World Tourism Day 2020

In a year when so many things seem to be going wrong, at times, it is hard to see the bigger picture; the one that says that the world being shut down is not forever. But, we really must actively work toward responsible tourism, protecting our people, planet and places.

Tourism is such a huge part of the world economy, that without it, families go hungry and communities who once pulled themselves out of poverty become impoverished again. But, you have a choice when you travel to make a positive impact, it’s called Responsible Tourism.

When you think of people in tourism being affected by Covid-19, you probably think first of the great tour guides you’ve met in your travels, travel agents like myself, flight, cruise ship and hotel staff. Those tourism jobs are just the tip of the iceberg though! With less people traveling:

  • There are fewer tourist buses, boats and ferries. This affects jobs for mechanics, maintenance staff, captains and drivers.
  • Fewer people staying at hotels means fewer jobs for cleaning and hotel staff, but also indirectly affects the businesses who clean the carpets or windows, replace the mats, do laundry or dry cleaning service or sell furnishings.
  • Fewer people exploring, means fewer people visiting rural communities and artisans that rely on tourism. Think of all the tours you’ve done to spice farms, coffee plantations, pineapple plantations, olive grove or lemon farms. Think of the distilleries, rum cake factories, blown glass workshops or weaving workshops you’ve visited. With no tourists, a large chunk of these farmers’ and artisans’ income is now gone.
  • Less demand for souvenirs and artisan’s works, so many tourist markets are closed and the small business owners and artisans have no where to sell their goods.

It really is such a difficult situation for so many. But, there is hope for a return to an even better world.

Today, Sept 27th is World Tourism Day. This year’s focus is on Tourism and Rural Development. Tourism is a viable sector for people in rural communities to build businesses and have employment opportunities that help them rise from poverty. But, it is not just about money. The tourism sector provides dignity and equality for many. It provides opportunities for women and youth which, in turn, provides better education for entire families. When you put that all together, it means a better world for all of us.

Please, take a moment today to reflect on your past travels. We ALL need to be more responsible when we travel in the future. If you reduce, reuse and recycle at home and are proud to support local in your community, then all you have to do is take those same principles with you when you travel.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself, or discuss with me, when you are planning your next trip.

  • Have you supported Rural Tourism by getting out of the cities and spending times in the countryside in the past? Did you enjoy the experience and feel connected to the locals?
  • Have you travelled with a company who takes a stand for Animal Rights, Women’s Equality, No Child Labour, Fair Wages and/or Environmental Action? If you aren’t sure, that’s ok. Commit to asking for this information going forward.
  • Have you made a conscious effort to go to a lesser-touristed destination and avoided the over-touristed hot spots? This spreads tourist dollars farther, supports more people and often means better value for your money! We all know the most highly touristed spots are full of tourist-traps!
  • Have you purchased souvenirs from the artisans themselves rather than bulk-made souvenirs?
  • Have you dined at a local restaurant that buys its food from within 100 kms, reducing the carbon footprint?
  • Have you stayed at accommodations that are locally owned & operated?
  • Have you done research on your Air BnB / VRBO accommodations to make sure they are properly zoned, owned by a local (not a foreigner) and that families have not been forced to move because of increasing rents to provide tourist accommodation?
  • Have you stayed at a restored Heritage building that is locally owned and lovingly restored?
  • Have you chosen to go to a smaller, locally owned resort rather than a Chain-resort so that more of your tourist dollars goes back to the local economy instead of to a foreign investor?
  • Have you used your spending money wisely to support local businesses, artisans and companies while you are travelling?
  • Have you visited a community where they’ve taught you about their culture and heritage?
  • Have you donated to a local not for profit organization rather than giving money or candy to children begging on the streets?
  • Have you packed responsibly insuring you have no single use plastic? Some countries ban plastic bags with HUGE fines, including zip lock baggies. So, pack your reusable bottle, reusable toiletry bags and a steel straw! Don’t leave any garbage behind in the country you visit.
  • Have you chosen to travel one country or area in depth to get to know the culture and the locals better, as well as reducing your carbon footprint by using ground or water transportation rather than flying relatively short distances between destinations?
  • Have you made a donation to a Carbon offsetting organization to help mitigate the carbon used on your trip?

If you haven’t done any of these, that’s ok! There is no time like the present to start your journey to becoming a better traveller. If you don’t know where to start, that’s ok too. I’m here to help you be a better traveller going forward.

You don’t have to do all of these things every time you travel, but even if you do some of them, what a difference it will make to the locals in the destinations that you’ve chosen to visit. Start with your next trip and see if you can incorporate some of these great practices. You’ll have the most wonderful trip AND it will be having a positive impact on the people and places you visit, as well as our planet. It’s a win-win-win!

If you are ready to get back out there in the world and are dreaming of where you’d like to go in 2021 or 2022, reach out to me. Let’s set up a time to talk about responsible tourism options that will make your dream vacation just that much more special! A few small changes can make a world of difference.

Happy World Tourism Day!

What do I need to know about travelling right now?

Peggy's Cove, NS

14JUL20 – There has been a lot of great news about international travel opening up around the world. Canada is on the EU ‘safe list’. Caribbean Islands are welcoming guests from various international destinations, including Canada. Flights have resumed to many destinations, encouraging tourism, albeit on a less frequent schedule.

Beware!

There is much more to consider outside of being welcome in your destination country. Just because we are welcome, does that mean you should book the next flight out?

Travel is possible, but very risky at the moment. The Canadian Government still has the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place and our border with the USA is still closed. Even within Canada, our movements are restricted and quarantines are required for travel between many of our provinces.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Here are the top four things that you need to weigh deeply before deciding if now is the right time for you to travel:


POTENTIAL TRAVEL COMPLICATIONS

Travel as you know it, basically no longer exists. Your favourite flight routes may not be operating, or are at a much lower frequency. Masks are mandatory on most flights. New check in procedures are in place. Many international airports remain closed to international flights and are only accepting domestic arrivals. Almost everything is done contact-less, which means you’ll need to travel with a smart phone. Some destinations require you have a negative Covid test before boarding your flight. Other destinations require you to be tested on arrival. Sometimes tests are at your expense, sometimes they are free. The middle seat is blocked on some flights and on others, it is not. Every airline, hotel, tour operator and cruise line has a slightly different cancellation and change policy. It is not one size fits all.

Four complications to be prepared for:

1. Denied boarding – You get to the airport, have your temperature checked and you are denied boarding. No amount of arguing, pleading or smiling will get you on board that flight. At this point you may simply be asked to leave the airport, asked to get tested on site (if available), or you may be asked to self-isolate or quarantine.

On departure for your vacation, your flights / hotels / tours will likely all be non-refundable at this point, so you’ll also lose the money you’ve spent on your vacation. At least you’ll be in your home country if you do have Covid.

If you are denied boarding on your return to Canada though, you’ll need to be prepared for the costs of medical, accommodation, transportation and new flights from your destination depending on how long you are sick for and if it is just a fever, or a positive Covid result.

2. Testing Positive on Arrival – When you arrive in destination, you may be tested at the airport for Covid. Should you test positive, even if you are not exhibiting symptoms, you will be required to quarantine for that countries’ designated length of time. You will not be allowed to return home by flight until you have been cleared by a negative test. Depending on the country, you may be quarantined at a government facility or, you may have to find and cover the costs of quarantine on your own. This comes with exceptional difficulties of avoiding public transportation, seeking medical attention and having groceries delivered, all in another language.

3. Becoming Ill with Covid while Traveling – There’s nothing worse than enjoying a beautiful vacation for a few days and then becoming sick, be it with a cold, a stomach bug, or Covid. You’ll need to seek medical attention where you are, even if it is the tiniest of tiny towns. Medical and transportation costs will be yours to cover, as well as the loss of any pre-booked services that you won’t be able to make it to. You also have to consider that medical services may not be as reliable in another country, or if there is another outbreak in the area you are in, even the best of medical systems have become overwhelmed.

4. The dreaded Second Wave – While many countries are progressing well and some have gotten down to zero active cases, it is nearly impossible for the entire world to be rid of Covid. Because of this, as long as travel between provinces, countries and internationally continues, cases will continue to pop up. It’s just a matter of how prepared each country is to control it.

