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As I was on my way to BGC yesterday for a meeting, I stumbled upon another horror travel story that was posted in one of the FB travel groups that I follow. It warned its members about getting the services of a Facebook travel organizing group sharing the horrors of her experience. She shared that the way it was handled by the organizers were so bad that it completely spoiled her whole travel experience.

The incident made me smile because I, myself, had a slightly similar experience over Labor Day weekend but not as horrific as the one shared by the FB user.

Just to give you a brief, I decided to be “joiner” to an organized backpacking trip to Romblon last weekend. My decision to join this organized travel by this FB group was that I wanted to visit Cresta de Gallo in Sibuyan Island without the hassle of arranging the transportation on a very long weekend. In short, it was more of the convenience over a DIY trip. Now, this was my first time to be a joiner of a trip.

Everything was going smoothly. There were some bumps along the way but that was understandable. I mean no trip is close to perfection and, as an advocate of local travel, I have understood that through years of traveling in the Philippines. These “bumps” add flavor to the travel experience. But a major mishap towards the end of our Romblon trip created a stir to most of the joiners.

The trip organizers failed to secure our return tickets to Batangas City ahead of the long weekend so their purchase went head-to-head with the deluge of ticket demand from the Labor Day weekend crowd. And for those who have been traveling in the Philippines, you know what that means, right? So to cut the story short, we got stranded for a day in Romblon and we were all “lucky” as chance passengers on our second day. We arrived in Batangas City a day later than what was mentioned in the group’s committed itinerary.

Honestly, the “mishap” was an incident that could have easily been recovered had the organizers properly handled the situation. It was a simple case of managing the expectations of everyone on board. I think that if the organizers approached the situation tactically, the tour would have ended on a high rather than on a sour note.

Let me share with you my pick-up points from the incident and I hope that for those who are involve in organizing these kinds of trips or for those who intend to go into one, you could learn a thing or two from this piece.

Commitments are commitments. Stop giving “backpacking” a bad name.

For FB groups who organize trips, please drop the “backpacking” excuse to cover up for your mistakes.

Backpacking is a travel concept where the idea is you only have a backpack for your stuff and for mobility purposes. It also involves the flexibility of time and destination depending on the whims of the traveler or travelers. Everyone is involved in the planning and execution. The uncertainty and unpredictability card for this kind of trips are high and this is usually applied to DIY trips.

But when a group offers a package for an organized tour, the trip’s level of uncertainty and unpredictability for its participants diminishes at a very low rate. The understanding is that the organizer has already studied the itinerary that he or she is presenting hereby giving the participants the leverage to manage their schedule around the itinerary. In short, you do not ask the participants if they are okay with the itinerary but you tell them that this is our committed itinerary to the traveling group and the participants’ work around it.

With this itinerary, you also work on the arrangements for everything because the organizer offered a package where he or she commits to take charge of all these arrangements – from transportation, food, and accommodations. It is the reason why participants join in. They want the convenience of a person or a group to organize everything. In most cases, organizers are not commissioned to draft it and he or she offers these packages to followers which makes their commitment stronger to participants.

In short, an organizer’s commitment is a commitment. If changes should occur along the way, the organizer takes on the responsibility for it. You do not turn the tables around and make it look that it was the participants’ fault because it was a backpacking trip. You offered an organized tour where participants work around it and it is the organizer’s responsibility to deliver. It diminishes the right of an organizer to pull out the “backpacking” card when things go wrong.

When things go wrong, it is a mistake of the organizer and not the concept of backpacking.

Apologize, Resolve, and Offer Concrete Solutions

Every trip will always entail some minor bumps along the way and to minimize those “bumps” is part and parcel of being a travel organizer. It is the organizers responsibility to manage these bumps and expectations. In fact, some of these bumps, if managed properly, will actually be swept under the rug in no time.

But there are those really nasty travel “bumps” that could have been avoided with proper planning and foresight. In our case, having no return tickets back to Batangas could have been avoided if it was addressed weeks ahead considering that organizers knew it was a Labor Day Weekend. But as they say, shit happens and it did. Unfortunately, that crucial mistake caused a domino effect during the latter part of the trip.

I think another crucial lapse on the part of most travel organizers is their inability to sufficiently address such “travel crisis”. Travel organizers should take heed that no amount of explanation will justify the organizer’s mistake of not handling a basic expectation from them. It is like a student coming into an examination room with a calculator but without a pen. That is how important the basics are.

But there will always be situations where basics are being missed out and these situations would differentiate the mature ones from the rest. The mature ones will simply apologize, recognize their lapse, and offer no other explanations. Again, you can give a hundred of explanations but it will not diminish that it was the organizer’s fault.

Sabi nga nila, kayo nagkamali, sino ang dapat mag-aadjust?

Mature tour organizers will always find a concrete solution and will not work on chance. Organizers need to address the uncertainty that the participants are feeling. Whether they admit it or not, a feeling of disappointment will run among the participants and organizers should be ready to face that. But if you give them a concrete plan where the feeling of uncertainty is addressed, most of the participants would understand.

In our case in Romblon, all of the participants knew that we were already stranded and we were all trying to just go on with the day. However, the feeling of uncertainty with everyone later on took a toll because the organizers failed to give us a specific date on when we could return back to our normal lives. It was like getting stuck without knowing when we will get out. As I have mentioned to a friend, it would have been better if the organizers told us that we have sure RoRo tickets for everyone on May 4 but we will still try our chances on May 2 and May 3 to get on a boat for Batangas. If this was the case, I could have easily adjusted my schedules to May 5, planned where to go on the next two days, and I would have been one person off their back.

Again, it was a simple case of providing us with a concrete solution rather than simply playing with chance and uncertainty.

What you say matters. Watch your words.

I have always believed that in whatever “crisis” that you are into, less is more. I have always practiced to only provide details on what is necessary to those affected rather than giving them a whole gamut of explanations to which they would then start rationalizing. I stick to the facts, share the action plan, and just give you the status. This way it also shows that I am on top of the situation because I can explain the situation and action plan simply.

The wrong words can get a whole fire running.

Travel organizers should have a strong presence of mind during these “travel crisis” and the first impulse should be to work on the welfare of their participants. They should ensure that proper assistance is of high priority. Most of your participants know that you are not a legal business entity so they are aware of your limitations but that should not stop you from providing assistance, at the least.

Due prudence with your words and actions will give organizers an added advantage. Remember that it is the primary responsibility of the organizer to make their participants understand the situation, and not the other way around. It was the organizers’ negligence that caused the inconvenience so do not expect paying participants to understand especially if the lapse was a basic expectation that the organizer promised from the start.

On the side note, travel organizers should also refrain from sneaky side comments because it just adds fuel to the fire and it does not help the situation. Remember how the situation is handled is a reflection of the tour organizer and not its participants.

As I look back at the situation, it was one of those opportunities where the coordinators could have easily worked the situation to their advantage if they only stopped for a brief moment and coordinated themselves first. Having done DIYs and organized group trips previously, I understand that there was a lapse on their part but they could have easily recovered if they managed expectations early among the participants.

As I have said earlier on I will practice due prudence by intentionally not naming the FB travel organizer’s name on this blog. I would like to give them the space to further improve their services through this feedback and hopefully help the start-ups, as well. Feedback is best way to make people see how they can move from good to great but the first step is to accept the feedback with an open mind.

So how was the Romblon experience?

It was a great experience.

There were some lapses and bumps but I would not let those bumps spoil a weekend that could rival the events happening in Boracay. No one can definitely beat that King’s cup game in Cresta de Gallo. No worries, I will be blogging about the trip soon but probably without endorsements or recommendations, at this time.