Listen to the Sounds of the South, Y’all

By Nina Dietzel, Special Correspondent, AFAR

This June, Trafalgar took a group of travelers across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana to experience the ‘Tastes and Sounds of the South’. Visiting Nashville, Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans, our schedule was packed to the gills with a mix of not-to-be-missed sights and intimate, one-of-a-kind experiences.

Food and Music of course were our constant travel companions. We sampled enormous amounts of decadent local foods at every turn, and at the end of the trip, in New Orleans, we even learned to prepare some gumbo, jambalaya and pralines ourselves. Ultimately though, it was the rock‘n soul, that connected me most deeply with the places we visited.

Nashville’s Broadway, with live music performances behind every door

Nashville’s Broadway, with live music performances behind every door

Oh-That-Country-Music

Not quite an ardent fan of country music, I was determined to keep an open mind and ear when we began our journey in Nashville. The massive CMA Music Festival was in full swing, with literally hundreds of artists performing all over town. Bands played everywhere, the entire place teeming with live music. It was impossible not to get swept up in the country music excitement.

Private concert with Johnny Cash granddaughter Chelsea Crowell

Private concert with Johnny Cash granddaughter Chelsea Crowell

It’s in the Genes

One of the most beautiful and memorable introductions to Nashville’s music scene however, was a private concert by Chelsea Crowell, who is one of the granddaughters of country legend Johnny Cash. Chelsea, accompanied by her husband, sang, played music, and talked at length about her rebellious grandfather. She even obliged us with a shaky rendering of ‘Walk The Line’, adding with a laugh, that it clearly wasn’t a song of his meant to be ‘passed on’.

Nashville’s recording Studio B

Nashville’s recording Studio B

It’s Not About Size

After Chelsea’s performance, it was time for more history. We made our way to Studio B, a small recording studio that became famous in the 60s for playing a huge part in creating the Nashville Sound. Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, and many others recorded over 35,000 songs here. Stepping inside the single-story building was like stepping back in time. Little has changed since the studio closed its doors in August 1977, coincidentally the same month Elvis Presley died. His presence was felt by all of us, when guide Brenda played us the haunting ‘Are you Lonesome Tonight’ in the darkened studio. Elvis has not left the building.

Of course, I also walked the vast Country Music Hall of Fame and visited Graceland, but thinking back on the early days of our trip, it was the intimate moments, connecting with Johnny Cash’s granddaughter and listening to Brenda’s stories at Studio B, that forged a true connection and made me feel Nashvillian, just a little.

Riders in The Sky, June 10th, 2016 at the Grand Ole Opry

Riders in The Sky, June 10th, 2016 at the Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Finale

On our last night in Nashville, we went to the Grand Ole Opry, a spectacular weekly country music concert that is broadcast live on the radio for listeners all over the world. We had the best seats in the house (thank you Trafalgar!). The performances were first class, and the radio format with real advertisements read out during the intervals, curious and fun.

The final verdict? Music City delivered, and I got my ears tuned for good!

Interested in learning more about Nina’s journey with Trafalgar? Visit www.afar.com/travelers/nina-dietzel/wanderlists/tastes-and-sounds-of-the-south-traveling-with-trafalgar.

Nina Dietzel is constantly exploring as a photographer and AFAR Ambassador. She has photographed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, collaborated with British sculptor and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy, and documented the making of @Large-Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Her focus is travel and art, and her personal work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Germany.

Discover Malta, a Civilization 7,000 Years in the Making

Situated at the center of the Mediterranean a mere 58 miles south of Sicily, Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world, filled with ancient towns, expansive beaches, breathtaking vistas, mouthwatering cuisine and 7,000 years of history. Join Modern Day Explorer Carol Dimopoulos as she scouts local experiences and activities to include in new wellness itineraries to Malta for Perillo’s Learning Journeys.

Modern Day Explorers: Wellness in Malta

USTOA tour operator member Perillo’s Learning Journeys diversifies the meaning of transformative travel. Discover wellness in Malta as Modern Day Explorer Carol Dimopoulos experiences soothing Ayurveda spa treatments, holistic fine-dining, and the healing benefits of horses.

