Airport services beyond shopping and fast food might help save time

Written by admin on October 31, 2008 – 1:10 pm -

There are always last minute details left undone before leaving on a trip. For many, it’s not having the time to get a flu shot. A new service has been introduced at some U.S. airports and it’s spreading like wildfire. There are doctors and nurses on site to give you a jab so you won’t get sick. Travelers like it because they can cross off something from their “to do” list.

Perhaps airports should take the hint and implement other services that many people, especially frequent fliers, don’t have time to do at home. This would be a blessing for road warriors who spend much too much time in airports and vacationers who simply run out of time before having to race to the airport.

Let’s face it, we all have plenty of time at airports after checking in and passing through security. Sometimes we find ourselves at airports for long layovers and have even more extra time.

Eating and drinking have always been options. But the choices are relatively limited to fast food. A sit-down somewhat upscale restaurant would be nice to see on occasion. I know that several airports like Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt Rhein Main, Minneapolis and Washington Reagan have some decent dining options. It would be nice to see that idea spread.

Shopping is the other airport activity of choice — mainly because that is normally the only other choice. But shopping (even duty free) leaves a lot to be desired unless you want to buy cigarettes or liquor. For example, the perfume and cosmetic shops are enticing, but if the person for whom you’re buying has specific preferences, don’t be surprised if these satellite boutiques don’t have the items in stock. For most domestic airports shopping means books and souvenirs.

The airports in Frankfurt and Zurich actually have supermarkets and drug stores available. They have been a lifesaver for many travelers who need emergency items and a timesaver for many businessmen and families who can buy groceries conveniently on the way home after a trip.

The supermarket at the Zurich airport has become one of Switzerland’s busiest since it is open seven days a week and has promoted itself to the community as a shopping center for the local citizens. The added revenue from this non-travel spending has been more than welcome.

Many Asian airports offer massages and there’s no dearth of takers. While in transit, having a back or head rub can keep one going.

Some travelers would love to have their hair done, a manicure, a pedicure or a facial. By the way, it’s perfectly all right to bring your own implements if you’re not 100% certain about the facility’s sterilization procedures. (For some international travelers, that is a consideration.)

Why don’t more airports have gyms? Considering the numerous and lengthy layovers, a gym could calm  passengers’ nerves, making life a lot less frustrating and consequently easier for flight crews.  Many airports are big enough to accommodate a good-sized gym, including locker rooms where people can shower and change.

Again, this idea of a fitness facility at airports has been tested successfully overseas at Frankfurt and Zurich. Closer to home, many travelers head to a nearby airport hotel to use the fitness centers during a long layover. Almost all airport hotels have 24-hour shuttles and day rates for their fitness rooms and pools. Having the facility right in the airport would be more convenient.

As someone who’s traveled extensively, my dental work has been done in more cities than I can remember. Don’t think I’m unique. Many frequent  fliers are in the same boat and would appreciate being able to have their teeth cleaned or a cavity filled when they’re going from one place to another. That means in the airport, not the far end of town, especially considering how bad traffic is getting to and from airports all over the world. If people are going to sit in a dentist’s chair, there had better be a wall  plastered with certificates guaranteeing they are licensed.

I’ll bet the services I’m describing — and others you might think of —would be in great demand. Am I right?  What do you think? Add any other good airport services you would like to see to the comment section. I’ll write a column with the best and most outrageous ideas.

Karen Fawcett is president of

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Cell phones — yes or no? That is the question

Written by admin on October 30, 2008 – 1:13 pm -

When the pilot announces all electronics must be turned off before the plane departs, it’s amazing how many people continue phone conversations, sending text messages or emails as if the world were coming to an end. They must be very important.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit any use of mobile phones except when the aircraft is on the ground. It is believed that cell phone use may interfere with aircraft electronics. Airlines can be fined up to $25,000 if they permit mobile phone usage during a flight. Individuals are also liable.

Some travelers think they know better and contend that cell phones or PDA’s don’t interfere with take offs or landings or feel they’re simply beyond the law. What happened to the old days when we waved goodbye and left our troubles behind while we soared through the sky?

If Representative Peter DeFazio has his way, cell phone use on airplanes may not be allowed. Defazio has introduced legislation that would prohibit passengers from using their cell phones during flights. He calls it the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act.

Travelers who consider flying a way to get away from some of the realities of life and would like to sleep, work or simply read a book are hoping the bill passes. There is obviously a battle going on. Even some scientific groups are getting in on the dispute claiming using cell phones on planes will hurt astronomy research efforts.

