The Rundown from the 11th Annual New York Times Travel Show

written by | Posted on March 5th, 2014

Panama Canal (photo credit: Panama Tourism Authority).

Panama Canal (photo credit: Panama Tourism Authority).

The 11th annual New York Times Travel Show, the largest trade and consumer travel event in North America, took place this past weekend, showcasing more than 500 exhibitors from 150 destinations from around the globe. The 3-day event kicked off on Friday, traditionally Trade Day, and  for folks in the biz like travel agents, tour operators and the press, it’s a day jam-packed with seminars, lunch with a keynote speaker (Yana Carter Gutierrez, v.p. of American Express Consumer Travel), and exclusive access to the exhibition hall before the doors open to consumers over the weekend.

Covering this colorful Travel Show—complete with costumed dancers from Latin America and Asia—requires not only pockets full of business cards, but a prepared bucket list of “less than 1,000 travel exhibits to see before I die” of exhaustion at the end the 9-hour Trade Day marathon. Let us share a small sampling of the things we learned:

One seminar, “Finding the Perfect River Cruise,” focused on the booming vacation option and a new river cruise line, Emerald Waterways. Sailing on the Danube, Rhine and Moselle rivers will be two luxury vessels, the Emerald Star and Emerald Sky, each carrying 182 passengers in 72 suites and 20 staterooms. Emerald Waterways launches its schedule of 8- to 15-day itineraries on April 15 with a 12-day sailing from Basel to Amsterdam (rates from $2,305); the cruise line’s costs include not only port charges but gratuities. For more information, call (888) 778-6689 or visit emeraldwaterways.com.

Scenic Cruises is introducing a new river cruise itinerary for 2014, an 11-day Gems of the Seine River, sailing roundtrip from Paris, visiting Conflans, Vernon, Caudebec-en-Caux, Les Andelys, Rouen and Honfleur. With the new cruise comes a new vessel, the custom-built, 126-passenger Scenic Gem, fitted with luxury features. Suites come with full-size private outdoor balconies and butler service. Rates start at $5,880 pp dbl. For more information, call (855) 517-1200 or visit us.scenictours.com.

Monica Irauzqui of Yampu Tours took time out to share her Top Foodie Experiences in South America. The top pick is Peru, where she “highly suggests a cooking tour, or if you’re not a cook, at least a pisco sour tour.” Then there’s Chile and Argentina’s Patagonia, the place to learn to BBQ everything, have great veggies and savor world-class wines. On her list is also Salvador de Bahia, the place in Brazil for moqueca, a spicy stew cooked in a clay pot with coconut milk and fish, served with rice and a condiment called caruru. For the complete Experience Menu, contact Yampu Tours at (888) YAMPU-01 or visit yampu.com.

Did you know that the easiest place to see the leaping lemurs is at Berenty Private Reserve at the southern tip of the island of Madagascar? Neither did I until I found Madagascar Endemics & Resort, a 10-year-old tour company specializing in serving English-speaking visitors and introducing Madagascar to the U.S. market. The company’s founder, Maritra Andriamialisoa, aims to expand tourism to his country, and he is well qualified to do so—not only is he a certified national guide, but he is U.S.-educated at Loyala Marymount and New York University. Take a look at the company website for adventure, cultural, wildlife, meet-the-people, and beach resort itineraries. For more information, visit madagascar-endemics.com.

The Panama Tourism Authority had a big booth and was the place we learned that Copa Airlines, which now has three daily nonstop flights between New York City (JFK) and Panama City, is debuting service from Montreal to Panama City on July 1. Here, we  met Jonathan Zelcer, operations manager of Truly Panama, a sustainable and upmarket tourism company whose motto is “Let your Panama Experience be a Truly Panama Experience.” He reminds us that “this is a good year to visit Panama, a time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.” And judging by the hotels this inbound tour operator highlights on its website, we should pay attention to his recommendation of a new and lovingly restored landmark property in Casco Viejo: American Trade Hotel, occupying a historic building and fitted out with 10 stylish rooms with city and water views, a dining room, small cafe and Danilo’s Jazz Club. Visit acehotel.com/panama.

We also got some intel on ToursByLocals.com, an online service offering private tours by reliable, enthusiastic and top-quality guides in over 120 countries. There are 1,500 qualified locals on the site so you can see their photos, read their bios and communicate with them prior to booking a private guide. They seem to be in different venues—cities, small urban centers, remotes towns and villages, major and minor ports of call, national parks and wilderness areas—and tours are customized, perhaps to fit a special interest in history, art, wildlife, gastronomy or just very special city tours. Bottom line: By hiring a local guide, you are supporting social entrepreneurship and directly contributing to the local economy. Services are priced per tour, not per person. Call (866) 844-6783 for more information.