We've all thought it at one time or another: if I ran this joint, things would be different. It's a notion that usually arises from annoyance. An overlong wait. A brush with rudeness. A bad plate of food. Under-delivery on over-promises. Substandard experiences bombard us in day-to-day life, be they traffic jams, overcrowded buses, exorbitant power bills, terrible TV shows or disappointing football teams. That's why we go on holidays – because quite often, real life sucks.
But holiday time is happy time, right? We've invested our precious leave, money and emotions into it being so. Expectations are high for a transcendent experience, that will deliver us from the cares, worries and disappointments of the every day.
How dispiriting then, when holidays turn bad for whatever reason. And the thing is, there needn't be a big disaster to make it so, just the build-up of displeasures at the incremental failings of those in which we have put our holiday faith (and cash).
So, with this in mind, we asked seven regular Traveller contributors to put on their royal crowns, wave their royal sceptres and tell us what would change if they ruled the world of travel. And in fairness, we also asked some industry experts to tell us what they'd change if they ruled the world of Traveller.
– Julietta Jameson
IF I RAN AN AIRLINE
Illustration: Jamie Brown
By Michael Gebicki
Dear Flyer, I'm the chief executive of NirvanaAir and I'm writing to say thanks for booking your flight with us. We do things a little differently from other airlines so this is a heads-up.
Our economy seats are priced according to how much real estate they occupy in the cabin. Sure, we have the cheap and mean seats and if you're fine flying with your knees squished against your chest that's fine with us. Note too we have a yoga instructor in our boarding area who will help you into the Eka Pada Sirsasana (foot-behind-the-head) pose and that's great preparation for these seats. Want more room? Have we got a deal for you! Pay double the price and you get double the space. We don't fake you out with a so-called "premium" economy seat that costs twice the price and gives you 12 centimetres of extra stretch room – that's about the length of a smartphone in case you're wondering. Pay double with NirvanaAir and you get to stretch yourself out in a NirvanaSeat. That's 60 centimetres between your seat and the seat in front, in a shell-type design so you can recline without annoying the passenger behind. It's a win-win. You get to purr instead of pout, we get the same revenue for every square centimetre of cabin space. What's not to like?
Five per cent of all NirvanaAir seats are allocated to our frequent flyers. That's every class, every flight, every day, low season or high, because we don't squeeze out our loyal customers even when we know demand from fare-paying passengers is booming. Naturally, those frequent-flyer allocated seats fly out the door in high season so get in early, and remember, bookings for loyalty seats open exactly 12 months before departure. You'll notice your NirvanaAir boarding pass is colour-coded. Rather than boarding by a numbered zone, which most other airlines do and which everyone ignores, board when your colour is called, or when you see that colour flashing on the overhead gate display.
Passengers seated at the back of the aircraft get to board first, which avoids clogging the aisles with those seated towards the front. Simple. When you get off your flight you want to hit the ground running, right? Check your emails, maybe social media, whatever – but when you're overseas you probably don't want to be doing that with your usual SIM card.So how about we fit you up with a local SIM card? A prepaid card with data and calls at the same rate the locals pay. Available onboard and good to go the minute you step off your flight. And maybe throw in some local shekels, dong, rupiah or whatever for your taxi or train ride to wherever you're headed, that we can do. Finally, thanks for choosing NirvanaAir and have a great flight.
IF I RAN A HOTEL
Illustration: Jamie Brown
By Julietta Jameson
Can you hear it? The white noise of competing voices shouting trends, forecasts, predictions and theories, a hubbub of millennial this and technological that, curated the other and bespoke the next; all of it about what hotels were, are and will be, what hotel guests wanted, want and will want – and all cancelling itself out in a meaningless mish-mash.
