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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

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Paris' Arc de Triomphe -- will a wronged customer triumph in the end? Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

Paris’ Arc de Triomphe — will a wronged customer triumph in the end? Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

I received a note from a reader yesterday about a travel company that has a lavish website and sells a luxury product that is geared to customizing trips for individual travelers.

The problem, according to this reader — who wants to be identified only by his initials, G.M. — is that when he asked for service, they didn’t want to take his money — and a fair amount of it, at that.

It seems they wanted more.

Here’s the backstory: G.M., a longtime, now retired operating room nurse, is planning his first big vacation  in decades, a two-week trip to Paris. Due to the generosity of a wealthy patient, he’ll be staying in a suite at one of Paris’ most luxurious hotels, and, with the help of donated frequent flyer miles, winging his way first class from the U.S. to the City of Light. He has the use of a friend’s apartment in the Marais district to cook many of his meals — to save money. He stressed that he could not afford the hotel stay or the first-class ticket on his own. 

But, he added, “I am going to enjoy myself this time and I am going to pay for it.” In fact, he’s willing to spend up to $6,000 on private guides for the trip — including day or overnight excursions to  Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Vaux le Vicomte among others.

So he approached the luxury travel company about setting him up with the best Paris-area guides that money could rent.

“Their response,” he continued, “was that if I did not book a hotel through them they were not interested,” even after explaining that he already had a hotel. “Their attitude was horrible,” G.M. said, “considering I was willing to spend over $800 a day for a guide. I thought these people could help, with their fancy website. I’m disappointed that they let me down. Very poor customer service.”

I’m not naming the company because I don’t have their side of the story, and perhaps in their rarefied league their share of $6,000 isn’t worth the trouble to fix G.M. up with guides.

But I thought G.M.’s rant, as he called it, was worth repeating because it raises an important issue for both travel businesses and consumers: what’s more important, a lavish website and clever marketing (for which this company is known) or good old fashioned customer service?

The context of G.M.’s note — there was much more to it, but space doesn’t allow reprinting it all — convinces me that he’s not a crank, just someone who wants to get the most out of a long overdue vacation, is willing to pay for it, but had a bad customer-service experience with the company he chose to help him realize his dream.

Assuming this to be true (and I think it is), I would ask: how tough is it to at least be polite to a potential customer? (Who, for all the company knew, was wealthy and might return with more business in the future.)

I should add that G.M. later contacted the Paris hotel where he’ll be staying and the concierge there is more than happy to set him up with guides. And G.M. vows to “let the concierge know so he can spread the word” about the offending company.

I’m interested in hearing other readers’ reactions to this. Is G.M. overreacting? And does that really matter if the company has made an unnecessary enemy in these days of TripAdvisor reviews, tweets, and blog posts?

The more the world shrinks and social media grows, the more important it becomes to treat every potential customer as king — especially, I would argue, in the travel business, where there are plenty of options to turn to if you don’t stick to the basics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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