Modern Day Explorers: Cuisine in Malta

While exploring Malta for USTOA member Perillo’s Learning Journeys, Modern Day Explorer Carol Dimopoulos explored an array of Maltese specialties. With access to traditional cheese makers, pioneers of wine tourism, restaurant owners, and executive chefs, newly designed itineraries will satisfy any guest’s appetite.

Modern Day Explorers: Art & Culture in Malta

The arts have always played a large role in Maltese culture. Join Modern Day Explorer Carol Dimopoulos of USTOA tour operator member Perillo’s Learning Journeys as she discovers the cultural history of Malta, visits local artists and models Malta’s vibrant fashions.

Discover even more at www.ustoa.com/blog/category/malta/ and www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers/malta.

Ready to visit? Visit www.learningjourneys.com/malta-journey-wellness-gastronomy-and-culture for details on traveling to Malta with Perillo’s Learning Journeys.

Prof. Carol Dimopoulos is President of Learning Journeys powered by Perillo Tours where she brings her passion for learning and travel to transformative programs in global destinations in Europe, Latin and South America, Africa and India. A RYT-200 Yoga instructor with additional certifications in Yoga 4 Cancer (y4c) as well as a university professor who teaches sustainable leadership best practices in business management, she is also committed to wellness and servicing communities, and incorporates these principles in every journey.

Bringing People Together

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

USTOA has long championed a policy of open borders and traveling together, both with other travelers and the local community. Our members take travelers up close and personal with people and experiences all across the globe that amaze and awe, and create meaningful connections that provide lasting memories.

We forget sometimes that airlines, too, have a rich history of bringing people together and opening minds. This story from our friend Dr. Rob Britton, adjunct professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University who addressed many of our members at our Annual Congressional Caucus in Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago, shares more:

www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-britton/looking-back-on-50-years-_b_10707492.html

Like Dr. Britton, we too are blessed and privileged to work in a business that supports and encourages opportunities for meaningful cross-cultural travel experiences…it’s the best way to break down the barriers and misunderstandings that plague world events today.

Finding Paradise in the Lesser-Known Islands of Tahiti

By Bronwyn Hodge, IslandEscapes General Manager by Goway Travel

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Bronwyn Hodge of Goway Travel reveals her experience in The Islands of Tahiti. So, in her words… 

Cruising in Huahine

Cruising in Huahine

When I tell people I’m going to the islands of Tahiti, I tend to get an envious reaction. Visiting this idyllic destination is a dream for many… yet Tahiti is only eight hours from Los Angeles, on a direct flight with Air Tahiti Nui. Tahiti is unique in that it’s secluded, yet (for many) surprisingly accessible.

With its pristine, turquoise lagoons and variety of overwater bungalows, Bora Bora is the Tahitian island that gets most of the attention (and I won’t deny its beauty). Our islands specialists at Goway always recommend visitors “island hop” (there are 118 islands and atolls in total) during their vacation, so I wanted to explore different ways to put itineraries together to give our clients the best experience. The goal of my trip was to venture beyond a typical itinerary and discover what the lesser-known islands have to offer our travelers.

Tahiti Tourism recommended three islands that offer an uncrowded, “off the beaten path” experience. My first stop was Huahine, part of the Society Islands (only 25 minutes from Bora Bora), followed by Tikehau and Rangiroa, both part of the Tuamotu Archipelago (an hour’s flight from Tahiti or Bora Bora). And so my island hopping adventure began.

