s well-connected.

Wings Travel’s strategy includes a Facebook page, blogs and a biweekly radio show that’s archived and available to listeners anytime through its web site or at BrandywineRadio.com. Stechman recently blogged about her Azamara cruise to Greece and Italy, including photos. She also puts material from Wings Travel’s Facebook page on her personal Facebook page, which draws in more people.

Holiday Tour and Travel in Lemoyne has been developing its social media strategy for about a year and a half, tying together its website, Facebook and Twitter. “We try to have a mixture of travel information, tips and travel offers that are just good deals or last minute deals,” said Richard Prether, marketing vice president for the agency. A recent post listed “12 tips for avoiding lost-luggage nightmares.”

The agency also blogs weekly, mostly featuring major destinations and inviting travelers to write about their trips, even if they haven’t booked them through the agency.

Wings Travel and Holiday Tour and Travel made a point of noting that social media is just another way to communicate with their clients, not a replacement for traditional channels. “It came as no surprise to us that some [of our regular clients] couldn’t care less about the social media and web site,” Prether said. “They like visiting their travel agent face to face. We like that, too.”

Annette Reiff, a certified travel counselor, can be reached at [email protected]


Sicily: One holiday at three different prices

To climb a volcano, visit lemon groves, explore pretty villages and chill out on family-friendly beaches, try south-eastern Sicily. We pick the best of one holiday at three different prices…

“We are in Italy,” the lemon farmer said proudly. “But our climate – it’s African.”

I looked surprised. In early summer, with a cool breeze drifting through the scent of lemon flowers, the view was postcard Italy.

Below us the glossy green leaves of the lemon grove stretched down to the bright Sicilian coast, while behind us Mount etna posed under a cap of white smoke.


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Fabrizio, the farmer at La Gabriella, looked at my expression and laughed. “It’s true – Libya is our neighbour, and Tunisia is closer than Greece.

“Even in autumn the sea is warm enough for swimming! Now come – have you ever seen lemon pickers at work?”

It was with some reluctance, after watching deeply-tanned workers festooned in buckets climb into trees, that we politely refused his offer of coffee (“Or something stronger, no?”) and set out to explore.

One of the island’s prettiest towns is medieval Taormina, with winding lanes, a Greek theatre, baroque churches and boutique shops all clinging to the edge of a cliff.

We were told to get there early, before the coach-loads of day-trippers arrive, then take the £3.50 cable car down to the beach for a lunch of fresh seafood and crusty bread (£12) and wait to see the town itself after 7pm, when the last tourist coach leaves.

Then, we shared the streets with the locals and enjoyed wheels of pizza (£10) on terraces overlooking the tumble of roofs to the sea.

For a quieter day out, we headed south and stumbled on the tiny fishing village of Marzamemi, with chic cafes around the main square and two popular lunchtime restaurants on the harbour front.

Further south still is Syracuse, 2,700 years old, steeped in epic Greek history and a Unesco site. In the town we wandered around pretty squares past designer shops tucked into old palazzos, and enjoyed seafood spaghetti (£10) in a quiet courtyard.

More history was to be found at the magnificent 5th Century BC Greek theatre on the hills above, ancient stone quarry caves and a wild, sunken garden next door.

But the real adventure was yet to come – climbing Mount etna. The drive to get there was worth it alone – olive groves gave way to vineyards, pine forest and then only black lava. You can either take a cable car and bus up to view the crater (£53pp), or opt, as we did, to burn off some pasta and climb 1,000m in an alien landscape of powdery black paths and swirling cloud.

In the evening, over a glass of wine from vineyards on the slopes of etna, there was only one toast to be made. Having been in Sicily for the spring lemon harvest, here’s to going back in the autumn for the olives.

1. Lap of luxury

For a night or two of sheer luxury, try a five-star stay in a converted 15th Century Arabic fort and hermitage, perched on a rolling estate just south of ragusa.

At the Hotel Eremo della giubiliana, our room looked out on to a courtyard where knights used to guard the convent in the 16th Century. next door was a quiet, tree-encircled swimming pool and another sunny courtyard, perfect for lunch on a hot day.

We treated ourselves to dinner under the vaulted ceiling of the main restaurant and explored the estate from the monks’ dark refectory (now a wine cellar) to the wheat fields, its own archaeological site, spa and even a private airstrip.

Another evening we headed into old ragusa, where we discovered restaurants carved deep into ancient cellars.

What’s The Deal? ONE week for two with flights and car hire from £1,554 (£777pp). Add extra nights from £79pp per night.

