With utmost certainty I can say that no other profession can expose you to more varied kinds of people and their qualms in a way that being in the hospitality sector does. When I'm not writing these blogs that you read, I guide trips. I'm often told by people how my job is a dream job and that so many people would want to quit their jobs to do the same.
I tell them, "Be careful what you wish for."
Why? I'm finally writing this article especially for all these potential job-quitters and dreamers of full-time travel. Here are real life experiences of people working in the hospitality sector who have dealt with bizarre experiences and illogical demands of travellers who come to new destinations with truckloads of privilege and zero information about what to expect.
Time for some horror stories!
All hell broke loose on a biking trip I was leading to Ladakh!
This was back when I had just started leading trips. I had a huge bike group to lead for Ladakh and Srinagar. The issues began in Manali itself. At the first look at some of them, I knew what the trip would be like. Trouble started somewhere around Baralacha la, when, despite all the warning they took shots of Old Monk. Needless to say, half of them were sick and refused to ride with us later blaming it on the breakfast served. We went with their tantrums without any complaints also because it was my first group as a trip-leader. They were loud and profane and thought very low of a female guide. They thought of us as dealers who provided everything from drugs to girls, and also thought that since I was a guide, I probably was very laid back in life or always in need of money. I had regular heated debates with them and this started to affect other group members too.
By the time we reached Srinagar, they had an uninvited guest on the houseboat. I won't take names but let's just say it was a strange girl who I knew nothing about. I was done with them by this time and asked them to leave immediately. The other members of the group had also had enough and were glad that the drama was finally over.
This experience was shared by Mansi, a travel guide who has been leading road trips to remote destinations in the Himalayas.
My property was given one-star review because I wasn't dressed well at 6.oo am.
I run a travel hostel in Rishikesh and I personally look at day to day operations at the property. I live on the third floor and the first and second floor are operated as a hostel. This one morning I was woken up at 6.oo am by the sound of a doorbell. There was a guest who was in dire need of a bed. I didn't want him to roam around with his bags early in the morning and wait for check-in time which is around 10.00 am, so I let him in, showed him around the property and told him about the rules of the hostel too.
He stayed at the hostel for two days. He complained repeatedly for no reason. For instance, he wanted slippers in his room (something which is never provided at a budget accommodation) and more doormats. Although none of these problems were actual problems, the staff was kind enough to see to them.
Two days later I received a notification that my hostel had been given a one star review on Google. We hardly ever get a bad review because I personally take care of all things at the hostel. One star was just appalling. Then I read what the review said. "The host was dressed shabbily when I arrived!"
It was 6 in the morning when this man showed up. I regret not having shut the door on his face. After that incident, I sleep with lipstick on. Just kidding!
This experience was shared by Anamika who runs a travel hostel in Rishikesh.
The absurd demand for nature's call
First I want to point out one of the most common problems faced by all the trek/trip leaders. People are just so excited about the snow in winter treks and when they actually are in the snow and they realise how cold it actually is, they just keep irritating you with their complaints about how it is very cold, how they can't sleep, and how they don't want to be here.
To put things in context, one instance happened with me on Deorital-Chopta trek. There was a group of four girls, who refused to use the dry pit toilet and demanded a commode. Not only me but even the porters couldn't comprehend their strange demand in the middle of the trek. They just sat down on the trail in revolt, saying they won't go ahead until they get a western commode. I offered to take them back to Sari village but they refused to move. This lasted for almost two hours and only after everyone in the group made them understand that it was not physically possible to meet their demand, they agreed to use the dry pit toilet.
This experience is shared by Rohit, an experienced trek guide on various trek routes in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
When a guest said, "I signed up for a trek not for bad weather!"
On one of my treks to Goechala, my guests were a group of boys who made it a point to tell me multiple times that they had done several multi-day treks with a famous trekking company ( I'm sure you know whom I'm talking about) to boast about their experience.