Learning about Black Pearls in Huahine

Learning about Black Pearls in Huahine

Huahine has an amazingly lush landscape – a dramatic mountainous interior circled by a stunning lagoon. But beauty aside, this island is special in that it is home to a fascinating ancient culture and is dotted with around 200 archaeological structures. I spent the afternoon with an expert anthropologist who knew everything about Polynesian history, people and culture. What’s really interesting is the locals are still discovering ancient sites (marae) today. I also visited what is claimed to be the country’s smallest black pearl farm in Huahine, perched on the water and accessed only by boat. All the locals own black pearls and wear them in jewelry, so it’s really interesting to learn the intricate pearl-making process. During my stay, I felt like I met everyone on the island, whether it was a friendly local at the Fare (market), the pareo (sarong) artist, or the distiller who let me sample the most delicious coco-schnapps. This laid-back island has some of the friendliest people, who are proud to share their culture. These are the kind of authentic encounters our travelers are looking for.

Frank, the Pareo Artist, Huahine

Frank, the Pareo Artist, Huahine

I also discovered a unique way to island hop. I embarked on a beautiful catamaran (Tahiti Yacht Charters) that was essentially my own “floating bungalow.” The ship is rented out exclusively to groups as small as two, giving you a really intimate, personalized experience. The itinerary is tailored to what the clients want to do, and you can snorkel, swim, or paddle board as you journey between islands. A short 4-day cruise is a great way to add diversity to an itinerary.

Overwater Bungalows at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

Overwater Bungalows at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

Heading over to Tikehau, where the population is around 400 people, there are miles of beautiful pink and white sand beaches. Tikehau struck me as the perfect place to unwind. The Tuamoto Archipelago are atolls (a reef circling a lagoon), meaning the landscape is very different from the mountainous Society islands (like Bora Bora and Huahine). You can see along the horizon for miles. There are many secluded beaches to explore, easily accessed by kayak or canoe. I felt like I’d found my own slice of paradise. The Tikehau Pearl Beach resort is the hotel of choice here. The property offers beautiful bungalows on the beach or overwater bungalows/suites on the lagoon. I stayed in an overwater suite and woke up in the morning with a swim and snorkel in the pristine lagoon right from my deck– heaven!

Motu Picnic in Tikehau

Motu Picnic in Tikehau 

During my stay, I went out on a boat excursion visiting Bird Island, a reserve where you can get up close to several bird colonies in their natural habitat. Afterwards, I had a delicious picnic lunch on my own private motu (island). It was extraordinary.

Bird Island, Tikehau

Bird Island, Tikehau

Rangiroa (only 20 minutes from Tikehau) is actually the world’s second biggest atoll. The aerial view as the plane lands is simply stunning (aim for a window seat). While the snorkeling is pretty amazing off most islands, Rangiroa has French Polynesia’s most impressive underwater life, a top choice for divers. I snorkeled in a natural “aquarium,” filled with tons of fish and reef sharks. This snorkel site is a short boat ride from the lovely Kia Ora Rangiroa. The property has beach bungalows and overwater bungalows, but I personally loved the pool villa I stayed in which has a private plunge pool. A top activity is to “shoot the pass” in Tiputa, a spot known for its amazing drift snorkeling. We spotted wild dolphins during a boat excursion accompanied by a marine biologist. You can even see the dolphins from land every day at sunset as they come out to play in the waves.

Snorkeling in Rangiroa

Snorkeling in Rangiroa

At the end of my trip I felt like I’d seen a unique side of the islands of Tahiti. These smaller islands can easily be included into any itinerary, since they are very accessible and great value for money. Huahine, Tikehau and Rangiroa offer an enriching experience for travelers who want an authentic Polynesian paradise.

Enjoying a Hinano in Rangiroa

Enjoying a Hinano in Rangiroa

Interested in learning more about Bronwyn’s journey to The Islands of Tahiti? Go behind-the-scenes with Bronwyn with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to The Islands of Tahiti, launching this September.

Ready to visit? Visit https://www.goway.com/trips/dest/australia-and-south-pacific/cntry/tahiti/ for details on traveling to The Islands of Tahiti with Goway Travel.

Growing up in a family travel business, Bronwyn has been traveling from a very young age. Her favorite experience was three months spent backpacking through India and Southeast Asia. She counts many countries among her ‘favorites,’ but is especially fond of Australia for its lifestyle, Cambodia for its culture and resilience, and Japan for its contrasts. She holds the proud distinction of being Goway’s only former Bollywood star – having once starred in a Coke commercial in Mumbai.

