Perceptions, assumptions and misunderstandings

Nothing is set in stone. Things change. Reality is fluid and few things in life adhere to a precise and inviolate template. What on earth am I waffling on about this time? One of the biggest mistakes that people make (and I include myself in this) is that we treat everything as gospel. We read an article somewhere that advises against travel to such and such a place because there was ‘an incident’ and forever after, that place remains fixed in our mind as somewhere that we should perhaps continue to avoid. The incident in question may have been a once-off or an aberration and yet it ends up suffering in the long-term largely because people are so risk averse nowadays and, in any event, there are so many other destinations that we can choose from and which don’t threaten our personal safety, comfort zone or sensibilities.


Much the same kind of thing happens when it comes to brands — or more particularly what those brands are perceived to represent.  There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule (aren’t there always?) with Virgin and Michelin being prime examples. If Virgin decided in the morning to bring out a new line of condoms, we wouldn’t be particularly surprised; after all, is there anything that they haven’t attached their name to? That, and the irony that such a product would represent, given the brand name itself and the potential column inches that could be gained from all the potential free publicity. Michelin has managed to delicately balance a brand that is not only synonymous with tyres but also high-end cuisine.


On the other end of the scale, one has brands that have become so inextricably associated with one product*, that it can be difficult to associate them with others, when they begin to diversify. One such example is Wendy Wu Tours. As the name itself suggests, the eponymous Wendy Wu grew up in China (she was born in Tibet) and subsequently emigrated to Australia from where she organised her first tour to China back in 1994. Since then, the company has enjoyed spectacular growth internationally and although China still remains at the epicentre of what they do, their portfolio of destinations has expanded quite a lot to include not only all the other major tourist destinations in South East Asia but also Japan, India and more recently — South America.


How can one company consider themselves experts in such diverse destinations? The simple fact is that, given the way the travel industry works, they don’t need to! All but the very largest and vertically-integrated travel companies use third parties called Handling Agents (see also: Destination Management Company) to represent their interests on the ground when it comes to providing meet and greet services, transfers, contracting with local hotels, guides and group escorts and even designing (or at the very least, advising) on tour itineraries. The tour operator (for that is what Wendy Wu is) sets the tone in terms of their expectations, standards and the level of care and attention to detail they expect to be delivered to their clients. Therefore, in much the same way that a Big Mac will taste exactly the same whether you consume it in Caracas or Cairo, so too will the Wendy Wu ‘experience’ tick certain boxes, immaterial of where in the world they’ve brought you to!


I had the pleasure recently of seeing this in action when I traveled to India with Wendy Wu. From the time that I met up with the first of several assigned guides in New Delhi arrivals’ terminal to my departure from that same airport five days later, I was escorted, guided, advised, helped and generally pampered for the duration of my stay. They chose my hotels, pre-booked my meals in various restaurants in three different cities and decided what impressive attractions, palaces and historic monuments I needed to see on my whistle-stop tour. All I had to do was turn up. It took all the hassle out of my travels and ended up exceeding my expectations — and all from a company that perhaps you and most of your friends and acquaintances didn’t even know featured India.


Just because a company becomes successful and therefore synonymous with one product doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t replicate that success across the board. Based on my recent experience, I would quite happily entrust all my travel arrangements to Wendy Wu, the next time I decide to revisit South America.


*There have been a couple of notable but not so well-publicized disasters when it comes to certain brands trying their hand at diversification. Great examples include: When Zippo tried to launch a women’s perfume; When Smith & Wesson introduced a range of clothing; when the aforementioned Virgin started selling water purifiers; When Harley Davidson started selling icing kits for cakes — I kid you not!
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