Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for December, 2009

Customer testimonial: Feeling like honorary Ecuadorians

Hearing what a wonderful job our tour guides do always makes me proud. I love getting feedback about our trips, and I recently received some rave reviews about our Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands tour.

I wanted to share one with you from a couple who found their tour guide to be above and beyond their expectations.

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"In writing our evaluation, we did not have enough room to tell you about our guide, Patricio. He was, without a doubt, the most friendly, patient, and knowledgeable guide we have had out of many tours we have taken. We hope that you will pass this information on to the Friendly Planet office in Ecuador, as we feel that he should be given special recognition for the superb representation of your company. We had two medical emergencies with travelers in our group. He was able to get doctors for them and arrange for one of them to join our trip the next day.(The other man refused treatment, as this wasw an on-going medical problem, and was fine the next morning.) Another time, while telling us of the exportation from Ecuador of roses, he asked our driver, Jose, to stop for a moment. He came back a few minutes later with roses for all of the women on the bus! These were just two of the many kindnesses he extended to our group. He really understands the meaning of "guest service" and is to be commended for the way he conducts a tour. We came away feeling like honorary Ecuadorians!"

– Cathy and Rich Sholtanis, Tamworth, NH

What’s to come at Friendly Planet in 2010

I always enjoy this time of the year. It’s relaxing to get a few days off from work and spend the holidays with friends and family. As the year comes to a close, you reflect on how much you’ve accomplished, and think about what you want to achieve in the next year. 
 
I know what I’m looking forward to in 2010. We’re going to be introducing several new and exciting tours and community projects at Friendly Planet Travel. I want to share with you all a sneak peek of what’s going to happen.  
 
New Web site. One significant change will be our upgraded Web site. By the end of January, expect to see a faster, more responsive site. It’ll be filled with new tools for individual travelers, as well as a new search engine that will make it even easier to search for deeply discounted air and hotel packages to many foreign destinations including London, Rome, Paris, even the Caribbean. 
 
New booking engine. Along with a new Web site comes a new booking engine. It will let travelers book reservations completely online. It will be even more convenient for travelers to make deposits and final payments online, safely and securely with their own username and password. Travelers can also view their tour information, reservations, documents, invoices, destination guides, and other important details anytime. 
 
New travelers’ community. Another important feature of the new Web site is the new community, where we will host forums for our visitors, have places to post pictures and travel blogs, and provide various ways to interact with us. The forums will be important in getting feedback from our travelers, and allow people who are traveling solo to find roommates easily through our site.
 
New micro-lending project in India. As you’ve heard me talk about before, we’re working on projects with Kiva and the Trailblazer Foundation, and now we’re looking into launching a new micro-lending project in India. It will fund the purchase of rickshaws for drivers who are presently forced to rent them by the day, giving up a good part of their daily earnings, rather than keeping them to support their families.
 
Since these drivers have no access to credit to fund the loans for the rickshaw purchase, they are forced into this rental situation. If we’re able to create a fund that allows the drivers to pay back the loan to us, and end up with the rickshaw in the end, the drivers will soon be able to keep the day’s wages for themselves. 
 
New ways to give back to needy students. We’re also organizing a collection of school supplies for every Friendly Planet travel destination where they are needed, but not available. This is the case in most of Africa, Asia, and certainly in India. Notebooks and pencils that are given to children directly are usually confiscated by needy families who then turn around and sell it for food. 
 
Our project will distribute the supplies to trusted teachers, who will store and distribute them as needed to students. The school supplies project is being organized by local guides in each place where the supplies are needed, and will be implemented early in the new year.
 

Thumbnail image for New Picture (3).jpgNew destinations. Finally, we’ll be adding new destinations to the Friendly Planet globe. Tours are being planned to Madagascar, Burma (Myanmar), Bali, and Indonesia, plus a number of river cruises in Europe and Asia. In addition, several new ocean cruises will be available starting in the spring of 2010, via Louis Cruises and Costa Cruises, two familiar Friendly Planet favorites. 