On the other side of the Atlantic, airlines and regulators are moving toward allowing cell phone use on airplanes. Are we Luddites on this side of the ocean?

I’ll confess, I’m totally technologically challenged and am firmly in the camp of maintaining cell phone free cabins. I also follow all directions, when I can. As soon as the no electronics announcement is made, I turn off my Blackberry and touch nothing until I see its  dark screen. But, on a recent flight, I looked in my purse and was horrified that the cell phone evidently had a mind of its own — the screen was shining like a beacon. If the plane had crashed, it definitely would have been my fault.

I often wonder, can cell phone use be an addition? During one trip to Beijing, I witnessed a man, tapping non-stop. When he deplaned and had a signal, I’m certain his email recipients probably wanted to commit suicide. There was no question he was productive during the 12+ hours duration of the flight.

During 2007, The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 133 cases in which passengers were charged for unruly behavior, such as interfering with the duties of crew members when requested not to use cell phones.

How would you vote on allowing or banning cell phone use on airplanes?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Open Skies airline lays on the luxury, affordably

Written by admin on October 29, 2008 – 1:15 pm -

British Airways has just introduced Open Skies that originates from JFK airport in the US and doesn’t treat its passengers as cargo. Currently, the price of a prems+ ticket (business class) costs the same as coach on most competing airlines. My Open Skies experience was eye-opening.

Coach travel to Europe lacks any hint of romance these days. There’s the opportunity to be stuck in the the middle of a five seat configuration. Even with an aisle seat there is little comfort. Most meals served in coach have little resemblance to real food — akin to what military music is to music. To add insult to injury for a trip to France, if you’re on a US carrier, be prepared to fork over $5 or $6 dollars for a tiny bottle of not very good wine.

When I was asked to fly Open Skies, I wanted to experience what I had been reading about in the travel business press. These flights between JFK in New York and Paris began on June 19th. On October 15th Open Skies launched their New York-to-Amsterdam route. Additional routes are planned for 2009.

To begin with, the 64-seat flight from Kennedy lands at Orly airport outside of Paris, not Charles De Gaulle. That makes it much closer to where I live in Paris, only a quick local rail ride away. From the moment I entered the Open Skies lounge, I felt like a princess. It was the same sensation I had when I was young and had to dress up — that meant wearing white cotton gloves and black patent Mary Janes — to fly between Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

Everything in those days was so glamorous, including the stewardesses. The food was wonderful and I stayed up the entire night fantasizing about joining their ranks or becoming a ballerina. I guess I’m dating myself, but I was dazzled and remembered the excitement and glamor of travel the way it used to be.

Upon arriving at JFK and checking in, I went to the BA/Open Skies lounge. This is where the Open Skies enchantment began. Unfortunately, unless passengers have a BA frequent flier gold or silver card, they won’t have access to the lounge at Kennedy. Nor can they buy their way in with a day pass.

Spending time in lounges is nothing new to me. But being greeted by smiling personnel who don’t act as if they are doing me a favor is rare in US airports. I found a place in the enormous sun-filled lounge and immediately morphed into a vacation mode. Instead of letting myself get stressed, I passed on the free WiFi and headed for the Elemis Travel Spa for a 15-minute treatment.

Feeling supremely relaxed, I ordered a glass of champagne. The waiter presented me with a flute of Charles Heidseick Brut Réserve and tea sandwiches.

They offer a complimentary first-rate buffet for passengers who like to eat before boarding flights so they can immediately go to sleep. When I asked the man at the serving station if he had actually cooked this, he told me he had. I believe him because it tasted homemade. I was planning to eat on the flight, but went ahead and sampled the mushroom soup; I figure Michelin would give it at least a star.

I was able to steal a few minutes with Chris Vukelich, an executive with Open Skies, for few minutes of insider talk. Chris explained the business model was to diminish the complexity in flying. “We’re a point-to-point airline. If you change airlines, it’s up to you to transport your suitcases.” What I understand from that is Open Skies wants to put its energy and resources into the passengers’ comfort on the flight, not into logistics.

The Open Skies plan is to make travelers feel the trip itself is part of the experience and not a means of getting from here to there. Its business class has only 24 seats and all recline 180 degrees. The head-to-toe beds, separated by collapsible fabric fans, enable people to have privacy or, if they prefer, share a bottle of wine. There’s a sense of tranquility throughout the flight that’s echoed in the plane’s interior design from the navy uniforms the flight crew wears, to the presentation of the food.

