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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Going Places: US tourism campaign, Travel bargins

US tourism campaign

Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash will wail an anthem called “Land of Dreams” while images of smiling Americans playing on the beach, running through fields of flowers and dancing in streets flash across the screen.

These are among the images and sounds behind the nation’s first coordinated media campaign to promote the U.S. to travelers worldwide.

The U.S. Travel Association initiated the $150 million campaign with the support of several large tourism groups and travel businesses. It was approved by Congress as part of the Travel Promotion Act of 2010.

The campaign will be financed by a $14 fee charged to each international visitor who registers for a visa to enter the U.S., plus donations from private businesses such as hotels and theme parks.

The campaign is in response to a drop in the country’s share of world travelers in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many travel industry leaders blame the nation’s tougher visa requirements and airport security measures for cutting overall visitor numbers and spending totals.

To draw foreign travelers back, the campaign will launch billboards, magazine ads, online videos and television commercials, emblazoned in colorful images of city scenes, forests and beaches, and the message “Discover America.”

The campaign is headed by a board of directors, appointed by the U.S. secretary of Commerce, that includes the heads of state tourism panels and hotel company executives, among others. New York-based JWT, one of the country’s largest advertising firms, was chosen to develop the campaign.

The marketing blitz will begin in May in Canada, Britain and Japan, followed later in Brazil, South Korea, India and Germany.

Although the campaign is designed to promote the country as a whole, private travel industry firms that donate a minimum of $1 million in cash and $4 million in in-kind contributions to the campaign get mentioned in the ads by name, with online links and phone numbers included.

So far, Marriott International, Walt Disney Co. and Best Western International have each contributed the minimum amount.

AirTran luggage fees last 2 more years

Southwest Airlines, which has pummeled its competitors with an advertising campaign boasting that “bags fly free,” will continue to charge a checked bag fee at its subsidiary AirTran Airways at least until 2014.

Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said a full integration of Southwest and the airline it purchased in 2010 won’t be completed for another two years.

Until then, he said, AirTran will continue to collect fees for checked bags and reservation changes, even though Southwest makes a point in television commercials and online ads of slamming its competitors for charging such fees.

“AirTran generates revenue its way; Southwest does business in a very different way,” Kelly told Bloomberg News.

“Customers understand it is a different brand with a different package. We have said all that will be converted over time. It’s not an issue.”

The revenue is significant. AirTran charges $20 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second. It also charges $75 to change or cancel reservations.

In the first nine months of last year, AirTran collected $128 million in baggage fees and $38.4 million in fees from reservation changes, federal data show.

Travel bargains around the globe

Starwood Hotels and Resorts properties, which include Sheraton and Westin, are offering a Pay Your Birth Year promotion.

Pay the regular rate for the first night and your birth year for the second night – for example, $55 if born in 1955; taxes extra.

Some participating properties also are offering a third night at the special rate. For example, at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Virginia, pay from $129 (plus $19 taxes) for the first night and your birth year for the second and third nights.

Rate adjustment is made at checkout. Restrictions vary, and not all properties are participating. Some luxury properties are charging $100 plus birth year.

The promo ends Dec. 31.

Information: 1-877-782-0108 (request code NBR), www.starwoodpromos.com/payyourbirthyear.

Adults pay kids’ rates on select white-water rafting trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

The Feel Like a Kid Again promotion from Far and Away Adventures is available on five departures in May, June, August and September. Prices vary by departure date and itinerary.

For example, a three-night trip starting May 28 is now $1,575 per person single or double (plus $47 tax), a savings of $200. A five-night Wellness and Fitness itinerary departing Aug. 27 or Sept. 5 is $2,450 (plus $74 tax), a savings of $300.

Information: 1-800-232-8588, www.far-away.com.

Mountain Travel Sobek is offering about 20 percent off one departure of its new Croatia: Islands of Paradise trip, a sailing and kayak adventure from Split to Dubrovnik.

The seven-night voyage departing Sept. 1 starts at $4,495 per person double (a savings of $1,000) and includes accommodations aboard the MSY Atalanta, a traditional wooden gulet; most meals; airport transfers; various entry fees and permits; kayaks and guides; and taxes. Book by May 31.

Information: 1-888-687-6235.

Premier River Cruises is offering discounts on three European holiday market trips.

For example, a Danube Holiday Markets trip departing Nov. 18 starts at $2,489 per person double (plus $147 port charges) and includes round-trip airfare from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., to Prague with return from Budapest; two nights’ deluxe hotel accommodations in Prague; seven-night AmaWaterways river cruise from Nuremburg, Germany, to Budapest; shore excursions; most meals; and transfers.

Priced separately, the package would cost about $3,969 per person. Book by May 15.

Information: 1-855-255-1200, www.premierrivercruises.com.

Dear Trip Advisor

QUESTION: I recently reserved a compact car through a major rental-car agency. I’m a member of its loyalty program, a perk of which is that it posts your name on a board with the parking-space number of the car assigned to you. You can then walk directly to your car instead of having to stop inside at the main counter.

Well, when I got to the space assigned to me, there was a giant (and I do mean giant) SUV instead of a compact car.

I knew I would be doing a lot of city driving, including parallel parking on the street, plus I didn’t want to spend tons of money on gas, so I went inside and asked for a different car.

The agent made a big deal of this (She called out to another agent, “This guy wants to turn down an upgrade!”), and the other people waiting in line overheard. I heard a woman in line behind me say, “Jeez – if I got upgraded, I’d be grateful.”

Was I doing something wrong by declining the SUV?

ANSWER: No, not at all. You always have the prerogative to decline an upgrade, and I think your reasons for doing so – anticipating a lot of city driving and not wanting to pay for a gas-guzzler – are perfectly valid.

As long as you were polite to the agent, I wouldn’t worry about what she or the other customers in line thought of you.