Interview With Cissy Greenfield, Protravel International:

What travel trends do you anticipate will hit big in 2013?
Cissy: Based upon statistics I'm reading and my own personal clients, I anticipate a banner year in travel. Demand for cruises continues to grow with European cruises -- both large ship and river cruises -- being one of the strongest markets. Other cruise markets like the Caribbean and Alaska are growing as well.

Another growing trend is "experiential travel." My clients want to return from their vacation having done something unique -- whether it be a cooking class, biking in the European countryside, or zip-lining down a mountain to name just of few memorable experiences. The appeal for travelers is that they have truly extraordinary memories that last a lifetime [and the ability to share] those experiences with their friends and family.
What travel destinations are gaining some serious steam?
Cissy: With more and more Americans obtaining passports (in part because of new government regulations), there is a definite trend to venturing farther from home and experiencing some wonderful destinations abroad. Within Europe, Italy continues to be incredibly popular with American travelers, as are many areas within France. When talking about a destination that is really growing in interest, Turkey is a frontrunner. There is nothing more thrilling than being in a place like Ephesus, which was an ancient Greek city and later became a major Roman city, located on the west coast of Asia Minor.

Also, for those who have already traveled to some of the most popular European cities previously, like Paris or Rome, they are now searching for "hidden gems" within Europe -- such as Croatia, the Czech Republic and other parts of Eastern Europe. Other markets with emerging interest include Portugal, Iceland, and Russia.
What advantages do personal travel agents have over online travel sites?
Cissy: Agents like myself have a personal commitment to our valued clients to ensure we create and design the trip that our clients envision. We make dreams come true. We know our clients likes and dislikes, and while our client may have seen something on the Internet, they trust our judgment and advice on whether it's right for them. The Internet has too much information, so we serve as a filter for our clients. Within the Protravel organization of which I am a part of, we have over 900 agents, so if I don't have an expertise in one part of the world, I can solicit the expertise of one of my colleagues. We choose to work with only the top reputable suppliers around the world. If you buy on the Internet, do you really know who you are giving your money to or what you will get in return?
How are you able to get people great upgrades that others might not have access to?
Cissy: I chose to join forces with Protravel International -- whose volume is over $900 million in sales, making it one of the top producing agencies in North America. Thus, when I request an upgrade for my valued Protravel clients, I have the clout needed to make it happen. Industry strength gets the attention of the airlines, cruise lines, hotels, tour operators, I can assure you!

Also, based on special industry relationships and partnerships, I have access to exclusive upgrades that the average traveler and many travel agents can't obtain.
What lessons have the airlines finally learned?
Cissy: That is a great question and something you will have to ask the airline execs. We have learned that by increasing our buying power, the airlines are more willing to do favors for us that will benefit our customers.
What do they still need to learn?
Cissy: We all need to focus on the client. Customer service is key to all our success.
Have people started spending money again for lavish vacations?
Cissy: Based upon all the research I am reading for 2013 and my own bookings for this year, clients are spending this year to create memories with their friends and family that will last a lifetime. While there was much talk about the "fiscal cliff" heading into the year, the fact remains that consumer confidence continues to rise and there is pent-up demand for travel. It doesn't matter how much money our clients have or spend, they all want the maximum "value" for each dollar they spend. It is my commitment to make sure that is exactly what they receive!
What's the #1 travel complaint you hear from your clients these days?
Cissy: Our clients would rather pay a little more up front than be faced with "ancillary fees." Also, flight delays these days can be troublesome for our clients. However, the advantage travelers have when working with a trusted travel advisor is that they have an advocate working on their behalf.

Particularly with flight delays or cancellations, we monitor situations that may impact clients' travel plans and are in a position to work on alternative travel plans and have those in place the moment the need arises. Limited airline seats availability will continue in 2013. Travelers who book on their own either have to "roll the dice" by calling an 800-number or stand in a lengthy customer service line to try get rebooked. Using a travel agent can essentially move you to the "front of the line." My clients have the benefit of me as a resource to quickly rebook them and reserve the next available seat.
Volunteer vacations -- is that idea working?
Cissy: The idea of giving back is appealing to some travelers. We find, in places like Africa for example, many of the tour operators offer the opportunity to visit an impoverished village or a school where our clients can "give back" to help those less fortunate. It proves especially meaningful for families traveling with their children, who come away from this experience appreciating their lives and circumstances even more.
Why do you think family and multi-generational vacations are trending?
Cissy: It seems after Sept 11th, more families felt the importance of spending "quality" time together with their families and where better than on a family multigenerational trip. Also, as seniors are living longer and healthier lives, they want to enjoy their vacation with their children and grandchildren.
Resort fees. Baggage fees. Any end in sight for the mandatory travel fees?
Cissy: Again this is the value of a great travel agent -- we use our clout and resources to help save our clients' money. Often based upon our strong relationship with a hotel company, we may be able to get them to waive their resort fee for our clients or upgrade our clients airline frequent flyer status to keep them from having to pay extra baggage fees.
What are your favorite new hotels in the United States?
Cissy: My favorite new hotels in the United States include: Crosby Street in NYC (pictured below), which is a part of the Firmdale Hotel Group, Waldorf Astoria in Chicago, Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, the Montage in Beverly Hills and the newly remodeled Hotel Bel-Air to name just a few.
What can the luxury traveler most look forward to in 2013?
Cissy: This year, luxury travelers can look forward to exciting new planes like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-800. Unique, privately-owned lodges continue to open -- whether it be in the Atacama Desert in Chile or along the coast in Belize! Also, many luxury travelers are interested in new and exotic new destinations like Mongolia, Bhutan, and more opportunities to visit unique places like Cuba. Crosby Street Hotel in NYC
Cissy Greenfield works out of the Beverly Hills office at Protravel International, which is part of a consortium of elite agencies that together make up one of the largest travel agencies in the world. She has been a travel agent for 35 years.