"How was your holiday?”
“Great” is the usual first response with a recap of the highlights and adventures. “But...” then follows when the reservoir of encouraging tales runs dry.
In my experience all the factors that come under the label “great” are derived from a common root. And the same can be said for the “buts”.
The “great” are the moments that spontaneously arise from spending time with your loved ones and friends. The best memories are invariably formed by the giddy self-made scrapes and encounters that, even at the time, seem inconsequential.
The “buts” will, I’ll wager, derive from encounters with the holiday company and their reps who gush effusively about their dedication to your happiness on the transfer from the airport, but are ineffective at the point of delivery.
To illustrate this, let me take examples from my last two winter holidays.
In 2014 I went with a party on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that would see one six-year-old awe-struck into silence by an encounter with Father Christmas in Lapland.
The company Transun messed up all the way along for reasons too numerous to list.
Transport was a constant woe with the reps simply unable to count the number of people on a tour and tally that to the number of coach seats required.
As I told the rep, all this could be forgiven as long as she didn’t mess up the Big Day – the trip to see Father Christmas in his grotto.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We have enough transport this time.” She danced on the spot at the thrill of being momentarily competent.
No surprises for guessing her news as we waited in the hotel reception the next morning.
Her solution to the shortfall was to suggest some of the party wait for the bus while it shuttled to and fro. This was an hour-long journey so the last family to leave would have to wait hours in the hotel, missing most of the day-long activities, while their children became ever more bemused and down-hearted.
Only a holiday mutiny forced her to order taxis and even then there were delays for petrol stops and other assorted foreseeable inconveniences.
The great escape
This winter, I went on a skiing holiday with Inghams . It was not the company’s fault that there was no snow but we made do.
On our arrival, the reps promised us their undying service and then promptly left the bus and vanished out of sight and left us struggling to work out what was going on.
A number of hiccups down the road, and it came, a week later, to pick-up at the unearthly hour of 3.50am.
The company said it had alerted our hotel to this grim departure time so a sympathetic adieu and perhaps cup of coffee would greet our yawning forms. This never happened. The hotel was dark and sealed.
My abiding memory of Inghams' promise of unflagging attention to my comfort therefore was the vision of us, weary and angry, dragging our suitcases around the hotel, jamming open a fire escape in the basement with an ashtray and traipsing from a storage area round the back to meet a rep who did little more than (metaphorically) tap her watch at our tardiness.
Small print irrelevant
Explanations back in Blighty don’t cut it. Nor apologies. The small-print is irrelevant when the promise is based on outcome not aspiration and loophole.
How come an industry built so heavily on customer service ends up driving cattle?
The answer, I think, lies in the “great, but”. We don’t complain. Maybe it’s being British. Maybe it’s because we’ve spent a fortune and our poor choices make us schmucks.
Maybe because we lie to each other because we don’t want to detract from those genuinely sublime memories.
Such ineptitude thrives on the twin pillars of amnesia and delusion. Holiday companies can never match the warmth of holiday companions, but they should at least know how to count, tell the time and recognise the difference between saying something and doing it.
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