2. Relaxed retreat

Clinging by its toes to the top of a mountain more than 500m above sea level is the medieval village of Castelmola, a quiet twist of streets with staggering views over Taormina below and across to Mount Etna.

Just below a 13th Century castle and small collection of restaurants and bars is the charming, family-run four-star Hotel Villa Sonia.

On the site of an old mansion, it’s now a terraced hotel where the swimming pool and rooms look across to the volcano, and where we woke every morning to the distant clucking of chickens.

Popular with both families and honeymooners, it is the perfect base from which to explore Taormina, with a free hotel shuttle winding down the mountain roads.

What’s The Deal? ONE week for two at Hotel Villa Sonia with flights and transfers costs from £1,388 (£694pp), or accommodationonly from £62pp per night.

3. Family bargain

Get a laid-back taste of Sicily when you stay on a farm – the italians call it “agriturismo”. Try self-catering at the turreted Villa Alfredo, owned by an award-winning olive oil producer, where around the cobbled courtyard, old workers’ cottages have been converted into small flats. Here you can collect fresh eggs and vegetables from the garden every morning, swim in the pool in the evening and watch the sun go down over the olive groves.

Or at la gabriella, settle into one of the self-catering flats and cottages that are hidden among Fabrizio’s lemon trees. Pick fresh peaches from the garden to enjoy after a relaxed supper cooked in one of the shared barbecue areas.

WHAT’S THE DEAL?

One week’s self-catering, based on a family of four at the Villa Alfredo, costs from £415pp per week with car hire and flights from london. Or la gabriella starts at £425pp per week with car hire and flights from london.

All deals from Long Travel (01694 722193, www.long-travel.co.uk). Ring to check for special offers or late deals.


Travel with Val: Tourism troubles for Greece


5:00 AM



By: Valarie D’Elia

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“Greece is heaven on earth, everyone is welcome to Greece,” says one taxi driver.

But his words come with a sense of irony. He, along with his fellow Santorini taxi drivers protesting recent austerity measures, made it more like hell for tourists visiting in peak season.

“The taxi drivers strike was fairly significant, they disrupted much of downtown,” says traveler Kevin Brogan from Pasadena, California. “Transportation to and from the airport had to be by minivan, so taxi drivers wouldn’t think there were limos trying to work around them.”

The taxi drivers are back on the road for now, but that’s not the end of tourism troubles.

In September, the Value Added Tax levied at restaurants and bars will rise to 23 percent from 13 percent.

Unlike the VAT on merchandise, tourists can’t recoup any of it.

That could keep them away from restaurants that are already losing almost half of their revenue.

“Forty percent down,” lamented restaurant manager Raymond Rukaj. “Forty percent down from three years ago. It’s been way down, business.”

When it comes to haggling with shop owners, there are few bargains to be had.

“We haven’t really tried dealing or making any purchases, so no and no one has approached us with deals,” says Sally Browne from Minneapolis.

All of this on top of an unfavorable exchange rate doesn’t bode well for tourism.

“I can’t remember the last exchange rate, $1.42, it’s a little pricey. We feel like we are helping the recession here,” says Brogan.


Package Holidays Specialist Welcomes New ATOL Reforms

Packyourbags.com, one of the UK’s leading online retailers for package holidays gives its support to the new ATOL rules being reviewed by Government.

Tunbridge Wells, Kent (PRWEB) July 19, 2011

New ATOL reforms currently under review by the Government will mean more holidaymakers will receive better protection in the event of a company going bust.

To date, the ATOL scheme compensates those people booked on package holidays if their tour operator goes bust before they depart, or if holidaymakers are already overseas then transportation is arranged to bring them back home.

However, due to the travel industry evolving significantly over the last decade, the methods available today for travel agents and tour operators to dynamically create holiday packages for clients is far more complex than the traditional off the shelf package holidays available ten/twenty years ago, and up until now it is these types of holidays where consumers haven’t been covered.

However, if the new proposals are approved, it means those travellers who are offered dynamic packages, or flight plus holidays where a travel agent manually creates a package from different flights and accommodation, will be covered if any one of the companies they booked through goes bust.

Managing Director Mark Kempster of Packyourbags.com commented, “Taking the necessary steps to cover more people is good, but the new reforms aren’t quite enough; they need to go further to try and include all independent travellers. In addition, by taking further steps with these reforms there will be a more level playing field for companies involved in selling travel.”

