WIT Agent in Thailand: Part 2

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Last Month, WIT Agent Lindsay embarked on a FAM trip to Thailand, exploring Phuket and Bangkok and inspecting tours, tour guides and accommodations on the way. 

The next morning we caught our shuttle boat to drop us off near the Grand Palace, a very fitting name for such a sight! Across the street is the temple of the Reclining Buddha where there are many many Buddha statues from all over Thailand that show the diversity in how he is represented. There were amazing smells of delicious food that I wish we had time to try! This was a short day as we had the evening to meet with Thai vendors and learn about their products. At the reception they hosted an early Loi Krathong festival, which happens in November every year to pay respects to the goddess of water by either creating floating flower baskets for the river or in regions not near water, they create floating lanterns.

Our driver, Mr. Joe, picked us up drive us to go explore some street food in the Thonburi area. Our walking tour explored the neighborhood where Catholics, Chinese, and Muslims live together harmoniously, unique to Thailand. Our guides Yin and Net led the way sharing pork satay, snake fruit, and a popular dessert of miniature fruit lookalikes made of muk bean (Thai marsapan) and coated in gelatin.

We walked to see one of the last few salt warehouses on the river and Princess Mother Memorial, the house of the late King Rama 9th. We continued on to see a couple different Chinese temples, including Kuan Yin Shrine on the river. As seen in the picture, Chinese temples had vibrant colors and ornate decorations (you will see a few scattered throughout Thailand).

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Next was Santa Cruz church which was built by the Portuguese on land that was gifted to them for their help in fighting Burma in 1767. The church was originally wood and burned down in 1833 but was rebuilt and renovated in 1916. We stopped at a small museum in a house that showed history of Thai food and their influence by missionaries, then had a refreshing drink downstairs before continuing to Wat Kanlayanmitr, to see a giant golden Buddha, where we concluded our tour.

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Mr Joe drove us to Aykra Bangkok where we were greeted with delicious ginger sweet Thai tea and inspected their gorgeous two bedroom suite with washer, dryer and kitchenette, available for $300 night! Their gym did not disappoint, better than my apartment gym! The infinity pool and Jacuzzi overlooking the city looked very relaxing. After freshening up we headed out for a food tour, starting  at the 24 hour flower market and continued to a Michelin recommended restaurant for dinner called Elvis Suki. We had scallops that were so tender and perfectly seasoned, served in shell with pieces of pork.

After dessert we hopped in Tuk Tuks to drive to China Town, for sightseeing. We zipped through the streets and pulled up to an area reminding you of Times Square except every inch of the street was lined with food carts, it was packed on a Saturday night! We navigated through the streets filled with every smell imaginable, to meet up with our Tuk Tuks and ride to Tep Bar, famous for creating Thai inspired cocktails. It was reminiscent of a speak easy jazz bar and inside live performance on Saturday night. To conclude the evening, I tried a refreshing herbal liquor cocktail with passion fruit, lime, simple syrup and ginger, it was delicious!  

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Early morning we caught a plane on Thai airways headed for Phuket. There are quite a few food options in the airport, even in the morning all were open. The plane was very spacious and I was impressed with the business class seats as we walked by to our economy seats. It was plenty of space for myself in economy and the male colleagues as well, plus they offer free checked baggage of 30kg. They have USB ports available to each seat and they offer you blankets before takeoff because it is freezing on the plane! All Thai flights offer a snack, and they served chicken satay calzones very quickly since it is only an hour flight. I was surprised how big the plane was and how many people were headed to Phuket, they get 1100 incoming flights a week! 

Phuket has buildings with Sino-Portuguese influence making it very unique to Thailand. We stopped in old Town Phuket for lunch at Tu Lab Khao which is in a beautiful old building and a large colorful lobster on the side of the building. Another delicious multi-course meal served family style but there are also options for individual servings; there is a large selection with great variety, I highly recommend trying! Phuket night market was setting up when we arrived. It is definitely a highlight our tour guides and I wish we could’ve stayed for, this part of town was very relaxed and made you feel by the sea. After walking through the streets lined with boutique coffee shops, it reminded me of pictures I have seen of Havanna. On our two hour drive to Phang Nga, we stopped at a lookout point where monkeys roamed freely and were free entertainment, and then Pornthip, a grocery store with all sorts of souvenirs. There was a cute koi fish fountain out front and ice cream stand.

