First time filming in Houston, Texas and what an AMAZING experience. Visiting Houston is like visiting several destinations in one swoop.
Like the state where it resides, Texas, Houston is BIG. Massive actually. It’s literally the size of a small state.
But what many may not know is that it’s also very diverse.
We ate a scrumptious Viet-Cajun feast, got outfitted in a custom cowboy hat & boots, participated in a ancient Chinese calligraphy and a tea ceremony in Chinatown and I learned to dance to Zydeco music with the “Queen of Zydeco” at a cajun honky tonk all while taking in some of the quirkiest art scenes I’ve ever experienced and eating some of the most amazing internationally influenced cuisine I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying.
It was unusually cold (my lips are still chapped), but the people were so warm and hospitable I didn’t feel the chill.
Thank you Houston, for your hospitality and for your kindness and yes for your diversity and quirkiness.
Be big…be Houston…but please don’t ever change, ’cause I love ya just the way you are!
Here is a clip from my appearance on KPRC – NBC 2’s “Houston Life” . Enjoy!
Sometimes it’s fun being the indie, scrappy DIY producer. It allows us the ability to do things that “larger” production companies and networks just can’t do, like posing as regular tourists in Cuba in order to document a more authentic story and travel experience.
Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” show on CNN is a show I respect. It makes A LOT more money than Raw Travel. In fact, I doubt there is even a worthwhile comparison. I won’t get into all the reasons but suffice it to say that marketers have gotten overwhelmed with the plethora of media choices available these days and despite the lack of good, travel programming in the USA, it’s hard to compete with outlets like the NFL and Cable News Channels during an election year.
Yet Raw Travel’s audience is consistently larger than Mr. Bourdain’s on CNN which is quiet remarkable when you consider that CNN is a very well known national brand with huge marketing resources and that “Parts Unknown” airs in primetime.
This is not a business blog, so I won’t get too far into the weeds on this one but I will just say I’m proud of what Raw Travel – Cuba Undercover was able to accomplish and from the looks of the audience tune in and reaction our work paid off.
We way over delivered an established celebrity on an established show (Parts Unknown) in primetime (Sunday @ 8PM) on a major news channel (CNN).
His Cuba episode aired to much ballyhoo just when the travel thaw was developing between Cuba & the USA and ours aired a year later during an election cycle (November 2016) when folks were more interested in Hillary vs. Trump than seemingly anything else on the planet.
Do the right thing and the money follows? We’ll see about that.
But at least we know we’re doing the right thing, and that my friends is worth way more than any money any marketer can throw at us.
Thank you for helping us to become the #1 most watched travel show in the United States.
Anthony Bourdain in Cuba Vs. Raw Travel in Cuba In the Fall of 2015, CNN aired Anthony Bourdain in Cuba to kick off Season-3 of “Parts Unknown”
In the Fall of 2016, “Raw Travel” kicked of its Nov’16 sweep with “Cuba Undercover”
Raw Travel out-delivered “Parts Unknown” by more than +50% in all key demos…
“Parts Unknown – Cuba” CNN Sun/9-10P (9/27/15) – FALL 2015 HH 496K A18-34 45K A18-49 197K A25-54 256K
I’ve been to Cuba twice, both times via another country. Now that travel restrictions have lessened and opened up to U.S. citizens there’s a “gold rush” of companies rushing to make money from the opportunity, from the well know, to the not so well know. But it’s fraught with difficulty and if you throw in a good old fashioned incompetence. I’m going to offer some personal tips for travel to Cuba soon in an upcoming episode that premieres Super Bowl Sunday in the U.S. (sorry about that!) called “Travel Hacks for the Raw Traveler” and an accompanying blog post.
But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you an experience from a pal of mine who was heading to Cuba for 2016 Holiday Season, or thought he was and found out the hard way, how difficult it can be.
What follows is a 1st hand account from Ryan Lewis, a traveler from NYC.