If you are traveling in the next few months, you have to be prepared for the dreaded Second Wave. It is possible that you may be enjoying your vacation with not a care in the world, taking all of the pertinent precautions and then within a day (or days), the world could be shut down again completely, leaving you with few (or no) options to return to Canada.

In this case, you’ll need to shelter in place until the bans are lifted and flights begin again. This could be a few weeks, or a few months, so make sure you have access to sufficient funds to support yourself abroad. At this point, the Canadian Government has made it clear that they are not planning any further Repatriation flights as the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory is still in place. Traveling during this advisory is done at your own risk.


INSURANCE

Every insurance company and policy is different, so there is not one single answer for ‘Will I be covered for Covid?’ but chances are, right now, you will not be. There may be some exceptions, such as if you purchased your insurance policy prior to March or if you have Cancel for Any Reason insurance, but you’ll need to check with your specific insurance company about their rules. For policies being purchased now for future travel, most do not cover cancellation, interruption or medical due to Covid, at least not while there is an Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory in place due to the Covid pandemic.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should go without insurance! Insurance is still a very important part of travel and can protect you from all kinds of unexpected situations. If a loved one passes away suddenly (not a pre-existing condition or Covid-19), then you may be able to make a claim for any non-refundable items. If you have a stop over and your connecting flight is cancelled (maybe due to mechanical malfunction, not due to Covid) and you have to spend a night, or three … or when you are abroad, if you get in a car or pedestrian accident, fall and break your arm, chip a tooth or have a heart attack (not related to a pre-existing condition or Covid), then you likely qualify to make a claim. It’s very important to remember that insurance covers you for a multitude of reasons and unexpected circumstances. It is not meant to cover you for things you already know about, it is designed to protect you from those you don’t.

If you are choosing to travel despite the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory, I highly recommend Cancel for Any Reason insurance. This allows you to cancel for any reason (including Covid), giving you a percentage refund, dependent on how far in advance you cancel. Only a few companies currently offer this product, but it can give you extra peace of mind knowing that you can recover some of your costs if you decide not to go. Feel free to contact me for a no-obligation quote at any time.


COUNTRY ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Only some countries are currently open to receiving International Travellers. And only some of those are allowing Canadians. Some require Covid testing on arrival. Some require 10 day quarantine on arrival, others 14 day quarantine. Some countries have split districts where the north is allowing tourism and the south is not, or it may vary by province. How they are enforcing this, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think I’d want to be wrapped up in being a foreigner somewhere that I’m not supposed to be.

And the most difficult thing is that the rules of today could be better or worse tomorrow, or in two weeks or two months. You could book a trip today because Canadians are allowed in and there is no quarantine required, but two weeks from now when you travel, the rules could be changed. Instability is the name of the game for the next few months, at least.


RETURNING TO CANADA

If you’ve decided to travel abroad, for tourism or to visit family, you need to be prepared to quarantine for 14 days upon your return to Canada. At this time, you are allowed to be ‘in transit’ at Canadian airports to get to your home destination, but once you arrive, you are expected to do a full quarantine. For us, in Canada, that means 14 days where you remain inside or on your property regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. You do not go out for groceries or to get gas. You cannot use public transportation and you’ll need to have your food delivered either by a grocery service or a meal service. You don’t go for a drive or a walk down the street. You don’t invite friends over and socially distance by six feet. You isolate yourself so that you don’t potentially infect anyone else.

Different provinces have varying degrees of enforcement to ensure you are following the public health guidelines. Make sure you know the rules for your home province.


2020 – YEAR OF THE STAYCATION

For these reasons, most people are still staying home and traveling locally, within their province or within their provincial ‘bubble’. For the average person, it’s simply too complicated and risky to travel far, for leisure purposes.

Trust me, as a travel agent who makes my entire living based on people traveling abroad and who is deeply passionate about travel, this is not the message that I’d like to be sharing, but it’s only fair to be honest and transparent about the risks.

Many people are traveling to visit family abroad that they’ve been apart from for too long. Some people are returning to their home to stay and a few brave souls just can’t wait any longer to explore; wanderlust is strong within them!

As a travel agent, I am still here to help you plan your vacation, visit your family, put your insurance in place and help you navigate all of the changes. If you are planning to travel abroad in the coming months, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

While I understand most people do not need a travel agent’s assistance to travel within their own province, if you decide you are interested in traveling across Canada and would like help planning some amazing experiences in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario or Saskatchewan, which are all currently open for domestic travel without quarantine, or the Yukon or Northwest Territories when restrictions are lifted, I’d be pleased to help. If you are ready to start booking international travel for 2021, with many great deals and relaxed booking policies, I’d love to hear from you! Contact me today.

Stay safe at home and in transit. Things are getting better, it’s just going to take time.

Why Use a Travel Agent to Book Your Cruise Vacation – Case Study

If you’ve been wondering if you should use a travel agent to book your cruise, let me give you a few reasons why, yes, you should!

Working with an independent travel agent such as Shari Tucker Luxury Travel & Adventures can often be misunderstood. Many people don’t understand the value and benefit of working with an agent for something that you can seemingly, do yourself. However, all things are not created equal! Of course you can book your cruise online, but is that the best choice and best value for you? What might you be missing out on? Let’s look further.

If you’ve always booked your own vacations and have plenty of leisure time to spend researching your cruise, then you may not understand why anyone would use a travel agent. That’s ok! I’m here to help you understand what you are missing out on by booking a cruise on your own. If any of the following apply to you, it’s time you consider using a travel agent to book your next cruise:

  • Have little leisure time or little interest in doing in-depth vacation planning
  • Appreciate the advice of a professional in the field
  • Like speaking with someone who knows you personally
  • Find all of the options on the internet overwhelming to sort through
  • Have concerns about the reputability of companies you find online
  • Concerned about understanding cancellation and change policies or tend to ignore them and hope for the best
  • Enjoy supporting local or Canadian entrepreneurs and businesses

While I never promise anyone that working with me will be cheaper than booking on your own, I do always promise that you will get better (and more personal) service, you’ll be taken care of if something goes wrong and you will save HOURS of your precious time. It’s all about value for your money. On top of that, if I can save you money or get you extra perks along the way, that’s a great bonus! We all love to save money when we can!

To give you a tangible example of some of the benefits of working with Shari Tucker Luxury Travel & Adventures, check out the case study below of a recent booking with Royal Caribbean Cruises to see what you are missing out on if you aren’t working with a great travel agent.


Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

CASE STUDY 1

BOOKING ON YOUR OWN

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE
Sailing:
11 night Canadian Adventure Cruise
Date: Oct 4, 2021 – Montreal, Canada
Ship:
Empress of the Seas
Category:
4N – Oceanview
Deck:
8 – 8022
Booking fee: $0
Service:

  • Self-service booking online, or you can call reservations with Royal Caribbean
  • Generally expect hold times of 15 – 60 minutes each time you call, longer during periods of high call volume
  • Speak to a different reservations agent, in the USA, each time you call.
  • Reservations agents answer specific questions about Royal Caribbean Cruises and input your information to book your trip
  • Reservations agents cannot provide information or book you on pre or post cruise land extensions

Public Rate for 1 cabin, 2 passengers: $3946 including port charges & taxes
On board credit or perks: $0
Deposit Terms: $960 – due day of booking – Non Refundable (except taxes & fees)


BOOKING WITH SHARI TUCKER LUXURY TRAVEL & ADVENTURES

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE
Sailing: 11 night Canadian Adventure Cruise
Date: Oct 4, 2021 – Montreal, Canada
Category: 4N – Oceanview
Deck:
8 – 8022 or 8026
Booking fee: $150 + tax
Service:

  • Speak with me, your personal travel agent, via email, text or phone
  • No hold times. If you are not able to reach me by phone on your first try, leave a message and I’ll call you back.
  • I get to know your preferences, your style of travel and make appropriate recommendations
  • You’ll speak with me directly each time you have a question or concern
  • I provide recommendations on the best available room, or best value category available and different price points.
  • If you are a past client, I have your booking details on file so you don’t have to go digging for passports and loyalty numbers.
  • I help you arrange insurance, flights, pre/post night hotels needed
  • I provide recommendations for land extensions to add before or after your cruise (additional fees may apply for booking).
  • I’ll help you navigate the new Covid-19 policies and procedures, on booking and at the time of travel
  • I can answer questions and give you advice on cancellation terms and conditions for your booking

