Stronger dollar + bad economy = France travel boom?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 1:26 pm -

France maintained its position as the world’s top destination last year, with 82 million foreign visitors setting foot on French soil — a four percent increase from the previous year. And now there’s another reason to visit Europe’s top tourist draw: a surging dollar.

The greenback is nearly 16 percent stronger than it was six months ago. Still, the balance of 2008 will undoubtedly be an entirely different scenario because of the global economy.

The French Ministry of Tourism noted the 2007 demographics have changed. Of the 82 million visitors, 14 million people were in transit. Some 68 percent were tourists whose primary destination was France, a four percent increase over 2006.

Europeans comprised 46 percent of the country’s visitors: Germans, Brits and Belgians were the main groups. However, the number of German tourists declined as Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal experienced strong upswings in the tourism sector.

The number of Americans visiting France increased by seven percent, although the rise in value of the euro against the dollar caused a slowdown among Americans during the fourth quarter of 2007.

Europeans spend an average of just under six nights in France while Americans spend eight nights and the Japanese five.

Paris tourism officials expect visits to the City of Light to hold up this year despite the dramatic drop in the number of visitors from the U.S. – many of whom are victims of fuel-inflated prices for airline tickets and the economic woes at home.

This year has not begun as a stellar year when it comes to Americans visiting Paris. Traditionally, it’s the number-one group of tourists but there’s already been a decrease of 20 percent. The number of UK visitors have overtaken the US numbers to become France’s primary market.

The French government tourism industry has mandated that people working in hotels and restaurants actually smile and perfect their English. This certainly doesn’t hurt the preconception many people erroneously have that the French aren’t friendly.

“Paris is also attracting more visitors from the Middle East, India, South America and Eastern Europe,” says Jean-Claude Lesourd, president of Paris’s Tourism Office. “The city is doing well and it’s forecast that 2008 will be an excellent year and perhaps even better than 2007.”

In spite of people feeling the economic pinch, Parisian hotels were able to raise prices in the first half by an average of 6.4 percent, according to figures complied by MKG Hospitality consultants. My guess is that hotels will be announcing many promotions for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2009.

So in spite of all of the reported doom and gloom, Paris and her glory will always be a magnet for people throughout the world.

Are you surprised? I’m not, but if I were, I’d be banging my head against the wall.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Is now the time to buy a time-share?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 1:21 pm -

Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) spoke at a recent conference about the increasingly popular time-share industry performance amid the current economic meltdown.

Nusbaum says much of the current downturn is due to uncertainty in the credit markets and the possible changes in the upcoming US elections.

…the credit markets didn’t lock up overnight and won’t unlock overnight. People look at the stock markets too much as the economic barometer, rather than the credit markets. It’s the credit markets that directly impact mortgage-backed securities access to mortgage loans plus the availability of loans for time-shares.

As far as the election goes, both parties have totally different philosophies. Based on results, the business community will need to plan on how to develop in the coming year. There may be different tax structures and rules and regulations. “Until they’ve been defined, it will be some time before we see real big changes in the industry.”

What does the economic meltdown mean for the normal traveler who would rather stay in a time-share than a hotel? Well, there’s good and bad news. In the past 20 years the industry has seen double-digit growth. The coming year will be flat. In spite of the economic pinch, people still want to take vacations according to Vacation Better. Many people feel vacations are essential for their health and well-being.

People who have some capital to invest and qualify for loans may find excellent buys as some time-share owners want to bail out. Also look at new time-shares where the developers may be under the gun to meet their financial obligations. Or this may be the time to snag a good rental on a time-share apartment as people need to pay their costs and may be short on cash-flow.

Any traveler deciding to delve into the time-share or fractional ownership market should hire a real estate lawyer to carefully review the financial documents. Even though it’ll cost a few dollars, the lawyer’s time will save far more after contracts are signed in time and money. The last thing any vacation property owner needs, whether or not it’s a time-share or fractional ownership, is dealing with logistical or legal problems from afar. When time-share deals are poorly structured people can lose their investment in one fell swoop.

