For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists are the only ones who can sense emotions; neither ‘society’ nor the tourism "industry" can. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.


Holiday Complaints

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Do holidays without complaints exist? Not even minor remarks such as “the rice was cold” or similar? It seems nearly impossible because this would mean our expectations were set perfectly and that is only possible when we know precisely what is coming, as in the case with repeat destinations.

There is always a difference between what we expect and our travel experiences and when this difference turns out to be worse than expected, we may be disappointed; the next step may be that we file a complaint. In other words a complaint is the result of a disappointment with something that turned out worse than we could reasonably expect – at least this is our premise.

The most clear-cut case occurs when a contracted service was not rendered. When a tourist reserves and pays for a stay at a 4-star hotel and ends up in a little boarding house, then he is right in complaining and wanting his money back. When a tourist was supposed to be picked up from the airport but the driver did not turn up, then the company that sold the service is at fault and the tourist will undoubtedly complain about it. How he complains and with how much fuss depends on the tourist himself and the reaction of the travel organization concerned.

However, unfulfilled expectations are not the only reason for complaints. A tourist may get frustrated by the end of his holiday for completely different reasons (a quarrel with the partner, continuously bad weather or money problems), whereby a tourist may accuse everybody around him for the possible failure of the holiday when in fact this was not the case. Then there are the people who always complain in order to satisfy a need for this and their attitude that they “not get their leg pulled” can often be noticed among those travelling alone. There are also those who hope to get some money back somehow by complaining. In many countries nowadays there are government councils or boards dealing with just that: the holiday complaint, and as long as a tourist can show that in some way a travel organization may have failed in some detail, they will try to obtain a refund – an ever more popular pastime among tourists so it seems.

When the travel brochure for a certain hotel claims that hundreds of parakeets fly by every morning, a tourist staying there who spots only a few may file a complaint, not so much against the parakeets, but demanding some recompense from the travel organization where he booked the holiday arrangement. Whether he gets some money back depends on whether the information in the travel brochure was presented as factual or simply descriptive information.

Let us have a look at the tourist’s general disposition concerning the holiday evaluation. We can distinguish two groups concerning the direct result of the holiday:

1. The result was caused by internal factors, such as being poorly (or very well) informed, or the motivations were wrong in which case the tourists take a large part of the responsibility for the success or failure of the holiday;

2. The result was caused by external factors, such as the attitude of the local population or the weather, which means that tourists shift the blame from themselves.

Then there are the influences on the consequences:

A. Consequences can be controlled through the experiences and observations of tourists themselves;

B. Consequences cannot be controlled due to certain conditions at the destinations or because of fellow travellers for example.

When a tourist blames the failure of his holiday on bad weather (raining every day) and moreover he reproaches the tour leaders for not having organized any alternative activities (points 2 and B) we are dealing with external and uncontrollable consequences at the same time and with it this type of tourist avoids any type of personal responsibility, personal involvement or interest. This type of tourist complains most of the time and the failure of the holiday does not even affect him that much, precisely because of his lack of involvement. His expectations were broad from the beginning onwards, although he may suddenly claim the opposite: “I was so keen on seeing that botanical garden, that is why I booked the trip” although this tourist had never alluded to this before.

The opposite case (points 1 and A) concern tourists that make their decisions consciously, assume responsibility, are usually well informed and not conflictive by nature. This type of tourist likes to learn and his expectations are narrow as far as information permits. When his suitcase does not arrive with him on the flight, he will take care of the issue himself and may even buy some clothes without bothering the travel organization involved (if that were the case).

Obviously, most tourists are somewhere in between. An important issue is to what extent the tourist takes some responsibility and the tourists according to group 1 are the ones with the fewest complaints, unless a travel organization really fails. Another example, however, is when a tourist complains about a service or a hotel, but continues using the service or simply stays in the hotel. One of the points when dealing with complaints from a tourist about a service he contracted concerns whether he took steps to solve the problem (looking for another hotel) or continued staying at the hotel without saying anything. In the latter case we are dealing with case 2B and the customer service department of any travel organization will be reluctant to reimburse any money. In other words, when dealing with complaints the point is whether the case is 2B or not 2B – that is the question.

There are also tourists that are quiet conformists and do not feel like complaining. They take responsibility for the failure, even when there might not have been one and they will say that “they have had interesting experiences anyway and you can learn from bad experiences too,” trying to upgrade their travel evaluation a little. In this case we are dealing with tourists who deny what is really going on, because they do not want to have any negative experience. This type of tourist (1B) does not usually file complaints.

Internal causes

Internal causes for a holiday failure can first of all be attributed to a lack of travel preparation, which encompasses wrong travel motivation, a wrong selection of information sources or the misinterpretation of information in general. When a travel brochure announces a jungle safari tour by boat through small inner canals and a tourist asks whether his cabin on the boat is a seaside or an inner one, this tourist did not understand the travel organization’s proposal and there is confusion between target and factual information perhaps, or this tourist really wanted to go on a cruise, but picked up a jungle safari brochure by mistake.

