Homeland Security Issues New ID Requirements for New Yorkers—and Thousands of Others—Heading to the Airport

PassportsAug3This article originally appeared in Travel Market Report.

Travelers from New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, or American Samoa, head’s up. Travelers from those locations soon will be out of luck if they try to travel using a driver’s license as ID.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, driver’s licenses from the four states and Samoa do not comply with the minimum standards of the federal Real ID system.

The system was created by an act of Congress following recommendations from the 9/11 Commission that the Federal Government should “set standards of the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” DHS will begin enforcing its final phase, allowing only travelers from compliant states to use their driver’s licenses as ID for domestic air travel, in 2016. New York and Minnesota had obtained a federal extension for implementing the Real ID system, but it will expire on Jan. 19.

The Act requires that all state IDs issued after Dec. 1, 1964, comply with the REAL ID system, under which the issuing state’s DMV records must include social security numbers, photographs, and home addresses of drivers.

While New York does offer enhanced licenses, which the state believes makes it compliant with the law, it does not require that its residents get one. According to a story in today’s Newsday in New York, 11.5 million driver licenses are active in the state, and only 800,000—just 6.9%—are enhanced.

New Hampshire has a separate problem with the Act, as state law there does not require the DMV to store social security numbers. Meanwhile, New Hampshire law doesn’t require a photograph to be stored at the DMV or a home address be printed on the license, two things that the Real ID law requires.

In Louisiana, though the state’s House voted to adopt federal REAL ID regulations, Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation in June, 2014, citing issues with state versus federal rights as the reason. The same problem came up when Minnesota tried to pass laws requiring REAL IDs last April.

Beside the extra cost of obtaining an enhanced license, there are also privacy concerns over the Real ID requirements. Douglas Kidd, the executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, told Newsday that while his organization understands the need for extra security “whether the Real ID and the additional personal data associated with it actually provides any real security remains to be seen.”

Debates notwithstanding—and especially with the wait for passports already getting longer—travel agents can help their customers by reminding them that citizens from these four states who were born after Dec. 1, 1964, will no longer be able to board a domestic flight or cruise without a passport. And the sooner they get on line, the better.

Bohan, O’Shaughnessy, and Perelman: On Building Your Business

Gloria BohanArticle originally appeared in Travel Market Report
Pic: Gloria Boham speaking at ASTA’s Global Convention in Washington D.C. last week.

WASHINGTON – Three of the travel industry’s most driven and successful business owners offered up business advice at the ASTA Global Convention’s Entrepreneur Insight panel last week.

Omega World Travel CEO Gloria Bohan, TripScope founder and CEO Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, and Seth Perelman, founder of Automated Travel Systems (ATS) and BookingBuilder Technologies, shared their success stories. Among the topics discussed were their individual and unique paths to winning in the travel industry, what inspired them, and how they went about reaching their goals.

In the end, said ASTA CEO and president Zane Kerby, “We need more Gloria Bohans in this industry.”

Bohan on 43 years of success
Gloria Bohan’s road to ownership of one of the flagship travel agencies in the country started with a honeymoon on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II. A schoolteacher at the time, Bohan noticed that the agents onboard stayed in the best cabins, and she couldn’t believe how happy they seemed.

“My husband said, ‘If you can’t beat them, why not join them?’” she said.

Bohan opened the first Omega World Travel, an independent storefront agency, in 1972. She drummed up business by going door to door, looking for clients and gathering information.

But soon her entrepreneurial spirit took over. She started offering promotions like two-for-one airline coupons, opened the industry’s first 24-hour reservation center, and established the first agency consortium, Radius.

The list of accomplishments that Bohan and Omega have assembled are too many to count. Among them, Omega was the first private agency to manage government travel, the first to install airline reservation terminals on client premises, the first to install an automated low-fare quality-control system.

But more than anything, Bohan is proud of the entrepreneurial spirit that drove her to build her business. “If you have a company or if you have your own company that you are starting yourself, I think it’s very important to realize that you want to keep that entrepreneurial spirit going in others,” she said. “[It’s been a] fun time, a rapid time, and I’m always happy to help entrepreneurs.”

O’Shaughnessy: Up from humble beginnings
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy took a roundabout route into travel, but once she got her feet wet in the industry, she couldn’t get enough of it.

“I did started my journey as a travel agent,” she said. “I come from very humble beginnings.”

Her secret to success? Refusing to take no as an answer.

