Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Rebooting the Family Vacation"...My Reply

Christopher Elliott is a very well-known travel writer that contributes to a variety of publications such as the USA Today and National Geographic which is where I found his latest article.  It is titled "Rebooting the Family Vacation."  You can read it by clicking HERE.  I encourage you to go read it before reading my reply to his article.  I have taken some of his views to task in the past and find myself doing the same with this most recent post of his.  But again...make sure you read it before reading what I have to say.  Are you reading it?  I can see you! Go read it!! that I know you have taken a moment to let it sink in, here is what I have to say in reply.  I agree with most of what he had to say.  It IS a shame that so many parents never take their kids to places that offer any form of cultural enrichment and actual downtime.  It is a shame that some parents force feed their kids the same old fast food that they get at home which is not only made in mass quantities, but also not healthy at all.  But that is not to say that vacations to amusement parks like Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando are worthless and bad overall for children.  In fact, some would argue (including me) that a vacation to Walt Disney World offers some of the best cultural experiences a child can have without needing a passport.  Epcot and Animal Kingdom offer everyone a chance to experience people from various parts of the world, including their native cuisine.  They also offer hands-on educational experiences such as Rafiki's Planet Watch and Innoventions East and West.

So I take an exception to what seemed to be a huge generalization in Chris's article when he mentioned amusement parks amongst this statement, "We’re too tired to prepare real meals for the kids, and we’re too busy to plan enriching travel experiences, so we buy what’s easy—processed junk food and off-the-shelf, highly marketed package vacations that are overly focused on amusement."

While a place like Walt Disney World is about amusement, that amusement can very well come in the form of enrichment.  And there are lots of choices where families do not have to settle for "processed junk food."  No one can force parents to look for healthier eating choices or to search out those "amusement" experiences that both entertain and enrich, which leads me to my second exception to his thoughts.

I was shocked to see that he is blaming the travel industry for this demise of the family vacation.  I fail to see where someone can lump travel agents, tour operators and even cruise lines into this problem.  Are there some travel agents who don't know have enough travel knowledge in order for them to properly offer some culturally diverse vacations to their clients?  YES!  But generally travel agents take their cue from their clients.  In other words...we listen.  We ask "where do you want to go? What types of experiences do you want on your vacation?  How many days off can you take?  What is your budget?  What are the ages of your kids and what do they like to do?"  We ask all of those questions and we listen enough to be able to offer options that suit what the client wants...not what we want.

If a client comes to us and says..."We want to take our kids to Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando," we don't reply with "have you thought about the Grand Canyon instead??  We would get that look that says, "Are you an idiot? Did you just not hear me say that we want to take our kids to Walt Disney World?"  The same look would be given if a client said, "We want to head to Cancun so we can do literally nothing and just relax on the beach" and then we reply with, "Have you thought about hiking through the mountains of Peru?"

Now again...can a client go to Cancun and experience some awesome, local Yucatan cuisine?  YES!  Can a client take their family to Cancun and experience some real cultural enrichment by visiting some of the Mayan ruins or other World Heritage sites? YES!  And most of those options are presented to clients during the planning process, but that doesn't mean they will take advantage of those options.

Travel agents, tour operators and cruise lines make all of those enrichment options available, but you can't force a vacation on a client that the client does not want.  A cruise line will take people to a variety of ports of call that will offer every passenger the chance to experience something unique to that Country, even the food.  But again, if the client simply chooses to take a "beach break" at every port, how is that the fault of the cruise line?  And if a family can only afford a 3 or 4 night cruise that only stops at ports that center around beaches and fun in the sun, who am I or who is anyone to try to force the client to take more time off or spend more money?  That leads me to my next rant about the article.

It cannot go overlooked that Chris's article failed to take budget into account.  If a client's budget is X, but the more culturally diverse vacation would cost Z or Y, a good travel agent is not going to try to up-sell their client to Z or Y.  If clients want to go to a certain place because airfare is cheaper or maybe they can drive instead and that destination also has some things they want to do on vacation, then it is not a good business practice to try to get the client to spend more money so they can consider more options that you, the travel agent, thinks is best for their overall vacation.  This is how travel agents have gotten a bad rap over the past several years.  The general public thinks it is all about the sale and not about what they really want or what they truly can afford.  It is the goal of the travel industry to provide vacation options that the families want AND can afford.  Do I wish more clients would consider a trip to some far off destination where they can all learn more about people from all over the world?  YES!  But lest we forget, we are still a Country that has gone through a major financial crisis in the not so distant past and budget-friendly travel is still a priority with most families.  These days, a family either takes the budget friendly vacation or no vacation at all.  I would rather see families go where they want and spend what THEY want vs not going at all because someone thinks their vacation is not very educational or enlightening.

