Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Travel Agent or DIY


I spent more than forty years as a Baptist preacher/pastor and loved every minute of it. In fact it wasn’t until a major heart issue sidetracked me that I even consider doing something else. I was told by my cardiac team that while I was going to survive and could continue to preach I was going to have to leave off the stress side of being the spiritual advisor to a large congregation.

Unfortunately for me the nearly two year recovery took me out of the ministry network and the restrictions on the stress issue eliminated once more assuming the role of full-time Senior pastor. Little did I know the direction God would take me.  I soon turned to evaluating the things I enjoyed; things in which I had some level of proficiency; and something from which I could generate some income. 

That’s when it hit me. I had started working with our State Missions Commission in the Texas/New South Wales Partnership in 1985. By the time I had ended that partnership I was working with Don Sewell coordinating our efforts in New South Wales training the teams that would be going on these projects and working with Terry Denton and Beverly Berens of Main Street Travel in Ft. Worth to get the teams to their assignments.

So I entered the Travel Industry. How I moved from Pastor to Travel agents and how I integrated ministry into the travel industry is a story for another time. Suffice it I made the transition. So from 2005 to the present I have participated in that industry as a Traveler, Travel Agent, OSSN Chapter Director and Regional Director as well as a Regional Manager for CCRA. I have participated in trade shows as a attendee and as a panelist. Over these 15 years I have learned a few things.

One of the first things I learned was, the travel is a large and complex industry that gives a living to 10 percent of the jobs in the world. That makes it a large part of every country’s economic well-being. In fact, in some places accounting for the largest single segment of their economy. This industry creates wealth at a number of levels and in a number of directions. In the USA the travel/tourism industry accounts for more than 15 million jobs and equals 2.8% of our National GDP. 

Having has the privilege of working with both the Agent and Supplier side of the business it was easy to see how my adopted industry was a major job creator. Like every major industry it had tentacles that spread through a variety of other industries. The cruise side of the business alone is a multi-billion dollars economy providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in hundreds of trades and suppliers that on the surface would appear unrelated. 

However, today I want to zero in on the role of the Travel Agent. There is a common misconception out there that Travel Agents spend all their time traveling and seeing the world. While there is a way for the enterprising travel agent to do just that I’d suggest to you that for 98% of travel agents it is more like flying a desk. I suspect I speak for most Travel Agents when I tell you that I spend hours, weeks, sometimes months working on a single trips to make sure every detail is thought out and planned. A handful of highly productive agents may actually earn familiarization trips (usually at a discounted price) to learn about a particular suppliers products or new offerings. 

Truth is, most of our time is spent researching and planning itineraries for folks who want the vacation of a lifetime every time they travel. Most travel agents are independent contractors who work on a commission (usually an 80:20 split or less) that they split with an agency owner. With the exception of some cruise lines those commissions are not paid until after you, their client, actually travel. 

So, if you book a vacation to Cabo San Lucas for August 30, 2021 there is a better than even chance your travel agent will not get paid their commission until sometime in September 2021. Sadly, a booking today does not equal getting paid today or even in a few weeks.  Add to this the fact that these agents, because of the Covid-19 Pandemic ban on travel have not had an income for more than 10 months and have had painfully few sales.  In fact, they have spent a great deal of time canceling trips and negotiating refunds to clients which in most instances meant lost income on previous sales. Add to this very few qualified for any of the aid offered by the federal government. 

I want to suggest that even if you are normally a “DIY” traveler tat you book your future travel know and use a travel agent. I know I could use your business. It will cost you nothing and may actually save you money. It will certainly help your neighbor who, like yourself, spends most of their money in the local community. 

Besides all this you need to understand that most travel suppliers like cruise lines, tour companies, hotels . . . . well just about every supplier of travel except airlines have a commission built into their pricing and they are not going to remove it just because you do your own booking. In a sense when you self-book you are paying the supplier for a service you don’t get from them, namely the expertise of a good Travel Agent. Why pay for something you don’t get. Take advantage of that built-in allowance and use a Travel Agent.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Travursity Travel Showcase: Its worth Your Time

I have been in the travel industry since I started planning mission trips for teams from our church to both international and domestic destinations back in 1985. After my retirement as a Baptist pastor I took on the task of creating my very own travel agency from scratch. Hence in the early 1990's I founded Texas Cruise and Travel.