Travel Agent Rate for 1 cabin, 2 passengers: $3568 including port charges & taxes (savings of $378 from the public rate of $3946, on the cruise rate)
Travel Agent Perk: On board credit of $25 per person / $50 per stateroom
Travel Agent Perk: Flexible Deposit Terms – $960 – due within 30 days – Fully refundable (in cash not future travel credit) prior to final payment
VS
Public Deposit Terms: $960 – due day of booking – Non Refundable (except taxes & fees)


SUMMARY

Clients paid $150 + tax up front to hire me to research and book this cruise. I then provide clients with on going service throughout the entire booking, travel and return process. I saved clients $378 from the public rate, plus secured them an additional $50 on board credit and better deposit terms. These clients still have flexibility to choose their own dining options on board, activities and port excursions. They can also use points, or book their own flights if they choose. If clients cancel before May 2021, they lose only the $150 that they have paid for my time and research. But, if they had booked direct they would lose their deposit of $960 if they cancelled prior to May 2021 because it is non-refundable.


NOW IT’S UP TO YOU

Still unsure if working with a travel agent for your next cruise vacation is the best option for you? Drop me an email to set up a FREE, 15 minute conversation where you can ask questions about the process as it pertains to your specific trip. Or, hire me for a 60 minute initial consultation by phone or video ($50 + tax) to discuss your trip and access my expertise on the various styles of cruise (or general) travel that you may not have considered. All cruises are not equal. They vary in ship size, amenities, age range, itinerary. You want to make sure you get the right fit, for YOU! From there, you can decide if you’d like to plan and book your own trip or hire me to organize it for you. The choice is yours.


Disclaimer: Information was correct at the time of publishing – July 2, 2020. Prices for cruises and promotions may change, rendering different results on different dates.

When can we Travel Again? A Travel Agent’s Opinion

In recent weeks, cities, communities and countries around the world have all begun to slowly make their way out of self-isolation. Some countries faster than others; some still struggling with near impossible numbers of Covid-19 overwhelming their health care systems (or non-systems). The number of deaths in the past few months is heartbreaking.

Here in Nova Scotia, and Eastern Canada in general, we’ve faired well, at least in the Covid numbers game. We locked down early, people followed the rules (for the most part) and we’re opening up slowly. I remember early on when governments were telling us, if we do this well, the effects will be minor and you’ll wonder why we made all of these sacrifices; that’s how we know that we’ve succeeded and that it worked.

Whether you agree with the government’s harsh restrictions, social distancing and closing of a large chunk of the economy, or whether you don’t, you can’t argue that we’ve come through relatively unscathed in comparison to the world’s hotspots such as Italy, Brazil and the US. This is not to diminish the lives lost to the disease and all of the other tragedies we’ve had to endure as Nova Scotians in the past few weeks. We’ve certainly had a lot thrown at us in 2020.

Trust me, no one wants the world economy to open up more than me (and everyone else in the tourism industry). My business has all but been demolished as the ground fell out from under the tourism industry in one big collapse. But, I’m still here!

Like many of you, I had my big travel plans for this year cancelled. I was meant to be in Australia for just over three weeks with my mom in May.

With the recent announcement of Air Canada’s summer destinations and schedule, I’d love for all of you (and me too), to be able to hop on a plane this summer and go somewhere … anywhere … safely and in good health, but realistically, what does that look like?

While countries around the world are lifting restrictions and beginning to open up to tourists, there’s still a lot to be done before international travel is viable on a large scale. Although I’m all for day dreaming about travel, I think logistically we need to start right here at home.

Halifax has never been overly well connected to the world with direct flights. A few to the US, a few to the Caribbean in the winter and in the past few years, a few direct flights to Europe. Now, with the Halifax airport running only about 2% of its normal flights, you can be sure you’ll need to pass through Toronto or Montreal before going international.

With Ontario and Quebec being some of our hardest hit provinces, that holds concern for a lot of travellers just to get out of Canada. Flying through the US is also not an option until at least after June 22nd at this point. While technically there are still a few flights between countries, they are for essential travel and cargo, not for leisure travel.

And, let’s not forget that the Canadian Government still has an Avoid Non-Essential Travel advisory out, worldwide, for Canadians. This means that they still feel the risk level is very high for travellers and it also means your travel insurance will be extremely limited if you choose to travel despite the warnings. Don’t forget to ask me (or your travel insurance provider) about Cancel for Any Reason policies, which I think will become the new norm for most travellers.

In my opinion, and it is just that, an opinion, I think it’ll be early August before we see the Avoid Non-Essential Travel Advisory lifted. While you may be able to get a flight Internationally for leisure purposes before then, it’s important to look at all of the risk factors. And, these are different for everyone. Personally, I’m very unlikely to travel before that advisory is lifted. It’s just too risky.

It’s exciting to hear about Air Canada increasing their flight schedule and destinations for the summer; to hear about countries around the world beginning to open up; and murmurs of international travel bubbling to the surface. But let’s not forget that many places still have 14 day quarantine requirements on arrival, not to mention on return to Canada. Some countries are also implementing same day Covid testing at their airports so that you can avoid the quarantine, but that poses the question, what if you are asymptomatic but test positive? Or, what if you get sick on your fifth day of vacation? On the surface, it may seem like a good idea to test everyone before allowing them to wander at will, but it’s far from fool proof.

You might be hearing in the news (if you haven’t shut it off completely) about lots of countries with plans to open up to travellers for June and July which are great steps in the right direction, but it’s important to look closely to determine who is allowed to travel. For example, most of the European countries are opening to domestic and regional travel first with plans for international travel to open up at a later date. It’s great to see that many countries with land borders are partnering up to boost tourism between their countries, freely, but they aren’t yet ready to allow international travellers in.

If you are looking at potential for somewhere to go this fall in Europe, my feeling is that Greece and Portugal will both be great options, as will Iceland and Greenland. All are anticipated to open in June / July for international tourists. I hope that Italy will be ready as well, as they need tourism dearly after the difficulties that they had with Covid, but it is yet to be seen when International tourism will return to any of these destinations for sure. Hopefully we’ll know more by the end of June or mid-July.

Lisbon, Portugal
Cinque Terre, Italy

Moving on to the Caribbean, various parts of Mexico, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada and more, are reopening throughout June and July for tourists with various rules and regulations. Flights with West Jet and Air Canada are resuming out of Toronto or Montreal for many of these destinations at the end of June or beginning of July, although at a much lower frequency than past years.

I suspect most Maritimers will be waiting until the winter to head south. If you missed your Spring vacation this year, or you just need another one, you won’t be alone! Lots of travellers are booking All Inclusive and cruise vacations right now for November/December and March Break. If you wish to ignore the Avoid Non Essential Travel Advisory though, Saint Lucia is a great spot to go in June and they are not requiring you to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, so you can enjoy your vacation without stress. You may, however, still have to quarantine when you return to Canada depending what each province decides in the next few weeks.

South America and Africa are a little farther behind. They are having more difficulties with the testing and treatment of Covid-19 patients. In many places they have less infrastructure, larger populations of poverty and overall, more obstacles than we do, in fighting the disease. I think you’ll see most of these countries remain closed until the beginning of September. And then, it is yet to be sen if they will open up internationally or just regionally. Argentina, for example, has already grounded international flights until September.

Twelve Apostles Mountain Range, Cape Town, South Africa

Parts of Asia are open, although very few flight options to get you there. Air Canada has flights from Toronto to Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo with a small selection of flights from three per week to one per day starting late in June.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Australia and New Zealand are doing well fighting Covid-19 and are working on an agreement between the two countries to allow travel, but it will be awhile before international travellers can enter without a 14 day quarantine.

All in all, it’s positive to see countries beginning to allow their citizens to move about more. Tourism is starting to open up world wide; restaurants, museums, parks and gardens are slowing getting back to business. This means many people in the tourism industry are going back to work. The progress will be slow over the summer though and many businesses who were forced to close will not reopen this season, if at all. This is the same all around the world.

