travel perceptions

Travel Perceptions and Misconceptions

These past few months have been difficult for everyone, and the travel industry has been hit particularly hard. What will the future of travel be? How will it line up with the “new normal”? I find myself thinking about the “old normal” as I consider common travel perceptions and misconceptions.

PACK ‘EM IN

The Washington Post has a travel column that interviews movers and shakers of the industry. (And here I must mention that while I understand that the collective transportation, housing and feeding of people has to be called something, the word “industry” gives me pause. Car industry and clothing industry, okay, but this activity is about human beings, each of whom is, on the one hand, viewed as precious “cargo” such as with regard to the recent health concerns, but on the other, moved about like cattle not worthy of an afternoon snack.)

In the WP article, Rick Steves, the well-known American travel authority, weighed in on how the pandemic will change travel. His beliefs are based on the concept that travel should be accessible for everyone, and for that to be the case, it needs to be affordable. According to Steves, “the only way somebody can have a quality experience is to pack the house. You’ve got to pack the theater. You’ve got to pack the bus. You’ve got a pack the airplane. You got to pack the hotel because then you can generate enough revenue to provide a service that’s top notch.”

I’ve observed that to assure a packed tour group, large operators focus on popular places. In Italy, that would include Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast. A handful of the “best vacation spots” are pushed to clinch maximum profits. Have you ever wondered why these big tour operators haven’t embraced, say, Calabria or Molise amongst their destinations?

Molise fishing

Old town of Termoli, Molise with a traditional “trabucco” fishing apparatus

TRAVEL PERCEPTIONS: CRYING POOR

The poor airlines – how ever will they manage to weather this storm? And it’s a serious issue, mind you, but I ask myself, did they care about their passengers when times were good? Exorbitant baggage and seat charges, ever more restrictive rules, elimination of meals on domestic flights, packing in the seats tighter, welcoming comfort ferrets without a thought for sharing associated fees with the passengers who must sit next to or share oxygen with said animal.

What were airlines doing with all that money earned in high times? According to Business Insider, they had been using 96% of their cash flow on buybacks to push stock prices higher. What weren’t they doing? Saving for a rainy day and improving or even maintaining a modicum of customer service.

airplane snack

I remember being so pleased to get this pack of taralli on an Alitalia flight out of Switzerland.

BACK IN BUSINESS?

My inbox is full of messages from airlines, seemingly articulating all they are doing to combat the virus. Disinfecting the airplanes? Really? My tray table won’t be full of last week’s crumbs and beverage stains anymore? No surprises in the seatback pocket? I’m so glad we’re #inthistogether.

EasyJet, a British low-cost airline, had a bit of a kerfuffle this past week, as they geared up their website for flights into Italy. How did they plan on enticing customers to sign up for a lesser-known travel destination? By repeating old stereotypes and describing the location’s hidden secrets as “non-Instagrammable” as compared with better-known places. That’s right. Fly to Sant’Eufemia airport (SUF) in Lamezia Terme, even though Calabria doesn’t have the beauty of Rome or Venice as confirmed by Instagram users.

How can such blunders occur? EasyJet probably gave the job to a young intern, who just googled the location and scribbled a few lines of copy that reflected “industry standard.” As it really is an industry, and that’s the standard. Of course, EasyJet quickly changed the description and has been apologizing ever since.

travel perceptions

San Nicola Arcella, one of Calabria’s many instagrammable spots from my Instagram account

TRAVEL PERCEPTIONS: FUTURE TRAVEL

Now that we’ve established that the “old normal” isn’t something we’d wish on the chickens whose free-range eggs we clamor for, what will the “new normal” bring? Must the bus be packed and the airplane toilet remain soiled for the duration of an overseas’ flight?

When I founded Karen’s Travel LLC to show the curious minded the beauties of Calabria, I looked closely at the itineraries and pricing of numerous larger tour operators and I was rather surprised at how much profit was built into the programs, especially considering that for many, a small group consisted of up to 25 people. And here, I must once again remind myself that it’s an industry, not an art.

For my first Calabria Cultural Tour, I had a very nice group of ten congenial travelers. The land program was affordable, yet we were not packed in by any means and the service was top notch, with participants enthusiastically praising their intimate travel experience. This past spring, I was, of course, hugely disappointed with the cancellation of my Calabria tours and hope 2021 will see people traveling the world again. There are so many beautiful places to visit, new people to meet, scrumptious food to eat and interesting cultures to learn about.

I cannot predict the future or what the airlines will do. I would like to imagine a flight without someone’s seatback in my lap and a hairline of clearance between my knees and the seat in front of me. I hope that we can get “back to normal” very soon and that the “new normal” will have learned from the “old.” 

travel perceptions

Flying out of Lamezia Terme (SUF), Calabria – ciao beach, ciao mountains!


The cover photo for Travel Perceptions and Misconceptions was taken on a flight as it passed over Switzerland.

All about the beautiful region in the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my award-winning book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating area of South Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions. And when it’s safe to travel and you would like to visit Italy with elbowroom, join me on one of my Calabria tours.

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Comments 16

  1. Ciao Karen, AMEN to all you have said! Interesting to read the figures shared by Business Insider, it’s incredible how many businesses become eager and fall into the trap of not saving for rainy days…

    As for the EasyJet fiasco…I’m just speechless! And it also hurt to see how “the industry” is populated by people, who have not the slightest idea on how to market a place and promote a tourist “product”. In this case it is not even a question of being educated about tourism marketing, it’s just common sense, you know!? How did they think it was a good idea to state THOSE things!? SIGH!