Why it’s More Fun in the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands offering a unique blend of natural beauty, history, cultural attractions, white sandy beaches, bustling metropolises and so much more. Join Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris as she scouts experiences, activities and inclusions for Abercrombie & Kent’s first-ever itineraries to the Philippines.

Modern Day Explorers: Nature in the Philippines

The Philippines offers lush beaches, river trips, jungle explorations, and much more. Go behind the scenes with Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris of USTOA tour operator member Abercrombie & Kent as she discovers nature reserves, caves and ocean activities to include in new itineraries to the Philippines.

 Modern Day Explorers: Cuisine in the Philippines

Curious how tour operators find the most memorable, enriching experiences for travelers to book? Watch as USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris eats her way through the diverse, fresh and organic cuisines of The Philippines with the goal of designing enriching itineraries for Abercrombie & Kent guests.

Modern Day Explorers: Luxury in the Philippines

USTOA tour operator member Abercrombie & Kent is a luxury brand. Get an insider look at how five star resorts, private transfers and unparalleled access are arranged for guests as Modern Day Explorer Louise Shumbris discovers the best of the Philippines.

Discover even more at www.ustoa.com/blog/category/philippines and www.ustoa.com/modern-day-explorers.

 Ready to visit? Visit www.abercrombiekent.com/travel-destinations/asia-luxury-travel/southeast/philippines/ for details on traveling to the Philippines with A&K.

 Louise A. Shumbris joined A&K two years ago, bringing with her decades of experience in product development, tour design, contracting and operations. Louise has worked for the top U.S.-based tour operators, developing and managing travel programs around the world. Her specialty is designing luxury group journeys, but she has also created FIT, incentive and even sport group programs.

Look Up!

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

We’ve all had it…the urge to run into distracted walkers staring into their phones and yell, “Look up!” Although it is a personal pet peeve, distracted walking has moved beyond an issue of manners and has become a safety hazard, accounting for one out of 10 pedestrian injuries. The National Security Council has added distracted walking to its annual report on unintentional deaths and injuries, while New Jersey is considering a statewide ban on texting and walking (I can only imagine trying to enforce that one).

In a world of increasing connectivity, I have to ask: Are we actually becoming less connected—not just to others but to our surroundings?

The mobile device obsession isn’t contained to the streets of New York where I live, it has also changed the way people travel. Many travelers are no longer living in the moment, but instead using mobile devices to prove they had the experience on social media channels rather than taking a moment to be truly present to enjoy the magnificent architecture, natural wonders and stories from local residents. These experiences are what create a life-changing journey and lasting memories. Every day the tour operator members of USTOA and you, our valued travel agent partners, create travel opportunities designed to inspire travelers to put down their phones and participate in the world around them.

Distracted traveling endangers the authentic encounters available to travelers. Living and travelling through mobile devices has been noted to alter the way we remember things. The moment is never truly absorbed if not experienced fully, before documenting with the intention of posting on social media channels. And, memories aren’t the only thing at risk. In 2015, more people died from selfies than shark attacks. While rare, it’s shocking to hear that selfies at tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal have resulted in visitor deaths. Safety is a priority for the travel industry and urging travelers to pay attention is imperative to also keeping them safe.

The travel industry has an obligation to travelers, and to the industry, to remind people why experiencing the world in person is worth the trip. Encourage travelers to look up from the blue glare of their screens and into the eyes of someone they just met. Travelers’ experiences – as well as their safety – can be protected. It’s as simple as looking up.

This post originally ran in the June 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.

Discover Malta, the Jewel of the Mediterranean

By Carol Dimopoulos, President of Perillo’s Learning Journeys

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Carol Dimopoulos of Perillo’s Learning Journeys reveals her experience in Malta. So, in her words… 

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Brilliant colors illuminate the night sky across Marsaxlokk, Malta. Bursts of reds and gold stream across the harbor where fishing boats recline. Locals and visitors alike line the streets, delighting in the centuries-old tradition of fireworks and festas.