On a different level, internal causes concern a tourist’s mood and physical condition, possible problems with fellow travellers or bad timing of the travel programme.

External causes

External causes may obviously concern the weather, not having the right type of shoes, wrong (factual) information, or safety or security problems within a region or crime. With these kinds of factors in particular we can more clearly distinguish which tourists are able to make decisions and take responsibilities. A holiday with setbacks and some bad luck in which the tourist himself manages to get positive travel experiences is even more satisfying than one that goes exactly as planned. Furthermore, tourists like to come home with some tall stories to tell and holiday mishaps (boat motor breakdown, closed bridges, etc.) are often later remembered as great adventures.

Another phenomenon is when a tourist suddenly has a bad day, especially in the case of the more intensive holiday experience. This can be on a mental as well as a physical level. The adaptability a tourist must show all day long (most things are different from home) can simply run out and the tourist stops adapting. It is not uncommon to see some aggressive behaviour, or the exact opposite: the tourist wants to stay in bed all day. Fellow travellers find it difficult to react to this but the tourist is usually fine again the next day. On this one bad day he may start openly complaining about everything around him to the point of getting angry with everyone.

There are several other mechanisms at work. With group travel there are tourists who use complaining as form of behaviour to assure them a particular role within the group. This tourist may be negative about everything, telling other travellers they should not let themselves be fooled, that everything is bogus, and that they should ask for their money back.

The form of the complaint is a different story. The Internet has opened up many new ways to air any criticisms or complaints through forums, blogs or other means and there are many ways tourists can spit their venom. The first step consists of sending a letter to the travel organization (hotel, tour operator etc.) concerned and this letter contains a certain threat, apart from the rather exaggerated story of what happened. This threat may involve the use of lawyers, filing complaints at government entities or tell the story “for the whole world to see” on the Internet. Then the tourist will ask for a certain reimbursement – better said he demands his money back – and additional hardship compensation. The tone of the letter is aggressive and wrathful. To what extent he really feels like this remains unclear and we have to realize that we are talking about emotions after a holiday which are interpretations of what happened. The moment of anger may have influenced the Impcal intake and differences from what was expected may lead to disappointments; afterwards it may turn out that he made a drama out of a small incident. In these cases we are dealing with tourists who are avoiding a great deal of responsibility and have a tendency to blame others. Obviously, the exception is when the travel organization did make a big mistake and does not want to deal with the consequences. Even the most responsible tourist will have to complain and possibly take legal steps; in the latter case he will not show anger but will instead present hard facts and proof.

Nationality

To what extent the tourist’s nationality plays a part in his complaint behaviour is not clear, because of a lack of research. Many tourists from outside Europe are impressed with its old culture and will therefore complain little. But when a Spaniard travels to Latin America he may feel superior and will find everything below par, which may lead to complaints. Asia is still associated with poor populations, so possible complaints will be limited to the 5-star hotels and the food. An Englishman will nearly always be polite when complaining (also in written form), while tourists from Belgium can be very rude indeed.

We are dealing here with the phenomenon of how well a population is organized with respect to outside threat. I refer to the publications of Dr. Geert Hofstede (see

www.geert-hofstede.com) about cultural dimensions, wherein he explains that each nationality has a certain “Uncertainty Avoidance Index”, meaning that each society has its own way of handling uncertainties. It involves the extent to which a society prepares its members to feel comfortable in uncertain circumstances. Societies that try to avoid uncertainties impose strict rules and regulations as well as many security measures; on philosophical and religious levels they believe in absolute truth: there is only one truth and they’ve got it. These types of societies are emotional as far as character is concerned and they are motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite case, whereby uncertainties are more easily accepted, people are more tolerant to opinions that differ from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible and on a philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative and are not expected to express emotions in their environment.

Countries with high UAI (risk avoiding) are Argentina and Chile, both with 86. In Europe, Spain and France have UAIs of 90, Italy’s is 82 and Belgium’s is the highest with 94. However, India has an index of 40, England 41, USA 46 and Holland 53. The Scandinavian countries score 35. The world average is 64.

We can see a certain resemblance to the number and type of complaints we observe in tourism, although no research has been directed at this issue and any resemblance does not imply that there is a connection between the two. The strong and often emotional complaints from Belgian tourists coincide with their very high UAI, while the British tourist is more flexible. Spanish and Italian tourists complain easily while this is not the case with the Dutch. Practice shows that nationality has something to do with the number and types of complaints and the UAI as proposed by Dr. Hofstede may help us understand this so that travel organizations can take it into account on international level.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

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