I want to begin by saying that I believe that the supplier/travel agent relationship is the backbone of the travel industry. All of the Associations and companies that support Travel Agents and suppliers are useful tools but the relationship between the individual travel agent and the various suppliers is the grease that make the leisure travel industry hum. I also believe that the supplier must constantly improve their product and that the travel agent must continuously improve their knowledge and skills.

Now I will readily admit that in many ways this was a new experience for me but I soon discovered that creating a business was not unlike building a church. The process was virtually identical. The difference for me was I had plenty of formal training and mentoring in building a church and very little in building a travel related business.  So, for me the first step and continuing attitude was learning and training.

I enrolled in a distance education program for travel agents and completed the courses. I also worked through all of the Home Based Training material by Kelly Monaghan. Kelly was the home-based guru of the day. In my view his manual is still the "Bible" of building  a successful home-based travel agency.

That took care of the learning curve academically but it left the collegiality and mentoring aspects of becoming a travel agent unaddressed. So, I started looking around for organizations that might provide this. My studies had convinced me that I needed to have friends in the industry both on the agent side and the supplier side. What I discovered was a whole lot of organizations that had developed to support travel agents who worked for what we called "brick & mortar" stores or just suppliers.  There was ASTA, ARTA, NACTYA and OSSN.

I soon discovered that OSSN targeted people like me. OSSN stands for Outside Sales Support Team
and that is precisely what independent contractors and home-based travel agents need . . . . a support team. OSSN does not exist any longer having been absorbed into CCRA. At any rate I learned that OSSN had a chapter near where I lived and it wasn't long before I was speaking with the Houston OSSN Chapter Director Jeff Grieder. It was at these monthly meeting where I developed my early networking with suppliers and other travel agents. At last, I was not alone. (I went on to become a Chapter Director, Regional Manager for OSSN and then later a Regional Manager for CCRA)

Once I took this step one of the things that I started doing was attending the local meetings of what was then an organization (OSSN) whose mission was to support travel agents who were independent contractors and/or worked from home. With monthly meeting during which a featured travel supplier would make a presentation, members would network. This group nurtured my early years in the business.

This group introduced me to the world of Travel Trade Shows and forums as well as traveling trade shows. I attended large shows put on by the Cruise Line International Association, Travel Trade Shows, etc.  I also discovered the world of traveling trade shows such as the “Buck Wilson Shows” and the Peninsula Shows.  Buck shows ceased because of his having suffered a sever stroke but the Peninsula Shows continue. From my first CLIA show to the show I attended last week these events have played a major roll in m y travel industry career.

However, I recognize that not all home-based/independent contractor travel agents can afford the cost of the large trade shows and forums. Like I said, I have participated in them all for many years in my capacity as a travel agent, a Regional Manager with OSSN and a Regional Director with it’s successor, CCRA and know about the cost. It doesn’t matter whether it is the large Travel Agent Forum and Trade show put on by Jim Cloonan or one of the regional or National Power Solutions put on by CCRA . . . . they are expensive (CCRA does offer a series of very affordable Regional Power Solution Events).  The traveling trade shows are far more affordable because they come to you rather than you going to them.  

When Buck Wilson suffered a stroke and closed his show it left a vacuum that begged to be filled. Not one of the national organizations stepped up to meet the needs of those travel agents (vast majority) who cannot afford to attend one of these large expensive national shows. I remember discussing this with several of my industry executive friends but none seemed to be interested. I came away believing it was because they didn’t see enough ROI.

But that didn’t change the fact that training and supplier knowledge was needed not to mention the networking between travel agents and supplier representatives. Then a friend who had been a colleague with both OSSN and CCRA hit upon an idea. He left his position with CCRA and began putting together a different kind of traveling trade show.

However, what he ended up creating was not another Buck Wilson Trade Show or Peninsular show.  Vince Yeck and Monique FitzPatrick created what they named Travursity Travel Showcase.  They want you to know that they are not just another traveling trade show . . . . they are a Showcase.

I drove 150 miles to attend my first Travursity Travel Showcase this past week in Houston. It was well worth the drive as I was thoroughly impressed.  Vince and Monique have taken the strongest elements of the large national trade shows and the small traveling shows and married them into what they rightfully call a “Travel Showcase.”  If one of these showcases comes to your area you should make it a point to attend. The quality is as good as that of any national trade show or forum and the best of the smaller shows.