In both Biz Class and prem+ (business class comfort without the business class cost, but including taupe leather seats with a 52” pitch) all seats have multi-standard electrical plugs. The menu selections in both are very good and there are nice touches one wouldn’t expect. For example, there is never a plastic cup or anything less than bottles of wine or champagne.

Business class is heaven for people who want to sleep on their way across the Atlantic, but there are a couple of glitches. Not being mechanically minded, I couldn’t figure out how to make my seat fully recline and wished there had been more comprehensive instructions. But not to worry, since there’s always help on the way. Christophe, who’d been a head purser with Air France before coming to Open Skies, was in charge of me. He made the seat into a bed within seconds and then wrapped me in a duvet cover with white, high-count cotton thread. I also had a choice of about 150 movies and other channels.

The best thing about the flight was the personnel. They were gracious and accommodating. All of them had been employees of MaxJet or Eos Airlines — the all business-class airlines that would frequently be chartered by the rich and famous and, perhaps, the spoiled.

I look forward to my next Open Skies flight. There’s only one time when I won’t fly with them and that’s when I’m traveling with Kitty, the jet-setting pussycat. Even though she has an EU passport and thinks nothing of flying, Open Skies won’t allow her to become a frequent flier. They’re owned by BA, and it’s against their rules and regulations. When Kitty accompanies me, we’re going to be forced to find another airline.

Even an airline as good as this has a little room for improvement, and I hope they figure out a way to make their lounge open to all their passengers. Even for a fee for a day pass, it would be a terrific deal—and an incredible service for travelers who want to begin their trips feeling relaxed.

At Orly airport in Paris, there’s a shared departure lounge, courtesy of Icare, accessible to all Open Skies passengers. You can’t compare it to the Open Skies Biz class lounge in New York, but you can get a coffee, tea or a drink and enough to eat to hold you over until the departure hour.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Travel state of mind for a volatile economy

Written by admin on October 28, 2008 – 1:16 pm -

In these volatile economic days, there are more than a few variables impacting travel. People are considering alternatives and business travel may be placed on hold. Forget the idea of flying in the front of the plane.

This economic climate forces most people to reevaluate their spending. Looking at your retirement plan takes on an entirely different meaning. People who once thought they had substantial equity in their houses may suffer from a new reality shock as they contemplate their futures.

The Federal Reserve is doing its best to instill confidence. Central banks are infusing funds into the monetary system with the intent of creating liquidity in the financial markets. During the past week, investors were whipsawed watching the dramatic swings of Wall Street and financial markets world-wide.

Travel is certainly faced with an uncertain state of mind.

For most travelers — business or leisure — trips to that Caribbean resort or upscale city hotel might be postponed. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Different options such as shorter, all-inclusive trips, off-the-beaten-track explorations and alternative lodging solutions still exist. Travelers simply need to explore them and decide whether or not travel is a priority in their lives.

Independent consultant for Acclivus PDP Toby Marie Walker says, “As a consumer, we may all NEED vacations.” Short jaunts of 3-5 days that open up a new world can do the trick. A low-priced all-inclusive trip fills that bill.

Liz (Elizabeth) Morris, a railroad and car hire professional based in the Denver area, agrees with Toby. “With all of the stress of the economy and everything in general, we’ll all need a vacation! My main frustration with airfares is that deals are harder to unearth. When you do, the airlines ding you with extra charges for checked baggage, etc.”

Liz opts for all-inclusive trips, especially when headed overseas. But she also likes unusual, lesser-visited destinations. They often offer a lot of culture and variety. As a result, many of Liz’s trips have been self-planned and she travels without advance hotel reservations. “I tour the countryside and stop at local places that offer real atmosphere.”

Some travelers relish the serendipity. Others find it unnerving. You have to gage your comfort level and factor in the time of year plus the destination. You may find yourself sleeping at a youth hostel. But there’s nothing wrong with that.

Ral Purina, Manager at Offsite Onsite Group based in the Houston, Texas area suggests travel agencies be realistic about the global financial crisis. He says, “Business and leisure travel have been dramatically reduced and further constriction is inevitable. Trillions of dollars in stock market and home valuation losses have occurred worldwide. This is impacting virtually everyone. Countless companies and individuals are struggling to avoid default and bankruptcy. Travel budgets are now drastically reduced, or for many, nonexistent.”