FROM RYAN LEWIS/ NYC TRAVELER
If you were planning on flying JetBlue’s new direct flight from JFK to Havana Cuba… save yourself a massive headache and several days of lost travel time, book on another airline, or fly to another city and fly JetBlue through JFK to Cuba, but whatever you do, DO NOT plan on departing from JFK and making it to Cuba that day.
The beauty of a direct flight from the northeast to anywhere in the Caribbean is that it’s a short flight to paradise. Not so for JetBlue’s disastrous new service which allegedly instructs its passengers to arrive FOUR (4) HOURS ahead of time if they are to make their flight. Is this true? No, not actually, but that was what the 56 stranded passengers of flight 243 were told by JetBlue’s staff yesterday as they were being rebooked for flights several days out. Apparently it was the fault of the passengers for only arriving two hours early for their international flights – the same 2 hour advance arrival that is standard for all airlines throughout the world is apparently not standard for JetBlue flights to Cuba… or is it?
Although our attendant informed us in no uncertain terms that all flights going to Cuba needed 3 – 4 hours to complete the allegedly cumbersome paperwork for U.S. passengers, that same attendant then proceeded to book us on a make-up flight from JFK, through Ft. Lauderdale to Havana, Cuba, which had a 1 hour layover, during which we were to have that same paperwork and visa processed by JetBlue’s staff in Ft. Lauderdale… soooooo, lie? To be honest it’s unclear to me whether the necessary visa paperwork would even be processed in Ft. Lauderdale as the JetBlue attendant repeatedly assured us it would. My suspicions were peaked by the fact that I was told by other passengers that on other JetBlue flights to Cuba, which traveled through JFK, the passengers had their paperwork handled at the airport of origin. Is it just that JFK’s JetBlue staff is so incompetent or understaffed? Seems plausible based on what I saw and heard yesterday.
The same attendant who rebooked us on what was allegedly the next best flight (a non-direct flight that departed two days later, with no actual seat assignments), also insisted to my girlfriend and me that there was a warning on JetBlue’s website informing all passengers to Cuba that they had to arrive at the airport 3 – 4 hours before their flight in order to process paperwork. However, when I asked where on the site that warning was, she said she didn’t know. I informed her that no such information ever popped up when I was booking my flight, or after I booked my flight. She then informed me that I had “to click on something”. I literally could not find words to respond.
So, what’s the skinny? Basically, I have heard from multiple parties flying JetBlue from SFO through JFK, flying other airlines from LA to Cuba, from various points in Florida to Cuba and elsewhere throughout the nation that by and large things go smoothly, short processing times and easy flights are the norm. However, of the people standing in line with me yesterday, the girl in front of us was in line for the second time in two days, having been rebooked to Cuba from the previous day by JetBlue. The man in front of her was also in line for the second time, having been rebooked from two days prior. And all, like us, had arrived two hours or more in advance and all, like us, were being rebooked for flights up to two or more days out. A week long vacation turned into mere days, all because of a problem which is, by all accounts endemic with the JetBlue staff and/or system of processing passengers at JFK. After a month of providing this “service” to Cuba, and a month of the same problems, the JetBlue staff simply find it easier to continue ruining their passengers’ vacations and covering their tracks with laughable lies and excuses than to actually find a quasi-workable solution to the problem.
The problems there are so bad that the “managers” have seemingly stopped addressing them. After waiting at the airport for over three hours, no manager would come and speak with me to explain what had happened or what could be done. I was told that I could go upstairs and find “Justine” but she probably wasn’t going to come down because it was “real busy” up there.
