When traveling, you pay for the experience and not the experiment, says Matt Wollman, chairman of Strategic Media Intel, LLC, which publishes “A Rare World,” a subscription-based travel newsletter that reviews hotels and resorts around the world. That’s why it’s important to invest time in researching the best travel options to suit your personal tastes as well as ensure your safety. Since the best decision is always an educated one, here’s how to begin the research.
Meet Your Hospitality Standards — Find the Best Travel Accommodations
With the Internet, there’s no question about the abundance of information out there about hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. But how do you begin to sift through it all? A large travel website, such as TripAdvisor.com or Travelocity.com, provides many details about hotels and attractions as well as reviews posted by the public. Brooke Ferencsik, spokesperson for TripAdvisor, says the site features more than 35 million reviews and opinions and can give the wisdom of the crowd.
But if you want more thoroughly researched reviews from well-traveled critics, look into subscribing to a newsletter such as “A Rare World,” which sends seasoned travel writers around the world to create in-depth reviews from fully experiencing hotels and travel spots. A benefit of “A Rare World,” according to its publisher Gordon MacGeachy, is that it takes its editorial content and readers very seriously. The writers and publishers spend a great deal of time and effort reviewing travel experiences they think readers would like to know about, which means that the “A Rare World” staff would never accept a free lunch or anything similar in exchange for saying a few nice words. Another strength, according to Wollman, who has made more than 300 trips overseas, is that their staff writers have an extensive background in luxury lifestyle management and property evaluation, so they have a critical eye for what makes a travel experience beneficial and enjoyable. Also, Wollman says any hotel they stay in signs a waiver, allowing the writer to write honestly about the property regardless of whether the review is flattering or not. In return, the writer usually gets to tour the complete facility. The travel experience and writing freedom give the writers the ability to distinguish a mistake from overall bad policy, Wollman says.
For example, he mentions that he once called hotel staff to see whether they had a computer adapter he could use. The employee he reached told him that they did not have one and did not offer any further help. However, Wollman asked to speak to another employee who actually volunteered to get him a cable from the closest electronics store. Wollman believes this was an issue of one poorly trained employee, and he did not discredit the entire hotel based on the incident.
It’s this type of personal experience that makes MacGeachy really believe in his business model. Real encounters say much more about a hotel than its star rating, he says. For example, he once stayed in a four-star hotel in Los Angeles, and after speaking with a manager, he discovered that the hotel, which MacGeachy considered to be very nice and hip, will probably never receive five stars because they don’t refer to their guests by name at least four times between the time of arrival and getting to the guest’s room — something that many guests might find irritating anyway. He compares this experience to when he stayed in a Monaco hotel that was rated five stars and cost 2,500 euros a night, but had an extremely uncomfortable mattress. By describing his personal experiences in honest, candid and unbiased reviews, MacGeachy believes he provides his sophisticated readers with information that allows them to make informed travel decisions. “Most of our readers are discerning travelers who live very well,” he says. “Why would any of them choose to travel halfway around the world if their destination wasn’t as comfortable or luxurious as the home they left?”
MacGeachy thinks reviews by like-minded individuals are much more helpful to wealthier travelers as the risk of having a bad experience is lessened considerably. “Wealthy travelers don’t have the time or patience for experimental travel,” he says. “Free time is a precious gift and the cost of making a mistake can be far greater than just wasting money.”
Ensuring Your Security - Advice for World Travelers
It’s always prudent to take precaution when traveling overseas. You should have a basic understanding of the country’s laws and unique risks. Americans especially must take extra precaution traveling, according to Paul Michael Viollis Sr., Ph.D., chief executive officer and founding principal of Risk Control Strategies (RCS), a New York-based consulting and investigations firm that provides security for the affluent community.
“There’s a perceived wealth level with Americans, that we all have money or access to it,” he says.
Researching a country you’re about to visit will alert you to tensions that might be present due to economic, political or social situations, Viollis says. RCS produces a weekly average of 25 to 30 International Travel Intelligence Network (ITIN) reports that outline for clients all the potential risks of all geographical areas. If doing your own research, visit the State Department’s Web site (travel.state.gov), which regularly issues “Travel Alerts” to publicize terrorist threats or other short-term conditions that pose threats to Americans. It also provides “Country Specific Information,” which includes such critical facts as the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you have students traveling, encourage them to visit the State Department’s “Student Abroad” Web site (studentsabroad.state.gov). Because most young people are fairly inexperienced travelers and, consequently, more vulnerable, it’s important they pay attention to the advice featured on the site, which includes tips on packing, travel insurance and researching the local laws of the country they’re visiting.
The Potential Risks
Viollis also cautions that the inherent risks in one country differ from those in another. For example, he says the main concern for tourists in Latin America is kidnap-ransom scenarios, but in Europe, the biggest risk is human trafficking. This differentiation is important to note so you know what extra safety measures to take in which area.
Viollis says the research in the comprehensive RCS ITIN report also can be tailored to the client, such as taking a specific medical condition into consideration. For example, one of Viollis’s clients had a blood disorder that made her extra susceptible to food poisoning, so the report included research on nearby medical facilities, and it was found that one had a “horrendous” rating in the medical community, which could have proven deadly for the client.
Viollis says that going over security can be an intimidating process, but ensuring that you’re taking the extra precautions will only help you enjoy your trip more. “It’s to make sure that the person who is traveling is prepared to travel and enjoys every part of the experience,” he says.