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Japan nuclear crisis prompts cancellation of Japan Panorama tours

The complex issues around Japan’s nuclear crisis are not short term. And as a result, Friendly Planet Travel is suspending our Japan Panorama tours.

We always act in the best interest of our travelers, and their safety is our number one priority. So the tour will remain suspended until we are certain our travelers can visit Japan safely.

If you are booked on one of our Japan Panorama departure dates, we’ve already contacted you with this news. You’ll be able to book any one of Friendly Planet Travel’s other tours. Even if it’s sold out, we will work with you to get a tour you want. Or if you don’t wish to do that, you can receive a full refund.

I’m saddened to see Japan suffer like this, and our thoughts go out to everyone in Japan as they deal with the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and now a nuclear crisis. Hopefully Japan will be able to get the nuclear problem under control soon and start the recovery process.

We will certainly reinstate our tours to Japan the moment it looks as though our travelers will be safe. If any news on this situation changes, watch this spot for updates. In the meantime, we are urging everyone who can to donate whatever amount is possible to Doctors without Borders or the International Red Cross. Both agencies are very much engaged in helping the people of Japan recover from the horrific disasters of the past weeks.

Japan update: Travel news and ways you can help

Since my last update on Japan, I’m happy to report that our representatives in Tokyo are safe. We also have been in contact with our airline partners, Singapore Airlines, who have extended the deadline to cancel flights to Japan without penalty from March 20 to April 10.

That means insurance coverage is guaranteed only through April 10. However, I believe this deadline will be pushed back, as the nuclear emergency in Japan has complicated things.

So in order to make sure our travelers don’t suffer unnecessary penalties for canceling their April 19 departure or later for the Japan Panorama tour, which is not yet protected by waivers from suppliers, we’re not making any changes or canceling any tours at this time.

If you’re on our April 19 Japan Panorama departure, we’ve already contacted you with a list of options to choose from at this time, including booking another Friendly Planet Travel destination or a later Japan departure date.

Once we have a better sense of damage to the particular regions visited on the Japan Panorama itinerary, we will be better able to determine how to proceed. I want to assure you that we will act in your best interests. Flip back to my previous post to get more details about this decision.

Amid this disaster that has reshaped Japan physically, it’s clear that the Japanese people are methodical, strong, and united. One journalist I heard this morning on the BBC spoke of spending the night in a standing apartment in a village in the earthquake zone.

The family who lives there has no electricity, water, phone service, and very little food. Despite this, the journalist was welcomed warmly and invited to share whatever meager resources the family had. The journalist was surprised by the lack of hysteria and the stoic, calm attitude of the people she has met.

I’m not surprised. I’ve been working with the Japanese for years and know that they will recover and emerge from this better and stronger than before. That is just how they are as a people. For example, our representatives in Japan expressed their gratitude at having been spared the worst of the earthquake and the tsunami, but are worried about people in the worst impacted areas. Their message to me ended with this stoic line: “We will fight this tragedy together and recover, for sure.”

This is just one of the reasons why people — especially those of us who value independence, strength of character, and the ability to look ahead and work toward a better future — will not cancel, but postpone travel to Japan. And, at the first possible moment, they will make a beeline to be among the first to witness the recovery.

Friendly Planet Travel is looking for the best ways to help the Japanese people at this terrible time. We will get back to you with some suggestions for places to send donations that assure the help gets through quickly and to those who need it the most.

In the meantime, we are recommending Doctors Without Borders as a good place to send donations. They are very active in the Japanese recovery and have indicated they will need special funding to handle the crisis. I’ll continue to post updates to the blog, Facebook, and Twitter about the situation in Japan.

Japan earthquake travel update

This post has been updated here.

I don’t have to tell you about the natural disasters that struck Japan, devastating the country.

I love Japan and am heartbroken to see this beautiful country go through this horrible event. Our hearts go out to everyone effected by this disaster.

Thankfully, Friendly Planet Travel does not have any travelers in the country at this moment. However, we do have a scheduled departure date for our Japan Panorama tour on April 19, which is presently on hold.

For the moment, we have been informed that tickets issued for travel to Japan can be cancelled without penalty only through March 20. After that date, issued tickets can be cancelled, but for a penalty of $100 per person.

Since we have not been able to reach our land agents in Japan yet, we can’t determine if land penalties will be waived for April departures. We believe, however, that all of our suppliers will be lenient under the circumstances.