One last tip for those of you departing JFK to Cuba on JetBlue, another thing that no one will inform you of is that the JetBlue Cuba check-in and visa processing is not even actually on the same floor as all of the other JetBlue check-in and baggage lines, apparently they thought it best to secret this special check-in on the baggage-claim floor in the very back, behind baggage carousel #6. When you go to self check-in, the terminal will simply tell you that you that you can’t check-in, but that you need to see an assistant. However, it being holiday season, the check-in lines literally have hundreds of people waiting in them to check bags, etc. as does the “Special Help” line. I am told that if you actually wait in any of those lines, when you get to the front they will simply tell you they can’t even take your bags and then they will (at long last) tell you that you need to go downstairs to a secret line somewhere behind all of the baggage claim carousels. This unfortunately happened to a number of people on flight 243 yesterday, the rest of us simply spent 15 – 30 minutes walking around the JetBlue terminal asking stray attendants where to go.
RED CLOUD INDIAN SCHOOL & RE-MEMBER
You may recall our “Raw Travel – Pine Ridge: Tribal Tourism” episode from Season 3 about travel to the Lakota Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
Through your generosity via buying T-shirts and/or supporting our crowdfunding efforts, I’m happy to report we raised over $3k for the Red Cloud Indian School after school arts programs.
These kids grow up in the poorest county in the U.S. and have a ton of challenges facing them unlike anywhere else in the United States. It does my heart good to see the work Red Cloud Indian School does on the reservation and the support you so generously gave when we asked for it.
If you missed it and are looking for a cause to support this holiday season, there is not better organization than Red Cloud Indian School or Re-member which were both featured on our Pine Ridge show. I hope the episode will be available digitally in the not too distant future, as we continue to try to raise funds for these guys.
You can learn more about Pine Ridge and our fundraiser HERE:
Please enjoy this bit of Holiday Cheer from our little pals at Red Cloud Indian School.
A restavek is a child that has been given to another family as a servant in hopes to have their basic needs met. If you see the segment, you will see how incredible these children are now that they are surrounded by love. Freedom House is not a huge bureaucratic organization with a lot of waste.
They are small and grassroots and just the kind of organization we like to shine the light on.
If you are so moved after seeing this weekend’s episode and would like to help Freedom House rescue more children, you can donate and support HERE.
A little goes a long way in Haiti, so no amount is too small.
My 2nd trip to Cuba was a little different from my 1st. Oh, I still went unofficially, choosing to go via another country (it’s cheaper) and not have my passport stamped, but this time there was a U.S. Embassy in Havana. If I were to get sick, stranded or in legal trouble I theoretically at least had a backstop.
This wasn’t the case when I first visited Cuba against a background of having a few years prior, known a Dominican-American filmmaker who had visited Havana for the first and final time to attend the Cuban Film Festival (in 2002 or 2003 I think it was), and never made it back.
My friend, the aspiring filmmaker who had a short film accepted to the festival, was ecstatic about going. He went officially but since he was of Afro-Latino descent and dark skinned, could easily blend in with most everyday Cubans.
This, combined with the fact that he was a U.S. citizen and therefore had to bring enough cash to last him the entire trip (U.S. issued ATMs and Credit Cards didn’t work at the time in Cuba, nor do they at the time of this writing) became a contributing factor as to why he didn’t make it back.
Something happened to my friend after what I think was his first night in Cuba. He was found in a Havana street the next morning badly beaten and unconscious, apparently robbed of his stash of cash, missing a passport and wallet or any way to ID himself.
Since he had no ID and was dark skinned, he was assumed to be Cuban by the Cuban medical personnel who attended to him and taken to the hospital for “regular”, everyday Cubans. This was not one of the hospitals featured in Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” where government officials and other connected well off folks in Cuba are allowed to go.
He was taken to an overtaxed hospital without sheets on the bed or lights in the hallway or basic medical necessities.
After regaining consciousness and seemingly on the road to recovery, my pal (as I heard it from other friends who were there with him and were trying desperately to get him back to the U.S.), had a complication, slipped into a coma and died from a fairly routine injury that could have been fairly routinely addressed back in the states.
I was told that after much wrangling, Billy Bush (my filmmaker friend worked at Access Hollywood) reportedly pulled some strings from cousin, then U.S. President George W. Bush, to get my friend’s body back to the U.S. for his funeral.
