Plan the perfect holiday? No thanks

It’s a subject I’ve covered here a few times over the years and it’s one that I’m reminded of every time I see yet another company sharing with us their vision of the future of travel. These dreams have the same consistent elements: families gathered round a computer screen wearing excited expressions; travellers young and old tapping into their mobile phones (still with those same grins); updated Facebook pages and Twitter streams (with family members locked in happy mode); this is, we are led to believe, how travel will look in the not-too-distant future.

Here’s the latest offering from the all-powerful Tui:

If you believe this clip, the future is a world where a website  will know what sort of holiday you really want and it will give you the answer quicker and more reliably than you could ever work it out for yourself. It’s a world where every surprise is eliminated by clever planning and you’re never left standing outside the locked gates of a museum which happens to be closed because the owner has other things to do on a Thursday. You’ll never end up in a restaurant that has a two-star rating on Tripadvisor and you’ll always choose the boat with the best cocktails for the sunset cruise. Travel planning mistakes will be a thing of the past.

What is missing from this utopian dream? In short, everything that gets me excited at the thought of going on a trip. An uncertain bus connection from the city to the airport; wandering into a dodgy-looking restaurant because the person we met in the café told us about it; stopping at a roadside shack for a glass of fresh juice and ending up with a delicious lunch; finding the museum that all the folks on Tripadvisor hated and discovering that it’s the best one in town, or in fact that it’s so awful that we end up laughing about it for days.

We can plan our travels almost down to the finest detail thanks to technology. Of course this progress has its benefits, but let’s not pretend that there are no downsides. People make plans well in advance because they can, then tell us that they can’t make it or that they’re running late at the last minute, again because they can. Long gone are the days when there was no way to change that 3 o’clock meeting and you simply turned up on time. Coffee shops, once a great place to sit and relax in a sea of contented noise, now often resemble somewhere between a library and a morgue; another result of our ‘connected’ world. 

But enough of my rant; I appreciate that for many the idea of using technology to plan and manage their holiday is a very appealing one and that I’m probably showing my age in being suspicious of this new world. For now I’ll look back on the day we missed a bus connection in small-town Chile by 10 minutes only to find that the next one left the following morning and we stood to waste an expensive pre-paid hotel night; the adventures that followed still make me smile, but I suspect would never have happened if I’d bother to plan properly.

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10 Responses to “Plan the perfect holiday? No thanks”

  1. Adam Burton #

    My take on this is that nothing is wrong when we are using technology to our own advantage. On the web we can find all the things that we need to make our travel memorable and enjoyable but it doesn’t mean that it will be smooth sailing all the way. There will be delays and this can’t be avoided or bad weather perhaps. We just have make the most out of it.

    January 21, 2014 at 6:15 am
  2. Bill #

    And what was up with that halfsy kid that looked like…well I guess Dad knocked-up a local on a previously “unplanned” holiday!

    January 21, 2014 at 6:46 am
  3. I can understand why people like using these sorts of websites, it’s the same as going to travel agents and getting them to plan out your itineraries. I think there will always be people like myself though who like to plan out a few things I’d like to do and wing the rest. Without some of these sites though some people may never have the confidence to travel, so at least it’s opening up doors for some, while the rest of us will probably continue to ignore it.

    January 21, 2014 at 11:03 am
  4. Ugh that Tui commercial makes me worried for the future of travel! It seems that family were stuck behind screens for their entire holiday – even when the rep was right there in the hotel (it seemed to me, did I get it right?) they emailed him to get his attention!
    In my personal travels a lot has “gone wrong” due to poor planning (I have to be careful what I say because nowadays I have my own tour company organising other people’s holidays :)) but the adventures end up being the stories I relate to others. I can’t remember ever telling the story “There was this time when I made all these plans and everything went so smoothly and all the plans worked and I had such a good holiday. The end.”
    And I’m sorry to say that for all the technology we have, humans are still involved somewhere in the holiday so there will always be room for plans to be “spoiled”. Even as a tour leader, with all the systems and processes behind me, trains from Tehran to Istanbul can still be late and we can still arrive at 2am but we got to see a beautiful sunrise on Lake Van which would have been missed had the train run on time. So I agree with you Andy: the adventure of plans gone awry (or indeed no plans at all) is much of the joy of travel!