What makes me make such a strong statement about this traveling Showcase, you ask. Among other things here are a few elements of the show that I think are significant.

1. There is a limited number of suppliers and the ones there are quality companies. The fact that there is a limited number of suppliers means that you can spend more time with each supplier. This gives you the opportunity to add them to you network not only in a " business" sense but personally as well. You do not have to rush from booth to booth to get around to everyone.

2. In addition to the supplier booths each of the suppliers has an extended time to present their product and how you as a travel agent can take advantage of what the supplier has to offer.  At every Showcase there is a featured supplier who receives a one hour time slot just prior to the Showcase itself where there can be a submersion  into that supplier's products and procedures.

3. The Showcase also has a first class Buffet where Agents and Supplier Reps sit at the tables together for dinner. I found this to be a great time for networking. Informal conversation brings about a sense of trust and a sense of developing friendship. This is especially true when the supplier is someone with whom you really want to do business. All through this process you never have the sense you are on the clock. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable.

4. Show closes with a drawing for prices from supplier.

I highly recommend these Showcases for home-based travel agents and independent contractors who
work for host agencies. They offer a quality show, at a more than reasonable price. I would note that these shows are not sponsored by any of the major show producers so if they are to continue as structured they are going to require agents support.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Imact Travel: Your Chance to do more than Just sightsee!

Ever wish you could combine your vacation with the opportunity to make an investment in the lives of others.  WELL, HERE IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY . . . IT IS CALLED FATHOM IMPACT CRUISES.

Pioneered by Fathom Cruises, Impact Travel is a whole new category of travel: . . . it’s travel with purpose. Now I know that every cruise has purpose but that purpose is usually very ego-centric, that is, to have a good time.

Impact Travel is travel that transforms lives. Sometimes including your own. Impact travel with Fathom provides the opportunity to build community with like-minded travelers, become immersed in another culture, and work alongside its people to create enduring social impact.

Every Fathom™ journey is based on the sincere belief that person-to-person connection is among the strongest catalysts for transformation. What sets Fathom apart is the long-term, systematic partnership approach with its partner countries paired with the unique business model that allows for sustained impact and lasting development. Fathom’s scale and global vision reach beyond what the world has ever seen.

This adventure began in Spring 2016 with separate round-trip voyages from Miami to two of the Caribbean’s most desired destinations: the Dominican Republic and Cuba. In the Dominican Republic. Each of these provide the opportunity to work side by side with local residents in an existing programs that focus on improving the lives of children, families and communities.

In Cuba, you participate in an ongoing cultural exchange program that gives you the opportunity to interact with the Cuban people, one on one.

And you’ll come home seven days later knowing that, for the people whose lives you’ve just touched, the world has become a little brighter because of you.

Impact Travel has three components with at least two projects for each component:

Educational . . .

1. Community English: With the increased demand for bilingual speakers in the growing tourism industry in the Dominican Republic, there’s also a great need for programs that support adult English learning. Fathom travelers will be able to participate in Community English Conversation & Learning activities that help bolster employment opportunities for lower income adults. These small group programs take place within community centers and local homes, and include one-on-one conversation, and English instruction. Participating in these Community English Conversation & Learning programs will enable you to experience the powerful impact of your contributions. No teaching or Spanish language skills needed

2. Student English: As a Fathom traveler, you’ll have the opportunity to work with both teachers
and students in activities designed to create interest and excitement in the English learning process and to aid in language retention—no teaching or Spanish-language experience required. You’ll engage in games, simple vocabulary lessons, and small-group conversations that provide much-needed confidence. And you’ll find that this kind of positive impact on the life of a child is one of the most gratifying experiences a traveler can have. 

Environmental . . .

1. Reforestation: You will be involved in local reforestation efforts designed to improve
the livelihoods of Dominican families, restore degraded land, and contribute to forest and wildlife conservation throughout the region. On Tuesdays and Fridays you can participate in different activities at the Nursery that range from the simple potting of seedlings and/or seeds, to transporting plants, to more physically demanding efforts like mixing the potting soil. On Wednesdays and Thursday you can participate in more strenuous activities at the reforestation site, under the sun or the rain, from digging holes, to transporting seedlings, to planting.