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

The Maltese know how to throw a party, and seem to have tapped into the secret of enjoying life to the fullest.  It is no wonder the Knights of St. John so fiercely protected this Mediterranean jewel.

I came to Malta as a USTOA Modern Day Explorer for Perillo’s Learning Journeys knowing only of Malta’s close geographic proximity to Sicily. With the help of the Malta Tourism Authority, what I discovered were endless possibilities to experience outstanding hospitality, a land that blends sea and sun, rich Mediterranean cuisine and warm people who welcome guests with open hearts.

My journey began aboard Alitalia through Rome. A picturesque 50-minute flight over the Sicilian coast to the International Airport in Valetta was followed by a 20-minute drive to the lovely coastal town of St. Julian’s. My host, Warren Zahra, highlighted historical details of this English-speaking country along the way.

At my hotel Le Meridien, a mosaic of the eye of Horus depicts the deep spirituality of this land. The joyful sounds of laughter blend with lively street music and float to my balcony perched above the city. The next seven days will be filled with the focus to develop new transformative experiences for travelers exploring wellness, community, history, culture and gastronomy.

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Wellness and Giving Back

Mind, body spirit is at the core of the history of Malta.

Some of the oldest Megalith temples are here, dating back more than 7,000 years.

Today, the choices are endless to reset the mind, body and spirit.  A sense of well-being permeates the Maltese islands. From small boutique-style hotels to private villa rentals and luxury resorts, a holistic lifestyle is amplified by yoga, wellness, spas, temple visits, festivals, healthy food and meditation.

The Kempinski in Gozo is a place to unwind and focus on transformation, boasting an authentic Ayuvedic Spa – the only one in Malta – and healing packages for seven days, or longer.

Yoga with Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Tourism is a very powerful conduit for peace and “giving back” to local societies is at the core mission of Perillo’s Learning Journeys.   Our hands on social sustainability experiences in Malta:

Marigold Foundation

We had the honor to meet with the First Lady of Malta to learn of her Marigold Foundation, symbolizing how tourism can help grow awareness and contribute to society.  We presented her with a quilt from Purkal Village – a hand-stitched quilt which took 40 days to create – in an NGO project Learning Journeys works with in India.

Marigold Foundation with Perillo's Learning Journeys

Dreams of Horses Farm

A visit to Gozo provided a moving experience with Victor, an animal whisperer, and founder of Dreams of Horses Farm.

Victor’s intuitive gift with rescued animals taught us the methods animals use to communicate. With his guiding compassion and respect, the animals are integrated in large open air areas displaying tolerance for one another and exhibit a loving, therapeutic kindness in their work with people with special needs and the emotionally challenged.

Dreams of Horses Farm in Malta

Both community projects will be included in our Malta offerings.

History, Art and Culture

Valletta and Mdina

As Malta’s capital and a World Heritage site, the open-air museum that is Valetta provides a living experience of Baroque architecture, a monument donated by the Knights of St John nearly five centuries ago.  The equally stunning city of Mdina displays a colorful history behind its mighty bastion walls, where majestic palaces collaborate with beautiful cobblestone streets. Our hands on art and cultural experiences:

Connect 2 Gozo

We sailed through the beautiful Blue Lagoon in Comino en route to Gozo, where we visited with local artist Hermine Sammut and her school Connect 2 Gozo. Depicting the sustainable art of Malta, the artist uses local flowers from her fields to create paintings and provides learning experiences with her jewelry making and ceramics, creating pieces of original art that students take home.

Connect 2 Gozo in Malta

Charles and Ron

Setting the style trends in Malta are Charles and Ron, who create vivid designs that capture the essence of Malta for the world stage. Their shops in Valetta are simply a must-see (and I had the honor of wearing their works of art during my visit… be on the lookout in our Modern Day Explorers video!)