In my opinion, I think we will be able to travel relatively freely throughout Canada by the beginning of July, hopefully with no further 14 day quarantines for changing provinces. This will also encourage lots of staycations in your own province, road trips to other provinces and domestic travel across the country. This summer and fall are going to be all about supporting local and supporting Canada!

Howe Sound, British Colombia, Canada

I’m hopeful that our borders will stay closed to the US for leisure travel until sometime in July as they have such a long way to go before the situation is controlled. I know the current ban is only until June 22nd, but I hope for an extension of another couple of weeks on top of that. I think shortly after travel to the US is reopened, we’ll see the Avoid Non-Essential travel advisory lifted. I wouldn’t be surprised though, if many provinces continue to recommend 14 day quarantine upon arrival home from international travel. And, unfortunately, that makes it a bit more difficult to take vacation. Unless, of course you work from home and can work and quarantine at the same time, or if you are retired and don’t need to return to work.

Tour operators around the world have suspended their tours until the end of June. Some have already further suspended until the end of July, August or September since it is clear that International travel will not be widely available to all countries this summer. I’m hopeful for September and October trips to Europe and the Caribbean and I’d like to think that international travel will be available to those interested in going to South America, Asia and Africa by November / December.

Of course, having the flights and borders open makes international travel possible, but for many, that won’t be enough to get them travelling again just yet. I know many of you are waiting for vaccines before you travel abroad and rightfully so. Everyone has a different risk tolerance, different health concerns, different family and work matters to attend to.

Most importantly though, when you do decide to travel again, it’s going to be a whole new world of processes, paperwork, testing, rules and regulations. There’s no time like the present to commit to working with a knowledgeable travel agent who will have your back if something goes awry along the way.

Personally, I hope to head across Canada some time late this summer or early fall just before business fully picks up again. Like many of you, I didn’t get my vacation this year and there are many spots in Canada that are worth checking out. Last year I had a fantastic trip to Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler.

This year, I’m thinking maybe Yukon for the Northern Lights or Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Colombia or Banff and Jasper. Watch my Facebook Page for upcoming webinars and conversations with companies who provide amazing trips right here in Canada. More information and inspiration will be coming your way soon!

As always, I’m here to help plan your next amazing trip. You can reach me by phone at 902 402 7646 or email – stucker@tpi.ca.

Travel Industry Updates

They say hindsight is 20/20.
With the state of the Covid-19 situation in China, then Italy, Iran, Spain and then the USA, I think we were all a little naive about how hard coronavirus would affect us in Canada. Maybe it was denial or lack of information from those in power, who knows. No point in playing the blame game.

Not in a million years did I foresee a State of Emergency, Social Distancing, panic at the grocery stores and not being able to visit friends and family for months in 2020. Not in a million years did I see the travel industry crumbling and coming to a complete halt for an indefinite amount of time. It was unfathomable that cruising, river cruising, land tours and all but the most essential of flights would come to a halt long term.

Travel Industry Closures and Updates

The travel industry has been one of the hardest hit industries. It was the first to be interrupted and will be the longest lasting. Long after the parks open, you return to dining at your favorite local restaurants, you go back to having care from your trusted (and much missed) massage therapist or chiropractor, the tourism industry will still be struggling.

For some businesses (not all), it’s as easy as returning to work and within a few days to a week, paying clients will return, cash will start flowing and business will steadily increase. Not that it will return to what it was before, but cash will begin to flow. For much of the tourism industry (airlines / tour operators / cruise ships / travel agents), we have to wait for world borders to reopen, international flights to restart, tours and ships to fill and people to feel comfortable traveling abroad.

As of today, April 15th, here’s a quick, very short and general list of what is cancelled in the tourism industry. This changes regularly and is only up to date as of today.

  • Adventure Travel: G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Peregrine Adventures – Worldwide tour operations suspended until (at least) May 31, 2020
  • River Cruise: Ama Waterways , Scenic Touring – Suspension of all river cruises embarking through June 30, 2020.
  • Ocean Cruise: Almost all cruise lines have cancelled sailings worldwide until June 30, 2020 / Many companies have cancelled their Alaska itineraries for the complete 2020 summer & fall season / Many new ship launches have been postponed / All ships sailing US waters are cancelled until July 19, 2020 / Canadian ports are closed to ships carrying over 500 passengers until (at least) July 1st, 2020.
  • Rail: Rocky Mountaineer – departures suspended until July 1st, 2020 / Via Rail Toronto to Vancouver suspended until June 1st, 2020
  • Airlines: Air Canada and West Jet are operating essential flights between various domestic destinations, but with extremely limited routes. Air Canada is operating flights to six international hubs, while also continuing to operate cargo flights of supplies. Most flights for the late summer and fall are still scheduled, as per usual, but I think we can expect to see many more cancellations, although hopefully only to specific routings and not en masse.

The Return of Travel

While I believe there will be travel to some extent this summer, fall and winter, I expect it to start with domestic and business travel before leisure travel picks up full force again. I think those great bucket list trips and dreams of traveling in our own great country of Canada will come to the forefront as many people still wish to vacation, but have concerns about going too far from home. I think we’ll see Nova Scotians who want to visit the Rockies, take that bucket-list Rocky Mountaineer train trip, Via Rail across Canada, spa vacations to Quebec, visit Canada’s North to see the Northern Lights, ski Whistler, visit the Polar bears in Churchill and Great Lakes cruises (did you even know that was a thing?).

Shameless self-promotion – I can help you with any of these amazing trips within Canada! If you’d like to go somewhere on short notice, maybe later this year, but aren’t ready to start international border hopping, there is plenty of adventure and beauty to explore in Canada. You can always reach me by email.

What’s Next?

It is still almost impossible for me to wrap my head around the complete crumble of the tourism industry, pushing back travel dates month after month, now shut down for the most part from mid March until the end of June. Will that extend further? We are yet to see.

I know many of my clients are itching to get a move on, but realistically we are all aware that international leisure travel is still months out of reach. The tourism industry has crumbled for the time being, but it will come back, one step at a time.

For now, don’t stop dreaming of where you’d like to go. Write down a list of places you’d like to wander to, things you’d like to see and do. Then, when the time is right, let’s work on making each one of those come true!

While I may not be earning an income at this time, my business is still very much here and I’d love to hear from you with what’s at the top of your travel list when Covid-19 is behind us, so leave me a comment below so we can all dream together.

When you are ready to plan your next trip, in Canada or International, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me, or contact me through social media on Facebook or Instagram.

Covid-19 – A Travel Agent’s Opinion

Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is top of everyone’s minds these days. It’s impossible to avoid the information overload through the news and social media. It is extremely important to make sure you are taking in reliable, factual information and not just the hype and fear that many media outlets are spewing.

My business
I am just one travel agent in Halifax, NS with a small, but mighty business. To date, I have not had one cancellation due to Covid-19. I’ve had to rearrange flights to avoid China, but not one of my clients has cancelled their trip.

It’s incredibly busy though. Airlines, cruise and tour companies are all fielding more calls than normal. This doesn’t always lead to cancellations though, just a lot of questions! Clients are calling with travel concerns and insurance sales are soaring as we are one of the few still protecting people if they purchase insurance before an Avoid Non Essential Travel Advisory goes out. Many companies have revised their policies to exclude pandemics, but as yet (March 6th, 11am AST), our policies remain the same.

I currently have clients traveling in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, Thailand, Hawaii, just returned from Caribbean Cruising and Portugal, 17+ people heading to Italy in the next 2 – 6 months on various itineraries, River Cruise season is soon starting and my mom and I are heading to Australia at the end of April.

Despite mass media and panic, what seems like worldwide, folks here in Halifax, at least my clients, are taking it all in stride.

You are going to get sick. #SorryNotSorry
In case you didn’t know …. At any time, anywhere in the world, you can get sick. Comforting right? HAHA In fact, I’m sick with a cold right now as I write this. I got sick in November when I travelled to Nepal and I often get sick when I travel to the Caribbean. I’ve had stomach problems in various countries, I’ve gotten parasites, colds and who knows what else. If I stopped traveling because I ‘might’ get sick, I’d never go anywhere!