 
These are just a few of the new things arriving in 2010. There is plenty more in the works for throughout the year, but this gives you a taste of what’s to come!

How much responsibilty should you take for your vacation?

For those who might have missed Chris Elliott’s latest article this past Sunday (I caught it in the Philadelphia Inquirer), I wanted to share it with you here today.

In the article, a traveler wrote to Chris for help because a hotel refused to honor a price they had mistakenly printed as a keystroke error. The hotel manager still gave the traveler a significantly discounted rate, and waived other associated fees with staying at the hotel, such as the mandatory valet parking fee. Still, this traveler was adamant that the original price be honored.

Clearly, this traveler expected Chris — the champion of travelers’ rights — to side with him. And here’s where some readers might have been surprised. Chris did not believe a hotel should be forced to honor a price that was printed in error, if the price was obviously too good to be true — such as a $28 night at the Westin.

The point that Chris drove home in his article is that just as vendors have a responsibility to travelers, we as travelers also have responsibilities as consumers. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all need to have understanding.

In my own opinion, that traveler was being unnecessarily demanding, especially considering the many ways the hotel tried to make it up to him. So I greatly appreciated Chris response. This leads me to the subject I wanted to write about today: What happens when something goes wrong on your trip?

What happens if a weather delay grounds you in an airport in the middle of a vacation, when you’re supposed to be en route to a new city? We had to deal with this exact situation this past week on one of our Taste of China tours.

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A heavy fog prevented a plane of Friendly Planet Travel passengers from landing at the destination city of Shanghai. Instead, the plane landed at the next nearest airport. The problem was, people had signed up for a tour, and this was not part of the plan!

The Friendly Planet Travel operator — who wants very much to accommodate the group the best way possible — turns himself into a pretzel to find an alternative way to get 34 to Shanghai as quickly as possible. He finds a way — at a minimal cost —  and ultimately saves the day. But wait. These new arrangements — everything from new tickets to accommodations — will now cost our travelers an additional $157.50 out of pocket.

Some of our passengers were NOT happy. I spent the entire afternoon fielding complaints from livid customers who had not been told they would have to pay this extra amount. And immediately Chris Elliott’s latest article was called to mind. What should you expect when you travel? What should a responsible person be thinking about? How should you really prepare for a trip? Are there times when you have to know that things can go wrong?

There’s a situation known as force majeure: situations that no one can control (such as bad weather). You can’t, as a travel dealer, create a fantastic deal that includes a great trip, wonderful arrangements, all for an incredibly good price, and still have the buffers to cover $157.50 for 34 people.

So I wrote a letter to everyone on the trip, explained what had happened, and apologized that they hadn’t been told about the cost. I asked them if they would be willing to pay this extra cost, so that our China rep wouldn’t be liable for this money himself.

Out of 34 people, 23 immediately paid the $157.50, and the there were another few that said they would pay later. The remaining members were still angry. In situations such as this, most people are very understanding, but there is truly something to be said about having some responsibility for the way life sometimes works. As I said, force majeure — when something is no one’s fault.

My takeaway: When you prepare for a trip, don’t forget to mentally prepare yourself for situations that can arise when you’re away from home. Friendly Planet Travel promises to take care of you when you travel with us, but we still ask that you understand that in situations beyond our control, we sometimes need a little wiggle room from you.

We will always make the decision that we feel is right for you, no matter that. That said, every traveler needs to make the decision to travel responsibly. And as every experienced traveler knows, life happens. (And sometimes, life makes for the best stories ;) )

Transcript with professional vagabonder Rolf Potts

Last week Bridget published a podcast she recently did with travel writer and novelist Rolf Potts, so I wanted to share the transcript with you as well. Enjoy!

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Weekly wrap up: Friendly Planet Travel in the news

FP_newspaper4.jpgIn case you missed it this week, I wanted to share some of the stories that featured Friendly Planet Travel. Enjoy!

