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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone's home and backyard.” 
 Vera Nazarian

Conde Nast Traveler, one of my favorite travel mags, has a very cool series of short articles this month dealing with people who work in the service industry. Tour guides, hotel housekeepers, waiters, and even a short piece with one of the staffers dressing up in an Elmo costume to try to busk monies on the mean streets of Times Square. Not so mean, as it turns out, but an eye-opening experience for the writer in question.

Inserted throughout the main articles are sidelines which are themselves short interviews getting the "inside scoop" from various members of the service groups -- tour guides telling a short recollection of some sort of interaction with a tourist, a Parisian waiter discussing proper etiquette, and others who have fascinating observations usually accompanied by an illustrative anecdote.

This started me thinking about how we interact with others when we're on holiday or a business trip.

I seem to be relatively lucky when it comes to that sort of thing. Only very rarely do I get someone who is surly or unpleasant, and I usually will do something to correct the situation. (I've found that asking if I've offended them is a good icebreaker. Once they are made aware of the slight they typically fall all over themselves to provide good service. There are exceptions, but mercifully only a few.) (I wrote about such an issue between good and bad service at two giant Las Vegas casinos in a column entitled A Tale of Two Casinos, Twice Over.)

I do recognize that these people have hard jobs. It's not easy waiting on the public. Individually we can be wonderful and pleasant, but taken as a whole it can be overwhelming.

Just this last week my parents were in town and suffered that worst of airport fates: the cancelled flight. Suddenly a team of four airline representatives ere facing an unhappy group of travelers who they were inconveniencing in the extreme. It's a volatile situation and one which frequently results in terse exchanged and battered egos. I've found, as my parents taught me, that recognizing that you, alone, don't have the authority or power to change the situation is a great help when it comes to dealing with it.

When I am faced with this kind of an impact to my plans, I immediately consider the options and work proactively with the staff. I've found that a kind word and comment can go miles (pun intended). Make that person a friend instead of an opponent and you both win. (Friends of mine will assert that I can be very strong willed and assertive, but I usually reserve this sort of thing for the person who continues to be a jerk after a couple of olive branches have been proffered.)

So much of our enjoyment of a trip is contingent upon the interactions with others, which means the folks who make a living by making sure our plans or accommodations or interactions go as smoothly as possible. Our recent need to cancel our plans for a cruise through Northern Europe could have been a difficult situation, but uniformly the customer service representatives for Windstar, Westin Hotels and Air New Zealand were terrific in helping us cancel and perhaps leave room for flexibility in the future. 

And even the very nice customer service person at American Airlines tried her best, though the airline has placed so many restrictions on their frequent flyer plan that it was not a good overall response -- and this is a key. Companies must themselves allow their service representatives latitude, and they must ensure that their own policies and procedures are not draconian. (Even the best customer service person cannot put lipstick on a pig and label it a supermodel.) American is losing our business precisely because their policies have become very difficult to deal with -- three years ago they were not, but the management has made serious changes to the program and, at the same time, alienated even the most loyal of customers.

If you would like to read the series in Traveler you can find ti here: What Flight Attendants, Tour Guides, and Waiters Really Think of Travelers

Highly recommended!

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