Charles and Ron in Malta

Food and Wine

One goal of the visit was to focus on the rich culinary traditions and learning experiences of Malta. Our hands on culinary experiences:

Perillo's Learning Journeys in Malta

Dar Il Bniet

In Dingli we enjoyed a wonderful lunch and culinary experience at Dar Il Bniet. The farm-to-table restaurant is owned by Dorianne, a young entrepreneur whose focus is where “taste meets tradition.” The traditional lunch uses products from her farm. Food as it should be, pure and fresh.

IMG_8537 (3)

Ricardo’s Farm

We learned about cheese-making at Ricardo’s Farm in Gozo, a farm-to-table culinary experience.

Ricardo's Farm in Malta

Ta’ Frenc

We were honored to have a cooking class with the legendary Chef Mario at Ta’ Frenc farm-to-table restaurant in Gozo. I was touched by Chef’s passion and dedication to culinary traditions, as well as his commitment to quality of experience over profit.

Ta’ Frenc in Malta

Corinthia Palace

We concluded our journey with Michelle Buttigieg from Malta Tourism and the team at the Corinthia Palace, where guests are treated like royalty.  We met with Executive Chef Stefan Hogan – who is committed to food sustainability and cutting edge trends – and enjoyed the company of our warm and most gracious hosts.

Malta is truly the unknown jewel of the Mediterranean and I can’t wait to share this journey with the world through Perillo’s Learning Journeys programs.  It truly is a country that must be seen to be believed.  Thank you USTOA and Tourism Malta for the opportunity.

Malta

Interested in learning more about Carol’s journey to Malta? Go behind-the-scenes with Carol this summer with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Malta, launching this July.

 Ready to visit? Visit www.learningjourneys.com/malta-journey-wellness-gastronomy-and-culture for details on traveling to Malta with Perillo’s Learning Journeys.

 Prof. Carol Dimopoulos is President of Learning Journeys powered by Perillo Tours where she brings her passion for learning and travel to transformative programs in global destinations in Europe, Latin and South America, Africa and India. A RYT-200 Yoga instructor with additional certifications in Yoga 4 Cancer (y4c) as well as a university professor who teaches sustainable leadership best practices in business management, she is also committed to wellness and servicing communities, and incorporates these principles in every journey.

Getting a Feel for the Philippines

By Louise A. Shumbris, Vice President, Product Development & Operations, Abercrombie & Kent USA

Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, in 2016, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. First up? Louise Shumbris of Abercrombie & Kent reveals her experience in the Philippines. So, in her words… 

Batangas Coastline, Manila

When considering new destinations for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), I begin with an open mind and ask lots of questions. A lot of due diligence is required as well. While many places on earth might qualify as a potential Tailor Made destination, the requirements are different for an A&K luxury small group journey. We not only look at what’s hot and what’s emerging, we also verify the state of the infrastructure required to handle a group of 18 discerning travelers who tend to define acceptable service, quality and consistency by top American standards. Delivering luxury in unexpected places is an A&K hallmark that applies to everything from bedding to bathroom facilities, as well as to opportunities for insider access and exclusive activities, such as our Ride Like a Local, Chef’s Table and Scenic Sundowner experiences.

Lagoon, El Nido

The Philippines had been popping up on A&K’s new destination radar for a number of reasons, but a turning point was a compelling presentation given by the Philippines Tourism Bureau at the most recent USTOA Annual Conference. I was intrigued to learn that the Philippines had achieved economic stability, and I was reminded of the country’s strong cultural ties to the United States. The islands became a U.S. possession following the Spanish-American War, and Filipino and American troops fought side by side in World War II. What’s more, English is one of the two main languages spoken in this predominantly Catholic country, so there is a relatively high degree of cultural familiarity between visitors and locals.

Street Scene, Manila

So armed with months of research, maps, and local contacts I departed for the Philippines — to evaluate whether it should become a new destination for a luxury small group journey from Abercrombie & Kent. And though I appreciate the importance of advance research, as a passionate, lifelong traveler myself, I also know the value of luck and personal instincts.