Travel agencies, like all businesses, need to quickly adjust to this changing environment. Cut your expenses now, so you can survive until the economy rebounds.

As far as promoting travel, fewer and less expensive trips are the clear theme for 2009. For leisure travel, think 3-day Disney packages, 1-day round-trips to the beach and Indian Reservation casinos. For business, think video conferencing and more email.

Purina notes when speaking with travel agents, “… this isn’t what you want to hear. But it is the same for everyone, regardless of what business they are in. Cut expenses now and live to fight another day.”

Not all travel professionals are singing the same doom and gloom song. Many swear it’s a question of being more creative and looking for alternative solutions. You’ll hear from them. Any and all suggestions from readers are welcome. Please post away.

In the meantime, I’m hoping for miracles in the global markets. May they become less volatile and act less like roller coasters.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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Concierge and executive lounges can be hotel money savers

Written by admin on October 27, 2008 – 1:19 pm -

Most travelers, unless they’re on a more than generous expense account or rolling in money, watch their dollars these days. That’s certainly my mantra and most business owners are trying to find new ways to make cuts without making employees suffer (too much).

I need to confess I’ve stocked mini-bars with purchases I’ve smuggled into a hotel from the neighborhood market. I always feel guilty until I look at the prices on top of the drinks and snacks cabinet. Eight dollars for a beer or soda?! I’m all for hotels making a profit but there are limits.

I may have unearthed a tip that ultimately can add up to real hotel savings, in addition to making a hotel stay more pleasant — Spend the extra dollars and book a room on the concierge or the executive floor. It’s rare to find these floors in smaller or boutique hotels. However, in many of the chain hotels or larger ones, concierge floors are becoming increasingly prevalent.

For a reasonable additional charge, hotel clients have access to a lounge where they can relax, read the morning paper while eating a complementary breakfast buffet, stop in for a soft drink or tea during the day and generally be greeted with free drinks and appetizers at cocktail hour.

Another plus is the club-like feel. I’ve had some very interesting conversations with other floor residents because most people are business travelers. When I stayed at the Shanghai Portman Ritz on my first out-sourcing trip in China, the buyer from Costco was there as well as many others doing business in China. The concierge lounge buzzed with conversation and English was the common language. The benefit of customers exchanging tips on dealing with local businesses was, for me, an enormous intangible value.

Guests staying on most executive floor lounges are also often entitled to a specific number of items that may be laundered or pressed each day. After looking at the hotel laundry price list it is easy to calculate the savings. Concierge guests may also be entitled to shoes being shined gratis.

For women traveling alone, lounges offer a respite from sitting in the room and staring at its four walls, ordering room service alone or spending time in the lobby bar where unaccompanied females are often suspect for being on the prowl.

Concierge and executive lounges provide a space where guests can read, watch television or work on their personal computers with free WiFi. Executive lounges smooth the impersonal feeling of some bigger-than-life hotels with a more manageable space.

Check-in and check-out can be done in the lounge and there are staff on duty assigned to help. This can come in especially handy when there’s a real language barrier. Speaking Mandarin is usually beyond most people’s language ability unless they studied the language intensively. If an airline ticket needs to be changed, a train ticket booked or a dinner reservation made, the concierge lounge staff does it with a smile and provides all of the back-up paperwork.

These executive and concierge floors and lounges may be more expensive, however they often save business travelers money in the long run and definitely make the time spent at the hotel far more pleasant.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Yes, you can fit all of your clothes into one bag — here’s how

Written by admin on October 21, 2008 – 1:23 pm -

When it comes to airline baggage, less is more. Airlines have not only begun charging for the first bag, but also cracking down on carry-ons.

So how do you downsize?

Smart packing takes substantially more planning. If you’re able to survive with a carry-on suitcase, traveling is, hands down, easier.

Consider the following scenarios:

•    Your baggage is lost.
•    Air-handlers are on strike.
•    You have a tight connection.
•    It’s impossible to get a porter or a cart.
•    Hopping on and off trains is much easier if you’re not overburdened. Hearing the conductor announce that when you stop you have only two minutes to disembark can strike fear in loaded-down travelers’ hearts. It can look like a Marx Brothers’ replay as passengers toss suitcases from the train onto the platform in a race against time.

Here’s what to do:

Unless guarantees perfection, assume you may be in for some climate surprises. With the exception of summer months, pack a set of silk underwear that can be worn under everything. It takes no space in suitcases and is often a blessing should the chill factor set in.

