In honor of tomorrow’s planned National Opt-Out Day, we offer you this year’s hottest holiday gift: the TSA bumper sticker. Warning: It’s probably best not to post these on your luggage. We all know how the TSA feels about bumper stickers.
[via the FlyerTalk forum]
Despite the advertised low rates for many cruises, I’ve always thought that the extra fees for alcoholic drinks would make the final price rise far above the base cost. Even for a moderate drinker – a few glasses of wine or beer with dinner, a pina colada here, a strawberry daiquiri there – the cost for a few days of booze for two people on a cruise could come out to a couple hundred dollars over the course of a week.
So when I first read Jaunted’s headline that Celebrity Cruises was now offering several all-you-can-drink beverage options, I was intrigued. But upon closer inspection, it seems like you’d pretty much have to spend your entire cruise drunk in order to justify the cost.
For unlimited liquor, you’ll pay over $50 per person per night, and wine packages (which don’t state how many bottles the package entitles you to) start at $114 per night per package. An unlimited supply of domestic and imported beers is $34.50 per night per person. Which means for two people, you’ll need to drink $70 worth of beer in a single day. Though that’s about three 12-packs at your local liquor store, it’s the equivalent of 10-12 beers at Celebrity’s on-board prices.
As CruiseCritic points out, the package only makes sense if you’ll drink 5-6 beers per day. While lots of people could do that over the course of a day at sea, it doesn’t seem likely that many would do it every day of the cruise, and since you have to buy the package for the duration of your cruise…well, it looks Celebrity will be making quite a profit – or ending up with some really drunk passengers.
The problem with most vacation packages is that they’re … well … packaged. You may have some room for a little tweaking, but you aren’t going to stray far from the menu. As an alternative, you could reach out to an upscale travel agent or concierge, but you’ll probably wind up with an experience centered on destinations rendered inaccessible only by price – which, for a particular demographic, isn’t inaccessible at all. For those with the means to clear all but the most absurd of financial hurdles, the real challenge becomes getting into the places that are designed to keep you out – or which at least aren’t intended to accommodate.
This is where David Tobin’s Dream Escape excels.
Dream Escape is Scotland’s most exclusive travel planning company, constructing careful and extensive vacation experiences that you won’t find anywhere else … and may not even dream up on your own. Whether you want to inhabit a castle for a few weeks, taste the latest single malt before the rest of the world learns of its existence or zip around the Scottish countryside (there’s lots of it) in the sports car of your fantasies and toss your head onto a different pillow each night, Tobin can probably put together an itinerary that will turn you on.
The process begins well before you hit the road, with Tobin’s team getting a sense for what you like and what you don’t, soliciting any specifics you’ve already chosen and providing ideas that may not occur to you on your own – if you don’t know what can be done, you won’t know to ask. Groups of all sizes can be handled, including celebrations involving hundreds of your closest friends … all of whom expect to be carted around on private jets.
By the time you land in Scotland, everything is ready (well, the details are actually nailed down long before the wheels on your Gulstream drop). You’ll be accompanied throughout your escape by an expert on the details of your trip, though you can certainly choose to have some elbow room if you like. In my mind, this concierge is like an easily accessible itinerary: I don’t print them, and I don’t read them … but I want someone to let me know where I should be someplace, when and how to get there. This is just one of the ways in which the annoyances of travel are stripped out of your trip, and you are truly free to enjoy yourself fully.
The “everything’s taken care of” mentality can manifest itself in unusual ways, underscoring how closely Dream Escape watches even the smallest of moving parts. One party, for example, wanted to drive – a collection of sports cars (such as Lamborghinis) was the backbone of the getaway. Obviously, these rides were waiting for the guests when they landed; that’s just common sense. Each one had a GPS device with directions for the entire trip already planned into it – now, that’s thinking! And since people like me exist (i.e., navigationally impaired), the cars were stocked with prepaid cell phones that had the relevant digits already added to speed dial. The only thing missing was an imaginary friend to whisper words of wisdom into the guests’ ears. As soon as there’s a way to pull that off, I’m sure Tobin will find a way to work it into somebody’s vacation.
Doubtless, you’ve figured out by now that working with Dream Escape can be pretty costly. And, you’re right. These trips are not for the weak of wallet. Specific prices vary with the nature of your plans, especially if they involve private residences (such as castles), luxury jets or rare automobiles. Tobin did tell me that it’s possible to pull a trip together toward the lower end of the five-figure range, but it’s pretty clear to me that it takes a bit more than that to unleash the full power of his talent and connections. There are plenty of experiences out there in the $30,000 to $50,000 neighborhood – but if you’re ready to drop more than $100,000, I have a feeling Tobin’s imagination is the only limit.
Now, if you’re looking to roll at this level, you’re probably concerned about discretion. The last thing you’d want is a guy like me hearing – and writing – about your tastes, means and experiences. Well, you’ll be comforted to know there’s plenty Tobin wouldn’t tell me, and names were just the tip of this confidential iceberg. Your secrets will be safe.