One case of serendipity was during my search to find a lunch stop after visiting Corregidor. There was the obvious choice — a highly recommended fine-dining restaurant in a prime location, but alas, it was closed the only day I had to visit the area. My local contact apologetically set up a lunch elsewhere which led me to discover a hidden culinary gem. With its al fresco, yet elegant, dining atmosphere, incredible organic gardens, and even a spa, it offered exactly the kind of experience A&K seeks out on behalf of our guests. Had I not actually been there to see for myself, I might have simply settled for the “recommended” option. That is why, at A&K, we make a point of evaluating a destination in person, in depth and leaving room for luck.

Local Cuisine, Manila

As for trusting my personal instincts or passion — in the Philippines it led me to discover the heart of the Filipino personae. I love unusual works of art, especially if they tell a story, a true story. When visiting Manila’s Rizal Park, we were led to a side entrance. Passing through the entrance shed and walking behind the seven-foot stone wall, I was intrigued to see larger-than-life bronze statues depicting the firing squad execution of Filipino hero José Rizal. Rizal was a nationalist living during the country’s Spanish colonial period who used his novels and poetry to advocate for political reforms. Our wonderful local guide explained the meaning of each statue and diorama as he told the tale of this colorful 19th-century playboy ophthalmologist, researcher and writer and how, after being executed for rebellion by the Spanish colonial government, his death made him a national hero. Rizal’s writings helped usher in eventual independence for the Philippines and his influences can be found throughout the nation. He was the Filipino Michelangelo, Galileo and George Washington all rolled into one.

Jose Rizal National Monument, Manila

Throughout my trip, every time I saw a reference to Rizal, and there are plenty, I thought of those imposing bronze statues and how, though depicting an execution, they are a wonderful visual testament of respect and honor to a country filled with national pride — and how an open mind can lead visitors to discover the heart of this wonderful nation and culture.

Hacienda Maria, Family, Boracay

Interested in learning more about Louise’s journey to the Philippines? Go behind-the-scenes with Louise this summer with our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to the Philippines, launching this June.

Ready to visit? Visit www.abercrombiekent.com/travel-destinations/asia-luxury-travel/southeast/philippines/ for details on traveling to the Philippines with A&K.

Louise A. Shumbris joined A&K two years ago, bringing with her decades of experience in product development, tour design, contracting and operations. Louise has worked for the top U.S.-based tour operators, developing and managing travel programs around the world. Her specialty is designing luxury group journeys, but she has also created FIT, incentive and even sport group programs.

Adrenaline-Pumping Tours

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA

Calling all thrill-seekers: want to get your adrenaline pumping on your next trip?

From swimming with sharks in Australia, dog mushing in Manitoba, and mountaineering in Antarctica to white water rafting in the Grand Canyon, kayaking the Alaska Fjords and rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, USTOA tour operator members offer a wide variety of adventurous experiences across the globe. Here are a few extraordinary expeditions to satisfy your wanderlust:

Swimming with whale sharks (credit: Down Under Answers)

Swimming with whale sharks (credit: Down Under Answers)

Swimming with whale sharks – which average 40 feet in length – on Down Under Answers’ “West Coast and Whale Sharks” itinerary will get any traveler’s blood pumping. Luckily for humans, whale sharks are filter feeders and completely harmless. Available May 1 through June 10, the time period each year when whale sharks visit the Ningaloo Reef in the north west coastal region of Western Australia for coral spawning, prices for this extraordinary 11-day adventure start at $3,499 per person based on double occupancy. www.duatravel.com

Guests on Grand American Adventures’ “Grand Canyon Rafting” itinerary will raft the entire length of the Grand Canyon, enjoying the thrill of up to class IV white water rapids. Other highlights include exploring gigantic caverns, emerald pools and waterfalls, camping on the banks of the Colorado River, hiking in side canyons and spotting soaring birdlife. It’s the ultimate outdoor adventure. This exhilarating eight-day journey is available April through September 2016 and 2017 from $3,079. www.grandamericanadventures.com

Camping in Antarctica (credit: QuarkExpeditions.com)

Camping in Antarctica (credit: QuarkExpeditions.com)