Assemble a “mix and match” wardrobe. Each item should coordinate with the others, to be dressed up and down. Squelch the urge to pack a knockout dress that can only be worn once.

Select clothes you know and love and ones that don’t wrinkle. Although you can always borrow an iron (or have items pressed), there are so many “travel-perfect” clothes being manufactured these days. If you’re a frequent traveler, they’re worth the investment.

Color coordination is essential. For women, it means wearing the same shade of clothes with a few accents. I’m always comfortable in black or beige. A city wardrobe can consist of two skirts or dressy pants, a pair of casual pants, a jacket to be worn with all of the above, and three shirts or sweaters which can be made to look dressy with different costume jewelry or patterned silk scarves. I always wear a colored shawl over the coat that I wear on the plane.

Pack a small fold-up umbrella. More than likely, it will come in handy.

Men are less “packing challenged.” If they’re traveling on business, one dark suit is invariably enough. Add a navy blazer, a pair or two of gray pants, three dress shirts, plus a couple of casual ones, and call it a day.

Shoes present a challenge. it’s not a good idea to buy new ones unless you’ve had sufficient time to break them in. There’s nothing more miserable than not being able to walk. Bring a maximum of three pairs: a pair of casual ones, good walking shoes and a dressy pair for evenings. Wear the heaviest ones on the plane.

Many people pack more underwear than they’ll ever need. Bring three pairs of light ones that dry quickly. You can wash them and hang them in your bathroom overnight. You don’t need to sport detergent. The hotel bath gels do the job. Ditto when it comes to nightgowns, robes and pajamas. If you’re staying in hotels, check to see whether or not they offer robes.

Another suggestion: Invest in a selection of different colored plastic or mesh bags. Pack your “essentials” here. They can be squeezed into a suitcase and identified at a moment’s notice. If you’re running short, use every-day plastic kitchen bags as extras. Not having to grope for socks and/or stockings, underwear, ties or scarves, medications, bathroom amenities, etc., facilitates unpacking and makes life more orderly.

The choice of a suitcase is another consideration. Hard-sided ones with rollers have been extremely popular. But they’re not as flexible. Recently, a new variety of duffle bag with rollers has come out, and it’s definitely worth a look-see. It is more pliable when it comes to fitting into an airline’s overhead bin. But do clothes end up more wrinkled?

Some people swear that rolling clothes is the way to go. Others, most especially men, say that spells disaster.

For serious packers, pack two days before your departure and resist the urge to stuff anything more in the suitcase.  That’s the real challenge!

Anyone who has any packing tips, please share them. Travelers need all the help they can get.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Troubled airlines stage publicity stunts to land new business

Written by admin on October 15, 2008 – 1:24 pm -

The troubled airline industry is adopting a new tactic for bringing in new business: publicity stunts.

JetBlue offered up 300 tickets for auction online. Starting bids were a few cents, but by closing time, bidders had driven prices way up, and in the process, the airline had found a new customer base.

Richard Branson has always been the quintessential businessman and showman. He announced he would launch the world’s first commercial space shuttle, Virgin Galactic. That’s not today’s hit. In the interim, he launched a new route between the Big Apple and Las Vegas that was co-branded with the popular HBO series “Entourage.”

The fleet of Airbus jets was wrapped in “Entourage” signage. There was also a month-long “Entourage Class” package for first-class passengers, with V.I.P. extras such as cashmere blankets and Godiva chocolates on-board. During the launch party at JFK airport, Branson was photographed having a champagne-spray fight with stars from the series. What’s a little bubbly when it comes to a photo op?

Is this money well spent? If it lures people back to the skies, why not? A little humor (and more) may compensate for the not-so-glamorous aspects of air travel.

In fact, during times of crisis, thinking out of the box may be just what it takes. Marketing people need to find a way to do more with less. Travelers are no fools. If only airlines would consider passengers their greatest assets and entice people to smile rather than to feel as if they’re captives or victims. Is all of this fantasy or within the realm of possibility?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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As the economy tanks, are people becoming less frustrated by travel?

Written by admin on October 13, 2008 – 1:28 pm -

Americans are concerned about overall higher travel costs, including ones associated with airline, hotel rooms, cruise line and train tickets, according to a recent survey.

The study, conducted by insurance company Access America, tracked travel costs, safety and service.