Conspicuous luxury is a bit taboo during a recession – nothing makes peasants revolt quite like seeing the haves living the good life. So, skip the new house, watch or car, and call Tobin. Dream Escape will deliver the experience of your life, and nobody needs to know about it – except the like-minded folks you want to see drooling over what Tobin pulled off for you.
The United States is the largest leisure travel market in the world – by far. The closest point of reference is the entire European Union. We’re three times larger than our closest competitor, the United Kingdom. Yet, despite our size, we just don’t spend as much money on packaged travel. In fact, the folks in the UK spend 50 percent more on it than we do.
Over here, the travel business accounts for $271 billion a year, according to travel industry research firm PhoCusWright, and only 7 percent of that ($18 billion) is spent on travel packages. Meanwhile, the UK has an $84 billion-a-year travel industry – not even a third of ours – and they spend $30 billion a year on packages (35 percent of the local market).
What’s the deal?
There are plenty of reasons bandied about. Europeans tend to take longer vacations, with 10 to 14 days not unusual (especially for the residents of northern European countries), and they tend to take more time off than the workaholics in the United States. They go more and longer, which translates to increased spending.
But, this doesn’t explain the affinity for packages. What makes Americans different?
Well, independence is a major factor. Americans usually prefer to set their own agendas, deciding what they want to see and do, taking on the task of research (and coming to places like Gadling – thanks, by the way, we all appreciate it) and putting together the pieces on their own.
Maybe we’re getting lazier or trying to seem like sophisticated Europeans, but the packaged travel market is growing on this side of the Atlantic, even rapidly. Of course, you need to compare it to starting point to understand how this can happen. In 1999, the packaged travel market was effectively nonexistent. Some large, enterprising online travel agencies, however, created a market from nothing, and turned it into an $8 billion space by the end of last year. This “new” offer has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50 percent during this time, while tour operators have seen aggregate revenues decline at a compound annual rate of 5 percent.
So, we’re still not heavy package buyers in the United States, but taking the easy way out is becoming more and more attractive.
For the average traveler, definitions don’t matter much. You figure out the type of trip you want to take, whip out your credit card and do the deed. It’s really pretty damned simple. But, for every purchase you make, there are countless eyes watching. Nothing nefarious is going on; it’s all actually quite innocent. When you think about how many people rely on your willingness to open your credit card – and how the travel market as a whole is being beat to hell this year – it makes perfect sense that the industry will watch, analyze and try to find new and interesting ways to get you to lay out some cash for travel.
For the business, definitions are incredibly important. When they look at where the money is going, how a particular trip is defined allows these insiders to communicate, develop strategies and invest in different excursions. If one guy says, “Packages are hot,” and another doesn’t define packages the same way, limited resources will be wasted. When money is pissed away, there isn’t as much available for discounts and other promotions. So, nailing down the lingo actually helps you in the end.
What’s at stake in all this? Well, according to travel industry research firm PhoCusWright, just over $18 billion. Yeah, it’s in bold for a reason. This is a hefty chunk of the total U.S. travel market, but it’s also among the most difficult to understand. There are nuances that mess with the vocabulary. I spent some time as a strategy analyst covering this industry, and sorting out the details is an absolute nightmare.
So, if you’re at all interested in the business of travel, take a look after the jump at the different flavors of “package.” I know there have to be a couple of geeks like me out there who find this stuff fascinating.
Okay, you made it past the jump! You’re one of the devoted. So, let’s get into the weeds. PhoCusWright has a solid definition of package: “a travel reservation containing at least two of the three major travel components (flight, accommodation, car rental) where there was a single booking and payment transaction.”
This isn’t exactly brain surgery, until you think about the different ways that you can pull this formula together. There may be other components, including transfers, day tours, activities, meals and travel insurance. Is an all-inclusive a package? According to this definition, it is. But, you’re really just booking the resort, rather than using a service to pull together the different parts from several vendors. It can get muddy fast.
A package (or, “vacation package”) may include: flight, accommodation, rental car or transfer, day tours or activities, meals and travel insurance.
A charter, on the other hand, is “a flight where the tour operator takes risk on the inventory (or owns the plane) and, usually, sells the seats as part of a package.”
This, of course, differs from “escorted tours,” which “usually include more travel components and have fixed departure dates.”
If you’re looking for a definition of “FIT,” go for the most recent. It used to translate to “foreign independent travel,” which consisted of “leisure trips abroad without an escort or fixed package structure.” This has changed, however, and now refers to “flexible independent travel.” The parts may look like a package, but the itinerary is built specifically for the traveler.
And then, there’s group travel. This consists of both packages and FITs for groups of leisure travelers, with “group” starting at nine people. But, it can vary.
Got a handle on all this? Let’s make it worse.
There are also a number of package providers. “Total vacation packagers” (TVP) is used for all tour operators – but not the online packaging conducted by the major online bookers (like Orbitz). A tour operator provides all kinds of packaged travel, with “escorted operators” a subset that focuses on specialty programs that can become pretty complicated. Online packagers aggregate and sell (duh) online, and wholesalers bundle and resell different products as packages, even if there’s no common theme.
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