It is out of the question to even begin to determine the extent of the destruction in Japan at this early hour. In fact, a second earthquake occurred just a short while ago in the Nagano area, and there are likely to be aftershocks in the hours and days ahead.

In order to determine if travel in April will even be possible, we will need to assess the viability of the buildings in the cities where our travelers would stay. In the best case scenario, this will take weeks. The safety of our travelers is always our number one priority.

We will need to wait a few days until we make contact with our representatives on the ground in Japan. From there we’ll determine how cancellations of tours for April will be handled in order to make a final decision about our departure dates.

If you’re one of the travelers booked on our April 19 Japan Panorama tour, we are contacting you right now to give you all the information we have. Once the options are known, we will send them to you without delay. And be assured that no matter what option you choose, we will work with you to ensure you get a trip you are happy with.

The tsunami that hit Japan triggered tsunami alerts in other parts of the world where we do have Friendly Planet Travelers, including the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica. I spoke with our representatives in the Galapagos Islands and they they told me everyone is safe and has been moved to higher ground until the alert expires. Costa Rica was issued a “green alert,” which is considered not threatening.

In events such as these, it’s a good time to remind you of the importance of buying travel insurance. If your trip is cancelled, travel insurance typically covers up to the total trip cost. But there are some caveats.

In this case, travel insurance will cover the trips that are cancelled right now, that is, for departures through March 20. For the moment, airlines are waiving cancellation fees only through March 20 and insurance companies are following suit. It is to be seen how this disaster evolves. If it is not possible to conduct tourism as usual, that March 20 date will be moved back, and the coverage will also be extended.

Please be patient. The situation is still evolving, and it will take a few days to understand the full impact of the earthquake and tsunami. But be assured that we’re working 24/7 and monitoring the situation closely.

I will continue to post updates on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter as news develops. Most importantly, keep everyone in Japan in your thoughts. We will be creating a way you can help the people of Japan. I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog post.

Putting violence behind them, Thailand moves forward

Here’s the most recent report from my representatives in Thailand. I was told that the situation in Bangkok has calmed down substantially and life is pretty much back normal. Our Thai representatives have reopened their main office and everyone is back to work as usual.

During the worst of the violence, our office had to close due to its close proximity to the demonstrations and the staff worked out of satellite offices in other locations around the city. Everyone is now back to work and our staff is safe and well.

A few days ago, thousands of volunteers turned up at the demonstration sites around the city and cleaned up the streets to remove all evidence of the protests. My representatives describe an overwhelming sense of relief in that the Thai people appear ready to put these violent demonstrations behind them and move on with their lives.

People from all walks of life participated in the clean up, and judging from the comments of the participants, the people have no intention of allowing a repeat of the past few months. Everyone wants peace.

There are no restrictions or curfews imposed at the airports in Thailand, and all flights are operating. But as usual, all passengers must be in possession of their travel documents to access the airport if curfew hours are put into place by The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation.

We have great faith in Thailand as a destination, and despite the events of the past few months, we are working hard on new programs to Thailand. As soon as these programs are finalized with dates and prices, we will post the new tours and invite our travelers to resume travel to Thailand.

There is hardly a more wonderful destination in the world, and with peace restored, we believe the rush to visit will resume as never before. Stay tuned for details of specials once the new tours are ready. Bookmark the Thailand tag on our blog to stay up to date on the latest information.

Thailand: Our hearts are with you

This post has been updated here.

This morning I received more bad news from Thailand. Our office in Bangkok is located just across the street from the Dusit Thani hotel — ground zero for the political demonstrations. The situation has become violent again, and we’ve moved our office to other quarters for the time being to make sure everyone stays out of harm’s way.

During the past few weeks, I have closely watched the deteriorating situation in Bangkok. I was sure that King Bhumibol Adulyadej, revered by all Thais, would speak out with a demand for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But there has been nothing but silence from the king.

I was positive that the naturally peaceful and warm nature of the Thai people would ultimately cause the demonstrators to go home, the government to call for new elections, and life to go back to normal. Nothing of the sort has come to pass. The determination of both sides has created quite the stalemate, bringing a sense of tension and fear to the heart of Bangkok’s most affluent and popular neighborhood.