Despite being rejected three times for an interview, O’Shaughnessy finally got her foot in the door at the L.A.-based Travel Store, one of the more prestigious agencies in the country. Within a few months she saw an opportunity to create something that would help make her job—and the jobs of other agents—easier.

But when she founded TripScope, a technology platform that takes the human element of offline agents and puts it online, it was nowhere near an immediate success. It took her three months to become the first female to have her company brought into Amplify, an incubator that helps new startups—and shortly thereafter, she beat out other top travel CEOs and executives at Phocuswright’s Travel Innovation Summit.

“I remember thinking at the time, I may not have gone to M.I.T., I’m not an engineer, but I know my market and I know travel better than any of these guys,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Shaking up the status quo
Seth Perelman, who won the first-ever ASTA Entrepreneur of the year award at the conference, had that same desire to innovate. He dropped out of college to pursue his entrepreneur goal.

“I’ve always believed in shaking up the status quo; I’ve always believed we could be different; I’ve always believed in doing my own thing, doing it my own way, and making things possible,” he said.

In 1990, Perelman started Automotive Travel Systems with the idea of putting the customer first.
“It was always about much more than profit, breaking new ground taking care of customers, doing things we knew were impossible,” he said.

He eventually received backing from investor Carl Icahn, but his desire only grew. Then it took Perelman a year of calling Southwest three times a week to get them to partner with him. Along the way he also founded BookingBuilder Technologies, a point-of-sale quality assurance tool, and led the way for innovation in travel technology.

So don’t let the delays and the difficulties get you down, the panel said. Hang tough and follow your dream.

Air Execs Call Out the U.A.E. and Qatar

DSC_0503Originally published on Travel Market Report

Pic: Execs from the Big 3 sit with ASTA’s Zane Kerby during the ASTA Global Convention in D.C.

The Big Three airlines showed up at ASTA for the first time in 20 years earlier this month, with a dual purpose. While trying to renew friendships with the travel agency community at home, they also took the opportunity to fire some salvoes at their competitors from abroad.

If Gulf carriers won’t play by the rules of Open Skies, the U.S. government should freeze routes to the U.A.E. and Qatar, a panel of executives from American, Delta, and United Airlines said.

The question—debated for months now—is whether the Gulf States are paying subsidies to their airlines and, if so, whether those subsidies violate the Open Skies agreement.

“All we’ve asked is for the government to poll UAE and Qatar and talk about this issue…From there we’ll see how it turns out,” said Dave Hilfman, United Airlines senior vice president of worldwide sales. “It is a complex issue but it’s also pretty straightforward once you look at the facts.”

A little history
The U.S. began to pursue Open Skies agreements with countries around the world in 1979 and, by 1982, had signed 23 smaller nations to agreements that guaranteed commercial air transport security among the countries.

The agreements were designed to eliminate government interference in commercial airline routes, capacity, and pricing, according to the Department of State, enabling airlines to cross land borders and territorial waters without prior consent from the individual nations over which they fly. Today, the United States has agreements with more than 100 countries and more than 70% of international flights from the U.S. fly to countries under Open Skies.

Earlier this year, several major U.S. airlines petitioned the government to freeze Open Skies over the alleged subsidies by the governments of the U.A.E. and Qatar. In response, Qatar Airways alleged that the Big Three really were upset about losing market share.

“We are concerned to see the Big Three seek to change the rules of the game as soon as they see U.S. consumers respond well to the services offered by a competitor,” said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, at the time.

For United, the issue boils down to the U.A.E. and Qatar considering it their duty to help their national carriers thrive. According to Hilfman, the countries have given their airlines more than $42 billion in subsidies.

“We have seen where the government has provided them significant, unfair advantages and all we’re asking for is a level playing field,” he said, “I think we’ve made enormous progress, we have enormous respect for airlines around the world. However our issue is that we want to compete fairly.”

Delta, the airline that started the Open Skies protest, had the same issue—competition is fine, but only on an even playing field.

American, meanwhile, just joined the S&P 500 in March, and is finally on track to make a profit, said vice president of global sales Derek DeCross. It’s ready for fair competition from other airlines—but not from the governments behind them.

“You can’t compete with countries, you compete versus other companies,” he said. “And that is all we are asking for.”

TSA Ends Free Passes to Airport Pre-Check Lines

REALTSASep17Published on Travel Market Report

The TSA on Monday pulled the plug on its controversial but traveler-friendly Managed Inclusion Program, which allowed frequent travelers to use the PreCheck security lines at airports without paying the fee.

The Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck Managed Inclusion program is now officially phased out from all airports nationwide.

TSA had been allowing passengers deemed “low-risk” to use the expedited security lanes in order to speed up the security process. Passengers could save time—and money—if they were lucky enough to be cleared to use the PreCheck lanes without paying the $85 application fee.

Passengers in the TSA PreCheck line don’t need to remove shoes, belts, or light jackets and can keep laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their bags. The program is available in more than 150 airports nationwide and most major American carriers participate, including American, Delta, and United.

The TSA in June said it would be phasing out the program over security concerns. A March Homeland Security report revealed that a convicted felon and former member of a domestic terrorist group using the Managed Inclusion Program had cleared the PreCheck lanes, though he was identified and re-screened before boarding the plane.

In April, Reps. Bennie Thompson, John Katko, and Kathleen Rice introduced the bipartisan Securing Expedited Screening Act in Congress, aimed at eliminating “serious security vulnerabilities” at airport screenings. The TSA then announced that it would phase out the program.

A TSA representative from Orlando International Airport, speaking off the record, confirmed that the program ended nationwide this week, saying: “It’s accurate in that we are no longer conducting a security process called Managed Inclusion ll. It allowed some travelers to have their hands tested while in line, in addition to other layers of security. They were then referred to the TSA Pre Check line. This process has been eliminated nationwide.”

Travel consultant Susan Thomas of Travel and Transport Inc. also told TMR that TSA announced the cancellation of the program to travelers at Chicago O’Hare airport last week.

Travel agents might want to warn clients who are accustomed to using the PreCheck line that they will no longer be able to do so unless they officially enroll in the program, pay the $85 application fee, and complete an in-person interview at one of the 330 application centers around the country. Once a traveler is enrolled, PreCheck status is valid for five years.

The TSA didn’t return requests for comment.

Greek Default: What it Means for Travel

oia-416136_1280

Originally published on Travel Market Report.

At midnight on Tuesday, June 30, Greece’s existing European bailout expired, meaning the country defaulted on its 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—the first developed economy to do so.

The news means that things will inevitably get tougher for the people of Greece, a country where household spending and employment has dropped significantly over the last few years, businesses have closed and people are struggling.

Earlier today, Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras announced the country would accept an IMF bailout offer that was previously offered—with a few changes—but won’t hear back from European officials until later today, and the default makes it even more difficult to work out a new agreement with the IMF.

While everyday life in Greece has been greatly affected by the news, it has been business as usual for tour operators and travel agents selling the country.

Tourism in Greece is as healthy as it has ever been, they said, and while clients there now may have some minor worries, business from an agent and tour operator’s point of view remains unaffected.

No ATM restriction for travelers  
Despite banks closing and a limit of 60 euros ($66) imposed on ATMs across the country, international tourists traveling with credit cards and bank cards will still have access to cash, which has been the question most often asked of agents with clients traveling—or planning to travel—to Greece.

“There is no restriction for American bank account owners to withdraw money from the ATMs. The only limitation is what your U.S. bank account usually has,” said Veronica Liadis, president of Newton Square, Pa.-based Liadis Travel, specialists in travel to Greece.

Even European ATM or currency cards will not be affected by the limit, as the only ones affected will be people with accounts inside Greece, according to Liadis.

“Circumstances are the ground are normal, they’re [clients] enjoying themselves. The lives of ordinary Greeks are complicated now but it hasn’t affected tourists,” said Robert Drumm, president of tour Alexander+Roberts.

Still, both Liadis and Drumm said they tell clients who are in Greece that, to play it safe, it’s best to carry euros exchanged at home or in another European country.

No cancellations
While concern from clients who’ve booked trips to Greece is inevitable, neither Drumm nor Liadis has seen any cancellations.

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries, certainly from agents, about what’s going on. We’re not noticing an impact,” said Drumm.
“Greece has been in the news for a long time. If anything, it’s spurred on business.”

For Liadis, Greece bookings have not only been unaffected by financial concerns rather travel to the country has increased.
Liadis has had to turn business down because of lack of hotel availability in Athens. She said the major hotels across the country are booked out until September.

“The hotels are very accommodating, the people have been as pleasant as can be, there is no unrest from the locals,” Liadis said, “I think they understand how important tourism is to their economy.”

For Collette, tours in the country have not been affected although the tour operator is still  monitoring the situation should things change.

