Eight years ago, a fellow travel blogger who had only known me a scant few hours made the insightful and accurate comment, “Matt you’re a curmudgeon!” And indeed I am but, in my defense, I’ve always been this way. When I was in the 5th grade a teacher stopped me mid-sentence and proclaimed that I had been born a 40-year old man. The same teacher went on to predict I’d have an ulcer by the age of 30. That thankfully didn’t happen, but the point was well taken. Also, what hell must I have put this poor woman through?! I have always had a proclivity to the dark and sarcastic, it’s just part of my personality. I have, obviously, thought a lot about those comments since then and have not only decided that being a curmudgeon isn’t bad, I think it helps me be a better traveler. More than a better traveler, it has helped me be a more observant person while traveling. Frankly, I’m always looking for mistakes and problems, much to the chagrin of every hotel I have ever stayed in. Once in a while on this site, I like to step back, think about things from a higher level and offer some thoughts on how I think the travel industry can improve. Nothing in life is perfect and that’s certainly true in the travel experience. Problems happen all the time and it’s not those small errors I want to address. No, instead I want to share my thoughts on larger more systemic problems, inherent flaws that, while fixable, have largely been ignored as of late.
Good service shouldn’t be a luxury
I enjoy luxury travel for any number of reasons, but chief among them is receiving exceptional service. Travel is an important investment and like all of my investments, I go to great lengths to make sure it’s protected. However, good customer service shouldn’t be relegated to the luxury experience, it should be the norm. The hospitality industry in the last decade or so has lost sight of its core mission, to take care of other people. Airlines exist to transport us and hotels exist to give us lodging. The travel experience though shouldn’t be pared down to these bare minimums. But that’s exactly what has happened, travelers have been completely and totally commoditized to the point that if you want good customer service, you have to pay for it. I’m always shocked at the difference in how I’m treated when flying in Business or First Class versus in Economy. Sure, I’m paying for extra attention but I’m not paying for basic human kindness, that should be included in my ticket price. But, it’s not and this gulf is ever widening, turning airlines into flying coach buses and the average hotel into an elevated hostel. This needs to change. The hospitality industry at all levels needs to get back to basics, remember its core mission and once again start taking proper care of its paying customers.
Using assumptive pronouns & honorifics
I’m pretty sensitive to this issue and it happens with such frequency at even the best hotels in the world that I have to say something. It’s 2018 and the concept of LGBT people co-existing on this planet shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone at this point. With that in mind, front of house hotel staff should realize that a certain percentage of their guests will in fact be LGBT. So why then, with all of this known, do I get questions at check-in regarding Mr. and Mrs. Long, or welcome letters in my room addressed to the highly imaginary Mrs. Long? In the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, but it deeply annoys me and I hate having to go through the process of explaining, “Why no, I don’t have a wife and here’s why.” I shouldn’t have to do that, it shouldn’t matter. I’ve been saying for years that hotel staff members need to be better trained in LGBT issues and it’s still a problem. Don’t ask if my “brother” and I would like separate beds, he’s not my brother and if I get another message addressed to Mrs. Long I’m going to have a brief, but loud, melt down. Sorry. Side note, cruise lines do this as well, which is equally preposterous.
Act like it’s 2018 and not 1998
I checked into a hotel not too long ago and noticed an artifact from a long gone era in my room. It was one of those keyboards that we once used to access the Internet through the TV. Anyone else remember that? Remember how terrible it was? I vividly recall being on a business trip in 2002, trying my damnedest to use it, eventually giving up out of frustration. That was 16 years ago and technology has advanced light years in that time, and yet there it was, dusty from years of neglect. I understand that capital improvements are costly, but we are 18 years into the new millennium and by now, every hotel and resort in the world should be caught up. However, we’re far from being at that point. The infrastructure throughout the travel experience is not designed for the modern traveler. Rarely are there plugs next to the bed, which I depend on for my phone that also serves as my alarm clock and white noise machine. Airports are slowly getting there, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but it can still be difficult to find power when we most need it. Our dependence on modern technology will not miraculously disappear, it will only become more intense and at an increasingly faster rate. Those who don’t stay current will go the way of the Dodo.