And keep one more tidbit in mind before we criticize the type of vacation that the American family is taking; we should be thrilled that families are vacationing at all.  We, the good ole USA, are one of the worst industrialized Countries when it comes to the amount of vacation days that a family will typically take or be given by their employer.  So, as a travel agent, I am thrilled when I get contacted by a mom or dad that says they are ready to take some time off and take their kids to any place that is not their neighborhood pool or local Chuck E. Cheese and requires them to leave their current city limits and spend nights away from home.

So if families want to spend their vacations on the go and at a fast pace, and if they want to only eat what they know their kids WILL eat, then who are we to tell them they have to do something different? I wish more clients took some of the more culturally diverse suggestions?  Sure.  Do I wish more clients would branch out and try some different food options that reflect more of what the actual locals eat?  Absolutely.  But families make choices that are best for their families and I can't judge a family because they choose a certain vacation over another.   I am all for vacations that offer a bit of everything and I am very much for vacations that truly offer some much needed R&R, but I cannot see how someone can point fingers at someone else and blame them for what some other family chooses to do.  There are too many factors that go into vacation planning and I simply feel Chris's article did not take those factors into consideration.

So there is my reply.  What are your thoughts about the article or even about my reply?  Agree with Chris?  Agree with me?  Disagree with both of us?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Vacationer's Dream

Ok, you have decided to take a vacation so you sit down and create your to-do list.  Hopefully it looks something like this:

1. Discuss possible destinations--check
2. Set a budget for the trip--check
3. Pick possible dates for the trip--check
4. Call a travel agent to help plan the details--check
5. Officially book the trip with the help of the agent---check

Now the excitement begins.  You find great apps or other ways to countdown the days until you leave. Time has flown and the time is getting close enough to start packing the bags and then...BLAM, a new form of stress hits.  Who is going to watch the dog?  Who is going to pick up the mail?  Do I have all of my prescriptions?  What about the groceries in the fridge?  The to-do's start to mount up again and they can zap some of the fun away from the vacation itself.

So what if I told you that there are services out there that can even take away those stress factors and give your brain more time to focus on the really fun aspects of your trip?  Wouldn't it be a dream to have someone you could call and they would literally take care of all of those tasks that you can't ignore, but would prefer never to have to worry about?  Imagine not having to worry about anything related to your trip other then things like, "did we load the bags in the car" or "do we have all of our travel documents?"  You know...those things that are actually a part of the trip.

So enough of the lead-in teaser stuff.  Let me introduce you to one such company.  The name of her company is Julie Hullett Concierge LLC and naturally Julie Hullett is the owner.  This is a sample of what she can do for you while you pack your bags (and I even have someone who can offer advice on what to pack, but that is for another post); Julie can take your pet to the boarding kennel, pick up your dry cleaning that you need for the trip, pick up any necessary medications from the pharmacy, and anything else that you might need or need to do before you leave home.

Then picture that the trip is coming to an end and you are about to head home.  Your brain starts to get out of vacation mode and into "what do I need to do when I get home" mode.  Now picture Julie going to get your pet and having him or her there waiting for you when you walk in the door.  Imagine the heat or the AC being at the right temp, your fridge being full with those staples that you knew you would need but hated to buy right before you left home, your mail laid out and organized on your dining table and so on and so on.  Are you getting the stress-free picture?  This is why I call her and her services a "vacationer's dream."  Life would not skip a beat while you were gone.  The transition from before the vacation starts to being on vacation to returning back home from vacation would be so smooth and stress free that you would never plan a vacation the same again.  You would forever be hooked and your concierge's phone number would be a "favorite" in your contacts list.

So the next time you plan a vacation, add one more planning item to your list besides calling a wonderful, all-knowing travel consultant like myself (was that a little much?)...make sure you make an appointment with a concierge service like Julie's.  And if you are in the Nashville Julie.  She is awesome to work with.

Have you ever heard of a service like this?  Have you ever used a service like this?  I would love to get your feedback.