When I started guiding many years ago a friend working for British Airways told me how ihis bosses always stressed how important it was to treat the passengers well so they would book again with the same airline, particularly if they were businesspeople. (They probably said ‘businessmen’ but these are less sexist times.) Our guide training, in contrast, stressed how important it was to be able to keep up a continuous, interesting and entertaining commentary – to never dry up. Later on I realised that tourists, like business people, need a bit of charm as well as information and adapted accordingly. In fact, the reason I have stopped doing extended tours all season is that I felt the smile was becoming a bit forced and the charm was running low.
The flying business has changed far more than the tourist trade in the intervening years. Someone invented budget airlines and it soon became clear that, when it comes to getting from A to B through the air, price is king and charm is way behind. The net result of the killer competition in the skies is that David Dao, an American doctor, was forced off a United Airlines flight in the USA because he refused to give up his seat to four airline crew. He has two broken teeth, needs reconstructive surgery and is probably unlikely to book with that airline again in the near future. What is truly worrying about this is that stock in United actually went up in the aftermath of this incident because it showed that the company could economise even if it meant bad publicity. If United were a travel firm they would be out of business by now. To be fair to United they refunded everyone on the flight and have stated that they will change their policy on overbooking in future. I wonder, incidentally, if Doctor Dao had been called Doctor Smith or Jones he would have been treated as he was.
At about the same time as Dr Dao was having his teeth broken for expecting to be taken to the destination he had booked a ticket for, I was helping to load up a coach for a Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath tour. It is a very popular day-trip and was heavily booked so we had to fill all 57 seats. We ended up with one passenger on her own and no single passengers waiting who could sit next to her. I assumed that MImi, who was in charge of loading, would let us go but she said that it was necessary to fill this seat which meant that the single passenger had to go on the next coach. Mimi explained the situation and politely asked the passenger to board the next coach and replaced her with a couple so that we could leave fully loaded. No cops were called, no teeth were broken and we had a good day.
You can get away with a lot if you use a little charm and guarantee that people will get what they paid for. What you cannot do is let down your customers and break your promise to them – no matter what the small print says.