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Finally in the southern region of Thailand I was excited to be near the beach! We spent the day exploring limestone islands by boat with our first stop at James Bond Island, in Phang Nga Bay, famous for starring in “The Man with the Golden Gun”. Beautiful views and a unique rock structure to make it appear you are holding the rock on your back. We zipped over to a floating dock where we boarded kayaks to explore caves and grottos. Our guides were so kind and comical! Lastly we stopped to visit Como Point Yamu Beach Club for a light and fresh lunch including ceviche, guacamole, refreshing beverages and of course grilled sea food. It was my favorite meal in Thailand as it was a change up from much of the hot or fried food offered. This spot is complimentary to all hotel guests and has a free shuttle to transport guests a couple times a day. There were lounge chairs galore, a beautiful pool and plenty of water activities- we watched a group of guests get whipped around on a blow-up raft being pulled by a Sea-Doo. The water was perfect temperature and the sand beautiful and soft, I could’ve stayed for a week!  

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My favorite part of the trip was visiting the Yaowawit in Phang Nga, a pre-vocational school that also provides housing for students. It was started in 2006 after the tsunami in 2004 wiped out a good portion of the region. Many children were left orphaned so it was opened to teach them skills enabling them to provide for themselves in the future. The school is a full functioning hostel as well that is very well priced! Children do board on a different part of the campus and the funds raised through the products they sell and the hostel help provide food, housing and resources for the children that stay at the school.

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After breakfast on the beach at Akyra Beach club we caught our 1 hour flight back to Bangkok for a full afternoon of exploring. We checked into Sukothai, a serence and peaceful hotel in the middle of the city. The property had an amazing central garden that the rooms looked into as well as Michelin rated restaurants and a fabulous pool and spa. It was the perfect place to end our busy trip as the ambiance was very relaxing and I loved that the decorative details of the hotel incorporated history and culture of Thailand. After exploring our incredible suites we hopped over to MBK, a massive shopping center that was basically several malls all connected. We quickly made our way to the food court, which is it’s own floor and had tons of cheap and delicious options! Definitely a great place to grab souvenirs at the end of our trip as well as get great Thai food for cheap. A few others opted to explore the night market on the river, it doesn’t open until 5 and has endless street food options as well as a Ferris wheel. I wish I had had the energy to go leaves me with something look forward to for my next visit to Thailand.

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WIT Agent in Thailand: Part 1, Bangkok & Ayutthaya

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WIT Travel Agent Lindsay went on a FAM trip to Thailand last month, in order to inspect various accommodations, tour guides, and tours. WIT only works with tour providers who offer the highest quality of service. Here is Lindsay’s report, Part 1. 

Call us to arrange your own unique tour to Thailand! 503-224-0180 or email inquiry@wittravel.com. 

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Photos from Lindsay’s Trip to Thailand

First Day

Our driver picked us up in mercifully air-conditioned vans, complete with leather seats and even a Nespresso machine. Our first stop was a restaurant by the river, where we dangled our feet over the water. We filled our bellies with a gigantic bowl of noodles, and a dozen small dishes served family-style. Still recovering from jet lag, my stomach wasn’t quite ready for Thai food–but the chicken satay and soup proved delicious and flavorful.

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Our hotel, Sala Ayutthaya, was just a few doors down from the restaurant. The staff greeted us with elegant flower pieces and butterfly pea tea, a sweet, vibrantly purple drink. Rooms here were open concept, with glass walls that divided the bathroom from the bedroom, and a bathtub enclosed with the shower.

That first day, we tried our hands on a local treat that was like a pancake wrapped around Thai version of cotton candy. I was quickly learning how much Thailand loves their sweets! We also learned to make fish mobiles from bamboo, before sitting down for the evening welcome meal, complete with delicate dancers.

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Rice Farm Tour

The next day, we started with a tour of a local organic rice farm, quite unique in that it was both organic and grew rose-colored grains. We learned about the history of rice farming, as well as the actual practice of growing rice. After the farm, we enjoyed a light meal of traditional Thai dishes–including succulent, freshly grilled river prawns–and after that, it was time to explore the ruins of Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand for 400 years.

