Category Archives: Int’l Tourism

US Passport Fees Set to Climb

If your passport needs to be renewed soon, if it needs extra pages for future travel or if you don’t have  a passport but might need one (and now you do for neighboring Western Hemisphere nations), do whatever you need to before Tuesday, July 13. Post offices handle passport applications.

Passport Book

  • New passport, adult, $135 (up from from $100).
  • Renewal, $110 (up from $75). 
  • Youth under 16,  $105 (up from $85).
  • Extra pages, $82 (new fee). 

Passport Card

If you expect to travel only to Canada and/or Mexicom you can get a card instead of a book.

  • Adult, $55 (up from $45).
  • Youth, $40 (up from $35)

Reasons

  

No, the fee increases are not to help balance the budget. The US State Department says that passport fees cover the cost of actually producing the document but also but they also pay for emergency services provided to American citizens overseas by embassies and consular offices.

Palestine: Reflections

Headlines provide signs of hope that Israeli-Palestinian tensions will ease and that peace will prevail
As I was recounting my Palestine/West Bank travel experiences and observations, I made notes to myself about how I wanted to wrap it all up. After all, this wasn’t just a sightseeing trip featuring antiquities and sacred places. It was an experience that put me and my traveling companions on the cusp of “future history.” Through my membership in the Society of American Travel Writers, I became aware of, but I am embarrassed to admit, not active in a not-for-profit group called the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism.

Originally, I intended wrap up my thoughts and observations unfiltered by politicians’ spin and advocates for one side or another. I also was going to include links to IIPTT’s site and to peace organizations working specifically in the Middle East and more specifically on the Palestinian-Israeli situation, because I believe that tourism can be a valuable tool for peace — not just economically in troubled lands but also in allowing visitors to see a place and its people first-hand. This trip certainly was enlightening, even though we did not meet any overtly militant Palestinians or any Israeli Jews at all other than Army guards at checkpoints and security screeners at Tel Aviv Airport.

But today’s headline in the New York Times, “U.S. and Israel Shift Attention to Peace Process,” reports that “President Obama said Tuesday that he expected direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to begin ‘well before’ a moratorium on settlement construction expired at the end of September, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to take ‘concrete steps’ in the coming weeks to get the talks moving.”

Since I’m trying to restrain myself, perhaps I should not point out that in the past, Netanyahu’s “concrete steps” have taken the form of pouring more concrete for more settlements in the Palestinian territory. ‘Nuff said, so I’d rather express a hope that things might be better this time, and that perhaps neither side will provoke the other into escalating retaliation measures. This eye-opening trip beyond the headlines and the rhetoric pointed out the social injustice of the current situation. I mentioned to some of my traveling companions that I am shocked that Israel, a nation established because millions of its people were the victims of ruthless genocide, could treat other people so badly. One who is smarter than I pointed out that individual people who been abused often become abusers. The analogy was not lost on me or anyone else within earshot.

So I close this series with a wish that maybe, just maybe, the new talks will amount to something and the peace process will begin again — and maybe, just maybe, it will be honored by all sides and be longer-lasting than in the past.

Travel Industry to Tackle Climate Change

“Live the Deal” initiative emerges from Copenhagen conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference that wraps up tomorrow in Copenhagen has been in the news mainly for the estimated number of demonstrators, the number of demonstrators arrested and the heads of government who would or wouldn’t be attending, and if the were, when, and if they weren’t, why not. A travel-industry initiative called Live the Deal has emerged from Copenhagen. Let’s hope it helps people continue to travel while decreasing the environmental burden caused by those travels. We have already seen hotels go green, but lodgings are only a small part of the travel picture. International industry leaders are, of course, just beginning to talk, but as the old proverb says, “Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

 Below is the press release about those first steps:

Copenhagen, Denmark/ Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates/Madrid, Spain 16 December – “Live the Deal”, an innovative, global campaign to help travel companies and destinations respond to Climate Change, reduce their carbon footprint and move to the Green Economy, was launched this week during the Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Announcing the new initiative, long time tourism green campaigner Geoffrey Lipman UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General said: “What Copenhagen represents is a new commitment by the world community towards sustainable low carbon growth patterns. The targets and mitigation actions that countries develop and negotiate through this process will be a new base for travel industry action. What we are providing is a very simple way to get behind the evolving government initiatives, to keep pace with changing patterns and to demonstrate that our sector is acting, not simply talking.” He added “We should not be ashamed to promote the growth of smart travel – clean green, ethical and quality – it’s the lifeblood of trade, commerce and human connection”.