He left behind a wife and young kids.
This incident barely even made more than a mention in the local Spanish or English language press at the time and I always felt this was an injustice. He deserved better.
Now every time I go to Cuba, I think of my friend and how he died far too young in a country that specializes in covering up such ugliness and I wonder why the U.S. press (and government) paid so little attention to this travesty.
I think of the young Cuban punk rock fans I met on my first trip, who were promptly carted off to jail for having the audacity to speak to an American with a camera out in the open. How long were they in jail? Were they beaten? Worse?
I think of the media’s mostly glib obsession with travel to Cuba with hardly a mention of the severe poverty and lack of basic human rights for the Cuban people. Or maybe people are just tired of hearing it.
I think how most of the outside press has to register with the Cuban government so they can get the “Fidel Castro” tour where everything is a paradise and everyone is happy.
That’s why, for my 2nd act to Cuba, I went undercover as a tourist to try to film, by hook or crook or iphone, what the real Cuba was like for people.
The fear that inhabits Cuba is palpable if you open your eyes and ears. Neighbors are turned against neighbors for an extra bag of rice as a reward. People are watching each other warily, unsure who is a government informant and who can be trusted, pitting family member against family member in some cases.
They have been manipulated by a paranoid (and perhaps with somewhat just cause, given the U.S. often ham-fisted attempts at intervention over the years) and now reeling government consisting of a tiny group of “leaders” that include one who is rumored to be near death and mentally unstable (Fidel Castro) and his possibly less brutal but equally unstable, power hungry brother (Raul Castro).
I’ve never met the Castros nor, chances are will I ever as I don’t intend to return to Cuba until freedom is finally found for the people of Cuba.
But as travel from the U.S. to Cuba opens up (and I believe this to be the right thing as 50 years of failed policy is enough) and people go and enjoy the unique and yes, beautiful culture and gush over how Cuba is “stuck in time”, please remember my filmmaker friend and the Cuban people, like my brave punk rock pals, who are systematically silenced by a minority of their fellow citizen “leaders” who evidently are so afraid of their lack of ability to legitimately lead, end up doing what despots, dictators and inept rulers have done for centuries… attempt to silence all diversity of thought and expression in order to hold to power.
Silence… is there anything more tragic in this world?
– Nat Geo People Asia Picks up Hit Travel Series from the U.S. –
New York, NY – October 13th, 2016 – AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV) announced today that Nat Geo People recently acquired Asian territorial rights to certain episodes of their production, Raw Travel®, the U.S.A.’S #1 most watched syndicated adventure travel & lifestyle series. The series began broadcasting on Nat Geo People in a variety of Asian territories earlier last month.
The announcement is just the latest in a string of licensing deals from Raw Travel’s international distributor Off the Fence Distribution, who has also inked several other deals for the series in territories in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and on a variety of airlines the past several months.
Off the Fence is responsible for licensing Raw Travel (58 x 30’) to media outlets outside of the United States and represents the show at global television markets, including the upcoming market MIPCOM later this month.
Raw Travel is a 30 minute adventure travel & lifestyle series that incorporates two of the fastest growing segments of travel: eco-tourism & voluntourism. The fast paced show focuses on authentic experiences to often off-the-beaten-path destinations as well as other more mainstream destinations. The show recently debuted its 4th season in U.S. Syndication in the United States in 159 cities representing over 93% of U.S. television households.
“We are excited about working with Nat Geo People in Asia and in continuing to work with Off the Fence to expand our international audience even as our U.S. fan base continues to expand” stated Robert G. Rose, Executive Producer and Host. “Raw Travel’s unique perspective and positive message of socially consciousness living among an inclusive worldwide community resonates with global audiences. We are eager to welcome our new viewers and friends from across the globe and let them know we are proud to be citizens of the world with them.”