These unsettled economic times might be just the time to lock in future vacations at a more than a decent price and possibly see some appreciation in your real estate/time-share portfolio.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Flying coach — if you were a dreamer, what changes would you make?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 12:20 pm -

Since more and more of us are stuck in the rear of the (bus) plane, what would you tell the airlines about how to make coach class more palatable?

The adage, “the back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front,” holds little to no consolation when passengers deplane and feel as if they’re a pretzel that’s been put through the ringer.

Some ideas:
More seating room. More knee room, shin room, better lumbar support and toe room without making the seat-bottom shorter. When sitting for long periods of time, comfort is determined by being able to stretch your legs forward and distribute some of your weight on to the back of your thighs. If the seat-bottom is shorter so that the airline can market “more legroom,” that doesn’t count.

Put an end to reclining seats. There’s not enough space and who needs someone pushing his or her seat all the way back and taking up your personal space.

Increase the width of the seats. Two inches makes a big difference. Travelers have voiced wanting a small foot rest for comfort’s sake.

There are a couple of companies working on staggered seat designs for economy/coach. These seats allow airlines to keep the same number of seats, but since the rows are angled, they offer more room to individual passengers. Those polled are unanimous they’d like to see airlines move to this sort of seating configuration.

Scrub cabin air. The air should not simply re-circulated. It needs to be effectively filtered to combat germs spreading throughout the rear part of the plane.

Don’t promise service when there is none. Most people would rather pack their food than having to buy an expensive ‘meal’ that’s been sitting forever. That would free up the flight attendants to do their jobs –- which is making sure passengers are safe in case there’s an emergency.

How about a power plug? Coach passengers want to be able to connect a laptop, MP3-player or other electronics.

Quieter cabins, better reading lights and improved personal climate control.

Family steating. Some people wish there were designated seating for people traveling with young children with a soundproof barrier between the sections.

Cleaner planes and lavatories. What about locating WCs in other places than simply in the rear of the plane? Clean the cabins more often.

More efficient boarding and deplaning process. One idea: Make checked baggage more reliable, safe and free (for at least the first bag) so passengers aren’t encouraged to board with incredible amounts of carry-on luggage.

A small “lounge” (space next to the galley) on long haul flights would allow passengers to get out of the seat, stretch, communicate and have a drink.

OK  — this is a start. What intelligent suggestions would you like to convey to airlines executives in the position to effect change? It never hurts to fantasize.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

A new world of travel planning

Written by admin on January 9, 2009 – 12:22 pm -

It wasn’t so many years ago that planning a trip that included multiple components meant travelers would need to patronize travel agents to book flights, hotels, cars and more. Clients came away with crafted itineraries they would follow with precision. Friends’ recommendations, travel publications, guidebooks and advertising were the deciding factors on where people went and how.

Those days have come and gone. A vast percentage of people are more actively involved in their travel logistics and planning via the Web. Some book trips independently other simply do the research. On the Internet, there are many ways to plan and book a trip.

Trip planning
Social networking sites such as Facebook allow travelers to solicit input from their contacts about trips. TripAdvisor.com provides comments that tend to be truthful and provide the ability to read between the lines in order to glean needed information.

Cruise sites are excellent resources and there are so many blogs and so much information (as well as misinformation) that people are able to formulate ideas as to which trips are their cup of tea and which aren’t.

The Internet is filled with content about specific cities and countries that once upon a time was only found in guidebooks and travel magazines. Today, most travel magazines have Web sites — the more interactive, the better. Plus, there are Frommer’s, Fodor’s and Time Out that have even more up-to-date information than their trusted guidebook namesakes.

Booking travel online
Booking sites (and sites linking to booking sites) have mushroomed on the Internet. To name a few: Kayak.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, BookingBuddy.com, Priceline.com, CheapTickets.com, Cheapoair.com … and the list goes on and on. Travelers have developed their personal surfing methods to find the best deals.

