Timing is everything when you have a travel complaint.
Consider what happened to one of my clients, who had meticulously booked a 16-day trip to Scotland and Ireland months in advance. Our agency worked with Celebrated Experiences to get them an itinerary featuring daily touring with deluxe hotels.
But all the planning couldn’t prepare them for what happened in Ireland.
Since they were interested in learning about both countries while they traveled, they had decided to include private cars and drivers for their entire stay, one driver for each country.
The Scotland week went wonderfully, but after a day and a half in Ireland, the travelers felt like they and their driver-guide were a mismatch.
The drive was experienced, but they didn’t really connect as far as personalities and interests. For starters, they were interested in history and the driver wasn’t.
There were also communication issues. The travelers didn’t understand the driving time and distances involved in rural Ireland, which meant two extra-leisurely stops resulted in a very late hotel arrival. Then passing up an opportunity for an early lunch meant there were no alternatives until late afternoon. The details are less important than the fact that they weren’t really happy.
And yes, this is a first-world problem, but they had paid a lot of money for this trip and were disappointed.
Often, this is the kind of thing that travelers complain about when they get home, and then all a travel agent or an advocate can do is commiserate or try to get some compensation.
But these clients, who brought all the contact information I had given them along on the trip, decided to email the driver’s company in Ireland early Sunday evening, copying Celebrated Experiences and our agency. They politely explained the situation and asked if there was any way to change drivers.
And as it turned out, even on a Sunday, the company was able to contact another driver and had him there Monday to take over. The clients thought the second driver was “perfect,” and sent two appreciative follow-up emails.
The last communication said they had had a “fantastic” time and will happily recommend the local company and Celebrated Experiences to everyone. So all’s well that ends well.
The couple could have just decided to grin and bear it, but they weren’t having a good time. Had they reported this to me upon their return, no doubt I could have gotten an apology letter and maybe even a discount on a future tour as a goodwill gesture, but it wouldn’t have given them their vacation back. And they would have had very different memories.
While not every problem can be solved this quickly and happily, the experience does illustrate some important rules of complaining. First, and perhaps most important: Do it when there is still a chance to fix the problem. Whether it’s a five-star tour or a simple weekend hotel package somewhere, travel suppliers want satisfied companies.
The clients did other things correctly. They brought all the contact information with them and cc’ed everyone who might be able to help into the email. Often, when we hear from returning travelers who were unhappy over something on a trip, we discover they’ve left, for example, the after-hours contact information at home or didn’t even realize they had it.
They also didn’t just vent randomly, but asked for a specific and, to my mind, reasonable fix. It wasn’t as if they suddenly wanted to rework their entire itinerary overnight. They just wanted a new driver. And they were pleasant every step of the way.
While those of us in the travel industry always want to keep clients happy, it is much easier when people are nice.
To be honest, anyone booking high-end travel is more likely to be able to get instant access to someone who can fix problems, though like most agents, I’ve personally fixed plenty of problems with inexpensive hotels, car rentals and other last-minute travel issues.
And even websites that cater to budget travelers usually have a toll-free number. But travelers sometimes have to start the advocacy process themselves, and that means speaking up while a trip can still be fixed.