OK, as someone who writes regularly about hotels, I am one of those voices. There is, of course, value in monitoring and assessing an industry that has an impact on the experience of most travellers, if not every traveller, at one time or another. It's just that there are some unchanging basics a hotel needs to tick off before they get all tricksy with, say, "local, organic and authentic experiences". Those fundamentals are, quite simply, welcome, function and comfort, and their importance applies across the board, from the most humble of inns to the fanciest of five-stars. And yet, how often hotels miss the mark on any or all three – which makes responding to trends a bit like putting lipstick on a pig, as the expression goes.
I am a huge fan of the TV show, The Hotel Inspector. With her tough love and swearing-with-a-posh-accent approach, the actual Hotel Inspector of the show, Alex Polizzi, herself a hotelier, checks into ailing properties around Britain in order to assess what they are doing wrong. And usually, she boils it down to these basics.
On her check list are things such as arrival. I know I've rocked up to some of the finest hotels in the world to be confronted by stairs, no one available to help with luggage, and reception staff keeping their heads down to avoid eye contact with the hot mess wrestling her way up to them. For this hotel inspector, that would be a big cross.
And of course, Polizzi looks at check in, and she would have been delighted, as I was recently, to find a huge new Bangkok hotel had separate check-ins for groups and individuals – big tick.
She would, however, have been dismayed by the groovy Clerkenwell hotel I once stayed in. Coming back after dinner, I found turndown service included putting on the "love lights", as a little card on the bed called them, glowing a bright bordello pink. I could not for the life of me work out, on the complicated switch panel, how to turn them off. I slept – kind of – with them on. A massive cross.
So if I ruled a hotel world, I'd do as Polizzi does. I'd regularly check into my hotel and experience it as a guest does, from arrival to departure – the operative here being as a guest, because like a crayfish in a slowly heating pot, it seems that some hoteliers can be so acclimatised to their surrounds, they don't sense when things get dire.
IF A RAN A RESORT
Illustration: Jamie Brown
By Ute Junker
Thanks, but no thanks. If there is one job that I really don't want, it is designing new resorts. These days, luxury travellers are just too damn fussy. Or is that just me?
I'm old enough to remember the days when we were impressed by a resort with an infinity-edge pool. If they had pool service, we were blissed out. What simple creatures we were.The advent of the private villa was the beginning of the end. Once you had your own villa, you also needed your own pool, and your own butler. Holidays became all about hiding away.Then there is the food. First, we wanted degustation dinners, the quality right up there with what we might enjoy at home.
Then we demanded a return to more casual options. These days, at least one resort restaurant has exasperatedly done away with menus entirely.
At the Walker D'Plank restaurant on Kokomo Private Island in Fiji, you simply chat with the chef and work out what you feel like eating. If even going to a restaurant is too much bother, the Kokomo team will deliver a wood-fired pizza to your room.
So if you can't impress guests with private pools and fabulous food any more, what does work? Musing on my favourite resorts, I realise that it always comes back to a simple answer: service. Not the over-eager service that has someone waving a cold towel at you every time you poke your head out the door, but the sort of service that makes you feel cosseted in a dozen different ways.
The sort of service that they have at Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Baja California, for instance. When you check in, you are taken straight to the spa for a complimentary 10-minute hand massage. Big tick there. An even bigger tick for the alert staffer who looks at my overstuffed handbag and insists on carrying it for me. "You are here to relax," she reminds me.
Or the sort of service they have at the underwater spa at Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives. Sitting waiting for our treatments, I enjoyed a refreshing glass of lime juice and commented, "That's my new favourite drink". Straight away a staffer asked me, "Can I send a carafe of it to your room?". Yes please.So if I did have to create a resort, of course I'd supply the private pools and the multiple dining options, but I'd spend most of my time training the staff.
Then I'd throw in a help-yourself Chocolate Room (like they have at the Soneva resorts) or hand out free ice-creams all day long (as they do at Six Senses Fiji). Because sometimes, there is something utterly delightful about being treated as a child.
IF I RAN A CRUISE LINE
Illustration: Jamie Brown
By Brian Johnston
Oh boy, if I were king of the cruise lines for a day I'd be sending lots of people off for political re-education, like towel-rack designers, corny lounge singers, unbearably cheerful cruise directors and chefs who parade baked Alaska through dining rooms.