Frommer’s: Frommer’s 5 Deals: Puerto Vallarta, Morocco, Philly, India, and Texas Hill Country

Budget Travel: Argentina, Air/8 Nights, From $1,659

A Friendly Planet Travel podcast: Vagabonding with Rolf Potts

One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to talk to travelers from around the world. Each podcast has illuminated different aspects of travel and different areas of the planet. And each expert has offered their own take on the art of globetrotting.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to travel journalist and author Rolf Potts. Rolf keeps the world up to date on his international adventures on his blog, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding. He also shares his love and know-how of long-term travel in his books, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer.

I caught up with Rolf for a quick chat, and he told me all about what it means to be a modern day vagabond, how to experience a trip "off the beaten path," and how to make your dreams of long term travel a reality. Enjoy!

Customer testimonials: Taj Mahal Express and Best of China and Yangtze Cruise

As you know, we always have a steady stream of customer testimonials flowing in to the Friendly Planet Travel offices. Maybe it’s the holiday cheer, maybe it’s because it’s so satisfying to see all of our hard work pay off, or maybe it’s just because, but our customer reviews have really put a smile on my face recently. So I thought I’d share a couple with you today, verbatim.

FP_TajMahal.jpgWhen we first heard about our tour to India, we were a little hesitant because the price was so low. We thought it may be too good to be true. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was everything we had hoped for and more. The flights were trouble-free and all the hotels were much better than expected. Our hotel in Delhi was the nicest hotel that I have ever stayed at! And I have traveled the world and been to many high class hotels. Also, we were initially concerned about our safety while in India. It turns out that safety was not an issue. Again, we were pleasantly surprised to find the Indian people very welcoming towards Americans. You couldn’t find nicer people in the world. I don’t know how you kept the tour price so low! Keep up the low prices and high standards. I can’t wait to book my next Friendly Planet trip!

- Riley Loback, Seattle

FP_YangtzeRiver.jpgMy husband and I want to thank you for creating comprehensive, fun packed days of touring in China. We saw all the sights we had on our own lists and the city guides made sure that if possible, they worked in places the group requested. With the number of inner city flights and hotel transfers on this trip, the national tour guide made sure it did not eat into our time to enjoy the marvels of history that we were about to see. The daily planning, the food, hotels, the shows, and the ease of getting around made this package one of the exceptional values for a once in a lifetime vacation.

- Susan Razenson, Nanuet, N.Y.

Transcript of podcast with Allan Rabinowitz as he walks the Israel Trail

If you’d rather read my chat with Allan Rabinowitz, Friendly Planet Travel Israel tour guide, you can have a look at the transcript. I had such a wonderful talk with Allan, that I want to make sure everyone is able to share in the joy and inspiration that he shares with us as he walks the Israel Trail in memory if his mother.

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Weekly wrap up: Friendly Planet Travel in the news

Friendly Planet Travel popped up in some pretty nice pubs recently, and I wanted to share, in case you missed it!

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Chicago Tribune: Travel news to use

Los Angeles Times: Tours & cruises

Diva in a Carry On Bag: Borneo and Bangkok on a budget!

Catching up with Allan Rabinowitz and his incredible journey on the Israel Trail

A few weeks ago Peggy introduced you to Allan Rabinowitz, the Friendly Planet Travel guide who is currently walking the entire length of the Israel trail with his family to raise money for and awareness of ALS. Inspired by the memory of his mother who, in 2008, passed away from the debilitating disease, Allan is experiencing the country he loves in an amazing new way: step by step.

Allan took some time to speak with me recently as he walked through the streets of Jersualem. At the time, he, his wife, and his son were almost half way through their 625-mile journey on foot. You can learn more about Allan’s incredible experience and track their progress on his Web site, Walking the Land – for those who can’tFacebook, Twitter, YouTube, and by listening to our podcast below. If you would like to donate to help fight ALS, you can do so on the main Web site.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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