On the plus side, in spite of the increasing concern over costs, travelers are slightly more resigned to the hassles associated with air travel.

Is there a silver lining to this scenario? Mark Cipolletti, vice president of Access America suggests there might be.

The good news for the travel industry is that lower frustration levels in other categories, airline travel in particular, are moderating the spike in concerns over travel and lodging costs. While the trend line in overall frustrations is encouraging, it’s small comfort in the knowledge that more than one out of every two Americans is frustrated with various aspects of travel.

Results of the aggregated index over the past five quarters follows:

Topping the list of frustrations is the cost of gas (86 percent), followed by the cost of airline, cruise or train tickets (55%), airline/airport service (49 percent) and the cost of lodging and/or other attractions (49 percent).

Many Americans report feeling frustrated when it comes to “illness or injury” which causes a cancellation (37 percent), homeland security/safety (37 percent), labor actions (33 percent), “the weather” (28 percent), service by other travel suppliers (27 percent) and difficulty booking trips (21 percent).

When asked an open-ended question about the most frustrating aspect of travel in the last couple of months, one in three (31 percent) cited gas prices, while others report being most frustrated by issues related to traffic (18 percent), delays/timing (6 percent), airport/airline (6 percent) and security (4 percent).

The index also allows for comparisons among various demographic groups. For example, leisure travelers (55.2 percent) are more frustrated than are business travelers (52.9 percent). Women (57 percent) are significantly more frustrated with traveling than are men (53.2 percent) on the whole.

Other specific findings of note:

• Women (61 percent) are considerably more likely than men (50 percent) to be frustrated with the cost of airline, cruise or train tickets. Similarly, women (26 percent) are more likely than men (17 percent) to be frustrated with difficulty booking their trip.

• Younger Americans (52 percent), aged 18 to 34, and middle-aged Americans (52 percent), aged 35 to 54, are more likely than older Americans (42 percent), aged 55+, to be frustrated with the cost of lodging and/or attractions. Younger Americans (60 percent) are also more likely than their older counterparts (53 percent) to be frustrated with the cost of airline, cruise and train tickets. Older individuals (40 percent) are more likely than younger ones (35 percent) to be frustrated with homeland security. Booking trips also causes more older people (26 percent) grief than younger Americans (19 percent).

• Interestingly, few regional differences exist. However, those living in the Northeast (33 percent) are more likely than those in the South (29 percent), West (28 percent), and the Midwest (22 percent) to be frustrated by the weather while traveling.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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For depression-era vacationers, a bed and breakfast is just the thing

Written by admin on October 10, 2008 – 1:30 pm -

After this week’s stock market plunge, some people think they’ll never be able to retire — much less afford another vacation. Maybe not.

Yes, hair is turning gray and there are more than a few individuals who refuse to look at their investment portfolios. Houses that were formally worth a lot of money are going begging. Welcome to the new world of tight credit.

Travel addicts are bemoaning the fact that their wings will be clipped because of incredibly high air fares and fewer flights.

But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. When the going gets tough, the tough start having second thoughts. Some people with long-scheduled travel plans are contemplating whether or not they should cancel their trips. Others are seeking alternative ways to save money.

In the past, many travelers would never consider a bed-and-breakfast (B&B). For some, it’s akin to invading someone else’s personal space. Other people will always opt for B&Bs since there may not be a lot of alternatives in some of America’s most charming towns.

There are exceptions, such as exploring New England during leaf season. Many who make the pilgrimage find B&Bs romantic, an excellent way to meet other people in addition to profiting from their hosts’ knowledge of the area. The majority return from their mini-adventures feeling vacationed, have had a look into someone else’s life style and are invariably financially ahead unless their alternative is staying in a Motel 6, which are rarely long on charm.

Europeans have traditionally opened their doors to guests driving through the countryside. But city residents tend not to for numerous reasons. First, it’s a question of space; second, apartment dwellers cherish their privacy and would prefer not to be greeted by people in tourist mode wanting croissants (and how about some eggs and bacon, please?) and that day’s marching orders.

When it comes to Parisians, if they are going to rent rooms to strangers, more than likely it will be to students who tend to be less picky. Plus, the French government offers tax subsidies to apartment owners who provide housing to those of university age.

Some people refuse to accept “get-up-and go” defeat. The Internet has opened up new avenues of finding affordable digs. It’s up to the renters and the rentees to do more than a modicum of research and due diligence.

