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Why travelers should be visiting Greece

Bookings to Greece are down and there are many theories as to why. I believe that it is due to the perception that Greece is in chaos. However, I also think this sentiment is very overblown. The combination is an unfortunate situation, because Greece remains a magnificently beautiful country with so much to offer, such as history, archaeology, gorgeous scenery, and much more.

I covered this topic further in my first blog contribution to The Huffington Post. Check it out, and pick up where I left off about the current situation in Greece.

I also wanted to share some pictures of what makes this destination so fabulous:

Greece is known for its history, romance, music, and more. It was home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe, making it one of the most historically rich places in the world.

Santorini is an island in the southern Aegean Sea that is known for its small, but flourishing, wine industry and locally grown produce. 

Mykonos, another Greek Island, is known for its nightlife and beach resort atmosphere. Beautiful clear water, white sand, and warm people make this location a perfect one for a summer getaway.

The Temple of Poseidon, located on Cape Sounion,was constructed in 444-440 BC, and was destroyed by Emperor Arcadius in 399. It was built to honor Poseidon, a Greek God who was second only to Zeus. It stands today as remembrance of the past.

Let us know: Are you planning a trip to Greece despite the booking slump? If so, why?

New travel regulations will better protect the Galapagos Islands and improve touring

You might have heard about the new regulations going into effect in 2012 to better protect the Galapagos Islands. If you haven’t, Gadling covered them in the recent blog post, “New Galapagos Islands regulations will change 2012 tours.”

The new regulations will make it possible to limit the number of people on a given island at a given time. No vessel will be permitted to visit the same island more than once in a 14-day period.

When Friendly Planet Travel was advised of these changes, we applauded them! The Galapagos Islands are precious and fragile, and we want to be sure the islands are protected in the future.

Some travelers might assume that these new regulations will affect the tours we offer to the Galapagos Islands. There will some minor changes to the itineraries, but it’s only for the better.

Since we have several tour programs, both cruise and island-hopper types, and are heavily involved in tourism to the Galapagos, we expect to be able to provide excellent programs at affordable prices, just as we do today.

In fact, we plan to continue to grow our programs to the Galapagos in the coming years. And just as we’ve done in the past, we will do it fully respecting the fragile environment so that these precious islands continue to be a source of wonder and discovery for generations to come.

When we make changes to the itineraries of the Galapagos Island Hopper, Galapagos Island Explorer, Ecuador and Galapagos Cruise, and Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos Cruise, we’ll let you know right here on our blog.

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.

Is it safe to travel to Egypt?

This post has been updated here

Political situations like the one unfolding in Egypt remind me that if you want to explore and experience the world, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. Note that I didn’t say expect the unexpected. In almost every case, the risk is minimal when traveling. However, be prepared for any eventuality because it can happen anywhere. We just saw it unfold in our own country in Arizona.

Tens of thousands of protesters are filling the streets of Cairo demonstrating that they want current President Hosni Mubarak to step down from power. When Friendly Planet Travel got wind of this, we immediately contacted our two tour groups that are in Egypt right now.

One group is in Aswan, where no protests are taking place. That tour will continue as scheduled. The second group arrived in Cairo yesterday. They are currently in the Ramses Hilton hotel, which is on the east bank of the Nile River, where they have a clear view of the unfolding protests.

Every Friendly Planet Traveler in Egypt is safe. We have contacted every traveler’s emergency contact to make them aware of this. In fact, our group in Cairo was able to tour the Pyramids and Sphinx this morning as scheduled. Egypt’s tourist police safely escorted our travelers to and from the hotel before the protests heated up.

Right now the situation for our travelers is under control, with some enjoying the sites along the Nile River on a week long cruise and others about to fly to Luxor to begin a cruise on the Nile on Saturday morning. We hope that in the next hours and few days, the situation will improve and the demonstrations will stop. Friendly Planet Travel has experience when these things happen. They’re rare, but they do happen, and when they do, we know what needs to be done to take care of our travelers.

We’re monitoring the situation closely and have a Friendly Planet Travel representative with our travelers at all times. Every two hours we receive an update on the situation from our representatives in Cairo. All hands are on deck at Friendly Planet to make sure our travelers stay safe and continue to see the beauty of Egypt.

I will continue to keep you updated on the political situation in Egypt on the blog. And if you have any questions or concerns you can write to me or call our offices at 1-800-555-5765.

