I’ve been to quite a few trade meetings lately where the conversation, inevitably, ends up on the topic of air travel—we write about the travel industry after all, so this is no surprise. But what is interesting to note is how there’s always one person, at the very least, who says emphatically that they will NEVER fly with [insert airline of choice here] again. It’s a strong declaration to make given that carriers are expected to offer even less capacity next year, but one that I’ve been hearing a lot of lately and, incidentally, these aren’t small carriers they are mentioning.
But it was listening to people who swore they would “never, ever get back together” with an airline that got me to thinking about what air travel and tourism, in general, was like in the past. Back when flying the “friendly skies” (a la “Mad Men”-era—check out my pic with my dolled up look for the office Halloween party—and into the 70s, and the 80s even) was indeed heavenly; food and drink was plentiful; baggage was included in the cost of a ticket; and an empty seat (even an empty row), and a courteous smiling stewardess was the norm, not the exception. These were the days when people dressed up extra nice to take a flight because it was an event, not a chore; the days when friends and family members were able to walk all the way to the gate to meet you when you came off the plane and when security checkpoints that demanded you take off your shoes was a laughable idea (as if that would ever happen!).
Of course, there were a few downsides: Flying was expensive and usually reserved for the upper- and upper middle-class; planes being hijacked to Cuba was not an extraordinary event; and the typical traveler was not jetting off to Bhutan, Colombia, Eastern Europe, or Kenya, all destinations covered in our December issue.
But before you skip on over to the flurry of information packed into this last issue of 2012, I want to highlight some of the fun facts related to travel agents that we found in the 40th anniversary edition of Goway’s “Globetrotting” magazine: “In 1970 if you wanted to go traveling, you really had to go to a travel agent.”…“Confirmations, invoices, travel vouchers, etc., were all typed manually.”…“Travel agents made reservations by calling collect if it was a new booking.”
As we flip through the years, we come to December 2012, when travel agents’ biggest competitor is the Internet, although as Brian John, president and CEO of Intrepid Vacations, says in this issue’s Europe Always Astounds article on page 34, “Consumers have become wary of the plateau of information found on OTA websites and prefer sitting with a professional travel agent….”
Long-time readers will know that in the past we’ve dedicated our entire December issue to showcasing the winners of the Readers’ Choice Awards, but this year we opted for a different route (although you can see who you and your peers selected as the best of the best in the travel industry on page 14). This time around, our editors reflected on 2012 and the myriad goings-on throughout the year in destinations around the world. Whether that meant singling out Nigeria, which, as writer Kristan Schiller says in our cover feature Africa Rising (page 42) “is on a kick to bring in visitors,” or putting the spotlight on Nicaragua and its luxury hotel offerings, which Carla Hunt writes about in the Checking-in to Latin America piece on page 46.
And I’d like to go back to the Readers’ Choice Awards before I wrap up this editor’s notes and say goodbye to 2012, because the winners’ circle shows us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Why do we say that? Because tour operators like Globus, resort/hotel chains like Sandals, cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, and destinations like Jamaica, South Africa and Tahiti continue to take top prize year after year, for almost as long as Recommend has been presenting these awards. They are obviously doing something you like.
We’d love to hear how the industry has changed since you’ve been involved. Send me a note to email@example.com and we’ll start a conversation on Agent Speak.—Paloma Villaverde de Rico