“Expectation is the downfall of internet travel”. That was the revelation that Odette Fussey left me with last time. Without the correct pre-trip priming, those – often misplaced – assumptions can easily bounce back later to bite you in the rear.
“If customers put the foot-work in it makes it easier” she says. “It filters out the hand holding and makes them more independent”. It’s all about an authentic, living experience rather than a guided tour around a museum. Authentic within certain parameters of course; so that travellers are not exposed to every rope and pulley working behind the scenes. But if something were to break, then someone can step out from behind the curtain and put things back on track. As Odette puts it: “We’re there when you need us, and not when you don’t”.
As to the nature of the travellers themselves: it’s dangerous to generalise, but lets do it anyway. As a Brit I have to admit that I have stopped wearing my bowler hat and having tea at 4pm sharp – breaking the mould somewhat – but others may be a little more predictable. Odette reveals the generalised lay of the land: “Antipodeans and Europeans often use Russia as part of a bigger journey and know their capabilities”. She continues: “North American clients tend not to be so well travelled. They have a small amount of holiday time and so don’t have the flexibility to deal with delays. They like travelling amongst their own kind and are usually older; checking off a bucket-list of destinations”.
Then there’s the well intentioned, would-be Michael Palins who are always a cause for concern. “They’re driven by budget and set off with a compass and a back pack of dollars, only to ‘come-a-cropper’”. That’s a quaint English term for: “ending up in one hell of a mess”, incidentally.
In spite of her prior advice, Odette then has to step in like a school-mum picking up a problem child from the headmaster’s office and straighten things out.
Yes, it is all about knowing what you/we are capable of. The very first year away from a hotel swimming pool may not be the time to back-pack across Mongolia, right? So to make things a little more comfortable for those who want/need more of a straight-forward holiday, at least this time, The Russia Experience has branched out with “Rail Cruises”. Odette explains: “Every element is pre-organised for a whole train. Food and changes are timetabled, everything is done”. You can just take your place on the party conveyor-belt and enjoy the ride.
There’s no snobbery here for not being a ‘hardcore’ backpacker – I’m certainly not one. More power to you for taking a few steps into something different.
The machinations of current global politics drive international laws, relationships and boundaries – like tectonic plates towards their ultimate resolution, whatever that may be. Thus the cruises are proving successful; it’s a case of meeting change with change. Cruises are certainly a good fit for some of the trip demographic and they help to widen the options for both company and clientèle.
Customers do tend to be of the ‘mature’ or at least ‘adult’ variety. “20 years ago” Odette interjects, “there were lots of student backpackers, today the trip doesn’t hold as much fascination for the younger traveller”. Of course, the mid ’90’s saw a Russia that had opened up to Europe – for the second time in it’s history – and the curious could poke around the ruins of the Soviet empire whilst sampling the post-collapse ‘Wild East’. Today, not so much. Maybe curiosity just isn’t what it used to be!
“Or they don’t have the budgets – or that much interest in Russia”, Odette interjects. Well that’ll do it. It’s not sold as party-central either – deliberately so (imagine cleaning up that mess), even though as Odette puts it: “Moscow will make your New Year look shabby!”.