Traveling during a Period of Uncertainty

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:10 pm -

When the seasons change, the Bonjour Paris mailbox is traditionally filled with questions pertaining to what clothes people should bring to France. If they’re heading to the Côte d’Azur, will it still be warm enough to swim? And could you please suggest 22 day trips?

That’s part and parcel of running a website; we’re used to giving advice, making recommendations and hoping for the best. There’s no one answer that satisfies each and every person. But c’est la vie, and we do our best.

This week’s queries have been different. Is it safe to come to France? If you’ve been watching the news, you know the Eiffel Tower has been closed twice in the past week. Both times were false alarms. A friend of mine who lives near the Tower said she had zero idea about the closures until a family member called from San Francisco to see if her family was OK. Jane was amazed since she said the area was “tourists as usual.” She’d just returned from the playground with her toddlers and commented that no one looked panicked in the least.

In addition, one of Paris’s train stations was evacuated. As tends to be the case in such situations, someone had left a suitcase. Until the police and the sniffer dogs came and the area was declared safe, people were inconvenienced. Better safe than sorry.

This reminds me of when a bomb was detonated in a trashcan on the Champs-Élysées in the ’90s. The receptacles were solid with round openings. People weren’t as aware of terrorist attacks then, although the French government claims it had its antenna up and out.

Rather than waiting for another possible occurrence, the trash bins were sealed tight as drums. What people did with their accumulated trash was a bit of a challenge. The city placed brown box cartons that overflowed with paper and cans, etc. Finally they were replaced with transparent plastic bags hanging on rings so garbage could be tossed without having the sidewalks look as if they were trash dumps.

During that era, travelers were concerned as to whether or not Paris was a safe destination. Initially, I found the trucks filled with national police from the CRS always visible and looking extremely well-armed and rough-and-tough unnerving.

What I ultimately realized is the French government doesn’t want to hide the fact it’s willing to do battle with anyone or any group with subversive motives.

The police are visible in a show of strength. Imagine my surprise when I was doing an interview with one of the officers in a truck only to see the others playing cards. At the same time, they were constantly on the lookout.

My brain flash-backed to the days after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 and riots erupted over the country. The 14th Street corridor in Washington, D.C., was torched. It was one of the most shocking occurrences in my lifetime.

I was young and naïve enough that it didn’t even enter into my realm of consciousness that something so terrible could happen. At that time, I lived in the Georgetown area of D.C.  Because it was where many government officials lived, the Marines and the National Guard were called into to protect the area as well as other parts of D.C.  It was an eerie feeling being surrounded by armed soldiers. We breathed a great sigh of relief when they disappeared and it was deemed safe to return to our daily routines.

There have been numerous troubling and horrible occurrences since that time, but does that mean people should give up traveling? My vote is no. I’ve even made it a point to take a flight on September 11th, the anniversary of the Twin Towers being destroyed as well as parts of the Pentagon.

There have been rumors of terrorists’ plots brewing in the U.K, France and Germany, and security has definitely been beefed up. The U.S. government is working with its European allies. But Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declined to provide specifics. “We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies.”

In France, Olivier Bagousse, who runs the Paris police department’s Command and Information Center, said authorities have stepped up their alert level following recent intelligence. They are manning a restricted area in Paris’s central police headquarters (across from the Notre Dame Cathedral) that looks and functions as a small version of NASA’s Mission Control. From there, they can survey Paris utilizing 400 closed-circuit cameras that are strategically placed throughout the city.

The seminal question is should people stop living because of fear? On top of that, my guess is there probably aren’t many cities that are considerably safer than Paris since the authorities are being more than vigilant. It goes without saying that tourists should stay alert.

Would you postpone a trip to Europe?  I wouldn’t, though I know not everyone shares my mantra that living in fear isn’t really living.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

So Much for the Smoking Ban

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:16 am -

When the French government banned smoking in restaurants three years ago, no one thought people would go quietly in the night. Most assumed you’d hear a lot of yelling and screaming and the tobacco addicted would ignore the law.

