Guilty as Charged…Confessions of a Serial Over-Informer | Travel Research Online


Guilty as Charged…Confessions of a Serial Over-Informer

We’ve known for some time now that too much information makes for poor decisions. The new news is that the definition of ‘too much’ has been adjusted downward. It turns out that the bar is much lower than was thought. Researchers are now saying it only takes a small step over that tenuous threshold to literally fry the decision making circuits.

This is a conundrum for travel agents. We’re conditioned to impress clients with the depth of our product knowledge, thinking it is the prime ingredient for successful sales.  But the new reality of today’s marketplace has product knowledge taking a backseat to selection and presentation skills.

Richard Earls, publisher of TRO, touched on this subject in a recent article, stating “As a travel professional, it is easy to be obsessed with travel product and the details of product knowledge.  However, much of what we know about any given product is of no real importance to the individual who wants a vacation or travel experience.”

Dig deeper into the sources referenced below and the message becomes clear. We need to take a fresh look at how we access, process and present information. Both our personal and professional success hinges on it.

Sharon Begley, in a recent Newsweek article says “The Twiterization of our culture has revolutionized our lives but with an unintended consequence – our overloaded brains freeze when we have to make decisions.”  

Begley links the issue to the travel industry when she describes how a “surfeit of information is changing the way we think, not always for the better. Maybe you consulted scores of travel websites to pick a vacation spot – only to be so overwhelmed that you opted for a staycation.”

She points out that we are conditioned to give greater weight to what is newest or the latest, rather than what is important or interesting. What is urgent – rather than important – tends to drive the decision making process.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book titled “Blink”, showed how a group of Chicago Emergency Room doctors dramatically improved their accuracy when diagnosing heart attacks by zeroing in on just a few bits of real time information – such as blood pressure, stable or unstable and ECG response while ignoring everything else, like patient’s age, weight and medical history.

Wikipedia has this entry about an oft quoted study on the effect of information on choice – ”Sheena Iyengar, considered one of the world’s experts on choice, did research with jam that shows how information overload can actually hurt our ability to make a decision. She set up displays of jams in supermarkets and found that a huge range of jam attracted more people to the jam display. However, the study found that when a limited range of 5 jams were offered, people were ten times more likely to buy.” (Italics are mine.)

It seems that people who were presented with a large assortment did a lot of comparing and discussing but little buying. On the other hand, people who were presented with limited choices seemed to know intuitively which choice was best for them.

(An 18 minute video of Ms. Iyengar’s fascinating presentation on “The Art of Choosing” at a recent TED conference can be found on


Needless to say, I’ve begun noticing and reining in my tendency to over-inform. Admittedly, this is not an issue with all clients – some of whom know exactly what they want and are calling in hopes of a lower price…or some handholding…reassurance that the decision they have already made is the right one.


But more and more I see clients in a state of overwhelm, calling for help in making sense of it all. In this situation the last thing I want to do is induce more Option Fatigue.


(Note to Self: Stop recommending the Magic 8 Ball.)


At this point a “Catch 22” is rearing its ugly head.  I must now suppress the urge to continue this article – otherwise I run the risk of over-informing you on the subject of over-informing.


So I’ll conclude by saying the message is clear for all of us. No matter where we are on our career paths, we can retrain and re-educate ourselves to be better communicators – more effective curators / disseminators of information – empowering clients to make better decisions. 


In your day to day interaction with clients, be mindful of Ms. Iyengar’s Parable of the Jams. It’s the sweet thing to do.

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