By Rebecca Maxon
We count the days until our next vacation and the desperately needed respite, while simultaneously dreading the endless choices to make, the logistical details and, of course, the pressure to get it right. To assist you in planning your perfect trip, FDU Magazine has enlisted the help of three experts: Joseph Tormey, director of the University’s nationally ranked International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management; Aixa Ritz, an associate professor in the school; and Tracey Coleman, an instructor at the school. Here’s what they said and the destinations they recommended:
Where to Begin
Whether you are planning the vacation of a lifetime or a brief trip to a new destination, FDU’s experts recommend starting with a travel agent. “Though you can book almost anything on the Internet, and a travel agent may cost up to 10 percent of your travel budget, it is worth it, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to research and plan your trip,” says Ritz, who has more than 30 years of experience in travel and tourism, including corporate travel and meeting planning.
She recommends using an agent who specializes in your desired destination or the type of vacation you are looking for — be it a honeymoon, a cruise or an adventure vacation.
Agents can connect you with tour operators who handle all your sightseeing needs — allowing you to feel safe on your trip, to see the most desirable sites and to save money.
Agents also are familiar with all kinds of lodging, from name-brand hotels to small, family-owned accommodations. This knowledge can be an important part of planning. Ritz says, “I would never hesitate to stay in a three-star hotel in Switzerland, Spain, Germany or Austria. But I would think 10 times before I would do the same somewhere else. Unfortunately, the hotel industry does not have a universal rating system.”
Hong Kong, China
“Hong Kong is English-language friendly, yet it has a tremendous amount of Asian, Chinese and Colonial British influence,” says Joseph Tormey, who was educated in Hong Kong. “On a practical level, there are a lot of restaurants and activities. The flights are relatively reasonable — if you travel off peak season — and you can stay there inexpensively if you are willing to search out a small room. Hong Kong is a pedestrian and mass transportation-user city. You can take the tram and ferry to get around. Both are constructed of wood and consist of two levels; they are quite antiquated and romantic, when you consider that some ferries in use today date back to the late 1800s. Contrast that with modern skyscrapers!”
Research, Research, Research
All of our experts agree, research is vital to planning your vacation. “If you want to travel internationally and to plan your trip yourself,” says Tormey, “due diligence of the destination is paramount. And it can take several hours or a week’s worth of planning, depending on the length of the trip and the number of people in your travel party.”
We’ve all heard advertisements for online booking sites, whether for airfare, hotel rooms or attractions. These resources are great for frequent travelers who are familiar with their destinations and who are staying briefly, such as business travelers. As long as they stay with name-brand hotel chains and well-reputed airlines, travelers will be able to book trips themselves and usually get what they expect from them.
If you do choose to book your own airfare, check back often for lower fares, because the ticket prices are based on the number of seats sold. Start planning early and check several dates, as fares and room rates vary with time of year, the week of travel and even the day of the week.
Also, “check into your credit card, as some companies work with travel partners with offers already negotiated for you,” says Coleman, who represents EuroStar, a provider of cross-channel transport among London, Paris and Brussels, to travel agents.
Even with the most popular online travel sites, there are some caveats. “For hotels in particular,” advises Ritz, “these sites offer the good rates because they book the rooms that nobody really wants.” If you are looking for comfort and a good room to spend an extended amount of time in, call the hotel directly for your reservation after researching pricing online.
“Ask that your room not be near elevators or ice machines, which can be quite noisy at night,” she says. “Also, choose a hotel that is not near train or bus stations, which are prone to have a lot of evening traffic and may attract a less-desirable population.”
Coleman recommends comparing multiple travel sites when researching and booking a vacation. “If it looks good on TripAdvisor, check it out on Expedia and other sites. Check the companies’ websites as well, or call them yourself. What might have been a fabulous hotel last year could be undergoing renovation this year.”
Customer reviews can be helpful, but be aware that hotel employees can post their own reviews. Plus, people are more likely to express negative views than they are to give compliments. “You need to consider who the travelers reviewing the hotel are,” says Ritz.
“It’s easy to get five great reviews,” says Coleman, “but it’s hard to accumulate hundreds of positive ones.”
Our experts also warn that most reservations made through online vendors may not be changed or have exorbitant change fees. “Often you must prepay,” says Tormey. “Sometimes, even with a flagship name, the particular hotel may be an independent franchise and not subject to the chain’s corporate refund policies.”
“Costa Rica is an amazing, tiny little country, with very friendly people, beautiful nature, mountains and great food. The fruit is just amazing. It definitely is my favorite place to explore and travel,” says Aixa Ritz, whose work has focused on the United States, Europe and Latin America.
What If Something Goes Wrong?
You’ve done your research and planned your vacation. It sounds like you’re off to a great start; but what about the unexpected?
If you’ve booked through a travel agent, there is somebody on your side already. “Travel agents have a world of knowledge and can offer support in the event that something should go wrong,” Coleman says. “There is not really anyone to call for assistance if you make the booking yourself.”
“Keep a spare credit card apart from your wallet,” she recommends, and be sure to keep a copy of your passport and other forms of ID tucked away in case of loss or theft.
