It's not your imagination. Travelers are more demanding than ever. They expect more from their flights, cruises and hotel stays – and they are speaking up if they don't get it.
A new study by Oregon State University suggests demanding travelers are everywhere. It found that 91% of hospitality workers have dealt with customers who believed they inherently deserved privileges or special treatment. Of those workers, 70% wanted to leave the hospitality industry after confronting a demanding consumer.
It turns out travelers have their reasons for being demanding. And while a demanding customer might affect your next vacation or business trip, you could also indirectly benefit from these travelers who expect the world of an airline, car rental company or hotel.
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Why travelers are demanding now
What's behind this travel trend? It's complicated, said Todd Montgomery, the Oregon State professor who conducted the research. He said the travel industry is partially to blame because it promoted the idea that its customers were always right – even when they weren't.
"Also, organizations have had loose or undefined policies about how to handle an entitled customer," he added.
And, of course, there's the easing of the pandemic, which released hundreds of thousands of customers into the wild this summer.
"Travelers have sky-high expectations for the trips," said Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist and professor in New York City. "They've been fantasizing about them for the past couple of years. And now they're able to take them."
Romanoff said when people idealize something, they forget about the reality – "the delays, cancellations, mistakes and unexpected drawbacks that come with travel."
At the same time, the travel experience has changed because of the pandemic.
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"I think many travelers are unaware of – and perhaps even unsympathetic to – how deeply impacted the travel, tourism and transportation sectors have been," said Frank Harrison, regional security director for North America at travel risk management company World Travel Protection. "They have pre-pandemic expectations about the level of service they should be getting at airports, hotels, and tourist attractions."
The lack of sympathy is easily explained. Travel companies, particularly airlines, accepted billions of dollars in government aid during the pandemic. Then they cut staff and service. Travelers are upset, and they're taking it out on the gate agents, hotel clerks and travel advisers, who had nothing to do with this fiasco.
Either way, travelers haven't had a chance to get out in a while. They've been dreaming about – and idealizing – their next vacation. At the same time, many have no idea that the industry has changed for the worse.
Talk about bad timing.
What demanding travelers want
So what do these more demanding travelers want?
"They have a very high level of expectation," said Jérôme Montantème, general manager of Fauchon L'Hotel, a boutique property in Paris. "They want everything to be perfect."
How perfect? Customers were once content to reach out to the hotel staff when they wanted something. Now, they take their requests directly to Montantème. Whether they want to arrange a private barge tour of the Seine or a special meal in Fauchon's signature restaurant, he'll get the request.
A few blocks away at the Hôtel de Crillon, a hotel representative told me the same thing. Their demanding customers call months in advance to book a table at a restaurant. When the concierge doesn't respond immediately, they call again. And again.
To be sure, guests at Parisian luxury hotels were always a little picky. But when the staff said they're demanding, you should pay attention.
Travelers say they are not entitled
Travelers have a different perspective. When David Kazarian, a pharmacist from Tampa, Florida, checked into an upscale hotel in Hartford, Connecticut, he found that it had failed to restock the bathroom with bottles of shampoo. He found a housekeeper on his floor and asked for a bottle. The staff member assured him he would have it before the next morning.
But that evening – nothing.
"The shampoo wasn't there," he said. "Nor was the room made up."
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Kazarian doesn't think he's being too demanding. He only wants his hotel to do what it promises. (I have a free guide to fixing any consumer problem – including a missing amenity – on my consumer advocacy site.)
"Travelers are not becoming more demanding," said Andy Abramson, who runs a communications firm in Las Vegas. "We're just expecting what we were used to getting before the pandemic. Is that asking too much?"
Of course, not. Still, there's a perception that travelers today are almost impossible to please. These travelers are making life miserable for the airline, cruise and hotel employees who are still on the job.
How demanding travelers can make your next trip better
But what does that have to do with you? Knowing that hospitality employees feel a little burned out can work to your advantage. If ever there were a time to be extra nice, to tip a little more for good service, to use your "pleases" and "thank yous" – it's now. Your niceness could take you a long way.
A friendly hello or even an "I understand" will make hotel, car rental and cruise employees go the extra mile to make your next trip more enjoyable.
This may be the right time to awaken your inner contrarian – and go in the other direction.
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How to avoid being a demanding customer
► Look for quality: Some travel companies are providing excellent service, others aren't. At a time like this, you need to double down on research to make sure you're cruising, driving, flying, or staying with a company that meets your expectations. "There is just a huge chasm between the travelers' dreamy expectations and the reality of what the industry is currently capable of providing," warned Bill Miller, a vice president at travel protection program Medjet.
► Set reasonable expectations: Many travelers set expectations based on what they see on TV or TikTok. But Tina Tolbert, a travel agent who publishes a blog about theme parks and travel, said the reality is far different. "The average American wants a perfect vacation like they see on social media," she said. But many of the social media influencers who make those videos live near the amusement parks and know their way around the property. Her advice: Talk to someone who has been there and can give you a more accurate preview of what to expect.
► Consider spending a little more: A little extra money can smooth out the bumps when you travel, said Kimberly Davis, CEO of Trouvaille Travel International, a travel agency. "You can pay to skip excessively long immigration lines, to access a first-class lounge where staff will happily rebook your delayed flight, and to stay in a hotel with a personal butler to make sure you have hot cocoa the second you wake up," she said.
Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. He founded Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidential, a travel newsletter, and the Elliott Report, a daily blog about customer service. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can reach him here or email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'A very high level of expectation': What demanding travelers want