The package holiday is still extremely popular with travelers from most developed European economies. A combination of convenience, price and language barriers often faced when travelling abroad are the primary drivers of this. The insurance cover that agents usually also carry provides a certainty that all elements of a trip will be protected in the event that something goes wrong with an airline, for example. This might not be the case for travelers who prefer to make all their own arrangements.
However, having arrived at your destination it’s time to cut the chord and steer well clear of the on-site rep offering ‘discounts and advice’ as to the best opportunities for you to take excursions and trips at and around your destination. Any trips and opportunities that afford enough commission to place a bi-lingual rep full time on site at a manned sales desk are likely to be fairly expensive and very unlikely to be the best option for exploring your destination.
Beware the Salesman in an Unregulated Industry
There’s a reason why everything from Banking to door-to-door energy sales are increasingly regulated in your home market – when salesmen are cut loose and allowed to talk freely in an unregulated environment they often significantly bend the truth.
During a recent trip to Malta I avoided the rep’s advice for one of my trips and took her advice for another, and as expected the former was by far the best experience. For those of you who don’t know, the Blue Lagoon on Comino is one of the most popular tourist trips for visitors to Malta and Gozo. Beautifully secluded with a sheltered and quite beautiful swimming area it’s no surprise why once you arrive.
There were actually plenty of amenities there including permanent indoor toilets and over a half-dozen stalls selling food and drink (vegetarian options available although vegans may have to pack a lunch) at very reasonable prices. One can even enjoy a couple of beers from the stalls whilst chilling out after a long swim in the lagoon. An express power-boat trip from right by the pool at the Qwara Palace hotel was available for just €15 and the food and drink (lots of drink…) came to less than €20. Imagine my horror to hear a hard-sell from the in-hotel rep to an older couple of a 45 minute bus ride in the wrong direction to catch an extremely slow ferry up there costing €40. On top of that they were told that the food at the site is now ‘very expensive’ and has ‘recently gone up a lot’ so paying €10 each for lunch was strongly recommended. A whopping €100 for a couple to enjoy what we did for €50… oh and don’t forget we saved 3 hours of buses and ferries by just casually strolling down to the powerboat leaving from just 200 yards away. Much more relaxing and good for your health, although as always when there is a lot of glare and water, good eye care dictates the use of good, preferably polarized sunglasses.
Organized Means Inflexible
Having had some good experiences in the past with the City Sightseeing ‘hop on hop off’ model of open air bus we decided to take the rep’s advice and jump on. Unfortunately the model doesn’t really suit Malta where everything you’d want to see is pretty close together and the rest of the tour involved long agonizing waits in the capital (which during a heatwave at 120 degrees, 100% humidity were not appreciated) and long runs through barren countryside with not much to see.
A much better experience could be had on the local buses which are relatively quick and air-conditioned. A short hop to the capital from Qawra one day and a ride to the catacombs another would have satisfied our need for sights much more than this awful bus. What made it worse were the operating hours. It’s so infrequent there wasn’t much ‘hopping on and off’. More staggering about in the heat after one hop off and then sitting on the bus and hoping to be home soon. Nobody we spoke to had managed more than two hops due to the short operating day for the tour and the 30 minute waits combining with the extremely long route with large stretches of nothing and lots of pointless waiting around in the capital.
All in all it’s better to do your own research and sort out quicker, more efficient transport than rely on the advice of the commission hungry on-site rep. The land equivalent of our powerboat trip to the Blue Lagoon would have surely been a lot more fun than the open air sleeper that was the City Sightseeing bus.
Henrietta writes travel articles for a number of magazines after spending her youth travelling through South America and picking up some great strategies to enjoy a holiday without using a rep.