The real reason why Silicon Valley is the world’s most elusive tourist attraction

Silicon Valley draws me to it like a powerful magnet, with its Mediterranean climate, irresistible culture of innovation and iconic technology brands that have defined a generation. It pulls in my whole family, which, like many Americans, lives in a world defined by Apple, Facebook and Google. Read more “The real reason why Silicon Valley is the world’s most elusive tourist attraction”

Can this trip be saved? “We feel cheated as tourists”

Before Steven Barlow returned his rental car at Orlando International Airport in December, he did what most rental customers do who are trying to avoid a fuel surcharge: He found a gas station and topped off his tank.

Then he looked at the digital display on the pump at the Suncoast Energies station, which seemed to be moving faster than normal. Then he looked up and saw the prices were nearly twice the going rate for gas in Florida — an incredible $4.89 per gallon.

We could see no signs advertising the price. The clerk told me that they could charge this price as the station was close to the airport, and offered no other reason as to why they didn’t need to advertise. Basically, too bad you stopped and thanks for being stupid and giving us your money.

Read more “Can this trip be saved? “We feel cheated as tourists””

More than ever, the Gulf needs tourists to swim against the tide

No one wants to be called a tragedy tourist. Not Van Badham, a London-based playwright who spends her vacations visiting such places as Ground Zero in New York and Nazi concentration camps in Germany.

“I travel to learn, and witness, and share,” she said. “If it’s bad, I want to know how bad it is.”

Any surprise, then, that the coast of Louisiana — site of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history — is on her “to-do” list? “I will definitely make a point of getting over there when I’m in the U.S. next,” she told me.

As tens of thousands of travelers cancel their beach vacations in the wake of the massive oil spill, a small number of tourists will swim against the tide. Too bad it’s just a small number. If ever there were a time to visit the Gulf Coast, it is now.
Read more “More than ever, the Gulf needs tourists to swim against the tide”

Predatory tourism? Visitor details a “horrible” vacation in Jamaica

negrilHigh crime. Outrageous prices. Fees everywhere.

Jonathan Shelton’s vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica, had it all. And he was so upset by it that he fired up his Blackberry at the airport and sent me a missive.

“I was awed by the locals trying to take advantage of tourists at every turn,” he told me. “The whole economy is designed to rake tourists over the leaves.”

Is his experience just another example of predatory tourism, where hotels, tour operators and merchants prey on their own guests? Or was Shelton just unlucky?
Read more “Predatory tourism? Visitor details a “horrible” vacation in Jamaica”

Disney call center employee: American visitors are “demanding, rude, nasty and foul-mouthed”

When it comes to this weekend’s Travel Troubleshooter column about a Disney vacation that lacked a little magic, there’s no middle ground. Either you side with the unhappy visitor whose monorail broke down and whose room wasn’t up to his standards, or you believe the real victim was the Mickey, who compensated the customer in the end.

Want proof? I have hundreds of e-mails.

But perhaps the most surprising reaction came from within Disney. Cast members (that’s what they call employees at Disney) decided to chime in with their customer experiences. The most memorable e-mail was from a call center worker who, for reasons that will soon become clear, wishes to remain anonymous.

My daily duties include taking calls from our guest at the 23+ resorts on property. As you can imagine we take over 16,000 calls on a daily basis, everything from extra towels to any complaint a guest can come up with.

Most complaints are real. Others are so far out there you shake your head and wonder what kind of upbringing this person had.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But I could write a book about some of the things some people come up with. If it’s OK with you I would like to share a few.

I took a call from a guest a few months back who was staying at one of the resorts, and on this day we were having technical problems with the cable service across property and it was being tended to, this guest calls and I explain what’s going on and give him an ETA for the repair to which he responds — and I quote — “I did not spend $5,000 to come to WDW and not be able to watch cable TV.”

I can’t tell you how badly I bit my tongue, but if I could have I would have told him that he did indeed spend $5,000 to come to WDW and not watch cable TV; he spent it to be in the parks having fun with his family.

I have had a guest demand we credit her room account one full day because she had a light bulb burnt out in her bathroom and it was causing problems for her to put her make-up on.

I want to tell you that for the most part at least 90 percent of these calls have come from American tourist. They are demanding, rude, nasty and foul-mouthed people that think that because it’s Disney we will bend over for them and if we don’t, they want to report us to a manager.

Please people, get a life. Just like you, we are hard working people happy to have a job. And if we say sorry, we can’t accommodate you, that means we can’t. We are not taught to lie to the guest but you will each and every time ask for a manager who tells us what is and what isn’t possible.

The 10 percent that are English or from other countries are so pleasant and funny and don’t care what kind of room they have. I love those calls they make my day go faster and they make me smile.

Anyway, I hope this gives you some insight into the way American tourist are when they come to WDW. It’s never fun dealing with them because all they do is demand, demand, demand.

Have a magical day.

I have no reason to doubt that many of the folks who call the Disney complaint line are difficult. My question is: How did they get that way?

Were they always unmannerly? Or did the gradual degradation of the overall travel experience — for example, being treated like a number by their airline or being socked with surcharges when they rent a car — turn them into boorish ingrates?

People know that Disney cast members are held to a higher standard than many other travel industry employees. Does the knowledge that they’ll “bite their tongues” make them take certain liberties with the tone of their complaints?

Maybe this is as good a time as any to look inward and ask ourselves how we got here. Do American travelers act like spoiled children when they’re on the road?

If so, what do we do about it?