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Bangkok

Next, it was off to Bangkok for a couple different river cruises. Our first stop was at Baan Dvara Prateeip, to a meditation retreat in Koh Kret, where we learned about meditation and traditional Thai flower arrangement techniques. Lunch was delicious and interactive, we learned to cook noodles and had a wide variety of Thai dishes and sweets. The second half of the river cruise included a Thai massage, before we finally arrived at Avani Riverside hotel, with its endless river views from each room. The rooftop bar had spectacular view of the night market across the street, a Ferris wheel and food carts. Our dinner was an international buffet at the Anatara resort: delicious grilled seafood, sushi, Mac and cheese for home’s sake and of course Thai dishes as well. They truly make you feel welcome here, with nightly dance performances (they even invite guests up to join them).

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Tune in Next Time, Lindsay’s Trip to Thailand, Part 2!

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WIT Agent in Thailand

WIT Agent Lindsay recently went on an investigative trip through Thailand. And she brought back her photos that we’d like to share with you post-holiday.

Tune in next time when we’ll hear her full report!

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Street food market in Yodse area

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24hour flower market

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Reclining Buddha at Wat Po (short name for full name, also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddha), next to Grand Palace

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Sitting Buddha from Wat Kanlayanamitr

Just wanted to let you know I made it safely and the welcome dinner was so beautiful. Dancers, music, activities, beautiful dishes and such lovely people. The farmer’s house was so special and they were very welcoming. It has been a great first day. Ayutthaya is very relaxed and peaceful right on the river. Looking forward to seeing the contrast of Bangkok!

More about Thailand on our Blog: 

Shopping in Thailand

Mekong Cruise

Ayutthaya

Mekhala Cruise on the Chao Praya

Thailand with Vexplore

Reading List: Thailand

Chinese New Year

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Thanksgiving with Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, Africa

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Happy Thanksgiving Week, friends and clients! Here at Willamette Intl Travel, we are so thankful for an amazing year of adventures and arranging dream trips for clients all around the world!

In this week of thanksgiving, we’d like to give a few sweet updates from our friends at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, Africa. 

What is the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust?

This conservation project is dedicated to the protection and preservation of Africa’s Wilderness, particularly endangered species like elephants and the Black Rhino.

Willamette Intl Travel regularly organizes meaningful trips to Africa for clients, and 1-2 a year, the owners escort an exclusive group throughout Kenya, Namibia, South Africa or other African countries. It’s those meaningful connections with people and wildlife that make wild Africa one of our favorite destinations. 

Latest News from the Wildlife Trust

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photo courtesy of Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

MEET MERRU

On September 1, a calf was discovered stuck down in a quarry. His finders were divided; some wanted to claim him for bushmeat, while others were sympathetic to his plight. The latter group prevailed and got word to the KWS, who rushed to keep the baby safe until we arrived.
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The road to recovery for Merru, as we named him, has been difficult. For his first week at the Nursery, he was unable to sleep, instead pacing in circles. We persevered and, thanks to round-the-clock care and the moral support of the other orphans, Merru at last seems to be putting his traumatic past behind him.
LUALENI BECOMES A MOTHER
It’s a girl! We’re delighted to announce the birth of Lulu, Lualeni’s first baby — and our 30th “grandcalf” born to wild-living orphan. The new mum arrived at our Ithumba stockades last week with her little one in tow, clearly brimming with pride and excited to introduce us to her.
We’ve known Lualeni since she was just four months old, when she was abandoned. Although she wasn’t able to grow up in the wild alongside her mother, we’re thrilled that now — 14 years later— things have come full circle and she has the opportunity to raise her own family in the wild.
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SAVING A SNARED CALF’S LIFE
Our five Mobile Veterinary Units save hundreds of wild lives each year. This calf, treated by the Mara team, is one such patient. He had become entangled in a snare, leaving it caught between his jaws, wrapping around his head and slicing into his ears. Not only did this cause excruciating pain, but it also restricted his ability to feed.
The Unit’s KWS veterinarian cut away the braided wire, treated the wounds, and sent the pint-sized patient back to his herd with a positive prognosis. He had been living with the snare for at least a week, so we can only imagine his relief at being freed at last.
Keep up to date with the goings-on with the Wildlife Trust at their website.

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Survive Thanksgiving Travel with your Sanity Intact: Tips from WIT Agents

Important! WIT Holiday Office Hours: November 22-25 closed for Thanksgiving weekend. 

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Want a stress-free holiday this Thanksgiving? Of course you do! Here are some of our best tips and tricks to surviving the holidays with your sanity intact.