RAW TRAVEL’S SEASON 4 DEBUTS IN 93% OF U.S. THIS WEEKEND
– Four Straight Years of Rapid Growth for Authentic Adventure Travel Series –
NEW YORK, NY: September 28th, 2016 – AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV) announced today that its syndicated television series Raw Travel® will debut its 4th season this weekend in 159 cities, including 97 of the largest 100 U.S. markets. With an affiliate list that represents 105 Million and 93% of all U.S. TV homes, the season 4 (2016-17) debut represents the fourth straight year of record setting growth for the proudly independent adventure travel show.
Coming off its 3rd season where Raw Travel lengthened its lead as the #1 most watched authentic travel series in the U.S., season 4 will debut in an additional 15 new cities from Toledo to San Angelo.
Season 4 will also feature several upgraded time slots in major markets such as New York City (WNYW-Fox & WWOR-My), Philadelphia (WPHL-My) Cleveland (WOIO-CBS & WUAB-My), Seattle (KING-NBC & KONG-IND) Baltimore (WBFF-Fox & WUTB-My), and San Diego (XETV-CW). In Memphis the show is set to air on powerhouse WMC-NBC 5 Sundays @ 11 PM, which should help insure Raw Travel’s industry defying trajectory of audience growth.
Raw Travel surpassed 1 million weekly viewers on more than one occasion in Season 3, setting a high-water mark for the series that it expects to break in Season 4.
Globally, more international viewers are getting a taste of Raw Travel with outlets in Europe, Asia, Africa and many other key territories, which includes several major airlines that are licensing the series and helping spread the Raw Travel movement of socially conscious, authentic adventure travel.
One of the highlight episodes of Season 4 is “Cuba Undercover” which encompassed a covert journey to the island nation with a dismal record for journalistic freedoms. The producers posed as everyday tourists to give viewers a more authentic look at Cuba’s people, culture and burgeoning tourism now that the U.S. has eased decades old travel restrictions.
The producers also traveled to Haiti for an unflinching look at how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may be contributing to Haiti’s dependence and reveal the darker side of the so-called “business of poverty”. Simultaneously Raw Travel showcases how socially conscious tourism can help provide a much needed “hand up” rather than “hand out” for Haitians.
“Raw Travel’s mantra of empathy and giving back is a reflection of a collective consciousness and mindset of a growing number of people. Raw Travel has a part to play in this large scale social movement and we’re humbled by the opportunity,” states Robert G. Rose, Executive Producer and Host.
Raw Travel is jointly distributed by AIM TV and Bright-Line Distribution. More information can be found at www.RawTravel.tv and viewers can visit www.RawTravel.tv/wheretowatch for a complete listing of cities, affiliates and time slots in the U.S. for Season 4.
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ABOUT RAW TRAVEL TV
Raw Travel is the most watched authentic travel show on U.S. commercial television and is an adventure travel & lifestyle series showcasing the wave of socially and environmentally aware, independent travel. The series weaves together themes of eco-tourism, volun-tourism (giving back) with underground music and authentic culture in a unique way. Each weekend the show is seen in well over 150 U.S. cities and in several international territories (Asia, Africa, Europe, etc.). It can be found on several major airlines and soon in Over the Top (digital) platforms as well. It is jointly distributed by AIM Tell-A-Vision Group and Bright-Line Distribution.
ABOUT AIM TELL-A-VISION GROUP
AIM Tell-A-Vision (AIM TV) is an independent content and distribution company founded by media entrepreneur Robert G. Rose. Since 2000, AIM TV has been producing and distributing positive, compelling content that reflects a mission of presenting “Media That Matters”. Visit www.AIMTVGroup.com for more information.
ABOUT BRIGHT-LINE DISTRIBUTION
Bright-Line Distribution is a partnership of syndication veterans Jacqueline Hartley and Nancy Cook. Bright-Line’s mission is to deliver, through high energy and determined efforts, predictable and consistent TV distribution results.