They were about half right. People began congregating outside bars and restaurants without terrasses and annoying neighbors. The signs suggesting that noisy patrons would not be tolerated seem to have had no effect. Screaming in the night, probably having more to do with alcohol than a craving for tobacco, is a new Paris tradition.

Not really surprising. There aren’t enough police in the world to hand out fines to all the perpetrators of cigarette smoke. French fonctionnaires aren’t completely dumb, so they announced restaurant owners would be the ones to pay and possibly have their doors closed in order to enforce the law—but if the smokers are outside their doors?

This is not to say that the smoking ban has failed altogether. Initially, people did smoke less. There were 15% fewer heart attacks reported the first year of the ban and it was looking good. But people are creatures of habit and some are next to impossible to break of their habits. In addition, statistics have shown that when the economy is down, people tend to light up due to stress.

After the government imposed the smoking ban and raised taxes on cigarettes (at today’s exchange, they’re about $7.50 a pack, that is, about the same as a pack in Washington or New York), the French did cut back on their cigarette consumption. But, that seems to be a thing of the past. In 2009, there was a 2.9% increase in the number of cigarettes sold, but it was short-lived as people resumed their former habits.

What’s especially alarming is the number of 13-to-15-year-old smokers is estimated to have increased by 66 percent between 2004 and 2008. And almost one in five French 16-to-20-year-olds now smoke, compared to one in ten just a decade ago.

On the plus side, the French smoked 97 billion cigarettes in 1991 and smoked (only?) 55 billion cigarettes in 2009. I guess that makes tobacco manufacturers and distributors unhappy—thank goodness they have Asia as a new and growing market. Come to think about it, so does Starbucks.

During the winter (whether in Paris, London or New York), you’ll see gangs of people clustered in doorways looking like fugitives getting their nicotine fixes. La vie est dure, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Now that it’s summer, it’s hard to walk down the street and not be surrounded by smokers.

Life on the street where I live has taken on a new look and feel since the weather has become more than wonderful. I’ve waved to neighbors whom I’ve never seen before since they’re sitting on their balconies puffing away. I want to go on record that I’m deadheading my geraniums, which is my idea of gardening.

Some theories as to why the French haven’t quit smoking in spite of aggressive anti-smoking ads:

Does printing “Smoking kills” and other one-liners on cigarette packs discourage smoking? By the time you’re close enough to read it, you’ve already bought the pack. Waste not, want not. And the bad news about smoking is old.

Older people frequently say that smoking is one of their great pleasures and why stop now? They may have a point, but it’s their choice.

French women are fast to say they’d rather smoke than gain weight. Plus, since they’re drinking less, it’s a way for women to socialize with one another. Unless or until there are medical reasons for a specific woman not to smoke, they’re quick to say they’ll continue to do it in moderation.

If they decide to get pregnant, most women will stop smoking. They already drink less wine, or practically not at all—much to the chagrin of the French wine industry—so that’s less of a problem, unless of course winemakers start investing in Philip Morris.

Some people attempt to confine their smoking to parties and when they’re out socializing in clubs and in after-dinner bars. That seems counter-productive since they’re forced to stand outside and miss what’s happening—unless of course the reason to go to the clubs is to stand on the street and smoke.

What’s evident and prevalent are the ever-expanding restaurants with terraces and mushrooming tables on the sidewalk. They’re doing booming businesses catering to smokers. If you want to sit outside and enjoy some sun and fresh air, expect to be inundated by second-hand smoke. There’s talk of some restaurants instituting non-smoking terraces, but as the French would say, “On verra.”

Should you be in the Rue Montorgueil area in the 2ème, there are plenty of restaurants on the pedestrian streets that have more tables outside of the restaurant than in the interior. Everyone’s eating, drinking, and smoking away. Because most doors are kept open, non-smokers are doomed if they want a smoke-free meal.

According to data from The Non-Smokers’ Rights (NSR) Association, the ban on smoking is currently being violated far more than it was when the 2007 law went into effect. In addition, restaurants have constructed enclosed terraces, initially so people could eat outside under heaters; these terraces have become de facto smoking zones. The NSR says it has conducted tests that show the air in establishments with covered smoking terraces is three times as toxic as in restaurants and cafés without them.