In my search, I unearthed a B&B, Chez Bertrand, that’s located near Paris’s most famous flea market, the Porte de Clingancourt. This must be one of the funkiest places to stay in all of Paris and it wouldn’t be my choice for more reasons than one. I’ve never slept in a Citroën nor has it been my dream. But this B&B satisfies one of my main criteria. It has WiFi even though the décor may not be exactly up my alley.

People can find rooms to rent by the day, week or month. For example, access The Bonjour Paris Classified section, and you’ll find rooms advertised for rent for different periods of time and in different places.

If you don’t see precisely what you want, post an ad and people wanting and needing to generate some extra income will invariably inundate you.

If you decide to book accommodations online, call the owner at least once before you go. Ask for references.

Some topics to discuss:

While some B&B’s are sophisticated and somewhat costly, others are very simple and can be a real bargain. Know what to expect in the way of room accommodations.

Most B&Bs have fairly strict check-in times. Find out what the policy is, so that you are not (as is often the case) barging into someone’s home after hours.

Find out whether or not you’ll be required to share a bathroom and if there’s a communal kitchen or, at the very least, a fridge.

Unfortunately for families who enjoy traveling together, don’t assume an establishment welcomes children. Even if they do, find out whether or nor there’s a minimum age.

Does the bed & breakfast allow pets? If so, are there size and breed limitations?

Ask if credit cards are accepted and inquire about cancellation policies.

If you smoke, inquire about the B&B’s policy. You will find that a majority of them do not permit smoking of any kind. Some allow it outside or in designated public areas. But many will not allow smoking anywhere on the grounds.

You may have a wonderful time not only getting to know a neighborhood but a family as well. Like everything else in traveling, you need to be lucky. But with smart planning, you can improve your luck — and the odds of having a good time.

In times of financial uncertainty, try to look on the bright side.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

This trendy new Paris hotel ain’t the Ritz

Written by admin on October 8, 2008 – 1:32 pm -

For travelers who would stay at nothing less than the Ritz while they’re in Paris, the 172-room Mama Shelter isn’t for you. It was formerly a multi-story garage located next to abandoned railroad tracks. But it’s one of the most talked-about trendy hotels in the French capital since its recent opening.

Its location is in one of Paris’s most multi-ethnic neighborhoods. Most tourists avoid the quartier unless they’re paying homage to luminaries at Pere Lechaise. Jim Morrison was buried here and although there’s been talk that he’s overstayed his lease, so many people visit his grave, there would undoubtedly be a riot if his remains were moved. A few other stars who’ve made the cemetery their final resting places include Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Bizet and Chopin.

Still, it’s nearly impossible to score a room even though the hotel has received relatively little publicity.

Its owner, 61-year-old Serge Trigano, the son of Club Med’s founder, believes his architectural, design and management team (which includes his two sons) has developed a new type of hotel for the 21st century. His rationale is that “people no longer want to wait for hours in airports in order to fly to exotic locations which are no longer especially exotic. The new tourism will be urban tourism, the discovery, or the re-discovery of great cities such as Paris or Amsterdam or London.”

Based on the hotel’s prices, Trigano is counting on the premise that people won’t have or won’t want to fork over mega-Euros to stay in central Paris. One of the great things about the City of Light is its metro system that goes all over the city.

But the hoopla this hotel is receiving is also because of its design plus its amenities. Internationally acclaimed French designer Philippe Starck has made more than his design mark. There’s graffiti scribbled permanently on the ceilings, floors and even inside the elevators. They’re part of the decor – bizarre but welcoming, funky and functional.

Mama Shelter combines the informality with luxury. It’s part youth hostel, where people eat breakfast and are served drinks from the bar at a communal wood table. If you were strangers before arriving at the hotel, bets are on that you won’t be when you leave.

Even though the 19th and 20th arrondissments are in the process of being gentrified, there are more than a few remnants of nitty-gritty pre-war Paris. Because Paris can’t expand its boundaries and there are definite height limitations, if you’re a pioneer, these neighborhoods are the places to buy.

“My hope is that we will eventually attract visitors from the 16th arrondissement (the most conservative of all Paris districts),” says Serge Trigano. After all, if they go to Marrakech, they will merely see other people from the 16th arrondissement. If they come here, they will see people and things they have never seen before.”

If you were visiting Paris, would you be game to stay at this hip hotel even though it location is a wee bit dodgy? Do you see these types of hotels becoming a new trend in the hotel industry?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |