I CAN'T help but laugh when I see “No Optional Tour, No Medical Consult, No Photographer” in a “Matta Great Deal!” advertisement by one of our local tour companies.
The words were not prominently displayed but were listed as bullet points among other features of the tour. Those of us who regularly go on packaged group tours to certain parts of Asia will know what those words mean!
It brings back some candid memories of what I have experienced.
“Optional Tours” work like this. The tour guide brought us to a nice park with a huge lake. She explained that it would be better to cross the lake and see the other side which was nicer. Since there were elderly people and children in the group, it made sense and we paid for the boat.
On another visit, it was suggested that we hire a buggy because we would not be able to cover the whole area if we walked. Why not!
There was no programme planned for the night. If the group was keen, there was a good show we can catch for a certain amount of money. Somehow, most will watch the show since we were on holiday and this show is unique to the place.
After a hectic day, which included some walking, we were offered free reflexology (foot massage). It was at a nice, professional looking place and it seemed quite a reputable place as well.
There was a room large enough to accommodate all of us. When we were all seated with our feet dipped in hot water with herbs, they started by explaining about the goodness of certain herbs and tablets. They also shared how established the company was and how the medication produced by this company were used by emperors in the past.
Next, a group of “doctors” donning white coats will emerge to provide medical consultation. They will take a seat next to us. They may ask what problems we have or help by diagnosing us.
With our shoes off, seating comfortably with our feet being massaged, there is nowhere to go. We will have to be pretty unfriendly or not easily swayed not to answer when someone is talking to us.
One lady in the tour was diagnosed with kidney problems. The doctor diagnosed it by checking her pulse. But to be doubly sure, he rubbed a “lotion” on her back. From the change in colour of the lotion, it was “confirmed” that she had a kidney ailment!
She was impressed they could tell because her doctor in KL had already diagnosed it earlier. She bought medication which came to a few thousand ringgit. After paying for it, and as we were about to leave the place, she started to wonder if the medication was certified or approved by medical authorities.
She wondered what exactly was in the medication and whether it was well tested. She wondered why she had resisted her doctor's advice in KL to go on medication for her kidney but somehow bought the medication quite impromptu. Somehow, when all was explained to her, it was pretty convincing but after some thought; she started to have doubts.
Each tour usually has a tour manager who takes the group on the flight and a local tour guide. Upon arrival, after the introductions, a photographer joined our tour as well. He helped us with photos with our camera and also took photos of us using his camera.
At the end of the tour, there was no compulsion to buy; we only choose what we liked. The photos may be compiled in an album or made into a plaque or sometimes in a transparent glass paper weight. Since we were on tour, we bought the photos as mementos as we seldom develop our photos these days. They don't come cheap but since we are on holiday why not!
I don't complain about any of those practices. I have accepted them as part of going on a group tour.
Once I was on a tour group which was organised out of Singapore. One of the tours was to an ancient park with a big lake. They wanted a fee to get on the boat. A few members objected citing what was promised to them, no hidden charges for rides or entrance fees. Well, we all got on the boat without paying.
On a visit to an old heritage area, the highlight included making dumplings and whatever we made was dinner. Some of the tour members complained. The next day, we got an extra special lunch to make up for the “poor” dinner!
Malaysians are quite obliging and will not stand up for our “rights”, if that is what you will call it. Since we were on a holiday, it is OK to pay a little bit more. After all the people offering the services were not well off and the extra money will help them as well.
We regularly hear of people who avoid group tours for various reasons. The compulsory stops at certain centres to shop (with no time limit if people are interested or are still busy looking), early wake up calls, hours in the bus each day, poor food, bad company, lack of punctuality and so on. Seldom do we hear that it was because of “optional tours, medical consult or photographers”.
To have a tour company acknowledge that it is something we don't have to put up with and our holiday can be better without such “options”, speaks positively about the company. It is a nice refreshing change. The company shows that it hears its customers and chose to do something about it.
I like the fact that the company offered “NOs” instead of piling on things that we don't really value. The company made a choice to change, to incorporate feedback even though those were probably not deal breakers.
It's simple message got my attention. The company succeeded in differentiating itself from the crowd. Most importantly it created a positive impression that such a company cares about customer's feedback and endeavours to improve.
Hopefully, it means that for us who take tours regularly, we can look forward to more choices and differentiating tours which are attuned to the preferences of the different customer segments!
Joan Hoi is looking forward to her next group tour with the tour operator who truly cares about a happy holiday experience without the unnecessary frills!