News Briefs 6-9-2006

*Cruise Insurance
*NEST Changes Hands
*Rail Europe

Setting Sail with Insurance

According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA), a nonprofit trade group, cruise passengers are increasingly opting to buy travel insurance rather than sign a waiver. A yet-to-be released study completed in January found that 70 percent of consumers traveling by ship or cruise in 2005 purchased insurance. The USTIA estimates that before 9/11, only 10 percent of leisure travelers taking cruises, air/tour vacations or international trips bought travel insurance.

More cruise passengers are opting for insurance because cruises are considered high-risk: People tend to book them further in advance than they do other vacations, leaving a lot of time for something to happen to prevent passengers from taking the cruise.

The recent media attention on mechanical problems, fires and missing passengers on ships emphasizes to passengers that there are risks even after the ship sails.

Cruise insurance is provided by two main sources the cruise lines or independent third parties. Many agents opt to use third-party vendors, which offer commissions as high as 35 percent.

Agents say they prefer third-party insurers for other reasons. For one thing, a cruise line can’t protect passengers from default if the company goes out of business, so does the policy. In addition, cruise insurance doesn’t always cover the flight to and from the ship, the pre- and post-cruise stays or independently booked shore excursions.

Cruise lines and agents seem to agree on one thing: They want customers covered.

According to officials, travelers have successfully sued travel agents, tour operators, vacation rental companies and other travel professionals for negligence and emotional distress over common travel problems that could have been covered by travel insurance, including canceled or delayed flights.

Along came a spider

California’s Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, managed by Destination Hotels & Resorts, is offering a special summer sweepstakes worth $10,000. Clients can enter online to win three nights’ accommodations in a luxury suite, three spa treatments and three days with the keys to a red Ferrari Spider Modena. The winner will be announced Sept. 5.

NEST Leadership Changes Hands

Stuart Cohen, senior vice president of the Network of Entrepreneurs Selling Travel (NEST), resigned May 31.

“Stuart has made a tremendous contribution to the home-based agency channel and our organization,” said Kathryn Mazza-Burney, executive vice president of sales. “We thank him for his hard work and dedication and wish him the greatest continued success in his future endeavors.”

Cohen will pursue other interests in the travel industry and is slated to speak at future NEST member conferences. Burney will oversee day-to-day operations and strategic planning and absorb Cohen’s responsibilities. Nicole Mazza will continue to manage supplier negotiations and all marketing initiatives.

The NEST by American Marketing Group and based in Oyster Bay, N.Y. is the industry’s first and only marketing group exclusively for home-based travel agents.

What’s cooking

Acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has partnered with Starwood Hotels & Resorts to create an international, upscale restaurant and licensing business. The new company will serve as a third-party development arm for restaurant concepts in Starwood’s luxury hotel brands, including W, Westin, Le Meridien and St. Regis. Additionally, the company will own and operate freestanding restaurants outside of Starwood’s hotels.

Track Training

Rail Europe recently updated The Rail Agent Course (TRAC) to offer agents updated training material. Nearly 2,000 agents have taken the online course and received certification as Rail Agents, which provides three Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) from the Travel Institute.

The official representative of more than 30 railroads, Rail Europe is the leading North American supplier of European rail tickets and passes.

New Resorts

Auberge Resorts recently announced the launch of a new hotel concept, Solage Hotels & Resorts, to debut in 2007. Developed by the team behind Auberge Resorts’ award-winning luxury properties, Solage will depart from the Auberge model to offer a less expensive, contemporary, design-focused option.

The first resort, the Solage Calistoga, is scheduled to open in spring of 2007 in Napa Valley, Calif. The 89-room, cottage-style resort will feature Mayacamas Mountain views, the Solage Spa, a 130-foot pool and complimentary “cruiser” bikes on the 25-acre property.