International Writers Magazine: E-Vacations can be a
unwilling independent investigation into the reality of the virtual
the internet grows exponentially, and the web of information begins
to become more like a labyrinth, new problems require new solutions.
dependence on the Internet has grown proportionately to e-confidence.
Discount retailers sell known dry goods (books, CDs, tangible
things we know and have seen), and online auction houses like E-bay
have proven their reliability. Travel sites started by selling discount
airfares, and now you can make your hotel reservations online, rent
a car, and book a show in advance of your arrival. This seems convenient,
but it assumes one knows where one is going. What about intangible things,
like the peculiarities of a locale?
In the slow old days, before the internet, one would go to a destination
on the advice of a friend, find hotel in the same manner, and pass along
ones own discovery of places, events, and experiences. Today, we can
read anonymous reviews, take virtual tours of cities and hotels, and
purchase our entire itinerary online. As e-consumer confidence grows,
we just click and have faith that we will get
what we paid for. But too often in travel, lamentably, this just isnt
As an E-merican traveler, you are little more than a printed e-mail
confirmation number to many online purveyors. Forced to accept the terms
and conditions of using a travel service, be it for a hotel room or
a tour, you cannot change or cancel a plan, except as dictated by the
fine print you have never seen on a webpage you were never meant to
One recent trip of mine was booked at the last minute the confluence
of a good billing cycle and four days free. The internet felt like such
a useful tool, helping me find a room in a busy tourist destination.
Of course I called the hotel itself to be certain that they had received
my reservation (yes, I personally have low e-confidence), something
I learned to do after paying for a room that wasnt available.
Upon arriving to our destination, we checked in and paid in full.
Making our way to the room was scary and depressing. Youd be hard
pressed to find squalor such as this in a place you were being charged
for. And it certainly didnt look like the online pictures. Welcome
to your e-vacation. Using a little shoulder to get the door open, (yes,
even the door didnt work), a nauseating aroma suddenly overcame
us. It was hot because the air conditioner didnt work either,
and the pool just outside our window was one that only a West Nile-carrying
mosquito could appreciate.
Seven minutes later, I was at the front desk asking for a refund. They
obliged, seeming as if they were accustomed to this reaction. But having
left my laptop at home, e-travel could no longer be useful in finding
The phone booth wasnt the important thing I found, the phonebook
was; a good, old-fashioned, working paper directory that contained the
names of all of the hotels in the area, and their telephone numbers.
I dialed, found a room nearby, and got exact directions to it from my
new corner office.
This check-in was much better, service was impeccable and the accommodations
were amazing. In the room, we were suddenly so relieved that we laughed
at ourselves for a long while. Only then did I realize I had actually
saved more than a hundred dollars!
Upon returning home, I needed to contact OnlineHotels.com, the online
service that had the only monies of mine that had not been refunded.
I spent several days trying to do so, and am still trying. Apparently,
they dont see E-mericans as human, but rather, as I had begun
to suspect, a printed e-mail confirmation number that had already expired.
Their staff, apparently, doesnt have any authority to refund money,
only to take it and give you a number. Despite my best efforts, and
their many referrals to others I should contact, I still cant
get a response.
OnlineHotels.com is a proper business incorporated in Florida, and staffed
by real people who wake up to an alarm clock, go to work, take a break,
and eat lunch, just like me. But they dont know me, they dont
see me, and its not their job to care. Its their job to
fulfill a corporate mandate; and Im out my money for a service
they didnt really provide.
For me, the Internet just became obsolete. If you want to find a nice
place to stay in Myrtle Beach, SC, I know where you can find a phone
© Andy Fetterhoff June 2006
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