One friend claims that, “Orbitz has a great search tool but they don’t let you save searches without starting a reservation. So I’ll search on Orbitz and Expedia for best deals and then book via Expedia.” I’m not sure what he means, exactly, but it seems to work for him.

Another frequent traveler says that after perusing various websites, he can usually get the same fare or hotel rate by contacting the airline or hotel and he’ll almost always end up booking directly to save the added booking fees.

Yet another suggests that creating a package within one of the travel sites that combine air, hotel and land transportation yields the best bargains – even after the added booking fees.

Travel agents and tour operators still count
When it comes to booking “exotic trips” (e.g. Asia and Africa) some people opt to go with organized tours. Others contract with travel agents who specialize in the area.

If these travel agents are real pros, they’ve gone on FAM (familiarization) trips and have developed intra-country resources, that serve as a contact when their clients are in the country and inform the agent about the area’s most current developments. Plus, some travel agents are able to get bulk prices and you, the consumer, end up paying less.

However, most consumers today will inevitably turn to the web during their travel planning process whether the buy through an agent or online.

In fact, study after study confirms that the majority of travelers are likely to view between three and five websites, including social sites, before making a final purchase decision.

What type of travel planner are you? There are so many options.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Cold, stranded and in Paris

Written by admin on January 7, 2009 – 12:23 pm -

This past week has sent chills and freezing temperatures throughout Europe and Paris experienced something it rarely (if ever) does.

Snow brought traffic to a halt. People were stranded and even the Eiffel Tower was closed for a couple of days. A few metro lines weren’t functioning. Paris doesn’t have snow removal trucks because snow is essentially an enigma.

People were forced to walk and some Parisian children who’d never seen REAL snow were able to fulfill a fantasy. While school was canceled, they built snowmen and even threw snowballs – ever so much fun for the uninitiated.

It was time to bundle up since Paris’s temperature plummeted to below  -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a record low for the City of Light. It’s so cold that the police are turning people away and not allowing them to enter the Luxembourg Garden. In my 20 years of living in Paris, this is a first.

Utility companies in France and throughout Europe were operating at full tilt and there were some power failures. The count still isn’t in as to how many people died because the lack of heat.

Passengers were stranded at Paris’s Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Heavy snow last Monday forced Air France to cancel 150 out of 400 scheduled flights from Roissy. Three thousand passengers had  to stay at nearby hotels while another 2,000 people camped out in the airport’s terminals.

Ironically, flights in and out of Paris’s second airport, Orly were operating on schedule.

Global warming appears to be taking its toll on the highs and lows of temperatures throughout the world and the joys of travel.

If you were stuck in Paris (or another EU airport), please post your experiences.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The State Department is warning about what?

Written by admin on January 2, 2009 – 12:25 pm -

Give me a break! Today, the US State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans about potential crimes exploding in the UK. Tourists going to London could be victims of muggings, ATM scams and possible rapes by unlicensed cab drivers. Visitors should be on their guard.

The State Department’s UK advisory included, ”Despite the excellent overall safety record, British trains have poor track conditions, which have resulted in some train derailments and have caused some fatalities.”

Tourists can be easy victims of petty crimes if they’re not careful and have that vulnerable or lost look. And as economies are hurting, expect increased crime wherever.

New York City banks are being robbed with greater frequency. Does this require a travel advisory? As Willy Sutton allegedly responded when asked why he robbed banks, ”Because that’s where the money is.”

Perhaps it’s been a slow holiday season in the Nation’s Capital for those condemned to work. But wait a minute.

Here’s another alert: The State Department strongly recommends that American citizens “refrain from all travel to the Gaza strip and that people currently in Gaza depart immediately.” This recommendation has been in effect since the deadly roadside bombing of a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza in October 2003. It applies to all Americans, including journalists and aid workers. ”No official travel is permitted inside the Gaza Strip at this time.”

Now that makes more sense to me because of the on-going bombings in Israel.

