Buyers Beware

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Buzz Phrases and Fake Photos Plague Internet Hotel Advertising

By Peter Greenberg

Pictures don’t always say a thousand words. Have you ever booked a hotel that looks great online, only to show up and find out you were completely misled? There are all kinds of phony marketing tactics designed to get you to click.

When looking online for a hotel, it’s common to see photos of spacious rooms and intimate pools. But more often than not, the hotel doesn’t look the same in person. In fact, hotels are known for “photo fake outs.” These are photos that show a hotel room looking more spacious than it really is, or they make a crowded beach at a mega resort look like a deserted oasis.

The image on the left is from L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hotel room is decorated in warm tones with a fake view of the George Washington Monument. Even though you can only see the beds, it’s easy to imagine that the room is fairly large. But in reality, none of this is true. The room is smaller, the colors aren’t quite as homey and the view is of a rundown building.

I’m a big fan of the term “hit the ground running,” because it more or less describes my life when it comes to travel. I’ve had years of building up insider and local contacts in just about every conceivable destination around the world. That’s exactly why I can hit the ground running. But for most people, hitting the ground running is a scary proposition, especially when visiting a new city.

If you want to have a new cultural, gastronomic, or historical experience in a foreign country, it can easily become a disorganized and confused mess. When you’re planning a trip there are so many variables to consider—creating a schedule, delays caused by unfamiliarity with language, customs, local traditions (and rules), and, of course, just good, basic information.

As a result, a lot of first time travelers opt for a guided tour. In theory, it sounds like a perfect solution—until you get down to a definition of terms. How does your company define the words guided tour? How hands-on will it be? Will you be able to do things at a pace comfortable to you, or be rushed through a museum—or worse, simply trapped on a bus? The trouble often starts with the brochure language of many guided tours. Often, you’ll find brochures for tour companies packed with words that sound great, but don’t mean what you might think.

Here’s my breakdown of the real meaning behind guided tour brochure buzz phrases.

“Room With a View”

You’ll need binoculars. Or, you’ll have a great view of the dumpster at the back of the hotel. No one wants to see the Eiffel Tower from a few football fields away. Look up each hotel on the itinerary before booking to make sure it is in a location to offer the view the company claims.

“You’ll See the Pyramids!”

How? From a bus driving by at 60 miles per hour? When? Going at noon isn’t when you want to go—early morning or late afternoon is the way to do it. Make sure that your tour company gives you exact details on your daily activities. If they don’t explicitly say that you’ll be departing from the bus and then spending a certain amount of time sightseeing on foot, it might not happen.

“Old World Charm”

You’ll share a bathroom. Not to be cynical, but most of these flowery, nondescript phrases often mask an unsavory situation. If the room was actually nice, they wouldn’t need to use ambiguous terms.

“Cozy”

Tiny. I mean, TINY, especially if you’re going to be in Europe. Expect the bed to take up most of the room and the bathroom will be even smaller.

“All Meals Included”

This usually means you don’t have much of a menu choice, and it could also mean the food you do get might be passable at best. Odds are, you’ll have a mediocre continental breakfast every morning, followed by bagged lunches of sandwiches and potato chips, and a lackluster buffet for dinner. Many tour companies that escort Americans end up Americanizing much of the food you eat abroad, which is the last thing you want when traveling.

“Explore on Your Own”

The other side of the coin: you’ll pay for everything. At least in this case you’ll have the opportunity to find hidden gem restaurants and experiences, but that defeats the purpose of paying for a guided tour in the first place.

“Rustic”

This means, “out in the middle of nowhere and possibly rundown.” This word is tricky, because it can be used for good or evil.

The bottom line: Make sure to research your hotel options ahead of time. That doesn’t mean looking at brochure photos. Instead, TALK to your tour company. Have an actual conversation with a representative and arrive at a mutually agreeable definition of terms. The best-guided tours are the most transparent ones, and that transparency starts before you leave home.EWNS

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