The truth is, there are a lot worse things out there than Covid-19 and you haven’t cancelled your trips for any of those … so why would you cancel for this?

You travel to the Caribbean all the time where there is risk of Malaria, Zika, Typhoid, traveller’s diarrhea or Africa where there is Ebola and Yellow Fever (although there is a vaccine for that!), along with other mosquito-bourne illnesses. You may or may not get your yearly flu vaccine; do you have your hepatitis shots? No?

I don’t say any of this to scare you, just to point out the hypocrisy in it all. If we aren’t scared enough of getting the flu to go get our flu shot … if we travel without our Hepatitis A & B shots, if we go to Malaria areas but don’t take medication, if we go anywhere without checking the health risks, if we eat fatty foods, smoke cigarettes, vape or drink too much, then why are we so scared of Covid-19? If you get it, you’ll likely be sick for 7 – 10 days and then you’ll be well again. Many of the things listed above do not have the same happy ending, but we don’t seem to be scare of those!

The flu is all around you right now. You are probably going to get the common cold if you haven’t already had it, and you might even get the flu as it goes around every year.

While I’m not saying that we should invite Covid-19 in and spread it around, I think it is truly impossible to stave it off forever and, quite honestly, maybe not even worth trying. If it doesn’t hit Halifax this year, what makes you think it won’t make an appearance next year? Hopefully vaccines will be tested and effective by then, but let’s be honest, if you didn’t get a flu shot this year, are you going to make time to get one next year? Or get the Covid-19 vaccine?

Should I cancel my travel plans?
For now, don’t cancel your travel plans. Don’t worry about the potential of getting sick. Just have better personal hygiene, wash your hands properly, stop picking your nose and biting your nails. Sneeze and cough into your elbow and if you are sick, just stay home. We will all thank you for it!

Getting the right information.
Last, but not least, follow credible health organizations like the CDC or WHO for your updates, check the Canadian Government Travel Site for health advisories and check your destination before your book! Work with a reputable travel agent who has access to the most up to date information, and can help you navigate your travel plans if cancellations are required. Stop listening to the bad news and surround yourself with the good news of the thousands of people who have survived Covid-19! We’ll soon have ‘I survived Covid-19’ T-Shirts, I’m sure!

Stay healthy everyone. Keep traveling. There are too many amazing things to see in this world to stay home because you ‘might’ get sick!

Disclaimer: Before anyone gets offended over my opinion … of course I understand that everyone’s health situation is different. People with compromised immune systems and respiratory problems have different concerns about Covid-19 and everyone has to look at their individual health situation. For the vast majority of people though, it’s time to just stay calm and wash your hands at home and abroad!

How the 737 Max 8 issues affect travelers

31JUL19
Earlier this year, tragically over 340 people were killed in two separate incidents involving 737 Max 8 planes, one in Kenya and one in Indonesia. While the sudden deaths have undoubtedly taken a toll on the friends and families of the victims, the world of tourism and the multi trillion dollar business of air travel has continued on, albeit with many modifications and changes.

In March 2019, 737 Max 8 planes were grounded worldwide until further information was gathered and until they could be deemed safe to fly.

Were the two crashes related? Was it pilot error? Lack of training? Equipment malfunction?

While every news outlet seemed to have ‘the answer’, somehow, all of ‘the answers’ were different which means, as usual, that while they were reporting on what they call ‘facts’, the real story would not unfold for months later. In fact, the real story is still unfolding and while we have new ‘facts’, the planes are not back in operation, so it seems to me, the story is on going and anyone stating a date when they will be back in operation is speculating.

WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW?
As of July 30, 2019,  it has been announced that Air Canada, along with Southwest Airlines and likely various others to follow, have pulled their 737 Max 8s out of rotation until January 2020.  Until today you were able to book a fall flight from Halifax to London, even though it might not exist come fall. Today, they removed that uncertainty and have cancelled or replaced the routes operated by the 737 Max 8s until January, giving passengers some relief and stability in booking their fall / winter travels.

WestJet has pulled 737 Max 8s until at least Nov 4th, 2019.

HOW  DOES THIS AFFECT YOU AS A TRAVELER?

1. Not only do airlines have to reroute passengers, most of them need to do so with fewer planes in rotation, at a time when more people are traveling. In the end, that means that demand for the available number of seats is higher.  More people traveling + fewer planes flying means that you need to book earlier than normal and you need to be prepared for higher prices than what you may have historically paid. This is not a price hike … it is simply that the cheapest seats sell out early and if you are waiting until 1, 2, 3 months in advance to book your flights, then there may not be any of the cheapest seats still available.

This also means that popular routes are more likely to sell out and that more people will be doing advanced seat selection to ensure they get the seats that they want, rather than waiting until check in when it is getting harder and harder to get your choice seats.

2. May of the flights that were previously direct out of Halifax to various parts of Europe no longer exist. The one most people are missing the most is Halifax to London with Air Canada.  Now, you can expect to fly to Toronto or Montreal before heading across the pond to Europe with Air Canada. You can still fly direct from Halifax to Dublin, London Gatwick, Glasgow and Frankfurt. The problem is the routes forward from those locations with partner airlines are not well priced or well connected.

If you’d like to see the extent of Air Canada’s route changes, take a look here.

3. Many routes that had twice daily or daily service have been cut back to once daily and a few times a week. This is in order to free up planes to take over routes that were operated by 737 Max 8s. In turn, this means that those routes are now twice as busy because trust me, none of this has stopped people from traveling.

4. You can now book your fall / winter travel with Air Canada (and other airlines following suit) with better certainty for your flight routing and air craft type.  There may still be time changes and aircraft changes, as there always have been, but it won’t involve you flying on a 737 Max 8 until they are cleared to return to service.

5. If you have a flight booked on a 737 Max 8 route from now until January 2020, such as Halifax to London with Air Canada, your airline or travel agent will be in touch with your new routing, or in most cases you’ll have the option to cancel for a refund. I have already seen changes coming through for clients up until November 2019, so I would anticipate that if you have flights for November / December that were on 737 Max 8s, that those changes will be coming in the next few weeks.

6. Telephone wait times for the airlines are always long, but now they are longer. Grab a tea or coffee, get comfy and try not to lose your mind. The call-centre agents are working through requests as quickly as possible. It’s frustrating for everyone. Try to be kind.

If you are working with a travel agent, they often have access to agent-only lines with special service, however, these wait times can be long as well, so also have patience with your agent. Many days I spend 30 – 45 minutes on hold with airlines, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day.

7. If you’ve booked with a travel agent (give yourself a pat on the back), they are likely already taking care of this for you and you can sit back and relax.  In my case, I advised most of my clients booking in the last couple of months, for this fall, to choose routings that avoided the 737 Max 8 as I did not have confidence that they would be back in rotation any time soon. That doesn’t mean that some of those flights won’t be adjusted though as they have to move aircraft around to cover different routes.

8. If you are booking flights in 2020, pay attention to your assigned aircraft. If you are booking a flight operated with a 737 Max 8, there is no guarantee that it will be operating in January, Febuary, October 2020. We simply don’t know when they will be back in service. Keep an open mind and know that if the planes are fixed and deemed safe, you’ll have the best route. If they are not back in operation, be prepared to be rerouted.

9. Travel Insurance is so very important to protect your travel investment and interruptions that you may encounter along the way. However, it is also important to note, that at this point the issues with the 737 Max 8s are ‘known’ variables and to my knowledge, most insurance policies will not cover you for issues due directly to change of routing / cancellation if you are booked on a 737 Max 8. If you purchased your policy before the flights were grounded, then you are covered. For full details on your policy, you should check directly with your insurance company as they all have different rules.

LOOKING FOR DIRECT FLIGHTS OUT OF HALIFAX?
Right now, your options are limited to other cities in Canada, USA, Dublin, London (Gatwick), Frankfurt and Glasgow. In the winter season, we’ll again have direct flights to several Caribbean options.

While not completely up to date, you can check the Halifax International Airport Authority Website for what we ‘normally’ have for non-stop flights from Halifax.

NOT SURE WHAT TO DO?
When in doubt, book with a travel professional who deals with all of these intricacies day in and day out. You may have to pay a professional fee for their assistance up front, but the time they save you, expertise they have and peace of mind you’ll have in knowing it is done right will be priceless.

