June 4, 2009

Whose Vacation Is It Anyway?

One of the most common questions a client asks me is, “What’s the best resort in [insert name of destination here]?” And I won’t give them a straight answer. I’m not being evasive or difficult; I’m being a good travel advisor.

Despite all the rating systems, “Best Of” lists, and travel awards floating around, the best resort for a particular family depends on their unique travel personality, not a travel editor’s opinion. In fact, there are resorts that I love, which I don’t automatically suggest to my clients. And I would prefer not to stay at many of the places I recommend often. It doesn’t mean they are not great options for a family vacation, they just don’t fit my family’s travel personality.
As a family travel advisor, I have to remove my personal opinion from the planning process, and focus on asking the right questions of my clients to understand their travel style: Do you want to go exploring on your own during the day, or do you want a self-contained resort with lots of activities so you never have to leave? Do you want a fancy water park for the kids, or just a quiet, safe beach? A hip and modern resort, or a casual and comfortable lodge? A quiet setting with lush landscaping, or a hustling bustling atmosphere with poolside games and talent shows?

I remember the time a client called me one evening from a party. She was concerned, as we had just booked their trip to Hawaii, and now she was talking to friends who were raving about a different resort. I reminded her of our initial conversation, where we discussed her vision for the trip, and the kind of hotels and setting that her family prefers. I then explained the differences between the resort she was booked at and the one her friend recommended, and she relaxed as she realized they had made the right choice for their family. They went on the trip and came back raving about how perfect the hotel and location was for them!

I also talk with my clients about their priorities and the tradeoffs they are willing to make. Many travelers forego some luxury in order to stay in an exceptionally beautiful location or have a unique cultural experience. For example, in the Riviera Maya last summer, we spent the first few nights of our trip at 2 star hotel, because we wanted to be steps from one of the best snorkeling beaches in the area, and also experience the local ambiance. Then we spent the remainder of the trip at a five star resort, the Fairmont Mayakoba, which had great amenities and service, but was definitely more “insulated.”

Personal recommendations are valuable, but it is important to keep in mind the frame of reference. Advice could be coming from your best friend, but you probably don’t drive the same car, decorate your house the same way, wear the same clothes, or even have the same hobbies. So it’s not unusual that you have a different travel personality. And I caution that the same consideration be given to online travel reviews – a reviewer could have hated a place because it simply wasn’t the right match, or their expectations were incorrect. That’s why whenever possible, I refer to unbiased reviews written by travel agents who provide specific details as to what type of traveler the hotel suits.

So keep this in mind when getting travel recommendations from well-meaning friends and family. It’s YOUR trip, YOUR hard-earned vacation time, and YOUR money, not theirs. Make sure the match is right for your family. And to help you do that, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com