Monthly Archives: July 2010

Online Travel Agencies Ordered To Pay Up

According to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, online travel companies that book hotel rooms in Atlanta must begin paying more in occupancy taxes.

In an order Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Alford Dempsey stopped short of handing Atlanta a complete victory. He determined the Internet travel reservation companies do not have to pay the city past-due hotel and motel occupancy taxes.

Dempsey’s order addressed a lawsuit filed by the city four years ago against 17 online reservation companies, including Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Priceline and Orbitz. The city contends the companies are illegally pocketing hotel occupancy tax revenue by paying the tax only on the wholesale rate they pay to reserve blocks of rooms, rather than the rate they charge customers.

Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman for the Interactive Travel Services Association, predicted the ruling will result in higher hotel rates for customers who book Atlanta rooms using online reservation companies.

Online travel companies have been under legal assault in lawsuits filed by cities and local governments nationwide at a time when more people make their reservations online.

New U.S. State Department travel advisory – Northern Mexico

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory warning Americans to exercise “extreme caution” in northern Mexico in the wake of increased drug-related violence. Travel across the border with Mexico by diplomats and their families had been suspended.

The travel advisory warned U.S. citizens against potential firefights, carjackings, kidnappings, and other crimes. The State Department that their employees and their families are banned from traveling across the U.S.-Mexico border to come to or leave their present posts in Mexico.

Road safety is growing concern along the border, the State Department said, following many cases of robbery, harassment, and gunfire between Mexican police and drug syndicates. Drug gangs have went as far as setting roadblocks to control some areas.

The incidence of violence has spiked recently in Mexico. In Torreon on Sunday, eighteen people were massacred, just a month after nineteen people were killed in a rehab facility in Chichuahua. In Juarez near the border with the U.S., a total of 1,500 people have been killed during this year alone.

Direct involvement by Americans includes the killing of four U.S. citizens from late 2009 to early 2010 in Gomez Palacio, in central Mexico. Most of the American deaths in 2009 happened in Tijuana and Juarez, both border cities.

The State Department advised Americans to “defer unnecessary travel” to Juarez and the state of Michoacan. The department acknowledge that millions of Americans visit Mexico every year under safe conditions but said that the drug violence has worsened and present serious risk for U.S. citizens traveling across the border.

Social Media gaining popularity with corporate travel professionals

Mid-Size Companies Largest Adopters of Social Networking Support for Travel

New research by American Express Business Travel found that corporate travel professionals are increasingly using social media to communicate with travelers and to stay on top of latest travel industry information. Respondents also reported high expectations regarding their companies’ future social media usage plan, reporting that within the next year forums, webcasts, and online video are the most likely to be implemented by businesses.

The latest research report “Social Media in Business Travel Management” outlines the evolution of social media tools and sites from consumer use to business-to-business use, and illustrates how social media supports managed business travel today. The research also includes survey results conducted in the beginning of 2010 to reveal how individuals as well as their companies are currently embracing social media technology and how they might use these tools to support managed travel in the future.

Social Media Finds a Role in Corporate Travel

Social media has evolved to play a role in business travel programs. While half (50%) of respondents said that they use social media to some extent to support travel management today, mid-size companies ($3M to $10M USD in air volume) were the largest adopters (59%) of social media to support business travel management to date.

Many respondents indicated that the primary benefit of social media in supporting managed travel is educating themselves or their organization about the market. In fact, 44 percent indicated that staying on top of the latest travel information was the most important social media benefit. This response was followed closely by the interest in using social networking to learn and communicate best practices and reduce business travel costs (43%). Other findings include:

— 42% use social networking to look for preferred vendors and services from travelers

— 34% seek to uncover travel patterns that could lend to better vendor rates and services

— 27% look to gain visibility into traditionally siloed business functions/departments

— 26% use social media tools to encourage travelers to network with each other

— 18% network with other travel manager/procurement officer peers

Customization and Oversight Desired For Expanded Social Media Use

Of those survey respondents who do use social media to support travel management, when asked specifically what features or functionality would they add if they could design their own social media tools for professional use, the majority (61%) indicated they wanted flexibility to accommodate business travel management processes. Other top ranking features/functionality include:

— Real time updates such as mobile application, the ability to push out notifications and alerts (39%)

— Supervision of the entire social media sharing process and specific monitoring of those who are using social media tools (35%)

— Reporting ability — notification to website abuse, comments and security issues (29%)

Corporations Apprehensive About Implementing Social Media Tools

Even though the global economic crisis curbed spending, financing was not the main social networking adoption barrier. In fact, only six percent of respondents cited lack of funding as the most significant barrier or challenge to adopt social media tools.