As for passengers who disembark scantily clad in conservative destinations or ask ridiculous questions ("Does the crew sleep on board?"), it would be off with their heads. But that's just me.
On an ideal ship Katie Melua would be singing in my bar and a Hemsworth serving the cocktails, but that will never happen.
But I hope to keep real bartenders and staff, despite predictions crew will be replaced by robots and interactive screens. It's the crew that makes a cruise line, and passengers know it. They'll be happy with less than satin sheets, but nobody wants a grumpy (or virtual) waiter.
As a cruise line owner, though, I'd be embracing many other technologies. Kudos to whichever evil dictator invented the electronic bracelet already appearing on some cruise ships.
We love tracking passengers' every movement and purchase, and feeding all that information to the thought police and purser's office.
Guests should be happy in their electronic world. We'll anticipate their favourite cocktails and pillow size, and if they like baked Alaska we can send them off to our Alaskan restaurant.
The thing I'd like to change the most is internet connectivity. We get more complaints about that than anything else, and for good reason: it's lousy and expensive. Technology will change that, and soon.
Happily, the biggest beneficiaries (I hope) will be the crew, who'll find it much easier to stay in touch with family.
People complain a lot about security queues getting on and off ships as well. I'd love to have a giant chute they could just whizz down, and off they go. Soon queues might be gone anyway. Facial recognition will provide security and a whole lot more – we'd all be happy to see the back of signed chits and lost cabin keys.
Since I'm a cruise-line magnate with a sense of fun, I'd love a ship designed with an interior you could rearrange. It's not farfetched; some ships already have bars that move between floors. Imagine if we could rearrange lounge sizes or cabin locations. Unreasonable guests would wake up and find themselves in an interior cabin near the engine room. How good to be king!
IF I RAN AIRBNB
By Ben Groundwater
First, a warning: I'm not very business-minded. I'm a half-hearted capitalist at best. Which is why my vision for Airbnb is not to increase its desirability and to power it towards global domination. My plan is to reduce its profitability. It's to loosen its grip on the tourism world.
This will seem strange for someone who has enjoyed short-term stays in houses and apartments around the world. I like Airbnb. I use the product. But if I were to be running the show, for the greater good of the world, I would damage it.
I would begin by banning investors from renting out their properties. No more moguls buying three or four or five properties and putting them all on Airbnb. No more faceless exchanges of keys and money with management corporations.
Airbnb wasn't supposed to be like this. The idea, originally, was for home-owners to make a little money on the side, to lay out an air mattress in their spare room – the "air B&B" – and provide additional accommodation in cities that were struggling under the weight of visitor numbers.
It wasn't supposed to fill local apartment blocks with groups of tourists. It wasn't supposed to change the very nature of certain neighbourhoods, to force up rents as property owners realised they could make a lot more money out of short-term stays than long-term tenants, to drive out residents and to alter what it was that made that neighbourhood so desirable in the first place.
So, no more. No more investors. Properties can only be let out by owner-occupiers. You can have people stay in your spare room, or you can vacate your home for a maximum of 90 days a year.
Then, suddenly, it would matter how your guests behaved. Suddenly, there would be a more cohesive community. Suddenly, people would feel is if they were living in a residential block again, and not in a hotel.That would impact on Airbnb's bottom line. But again – not very business-minded.
I would also ban management companies who look after Airbnb properties for owners. Put the personal touch back into the system. Force owners to deal directly with the people who will be temporary members of their neighbourhood.
I would take on more support staff too, to deal quickly and more efficiently with complaints or disputes. I would make it more difficult for property owners to cancel reservations. I would encourage governments to speed up their law-making to ensure everything to do with Airbnb is clear and legal and taxed effectively.
And then, I guess, I would probably be forced to resign.