2. Concrete Floors in Homes: As a Fathom traveler, you’ll have the opportunity to help improve the lives and health of the Dominican people from the ground up. Literally. In the homes of poorer communities, the common basic dirt floors are a genuine health risk. They pick up dust during the dry season and retain dampness and puddles in the rainy season. And they’re impossible to clean, which means that anything spilled on the floor or tracked into the house, however unhygienic, tends to stay put. Every month, homes in a different small area of a community will be chosen to be upgraded with new concrete floors. This impact activity has a surcharge of $20 per person

3. Water Filtration Project: The water crisis is a reality that plagues the entire world. In the 
Dominican Republic alone, more than three million people have no access to piped water. One solution already being implemented is the production of clay water filters, which mean far fewer children and adults will miss school or work due to waterborne illnesses. As a Fathom traveler, you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside established organizations and local artisans in the entire filter-making process: gathering and mixing the raw materials, working the clay, shaping and firing the filters, and testing the quality of the finished product. In this family-friendly activity, even smaller children will find ways to do their part. Surcharge of $20 per person.

Economic . . .

1. Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative: The poorest half of the Dominican Republic’s
population receives less than one-fifth of the country’s annual GDP. One local women’s cooperative is actively involved in the cultivation of organic chocolate (cacao) plants, an important source of income for the Puerto Plata region. As a Fathom traveler, you can participate in the complete production cycle: from planting and cultivating the organic cacao trees (Nursery activity on Wednesday & Thursday only), to preparing the raw materials, to producing and packaging the final product for sale. By helping to improve production and increase sales, you’ll also be helping the organization to thrive so it can hire more local women, providing critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities.

2. Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship: A group of enterprising Dominican women have
come together as Repaper — a co-op in a low-income community of Puerto Plata dedicated to reducing solid waste in the province, while being an opportunity for self-employment. By participating in this activity you will not only have the chance to work and meet the RePapel Women, but you will also support local artisans committed to working with natural and recycled products. As a Fathom traveler, you can have a positive, hands-on impact on both programs, not only by helping the women benefit from steady sources of income but also by contributing to increased English skills that can help them sell their products more effectively.

Impact Travel Activities on the Ground

The highlight of any Fathom trip is the opportunity it gives you to collaborate with local volunteers on important projects that contribute to the sustainable economic, educational, and environmental health of local communities. Most impact activities are included in the price of your trip, and a few require and additional fee to cover supply costs.

At-sea transport

Your trip includes round-trip travel by ship between Miami and the port of Amber Cove in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Transportation between your home and the Port of Miami is not included.
Ground Transport

Fathom will ground transportation to and from all of your impact activities in the Dominican

Republic. Transport for leisure activities throughout Puerto Plata will be at your own expense.

On-Board Events
Aboard the ship, you’ll have the chance to participate in unique tailored programs and workshops to better prepare you for the impact you’ll make once you’re ashore. Payment for most onboard programming and events is covered in the price of your trip, while a small number of events require an additional fee.

Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard the ship are included, and you’ll be treated to snacks
and water during your impact activities. If you’re feeling adventurous, additional curated dining experiences will be available on board at an additional cost.

This is your opportunity to both have a great cruise vacation and at the same time give back to the world through personal service.

On Tuesday, around mid-day, the Adonia will dock at the port of Amber Cove, near the city of Puerto Plata. Here, in the nearby villages, is where you’ll put your skills, your passions, and your shipboard orientation and training to good use. Over four days you’ll immerse yourself in the culture by joining the locals in impact activities that support the environmental, educational and economic health of their communities. Ready to have fun? Explore the landscape, relax in the Cove, and chart your own adventure.


GIVE: Work directly alongside the Dominican communities as you focus on economic, environmental and educational projects that make a lasting difference.

PLAY: After impact activities in the morning you’ll have time to relax by the pool, snorkel, deep sea fish or enjoy the entertainment and programs aboard the ship.

GROW: It is our sincere belief that personal connection is among the strongest catalysts for transformation. Share these experiences with your family and loved ones.