Packyourbags.com is a fully licensed and bonded member of ABTA, ATOL IATA, providing customers with the peace of mind that when they purchase a holiday on its website; all monies paid are completely safe.

The benefit in booking online through Packyourbags.com is the opportunity to search through all the leading tour operators’ holidays in one place. Packyourbags.com is completely independent so users can enter their preferred search criteria and the site then checks and compares all operators’ holidays to the chosen destination to present the traveller with the holidays that best match their criteria at the best available prices.

With the Mediterranean being its primary focus, Packyourbags.com has thousands of holiday deals to the most popular destinations such as Italy, Spain, holidays to Turkey and Greece holidays.

For the latest offers visit Packyourbags.com or call 0800 652 5986.

###

Lucy Watt
Packyourbags.com
0800 652 5986
Email Information


Letter: Family and friends of Laura Frazier offer thanks – Fairport

At the time when my daughter Laura Ann (Gioseffi) Frazier was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, it was apparent that extensive treatment would be necessary. Her godfather (Dick Cerone), the Cerone family, friends and specifically neighbors on Jade Creek Drive in Greece rallied for her support. Several events were conducted including a balloon launch, a “courage bowl” football game, a dinner celebration, a comedy club event, and a website that organized and provided meals for the family. Money that was raised was used to pay for travel, treatment and family living expenses.

Laura put up a courageous fight but lost the battle to cancer on May 22. As a parent, I grieve at the loss of a wonderful daughter, wife and mother at the age of 42. However, I acknowledge the tremendous outpouring of support extended to Laura, her husband, John, and her children.

Although we have sent out more than 400 thank-you notes, we have not reached everyone who contributed in so many different ways. This includes her high school and college friends, all in the Greece, Hilton, Bay Village, OH, and Canandaigua communities, and several who posted on her Caring Bridge message board.

For individuals who have not received a specific “thank you,” please accept the message contained in this letter as an expression of profound gratitude and appreciation. In addition, all money that was donated to Laura and to the children’s fund has been placed in trust specifically for educational needs.

BEN GIOSEFFI
Greece


Costa is like floating on a slice of Italy


When chunks of parmesan grace the buffet lines in bowls the size of washtubs, when each table burns a red candle at dinner, and when a multi-cultural group of cabin attendants greets you in the morning with a chorus of “Buon giorno,” you know you are cruising on a Costa ship.

Costa now floats its slice of Italy around the world on a fleet of 15 big cruise ships, with another scheduled to debut in 2012. In North America, Costa sails out of Miami to the Caribbean and even on these itineraries passengers will share the ships with an international crowd, as Costa’s mass-marketed, price-competitive voyages entice travelers from nearly every nation.

The all-Italian theme plays well in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America, where Italian restaurants are among the favorite places to eat and where visiting Italy is near the top of most U.S. travelers’ wish lists.

I find that preparing for a vacation with Costa is more like a trip to Europe than a typical North American cruise. It helps to know something about Italian culture and food, and to place your expectations less with a healthy slab of prime rib and more toward pasta, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, cold cuts, cheese, wine and the desserts of Italy, especially gelato, served in little cups as a snack from a cart at the main pool.

While English-speaking staff are on all Costa ships, North Americans may also want to bone up on their Italian words, not only to respond to “Bon giorno” — a greeting heard as often on Costa ships as “hello” in the United States — but also to fully appreciate the experience, including wines and cheeses and dining specialties.

If you are looking at a Mediterranean cruise out of Venice yet this summer or a 2011-2012 winter sojourn in the waters near Dubai, you might consider Costa’s newest ship, the 3,800-passenger Favolosa, which is an exhibition of design, materials and ingredients with a “Made in Italy” stamp.

Some 500 Italian companies were involved in designing, furnishing and building the Favolosa. In Italian, favolosa means fabulous and is related, says Costa, to favola which means fairy tale.

Favolosa furnishings came from Molteni, BB), Rossi D’Albizzate, Moroso, and Tonon. Sicis decorated the Samsara Spa. Rubelli of Venice provided fabrics. Cotton came from Frette, and equipment for the fitness center from Technogym .

The art collection aboard ship includes 400 original works from 28 Italian artists.

The collection of wines is reason enough to study your Italian wine makers and prepare for a week of tasting from among Amarone di Aneri , Marchesi Antinori, Fazi Battaglia, Fantinel, Castellare in Castellina, Batasiolo, Fontanafredda and Pasqua.