There’s something called being prepared and being prepared. Always use big city smarts. However, some places are more volatile than others. Travelers should keep things in perspective. London isn’t high on my “do not go” list. Is it on yours?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Resolutions of a travel junkie

Written by admin on December 31, 2008 – 12:27 pm -

What are your 2009 travel resolutions? Ask your friends and business colleagues and you’ll hear different answers. I’ve made my  resolutions but want to hear yours.

The following responses are some (not all) I’ve received from the frequent fliers whom I’ve polled:

- I’m going to travel only business or first class. No more coach for me.  Nice if your budget or boss allows it.

- I will upgrade wherever and whenever possible, by using the miles I earned by having my ass on so many flights!

- Please spare me from trips with multiple legs for the sake of saving a few dollars.

- I want to travel less for business and more for pleasure.

- I am going to take my wife or a child with me on business trips, when or if possible.”

- I will try to add some “measure of pleasure” to my business trips. It might be just going to a local museum or eating at the most unique restaurant in town. Better yet, I’ll ignore the TV and reconnect with out-of-town friends.

- I’m going to add on a day or two at either end of the trip (especially if it’s overseas) to see some of the area rather than only an office environment.

- I will wear loafers when I travel by air, remove my laptop and all metal BEFORE I get to security and wear a tear-away belt. But I will not be rushed to the extent that something is forgotten on the conveyor line.

- While traveling by air, I will stay away from families with small children and senior citizens (no offense, they’re just slower).

- I will seek out travelers who look like road warriors and follow them.

- I am going to bring my own meals for my flights. I’ve gained too much weight eating junk food (expensive too) sold at airports.

- Now that gas prices have come down, I plan to do more driving.

-Whenever possible, I’ll take the train rather than endure the hell that awaits travelers at today’s airports.

- I’m not going to postpone seeing family and friends who are getting older or with whom I haven’t had the time to connect because I’ve been ‘too busy.’

My personal resolutions definitely include many of the above but comprise others.

- I hope to be able to share some of my favorite places with people about whom I care and discover other destinations with people who are passionate about travel.

- Yes to flight upgrades. No to accepting the first room because it’s easier than appearing nasty and demanding a larger room or one that has been renovated.

- When there’s an executive floor, I’ll always opt for it, since the extra service is a real boon in addition to being able to use the lounge. Free breakfasts and cocktail hours are generally included and more than likely, these floors end up with my saving money.

My recent stays at the Four Seasons Hotels in Hong Kong and Bangkok must have set them back more than a few pennies. Hotels compete for customer loyalty on these “special” floors. I ate everything in sight, sipped tea and ate crumpets at the appropriate hour, drank champagne at cocktail time accompanied by a huge selection of delicious hors d’oeuvres (skipped dinner) and didn’t have to pay for WiFi. Plus, I could work in the lounge while my travel partner was sleeping.

- I’m not going to be intimidated by negative news reports from going to a city or to a country unless there’s out and out war. Obtaining visas may be cumbersome. But doing so is worth the effort.

- Not being a ‘tour type,’ I’ll spend the money to hire an English speaking driver to give me an off-the-beaten track tour of a place I’ve never been.

- When it comes to the regular must-sees, there’s so much information on the Internet that last year’s guide books may be obsolete by the time they’re printed and for sale.

- No more rushed trips that leave me feeling cheated as I’m heading to the airport. I hate knowing I only saw the tip of the iceberg of what there is to see. Allow enough time for serendipity.

- Travel is one of my main passions. But being prepared and flexible is an essential part of the experience. Develop ways you can relax when there’s stress. How about a personal mantra?

What are your new year’s resolutions?  Are you already considering specific destinations? Let’s hear them and anything goes.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Paris retail sales start January 7th for six weeks of bargains

Written by admin on December 29, 2008 – 12:28 pm -

Admittedly, the economy is terrible and many people are worried about finances. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should stop traveling. They simply need to know how to travel smarter because now, for anyone that happens to have some extra cash, it may be time to head to the City of Light for shopping and more.