My heart is broken. I realize that until the Thai people decide once and for all to settle their differences through elections and not through force, there will not be peace. I worry for all the wonderful friends and colleagues who depend on tourism to feed, house, and clothe their families. And I’m sorry for all of us, who are deprived of visiting this gorgeous and friendly country. It is one of the most amazing vacation destinations in the entire world.

So it was with great regret and sadness that Friendly Planet had to cancel all travel to Thailand for the time being. But rest assured, the moment the current crisis is resolved, we will be back with more tours to Thailand. I will continue to pray that moment comes very, very soon.

Thailand protests cooling down

This post has been updated here.

This just in from my representatives in Thailand. The political situation in Bangkok seems to be improving at this moment. The number of protesters has reduced substantially, and there have been no threats of violence for several days.

Even more promising is the fact that the negotiations between the government and the protesters appear to be progressing. All roads in Bangkok, except where the protesters are stationed, are open. Most travel warnings have been downgraded or lifted.

The atmosphere is calm elsewhere in Thailand. I’m confident we’ll be resuming travel to Thailand soon. I sincerely hope this situation will be resolved peacefully and that life will return to normal in Bangkok.

Thailand protests turn violent, four Friendly Planet departure dates canceled

This post has been updated here.

Until a few hours ago, I honestly thought the situation in Bangkok would be resolved peacefully, with the calling of a new election. However, I just spoke with our representatives in Thailand and found out the protests have turned violent. As a result, we’ve decided for the safety of our travelers to cancel the following departures to Thailand.

There have been a number of explosions on Silom Road, including inside the Saladaeng Skytrain station, in Bangkok at 20.30 hours Bangkok time this evening. Several people were injured including three foreigners and one Thai person has been reported dead. The situation is now very tense. Hundreds of Bangkok residents confronted the protesters who have occupied Rajadamri Road in central Bangkok for the last two days.

If one of these departure dates is yours, we are contacting you right now to give you all of your options and make sure you understand all the details.

All Friendly Planet passengers in Bangkok are being contacted right now and advised to stay inside their hotels until tomorrow morning. We are strongly advising against any movement in Bangkok and we will not be moving passengers from any hotels this evening.

We are continuing to monitor the situation around the clock and will keep all passengers affected through direct e-mails and phone calls. We’ll also continue to post updates on the blog.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Thailand in this difficult time. I hope this emergency situation will pass quickly, and calmness will be restored to this beautiful country.

Thailand remains calm, tourism to resume

This post has be updated here.

I received an update from the Thai Ministry of Tourism today. Here’s what they told me. Bangkok remains calm as the Thai government continues to work towards resolving the political situation. Popular tourist destinations outside of Bangkok have not been affected.

This past week, the Songkran, the Thai New Year holiday, brought a period of cooling off while many people celebrated the holiday. As a result, traffic has improved and protesters have moved from their traffic-stopping locations.

At this time, tourism to Thailand will continue as usual, unless something new occurs.

Here’s what Friendly Planet is doing for our travelers going to Thailand. We have asked our suppliers to help us with those travelers who, despite the calmer atmosphere, still do not feel comfortable traveling to Thailand.

For those traveling with Friendly Planet on April 28 (our next departure), anyone who feels unwilling to continue with the tour can postpone their trip without any penalties. They also have the option to book our Vietnam tour, which flies on the same airline.

I will post an update if there are any new developments in Thailand. Please write to me directly if you have any questions or concerns about your trip.

Thailand protests spark travel alert from US: What Friendly Planet travelers need to know

This post has been updated here.

We have been posting regular updates on the blog about the political situation in Thailand, keeping you informed on what has been taking place. The situation changed over the weekend, and I wanted you to know what you should do and how we are handling it.

The safety of our travelers is one of our prime concerns, so we reacted immediately to the situation. Here is the e-mail we sent to all of our travelers who have booked a tour to Thailand. It explains what has happened and what we are doing to accommodate each traveler.

If, after reading it, you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly or post a question here on the blog.

Dear Friendly Planet Thailand Travelers,

Like us, you have no doubt been following the unfolding drama in Bangkok. We have posted regular updates about the situation on our blog, and until this past weekend, the situation was peaceful despite the growing numbers of protesters. Unfortunately, as we now know, violence erupted during the weekend causing some deaths and injuries. This is truly not in character with the Thai people, who have a history of expressing their dissatisfaction with their government through marches and demonstrations but not violence.

