How many stupid questions can tourists ask?

Written by admin on August 18, 2009 – 5:00 pm -

English Heritage, a group that exists to protect and promote England’s historic environment and ensure that its past is researched and understood, recently released a list of the most embarrassing questions asked by visitors to the country’s historic sites. The worst is an unwitting insult to one of Britain’s most somber monarchs Queen Victoria.

A young visitor to Queen Victoria’s summer palace, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, was told that she had nine children and asked: if they all have the same dad? Come to think of it, in this day and age, it seems as if it’s a perfectly valid question.

Another visitor seemed disappointed when he learned the lavishly decorated building was once home to a Queen and not the current residence of rock star Ozzy Osbourne and his television presenter wife Sharon.

When visiting Siem Reap and touring the incredible temples at Angkor Wat, I was horrified to hear an American teenager asking if there had ever been a war there and was the U.S. involved? Where has our education system gone wrong and why didn’t he study up before traveling from Cleveland to Cambodia? My only hope was the visit inspired him to study that era of history.

But it’s not only students or young people who ask incredibly dumb questions. My mailbox is flooded with questions from people asking if Paris hotel rooms have their own bathrooms or is the food safe to eat in the countryside? Skip the questions about whether or not the water is safe to drink in France. That’s a valid question when it comes to developing countries as well as parts of the U.S.

One friend reported that when she was taking a tour of Rome’s Coliseum, one of the members of the group asked if it were the stage set for Ben-Hur? Duh? And no, Italians don’t eat only spaghetti.

Traveling is and should be educational and some people learn as they go. But reading this article made me wonder what are the craziest questions you’ve heard, how have you reacted and have you made any faux pas?

And no, Abe Lincoln was not that large when he was alive. The memorial on Washington’s National Mall wasn’t built to scale.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

Photo Kevin Burkett, Flickr Creative Commons

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Thailand wants tourists and will go a long way to attract them

Written by admin on February 24, 2009 – 8:55 pm -

AirAsia, Southeast Asia’s top budget carrier, is giving away 100,000 “free” tickets to Thailand to support the nation’s tourist industry that was badly impacted last year when the Bangkok airport was closed because of political demonstrations.

“Get Your Baht To Thailand” is the theme of this aggressive marketing campaign that’s being sponsored by the airline in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Tickets are available until March 31 on AirAsia’s official site. The airline operates approximately four hundred international flights between South Asia and China and nearly that many within Thailand each week.

Free is not always free. First, you’ll have to get yourself to an Asian city where you can climb aboard one of the airline’s flights. Second, passengers will be responsible for airport taxes and an administration fee. But AirAsia has waived fuel surcharges.

Surf the Internet for hotels and resorts in Thailand and there are an amazing number that are practically giving rooms and extras away. If you have the urge to go and the money, you’ll get the most bang for your buck and return having experienced a special culture — or simply vegged out on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

How I’d love to go.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Will the world’s worst tourists please stand up?

Written by admin on August 25, 2008 – 3:04 pm -

So the French are the most obnoxious tourists in Europe, according to a recent survey. Are they better off staycationing?

Having lived in France for twenty years, I’m fully aware the French might be perceived as brusque with one another. But I wondered how the French might be seeing themselves. So I conducted a poll of my own.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that the French were critical of one another about their travel manners.

“I don’t know about their being the worst, but I normally stay away from the French when I travel,” says Laurence de Bure. “My brother, who’s a Parisian travel agent, says avoid the French when traveling because they tend to be negative. Their inability to maintain open minds make it difficult for them to adapt or accept other cultures. They tend to complain and compare everything to France and close their eyes. They can take the pleasure away from your travels.”

Parisian hotelier Thierry Dechaux said, “I don’t know if the French are the least desirable tourists. I do know they tend to complain about the minute details rather than calling attention to something that may not be to their liking. As a result, the staff may be more accommodating. But there is no good or bad tourist. We only have guests who expect value for the money they’re spending. As professionals, we hope guests will respect our staff and our local culture, and the French don’t tend to be the best when it comes to that whether they’re in France or traveling elsewhere.”

One of the problems, of course, may be that traveling in packs brings out the worst in everyone. Large groups of any nationality can be obnoxious, since whining ring-leaders can dominate the whole group. The French are generally no different, although their generally far higher standards for cuisine and antiquities can lead them to publicly express comparisons that may not be ideal in a foreign environment.

David K. Gibson, a journalist who lives in Aspen, has a different perspective. “I suppose it depends on what your criteria are,” he says. “I live in a tourist town, and the French who come here seem polite in town and excited on the ski slopes. I don’t hear complaints about the French. The stereotypes I do hear. Russians are rude and entitled, and too rich for their own good. Germans are too loud, in voice and dress. Australians are friendly but don’t tip. And Texans are all of the above.”

Susie Lavenson, senior partner of a consulting firm that advises clients in the hospitality and tourism industry said, “We’re all hosts in our own countries. If hospitality is welcoming and thoughtful, the recipient of that hospitality is going to be grateful and personable, whether he’s French or American. That’s a universal truth. Tourists are travelers, hungry for food, shelter and recognition. They’re in a foreign land. It’s not too much to ask hosts to behave graciously … particularly if they’re in the hospitality industry. If they’re not in that industry, then good manners and human kindness should fill the gaps. Everything else is just trimmings.”

Gary Clarke, an executive in business development says, “In my travels, I have witnessed ugliness from people of all walks of life, from every corner of the world. Generalizations certainly apply — but parochially rooted small-mindedness is an affliction made worse, not better, with money and transport.”

Karen Fawcett is president of

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