Airlines want to fill their planes and they’re having a hard time doing that these days. Surf the Internet. There are lots of deeply discounted fares, especially if travelers are able to be somewhat flexible with dates. Ditto for hotels. There are many websites offering last minute and discounted prices.

If you need an excuse to visit Paris, shopping when bargains are real and plentiful is as good as any. The winter retail sales in Paris officially begin on January 7, 2009, and continue for six weeks. Stores discount their stock by up to 70%. If travelers are leaving the EU, they’re entitled to a tax rebate (up to 15%) if they spend a minimum of €175 in the same store on one day. Gone, unfortunately, are the days when visiting shoppers could accumulate receipts during a week and qualify for the sum total of the tax rebate.

The French are gunning for the shopping tourist trade and have launched a website Shopping Paris that tells visitors what’s hot and happening during the sales.

Parisians by nature love shopping. Paris has 17,500 shops (many aren’t much larger than a postage stamp). That’s 29 stores per 1,000 inhabitants. Once travelers are shopped out, dine at one of approximately 10,000 restaurants to refresh the body, take in a show at one of the 145 theaters to refresh the soul and visit one of the city’s renowned museums.

It doesn’t take much other than comfortable shoes to walk the streets and get some inspiration. Be sure to bring appropriate clothes. Even though it rarely snows (or if it does, it doesn’t stick), a knit hat, scarf, gloves and boots will undoubtedly come in handy.

Here are five new shopping itineraries targeted at individual’s different styles of dressing. Be sure to buy a Plan de Paris (a small book that you can carry with you that notes every street). Another option is using the GPS function if you’re carrying a Blackberry or an iPhone. Check with your provider before leaving the U.S. about activating it and the costs you’ll incur.

Clothes glorious clothes:

Classic: Looking for timeless elegance? Head to these areas: Montaigne, Champs-Élysées, Place Vendôme and Palais Royal.

Trendy and cutting edge: Le Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Haussman, Étienne Marcel, and Les Halles. Les Halles is a good bet for anyone on a limited budget.

Bobo-chic (or the charm of arty intellectual Paris): Sèvres-Babylone, Odéon, Charonne, and Canal Saint-Martin.

Creative and young designers: Try Bir Hakeim, Abbesses, Marché Saint-Honoré, and Saint-Paul.

Fusion Fashion World or cultural melting pots: head to Belleville, La Villette, Olympiades, Ledru-Rolli, and Opéra.

Don’t overlook outdoor markets. Even though many of them concentrate on selling food, there are usually plenty of clothing vendors. I’ve bought some terrific wearables for a fraction of the cost I’d have to pay in a store.

Even if a browser ends up buying nothing, walking these neighborhoods will teach a great deal about the city and its people. The shopper’s view of Paris after diving into the Paris-on-sale world will be far different from those people who take a city tour or a cruise on the Seine.

Visitors forget how small the city is. In its entirety, Paris is only 41 square-miles and the Métro and the buses will move millions quickly from shop to boutique comfortably and quickly. What more could you want?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Thai government’s push to rebuild wounded tourism

Written by admin on December 26, 2008 – 12:29 pm -

Following November’s  week-long Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport closing  caused by the blockades of anti-government protesters, the Ministry of Tourism is taking proactive measures. The airport’s closure plus the civil unrest paralyzed the tourist industry and stranded 300,000 travelers.

The country will spend $450 million during the next four years to reestablish Thailand as a destination of choice. Already the country has adopted an aggressive advertising campaign to begin luring visitors back to Bangkok and Thailand’s many resorts. Wedding packages, special holidays and discounted packages are some of the incentives being offered.

The government realizes that the recent incidents have tarnished the country’s image as a prime tourist destination and may have a lasting effect. The tourism sector directly employs 1.8 million people and generates 6 percent of the GNP. This source of revenue is a major factor in the country’s economy and was in the process of increasing.

Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said Thailand  traditionally welcomes 8,000 to 12,000 foreign tourists a day during its peak season that began in November. That number fell to 5,400 after the airport’s closing.