IF I RAN A TOUR COMPANY
By Nina Karnikowski
The first order of business in my dream travel operation would be purchasing a teleporter. Never mind the expense (or the fact that they don't yet exist), I would do whatever it took to make sure my clients didn't waste a moment of their precious travel time.
Airports would be a long-forgotten memory. Clients would come direct to head office where, suitcase in hand, they would be dissolved into a trillion tiny pieces, reassembled moments later in their destination of choice.
No more customs lines, cramped planes or jet lag. They would arrive fresh, all atoms hopefully intact, and ready for action. Or inaction, as the case may be, for my operation would focus exclusively on travel that soothes the soul.
Forget racing around and crossing off as many cheesy sights as possible; the focus here would be slowing down and sinking in. I would offer a maximum of two destinations on any one trip, so clients could experience living in these places, rather than breezing through and leaving with very little sense of what they've seen along the way.
They would always have enough time to truly live like a local. To make friends and find their favourite restaurants; to explore every inch of the place and set up house for a little while; to eradicate the stress of packing and unpacking every second day.
Best of all, this go-slow model would leave plenty of time for doing the most important thing: nothing at all. For luxuriating in a day bed reading a book in the sunshine, for conversations that last for hours, for wandering without agenda, for long naps and even longer meals. These trips would be as much about reclaiming clarity and freedom, as delving deep into an intriguing new destination.
All of this would become even sweeter thanks to the absence of mobile devices. Clients on these journeys must relinquish their phones and laptops, stepping out of the virtual fray before stepping into the teleporter.
Because as travel writer Pico Iyer says: "In a world where the human race accumulates more information every five minutes than exists in the entire US Library of Congress, emptiness and silence are the new luxuries."
Not to mention the fact that without devices to hunker down over, your eyes and ears are more open to the wonders – and flesh and bone people – around you.
My ultimate aim would be to put my clients back in that teleporter inspired and educated and more in love with the world, yes, but also more fresh and more sane than when they arrived.
IF I RAN A RIVER CRUISE LINE
Illustration: Jamie Brown
By Alison Stewart
A little dinghy, adventure, resilience, the kindness of strangers, the embrace of really slow travel – 4900 kilometres along waterways from North Wales to the Black Sea – this is my idea of the perfect river cruise.
It was Australian writer A. J. Mackinnon's too – he wrote a terrific book about it called The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow.
He set off to row to the end of the creek in Bristol and ended up steering his dinghy down the Severn, the Thames, the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube, finally bobbing out into the Black Sea.
It's not really going to catch on, let's be honest, but his ethos provides some terrific models for where I would take river cruising if I ruled the (tiny) waves (that bounce off river banks).
Adventure – there's got to be much more of it. Adventure is not a 15-minute amble through a historic town, following a guide holding a large daffodil. Adventure is the road less travelled – exploring wilder rivers and lakes, offering more off-boat active excursions – ziplining, hot-air ballooning, horse-riding, game tracking – overcoming inaccessibility with hybrid adventures that include hiking, trains, cycling.
It's already happening. Operators, looking beyond the sedentary octogenarian (for whom there is of course still a market), are appealing to younger cruisers with the hearts of explorers.
In a utopian world where costs are irrelevant, the river cruises I'd promote would be the ones that, for example, seek elusive jaguars in Brazil's Pantanal wetland, travelling with an expert naturalist, using small vessels to explore the narrow creeks of the Taiama Reserve where jaguars roam.
Or, in cherished river cruise territory, I'd be pushing the hybrid Danube or Rhine adventure, mixing river cruising with self-guided cycle touring. Not just gazing up at the magnificent Rhine Gorge, but cycling up to its castles and vineyards before repairing to my riverboat or barge. E-bikes would always be available.
Which brings me to size – apart from cabins, which should be larger, with nice balconies, well stocked fridges, massive storage – less should be more. Smaller ships, fewer passengers, slower pace, with that specialist focus on food, adventure, botany, history, architecture, art, photography.