“We have no service interruptions and presently have tours on the road in Greece,” said Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette, “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and advise guests accordingly should anything change to affect their future travel plans.”

Greek appeal
While the recession in Greece has reached all corners of the country, the travel business might be one of the country’s healthier industries.

That’s because the spending in the travel business comes from foreigners, Drumm explained. He also stressed the country’s eternal appeal.

“The appeal of Athens and Greece for cultural reasons and the beauty of its islands; they’re not going anywhere and people will go,” he said, “There is such a kindred spirit between Americans and Greeks, too, that’s not going anywhere.”

Greece has, not only the appeal, but also the prices to continue as a major player in travel.

“Pricing is appealing, I think has something to do with the situation. Greece offers good prices and great experiences,” said Drumm.

“You can get at some spectacular restaurants in Santorini and Athens that are half the cost of the restaurants in Paris and Rome,” Liadis added.

Pub Week: the Croydon Spread Eagle soars

SpreadEagleOriginally published on EastLondonLines
As part of ELL Pub Week, we interviewed Robin Butler, the manager at the Spread Eagle in Croydon.

The Spread Eagle in Croydon looks like a traditional pub, with taps full of real ales and shelves of Irish whiskey, but according to pub manager Robin Butler, the pub it is “not just about serving drinks.”

“It’s about personalities, it’s about being more than your average pub.”

In Britain four pubs close a week, and across London 166 pubs have closed this year alone. To make sure the Spread Eagle doesn’t fall victim to this trend, Butler and his staff staff have made efforts to go above and beyond the calling of a typical pub.

“Pubs have to be very adaptable,” Butler said, “You have to move with the times, its about doing different things. You always have to try and do better.”

The Spread Eagle has tapped into the artistic side of Croydon, now playing host to live theatre productions in their upstairs function room.

Last month, the pub played host to several performances of ‘Tea at Five’, a play based on the final days of Katharine Hepburn’s life, the comedy horror ‘Dr. Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow’, and the one-woman show, ‘The Twelve Dates of Christmas’

Georgina Harris, a director at Tin Shed Theatre Co, the group that put on ‘Dr. Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow’, said that the turnout at Spread Eagle was “amazing” and the atmosphere of the pub provided a unique experience for both the audience and the performers.

“Its definitely more intimate, it doesn’t feel like there’s a barrier between you and the audience. You’re all in it for this experience you’re about to have, you share that experience with your audience,” she said.

“It does feel like a pub upstairs, because you can hear all the noise downstairs, and even though sound leaks I don’t think it causes too much of a problem. It has such an amazing feeling.”

Gordon McKenzie who works in Croydon and is a regular of the Spread Eagle said: “The fact that the pub puts on things like the theatre and cinema nights is a good thing for the area”

He added: “Many of the small scale amenities an area should have been lost since the demolition of the Warehouse Theatre round the corner and cinema was shut.”

In cooperation with the David Lean cinema campaign, a group that hoped to save the cinema located next door, the Spread Eagle runs regular film screenings.

“When the cinema closed next door we thought, well, we can step in and do something here. We’ve only done three shows but they’ve been really well received,” said Butler.

The screenings and theatre is all a part of the pub’s goal to provide a unique and particularly memorable experience for everyone coming into the pub. Something that Butler thinks has brought the Spread Eagle success.

“We’re doing okay, it’s making sure that every customer that comes in here has a good experience and remembers us and wants to come back again.”

It’s also about bringing in a wide mix of customers.

“We don’t say we’re going to attract only men in sports, we don’t exclude anyone and I think that’s important. Some of the other pubs are very young people centred so we don’t want to be see as that.”

Retired friends Sheila Desmond and Ann Landeryou meet at the pub once a month and feel it is a good alternative to the other pubs in the area.

Desmond said: “It’s a bit quieter than most places round here and the staff don’t pester you.”

Landeryou said: “I even attend a wine club here that takes place upstairs.”

Despite their current success, Butler and the Spread Eagle are still aware of the problems pubs are facing. Fourteen pubs around Croydon have closed in the last 10 years, a fact that Butler attributes to a lot of different issues, including the increase in VAT over the past few years.

“I think the VAT is very unfair at the moment, I know people are looking into cutting the VAT level so we’re on a fair level with supermarkets. I think that would be very, very helpful.”

The Spread Eagle has found a formula that works, and, hopefully, for Butler and the staff, will continue to work in the future.

“What pubs give back to communities and areas is massive, I think pubs should be really supported and I don’t think they are.”