Before Your Flight 

  • If you’re traveling domestically, be sure to check in online within 24 hours of departure. Most airlines allow check in 24 hours prior to a flight, and depending on your status, you may even get 48 hours. Go online on the airline’s website, check in, pay any domestic baggage fees if necessary, and, if you can, print your boarding pass. This can greatly reduce wait times at the airport and settle any possible seat issues early.
  • Travel with as little carry-on luggage as possible. This frees up your arms and allows you to stay mobile and stress-free.
  • Arrive 2-3 hours prior to your flight. This ensures ample time to check in your luggage, collect your boarding pass and pass through security.
  • If you’re bringing any gifts, be sure to leave your presents unwrapped while they are in your luggage, on the chance that the TSA may want to inspect your bag.
  • Fully charge your cell phone before leaving home. Keep your charger in your carry-on bag. Don’t keep your cell phone with your credit card, in case you misplace one. Many phone cases include sleeves where you can keep your cash and cards, but we advise you not to use these, as cell phones have a chance of being stolen.
  • If your flight is cancelled and you are directed to a re-accommodation line, get in that line ASAP. If your agent at Willamette Intl Travel issued your ticket, call us ASAP and we will help you handle it.
  • Unfortunately, luggage has a risk of getting lost these days. If you’re traveling with someone, divide everyone’s items over the bags, so if 1 bag goes missing, everyone still has a change of clothes. Also be sure to keep a change of clothes in your carry-on bag, together with toiletries and medications, each packed in their own respective see-through plastic bag.
  • Dress in layers as temperature can vary in airports or aircraft cabins. 

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During Your Trip

  • Be aware of your surroundings and people around you, especially in crowded and busy locations.
  • Keep your purse or day pack on you; a cross body bag is excellent since you can pull it in front of you and anchor with your arm and hand.
  • Think before setting your bag somewhere in public. Is 100% of the bag visible? Keep it in your sight. A bag under your chair can be taken behind your back.
  • Traveling with others? Always have a meeting place defined before you split up in airports, cities, stores. 
  • Be aware of hotel scams. Do not give your credit card information over the hotel’s phone line—always go down to the front desk. Scammers often call people in hotel rooms posing as hotel staff to collect your sensitive info. Read our post for more possible travel scams.
  • If you misplace your room key at a hotel, don’t ask for another key. If they make a copy, the old key is still floating around and cab be used to enter your room. Ask the hotel instead to reset the lock and issue you a new set of keys. 

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For those traveling with Alaska Air and bringing wines, we have a few tip for you: 

Wines Fly Free from 29 cities on Alaska Air

The Wines Fly Free program from Alaska Airlines is available on nonstop domestic flights to 29 cities in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

While it’s limited to members of the Alaska Airline frequent flier program (Mileage Plan), it’s free to become a member and includes the potential for other perks.

Wines Fly Free has been so well-received that the coverage has continually expanded, including new 18 cities earlier this year.

The complimentary wine “bag” check can be claimed by adding a valid frequent flier number to the flight reservation and Alaska Airlines will issue a $25 fee waiver to check a case of 12 bottles of properly-packed wine. Appropriate shipping containers are available at participating wineries or mailing services.

When checking in, guests should notify Alaska Airlines customer service that wine is being checked and it will be marked fragile.

Wines Fly Free airports include:

  • Eugene, Medford, Portland, and Redmond in Oregon;
  • Burbank, Fresno, Los Angeles, Monterey, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Rosa in California;
  • Boise, Idaho;
  • Bellingham, Pasco, Pullman, Seattle, Spokane, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima in Washington.

Read more at Alaska Airlines: https://blog.alaskaair.com/travel-tips/how-to-check-a-case-of-wine-for-free/

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EXTRAS

PLUS… Top Travel Destinations for 2019, for designers lovers from Architectural Digest. 

Check out our Thanksgiving Reading List

Have an Emergency or urgent need concerning your travel plans? Call 503-224-0180 and our after hours service can connect you to one of our agents if needed.