It’s as if people aren’t even trying. Fewer people are buying stop-smoking nicotine patches and gum to try to diminish the need to light up.

What do you think is going to be the bottom line in France and, for that matter, in the U.S. as well? Are people ever going to stop smoking? And for those us who have (and with difficulty), are we doomed to have our clothes smell like cigarettes because we’re surrounded by others who can’t kick the habit?

Something tells me this isn’t a simply French phenomenon. What do you think?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

Follow the Bouncing Dollar

Written by kvfawcett on July 12, 2010 – 4:35 pm -

The U.S. dollar hasn’t been this strong against the Euro in more than five years. That isn’t a shabby incentive to motivate Americans to take to the skies and head to Europe. There’s no question there’s been a pent-up demand to travel—and why not do so when your money will go a whole lot further?

According to a survey conducted by TripAdvisor.com, which polled more than 1200 Americans, 60 percent of them are planning to come to the E.U. in 2010, up 50 percent from 2009.

(Surprisingly, only six percent of the people surveyed stated they were reconsidering their travel plans because of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland even though volcanologists are predicting it isn’t dormant and won’t be for quite a while.)

The favorable exchange rate makes a trip to Europe more manageable—or may just put it back in reach if you’ve been feeling priced out of the market. Bonjour Paris has been saying that if you’re coming to Europe for a short vacation, a few dollars here and there do not make a live-or-die difference. But it’s a real difference and it’s your money. Here are a few numbers.

A little over two years ago, a euro cost $1.60. Today, it costs a little less than $1.25. That’s like getting a 22-percent raise or, to make it very practical, 100€ spent in restaurants costs you about $122 (today’s exchange rate), not $160. Does that sound real enough?

Apparently it does to quite a few people. We conducted a very quick poll on our Bonjour Paris Facebook Page and queried our readers about their plans. Some people commented that, because of the current exchange rate, they’re booking tickets to France since it’s simply too good to pass up. Others posted they’d planned their trips when the dollar was at $1.40 to the euro and would go anyway, stating that the elevated airfares are the real sticking point.

Those truly (under $300 round-trip) deep-discounted fare wars seem to be a thing of the past, which makes sense because of the cost of fuel. Fares may look good until all of the add-ons are factored into the price.

Kathleen Delgado commented that she travels to France four to five times a year on business, so the exchange rate is not the deciding factor. But Kathleen commented, “Since I’m not made of money and have respect for the money I earn and the people who help me earn it, the exchange rate does impress me.”

Other Bonjour Paris readers say they’re feeling some respite from when the dollar didn’t buy as much. Dorothy Bain Raviele plans to make improvements to her home in Europe and do some more traveling thanks to the lower euro.

Some of our most faithful readers (merci) Barbra Timmer and Richard and Kathy Nettler posted they’re currently in France and enjoying the dollar’s increased buying power.

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the service industry that target an American clientele are seeing a definite increase in business.

For American expats who live in the E.U. and whose income is dollar denominated, we feel as if we’ve come into a small inheritance from a relative who worried about whether or not we’d be able to pay our bills. Yes, we’ve received a slight reprieve from what’s felt like poverty, especially for those of us who have lived in France since its currency was denominated in francs. It’s been a financial roller coaster, whether or not we were prepared for the ride.

On the other hand, Americans who invested in property in the E.U. with the idea they might return to the U.S., sell their homes and convert their profits into dollars aren’t so happy today because of the limp euro. Few of us anticipated we’d need to be experts in currency arbitrage when buying our primary residences. Well, you can’t have it both ways, have your cake and eat it, and (for good measure) on ne peut pas avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre.

Not being an economist, I don’t pretend to know whether or not the euro has been overvalued—although given the way all the members of the currency union have been fibbing about their deficits, there’s some good evidence that it has been. If that is the case, then, on the one hand, it’s overdue and, on the other… well, as Harry Truman said, it would be nice to find a one-handed economist. But the facts of the moment are right in front of us. The euro is down and likely not to rise very far any time soon.