I thought it would be fun leading them since they would know outdoors well. The first day went fine and everyone had a good sleep. The second day hike from Tsoka to Dzongri is something trekkers look forward to since we start getting the view of Kangchenzonga Range. It started raining that day and after putting on our ponchos we continued. The muddy trail made it difficult to walk.
Outdoor enthusiasts in the truest sense enjoy whatever nature throws at them. As a trek guide I was also determined that whatever the weather we would still have fun and reach our pitstop for the day. We reached Phedang where our team had somehow managed to prepare hot lunch despite the bad weather.
The last few folks in the group joined us and one particular guy said that he wanted to return to Yuksam. When I asked him why, he started complaining about the weather and he hadn't signed up for this. I said that he would have to walk till Dzongri at least. This was the beginning of the downfall with the group.
The weather didn't get better the next day. We decided to spend time near the fire and eventually after rains stopped we went out for a walk. Later during the evening, the group started having a discussion about returning to Yuksam since the weather was crap. I said it would be a bad idea since the trail to Goechala was more stunning. This conversation went on for hours and eventually the group decided to not go ahead. I felt bad for the team of cooks and porters who are promised week long work and money on fixed departure trips and due to the fickle-mindedness they bear the loss. I decided to pay them what they deserved anyway. The guests do not ever think about this aspect.
The next morning was a beautiful one with the sun out but the decision was already made last night. I walked to Dzongri top when the group was descending downhill. I had lost my patience to handle them and so without saying a word I walked past them. I was blessed to be at Dzongri top by myself and had the entire Kangchenzonga range to myself. I couldn't believe that after such a disastrous trip I still had something left to enjoy. With much found happiness and joy in my steps I returned to the base, only to find out that the group changed their mind again and now wanted to continue to Goechala. I basically went through an emotional roller-coaster for nothing and the porters were hassled only because of some guest's mood swings.
The experience was shared by Tanisha, a trip guide who had been working in the hospitality industry for more than five years now and specializes on trips to North East India.
When snowfall blocked the roads and I was blamed for it
It was tough luck for everyone who was operating trips in Sikkim that year. The roads closed way before anyone had expected. Most of the time, the army clears up the snow on the road some days after the snowfall but during this particular trip that I was leading, it snowed everyday for a week.
The trip was planned three months in advance because everyone wants cheap flights and a ready plan. It was our bad luck and I had informed the group on the first day itself to keep their expectations in check. I had honestly told them about the road conditions and the weather forecast. I consider it my responsibility to be completely transparent about the trip with my guests.
Everyone took it in their stride, except for one. We were stuck somewhere close to Lachen, and people were playing in the snow with everyone who was stuck there that day. To be honest, it was the prettiest Lachen had ever looked. I have been there many times but I had not seen that magical scenery ever. But this one guest just refused to understand why we couldn't go forward. Every two-three hours she would come up to me, show me the itinerary on her phone and ask repeatedly, "Are we not going to Gurudongmar?" "Why are we not going to Gurudongmar?" I tried to make her understand the situation but she just refused to listen. It was a childish privilege that shunned all logic. Her point was that if she had paid to go somewhere, how could she not be there?
Then it was time for tantrums. She walked in the opposite direction away from everyone. While the rest of the group was playing in the snow, the entire time we were there I wasted my day looking for her and trying to make her understand why we couldn't go ahead. Almost 50 travelers were stuck with us at that place that day. Still I was made to feel as though I had cheated my guest.
People often say, "It's about the journey, not the destination." If you're a trip guide you know that if people have paid to reach the destination, they will just not settle for anything less, come what may.
This experience was shared by Nitin, who is a local travel operator from Gangtok.
Some of the names of the people have been changed on request.
Young people entering these professions in the travel sector with rosy dreams must understand that it's a real task to handle customer emotions. The demands might be illogical but you just can't afford to deal with problems emotionally. Being a trip/trek guide, running a hotel or homestay or hostel require you to be even tempered. In times of distress we remember why we started and we carry on.