Ritz points out that getting a passport can take four to six weeks, so start early.
But, what if you are not healthy enough to travel when it is time for your trip? Trip insurance, which can be purchased through travel agents, can provide coverage for this. First, check with your credit-card companies, as some offer insurance when travel is booked on their cards. “Make sure to look at what is covered (such as medical care, delays and loss of baggage) as well as the deductibles,” advises Coleman.
Check your own health-insurance policy as well. What does it cover out of the state or country? “There are two issues here: how your insurance will be accepted in the region you are visiting and the quality of care available there,” says Tormey, who has more than 25 years of domestic and international management and consulting experience, including working in Jakarta, Indonesia. Also consider whether your insurance will cover the cost of transport to a facility somewhere else, if necessary.
“In most countries, health care is not as expensive as it is here,” notes Ritz, “but you may have to pay for that care 100 percent and file for reimbursement when you return.”
Explore America’s national parks all over the country. For example, “Utah has amazing national parks with accommodations available for a family with children at reasonable prices,” Aixa Ritz says. “I was more impressed with Bryce Canyon than I was with the Grand Canyon! Most Europeans come to the U.S. to see the parks. Utah has not only Bryce Canyon, but also Zion National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands. But be warned, reservations need to be made well in advance.”
Tips for Travel Time
Before you set out, establish a budget for what you can spend on the entire trip as well as for each day. Be clear on exchange rates and extra taxes so there are no surprises.
Pack light! “If possible, limit yourself to carry-on baggage only,” says Ritz. “Pack clothes that can easily be washed and that dry quickly when hung.” On your flight, have a supply of water and snacks as well as magazines and/or your computer to pass the time. Also, bring a sweater or shawl and a travel pillow in the cabin, as many airlines no longer provide pillows and blankets. If traveling with children, it’s a good idea to bring a portable DVD player or a tablet with films or shows already downloaded.
Be aware of security processes for your home airport and at your destination. Make sure to leave adequate time to check in and pass through security when departing for your trip and when returning. Also, be aware of dress codes and other regulations at the sites you wish to see.
Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea.” Tracey Coleman agrees. “It’s my absolute favorite city to visit. Tours of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are good for those who want to orientate themselves to the city. But an experienced traveler will want something that is more customized to their own interests, such as a gastronomical tour of the city.”
When planning a vacation with children, Coleman advises, “Look for resorts with child-friendly activities.” She recommends horseback riding, farm visits, water sports and “glamping,” or glamorous camping. “Also, look for onsite child-care facilities, so you and your spouse can enjoy some couple time.”
Tormey cautions, “You really have to remind yourself that in the U.S. there are some inherent risks when you are traveling; but if you are in another country, that risk can double. For example, in a developing country, even the transportation and travel infrastructure is more risky with regard to safety and reliability. You may not want to take that risk when traveling with kids.”
Be Prepared to Be Amazed!
All of our experts agree, vacations are best when traveling with an open mind and an open heart.
“To me, vacationing or travel is really about the experience. It’s all about creating a memory that’s comforting to the soul.” — Joseph Tormey
Tormey says, “To me, vacationing or travel is really about the experience. It can fit any time frame, any budget. The destination doesn’t have to be far. It’s all about creating a memory that’s comforting to the soul.”
“Traveling is the secret to eternal youth,” says Coleman. “Each time you let yourself be open to a new experience, you discover a new person. You are reborn. It keeps you young at heart for the rest of your life.”
Ritz sums it all up in her philosophy: “Travel is one of the best things and experiences in my life. It is more meaningful than expensive cars or a big home, because every place you go is a new experience.”
About the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
It’s the place to be for hospitality and tourism students. FDU’s International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is highly ranked — number four in the country, according to TheBestSchools.org and one of the top 15 in the Princeton Review’s Gourman Report.
The school enjoys a long tradition — it’s the oldest program of its kind in the New York metropolitan area and one of the oldest in the United States. Its alumni hold leadership positions in the industry. And, most importantly, its future looks brighter than ever.
“Our talented faculty, our in-depth programs, our advantageous location and our wonderful facilities have drawn students from throughout the world,” says Director Joseph Tormey.
The school offers a bachelor of science degree in hotel and restaurant management, a master of science in hospitality management studies, a bachelor of arts for adult learners with a specialization in hospitality management, a combined five-year BS/MS program and a master of science in service innovation and leadership. In addition to internship and career-track positions, students enjoy a capstone seminar abroad, traveling to Switzerland and Italy.
On the Metropolitan Campus, the school has a 2,000-square-foot demonstration lab with food production and dining areas. At the Florham Campus, it is based in the Chaîne House, which is also home to the national headquarters of Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s premier gourmet society.
The school has ties with prominent nearby establishments, five offsite locations (including Atlantic City, N.J.) and programs and partnerships with schools and universities in the Caribbean, Europe, South America and Asia.
Tormey’s vision for the school is to help shape professional development for students and alumni through more internships and career mentoring, to increase financial assistance to students and to further improve the school’s brand worldwide. “Our growing network of international alumni, business and educational partners offers students opportunities in many parts of the world,” he says.
Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2015 edition of FDU Magazine.