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Expectations Versus Reality

All too often in life, there’s a disappointing difference between what you see and what you get.

Fast-food hamburgers look fresh, plump and delicious in TV commercials. But when I unwrap a burger after pulling out of a drive-through, I’m always disappointed to find a stale, shriveled, greasy mess. The lettuce is not crisp, and the tomatoes are not ripe or juicy. The actual product reality pales in comparison to the advertised ideal.

The tourism industry is quite vulnerable to this phenomenon. We use glossy photos of sparkling attractions and bright sunny days to market trips. But many world landmarks that look gorgeous in travel photography are actually packed full of tourists, and the crowds can detract significantly from the visitor experience. You’re not likely to have space for a romantic picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, and unless you understand how to work the reservation system, it’s nearly impossible to get reservations at the best restaurants at Disney World.

I was bristling with excitement anticipating my first trip to Alaska 10 years ago. But it rained nearly the whole time. I have returned to the state on two more trips since then and have been fortunate to get great views of Denali both times. But because of the unpredictable weather, many tourists never get to see the peak of that great mountain.

This reminds me of another disconnect I have noticed in our industry. If you frequently attend larger tourism conventions, you have probably seen some of the fancy motorcoaches that manufacturers bring to show off their latest innovations. Step aboard one of these buses, and you’ll likely find leather seats, detailed trim, seat-back USB ports and numerous other special touches. The motorcoach has come a long way.

The problem, though, is that travelers rarely get to ride on one of these new coaches. A motorcoach is a very expensive piece of equipment, often costing $300,000 or more, and transportation companies keep buses on the road as long as they can to get the maximum value for their investment.

I’ve seen plenty of beautiful new coaches on trade-show floors. But in more than a dozen years in the travel industry, I’ve only been a passenger on a comparable bus a handful of times. What I’ve seen is not what I’ve been getting.

Recently, however, I spent some time on a motorcoach that showed encouraging signs of innovation. It wasn’t new by any means — it might have been 10 to 15 years old. But it had been retrofitted to include some modern amenities, such as wireless Internet service and electrical outlets at each seat. The installation wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done.

I appreciated that this coach operator had taken steps to bridge the gap between what people see and what people get, and it got me thinking about ways the rest of us can do the same.

There are some travel circumstances that are out of your control, and there will inevitably be some times when what you deliver is less than what you promised. But the question is worth asking: What are you doing to bridge the gap between what your travelers see and what they get?

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.