    January 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm
  5. BRAVO. That’s why, every now and then, I take a trip with absolutely NO PLANS. Oh, the joy! This is what I did in Curaçao and it’s been one of my best trips thus far 🙂

    -Maria Alexandra

    January 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm
  6. I completely agree you. I think the people doing this are obviously the ones that have never really traveled. That’s more like vacationing. To me there is a huge difference between vacationing and travelling.

    Almost all of my fondest travelling memories have happened completely randomly, out of the blue and totally by accident. That’s the thrill and the appeal of traveling to me, letting the unexpected happen. Obviously some things have to be planned out but the less the better, besides plans change all the time anyways.

    January 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm
  7. Although I like new technology, this was something I did not like. Maybe it was the to happy family commercial, but most likely it was the fact that I did see more screens than the actual holiday location. Also, everything is being shared with everyone.. Sharing the browser history from everyone on the holiday.. Please let me keep some of my privacy.

    I never do much research for my holidays. I just simply go. I am not good in choosing anything, so for ex. when start looking for a hotel online, I spend hours and hours checking hotel reviews without being able to make a choice. And then again, like you mention in your post, things can turn out completely different once you arrive.

    I believe that best experiences are not created by this kind of programs. I guess the people that will be the most happy with this Tui stuff, will be the marketeers in the travel industry.

    January 28, 2014 at 10:48 am
  8. Here I am typing a response to a blog post instead of writing a post. I spent half of last year injured and unable to type and used the time to reflect.

    I’m in agreement with the points you make Andy, in exactly the same manner as you. If this is the ‘future’ of travel then it’s not for me. However, if a majority of people want to travel like that, then that is their right, who am I to say my approach is better.

    Looking at the ‘present’ shows that TUI are engaged with their market. How many people now say that Free WiFi is a requisite at their hotel? You already point out that visitors no longer chat to locals when travelling, instead they stare and tap into mobile devices. Jeff Greenwald wrote a thought provoking post recently on Green Global Travel, pointing out that many people spend their time in a cyber world when travelling, instead of immersing themselves in the destination. Many people feel that it is absolutely necessary to be broadcast their travel experiences live. I keep asking myself why? Who exactly wants to see an Instagram photo (320 by 320 pixels) of a beer on a terrace just before or even after it is drunk? Then if I am doing something really exhilarating like dropping a cliff on a powder day, then I can assure you I for one won’t be taking the time to post a pic or video live as I’m will be too engrossed in the moment.

    Which brings me to another question I am currently pondering. If I want to take enjoy the pleasures of doing minimal research and just wandering to discover in a random manner, then what would be the point of reading travel blogs that document an itinerary at a destination in detail?

    As for TUI. From the sessions I attended at the World Travel Market in November I can see that they are making inroads into making travel more sustainable and was very impressed with TUI Netherlands winning the Responsible Tourism Awards for actively trying to stamp out sex tourism.

    I think it is a good thing that TUI and others try to respond to their consumer base, that they try to innovate, drive best practice and support their customers in their quest to get the best value for money on their 2 weeks vacation each year. If they are not supplying what their customers want, then they will not survive in business long. We will always have a choice in how each of us choose to travel.

    January 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm
  9. Thanks to all for your comments and thoughts – always a pleasure when people make observations that never occurred to me when writing the original post. John, I agree that TUI have done some good work behind the scenes and clearly their approach appeals to many people – I suspect that this one will have its fans too.
    Perhaps the same resistance that I argued about (too much information, not enough room for spontaneity) was heard when the first guide books were produced… it will always be up to us to choose what to use and what to ignore when planning our travels.

    January 29, 2014 at 7:23 am
  10. I completely agree with you. I think some sort of rough plan is needed but you need to leave some things to chance and like yourself this is when the best experiences happen. Going into a dodgy bar for some drinks ends up being one of the best nights of the holidays or you had to get the chicken bus instead of the fancy tourist one and the zoo that it was may not have been pleasant but now you know how the locals actually travel.

    February 19, 2014 at 12:27 pm