Travel is an imperfect industry
...which we need to embrace.
The last trip of the year for me was with my family to South Africa and Kenya, 18 days (about 2 and a half weeks) traveling, laughing, playing, eating, drinking, exploring, hanging out, parenting, more parenting, and most of all, learning to roll with the punches. As much as I love traveling, it is not for the feint of heart, and this last trip of 2023 reinforced for me the importance of managing expectations, not just with the services we are providing, but for the entire trip including those areas that are not directly related to the itinerary but get attached to the experience.
Before I get into what we will be doing to manage this better, I want to touch on some of the moments we recently went through, starting the day of our departure. First, before Kat and I took our first sip of coffee, we received an email from BA saying our evening flight had been cancelled, and they booked us on the same flight, 24 hours later, and in a lower class than we originally booked. No conversation, no explanation, no offerings, no other options, just here you go…Happy Friday! But the good news is that we were at home, not at the airport, so we had that going for us. We used the time to work with our ticketing partner to find other options, and we found a BA flight later in the day out of Los Angeles that would enable us to meet our original connection. But not too quick my friend, LAX is 320 miles from our original hub in Phoenix, and 300 miles is all BA will allow to reroute on their airline. So instead, they got them to book us into Delta the next morning, which we took because it was better than waiting till the evening again. And the night we were supposed to be flying, we ended up having a date night at our local hangout, ironically called Humble Pie, which was unexpected, and only possible because of that random imperfect flight cancellation.
Capetown images from the 2023 South Africa Gelber family trip.
We got into Cape Town 14 hours later, but still on the same day as originally planned, with 45 minutes to spare…winning! And let me just throw in a few other challenging moments, like being kept from boarding our connection in Johannesburg because of an issue with our Visa for Kenya; my daughters bag not making it to Kenya, even though I confirmed at the gate that the bags were loaded; a fire in Cape Town that limited our access to the Southernmost tip; and dealing with local airlines in Nairobi that have an interesting model when it comes to schedules…just to mention a few items. But because I have direct access to our suppliers and partners, I was able to get several things moved, rescheduled, and adjusted, and of course, we had an amazing time living life, just being somewhere else in the world!
What can you do but try to look at these moments as part of life, just not exactly what you were expecting? This is the travel experience today, and if we are fortunate enough to travel, then we need to embrace it. You have heard me say one of my favorite books is Good to Great, and one thing about great companies is that they always deal with the brutal facts, not what they want them to be, think they should be or could be, but what they are, and then they make decisions based on that truth.
We take great pride in following the above principle, and seeing things as they are, and then looking for solutions. And as a company we feel it is critically important to take time with each traveler to review their trip before they leave for the airport, so we are all singing the same hymn. We do not just review our services; we arm your clients with valuable information to manage their expectations and to enhance their experience, preaching our belief of “prepare, so you don’t have to repair.” Personal Concierge coaching prepares and informs your clients and connects them to the team that is going to serve them. We are already doing this once your clients arrive on their first day but feel moving the initial engagement to prior to departure provides even more value. Speaking directly with the Specialist who put their trip together and being introduced to our Director of Operations who will be their “call a friend” connection for any needs via WhatsApp we know will be an appreciated benefit by your clients. In today’s travel climate, we believe it is essential to serve clients as if they are one of our friends or family members going away. Accessible, available, responsive, this is how we want them to feel.
Sometimes the most precious moments can come from times that initially feel disruptive, but if we go into them with our eyes wide open, it makes the difference between going as a tourist or a traveler. Travel is not about escaping life, but it is life, just on the go, and if we have learned anything as we get older, it is that life is a daily path of imperfections, and that the imperfections in life do not leave us just because we are somewhere else. Life is no different in our village than the one at the village we are visiting, it is just that we paid for it, and because of that we have become more demanding. And while I understand when you are paying for services, your expectations are elevated, Iet’s not forget one of the most prophetic quotes that speaks directly to this….
Giraffe Center in Nairobi, Grootbos, and Hemingways in Nairobi – Capetown images from the 2023 South Africa Gelber family trip.
When I look at the world, I see too many people who seem to base so much of their happiness on the results of expectations, and not just what they expect from themselves, but even crazier to me, what they expect from others. And when the results are less than they thought they would be, there is this level of disappointment that permeates their outlook, and the moment that happens to your client is the moment we have lost them. This idea of Perfect, Perfection, Perfectionist, is really a form of narcissism, and we somehow have bought into thinking that if we get anything less than what we expect, we have been wronged. But how we act and handle those situations can sometimes be one of the most valuable experiences of life, of our journey, whether at home, or traveling. The insights gained about yourself and others at those times not only define us but profoundly impact the moment(s).
Our amazing South Africa partner Peter-John Mitrovich & family – images from the 2023 South Africa Gelber family trip.
Kat and I had one of these moments. For our 5-year anniversary I had arranged for us to take a long weekend and go to Paris and see U2 in concert. To me, it was a way to share two of our greatest loves, hers being Paris, and mine being U2. We arrive Friday morning, and checked into our hotel, which was the Four Season’s…using points! We had gone for dinner in the Municipal District and got back to the hotel to take a nap. Upon waking up we saw that there was a terrorist attack, at a stadium, concert hall, and down the street from where we had dinner. Our phones had missed calls and messages, and one of the first times I saw a message on FB to tell people we were safe. Paris was shut down, 135 souls were lost, and the concert was cancelled. Our expectations clearly were different than this horrific time, but the closeness of being there during that weekend, and sharing the moment at Notre Dame with lighters lit, listening to the bells chime for each lost soul, was beyond anything I could have expected, and the intimacy, love and appreciation for our 5 years of life together, wasn’t the way I expected it to happen, but will be a memory that will last our lifetimes.
Managing expectations and our perspective, not just in business, but in life, is critical to our happiness, and something I am working on daily. I know it can sound like I am suggesting we lower the bar when we choose to accept things that do not work out as planned, but that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that perhaps sometimes the expectations that we build in our heads are not always realistic, and sometimes they can restrict us from seeing or experiencing something far more valuable than we could have anticipated, and when traveling, just like in life, we need to be open to allowing ourselves to manage them on the fly.
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and Winelands/Franschhoek – images from the 2023 South Africa Gelber family trip.
Starting in 2024, IWorld of Travel is going to increase our personal connection, something my father initiated with a brand he called Elite Travel–and start providing concierge service to each of your clients prior to their departure for their trip. This includes going through the day-to-day schedule ensuring they understand all their services; answering any additional questions; discussing their pickup locations; and what they can expect at various parts of their experience. And along with that, explaining that travel is dependent on so many factors, most of which work together very well, but when they do not, this is your personal connection to us. Not only are we here with your clients at the start of this venture, but we are there with them the entire way. We have learned that when you take the time to create a personal connection of trust and communication with a client ahead of time, it establishes a foundation for success, and anything that comes up in the future, we all get to work from a position where intentions are relevant. This is the world we want to see, the world we want to be a part of, and want your clients to experience…This, is Who We Are.
We travel to experience life in different parts of the world, but we know all too well travel is not just about where you go, but with whom you go.