So, here’s a question for everyone. Is the lower value of the euro having any effect on your plans for travel? If so, how? Let us know. We’re always glad to hear from you.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

Cultural Differences Abound

Written by kvfawcett on June 22, 2010 – 10:30 am -

After living in another country for years, people tend to lose touch with what’s really happening at ‘home,’ no matter how tuned in they think they are to what’s current and what’s not.

I was taken aback by an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, still considered the paper of record in the U.S.  After reading Etiquette in New York City, I found myself having to do a reality check.  Have I missed something by living in France so long?

There’s no question I’ve lost some language fluency because I’m continually surprised by how frequently expressions, such as “How great is that?” are sentence structures I’ve never heard. Is it correct English?  I’d guess not, but evidently a question can be a declarative statement.  Excuse me?

No wonder foreigners doing business in France tend to be baffled. They encounter an entirely different set of do’s and dont’s. Until a few years ago, it was considered impolite to conduct businss at lunch. People toasted the signing of a ‘deal’ with good food, bottles of good wine and perhaps, a cigar. Few French are drinking much wine at lunch and forget lingering over cigars since it’s illegal to smoke in France in enclosed spaces.

It’s been years since I’ve wondered how and where people chew gum, mainly because it’s done so infrequently in France. There must be gum chewers since it’s for sale, but not in 122 flavors, shapes and sizes. The French may smoke (and yes, the numbers are edging up), but I rarely see many actually chewing gum—unless they’re desperate to stop smoking. In all of my years in France, I can’t recall anyone popping bubble gum.

I know some must chew gum, because on rare occasions, it’s been stuck to the sole of a shoe. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Even though most dog owners really do observe the clean up after your pooch rule, if I step into anything, it’s invariably—well, gum doesn’t come in that color.

The Times article also discussed appropriate decorum when it comes to questioning over-30-year-old couples, if they plan to have children. In France, that’s the type of question you don’t ask unless you’re a very best friend or a mother or mother-in-law who’s looking for trouble.

In Europe, one learns not to question marital status and certainly doesn’t pry into something as intimate as a person’s breeding habits.  Thank you very much, but people simply don’t go there, anymore than they ask how much a colleague makes. They may surmise or even know, but salaries among executives are rarely lunchtime conversation.

Other differences in protocol: people shake hands in France, and it’s not up to either the man or the woman to initiate the action. When I go across the street to the café to grab a coffee, the barman and I shake hands.  Who opens the door for whom isn’t necessarily a feminist matter or a crime against women. I open doors for women who are older than I. Ditto for men if they appear either frail, weak, or are carrying bundles of groceries.

Robin Worrall, who lives in Copenhagen and was raised in the open doors for women school of manners, admits he had to get used Danish customs. “Perhaps some Danish women have come to believe that having the door opened for them somehow implies they’re being thrown back into the mire of inequality by having a man behave in this ‘old fashioned way’ … or perhaps they’re just saying ‘hey guys we can open the door ourselves thanks’. Either way because the picture is rather confused, Danish men (mostly) appear to have given up on the courtesy front. On the other hand, a Brit in Denmark can still get away with opening the odd door or two … and get a smile for his trouble!”

The gate to the building where I live in Paris is so heavy that anyone who opens it more than twice a day doesn’t need to go to the gym. All of the residents open it for other inhabitants and it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re polite.  It’s more about brute strength.

When it comes to who exits elevators first, few Parisians who live in old buildings have much choice. Elevators are miniscule, so who gets in last, exits first. If not, people may live and die together or be squished to death in the process.  The hell with gallantry. It’s called survival.

As polite as the French may be most of the time, Métro or subway etiquette appears to be universal. Who wants to be stuck in a car that pulls out of the station where they want to exit? People do push and then push some more.

“Je veux sortir, s’il vous plaît,” is invariably replaced by “Je pars,” forcefully said. People want out when they want out and who cares if neighbors are pushed in the process?

I was raised reading the © 1955 version of my mother’s bible, “Emily Post’s Etiquette” (it’s very much the worse for wear) and learned all of the must-do’s and don’ts. Then I proceeded to break most of the sacred rules. Come to think of it, I did the same thing when I moved to France. Manners are very important – but manner dictums do change.