 

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Travel News: African Tourism Board Created

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More American tourists heading to Switzerland
Switzerland Tourism reported the number of nights Americans spent in Swiss hotels in the summer season 2018, from May through September, was up 11.3 percent compared to the same period in 2017, based on data from the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics. The Bernese Oberland saw the biggest growth from the U.S.. Since 2010, Switzerland has reported an increase in overnights from the U.S. every year, for a total of almost 50 percent. “A good summer was to be expected, based on reports we received from tour operators, travel agents and other industry partners,” says Alex Herrmann, director North America of Switzerland Tourism. “But the actual growth rate of over 10 percent beats our expectations.”If this trend continues, Switzerland will most likely celebrate its best year in at least 25 years in terms of U.S. travel to Switzerland.” 
African Tourism Board created
A new, multinational body to promote the travel and tourism sector in Africa was unveiled during World Travel Market in London. Created by the International Coalition of Tourism Partners, itself based in Seychelles, Brussels, Bali, and Hawaii, the Africa Tourism Board will seek to enhance and promote the sustainable growth, value, and quality of travel on the African continent.With a steering committee formed, the African Tourism Board goal is to convert this initiative into a stand-alone organization by April 2019. The vision is to have ATB be based in every member destination and in every source market. This will create a global network for Africa, and enables every base to interact with every other base. Organizers made every effort to assure African countries that the Board does not intend to take over national tourism initiatives or policies. To learn more, see African Tourism Board


Delta begins flying Airbus A220 — with a window in some restrooms!
Delta airline’s new Airbus A220 aircraft is gearing up with some exciting new features. The airbus will start by flying LaGuardia to Boston and to Dallas Ft. Worth, then Detroit, Houston and JFK, among others. 
– three restrooms on each plane, one at the front and two at the rear, and there will be a window in one of the two rear bathrooms
– Gogo-powered 2Ku Wi-Fi
– each passenger will have personal power ports
– Economy class passengers will have 18.6-inch-wide main cabin seats, the widest among any narrowbody aircraft.
– overhead bins are a bit roomier, the windows are a bit larger, and there is ambient LED lighting throughout the plane as well. 
– Of the 109 seats on board, 12 will be in the First Class cabin and 15 will be designated Delta Comfort Plus seats. 
– First Class seats will benefit from extra-large seatback screens
– Delta Comfort Plus seats will have additional legroom compared to the main cabin. 
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European Capital of Smart Tourism Awards
The winners of the first edition of the European Capital of Smart Tourism competition were awarded on 07 November at a ceremony in Brussels. The occasion was European Tourism Day, the largest annual meeting on European tourism. Representatives of Helsinki and Lyon received trophies on behalf of their cities. The objective at EU level is to foster the sustainable development of tourism by showcasing innovative solutions from EU cities in tourism. In addition, four cities received 2019 European Smart Tourism Awards for their outstanding achievements in the four categories of the competition: Málaga (Accessibility), Ljubljana (Sustainability), Copenhagen (Digitalization) and Linz (Cultural Heritage & Creativity). In order to become a European Capital of Smart Tourism, a city needed to demonstrate exemplary achievements as a tourism destination in implementing innovative and intelligent solutions in all four award categories: accessibility, sustainability, digitalization, cultural heritage and creativity. Cities of more than 100.000 inhabitants were eligible in the first edition of this competition. 38 cities from 19 EU Member States applied, but Helsinki and Lyon stood out for their innovative tourism measures.
New FAA legislation could mean lower seat pitch, and more
At first glance, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Reauthorization Bill that was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week, looked like it was a win for travelers tired of being sandwiched into ever-shrinking airplane seats. But, according to consumer advocate groups and airline industry analysts, not only could the bill ultimately do little to change the status quo when it comes to the size of airplane seats, it could even result in seats getting more cramped. The bill’s primary purpose was to maintain the FAA’s funding, while at the same time establishing some new guidelines for airline regulations. One of the bill’s provisions requires the FAA to issue regulations that would establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats on aircraft, something it does not do currently. The concern is that the FAA could set a requirement for minimum seat pitches as low as 27 or 28 inches. 
App for checking LGBTQ safety in regions worldwide
The first-ever neighborhood-level LGBTQ Safety ratings category on a smartphone app was launched yesterday. LGBTQ travelers will for the first time have unlimited access to real-time safety ratings on more than 30,000 neighborhoods worldwide. The “Top 5 Safest Global Urban Neighborhoods for LGBTQ Travelers” app by GeoSure provides safety ratings ranging from 1-100 – the lower the score, the safer the neighborhood. Utilizing machine learning, AI, sentiment analysis, and predictive analytics, ratings are based on analysis of thousands of sources daily to provide and continuously update its suite of comprehensive travel safety solutions. The Top Five Safest Global Urban Neighborhoods for LGBTQ Travelers are named as The Castro District in SFO, Berlin’s Schoneberg area, Amsterdam’s Centrum neighborhood, Barcelona’s Eixample vicinity, and Tel Aviv’s City Center/Florentin region. GeoSure is available on the App Store and Google Play. The company defines its LGBTQ Safety category as rating “Likelihood of harm or discrimination against LGBTQ persons or groups and level of caution required at location.”
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Most travelers do not purchase travel insurance
More than half (54 percent) of consumers have never purchased travel insurance and two thirds (65 percent) of those who have never purchased it have never even considered it, according to a survey by TravelInsurance.com. This despite the fact that 76 percent of survey respondents have experienced a flight delay in the past, and nearly half 48 percent have had their luggage lost or stolen. Another 35 percent have experienced either getting sick or traveling with someone who has gotten sick during a trip. The survey also showed that 47 percent of respondents don’t know whether or not their health insurance provides coverage while traveling, especially when traveling abroad. Willamette Intl Travel agents always recommend travel insurance. We are happy to provide package options to you provided you have booked your travel arrangements with our agency. 
 
