61. Travel Business

Is it all about business?

People in my tour group who didn’t dare to be honest, un-reliable volunteer projects, who can you relay on in Latin America? Are the Dutch really good in integrating? How important is it to have your own company, what are you willing to give up for it and again an argument with the Dutch agency that I work for as a tour leader…
But I’m also finally content about my website and all the tours on my site are ready to be sold! Check it out on www.fairtravel4u.org and please spread the word to everyone who might be interested in a tour for two in Latin America.

Ok, that was the short version of my story ;-), now the longer one:
Much has happened since my last story, but yet I was hoping for a bit more. I’ve worked for hours and hours and haven’t given myself much ‘free time’. There were/ are even a few days that I only rest while sleeping or eating. This might sound crazy, but it really isn’t that bad. The trick is to manage my time as good as possible. I try not to waste much time on things I don’t really need or like. Instead I pick out the things I really want to do and talk with the people I like to talk with. I try to really enjoy my free time and most times I also make time available to go running.

Not everyone seems to understand or like the way I’m working and I suspect that half of my last tour group members didn’t like the amount of time they saw me working on my laptop, at my own website. The tip I received at the end of the tour was one of the smallest (maybe Cuba was less?) I ever received, while I can only recall ONE mistake I made in miss-planning a toilet stop on the way from Copacabana to Cusco. At least that is the only thing my passenger ever complained to me about. It could also be, because the bus we had to use during this long journey was too small? Or because our transfers in Bolivia almost every time showed up too late, but there is really NOTHING more I can do about that than calling, calling and calling…
It could also be that they found me too honest. It seems to happen more and more that people can’t appreciate honesty and rather be ignorant or lied to. When my passengers asked me something about it I told them about my own business. I also told them when I had a good night out, or what I thought in general of the good and the ‘bad’ from (other) travel agencies and tour leaders. Some passengers would argue my ideas, which is completely fair.
I try to be open about things and just behave as close as possible to who I am. However I wisely didn’t tell some of them that their suite cases were way to big/heavy and that they need to read and listen better before they ask the same questions over and over. No, in the end that’s just part of my job to accept. I do have to say that I’m kind of glad to hear more colleagues of me complaining about tourists who seem to become less understanding and flexible (physically and mentally)…
Actually what bothers me most about my last group in general is that I kind of risked my neck with a complete change of the itinerary of our tour to celebrate New Years Eve in Sucre instead of in Potosi at 4060m.  I did this outside the Dutch agency I work for and on responsibility of myself and the group. Everybody was very happy about this change (at least that’s what they said…) and for me it was nice as well. Because of this change I could meet up with a good friend of my in Sucre. However to prevent that people would think that I only offered this change for my own benefits, I had asked The Bolivia Specialist for advices about what to do on New Years Eve in Potosi. He came directly and only, met the solution to celebrate in Sucre.
I risk my neck and hardly receive a tip, without ANY explanation and a colleague of me who just does the things he has to do and can’t even be bothered with bringing his group to the airport receives a bigger tip + all the money from commissions, which I don’t charge…
So it seems rewarding to lay and not take risks.

A similar story goes up while talking about my job as a tour leader. Some colleagues who charge a lot on commissions and don’t complain or take any risks are rewarded. They are good tour leaders, who silently gain a lot of money and sometimes don’t even really care much about the agency or quality of the job they do. It’s all about the bushiness for them and the agency and it all goes fine and on and on, until something goes really wrong and then it is too late.
For example, after one of my passengers arrived dehydrated in a hospital in the Colca Cañon, I decided to try to find out more about altitude sickness. It took me months, but together with a specialized doctor from Holland, I made a short and accurate info-sheet about altitude sickness. It has really helped me and some of my colleagues who I gave it to, but the Dutch agency has decided (I only just found out) that it was too much effort to verify this information themselves, so they just decided not to use it… Apparently a little more effort isn’t appreciated and there isn’t enough trust that they want to believe in me and this doctor that we put a useful piece of information together.
The same trust I was missing when the agency didn’t want to believe my warnings about an ATM-problem in Peru. I told them that customers from the Rabobank (a big bank in Holland) recently, but already for about two months at the time, in and around the weekends, couldn’t get money out of the ATM’s in Peru. I had checked this info with friends and colleagues who work in Peru and even with the Rabobank itself, but it wasn’t enough. One guy in the office (who comes here ones in a while) told them that he had no problems while he was in Peru, so the agency decided that it wasn’t worth to warn the passengers. This resulted in some unprepared passengers arriving at the airport of Lima, not able to get money from the ATM’s. Just one message, one little bit of trust could have prevented this.

Trust, unfortunately often big absence in Latin America. Who can you trust, who can you relay on? It is generally known that most people don’t trust the police and taxi drivers in Latin America. In Ecuador we also couldn’t trust several volunteer projects, the average lawyer and I had some bad experiences with some (private) clinics.
New experiences and first hand stories I heard the last 2 months about many un-reliable volunteer projects in Peru, incapable bookkeepers, electricians and a doctor who almost killed an un-born baby by prescribing unnecessary medication, make you wonder if it is bad luck or common incapacity?
Alright, I am sure that if I ask around I can find stories of incapable so called specialist in all over the world, but around here it just seems to happen more often. Luckily I have to admit that it seems that I did find a great exception. The guy who is currently working on my second website: www.amazon-rainforest-tours.org is doing a great job (check for yourself!). He really seems to know what he is doing and didn’t try to overcharge me! Too bad I didn’t meet him a year ago, then probably both websites would have been completely done. But on the other hand the other guy didn’t do a bad job and for both of us it was a good learning process. I’m happy with most things I got to do last year and the place where I am now (physically and mentally). If I can start selling tours in the next half year, then last year was just a process I had to go through.