If you are looking for a travel agent to give you peace of mind, save you time and take the stress out of planning, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached by phone, Monday – Friday 9am – 6pm, evenings and weekends by chance, for emergencies or by appointment. You can also reach me by email at your leisure.

Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate

My luggage

In continuation of my Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love, not everything went so well on my journey from Canada to Panama in December 2016.

While being pampered in Air Canada Premium Rouge class with extra snacks and upgraded food, I advised staff that I was supposed to connect to a flight to Panama but that it had likely already departed. They told me there were a few others on the flight with the same connection and that there was no current update, but we could talk to Air Canada staff after we cleared immigration, about any arrangements that needed to be made.

This is where my luck ran out and everything went downhill fast (or maybe slow would be a better description).

I was the third person off the plane and second person in line to go through immigration when we arrived in Kingston, Jamaica. The officer checked over my passport, asked me a few questions and asked for my boarding passes. When she discovered that my connecting flight had already departed, that’s where the real ‘fun’ began. She asked me where I would be staying. I explained to her that I needed to find an Air Canada rep in order to find that information out. I also told her that I was told there would be someone to speak to after I picked up my luggage (which was after immigration). She would have nothing to do with it. She told me she couldn’t let me pass until I could tell her where I was staying. I tried to explain my case again but no luck. I told her there were others in the same situation and that I thought they had already passed through, but she stood her ground. She kept my passport even though I pleaded to have it back and sent me to the back of the hall to an information desk where ‘apparently’ I could talk to ‘someone’.

The information desk was unattended, but I hollered ‘hello’ and heard an ‘I’ll be there.’ So, I waited. A nice lady come to the front, but unfortunately I wasn’t my normal chipper self, having just had my passport held and denied entry into the country that I wasn’t even supposed to be staying in. She called an Air Canada rep over the intercom no less than five times. Eventually a lady sauntered over (I’m still not sure if she worked for Air Canada or not). I explained the situation, including that I didn’t have any information on my connecting flight as we were just arriving and Air Canada had not given us any information. Further to that, I couldn’t get past immigration to find out if my flight had already departed or find a rep to discuss my situation. The lady was quiet. Not mean or unhelpful, just not very communicative. She made a couple of calls and told me that Air Canada had arranged for all of us to stay at Pegasus hotel for the night, but that we would have to call Aeroplan (because each of us were flying on points redemptions) to rebook our flights. Apparently we could do that after customs and immigration. She told me to bring my passport and come with her, to which I had to re-explain that the immigration officer held my passport and wouldn’t give it back.

Off the two of us went to the desk to get my passport back and sort this out. Except, the immigration officer didn’t just need where I would be staying, she also wanted to know which flight I would be departing on. Now, I understand that to be let into a country they want to know when you are leaving. This is a fairly standard rule. But, my frustrations were ever compounding because Air Canada had not rebooked my flights or provided any information. At that particular moment in time I was stuck in a country being denied entry, but also not able to make any further arrangements. And, I’m not in possession of my own passport. Of course they wanted me to call Air Canada Reservations right then to get flights sorted. Um no. I was not paying roaming charges from Jamaica to call Air Canada and wait on hold to sort this out. There had to be another solution. After all it wasn’t my fault that the weather was bad, the connections were missed and Air Canada left us to fend for ourselves.

The lady who was trying to help me disappeared without a word (would she return? I didn’t know). I connected with two of the other passengers who were just about to try their luck going through immigration. And then the lady came back, asking us all to come to one specific immigration desk. Except, the immigration officer still wouldn’t give me my passport. I waited for her to finish with the next client and saunter her way over to the other desk. One of the other girls who had been on my flight had actually been sent to a holding room without any information or her passport and she was just rejoining us.

In the end, we all made it through immigration somehow and were told to go to counter 41 after we had our luggage. There we would find a phone and could call the Air Canada rep to come out and talk to us about our hotel, transfer and hopefully our new flights.

You may remember in Part 1 I talked about how much luggage there was for all of the Jamaicans heading home from Canada after Christmas. Passengers had too much carry on luggage that was then put into checked luggage, plus, I’m sure more than half the plane had two bags (or boxes) per person. It was a steady flow of luggage coming along the belt, but it went on for an hour or more before they loaded the last piece. The other passengers that had missed their connection had gathered their luggage about 45 minutes into the process and left to see what they could find out about their flights and transfers. I told them I’d catch up as I suspected my luggage didn’t make the connection in Toronto and I would have to file a lost baggage claim.

My luggage
Last seen when I took this photo in Halifax Dec 29th at 3:45am

I waited for the belt to stop and the remaining bags were removed from the belt. Mine was nowhere to be seen, so off to the baggage counter I went. Go figure, it was unstaffed. I asked another staff member if there was an Air Canada rep around and she said ‘Ya, someone was here,’ and then turned her back to continue her conversation with a colleague. A minute later I approached her again and asked, as politely as I could after all of this, ‘Could you please help me find the Air Canada baggage rep?’ She sighed, started asking a few people and slogged off looking to see if she could track someone down.

When I turned around, there were now four or five others lined up at the Air Canada desk. A few minutes later, I jostled my way back to the counter when the rep finally arrived. I gathered the required paperwork to fill out and quickly returned it to the desk, anxious to get out of there and on to the next obstacle.

Although I was the first person to hand over my paperwork, somehow I was the second last person in the line to have my paperwork completed. Seems as though mine was more difficult, or maybe I had someone new working on my file. After a good 20 – 30 minutes at the counter, I was sent to stand in a line up to go through customs with a piece of paper saying my luggage had been lost. Thankfully they had created a separate line up for us because 100+ Jamaicans were still waiting in the customs line up to have their luggage approved for entry. I’ve seriously never seen so much luggage!

I had no issues at the customs desk, returned the piece of paper to the baggage claim area and made my way out the doors, officially into the heat of Jamaica.  Now the hunt was on for counter 41 where I hoped my fellow displaced passengers would be waiting for me, although I was a little skeptical as I had been well over an hour longer than them in the baggage area. After checking with the info desk, I was directed a few hundred meters away to the departures area where I would find counter 41 and my ‘pals’ waiting for me. Apparently they had come looking for me a couple of times but weren’t allowed back into the baggage area, so they just had to wait for me to appear. They had used the phone and spoken to an Air Canada rep who had told them that we would be staying at a different hotel, the Knutsford Court Hotel and we would all be transferred there as soon as I arrived. They had tried to make arrangements for their flights, but there wasn’t a phone available for use for that purpose, so it would have to wait until we got to the hotel.

Of course, the Air Canada rep had gotten tired of waiting for me (for over an hour) and had gone on break or to do something else and told the others to call through on the phone when I arrived. Because I already told you that the story keeps getting worse, it’ll be no surprise that dialling through on the phone line got nothing but a busy signal for the next 15 – 20 minutes while we continued to wait and had no contact with the rep and no way to call our transfer driver to take us to the hotel.

One of the other passengers went to talk to staff from another airline and ask for help. I asked one of the airport staff to help us and eventually the Air Canada rep appeared again. She called our transfer driver, introduced us to him and as we were about to load our luggage into the vehicle, she realized he wasn’t the right driver, so she re-introduced us to someone else. Gah! Seriously?

The five of us piled into two different vehicles and off we went in what we hoped were the correct vehicles, going to the correct hotel. We had touched down at around 4pm local time and it was now after 7:30pm as we were arriving at the hotel.

Check in at the hotel went smoothly, thank goodness as just about all of us were ready to burst from frustration. The hotel even offered to let us use the business centre phones to call Air Canada to sort out our flights for the next day. Unfortunately Air Canada and Aeroplan 1-800 numbers don’t work from International phone lines and they don’t provide a regular number. One couple had a travel roaming package for their cell phone, but that also wouldn’t help because the 1-800 number still didn’t work from Jamaica. Frustrations mounted even higher. We had really been left in the lurch.

I was slightly less panicked than the rest of the people as I knew I would be able to use Skype to call the 1-800 number. (One of the many useful pieces of information I’ve learned while being a digital nomad.) I told the others, but of course not all of them had Skype, or laptops. I offered for everyone to come to my room and we could try to do all of the changes at once, if the internet connection would hold.

