Travel Agent Magazine
Richard S. Kahn, president of Kahn TravelCommunications based in Long Island, NY,has had a busy life. He started as a small townreporter, moved up to aviation reporter, and thenbecame editor of . Kahn servedas president of the New York Travel Writer'sAssociation and throughout his career has written theweekly editorial column "Today and Tomorrow" fortravel industry executives. He was the recipient of theSteigenberger Worldwide Reservation Service's firstannual Travel Industry Award.
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Kahn has traveled extensively. At the moment he ismost interested in the Caribbean and China. He considersthe Caribbean today's top choice for familytravel and China tomorrow's great new destinationfor US tourists. Asked to give his thoughts on travelvalues for the readers of , hetakes off his baseball cap, scratches his head, andimmediately starts talking. Kahn has plenty to say. Forseveral years he was cohost of aweekly 2-hour talk show on WMCA, New York.
• Getting the best price. We're in a better placethan we've ever been before because of the availabilityof information, especially on the Internet. However,the Internet is not necessarily the best place to purchasetickets because prices tend to be all over theplace. One day you'll find a better price on Travelocitycompared to Expedia, the next day tour operators willoffer greater deals direct, and then the next day travelagents might be able to do better because of theirrelationship with the industry.
• Knowing what you're paying for. Two touroperators may seemingly offer the same package at asimilar price, but one will offer nicer hotels, moremeals, and better sightseeing trips. It's not as easy asjust reading the fine print, which is why a good travelagent still plays an important role. The better travelagents have survived the recent changes in the industryand can help consumers validate their choices. Inaddition, they're a resource if something goes wrong—you'll have someone to turn to. When it comes to theInternet, packages sold may not offer individuals youcan complain to.
• Deciding where to go. Since Sept. 11 the travelworld has been turned upside down, especially forAmericans who previously traveled extensively. Now,after 2 1/2 years, people are traveling again in pre-Sept.11 numbers. The industry is recovering partly becauseof pent up demand and partly because Americans feelit is their right to travel.
Nevertheless, patterns have changed. Security hasbecome the utmost concern, which explains the increasednumbers of Americans visiting Mexico andCanada. Europe has always been considered safe andin 2003 had a very successful year, but the Madridbombing changed things again. Western Europe willhave difficulties attracting Americans this year, andthe relative strength of the euro won't help.
• Looking toward the future. The cruise industry,despite new ships and an excess of inventory, isdoing well. Alaska, Northern Europe, the Mediterraneanand, of course, the Caribbean are popular andconsidered safe destinations.
Both the World Tourism Organization in Madridand the World Travel Tourism Council in Geneva believethe Far East and China will be the number-one destinationin the next 2 years. The prime issue for travelingAmericans is security. Therefore, countries that havetrouble addressing those concerns will suffer. "No country is bulletproof on this issue," Kahnsays, "but China comes close, as its bordersare so state controlled."
That's partly why China is desirable.First, it's very safe for visitors.Second, it's a virgin destination. Third,its prices are reasonable. Flying to theFar East doesn't cost as much as it usedto, and business class aboard Air Chinacosts less than the competition. Theolder 747s flying from San Franciscolack the amenities of today's planes, butthe personal service is superb.
Japan and Hong Kong are recoveringfrom financial instability. Malaysia, Singapore,and Thailand meet today's standardsfor vacationers. In fact, just aboutall of South East Asia meets today's standardsexcept Indonesia, which is a shamebecause Bali is a premier tourist destination."It's folklore, but true. People visitBali on vacation, sell their US assets, andnever come home," Kahn says.
• Discovering other 2004 hotspots. "Finland is an undiscoveredtreat, as is the rest of Scandinavia to alesser extent," Kahn says. Finland insummer is what you don't find elsewherein terms of atmosphere, daylight,Northern lights, and gardens. It's a landof parks and pleasure and people whowelcome visitors because they haven'thad to deal with mass tourism—andthey love Americans. This is not a thirdworld country.
The Caribbean has always been hot.It's close, easy to get to, and less expensivethan other spots. "No longer areyou stuck in no name hotels," Kahnsays, "now the top brands are there andthat's raised the level of service." Thefastest-growing population traveling tothe Caribbean is the family—and notjust during the holidays. Since thehotels are sold out then, parents ofMiddle America are taking their kidsout of school to enjoy the beaches.
Australia and New Zealand aresuperb places. They have increaseddevelopment and improved their infrastructure.They speak our language andare wonderful hosts. They work hard,play hard, and make tourists feel verywelcome. They envelop you. And asKahn explains, meeting the native peopleis what vacations are all about. The actualtravel experience takes a very shorttime, but the memories can last forever.
• Gaining valuable travel tidbits.France is always crowded. And aboutthe only way to escape the hordes ofpeople is to take a barge trip. AlthoughItaly is also busy and crowded, Kahnsays the Amalfi Coast remains relativelyfree of the masses.
Insiders thought Eastern Europewould become a tourist attraction, but ithasn't turned out that way. The area'sinfrastructure hasn't developed becausethe economies haven't improved. However,it's a buy for adventurous Americansseeking exciting new places. They justneed to know that they won't be gettingWestern European standards.