The longer I live in France and the more I travel, the more I understand about other cultures. Conversely, I’m always a bit confused. But, there’s one thing that’s certain: cultural mores are an endless source of fascination. The puzzle is never precisely solved.  And that’s OK.  It makes life more interesting.  Please feel free to chime in as to what you perceive to be correct etiquette and what’s not.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Ask Karen — And People Do

Written by admin on September 16, 2009 – 7:41 pm -

E-mails to Bonjour Paris are a good barometer as to what readers are thinking and doing. No, we’re not a branch of the French Tourist Office, but, come to think of it, some days, we’d be hard pressed to deny we’re not doing some of its work.

Because we answer all e-mails (some might even accuse the B.P. staff—or me—of being compulsive), people fire off at all hours and expect an immediate response. And more than likely, they’ll receive one within twelve hours. How we wish we could be online 24 hours a day, but it simply isn’t realistic.

One thing that’s glaringly apparent is that people are going to France. Contrasted with a few years ago, frequently it’s last-minute travel. It’s almost as if people can’t stand it anymore and are being seduced by last-minute deep-discounted airfares and hotel-booking sites that are offering rooms at affordable prices.

Business travelers are coming to France now and want information about less expensive digs or where to rent an apartment if they’re staying for a week. Even though the economy is in the tank, executives appear to be realizing that occasional face-to-face contact and shaking hands is a necessity if you’re going to get a job done. Can we suggest less expensive restaurants where to take clients? Make reservations? And yes, they’re leaving for Paris tomorrow afternoon.

Examples of emails we’ve received—and these are the tip of the iceberg:

A recently married woman is coming to Paris and realizes her passport hasn’t been changed to her married name. Theresa sent an email asking, “Didn’t I think she’d be OK if she showed up at the airport with a marriage certificate and a driver’s license that have her ‘new’ name in addition to her passport.”

I shot back an “absolutely not.” She could chance it, but I’d be a nervous wreck getting in and out the US and into France. Perhaps she’d succeed, but my stomach would be tied up in knots. Theresa called the help desk at the airline and, since they’d yet to issue the ticket, they were willing to issue it in her maiden name. Whew.

Another reader sent an e-mail from a man who realized his passport would expire in three months and he’d be fine? Again, off went a reply he didn’t want to hear that included the names of a few companies that expedites visas and new passports.

During my recent travels, I’ve noticed when I’m traveling from one country to another, the person checking my ticket against my passport always looks at the expiration date. Even though this passport and visa site includes all of the information any American traveler could want and need, people don’t always want to take the time to do the research themselves. Who blames them?

Some airlines may allow you to check in online (United does for a fee—at least for U.S. citizens departing from Paris), but since I’m a French resident and my plane tickets originate in France, every time I return to France I have to show the ticket agent my Carte de Séjour, because no one is legally allowed to remain in France without a visa for more than three months. I live in fear that I might misplace that plastic card because I’d be persona non grata.

Another notable e-mail: Susan and John sent one telling me they were planning to bring their miniature Yorkie to Paris since the city is so dog friendly. That’s true. But they assumed they wouldn’t have any trouble sneaking Fidoette on the plane since she’s so tiny and never made a peep buried in Susan’ purse.

I literally called this couple to tell them that they’d better find a puppy sitter or they might be faced with having their baby confiscated while going through security in the U.S. or in France. All animals are required to have specific vaccines, tests, I.D. chips, and a clean bill of health issued by a veterinarian who’s authorized to complete an international health certificate.

On top of that, they’d need to make a reservation for their canine companion and pay between $200-$250 each way (depending on the airline) for the privilege of allowing Fidoette to come to the City of Light.

Some readers probably think I’m exaggerating. How I wish I were.

Now it’s your turn to ask questions. Please register HERE if you need a user name and password and ask away.

There’s no such thing as a (really) stupid question. It’s better to appear silly than end up in another country not knowing what to do where.


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Posted in Paris |

Are B&Bs viable business travel lodging alternatives?

Written by admin on February 26, 2009 – 8:53 pm -

Looking for less expensive places to stay when traveling on business?  All you need to do is access the Internet and you’ll find thousands of listings for B&Bs.