His optimistic projection is that  12-13 million foreign visitors may come to Thailand in 2009. The Ministry of Tourism is hoping tourists don’t steer clear of their country that has so much to offer. Having just returned from there, how I wish I’d had time to stay longer.

People who are currently spending the holidays there are enjoying far better weather than travlers who are stuck in the U.S., snowed in and having had their travel plans turn to mush.

With the election of the new government, the consensus is that Thailand is politically stable. Tourism should rebound. The biggest question is how fast can it recover and will there be another political shock.

How I wish I could afford to return to Thailand immediately. Paris is my next stop. But I hope to return to Thailand next year and hope I won’t be alone.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Back in the States, it’s plane chaos

Written by admin on December 24, 2008 – 12:31 pm -

I hate to bitch and moan – but here goes. Yes, the weather has been terrible and there’s been a pyramid effect impacting planes taking off and arriving. The airports have been bedlam and filled with people trying to get to their chosen destinations for the holidays. The weather gods have not been kind.

But that doesn’t diminish my irritation with the lack of communication airline personnel give passengers or are supplied by their organizations. To compound the normal travel chaos and my ultimate sense of disappointment, I was receiving messages on my Blackberry advising me that “all was well” after I landed.

According to all of the electronic messages, I was informed electronically I was going to sleep in my bed, after a nearly-20-hour flight from Hong Kong. Here in the good old USA, my problems started.

My plane from Seoul, Korea arrived at Kennedy Airport only seven minutes late. I had nearly two hours to get through customs, collect my baggage and take the SkyTrain to the United terminal.

My heart was beating. I can’t tell you how delighted I was that I was in time for my connecting 9:30 flight to Washington/Dulles Airport. The United representative who issued my boarding pass assured me I was living under a lucky star.

All went well at JFK until I I arrived at the gate only to be told that my flight was going to be nearly two hours late and the plane that was about to depart was oversold. And forget it, there wasn’t a chance in hell there would be a single seat.

Feeling exhaustion consuming my body, I asked if I could postpone my departure until the following day. Sure, they told me, but I’d lose my ticket and would have to be rebooked. And who’s to say there would be an available ticket? That option seemed out of the question.

OK — all was not lost. I’m a member of the Red Carpet Club. I paid for this privilege in the event I encounter such situations. Off I went only to find it closed at 8:30 p.m. Perhaps I’m rigid but why do I think the club should remain open until the last flight has departed?

Luckily, I ran into a friend who was London bound. He took pity on me and invited me to be his guest in the British Air lounge. Until the airline’s last flight departed, I could have a drink, something to eat and fire off emails on one of their computers.

The BA lounge reminds me of those in Europe and Asia and it doesn’t leave clients with the feeling they’re lucky if they can grab a cup of coffee or glass or something non-alcoholic. If you want a drink, expect to pay $6 for a tiny pour.

The United Express flight was further delayed to the point that the pilot apologized more than once, explaining that the flight was late leaving Roanoke, Va., before proceeding to D.C. and continuing to Kennedy to make a fast turn-around to DC.

As we departed at 1 a.m., my adrenalin was in high gear. Thank goodness the flight was fast or I might have suffered cardiac arrest.

Once on the ground, the next step was collecting the luggage (thank goodness it was there) and racing to the taxi line. Naturally, taxis aren’t forming long lines at 2:30 a.m.

When one appeared I wanted to kiss the driver and, naturally, I was delighted when he arrived at my holiday abode.

After thinking about it before falling into bed, I realized it has taken seven hours to travel between Kennedy and my final destination. The trip between Hong Kong and Seoul was substantially shorter and included a gourmet meal.

If I’m not making 100% sense, it’s because I’m suffering extreme jet lag. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I have to get my act together. It’s when our family celebrates all together.

I wouldn’t miss seeing the smiles on my grandchildren’s faces for love nor money. They’ll have to forgive me if their presents aren’t perfectly wrapped.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She wishes everyone a happy holiday season.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |
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