Travel Planning: The Written Word vs Reality

I’m currently consulting on a wonderful project, putting together India, Nepal and Bhutan portfolios for a new to India tour operator. This has involved writing up itineraries, something I haven’t done for a few years and it made me have a realisation.  Itineraries are, more often than not, put together determined by facts. The drive is so long | these are the activities clients do on arrival | this is where they sleep. Two nights | done | move on. On paper, it works, absolutely. The agent sends it, the client reads it, it seems plausible, they buy it. But, what the ‘on paper,’ itinerary doesn’t allow for is the reality. The India overwhelm, the constant early morning starts,  how tiring 5 hour journeys are every 1-2 days,  exhaustion, the desire to have a little free time to enjoy the hotel, take a dip in the pool, a spa treatment, or spend more time in a bazaar, or at a photo moment, with a chance encounter, in short, to be in the moment rather than worry about what comes next! I spend a lot of time on the road, and in doing so, I speak to a lot of  hoteliers about their experiences with clients. I can’t tell you how many of them talk about having to deal with frazzled clients, predominantly due to hectic itineraries.  But also, they have put so much thought and effort into creating these special places (well, in my segment of travel at least) and guests just don’t have time to appreciate them. It’s a tragedy both  for the client and the hotelier. Take wildlife as a classic example. The standard itinerary that is churned out is Bandhavgarh 2, Kanha 2, Pench 2. Thats  5 hour drives, afternoon safari on arrival, freshen up, dinner, bed, up at 0500, morning safari, lunch, afternoon safari, dinner, bed, up at 0500 morning safari, drive 5 hours, arrive, dinner, bed, up at 0500, morning safari, afternoon safari, dinner, bed. I’m exhausted just typing it, think how the clients must feel. They don’t have time to appreciate their surroundings, chat, relax, take time or even have an afternoon nap. Holidays to India are planned as endurance tours, not holidays. The same happens in the Golden Triangle, down in Kerala etc. This last couple of weeks working on this new product, but more importantly, going back into itinerary creation and writing has reminded me how and even (almost) had me believing that on paper that a packed and busy itinerary looks absolutely fine.  Fortunately 25 years experience of being on the ground, of chatting to frazzled clients in hotels and countless frustrated hoteliers,  has shown me that what’s on paper does not meet reality. It’s time to stop, think and slow it down. Give people time, so that they have time to relax, absorb and remember details, be in the moment, make their own discoveries and meet the people.  It is in the gaps that the moments that create the memories are made.  Give your clients meaningful memories to treasure not, oh, yes, that photo, now which fort was that, where was that hotel?  I can hand on heart say that every time I’ve persuaded a client to stay in an off beat destination with no agenda, they’ve resisted the idea but it has ALWAYS come back as the highlight. And, when I’ve persuaded them to spend an extra night in a destination, ‘just bacause,’ they’ve resisted and then thanked me in the long run.

Gaps in itineraries are the toughest sell, but they are the moments that allow for memories to be created.

Oh, and let’s not forget, longer stays in destinations are better for the environment too. Philippa has been an expert in travel to India since 1998, she has spent 15 years living in and travelling India and is the author of Escape to India. Email: 

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