Singapore Airlines Is The World’s Best Airline For 2019
AirlineRatings.com chose the list. The flag carrier of Singapore ousted five-year champion Air New Zealand, which has held the coveted title since 2014 and which still claimed second place this year. In comparison, not a single European or North American carrier made it into the Top 10 roster. The Perth-based website stated that “Singapore Airlines came out number one in many of our audit criteria” during the AirlineRankings.com. Annual Excellence Awards Tuesday. The audit, annually conducted by the publication’s seven editors, involves a detailed process that evaluates 12 major factors including fleet age, passenger reviews, profitability, investment rating, product offerings and staff relations. This year, Singapore Airlines edged out runners-up Air New Zealand, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways for its “industry-leading in-flight service” as well as its new fleet additions, such as the world’s first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350-900 ULR. Singapore Air also earned praise for its updated interiors, for its commitment to operation safety, and for its relaunch of the longest commercial flight in the world: non-stop service between Singapore and New York.
 
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Two US airports allow non-travelers to go past security
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is introducing a new SEA Visitor Pass that will allow non-travelers past security for the first time since 2001. According to the Seattle Times, Sea-Tac is starting a trial of the program that will allow up to 50 non-travelers a pass to go through security in order to eat at one of the restaurants, shop in the terminal, or say goodbye to friends and family at their gates. The trial period will end Dec. 14. If all goes well, Sea-Tac will make the program permanent. Pittsburgh International Airport last year became the first major U.S. airport since 9/11 to allow non-travelers through its security gates with its myPitpass program. At each, non-travelers have to go through security checkpoints and meet all TSA requirements before heading through. Sea-Tac does not expect the new program to increase wait times at security – only 50 passes will be available and visiting hours will be restricted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. All non-travelers wanting to participate in the program have to sign up online before 1:30 p.m. the day before they want to use the pass. Approved participants will get an email from the TSA, which will direct them to pick up their passes at Sea-Tac with a photo ID.

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Travel News: Luxury tourism in Ethiopia

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Luxury tourism in Ethiopia

Luxury is a word that one would rarely use to describe the current state of accommodations in Ethiopia. It is also one of the poorest nations in the world and for many Western tourists its image is tied to the devastating 1980s famine. There are many challenges to growing tourism in the country, but new projects are underway. I personally have friends who speak glowingly about the beauty of the country and its sights/sites, as well as the amazing history. To read about the effort to bring Westernized travel to the country, here’s an interesting article: A start on luxury tourism for Ethiopia 

Order food by app at Universal Orlando

For travelers visiting Universal Orlando, the theme park’s official app now allows guests to place and purchase food and drink orders from their mobile devices. The new Mobile Express Pick Up option of the Universal Orlando Resort App is now available at select dining locations in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, including Mel’s Drive-In, Richter’s Burger Co., The Burger Digs and more. Travelers create an account on the app, set up payments and tap the “order food and drinks” option under the main menu. The user then picks the restaurant they want to order from, confirms the order and proceed to check out. After placing the order, guests can take as long as they want on rides and attractions, as the eating establishments will not make the food until the user taps the “Prepare My Order” option in the app. Visitors can then check the order status page to see when their food is ready to pick up.