“Live the Deal” follows the pattern established in the UN led Copenhagen Seal the Deal campaign by its single minded focus, its simplicity and its broad based engagement goals. It will seek to encourage the sector directly and through representative organizations.

It has been developed with the support of UNWTO, whose Secretary-General Taleb Rifai calls it “The kind of link between global policymaking and responsible tourism action that we are looking to inspire and encourage. Our sector fuels the economy, creates jobs and is one of the biggest development opportunities for the world’s poorest countries – and it can be a leader in the transformation to a green economy”.

The campaign will be underpinned by a simple carbon calculation tool that allows easy correlation with government targets and implementation measures, as well as a Think Tank and Annual Innovations & Investment Summit. The inaugural Summit will be in Abu Dhabi in the last quarter of the year. Live the Deal will be promoted by a multimedia video “We can take this Climate Change” from platinum album writer and singer Alston Koch which will be profiled around the world in 2010

Squaw Valley Panel Discussion on World Travel Topics

Tahoe area panel explores “Conscious Travel”

If I were within striking distance of Squaw Valley, California, I would put the Squaw Valley Institute‘s panel on “Conscious Travel” on my calendar for tomorrow evening, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. Three women on the panel among them are both expert travelers and travel industry experts. Discussion topics will include modernization of the developing world, “the tipping dilemma,” picture taking, bargaining, how to dress, the impact of tourism, environmental considerations and giving back to places visited. The panel discussion will be followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Ruth Anne Kocour is a photographer and world trekker based in northern Nevada whose subjects include the culture and landscapes of the American West, Asia and mounaineering expeditions. Julie Conover is co-host, co-producer and writer of the PBS series,”Passport to Adventure.” Toni Neubauer, president of Myths and Mountains, a tour operator headquartered in Incline Village, Nevada, which offers cultural immersion tours that balance American-style luxury travel with cultural insight and sensitivity.

The program at the Inn at Squaw Creek is free, but a $10 donation per person is requested. The Squaw Valley Institute’s goal is to “enhance the quality of life within the unique mountain environment of Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, Truckee and surrounding communities” through programs and activities “having artistic, cultural, educational and entertainment value..that bring together visitors, residents and friends…[and] foster a sense of community.” The Institute is at P.O. Box 3325, Olympic Valley, CA 96146; 530-581-4138.

Mexico’s Miseries Mean Bargains for Travelers

Travel deals to America’s troubled neighbor to the south

Mexico has been having a bad run. First, the US and global economic woes caused many migrant workers to return to their country, cutting down the flow of US dollars that help so many families and communities. The border city of Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, has been the site of thousands of drug cartel-related murders, and more recently, a drug-related gun battle in the tourist mecca of Acapulco left 18 people dead. Swine flu was reportedly traced back to an American-owned pig farm in Mexico. Earthquakes rattled central Mexico, and a fire in a day care center in the border state of Sonora killed 44. Aviaseca, a discount airline, was grounded for three days until a court order permitted it to resume flying again. Even a press trip to Mexico didn’t materialize due to “scheduling problems.”

My inbox is filled every day with deals from everywhere from Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean shore to Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific. Jimm Budd, an American travel journalist who has lived in Mexico City for years and is the travel columnist for the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, reports that “although hotel associations have been urging their members not to launch a rate war, management at some resorts apparently feels it has no choice. Tariffs at the Hilton Los Cabos are down by 60% compared to what was charged last season, according to newspaper reports. Rates at the Royal in Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera are down 50% While the Gran Velas on the Nayarit Riviera is offering savings of 25%.”