These are the facts as we know them at this moment. According to our representatives on the ground in Bangkok, the outbreaks of violence have occurred in a small part of the city and did not spread to other areas. While the protesters have not yet dispersed, the city appears to be calm, although many people are shocked and saddened that such hostile acts could occur in their midst. Both sides of the dispute are now in talks to try and resolve the impasse, and we are hopeful that a solution will now be found so that no further violence will occur.

This coming week, Thailand will celebrate a national holiday and many people are away. The streets are relatively quiet, and all tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, shops and businesses are all open as usual. The US Department of State has issued a travel alert about the situation. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_1998.html. While the alert describes the situation, it does not ask travelers to refrain from visiting Thailand. In fact, the alert states that Thailand is usually a very safe tourist destination and only asks that visitors take extra precautions to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. Please follow the link to read the entire text of the alert.

Under the circumstances, we want to make sure that you are comfortable in knowing that all options are available to you, from going forward with your plans to canceling your trip without penalty. Please consider the following options for travel to Thailand between April 12 and April 23:

  • You may proceed with your trip as planned. If, when you arrive in Bangkok, the situation has not stabilized, our representatives will offer a revised program outside of Bangkok. Details of this alternate program will be made available upon arrival.
  • You may switch to another date of the same trip. No change fees will apply should you select another departure. However, the tour price in effect for the new dates will apply. That is, if your tour price is presently $1500 and the new date price is $1800, your balance due will be $300. If your new date price is $1300, you will receive a refund of $200.
  • You may cancel your Thailand tour and apply your tour payments to a different Friendly Planet tour. Again, the tour price of the new tour will apply.
  • You may cancel your tour without any cancellation penalties whatsoever, even if tickets have already been issued.


For departures after April 23, we do not as yet have a ruling by the airline or hotels regarding penalties. It is believed that the situation will be calm by then, and no further cancellations will be necessary. However, if this is not the case and the situation remains volatile, we believe our suppliers will extend the grace period and waive penalties for departures beyond April 23.

Please notify us without delay about your wishes. You may call us (800-555-5765) or send us a message by email at (reservations@friendlyplanet.com)

Rest assured that your well being and safety is our primary concern. We are watching the situation carefully, and we will do everything possible to facilitate a proper and positive outcome for all our travelers. If you have questions or need further clarification or information, contact us so we can help.


If you want to be the first to find out about Friendly Planet news, we will be introducing a new feature that will let you sign up for e-mail notifications. Once it is in action, I will tell you about it here.

After Peru mudslide, Machu Picchu reopens today

I wanted to start the week off with some good news. But before I tell you, let me bring you up to speed on what was happening in Peru. A massive mudslide occurred on Jan. 26 that closed cities, suspended all transportation, shut down tourist attractions, and more.

Since then, the country has been working hard to repair the damage. On the top of the list was reopening Machu Picchu, which is among the most important and popular tourist destinations in this hemisphere. I’m happy to report that PeruRail will resume service to Machu Picchu starting today!

I’m looking forward to bringing travel back to Peru’s most spectacular site. When we first heard about the mudslide, we got very busy. Two of our tours, Amazing Peru and Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos were directly affected.

If you’re wondering how Friendly Planet handled this force majeure, let me tell you what we did to accommodate our travelers. First, we immediately contacted our suppliers and made sure that there were no penalties associated with any of the options we were giving our travelers. Then we gave everyone four options to choose from.

Travelers could go on the same tour, but with an adjusted itinerary. The next option was to schedule a later departure date and receive a $100 credit to help with costs associated with changing domestic flights. Lastly, if travelers didn’t like either of those options, they could book any other Friendly Planet tour or, if travelers found none of the options appealing, they could get a full refund.

When situations such as these occur, we do everything possible for our travelers so they avoid incurring extra costs and experience as little inconvenience as possible. I put myself in their shoes. Telling them their tour is canceled because something happened that was beyond their control, and then letting them cope with the consequences themselves, is simply not an option for Friendly Planet.

In the case of Peru, I think we did a terrific job accommodating our travelers. Now that tours to one of the most stunning sites in the world is back in business, take a trip to see Machu Picchu. It’s one location everyone should see. If you want to experience it, book our 12-day Amazing Peru tour or the 15-day Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos tour.

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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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