Qatar Air flies Thai cave rescue boys to Britain

In recognition of the team’s inspirational story of strength and survival, Qatar Airways proudly flew the Wild Boars football team, consisting of the 12 Thai children and their coach who were trapped inside a cave in Thailand for more than two weeks, from Thailand to London to take part in the ‘Pride of Britain’ 2018 awards ceremony. The group was accompanied by the two selfless British divers who were at the heart of their cave rescue. During their stopover at Hamad International Airport (HIA) in Doha, the football team were met by Qatar Airways and Qatar Duty Free (QDF) officials, who presented the boys with gift bags from QDF consisting of signed football jerseys and baseball caps. The group also had the chance to experience the five-star hospitality of Qatar Airways’ home and hub, HIA, the award-winning airline’s gateway to the world. A multiple award-winning airline, Qatar Airways was named ‘World’s Best Business Class’ by the 2018 World Airline Awards, managed by international air transport rating organization Skytrax. It was also named ‘Best Business Class Seat’, ‘Best Airline in the Middle East’ and ‘World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge.’

Captain Marvel added to Disney sailings for early 2019

Travelers hitting the opens seas with their family will find that female hero Captain Marvel will be added to the 2019 edition of Disney Cruise Line’s Marvel Day at Sea. The popular Marvel heroine will take part in the cruise festivities for the first time ever, with passengers being able to interact with the superhero during the action-packed, day-long celebration aboard select Disney Magic sailings. Captain Marvel can be found on the Disney sailings departing between January 6 and March 8 from Miami. She will accompany other Super Heroes and villains on the voyages, including Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Loki, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and more. In addition to the chance for passengers to interact with their favorite characters, the Marvel Day at Sea event features a deck show spectacular, themed youth activities, special merchandise and unique food and beverage offerings.

A word to the wise: Water Shoes

Water shoes may not be the most attractive footwear while walking along the beach, but three female travelers wish they had been wearing them while visiting Negril, Jamaica. Two weeks ago, three travelers from Toronto  were like many other travelers on a Jamaican vacation – they walked the beach barefoot. However, by walking along the beach without any shoes, they contracted painful parasites called hookworms. Hookworms await in the beach sand (or soil) to infect their victims by burrowing inside their feet and creating blisters and swollen, itchy skin. Generally, hookworms develop by feces left by dogs or cats in vacation areas. Other parasites can be contracted in various places while on vacation like in hotel pools. 

Glacier Express starts Excellence Class in March

Glacier Express has announced the new Excellence Class, a premium class of coaches between St. Moritz and Zermatt. With lounge seating, each traveler has a window seat, along with a bar area, multi-course lunch and more. The coach seats 20 persons, and is a surcharge of 420 CHF/418 USD regardless of the class of ticket a traveler is holding. The maiden voyage will be on March 2, 2019.

Serious anti-LGBT crackdown in Tanzania, especially region of Dar es Salaam

The regional governor in charge of Tanzania’s most populous city is ramping up an anti-gay crackdown. Governor Paul Makonda said last week that he’s forming a task force to identify, track down, and arrest gay people in Dar es Salaam, a region in the East African country with a major city by the same name that’s home to about 4 million people. He justified it by saying that homosexuality “tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians”. Makonda encouraged constituents to report on those they believe to be gay, and said officials had received more than 5700 calls or messages so far, naming about 100 individuals. The Tanzanian government has distanced itself from Makonda’s harsh policy in the wake of international pushback. Officials have said the crackdown is not official government policy and just Makonda’s opinion – although activists point out that Makonda was appointed by the Tanzanian president and is seen as a close ally of the current leader, John Magufuli. The European Union recalled its ambassador from Tanzania on Monday because of the “deterioration” of human rights and rule of law in the country. The US State Department issued a warning to US citizens traveling or living in the country and urged them to “remove or protect” social media images that “may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.” The anti-LGBT crackdown in Tanzania is part of a bigger, more alarming pattern. Tanzania has witnessed an increasingly aggressive targeting of gay people in the country in recent years under President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015, activists told RTE, an Irish outlet.

Favorite US Airports, according to AFAR readers

After AFAR Magazine reported on the JD Power 2018 North American Airport Satisfaction List, many readers didn’t agree with the findings – Las Vegas and Orlando had tied for first place. So, AFAR did its own survey. The top five in the surveyed categories came out to be: MEGA US Airports: Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit. LARGE: Portland (OR), Honolulu, Tampa, Orange County and Midway. MID-SIZE: RDU, Indianapolis, Charleston, San Jose and Cincinnati. SMALL: Palm Springs, Long Beach, Savannah/Hilton Head, Jackson Hole and Providence.