“The Costa Favolosa is like a pavilion about Italy,” said Massimo Bottura, chef for the gala dinner at the Favolosa naming ceremony in Trieste in July. Bottura’s restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena has two Michelin stars.

Vacationing on a floating slice of Italy also means, of course, that Costa delivers some of the characteristics of behavior in Italy that you may or may not like — so be prepared as well for occasional lack of organization and apparent disregard for exact schedules. My lifeboat drill on the new Favolosa, for instance, was not the smoothest, and the ship chose a particularly scenic time to operate it, so I missed some views. Ship activities did not always start at their announced times. “Forgive us,” said a Costa staffer with a smile. “In Italian time, 10 minutes may range from 10 minutes to a day.”

For me, the big bowls of parmesan made up for any scheduling issues. I grabbed a chunk each time I cruised through the buffet line in the lido restaurant, overindulging for sure. One lunch, as we sailed off the coast of northern Italy, I sat on deck in the sunshine, mixing some parmesan with broccoli, a salad, slices of Parma ham, with potato, and a breast of chicken. It all tasted of Italy.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com


Autumn escapes

One amazing deal this fall? Hawaii, said Garavanian. Temperatures on the islands remain in the 70s and 80s, but prices drop between September and mid-December. For example, a 10-night package including air fare, inter-island air travel, car rental, and stays in four- and five-star hotels on Kauai and Maui would cost about $5,000 for a trip beginning at the end of October; in March, it would cost nearly $6,400.


Tensions Over Illegal Immigrants In Greece Rises

The financial turmoil in Europe is creating social as well as economic problems in a number of countries, especially in Greece, which is suffering its worst recession in decades.

Greece is the unwilling host to about 80 percent of Europe’s illegal immigrants, and many Greeks are starting to resent their presence at a time of high unemployment and cuts in social services. To make matters worse, the capital Athens is experiencing a rise in violent crime — a problem that’s also being blamed on the immigrants.

On a recent afternoon, scores of homeless Afghans gathered in the central Athens square called Victoria. All came here with the idea that they’d find work, but they’re all unemployed.

“Everyone back home told me that when I came here, people would take care of me,” says 25-year-old Farhod Bahteri. But now, he and his wife and two sons are all homeless.

It’s a sad story — one of hundreds — but many Athenians are losing sympathy. They blame a big rise in violent crime here on immigrants. Police data shows that homicides and robberies doubled between 2009 and 2010.

Tasos Boulis, the Greek owner of a kiosk in the square, says he’s been robbed several times and sees violence every night.

“They rob houses, buses, trains — anything. And no one cares,” Boulis says. “If we complain, we’re racists. I expect something awful to happen, like it did in Norway, because people here are under way too much pressure from this.”

Turning To The Right For HelpTne

The pressure is turning some Athenians to Chrysi Avgi — or Golden Dawn — a far-right nationalist party that has taken up policing these neighborhoods, sometimes brutally.

Ilias Panagiotaros is a Chrysi Avgi spokesman, and he says the police are letting illegal immigrants take over Athens. He says he was attacked by 30 Afghans in a cafe last year. If immigrants are complaining about having no work or money in Athens then they should leave, he says.

“They should go back in their countries, where they were nice and safe, and they had nice jobs, and everything was perfect — in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Algeria and everywhere, if they don’t like Athens and have such problems,” Panagiotaros says.

Chrysi Avgi won a seat on Athens municipal council last year and Panagiotaros says his party will be in parliament soon.

Chrysi Avgi supporters were out in force in the neighborhood in May, shouting “foreigners get out of Greece!” The occasion was a memorial service for a Greek man stabbed to death by Afghans a few days before.

In the riots that followed, gangs of Greeks attacked immigrants, and a Bangladeshi man was stabbed to death. Ahmad Babul, 29, also from Bangladesh, watched as a friend was attacked.

“Suddenly eight, nine people coming and beat him,” Babul says. He says his friend was taken to the hospital bloody and with broken teeth.

For now, life is calm in Victoria Square, despite the underlying tension. Every evening, Afghan children fill the place. A five-year-old boy named Hamidullah is on his own because his dad is in jail. A ten-year-old girl named Donya sells packets of cheap cigarettes.

Orestis, who didn’t want to give his last name, owns the second kiosk in the square.

“Look, I’m not against immigrants coming here to make a better future,” he says, “but there are just too many of them.”

Orestis says he feels bad for the kids. But these days, he says, he feels even worse for his neighborhood. It’s turned into a ghetto with too many angry people.