Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Under the hammer

Send for a fatted calf. Rupert Diggins is back in the travel business after a brief sojourn in the world of property development.

A keen fan of DIY, Rupert is forever knocking down walls and taking a lump hammer to those parts of his house he finds offensive and, having enjoyed some success renovating his own property, he thought he would give it a try professionally. But the property ladder is a slippery one, and the view from the bottom rung rather grey when you’ve been used to exotic vistas and far-flung skies, so it was a case of relocation, relocation, relocation.

Rupert has moved to Bond Tours where he has been appointed general manager. He is clearly in his element as he has a fondness for Croatia and the country is a Bond Tours’ speciality. From city breaks to tailor-made and sailing holidays, it covers the lot.

And as if the job move wasn’t enough, Rupert is also up for a house move. Having completed work on his existing property, he is looking for a new set of walls to demolish. Fortunately for Bond Tours, its offices are new and won’t require Rupert’s handiwork.

Demands off the scales

They do seem a nice bunch at Bond Tours, as I found when I rang to discuss the needs of a demanding client.

The woman in question has high expectations of her travel agent, regarding us as a 24-hour service – like a pizza-delivery outlet.

She was looking for a holiday for the May half-term, but did not have time to wait in the shop while I trawled through the possibilities. No, the call of the gym and an appointment with her nail technician was more pressing, so she left me with the task. As she dashed out of the shop she yelled I could pop into Waitrose after work where she would be working on the fish counter from six o’clock.

I’m used to going the extra mile for a client if the situation demands it, say tickets need delivering, but I draw the line at giving myself to the job body and sole.

Burden of proof

We’ve had a few clients call in recently after returning from holidays. One of those to come in proved difficult to take seriously. A second related a seriously difficult experience – more of that in a minute.

A regular client called in raving about an all-inclusive break he had just spent with WA/Shearings. He was so enthusiastic, I wondered what the ‘but’ could possibly be. It turned out to revolve around booze.

The old chap hadn’t realised the drinks at the bar were free and had retired early on the first evening. At breakfast the following day, he struck up conversation with two widows who told him of their free late-night drinking session (times really have changed, haven’t they? I remember when one port and lemon was regarded as reckless.)

These two couldn’t speak highly enough of the variety of beverages on offer and had clearly been on a mission to drink their way through the list.

“It was a wonder they could speak at all, given what they’d put away,” said our client. “But it should have been made clear the booze was free.”

Fearing that he’d miss out and clearly wedded to the “I’ve paid for it, so I’ll have it whether I want it or not” mentality, he had gone on to build his short break around the bar opening times, taking a nap during the afternoons so he was ready for drinking into the night.

“You’ve got to hand it to those old birds,” he went on. “They’re doing these type of trips back to back, hardly spending any time at home at all, and saving a fortune on heating and bills. Seems it’s cheaper to keep going away.”

Well, I didn’t deny it.

Deflating experience

This feedback was trivial compared with that from former clients of ours, who were newly returned from Spain. The couple came in to relay an experience they thought had wider implications for holidaymakers abroad.

The flights and car hire had been booked online by their son and all had seemed fine. Upon arrival at Malaga Airport, they picked up their hire car and began the journey through the mountains to their accommodation.

Not long into the trip, the car developed a flat tyre. They stopped and, within minutes, another car pulled up behind. Two young men jumped out, seemingly to offer assistance. They had removed the bags from the car to get at the spare wheel when our client, who speaks some Spanish, detected the pair were not Spanish and grew suspicious.

Anticipating what was about to happen, she phoned the police. But she was too late to prevent one of the pair from snatching her bag containing passports, money and other documents. She was so incensed, she gave chase, caught him and screamed until he let go of the bag.

Later, at the police station, the officers did not seem surprised by her experience – as well they might not, given that it turned out to be one of four incidents of slow-puncture mugging that day.

It seems there is an issue of security surrounding the hire-car compounds that needs to be addressed if these traumatic and frightening robberies are not to become endemic in Spain and, indeed, other popular tourist destinations. I wonder if anyone else has come across anything similar?

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