Like many industries, the travel and tour business is a lot like an iceberg – what you see is only a small fraction of the whole package. From a client’s point of view, most any service they pay for – be it getting a package from FedEx, sending a text on their phone, or paddling a sea kayak into a limestone cave – is just one small part of a complex system that took a ton of planning and logistics to provide. That got us thinking – wouldn’t it be interesting to provide some insight into what exactly goes into a Smiling Albino trip?
In a four-part series, we’re going to take a look at the who, what, and how of crafting an Asian adventure, from the first contact email to the bittersweet hugs at the end.
Part II: Putting the pieces together
Once we get as much information about the clients as we can, as well as any special details or unique touches they’d like to experience on their trip (which we discussed in part one of the series) – the next step is making sure all the steps fit together.
“The first thing we do once all the information is confirmed is get the sales team and coordination team to sit down and make sure both are on the same page before the handoff,” says Kae, Smiling Albino’s Operations Manager. “We compare cost sheets, itineraries, and fine details, confirming they are exactly as what we’ve planned for the client, and then we can start booking everything necessary.”
You might be surprised just how much work this is. They say the devil’s in the details, and in Southeast Asia it goes double, especially when you’re dealing with multiple languages in multiple countries. Accommodation needs to be booked, of course (non-smoking rooms? Double beds?) as well as transportation (seatbelts? GPS?), and third-party services like kayaking excursions, cooking schools (any food allergies they should know about?) beach excursions, dinner reservations (romantic setting? Fun setting?), and bicycle preparation (how tall is each guest?).
“We also need to book any domestic or international air tickets, taking extra care that the spelling on each ticket is right,” says Kae. “It sounds easy but sometimes we’re dealing with non-Roman characters, language barriers, and accents on the phone. One mistake and it could turn into a big problem at the airport.”
Nailing down driver and guide schedules and coordinating the trip with them is one of the most important parts of putting an adventure together. “First we check which guides are free, and then try to match the right guide with the right trip. For instance, if guests want to ride a bike to the top of a mountain we’ll choose a fit and active guide; if they want to focus on food or temples or history we’ll choose a guide who is particularly knowledgeable in those areas.”
The guide is also sent the overall trip itinerary so they know what the clients just did or will be doing later, and all special requests, or any medical concerns to keep in mind. “About two weeks before the start of the trip we go over the itinerary with the guide and ask if they have any questions and finalize any fine details.”
When it comes to extra-special details like helicopter rides, special visits to normally restricted areas, or trips with celebrities who might be recognized in public, a survey needs to be done in advance. “In cases like that we personally go to each location and talk to the person in charge to make sure as many elements as possible will be controlled by Smiling Albino,” says Kae.
Once every detail has been checked and double-checked, the next step is welcoming the client to Asia and getting them started on their adventure.
Next: Leading a trip. How do Smiling Albino guides approach a trip, and what are some of the challenges of being a guide?