Because of my experiences above and the negative image I have about trusting volunteer projects and so called experts in Latin America, I was wondering if it might be just me. So the last few months I did a small test to see how others with more live experience in Peru in general think about the Peruvians. I asked several people, mostly Dutch, who got married and or just lived in Peru how many Peruvian friends they have. I have to say that I was kind of surprised to find out that most of them had no real good friends from Peru. Some of them live here already for years and if they have one real good friend (outside of their family) it is already much. This is sad, but also kind of interesting, especially because we Dutch people are considered to be very good in integrating in new places. Maybe it is better to say that we Dutch are (in general) good in adapting, making ourselves a home in a new place, instead of making the new place our home. To be continued…
Considering the results of my little test, I feel lucky to have some Peruvian friends and at least one very good friend.

Alright, let me tell you more about my company now.
Things are taking much longer than anticipated, mostly because I had/ have not much of an idea what to anticipate on, because I have to rely on others with a busy schedule to work on my websites and because I have no money to invest in Fairtravel4u. I might have found a solution to this last problem now, but it comes with a price.
Remember that I wrote in my last story about a job offer I got to work at the travel agency of a friend and colleague in Trujillo, so that is what I’m doing now. I work during the day at his office and in the evenings I continue working on the last details of www.fairtravel4u.org
The Belgium owner of this travel agency is working very hard and seems to value the success of his company above the quality of his relation with his wife and two young children. Of course it isn’t up to me to judge, but I do know that I never want to reach that stage.
The same Belgium owner met some very important and well connected people from the tourist industry last week and together they made very big plans for his travel agency (confidential). He now seriously believes that he can make an explosive growth within the next few months. A ‘small problem’ however is that he only has one other person working for him and it is not easy to find and train good employers. Last week he opened an office in Lima and he wants me to manage this office, develop new tours and help with training new people. If things work out the way he thinks he can offer me a big salary and a very interesting job. I could finally make some money and invest this in Fairtravel4u.
Two years ago I would have said YES to an opportunity like this, but now…
First of all I have serious doubts about the big plans of my Belgium colleague. In theory they could work, but in reality there are many other factors to keep in mind. The biggest problem my colleague has is that he has by far not enough employers to make such an explosive start realistic. Put on top of that that he has no time to train anyone and that he isn’t very good in planning and you might understand why I’m skeptical. But the guy isn’t stupid and you never know how things could work out. The progress would go slower, but he could still be able to make a decent growth and I could get a decent salary. But is this what I want? Realistically, if I decide to help my Belgium colleague it will mean a management job of at least 60 hours a week, so no time to work on my own agency. On top of that I also promised another friend of my in Cusco that I would help him with looking after his travel agency at the beginning of April. At the time of my promise I first consulted this with my Belgium colleague and it was no problem. I also told both of them that if I do get another tour of two months to guide, starting half op April, I would guide this tour. I need this tour to pay my bills and during the tour I can also work for my own agency and meet with my contacts in South America.
But because I’m arguing again with the Dutch agency who could give me this tour and told them that I don’t want to work for them unless the show a bit more respect for their tour leaders in Latin America, I might not get this tour I’m hoping for.
To make things more complicated Y have only 600 Euro left on my account and on the second of March my Peruvian visa runs out…

What is logic, what is smart, what do I want?
The plan for the moment is that I continue working in Trujillo/ Lima, then at the end of March I go to Cusco, where I stay until the end of April, unless I do get the tour of two months, then I would leave half of April to Quito. And after, if it comes to the point that I have to make a decision I will chose to go ahead with my own travel agency, Fairtravel4u. This might not be the smartest decision, but it is time to move on and really go for the things I stand for and believe in.

Fairtravel4u sells tours that are made with love and sold with service. The website isn’t completely finished yet, but I believe in the tours I sell. Now I only need to find the right customers and this is where I need your help.
I would like to ask you to visit my website: www.fairtravel4u.org and if you like it to put the following link on your own website, Facebook, Hyves, Block, etc.:

<font face="Arial"><font size="3"><strong>Fairtravel4u <br />
</strong>We are specialized in realistic budget tours and Amazon Jungle tours for 2 + volunteer work in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and along the Maya Route.<br />
Please visit our website www.fairtravel4u.org and let us help to organize your tour.<br />
<br />

If you want, of course I will put your link on my website as well under the following link of friends from faitravel4u: http://www.fairtravel4u.org/index.php/recommedations/friends-of-fairtravel4u
If you also want to help linking our Facebook sites, that will be really great, thanks!
Please become friends with: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fairtravel4u/285694311465322

Is it all about bushiness? No, I still believe that friendship, love, trust, loyalty and service are much more important and with Fairtravel4u Realistic Tours I try to stand up for what I believe in.

¡Saludos y un abrazo para todo!
Martijn

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