He cautions bargain hunters “invest some time in research. The Tourism Ministry has launched its own web page with numerous packages listed, but one newspaper reported better prices are available from ordinary tour operators. Critics also note that no intercity bus transportation is offered in the Ministry packages.”

Newspaper headlines can scare people away from Mexico or anyplace else (a friend’s daughter just returned, unscathed, from “war ravaged” Sir Lanka), but those Americans who venture southward will find a wonderful country, lively cities (Mazatlan, above right) scenic beauty, art, music, sport, terrific people — and low prices.

Followup from Jimm Budd on June 16: “Battered first by the worldwide recession, then by reports of violence associated with the crackdown on narcotics smugglers and finally by the swine flu pandemic, Mexican hoteliers report business gradually is getting better. Hotel occupancy, which had fallen as low as ten or twenty percent, now is about fifty percent both in urban and seaside hotels. This should improve considerably next month, when schools go on vacation. Even so, much to the distress of innkeepers, the vacation season will be shorter this summer. Since classes in areas such as Mexico City were obliged cancelled for two weeks during the flu scare, an extra 14 days is being added to the school year.”

Luxury No Longer Means Security

Upscale hotels in unstable places and luxury cruise ships at sea are obvious targets for attacks
There isn’t a day that goes by without press releases appearing in my inbox about yet another luxurious, deluxe, multi-star hotel or resort in some picturesque and/or exotic place. The recent attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, were just the latest high-profile targets that appeal to first-world travelers to developing nations. Reporter Keith Bradsher’s New York Times feature called “Analysts Say It Will Be Difficult to Shield Luxury Hotels From Terrorist Attacks” began:

“For decades, luxury hotels have been oases for travelers in developing
countries, places to mingle with the local elite, enjoy a lavish meal or a dip
in the pool and sleep in a clean, safe room. But last week’s lethal attacks
on two of India’s most famous hotels — coming just two months after a huge truck
bomb devastated the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan — have underlined the extent
to which these hotels are becoming magnets for terrorists.”

Left to my own devices, I’m more of a three-star traveler (OK, maybe four-star in third-world nations) than a five-star traveler. However, when I attend a Society of American Travel Writers convention or am on other tourism-related assignment or trip, I do find myself in unaccustomed luxury. A small part of me enjoys being treated like visiting nobility, but mostly, I am embarrassed by the ritzy glitz in places where so many people have so little. I know that tourism brings jobs (including jobs as security guards) and money into developing countries, but still, such opulence and extravagance are clearly an affront to many. When clashing political ideology or religious zeal are added to the volatile socio-economic mix, the result in these mean times is predictable violence. People die, property is destroyed and another door to international understanding and peace on the planet is slammed shut.

The Times piece discussed security precautions that hotels are taking, which should be of interest and some comfort to travelers heading for potentially dangerous places. Meanwhile, CNN reported that the ‘Nautica,’ an Oceania Cruises ship (left) en route from Rome to Singapore, outran pirates off the coast of Yemen over the weekend while in an area patrolled by anti-piracy craft. The cargo ships and oil tanker that have recently been seized by pirates were off the coast of Somalia. Smaller private yachts have also been seized.

“The ‘Nautica’ was in an area patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces when two small skiffs appeared to try to intercept it, Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky said. The ship took evasive maneuvers and accelerated to its full speed of 23 knots or 27 mph. One of the smaller craft closed to within 300 yards and fired eight rifle shots at the cruise ship, he said, but the ship was able to pull away. . .’The ‘Nautica’ escaped without damage or injury to its 684 passengers and 400 crew, and arrived safely on schedule in Salalah, Oman early on Monday morning,’ Rubacky said.”

As disturbing as these reports are, personally, I don’t want to stop traveling because “something” might happen. Last June, I visited Oklahoma City, the mid-America capital of Oklahoma where Timothy McVeigh, a US Army veteran and security guard, masterminded the massive explosion that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 2000. Also that month, my car was broadsided by a speeding motorcyclist on a rural highway in western Colorado. I just hope, in the interest of global sanity, that the attacks will stop and efforts to build a more peaceful, more tolerant world will recommence.