One of the girls dropped by just as I was dialling Aeroplan as we had been advised they were the ones that would have to take care of it for us. We waited on hold for 1 hour, 16 minutes and 12 seconds (Skype shows me these stats). At about 45 minutes, one of the other girls came to visit and said that she had messaged her parents in Toronto. They weren’t able to get through to Aeroplan because of the long wait time, but they had gotten through to Air Canada and her flight was all taken care of for the next day’s departure. She was in the clear. As we continued to wait on hold with Aeroplan, I had the idea to call the travel agent line from Air Canada. Originally I hadn’t thought of it because we were told to call Aeroplan specifically. (Good thing I just did 10+ hours of Air Canada certification training to help my agency keep access to this special service line because it sure came in handy!)

Air Canada Certificate

About 30 minutes later, the staff at our travel agent line had my flight and one of the other girl’s flights all taken care of. There were a couple of glitches, such as the internet cutting out and dropping the call … but in the end, a second call, even with a different agent on the line and everything was sorted.

What a relief, right?

We headed down to have dinner at the hotel restaurant at close to 9pm and the last couple of people still hadn’t found a way to contact Air Canada as the 1-800 numbers weren’t working from Jamaica. I went and ordered my food and then came back to check on them to see if they had found another number. They hadn’t. I called the 1-800 number for them via Skype on my phone and advised there would be quite a wait time. I left them with my cell phone hoping the internet connection would hold and went back to have my dinner.

Unbelievably, an hour later when I was done dinner, the poor lady was still on hold. Actually, she had spoken to someone, gotten nowhere and was back on hold. It was a never-ending story for these folks.

I jumped on Skype on my computer while she continued to hold on my phone. I called the travel agent line again and had it sorted for her in another 20 minutes. Meanwhile she had still gotten nowhere with the phone call she had been on for a total of 1 hour, 42 minutes and 7 seconds.

What a disaster.

Finally, around 11pm, all five of us were sorted with new flights for the next day. Our transfer had been arranged and with any luck, we would arrive in Panama City 24 hours later than planned.

Just when you think the story has a happy ending …

With a good night’s sleep under our belts, we headed to the airport on time and there were no line ups to check in at the Copa desk (one of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners). The first couple checked in with no problem. Done. Ready to go. The other two girls were at separate desks. One agent was asking for the girl’s proof of departure from Panama. At the other counter, the agent was telling the other girl that she could only check one bag and that her second bag would cost $125 USD to check through to Panama. This was after the bags had arrived in Jamaica without any fee. The real kicker on this though was that her second suitcase was full of items that she was planning to donate when she arrived in Panama.

At this point, my lost luggage was actually a blessing in disguise. Imagine! Since I had no luggage to check with me, I was able to check her second bag as my own for no cost. Problem solved … until they had difficulties finding my newly booked flight! Seriously, the complications just don’t stop!

I’ve got to say though, that between all of us being rested and in better state of mind and the Copa Airlines staff who were super helpful, these issues were handled much better than those of the very long day before.

While I’m now checking-in luggage for my new friend and the Copa Airlines staff are trying to get my ticket to appear on their system, the girl at the other counter is stuck with the same problem … her ticket won’t appear on their system. Thankfully the Copa staff were proactive and started talking to the manager, conversing with Air Canada and making sure it got fixed rather than leaving us to sort it out on our own. What should have taken five minutes for us all to check in, took 30+. A big thank you Copa Airlines for doing what it took to find the problems, correct them and get us all on that flight.

Fast forward …

We boarded the flight to Panama on time, it was smooth sailing and we finally arrived in Panama City. I was hoping that my luggage would have been sent on the same flight routing as the day before and that just maybe, it might be on the baggage belt with everyone else’s. No such luck. I waited until the end of the luggage unloading and then went to baggage services just in case they had marked it and pulled it before it went around the belt as it would have been traveling unaccompanied. Again, no luck, but they gave me phone numbers to call and check on the status.

This incredibly long story started on Thursday, Dec 29th, 2016 when I left my sister’s house at 3:15am. Tonight as I’m writing the final few sentences, the fiasco is still living on with me as my luggage is currently MIA. It’s now Monday, January 2nd at 11pm.

I’ve been able to confirm that it was *supposed* to be sent to Kingston, Jamaica on Dec 30th. Not much of a confirmation as no one can tell me if it actually arrived there or not. I’ve been authorized by Air Canada to spend $100 USD on essentials which they will reimburse me for. And, I’ve been advised to call back in 24 hours. Apparently, although they take all of your contact information (at home, in destination, hotel address and phone number, email addresses) they tell me that I will not be contacted with an update on when to expect it to arrive. It’s still my job to continue following up. In fact, the agent’s exact quote was worth noting ‘You’ll definitely be contacted sometime maybe, but you should call back to follow up.’ #CustomerServiceFail

Air Canada and Aeroplan, if you are reading this … all five of the customers (including myself) who have gone through this ordeal deserve an apology, some kind of compensation for the hours of hold time, stress of being at an unplanned destination overnight, being denied entry into the country with little to no assistance and left to rebook flights on our own. So much of this could have been avoided if our flights were proactively rebooked for the next day and the information had been communicated to the staff in Kingston, Jamaica. Since hotels arrangements were made for each of us and that was communicated … I’m left wondering why the flights weren’t?

And, because it’s January 2nd and I’d like to start the year on a positive note, I’m very thankful to be in Panama City (finally) and have met a couple of great new Canadian friends! Although sanity was lost during the process, new friendships have been gained.

Ever had a travel nightmare of your own? Did you file a complaint with the company / companies involved? Did they ever respond? Leave me some comments!

River Cruise 101

Douro River, Portugal

River Cruising

For the past couple of years, the river cruise industry has been booming. What once was only for the retired and wealthy, has become a bucket list trip for many and a trendy way to travel for 21 – 45 year olds. It is not just for 60 plus anymore! Be careful though, it’s addictive! You may think it’s a once in a lifetime trip, but river cruise companies boast incredibly high repeat business stats which means you may find yourself floating down a different river each year!

Don’t be surprised if your friends are talking about their amazing vacations on the rivers of Europe, or the excitement of an upcoming trip! You’ll probably hear them swoon about the mouthwatering food, the free-flowing local wines along with the castles and quaint towns to get lost in. It’s a picture perfect get-away.

Why choose river cruising over ocean cruising
River and Ocean cruises have a few things in common, but yet a few big distinctions too. If you are looking to only unpack once and visit various ports, both options have you covered. You can even choose from standard ships to ultra-luxury and various room categories from small porthole windows to balconies or the Captain’s suite, depending on your budget.

Although millions of people take ocean cruises each year, more and more people are looking to River Cruising for a more intimate, cultural experience, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. Companies are adding new ships each year to keep up with the demand.

Here is what you can look forward to on your first River Cruise:

Destinations – One of the biggest draws of River Cruising is the opportunity to visit smaller, lesser-known ports along the waterways. While many River Cruises start and finish in big cities such as Amsterdam, Porto, Paris or Budapest, you’ll also be treated to smaller cities and unique excursions along the way. In France you might take a steam train ride in Tournon or visit an olive farm in Arles. You might do a Medieval City tour in Nuremburg, Germany or taste port wines in Pinhao, Portugal. And, did you know that you can do River Cruising in Asia, Russia and Africa too?

Food & Drinks – Be prepared for a culinary treat. You’ll be dazzled with a fresh variety of delectable creations, often made with local produce and meats that the chefs shop for along the way. Each meal will be unique and paired with local wines. Every night will be a fine dining experience for your taste buds, but rest assured, you can dress comfortably and casually. No need for a suit and tie!

The Atmosphere – You’ll find only 100 – 200 passengers per ship on a river cruise in comparison to 3000 – 5000 on an average cruise ship. Think of an ocean cruise as a floating city filled with lots of activities and people. Think of River cruise as a quaint community. There will still be great experiences and activities, but they’ll be more cultural and intimate, less Vegas. You won’t find a disco or a casino on your river cruise, but you will be treated to top-notch local entertainment from nearby communities. And, you’ll also have the opportunity to stay in port some evenings to enjoy the nightlife, a rare find on an ocean cruise itinerary.

