Far & Wide expands its wireless audio system to all Europe tours

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MIAMI -- As millions of baby boomers enter their 50s, their days of listening to loud rock 'n' roll and dancing in the deafening discos of the 1970s are catching up with them.

Namely, their hearing is fading as fast as their old blue jeans.

One of the nation's largest tour operators, Far & Wide, based here, is helping seniors and baby boomers who have to strain to clearly hear commentary provided by directors and guides on group tours.

In the last year, Far & Wide, an umbrella for more than a dozen companies, tested an audio system called Loud & Clear, a wireless receiver and headset travelers can use to hear tour guides talk, whether on a motorcoach or inside a museum.

Provided free of charge, the system has been so popular that the firm is extending it to all of its Europe tours this year. Europe makes up about 50% of the company's group tour business.

By the end of 2003, Far & Wide -- which handles about 200,000 travelers a year -- said it plans to offer the headsets on all of its tours worldwide.

"The response has been fabulous," said a spokeswoman. "There are a lot of people who are not deaf but who are confused by background noise, and you find them in the front of a group vying for the front position so they can hear clearly."

With the system, travelers with mild to moderate hearing loss wear the headphones, either with a hearing aid or without, depending on the severity of their problem.

The system is compatible with behind-the-ear or in-the-ear hearing aids through a built-in coil or switch that travelers can link to the provided Loud & Clear receiver.

The technology works through an FM radio receiver, activated by tour directors and tour guides, who wear a radio transmitter and headset microphone.

When guides speak, the message is picked up and transmitted as a radio signal to the portable receivers and lightweight headphones the travelers are wearing.

The transmission carries over a distance of 100 feet inside buildings and 150 feet outdoors.

Travel agents with clients on Far & Wide tours do not need to make reservations in advance for the Loud & Clear headsets, the spokeswoman said.

Travelers can decide whether they want to take advantage of the program once they start the tour.

Far & Wide companies include Adventure Center, African Travel, Brian Moore, Central Holidays, Grand European Tours, High Country Passage, Intercontinental Travel, IST Cultural Tours, Journeys Unlimited, Lion World Travel, Pacific Bestour, Peter Voll Associates, Prism Holidays, Regina Tours, Spanish Heritage Tours, Swain Tours and Down-under Direct, Tourlite and Zeus Tours & Yacht Charters.

More information is available at the Web site, www.farandwide.com/loudandclear.

Firm releases sales CD

MIAMI -- Far & Wide created a travel industry sales CD, which enables travel agents specializing in groups to make direct, online group requests to the company, for established departures or customized programs.

The CD also provides promotional fliers for "group alerts" -- the top-rated trips provided by the Far & Wide travel companies.

The company also issued an updated version of its Group Reference Guide, with resources that include the book, "How to Make the Most of Group Travel Opportunities."

More information is available on the company's Web site, at www.farandwide.com/brochures. -- L.D.R.

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