What’s to come at Friendly Planet Travel in 2011

One of my favorite times of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect time to take a few days off to relax from the hustle and bustle of work and spend quality time with family and friends. It’s also a fitting time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we’re hoping to achieve in the next year.

2011 will be a momentous year for Friendly Planet Travel. It marks our 30th year in business! Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world.

Throughout the year I’ll be sharing stories of why I started Friendly Planet Travel, and about our first group tour, which included my first group tour to Israel for the first gathering of Holocaust survivors in Israel. I’ll also be interviewing the travelers who have been booking tours with Friendly Planet Travel since the beginning, and much more.

In addition to celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout the year, we’ll be introducing new products and new ways of giving back to many of the countries that welcome our tours. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect from Friendly Planet Travel in 2011.

New destinations. We surveyed Friendly Planet Travelers to discover the location they want to travel to most. The winner was Madagascar. And 2011 will be the year you can visit this fascinating destination with Friendly Planet Travel. We’re also introducing tours to Spain and Portugal, Burma (Myanmar), and Botswana.

New tours. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I will be leading a select group of tours to the new destinations being introduced in 2011. I’ll get to put my first-hand experience and research of these new locales to use when I extend invitations to these four tours later this year.

New booking engine. We will be unveiling a new air-hotel-car booking engine for travelers who want to create their own vacations without worrying about set departures or prepared itineraries. This consumer- and service-oriented portal is for savvy travelers who know what they want in services, including great pricing, but don’t want to give up service to get it.

New cruises. We will also be adding a robust, new series of cruise selections, featuring such highly regarded cruise brands as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Asamara. All will be available for individuals who want to travel independently, as well as set departure programs that include lots of additional services.

New nonprofit foundation. When I created Friendly Planet Travel, outreach and support for humanitarian causes was always part of my mission. We contribute directly to projects in many of the countries we visit, as well as right here in America. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I’m fulfilling my original mission with the creation of the Friendly Planet Travel Foundation. All the outreach and support that we conduct will move to our foundation, and we’ll be offering you plenty of new opportunities to get involved in helping as you vacation.

Continuous improvements to our digital ecosystem. You might have noticed some changes to the Friendly Planet Travel website in 2010. It’ll continue to evolve as we include more enhancements to the website and booking engine.

There’s plenty more to come in the new year, but I hope that in the meantime, these tidbits of news will tickle your curiosity and bring you back to the blog for more details. Come back and visit the blog soon to see what else we have in the works in 2011.

What to do if the Northeast winter storm stranded you at the airport

A few months ago, I told you what to do if you’re stranded in an airport. Unless you’re living in a cave, you know that the U.S. East Coast was hit with a major snowstorm yesterday.

And if you’re reading this blog post from your smart phone or another mobile device at the airport, you’re probably one of the thousands of holiday travelers whose flight was cancelled.

Well the advice I gave you a few months ago applies today. Flip back to my original post to find out what steps you need to take to get home quickly and safely.

Air travel expected to be up 3 percent this winter holiday

Yesterday the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) announced that it expects to see a 3 percent increase over 2009 in air travel this winter holiday period, which spans from Dec. 16, 2010 through Jan. 5, 2011.

Just like we saw over the Thanksgiving holiday, more travelers are using air travel this year as it continues to be the safest form of transportation.

Despite reports of backlash against the TSA’s new airport security measures, this uptick in air travel shows that travelers are willing to endure some inconvenience to ensure a safe flight.

Daily passenger volumes are expected to range from 1.7 million to 2.3 million during the holiday. The busiest days are expected to be Dec. 21 to 23, Dec. 26 to 30, and Jan. 2 and 3, according to the ATA.

If you’re one of the expected 43.6 million passengers to head to the airport this holiday, just remember one thing: keep your cool. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s important to reiterate during the holidays. A friendly smile and a polite request will not only make someone else feel good, but will produce the best results for you.

If you want some more statistics on air travel, the new TSA security measures, and how to avoid some common travel fees, here a few posts you can thumb through.

Holiday travel: Is it safe to fly? November wasn’t a good month for the air travel industry. Every few days brought with it reports of air cargo bombs, fuselages ripping apart, and engine failures. But despite the reports, the latest statistics along with an infographic demonstrate how safe air travel really is.

Navigating the TSA’s new airport security measures this Thanksgiving. In light of the TSA’s new airport security measures, here’s a detailed list on what you should expect at the airport this holiday. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to get through the check-in process while doing your part to ensure safety as you travel.

