I have the privilege of traveling this week and my columns are being written from the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok. In every respect this is one of the most fascinating hotels in the world, set in one of the most fascinating cities on any continent. Those of you who know Bangkok know the storied history of the Oriental’s legacy. Often named the best hotel in Asia, sometimes rated as the best in the world, this is the hotel that all others aspire to be. You will be hearing much about the Mandarin Oriental from me in the weeks to come.
Thailand is a very special country for me. My father and I traveled here together 20 years ago, and I was struck then by the peaceful, friendly nature of the Thai people. Thailand is sometimes called “the land of smiles” and the title is well earned. Smile at a Thai person and the smile is very likely to be returned. Being here is a reminder of the truly amazing opportunity we have to expose our clients to a world vastly different from our own, to acquaint them with cultures and concerns that broaden our perspective and remind us of the wider context in which we all live.
Certainly I hope you never forget the very important role that you play as a travel consultant in fulfilling the dreams of your clients. But you also have the opportunity to do your clients one better. Rather than merely shipping them out the door with a ticket in hand, use your travel planning as an opportunity to coach them a bit in the nuances of the cultures they visit. As a travel professional, you have the tremendous opportunity, perhaps even the responsibility, to send real ambassadors for our own culture into the world at large. Just the smallest bit of effort on your part providing your clients with insight into their host country’s religions, history, politics, language and culture will not only enrich your client’s experience but will do much to ensure the openness of the reception they receive during their travels.
The best travel professionals know these things. They provide their clients with the type of working knowledge of their destination that goes beyond merely getting there and having a place to sleep. Coaching your clients in the culture of their destination is not only smart business, it’s something very close to an obligation.