Inspiring explorers on Quark Expeditions’ 11- or 12-day “Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent” journey starts in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and then navigates through the wilderness of the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. Adventure seekers can add an extra rush of adrenaline to their expedition with optional adventure activities such as camping, cross-country skiing, kayaking, mountaineering and stand-up paddleboarding. Available select dates November 2016 through March 2017, prices start at $5,995 per person. www.QuarkExpeditions.com

Kayaking the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska (credit Ralph Lee Hopkins with Lindblad Expeditions)

Kayaking the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska (credit Ralph Lee Hopkins with Lindblad Expeditions)

On “Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness,” an eight-day journey from Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic, guests will kayak amidst coves, fjords, tidewater glaciers and majestic mountains. With six veteran naturalists, including a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor and an undersea specialist, the journey will also introduce guests to an abundance of wildlife including humpback whales, orcas, Steller sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, bears and more. Available over a variety of dates May through August 2016, this once-in-a-lifetime experience is priced from $6,490 per person based on double occupancy. www.expeditions.com/alaska

Visit www.ustoa.tripwing.com to find your ideal vacation in the destination of your dreams.

Got a Balanced Marketing Mix? Have you Considered the Sleeping Giant Market Segment?

By Jim Smith, CTIE, Senior Consultant – Travel Industry Distribution 

Perhaps one of the most commonly overlooked business opportunities that is off the radar of many marketers is a segment that represents 20% of the US population. It is, by all accounts, the fastest growing global demographic. Surprisingly, it is not the millennial market although they do, indeed, hold rich potential.

Over 63 million Americans live each day with some form of chronic disability. Additional tens of millions, while not disabled, have special needs; some acute, others chronic.

In a Fortune Magazine survey, over 24 million Americans with disabilities indicated that they would travel or travel more frequently if only their needs were met. The market holds tremendous potential for forward-thinking travel providers.

Their market spend on travel exceeds 12 billion dollars, with over 32 million vacations taken annually. Not surprisingly, 85% are taken with others.

Disability impacts 1 in 5 American households, providing no household member has yet attained the age of 65. When one household member turns 65, the incidence of household disability jumps to 1 in 4.

For travel to be memorable for all the right reasons it needs to be comfortable, enjoyable and accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, was enacted to protect the civil rights of Americans with Disabilities.

In the past quarter-century we have seen physical modifications to facilitate access vis-a-vis ramps to public buildings. Curb cutouts enable wheelchairs, scooters, etc. to accomplish tasks as simple as crossing a street. Grab bars are now resplendent from public restrooms to hotel accommodations. Accessible parking spaces, poolside/motor coach lifts and braille embedded signage are a direct result of this milestone initiative.

For almost a decade, Special Needs Group has been committed to “Delivering an Accessible World.” As the leading global provider of mobility, oxygen (and much more), 2015 saw SNG serve over 200 cities in 35 countries, worldwide.

Knowledge is Power. On Veterans Day, 2011, SNG introduced its “Certified Accessible Travel Advocate®” online training initiative. This 3-module, 65-minute program includes a brief test at the conclusion of each module. Successful completion of the series is required to earn the designation.

Over 2,500 travel professionals earned this designation in 4 years. We would like to extend an invitation to USTOA members to avail their organizations access to the program and are delighted to conduct “Certification Jump-Start” webinars for all USTOA members.

Founded as “Special Needs at Sea,” serving the cruise segment, a rebranding to communicate our expanded global footprint and ability to serve land-based vacationers was undertaken in 2011. From Las Vegas to Orlando, Spain to Greece, the Yucatan to the Dominican Republic (and many destinations in between), we are poised to assist USTOA members and their stakeholders at every turn.

Special Needs Group is located at 302 NW 3rd Ave, Dania Beach, FL 33004, USA Toll Free 1-800-513-4515. USTOA members, please contact Tensi Westreicher, Director, Sales and Marketing at extension 1014 to schedule Certification Jump-Start Webinars or for additional information. 

*Note: unless otherwise noted, all statistics were extracted from the 2005 US Census.