Don’t lie to me
I’m going to approach this topic gently because I don’t think most hotels fully realize their errors when it comes to truth in advertising. One of the first posts I wrote for this site was about a luxury hotel I enjoyed on an island in Thailand and overall it was great, except for one thing. In all of the photos on the hotel web site, it shows a beautiful beach and lagoon, full of tranquil water and amazing views. What the web site failed to mention was that the lagoon was tidal and for more than half the day every day was free of water and became a tropical mud pit. I doubt that the phrase “come visit our luxury mud pit” would appeal to most people, so the hotel failed to mention this salient point. Had they, it probably wouldn’t have even affected my decision to stay there but because they lied, because they knew what they were doing that’s when I got angry. More recently a hotel advertised itself as being within easy walking distance to the city center. This would be true only if you had the directional abilities of an Eagle Scout and the fortitude to tackle walking along a major highway and 6 lanes of traffic. Convenient it was not and again, I was angry at the deception. Most hotels or resorts aren’t perfect and that’s fine. Nothing in life is perfect, but be honest with your guests about flaws and don’t attempt to deceive us. I think hotels would see a lot more loyalty if they omitted the white lies instead of trying to deceive would-be patrons.
Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, the average traveler had an excuse for general ignorance of places far away. Information was more limited and harder to obtain, so I get it. Today though there’s simply no excuse for not being self-aware or knowledgeable about the world, and yet it seems as if traveler ignorance is getting worse instead of better. Travel has never been more accessible; it’s cheaper and easier than ever. And maybe that’s the problem, it’s too egalitarian. However, there’s no going back so if you’re traveling anywhere outside of your zip code, you need to self-educate a bit before you board that plane. There are any number of ways in which the average tourist is terrible, but a few have really annoyed me in the last couple of years:
Stop hurting animals – There’s been an epidemic of sorts in recent months and it has to stop. Around the world tourists have been killing animals for one reason or another. In Yellowstone tourists tried to “rescue” a bison calf because they thought it was cold. Recently tourists in Alaska chased a rare mountain goat into water where it drowned, all in an effort to get iPhone photos of it. There sadly have been many more examples of this sick and demented behavior around the world and it has to stop. The world is not your playground; when you travel you need to treat the planet and all of its creatures with respect. Fin, end of story, head to print.
Selfie-Sticks – Believe it or not, I don’t have an issue with selfie-sticks in theory. I understand why some people like them, particularly if you’re traveling as a couple and want pictures together. That’s fine, I get it, continue with that. What bothers me is the complete lack of self-awareness on the part of some travelers who use them all the time for every photo they capture. Most of us have the appendages necessary to use a phone without an aluminum rod for assistance. Use them. Do not instead wave around your tech-laden weapon wherever you go, a cudgel as damaging as any lance or spear ever created.
Put down everything with a battery once in a while – I realize that I sound like an angry old man, and frankly that’s not far from the truth. I was born a curmudgeon and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But if there’s one thing I hope this post does convey, it’s that with some small changes, everyone’s travel experience can improve dramatically and technology is part of that. Technology is great and without it I wouldn’t have been able to make this strange job my new career. So, I’m certainly not bashing it outright. But there is a time and place for everything, and when we travel we do so in order to connect with the world around us. That necessarily means also disconnecting from our imaginary world of pixels and Tweets. Travel should be a spiritual journey, it should be about experiencing new and foreign things and realizing that the world is so much more spectacular than anyone ever told us. This can’t be done through a lens or by chasing Pokémon. This can only be accomplished through firsthand, sensory perceptions and followed up by moments of introspection. If you’re not doing this, then why even leave home? Put on your virtual reality headset and pretend you’re somewhere else in the comfort of your living room.
What are some other changes you’d like to see in the travel industry?