The diary of a travel rep
As the air conditioning loses its battle against record night-time summer temperatures, my colleague and I, old hands at ‘repping’, mingle discreetly to ensure that things go smoothly. We beam goodbyes and shake hands to acquaintances made among the holidaymakers at Lido Bianco over the past fortnight.
Some have had an ‘aabsolutely moooorvellous time dorling’, some we’re tactfully avoiding!
They are now all but physically at home and want this travel ordeal over.
We’re restocked on bits and pieces: tea-bags, paperbacks, beans, packets of soup that ‘we didn’t get round to using up,’ even ‘this pair of new sandals that wouldn’t fit into a case, you might use them.’
We smile our thanks. People can be sweet! Bringing their packets of soup on a sun holiday! Bye-byeee!
Now, over to International Arrivals where flight AZ123 from DOOBLEENO is being announced, thankfully on time, bringing the next group bound for Lido Bianco. Our awaiting travellers will be flying out on this one so the turn round has to be fast and, hopefully, smooth.
Quick coffee. Bus check. Drivers are waiting. Paolo, who really should retire. Mario, who still pretends he doesn’t understand why people whistle when he promises ‘I’ll make your ride as henjoyable has possible’ and Luigi, looking handsome as always.
Strategically positioned, folder in hand, smile in place, we wait.
Tourists range from the discerning to the cagey, the well-travelled, the fretful, the grab-what-you-can-get-down-to-the-toilet-paper, the randy, the retiring, the lonely, the laid-back, the generous, the scrounger, the budget-maniac, the bubbly, the exhausted, the clinging, the do-it-yourself, the impossible. Some disappear on arrival and turn up 14 days later oozing contentment, some take days to find their feet, some fret, some even take an early flight home.
2.45 a.m. Here they come, laden down with their last minute purchases, their only worry now is a trolley. They’re led by the holiday marathoners, first at check-in, first onboard, first to the luggage belt, on the coach, down to breakfast, first to book excursions and day-trips, first ready for home.
In this lounge there are only two travel reps in full garb standing in plain view, John Smyth Tours i.d. on chest and sign in hand but you will be asked as straight-faced as you please: ‘Are you the John Smyth rep. love?’ to which you will reply with a twenty-toothed smile: ‘Yes, Madam and have you the name of your hotel?’ Some will, some won’t. They have come to get away from ‘it all’ and they have! As usual, the odd unattached client gravitates towards Luigi’s bus regardless of its destination!
The bus ‘speel’ depends on the state of the clients. It’s not rare to be told to ‘f…in’ shut up and get us to the bleedin’ hotel’.
Once there we sort out the crush at reception. Water is the main buy at this time of night but some will want to know if the bar is still open.
‘What was that, love?’
‘I was just saying acqua gassata means fizzy water Madam’.
A few hours’ blissful sleep and one can cope with the introductory meeting. Bus numbers, tours, deposit boxes, phone codes, recommended restaurants and pizzerias are the easy questions.
‘I hate Italian food, what do you suggest?’ is a harder one, while one suppresses the urge to say: ‘What did you come to Italy for so?’
Reps and clients spend a lot of time in each other’s company during the first days. Some reps spoon feed, others intimidate, others encourage. Problems are never-ending.
Hoteliers complain about clients: ‘The stupid lady, she expect me to cool the water she buyed in the supermarket in my fridge.’
Clients complain about hoteliers: ‘The mean so-and-so wouldn’t put one bottle of water in his bloody fridge.’
Clients about Travel Agents: ‘They said the hotel was near the beach but they didn’t mention the railway line in between. Take note you, I’ll be demanding a refund, I will.’
Travel Agents about clients: ‘Well, they bought a special offer. What did they expect? You deal with it.’
Some clients complain and revel in it. ‘I don’t like complaining, but …’ makes one cringe. Only takes one moaner to set a whole group off and the litany begins:
tea was cold… bread was hard…it’s long-life milk…. the shower… the towels …noise, mosquitoes, keep getting wolf whistles, never get wolf whistles…
They complain about getting not bacon and eggs when they’d paid for continental breakfast, about getting bacon and eggs as a special, about cleaning ladies coming in too early or too late. And the complaints soar when it rains.
The client is always right. And the boss. And the hotel owner. And the agent. We reps convince, advise, explain, cringe, placate, sweat.
We cope by mentally transferring to the pool and counting the strokes!
But one thing the tourist won’t be advised on by anyone is how to sun-tan. The whole purpose of the holiday is to absorb a year’s sunshine in two weeks, assuring the nut who advises otherwise that they know what they’re doing.
‘Don’t worry love, I soak up the sun and I never burn’.
The doctor is often called in for serious burns, fever, dehydration, sun-stroke or for honest-to-God stroke in the sense of total paralysis brought on by the deadly cocktail of sun and booze.
Hotel night porters are the holders of the tourist’s darkest secrets and take a delight in sharing them with reps. Mr Holmes so drunk he stagger out of telephone box at 2 a.m. complaining that the fucking lift was out of order!
One pretends to turn a deaf ear but who could resist the succulent details, blown out of all proportion and accompanied by dramatic gesticulations, of the goings-on at 4, 6 or 8 a.m.!
Not all tourists like having to plan and not all read notice boards. Hence the disappointment when they cannot take the already fully booked tour which leaves in half an hour.
Would you like to book for Friday’s tour? and she can’t make up her mind. Friday is two whole days away for God’s sake! Those who have booked and who have been advised that the tour leaves at 8.15 a.m. somehow understood that it leaves at 9.15.
Departure times are, of course, on display, but someone will decide to have the rep paged during a nap to double check or to complain that having to vacate rooms two hours before departure is a deliberate strategy to make life difficult for the punter. A rep can rest assured that the less she sees of her clients the better their holiday is and the better she has done her job.
Another two weeks over. Temperatures even higher. Off to the airport.
Suitcases won’t close. No, Mrs Adams, that bottle of wine can’t go into your hand luggage.
Little Sandra is leaving with four stitches in her knee. Bye Sandra.
Meg-the-Leg, an aerobics buff fell hard for Luigi. What’s new? Bye Meg.
Some can barely walk for blisters. Keep the after-sun handy, Betty.
The recently widowed Mrs Dean, bless her heart, cried most of the time. There now, Mrs Dean. Next year will be easier.
And what a week with tummy bugs! We had a path beaten to the local pharmacy.
Goodbyes are said in the departure lounge to the acquaintances made among the one hundred-plus tourists holidaying with us in Lido Bianco… teabags… newspapers… beans … paperbacks… soups …
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
(c) Frances Fahy