I remember my first cruise. I had found a deal on Yahoo Travel while searching for an inexpensive vacation for my then fiance (now wife) and I to go on. That turned into an hugely impactful trip that resulted in the start of our first business, something I’ve written about before.
In my earlier writing I alluded to the fact that I may have gotten a super deal on an “All-Inclusive” cruise, but I wound up spending almost double onboard the ship than my tickets cost. I really wanted my fiance to have the time of her life. I bought her drinks, I bought bought souvenirs, we went on several ‘excursions’ which is the new name for active tours and I tipped every service provider exceptionally well. There may have even been a spa visit in there. What I didn’t realize at the time, and not until several years later, is that I fell into the life trap of vacation spending.
What makes it a life trap is the fact that there is a science to getting tourists to spend money and corporations in the travel industry have become absolute experts at it. There are several stellar examples. The most clarion of which is the physical makeup of Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. It’s well known to people from Florida that the reason why Walt Disney bought so much land was to buffer his theme parks amenities from competition. Who’s going to go save $40 on lunch for the kids if it takes you three hours to do it. Magic Kingdom to the Monorail, Monorail to the Ticket and transportation area, Then from the TTC, you have to on a tram to go to your car that’s parked in a parking lot that’s bigger than the original Disneyland. Then you finally get in your car and travel at least ten miles to the first McDonald’s without overpriced big mac’s, the closer ones are always priced for tourists, i.e. expensive!
Rather than look for alternatives to all that work, we fall into the trap of the easy options. Going back to the Disney vacation, they will have talking buffalo heads on the wall in the fast food burger restaurants with the $11 kids meal. We say to ourselves “i’m on vacation, i’m going to treat myself” the problem here isn’t that we do this.. It’s to be expected to treat ourselves. The problem is the science behind it. In the same way that there is a science behind the layout and management of large retail outlets, there is a science behind vacation spending.
There is a $200 princess boutique promoted Disney. If your a family at Disney with a little girl this is tantamount to a predatory action as what little girl isn’t going to throw a fit if she’s not a princess. Mix the trap of cruise ships with the hubris of Disney offerings and you get a character tea that’s almost $300 on one of their ships. My daughter has an inexpensive little plastic Minnie Mouse tea set at the house that she plays with all the time. There is no question in my mind that at some point in the design and approval to license the set, someone made the connection to ‘training the next generation of consumers for our advanced products and services’. This isn’t conspiracy theory, it’s sound long term business practices. Well unless your the dad of the 8 year old girl who wants tea with Cinderella because she saw the commercial on the in-cabin closed circuit tv system or what ever gadget the kids are getting on the ships.
I could write examples of this forever. There is a reason why the phrase ‘tourist traps’ exists. It’s because gradients of these efforts appear wherever people travel. Unlike the shot glass at South of the Border that costs $5, Vacation spending ascends to the level of a life trap when there is a collection of several unique elements purposefully organized and structured to be apart of the effort to separate you from your money. There are several signs to be wary of.
Signs to be wary of:
A rice cake is a rice cake, right? You can get them at any convenience store for $0.50 a piece. but what if it is a rice cake in the shape of Mickey Mouse ears dipped in chocolate and M&M – which also have Mickey Mouse images on them? That $0.50 rice cake just became $5. You can’t get these anywhere else! Let’s buy every member of the family one. It’s only $45 when you buy a rice cake and a soda in a Mickey Mouse paper cup.
It’s not just Disney, if you’ve ever been to any Resort there’s usually a collection of themed glasses that you can buy with your drinks. Who actually uses those glasses when they come home? The best case scenario is that they become tacky decor and a conversation piece, usually they just go into the cupboard and then wind up in a landfill years later. Yet the resorts sell a lot of them and the reason why they do is because people make an emotional decision in the moment. It’s the XYZ collection only availabe at El Resorto de’ Dia, or possibly on Carnival of the Seas, the world largest cruise ship for the next two weeks. Speaking of cruise ships, I think of the most egregious example (and i’m not alone in this), one that was so bad it was actually dropped after several lawsuits, is the art auctions on the cruise ships. I’ve been to several of them end the idea of selling a unique experience that is incredibly valuable and you can get nowhere else at this super special deal is literally peppered into every sentence the auctioneer utters. They pedal the art as especially rare (it’s not) and as as high value investment (again, it’s not), and they push hard with truly refined pitches.
The Pitches are based around your ignorance:
Many of the tell signs that you are in a vacation spending trap situation have to do with the fact that the messaging may be playing around your ignorance. There are some good examples of this. One that comes to mind is the bottled water that’s sold in a cruise port whenever you’re at a Mexican destination. You walk off the ship and there is the ship’s crew selling you bottled water at $8 a bottle. they don’t tell you that there is high quality Water Systems in the town and plenty of water fountains where you can drink for free. Nor do they tell you that bottled water, although still very overpriced, is available at ½ of what the cruise ship is selling you in the very first store you enter. They are just playing off your ignorance and the age old wives tail that you will get sick drinking the local water. Admittedly the practices isn’t just limited to Mexican ports, but that’s where I’ve seen it the most.