These are no longer exclusively delegated to Mom and Pop country homes that have a few extra rooms where cityfolk can escape from downtown pressures. You know the type: rooms with four poster beds, lots of country prints and a delicious breakfast served with homemade breads and jams. The host family generally hovers and serves as guides with a vast amount of information about the area that they’re delighted to share.

There’s a new trend. B&Bs in major cities are mushrooming and many of the owners are doing their best to cater to business travelers. Some business travelers think they’re the answer. Others wouldn’t go near them.

For example, one road warrior says he always shies away from them for work related travel because he needs a certain amount of anonymity. The management consultant explains, “During breakfast, I don’t really want to chat about homemade scones. I’ve got to get my mind/notes together for that day’s meetings.”

Others are converts who opt for B&Bs over hotels even though they might not be substantially less expensive than inexpensive hotels or motels.

But, there are certain requirements and an increasing number of B&B owners are willing to supply them.  The economy is tough for everyone.

Here are a few things people cite as priorities when opting for B&Bs:
1. Location
2. Easy access to public transportation
3- Free WiFi
4- Use of a printer and a photocopy machine
5- Good beds
6- TV’s in the room with English language channels
7- Good showers with lots of hot water

When it comes to breakfast, some business people say they prefer having the option of self-service and being able to carry it away rather than sitting down at a communal table.

Other necessities:
24-hour-a-day access to the premises without disturbing others.
Being able to book on-line and pay with a credit card.

Some people do appreciate the coziness of B&Bs plus the ability to connect with others. One friend stays at them when she’s attending conventions. She’s willing to walk up to 20 minutes and likes returning to a smaller place after she’s spent the day being jostled by too many people in a convention hall. She’s quick to say it’s nice to be able to have a drink in her temporary home’s living room and relax. In addition, she’s met some nice people.

The B&B concept is growing in popularity. Ten years ago, there weren’t any in Central Paris. Now there are hundreds.

What’s your take?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

5 tips to stretch your business travel dollars

Written by admin on February 2, 2009 – 9:11 pm -

Some people are putting traveling on hold and not going any place that isn’t 100 percent essential.

Welcome to the world of video conferencing and talking via Skype or other programs such as Go to Meeting.

But there are times when business people need to sit down together and make personal contact. The challenge is how to make meetings more cost effective.

Here are some options:

1. Surf the Internet for the least expensive airfare and decide whether or not you’re willing to stay at one of the suggested hotels and rent a car (if needed). Package deals often save money.

2. Some people are opting to stay at less expensive hotels. “Residence” ones, where you can eat some meals or have a drink without going to the bar or the restaurant are cost effective. More than likely, there’s a grocery/liquor store within striking distance.

If you’re traveling on business, ask your client to suggest a hotel. If it’s the pits, you can book another. Make sure it’s close to where you’ll be conducting meetings or make sure there is direct public transportation.

3. The days of having a car and driver waiting have become an extreme luxury. Ask the receptionist to arrange for a taxi to meet you when you’re leaving a meeting.

Some people suggest their colleagues or clients meet them at the airport, and/or pick them up and drop them off each day at the hotel. It saves on rental cars and taxi fares. Plus, it insures you get to meetings at the scheduled hour. In addition, the commuting time can be used to discuss business.

4. If you have to host a meal, arrange to hold it at a restaurant and offer your guests a fixed menu with two to three choices for each course. That way, you’ll be spared from having to ante up for the person who decides he or she craves lobster. Plus, it saves time not having to discuss who’s eating what.

Some people pack their own food ranging from power bars to pre-packaged food. That saves money and can be eaten on the run. There’s nothing like having nuts or trail mix to satisfy middle-of-the night munchies. Whatever you do, stay away from the mini-bar.

5. One friend told me she is now willing to share a room at a conference. Sue said she would never have considered that before but it’s a real cost saver and she’s met some terrific people. I wouldn’t share a room with a stranger — but that’s me.

Welcome to 2009 and being creative when it comes to saving money. Your job may depend on it as well as whether or not you win the contract.

What compromises are you willing to make when you take business trips?

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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Posted in Consumer Traveler |