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The International Writers Magazine: E-Vacations can be a pain

An unwilling independent investigation into the reality of the virtual world
Andy Fetterhoff  


As the internet grows exponentially, and the web of information begins to become more like a labyrinth, new problems require new solutions.

E-mericans’ dependence on the Internet has grown proportionately to e-confidence. Discount retailers sell known dry goods (books, CD’s, 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 isn’t so.
 
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 find.
 
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 wasn’t available. Upon arriving to our destination, we checked in and paid in full.
 
Making our way to the room was scary and depressing. You’d be hard pressed to find squalor such as this in a place you were being charged for. And it certainly didn’t look like the online pictures. Welcome to your e-vacation. Using a little shoulder to get the door open, (yes, even the door didn’t work), a nauseating aroma suddenly overcame us. It was hot because the air conditioner didn’t 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 an alternative.
 
The phone booth wasn’t 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 don’t 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, doesn’t 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 can’t 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 don’t know me, they don’t see me, and it’s not their job to care. It’s their job to fulfill a corporate mandate; and I’m out my money for a service they didn’t 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 book..
© Andy Fetterhoff June 2006
info@paradisio.biz

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