    This lack of common sense is something which is quite widespread, sadly…I don’t know if you have seen the last campaign promoted by the Locride’s majors: “Come to Riviera dei Gelsomini, if you’ll go to the Northern coasts you’ll get sick!”. Is it really necessary to say these things to promote one’s attractions? Couldn’t you just pinpoint your strong points, without “belittling” the competitors? Also, as an Italian, I’m tired of this endless battle North-South, which is just detrimental for the whole country.

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      Absolutely, as you say, the lack of basic common sense has become the new norm. In previous centuries, the average person relied on his wits and skill to survive, and would have thought twice before jumping in the fray. Unfortunately, the mayors of the Locride wanted to make a splash and they put their faith and a sack load of money, no doubt, in the publicist Klaus Davi. I haven’t seen the ad, but I’ve seen its criticism and the denouncement of its message by many Calabrians on Facebook, who were ashamed that their countrymen who have suffered so much in the past from injustice would then turn around and throw accusations the first chance they got. The unfortunate reality in modern society is the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” And sadder still is that Klaus Davi attained his goal of bringing international attention to himself and his client.

  2. Excellent commentary! We are in a difficult time…..the art of travel needs to change from the old ‘profit minded’ to the new idea of experience and learning … to regions and to culture … both are richer than the viewing of monuments! Yes, the big cities are a necessary stop…however the focus should be a more intimate knowledge of Italy and that means the visitor needs to get into the countryside…..into the regions and meet the people of Italy not only the monuments.

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      Yes, and in this way, travelers would have the opportunity for a more authentic experience, sharing in the local culture and immersing themselves in the environment right alongside residents, not a Disneyesque version of the place with unmanageable crowds, touristy frozen food and tacky souvenirs.

  3. Couldn’t agree more! They’ve had a “captive” audience and have, literally and figuratively, squandered that currency for years!

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  4. Enjoyed this read! It will be interesting to see how travel shapes up for 2021 as I don’t believe there will be much travel in the second half of 2020.

    Yes, the EasyJet blunder was inexcusable and as you mentioned, probably written by an intern. Ghost Writers have also been know to make such blunders. The disadvantages of writing about a destination that you haven’t actually visited.

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      And despite the plethora of information available, there’s more made-up stuff than ever before…
      As for moving about, we had such hopes for summer travel and then fall travel; now as you say, the focus is 2021.

  5. YIKES!! “Packing the house,” as Steves puts it is exactly what brought us to this situation and returning to the old kind of thinking isn’t going to make for a better world. But, I fear it’s exactly what people have in mind in their rush to “move forward” and “not waste any more money.”
    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. I wanted to re-quote every single one of your paragraphs back to you 😁 as I was reading and nodding vigorously. There is no value or quality of service when you treat locals, visitors, and the landscape as commodities for profit. I am so happy there are programs like yours which place appreciation of the earth, our traveling companions, and our hosts at the forefront. I really hope they become the new normal.

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      Thank you for the confirmation, all the more important in a topsy-turvy world. We can only do our best and hope that others will too…

  6. Ciao Karen
    A lot of great points you bring up. You and I know about travelling to awesome lesser known sites, but that isn’t the norm, or the focus of advertising. The travel industry has a lot of cleaning up to do, but unfortunately, I think it will involve big price increases. I always try to remember that when my whole family went to Italia in 1975, we paid $1500 for each ticket, which is about the same as last year’s prices for highish season. That helps me put things into perspective a bit-even though I don’t like it. Writers ‘googling’ destinations they have not been to is a pet peeve of mine! I also hope the airlines stop being so lenient with animals on flights -i’m allergic and no one ever seems to care! The ’emotional support ferret’ is unfortunately not a far-fetched example. I hope we can get to travel soon. I haven’t been home mid July to mid August in 17 years and it feels so strange. Ciao, Cristina

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      Excellent point in that airline travel up through the 1970s was exclusive and much more expensive than it is today. Now, there are instances when it can cost less than a bus and so it feels like a rush-hour bus. Nothing compared with the “golden” age of travel, but over the past couple of years, airfare has been going up, particularly to destinations with less competition. Unfortunately at the same time, passengers were being squeezed, like raising the price on a repackaged, smaller box of cereal in which the contents have miraculously settled to the bottom at a greater rate than in a larger box. It would be nice to have some sort of happy medium, where passengers pay a fair price and are treated like human beings.
      Sorry you’re missing your annual trip to Italy, but hope you’re enjoying your Canadian summer even amidst this difficult time.

  7. Really great insight on the travel “industry”. Travel shouldn’t be looked at as an industry but as a life experience. So much gets lost in these over-crowded tour groups that zip from one place to another. All that money spent to get just a tiny slice of what is actually the place they are seeing. I’m very curious to see what travel will be like going forward. And I’m extremely curious to see what choices travelers make for their next vacations.

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      The Grand Tour will always be the first choice. The iconic sites of the Colosseum and Venice’s canals are not to be missed; however, the idea that everyone and his grandmother can eat dinner in the fancy restaurant with the iconic view or drink a coffee at this or that famous bar has surely gotten old. Hopefully travelers will wake up and look around them to see that they are eating in a place that has lost its charm as this type of over-crowded tourism is in the long run unsustainable.

  8. I’m very interested to see how travel shapes up in the future. I was appalled to see about how EasyJet portrayed Calabria to the world recently. It shows how some things just won’t change. For example we might like smaller towns and villages but everyone doesn’t. And that’s okay but at least don’t focus on a handful of cities or best vacation spots as you say.

    And then there’s the whole division in Italy!! Being an Indian, I can say it’s taxing because here too we have the same North and South divide. It is deep and inherent. I’m pretty sure the Italians are tired too!!

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      Also in the US. It would seem that people spend an inordinate amount of energy focusing on or trying to find differences, but in the end, it often just boils down to a grab for a bigger portion of the pie.

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