I'd introduce more barge cruises – they're big in France, Holland, Germany and Belgium, but I'd have them dotted everywhere. Or more intimate riverboats like the 28-guest Zambezi Queen that gets close to game on Africa's Chobe River.
And in my ideal world, I'd have all that and no compromise on luxury. My small, adventurous river cruises would offer luxurious cabins, gourmet food sourced locally, fine wines and champagne, expert guides, qualified baristas, more free time, no Elvis impersonators and "room picnic hampers" for that night in with your beloved.
Finally, on a whimsical note, each guest would have an "ejection credit", allowing them one opportunity to turf overboard a travel bore, whinger, hacking cougher, heroic snorer, know-all, loyalty reward badge wearer, photographic scenery-hogger, All Blacks aficionado or "whenwe" as in, "when we were last in Durnstein/Melk/Vienna/Budapest."
TURNING THE TABLES
DENNIS BUNNIK, CHIEF EXECUTIVE BUNNIK TOURS
IF I WERE A TRAVEL WRITER…
"Aside from the fact that I'd never, ever be home, I'd concentrate less on the things I saw and more on the people I met – the locals, yes, but also the people I was travelling with. My best travel experiences have always involved sharing those wow moments, particularly in a small group environment. Perhaps because travel writers tend to be more solitary figures, that's the missing ingredient in a lot of stories I read." See bunniktours.com.au
LISA PAGOTTO, FOUNDER, CROOKED COMPASS
IF I WERE A TRAVEL WRITER…
"I'd focus on my own travel obsessions – for me, diminishing tribes such as the reindeer tribes of Mongolia, and forgotten cultures like the Hutsul culture in the depths of the Carpathian Mountains. I'd partner exclusively with travel brands I'm passionate about, who align with my personal values, and focus solely on what fuels my heart. The raw honesty would shine through my words and be addictive for the reader, hooking them in to pack and go!" See crooked-compass.com
JUSTIN EWIN, PRODUCT MANAGER, EVERGREEN TOURS
IF I WERE A TRAVEL GUIDEBOOK WRITER…
"I would highlight those places and experiences that only a local knows – that's the true heart of a destination. My partner is Peruvian and each year her family organises gifts to take to remote mountain communities for Christmas. We've been with them a couple of times and it's incredible. I'd inspire my readers to visit local communities that are off the beaten track like this, and help them to contribute to enriching their lives." See evergreentours.com.au
ERICA KRITIKIDES, SENIOR BRAND AND PRODUCT MANAGER, INTREPID GROUP
IF I WERE A TRAVEL WRITER…
"I wouldn't write about touristy places (here's looking at you Waikiki!) and instead seek out all the places that no one goes. Think rare border crossings in Central Asia, or time with the reindeer herders of Siberia's isolated Yamal Peninsula. The rarely-done-before story is the best kind of story." See intrepidtravel.com
BEN ANGELL, VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING, NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
IF I WERE A TRAVEL EDITOR…
"I'd commission more cruise stories showcasing boutique ports not visited by most itineraries, one-of-a-kind experiences for that 'holiday of a lifetime'. Places like the tiny Turkish island of Bozcaada, or the mountainous Bodo in Norway." See ncl.com
RAY STONE, EXECUTIVE GENERAL MANAGER, SALES, MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION, VOYAGES INDIGENOUS TOURISM AUSTRALIA
IF I WERE A TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER…
"I'd have an unerring instinct for unexpected events and projects that were unstaged, something I don't see much of currently. Those serendipitous moments are the true essence of travel." See voyages.com.au
SARAH LATIMORE, APT PRODUCT MANAGER
IF I WERE A TRAVEL EDITOR…
"I'd feature more detailed product comparisons. Travellers are inundated with choice and sometimes the finer details are overlooked. Price is important, but if that price only covers the basics compared to a fully inclusive trip, that's not comparing apples with apples and potentially readers are missing out on a better product." See aptouring.com
- Nina Karnikowski