Facial recognition being tried at Narita Airport, and more

Passengers travelling through Narita International Airport in Japan will soon be able to clear customs using their face instead of physical identification documents, thanks to a facial recognition trial coming early next year. The facial recognition technology, courtesy of NEC, will be installed at the customs inspection area at the airport. Demonstration trials of the electronic customs procedure gate are scheduled to begin at Terminal 3 from April 2019. The “electronic procedure gate” will be installed at the customs inspection area that passengers move through after being admitted through immigration, NEC explained. Travelers’ identities will be confirmed at a kiosk terminal and at an exit gate equipped with the facial recognition tech. A smartphone app will also be available, expected to speed up electronic baggage declaration by enabling travelers to register baggage contents and passport information. Japan isn’t the only country introducing biometric capabilities at airports, with Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport last month unveiling self-service kiosks for flight and baggage check-in, security clearance, and boarding powered by facial recognition technology. The rollout forms part of an ambitious country-wide rollout of facial recognition systems, with similar efforts already under way at airports in Beijing and Nanyang city. Similarly, some passengers traveling internationally from Australia via Qantas have been testing biometric technology at Sydney Airport since July, with the first stage using facial recognition for them to complete automated flight check-in and bag drop, gain access to the lounge, and board the plane itself.

AA: Request early boarding to wipe down seating area if you have nut allergies

American Airlines will allow people who suffer from peanut and tree-nut allergies to board flights early so they can wipe down areas where they will sit to avoid potential exposure to allergens. The change will take effect Dec. 12 when flight-service manuals are updated, American said in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Transportation Department. Complaints over the issue were filed against the carrier last year by Food Allergy Research & Education and a woman whose son has a life-threatening peanut allergy. “Customers with nut allergies who would like to board flights early to wipe down surfaces may ask to do so at the gate,” American said. While the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier doesn’t serve peanuts, it said it can’t guarantee customers won’t be exposed to nuts during flights. Delta Air Lines Inc. allows early boarding to travelers with nut allergies. The websites of United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. don’t mention an early-boarding option for people with food allergies.

Measles outbreak in Thailand…and Japan and Brazil

Clients going to Thailand soon should be advised to check that they have been properly vaccinated against measles! That’s because it has been reported that Thailand is trying to contain a measles outbreak in the country, particularly around its southern provinces. According to ABC News, there have been more than 1,500 cases reported since September 2018 and counting. There have also been 14 deaths so far. The main areas affected by the highly infectious disease include Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat as more and more people are rejecting the vaccines. Health officials said that the disease that’s made a dreaded comeback is mainly caused by misconceptions among the Muslim population in regards to the vaccines. In the Muslim-majority provinces, the community is rejecting the vaccines because manufacturers may use gelatin from pigs as a stabilizing agent. This has caused them to refuse to take the shots even though health officials have explained that Thailand has measles vaccine products that do not have porcine gelatin. The increase is worrying because Thailand’s Health Ministry said that measles has been on the rise with 3,000 cases last year. Other countries around the world including Japan and Brazil reported similar outbreaks, which should not have been an issue seeing as there are plenty of measles vaccines available.

Cruise accessibility and orientation for blind passengers becomes available

An innovative solution for accessibility and orientation of blind and visually impaired persons, developed by RightHear, will make cruises more accessible to blind and visually impaired passengers. The solution is based on lessons learned in successful implementation of RightHear’s technology in hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. The system will allow blind and visually impaired passengers to orient themselves independently across cruise ships. “The RightHear system provides accurate voice guidance to the blind and visually impaired, including a detailed description of the immediate environment in which they are located, voice guidance about where they are headed, and a description of obstacles to be avoided,” according to Idan Meir, RightHear’s CEO. The blind and visually impaired persons (as well as orientation challenged individuals) receive the real-time audio descriptions through their own smartphone. The voice notifications are based on information received from Bluetooth sensors located in the area. The sensors are installed by the on-site staff, who attach them to the wall with a sticker. In addition, the system includes an administrator dashboard, allowing the staff to program and control the system optimally, according to the needs of blind and visually impaired visitors. Founded in 2015, a RightHear solution has been installed in over 600 venues, mainly in Israel, including malls, corporations, universities, hospitals, municipalities, museums, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.

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