The most significant barrier to adoption of social media as an organization has been the lack of direct benefits realization. Twenty percent found the business case for social media tools and usage within travel management programs unclear. Lack of strategy or understanding and lack of support from upper management each followed at 15 percent respectively.

Notably, only five percent of respondents indicated that they have had no barriers or challenges to adopt social media tools as an organization.

Voluntourism

So you want to get away and try something different, but you’re also on a tight budget. Well, summer is not over yet! Be a socially responsible traveler and try voluntourism. Here’s some sites that will help you organize your travels, so you can hit the road and give back to the community while you’re at it:

1) Jaunted.com has some great domestic ideas from rebuilding a trail in Vail, Colo., to working with the National Wildlife Federation to help wildlife effected by the BP Oil Spill.

2) ResponsibleTravel.com has thousands of listings for a more sustainable vacation which respects the environment and local inhabitants. Responsible Travel is searchable by budget level, region, country, and even type of holiday and activities. Travelers are encouraged to review the tours they take, so you can also see others’ feedback on the trips you might be interested in.

3) Ecotour Directory currently lists 95 different eco holiday and responsible travel options, searchable by continent.

4) TrekAmerica hosts tour programs focusing on appreciating and respecting the natural environment throughout North America. You get the opportunity to experience some unique environments while simultaneously having a positive impact on the land.

5) Charity Guide’s Volunteer Vacations offers a number of 1-4 week vacation options from helping at children’s clinics to preserving wilderness trails to teaching math to kids in developing countries.

6) Global Volunteers is a clearinghouse of volunteer international service programs. While you do have to front your own travel costs, they offer assistance qualifying for discounts or fundraising the cost of your program fee.

P.S. Take note- you can be a “voluntourist” any time of the year. Giving back has no time limit! Have fun and be a global citizen!

Look for "deals" in Arizona as SB 1070 continues to hurt tourism

The boycott over SB 1070 is costing Arizona hotels and resorts out-of-state visitors, most agreed Tuesday at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, but participants also said that getting many details about cancellations is a problem.

Organizations that cancel meetings or choose not to book future meetings because of the controversy over the new state immigration law don’t want their names used, members of a panel on the problem said.

“People want to know who canceled. They want to put a name to these,” said Brian Johnson, managing director of Loews Ventana Canyon, the resort where the annual tourism conference is being held this week.

But the panelists said disclosing names is not something that can be done in the corporate resort and hotel world. The implication: Resorts’ and hotels’ parent companies might lose their business at properties in other states.

Johnson said it’s “scary” to see what’s happening to tourism statewide. Leads on new businesses are starting to dry up, he said, even as the overall economy starts to recover.

“As we look into the rest of the year, and into 2011, (tourism) seems to be slowing,” said Johnson, who also is a past president of the Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association.

“That’s the scary part now. Now no one is talking to us. Avoidance. It’s easier to go to another state. My fear right now is what’s going to be facing us in 2011.”

A consensus at the conference agreed that tourism industry members and elected officials must push a positive message to reverse the downward trend in tourism – and to alleviate concern that the impact might worsen as the overall economy improves.

“Arizona is the same wonderful place it was six months ago,” said Debbie Johnson, president and CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association. “We’re telling people to communicate the facts – that Arizona is a safe and welcoming destination.”

The other part of the message has been that the boycott is hurting the estimated 200,000 Arizona workers and their families who depend on tourism for a living. But that’s the message the association and other tourism groups have been pushing since the boycott began.

Some conference participants placed their hopes in the $250,000 in state funds allocated to start an official national campaign to counter negative publicity.

One of the plans presented would have industry association officials and resort and hotel management people making media appearances throughout the country to push Arizona tourism.

And with nationally distributed accounts of beheadings along the border and kidnapping epidemics in Phoenix, conference members said there is a lot to counteract.

Debbie Johnson said that every time Arizona illegal immigration receives any national media attention, things get worse.

As an example, the CEO cited a story she said she heard from a tourism industry source:

Visitors planning to come to a Sedona resort, Johnson recounted, called to ask if it was safe to drive up Interstate 17 from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in light of recent violence.