We all know the feeling of looking forward to a particular trip for weeks, months — sometimes even years if we have to save enough money or find the time to do it.
And then the trip takes place. And then, all too soon, it’s over.
You might feel a natural letdown, at least for a while. But then memory sets in.
Whether or not those memories are good, bad or indifferent will probably spell the difference between whether or not you’ll return to that destination, lodging, or cruise line; or recommend to or warn against taking a similar trip to your family and friends; or take another tour with the same operator or decide to look elsewhere next time.
For baby boomer travelers, memories are perhaps even more important than for younger travelers, because each trip you take takes on added importance. Time and energy for travel no longer seems limitless, as it did in your 20s and 30s. You have to be a bit pickier in where you choose to go and how you spend your travel dollars.
The bucket list mentality sets in: “This is something I’ve got to do, before I can’t do it any more.”
That’s one reason why so many boomers are signing up for extraordinary adventures like hiking to Machu Picchu or going on an African safari or visiting remote but compelling destinations like the Galapagos or Patagonia. They aren’t looking just for a relaxing vacation — they’re looking for genuine travel experiences that create memories they can hold onto for the rest of their lives.
It’s up to travel professionals to help make that happen, and those are successful in that will in all probability succeed in their business.
How do you help create memories?
If you’re a tour operator, you can make sure your clients are able to interact with local people in the destinations you visit. Stop at a school and meet the kids; set up confabs with local environmentalists or artists; have meals in local pubs and stay in guest houses where the hosts serve appetizers and wine or tea before dinner.
As wonderful as sights can be, people tend to make the most indelible impressions on other people.
I have one very compelling memory of a time 14 years ago when I was traveling around Wales with a travel photographer friend of mine, and we stopped to stay at a guest house where the owner was serving pre-dinner drinks. When the photographer mentioned that he was from Detroit, the owner lit up with a smile and reached for a book of photographs of Michigan, which she said had been given her by another American. “That’s my book!” my friend exclaimed. “I took all those pictures.” Both the owner and the photographer were beaming. I don’t remember much else about that guest house, but I remember that encounter vividly: a real people-to-people moment.
Sometimes on tours or cruises — or in any type of travel — things go awry. Last spring I was on a two-week cruise-freighter voyage through the remote Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia when the air conditioning broke down three days out of our return to Tahiti. The cabins got stifling hot and the bar was running out of beer. But the crew handled it well, helping to set up mattresses for those (like me) who chose to sleep on deck for three nights. The voyage was already notable because of the destination, but now it became a South Seas adventure seared in my memory. (You can read an excerpt of my magazine story on the trip and the remarkable ship Aranui 3 here.)
The key is how the tour operator, cruise line, hotelier, restaurateur, travel agent, destination marketer or other travel professional handles both the good and the bad. If everything goes smoothly, that’s wonderful — great memories can be created by careful planning and excellent customer service.
If things don’t go as expected, it’s up to the travel professional to do everything possible to mitigate the damage. In the case of the Aranui 3, the crew offered a chance for anyone who wanted to to disembark early. (Only a small number of the 120 passengers on board chose to do so.) The owners also offered refunds for the days spent without air conditioning and were deeply apologetic. And the crew opened up the bar to free drinks (which, admittedly, quickly drained the supply.)
The bottom line is that the crucial element in any travel experience is what the traveler takes away from it. In the end, after you’ve returned home, it’s all about nurturing memories of sometimes serendipitous encounters, extraordinary experiences, and new knowledge of other cultures.
And good memories, however they’re derived, serve to drive more travel in the future — including, perhaps, an ever-widening circle of family, friends, and social media contacts that hear about the trip. That’s what keeps travel-related businesses going strong.