The Views – Instead of whiling your time away staring at miles and miles of ocean, sit back and relax with the ever-changing views of rolling hills, Medieval Towns and grand castles slowly drifting by your floor to ceiling windows while you sip a glass of regional wine.

Ah! Doesn’t that sound perfectly relaxing?

With the appeal of visiting several ports, but only unpacking once and the option to explore smaller cities on foot, bicycle or by tour … no wonder river cruising is one of the hottest trends in travel!

What are you waiting for?

INSIDER INFO:

Local wines, beers and spirits are often included with your meals, but make sure you know if they are for purchase outside of meal times or included. Each company does it differently.

Did you know that some ships will pack a gourmet picnic lunch for you to take ashore?

River cruises often sell out nine months to a year in advance, so you’ll find better deals for an early booking bonus rather than a late space special.

Need help deciding what River Cruise is best for you or finding the best value for your hard earned money? Let’s set up a time to chat by phone, or drop me an email. I’ll be happy to help you with your dream vacation!

Phone: 902 402 7646

Email: stucker@tpi.ca

 

Douro River, Portugal
Douro River, Portugal

Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love

Air Canada Premium Rouge Menu

Anyone who travels regularly has had the unpleasant experience of delayed flights, lost luggage and bad customer service combining into various kinds of travel nightmares. Sadly, this is just part of the travel world. No matter how much preparation you do, you can’t control the weather, mechanical breakdowns, human error or just plain rudeness. All you can do is try to approach it all with kindness.

Errrrrr … hmmm ….

Great advice right? I tried. Really I did.

I’ve been delayed for flights before. I can recall a time when I was leaving for Asia and my flight was delayed due to fog in Halifax. The flights from the night before hadn’t arrived, so we couldn’t fly out. Mass chaos ensued, but being a travel agent, I managed to get a flight later that day with a different routing. United Airways was telling everyone no flights out of Halifax to anywhere for five days as they were booked solid, but I found the options that they were not willing to look for.

I’ve had flights delayed and ended up staying over in Houston, TX on my way to Belize. I’ve had flights cancelled in The Philippines due to political conferences and had to rebook. I’ve been diverted to Quebec city on the way home from Mexico only seconds before landing in Halifax.

I’ve lost my luggage on the way to Peru, on the way home from Mexico, while traveling to Namibia and most recently, on my way to Panama.

You’d think I’d be an expert at things going wrong. But, let me tell you, no amount of travel experience prepares you for all of those things happening in one day and being met with unsympathetic and unhelpful people.

On Dec 29th, 2016 I woke up at 2:45am to gather my last few things before my 3:15am pick up from the lovely folks at One Stop Limo. Thank goodness they are reliable because it is about the only thing that went right all day long! I arrived, got my luggage tags, checked my luggage which was thankfully under the weight limit and cleared security in a jiffy. All the signs of the beginnings of a great trip!

Flight 603 to Toronto for 5:25am boarded pretty close to on time and pushed back only about 10 minutes late to head for de-icing. All normal for traveling in Canadian winter. The flight was smooth until we started our initial descent into Toronto. The captain had warned us that there was weather moving in and that we might hit a bit of turbulence on the way in to land. We did indeed begin to feel a bit of turbulence, but really quite mild all in all. We took a couple of big turns and just as I was beginning to think that we had done a full circle, sure enough the Captain came over the speaker again to advise that weather had moved into Toronto earlier than expected. Snowfall had accumulated and they were clearing the runways with a backlog of traffic waiting. He went on to explain that we had initially been asked to hold for 20 minutes (hence the couple of big turns we had done) and had just been advised it would be 40 minutes. I really appreciated that he was keeping us up to date on what was going on because otherwise my mind gets extra anxious and wonders if something is wrong with the plane. He said we would continue holding for the next 20 minutes and if we were not cleared to land at that time that we would divert to Montreal because we would not have enough fuel to continue holding.

Errrr … mmmm … Not quite so happy to hear of a lowish fuel situation, but at least we had a plan.

Sure enough, another 20 minutes passed and we had not been cleared to land, so after stalling for nearly an hour in the skies above Toronto, we made another turn and off to Montreal we went. 35 minutes later we touched down turbulence free and taxied in to a fueling stop. We had time to check email and connecting flights. At this point, my connecting flight to Kingston, Jamaica had been delayed until 11:30am … there was still a tiny chance that I might make it.

Snow in Montreal

Another 45 minutes or so passed while we refuelled and then the Captain advised that traffic had started moving at the Toronto Airport again. Up, up and away again for our hour long journey back to Toronto. We were supposed to touch down in Toronto at around 7am local time. Instead, we were arriving at around 11am local time.

The staff on board the plane that day were apologetic about the situation, kept us very well informed and advised that there would be staff and a manager on hand at the gate to help all of us with our connecting flights. This was far more than I expected. Despite all of the delays and difficulties, until this point I actually felt it had been handled as best as it could be.

I waited my turn to disembark from the back of the plane and checked that my connecting flight was still delayed to 11:30am. I jumped the long line up of people (sorry people!) to quickly ask the staff if I should run for my gate or wait in line to be rerouted. With a couple of phone calls and a special note for fast security clearance (just at the doors between terminals), she told me they were waiting for me and sent me running.

The Toronto airport is too damn big! Although I set off running, that didn’t last for long seeing as I hadn’t run for at least eight months, plus I had 20lbs of camera gear and another 10lbs of laptop, paperwork and treats etc with me (Thanks for the M&M’s for Christmas mom!). I did what most people do, run, walk and try to catch my breath, run, catch my breath and then make sure I run to the gate so it looks like I ran the whole way. Come on, you do it too!

I got to the gate, went to the front of the line, panting, and said that I was there for the flight. The guy tells me ‘We just started boarding.’ Ug! I ran for that? I thought they were holding the plane for me. Then he tells me that they removed me from the flight because I wasn’t supposed to make it. And, that the flight is full so he would try to find me a seat but couldn’t guarantee it. Gah! I ran for that?

So, I put some money in a machine for a drink of water and ended up with ice tea. Go figure! Not even the vending machines worked right.

I watched priority boarding trickle through and then the masses of Jamaicans with soooo many kids and sooo many carry ons, form a huge line up for boarding zones 3 and 4. Then, my name was called. They had indeed found room for me. Lucky me, it was with priority boarding and in premium rouge class. I went to the front of the priority boarding line and boarded the plane. I sat my ass down in seat 1C, the very front of the plane. My luck continued as there was also room in my overhead bin for my carry on items. About 10 minutes after I boarded, they were already telling people they could not take their roller bags in cabin as there wasn’t enough room in the bins. People were not happy being told that they would have to check their large carry on items. Of course, many hadn’t packed carefully enough for that, so they were unpacking their roller bags to find medications, insulin, duty free, breakables and valuables that they didn’t want checked. What a mess. In all fairness though, this was not Air Canada’s fault. Let me tell you, people returning home to Jamaica after Christmas had a lot of luggage!

Finally, once everyone was on board and doors were closed, I could breathe a sigh of relief that I was at least getting out of the craziness of Toronto and the Canadian weather!

With a piping hot face cloth served up by the flight attendant, I washed the stickiness from my face from my Olympic sprint through the Toronto airport. I’m sure I should’ve received a medal! We were given tablets for our viewing pleasure, a menu to choose our meal option and our choice of orange juice or water … All before take off!

I went for the omelette with goat cheese and sausage. Let me tell you, the upgraded meal was a pleasant surprise! I’ve been known to skip plane meals all together because they often turn my stomach. This, however was served up in hot plates with lovely cutlery, a cloth napkin and tasted like real food instead of mystery mash.

After lunch, with another round of beverages, we were served warm, salted nuts and a choice of chips or a chocolate bar. I didn’t even crack my own treats while I was on the plane.

It’s hard to decide if the price of flying Premium Rouge is worth the extra cost or not, but for me it was a free upgrade and I truly thought the service was great. Good job on Part 1 Air Canada.

Oh wait. Then my luck ran out. Full Stop.

To be continued in “Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate” – coming soon.

Feel free to share your sympathies and commiserate with me in the comments!