There are no easy alternatives available, or worse they are restricted:
We have already mentioned the structure of Walt Disney World is built around this concept of not allowing easy access to alternatives for food or lodging. It’s not just Disney World that does this, the cruise ships make it very difficult to have any easy alternatives available especially when it comes to alcohol. In fact you are required to turn in any low-cost alcohol you buy in Port for them to conveniently hold for you until you get back to your home port. It’s not even just the for profits. The North Carolina State Zoo is structured so that buying overpriced food from their chosen vendors is very convenient and support for bringing in your own or access to competitive alternatives is virtually non-existent. Ultimately it is the scientific engineering of a monopoly environment.
There are big Emotional Hooks:
Sometimes the pitch is targeted at the You Only Live Once mentality! Think about going to a beach resort and getting sold on parasailing. In the resort area it’s $500, come home and use a local vendor and it’s $150.00. Emotional hooks are not limited to YOLO products. The emotion generally weaves its way into almost every pitch that is given when you are traveling. You see it in the tour guides who ask for a tip at the end of the tour. A tour that included stops at local stores where the operator got a big kick back for bringing the bus. The princess experience at the Disney park exhibits a sort of passive aggressive emotional hook with their little girl princess makeovers. When one girls is seen walking around the park wearing taffeta and sparkles, what do the other little girls want? It wouldn’t be a big deal if it was affordable, but I don’t care if your a physician, $200 is allot of scratch. So why do people do it? They fall for the emotions. They think hey, the tour guide makes so much less than us, or it’ll make her feel super special, or this is the only time we will visit Disney with the kids at this age, and You Only Live Once!
It’s a relentless environment:
In mini vacation destination settings there is a constant barrage of opportunities to take your money. In all of these instances the deal is simply not a good deal, it’s a trap. Take for example the sales pitch for a timeshare. They are on every corner, in every hotel lobby, and offer every conceivable deal you can imagine to bring you into the pitch. Nearly anybody who has ever owned a timeshare will tell you it’s a money sinkhole that never gets used to the extent that the pitch promised it would be.
When your traveling either on a tour or via a cruise, whenever there is a stop there seems to be an endless array of shops and places to take your money from the moment you walk off the buss or the gang plank. Each and every one of these options to find sundries or souvenirs is very well practiced in taking the one time customer and leveraging every last penny they can out of them. It is truly an art form. Don’t believe me go walk into a jewelry store at any tourist stop. It’s even on the beach at supposedly private and protected destinations. My wife’s favorite vacation story is about a man who ran up the beach after me as we were getting ready to leave for the day. He was holding a painted metal fish in his hand yelling “You by my fish, you buy my fish!” because earlier in the day when strolling the shops, rather than say no to his strong armed sales pitch, I said I’ll get it at the end of the day. That fish is now hanging on the wall in my downstairs bathroom. It was simply easier to buy it then to tell the guy No. To say that it was a junkie fish and not worth the $10 or $20 he was asking and that I didn’t want it. I was trying to provide the polite response that I was taught was socially acceptable when I said no. He is well trained in ignoring and manipulating the polite Be-backers (a phrase I heard from one retailer to identify people who say “i’ll be back later” yet never come back) and knew how to manipulate the money out of me. Remember, this wasn’t just a pushy salesman. The person was pushy because he knew this was a one time opportunity and he was under pressure created by the exorbitant rent the property owner charged for access to our trapped population of one time opportunities. There was a complete structure and science to getting my $20 for the fish that was probably worth $5.
The Trap is Based in Science:
Ultimately when you are on vacation it is typically a one-time experience. Some people go to the same place for vacation after vacation, year after year. Those folks are relatively fortunate in that they know the lay of the land. They’re not going to fall for the traps and their vacation is almost like going back home for a little bit of time. For professionals, those who in theory have a good enough income to go on a formal pre-packaged vacation such as a tour, cruise or a destination spot like Disney, they tend not to go to the same place again and again. This means that every single vacation becomes an exposure to new trap designed to take every bit of money they possibly can out of the unsuspecting first-timer.
You have two options in dealing with it, option number one is simply to not go to new places. I don’t necessarily advocate this option because it means that you are limiting your experiences in the world. Even the most Relentless tourist traps generally have something that is either culturally or intellectually stimulating in some way. At the very least it allows you to have a shared experience with others who have been there. Your second option, and the one that is probably best if you wish to experience different things in life, is to simply be aware of the signs of a vacation spending trap and on your guard at all times when traveling. I’ll admit that a vacation isn’t very relaxing if you are forced to keep your guard up all the time. That being said, If you’re able to do this effectively, then who knows, you may actually save enough money where you’ll be able to go on a vacation again next year.
LIFE TRAPS – A Life trap commentary is about are those seemingly little things in life that can turn into a big headache for the Professional. They exist all around us and should always be avoided if at all possible.