Social media posts are fueling a surge in unusual travel requests, says a safari expert.
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This is one of the most dirty words in hospitality – and travelers are likely to hear it a lot these days.
Travel agency Discover Africa said this when potential buyers asked if their young child could ride a lion while on safari.
“When we refused to ride the lion, the visitor asked what other wild animals he could ride,” said Susan Swanepoel, senior travel consultant at Discover Africa. “I reminded them that they are wild animals, and there is no possibility of this happening.”
In the end, he said, the travelers decided not to go with the company, saying they were “going to India where their son will be able to ride a tiger.”
This is one of the most surprising requests that Swanepoel and his colleagues have made over the years. But there is much more.
There was a Japanese company that wanted Japanese food, prepared by Japanese cooks and Japanese chefs, for about 6,000 guests for the six weeks surrounding the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. (Swanepoel said the company he worked for at the time ended this.)
And the visitor who wanted a fresh, unopened jar of creamy peanut butter was available at every meal on an 18-day trip through the Kalahari and Botswana deserts.
Some questions are more crazy than hard. Like the time a couple traveling with Discover Africa – who requested a feather pillow on the left side of the bed, and a foam pillow on the right – called at 10pm to say the pillows had been mixed up.
“I asked them to change the pillows themselves because it was late, and the house staff were already asleep,” said Swanepoel. “The answer was no. They wanted me to get the camp manager to go to their tent to change their pillows.”
Andre Van Kets, director and co-founder of Discover Africa, said there has been an increase in such requests, especially among people who are new to vacationing.
“Starters often have unusual requests,” he said. “But that’s okay. It’s our job to help them understand what’s possible and what’s not.”
Social media also helps to ‘disrupt’ anything out of the ordinary.
Andre Van Kets
director and cofounder of Discover Africa
But he doesn’t know why some travelers have unrealistic expectations, he said.
“Social networks also help to ‘distort’ anything unusual,” he said, adding that viruses often don’t have a story to explain what they’re showing. “As a tour operator, it’s important to set realistic expectations. And sometimes that means saying ‘no.’
High-profile requests – such as a Discover Africa client who asked to help breed a white rhino – it may, in part, be an unfortunate consequence of the travel industry’s success in providing flawless, ultimate experiences. Ironically, excellent service can undermine travelers’ increased sense of entitlement.
The effect can be circular: The more travelers are offered, the more they want.
Yngvar Stray, general manager of luxury hotel Capella Singapore, told CNBC that in the luxury hotel industry, “the old fashioned concierge” is to say yes even before you know the question.
“As long as it’s legal and ethically correct,” he added.
“As a tour operator, it’s important to set realistic expectations. And sometimes that means ‘no,'” said Andre Van Kets of Discover Africa.
Source: Discover Africa
When requests violate the law or the company’s security policy, it is easy to refuse. In addition, there may be other ways to get what you want, Van Kets said.
“For example, if a traveler wants to see a rhinoceros in the wild nearby. We can’t offer that to everyone at every safari site. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
“But in some parks, at certain times of the year, we can arrange for visitors to join a ranger in a rhino conservation exercise.”
The changes made in the name of progress – sustainability, safety, health, animal welfare and more – also bring back travelers who complain about the “new way” of doing things.
From nature reserves knocked out due to lack of air in bathrooms to bans on single-use plastics in airports and hotels, some travelers have complained about the changes others want, leaving the hospitality industry in a seemingly no-win situation.
Van Kets said his company faced criticism after limiting its tours to “real wildlife areas,” which he describes as areas where predators and animals roam freely without fences to separate them. That means zoos and zoos, which he said are “beautiful, big zoos,” he said.
“If tourists have limited time or budget, I insist on visiting this place, then it is their choice to do so,” he said. But “keeping the ‘real thing’ alive and well for future generations, is what we have.”
Cities also turn away travelers – sometimes, hundreds or thousands of them. In one of the biggest “no’s” of the year, the authorities in Amsterdam launched a “distraction plan” in March with a message aimed mainly at young people who come to the city to have fun: “Stay away.”
Some travelers are learning requests, which are considered reasonable, are being cut due to the company’s staff shortage.
Kristen Graff said housekeeping did not clean her room once during a three-day stay at a Los Angeles hotel in January. He said he later learned that cleaning was available, if he made a reservation.
He said he understands the problem to some extent, but “it’s not about paying cheap prices.”
In some cases, travelers are revisiting hotels they stayed at before the outbreak, only to find that the previous reservations have disappeared.
According to Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index 2023, about 82% of companies think that consumers understand such limitations. However, customer loyalty appears to be on the rise, said Cheryl Miller, Expedia’s chief marketing officer for Business.
“Ultimately, it depends on the individual traveler and their expectations,” he said. “However, it’s important to remember that customer service isn’t just about meeting expectations. It’s about exceeding them.”