IMPACT ACTIVITIES: Fathom impact activities in the Dominican Republic include a wide range of projects focused on economic development, education and the environment. During your three days on the island, depending on your individual passions and skills, you’ll have the opportunity to get involved in the projects you feel the most strongly about. You’ll work directly alongside community members and our partner organizations, doing what they do, helping where they need you. And almost certainly making some new friends along the way.

You’ll also discover that impact travel is far more than a seven-day experience. On the return trip, we’ll help you look at ways you can stay involved by bringing your knowledge, inspiration, and insight back to your own community. And to keep your impact travel experience alive, long after your seven-day journey is over.

Participation in all activities is voluntary.


You may join an Impact Cruise any week of the year but

Texas Cruise and Travel Offers You the Opportunity to join us and Fathom in May 7, 2017 for a Fathom Impact Cruise.

COST: (The pricing is for TWO people. If you want individual cost divide by 2). All cabins require a $300 deposit for 2 people; individual deposits $150)

Inside Cabin - $865.36
Outside Cabin - $865.36
Balcony Cabin - $1,465.26
Suite Cabin - $2265.26

Gratuities are $81 per person.

Round Trip Airfare to Miami, Florida is on your own. We recommend Southwest Airlines into Fort Lauderdale and the shuttle to Port of Miami. You can also fly directly into Miami. Check both for the best price.

Contact us
(713) 677-4479
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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Travel Documents: Get it Right

Travel Documents . . . .  Get it wrong and you can't imagine the hassle to which you are opening yourself.  Don't be like the Chicago Couple that got to Mexico and were sent right back to Chicago because one had a passport (and could have stayed) and the other had a "Passport Card" and could not use it to enter the country.

"But," you say, "there are so many of them. There is my Driver's License or state issued official ID; there is by Birth Certificate; there is a passport and a passport card; and, who knows what else. (Hint: your travel agent knows what else).

Your travel Agent knows the documentation you need for whatever your travel plans may be. So my very first piece of advice is to work with your travel agent as you plan your travel. Travel agents generally are knowledgeable about the government requirements for travel and who may travel and where they my travel. 

Let me begin by suggesting you start with the basics. The basic travel document for a U.S. citizen traveling abroad and more and more here at home is a U.S. Passport. Consequently, we here at Texas Cruise and Travel recommend that all our clients obtain a U.S. Passport.  

This document is acceptable identification for all kinds of travel both inside and outside of the United States. This is Americas basic travel documentation for its citizens and is recognized as such internationally.  A U.S. Passport is good for ten (10) years from date of issue and should be renewed at least 6 months prior to its expiration date. Passports are available through the U.S. State Department and certain Consulates and the process can be initiated online and completed via the United Sates Postal Service.  The cost is $110 per passport and requires a government defined photo as well as the appropriate paperwork.  Most people will also be required to submit an original certified copy of their birth certificate. Check the United States Department of State website for latest information on obtaining and maintaining a U.S.A. Passport. 

If you have a trip planned you might try using a Passport/Visa expediting service. This is a company that takes your documents and literally walks them through the process. This is not a free service and can be pricey depending on many factors. It is, however, an option for those who need their passport now and can't walk it through themselves.  

For persons who are only going to use their federally issued ID for cruises or travel to certain preapproved regions or countries and who are not going to be traveling by air the Passport Card is a less expensive option. The United States State Department warns that:

"The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air." 

So, if you plan to travel to Mexico or Canada by land (non-air) transportation (walking, car, bus, train etc) or to the Caribbean or Bermuda by ship this may be your choice for a Federal identification document. It is intended primarily for people who go back and forth from the United States and either Mexico and Canada on a regular basis by land and for people cruising the Caribbean but returning to their port of embarkation. It has other specialized uses.  

You should note that if you travel by land to any of the authorized destination  on a Passport Card ID and have an emergency that requires flying home you may need to visit the U.S. Consulate or Embassy and you will face a long delay returning home.  We do not recommend this form of documentation because of it's limited use. Unless you have family in Canada or Mexico and you travel only by land we recommend paying a few dollars more and get a passport. 

You should also keep in mind that many countries require you to obtain a Visa to enter the country. That is why I suggest you work with your Travel Agent when making travel plans that include leaving United States territorial jurisdiction.

By the way, if you travel frequently we also suggest that you speak with your travel agent about obtaining a TSA Pre® status or obtaining a Global Entry Card.