10 travel gotchas to watch out for. No one likes to get hit with unexpected fees when traveling. Even I, an experienced traveler, sometimes get tripped up by extra airline and hotel costs. To help you avoid getting snagged too, I’ve listed my top ten fees to watch out for. Some of these you might not even know exist.

Why Delta rejected SCOTTEVEST ad

Scott Jordan, CEO and founder of SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing, has gotten a lot of attention this past week. In case you missed it, Delta Air Lines rejected an in-flight SCOTTEVEST ad that showed passengers a way to “avoid extra baggage fees,” as the ad reads. Here’s Scott’s official statement on Delta’s decision for more background.

After we spoke to Scott in a podcast two weeks ago, I fell in love with SCOTTEVEST clothing, which go a long way in solving a very common problem for travelers — carrying less bags!

When I discovered that the trademark vest could eliminate a carry-on bag, I was thrilled because I normally lug a large tote bag with my purse onto the plane so I can have with me all the things I need.

But I’m not surprised that Delta rejected the SCOTTEVEST ad. Dear friends, in my humble opinion, the airlines want you to over pack because the fees they charge obviously boost profits. I find it amazing that consumers who rely on air travel on a regular basis haven’t launched a major protest on precisely this subject.

Delta should be ashamed to reject an ad for a product that reduces the amount of bags on flight. Less luggage would help reduce cost and save fuel. But there in lies the rub. Fuel is a key way airlines drive up ticket prices. Just check out the fuel surcharge you pay on every single ticket.

I can tell you that in some cases, $300 to $500 and even more, is added by carriers for fuel. They claim they need these surcharges to pay for the higher fuel prices of today. But at the same time, they reject advertising an article of clothing that would actually save fuel costs. Hard to understand, don’t you agree?

The list of fees like this is growing all the time. Have you had to pay for an aisle seat yet? Have you had to pay for a seat that is in the front rather than toward the back of the plane? There is no limit to these fees, because the airlines have enormous leverage and operate with near impunity.

Thus, we are absolutely unprotected, as consumers, from this very big, unfriendly industry. Airlines notwithstanding, consumers do have a limit to their patience. When that limit is reached, I will be glad to carry a poster and stand at the front of the anti-fee parade!

In the meantime, I can assure you that SCOTTEVEST and any other consumer product that can help a traveler save money and travel more comfortably will be at the top of my recommendation list.

Ecuador news: Tours resume as crisis ends

After a few tense days, what was being called an attempted coup in Ecuador is over. While the political situation is not completely resolved, the protests that caused the brief disruption in tourism are over.

Friendly Planet Travel’s Sunday departure to Ecuador did take off as planned, and we plan to operate all subsequent departures. Our representatives on the ground in Ecuador have assured us that it is once again business as usual.

Of course, should anything change, you’ll be the first to know. So check the blog frequently. Or contact me directly if you have questions or need more information.

In the midst of the crisis on Friday, I was able to talk to Travel Agent Central about what we were doing to accommodate our travelers during this force majeure. If you didn’t get a chance to read the article, jump to it now.

Ecuador still under a state of emergency, Friendly Planet issues refunds for cancelled departure dates

There is more news coming out of Ecuador today. Overnight the protests in Ecuador subsided, but USA Today is reporting that the political situation still remains unstable and the country will remain under a week long state of emergency.

We cancelled our Thursday, Sept. 30 departure to Ecuador from Miami. The travelers effected will have their payments fully refunded. Of course they were disappointed at this news, but understood we would never send travelers into harm’s way.

As for our nine Friendly Planet travelers were in Guayaquil, Ecuador last night, they were not able to depart for Quito to come back to the United States yesterday. We were in contact with the U.S. Department of State who told us that our travelers should remain at the airport and not go to a hotel.

Friendly Planet’s Galapagos representative was with them at the airport the entire night, and I’m happy to report that the flight finally returned to the U.S. today. Everyone is safe, happy to be home, and glad they had the chance to see the Galapagos before the police strike.

As of this writing, we have reinstated our Oct. 3 departure to the Galapagos, as the situation in Ecuador has returned to its peaceful norm. While a state of emergency officially exists, the situation is calm, and the government is fully in control. The strike is over, and Ecuador is once again open for business as usual.

I will continue to update you with more news on the blog as I receive it. And as always, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 if you have any other concerns.

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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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