Much of what I am about to share in today’s article occurred when I was a tour manager for a leading tour company in the late 1960s. During the more than two years of escorting travelers all over the world, there were circumstances that arose that were not in the travel plans. We’ll call them travel bumps.
The tour company that I was tour managing for was a very deluxe operator, placing the tour members in the best hotels available all over the world. All the meals were included on an a la carte basis and we pampered our travelers as best we could — given the conditions of the country, airline schedules and weather. The clients paid a high price for this luxury and, I must say, because of the inclusiveness of the tours and fine hotels, motor coaches and extensive sightseeing programs, the passengers were quite easy to handle.
On each tour there would usually be one or two couples that didn’t really fit in with the others; but all in all the groups were solid and a delight to handle. The tour company restricted our tour number count to 28 so we could look after them with some ease. The tours would last anywhere from 21 to 55 days, depending on the itineraries and countries visited. We escorted tour groups to all seven continents. Included were the more popular cities and countries as well as some far outback locations.
A tour manager’s duties included paying the hotel bills with either cash or vouchers, making sure the local guides performed well and on time, handling passports of the tour passengers, checking flight departures and making sure we arrived at each airport on the itinerary in time for proper check-in. The tour manager would also call ahead to the next three stops to make sure all arrangements were in order for our arrival. I would also always take the sightseeing tours with the tour group to make sure all was in order and our passengers received what they were paying for. If anyone became ill, I would escort them to the hospital and see to it that they were properly cared for. The easiest tours to manage were those in Asia. Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok were the usual stops in that area. Things ran smoothly and usually without a hitch.
There was one major problem that occurred in Cambodia when the Vietnam War was in full swing. I was managing a rather extensive itinerary through Asia that included the magnificent ruins of what remained of Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia. Our head office in Los Angeles had called me in Hong Kong stating that the war had spread into Cambodia and that we should not go there. They wanted me to take the group directly from Hong Kong to Bangkok. The night before departing Hong Kong I held a dinner party for the group in the Hilton Hotel and told them what the main office had instructed but, that I had discovered that our plane and land arrangements in Cambodia had not been cancelled. I asked by a show of hands if they wanted to venture into Cambodia even though the tour office had instructed me to take them directly to Bangkok. Many said they had taken this tour mainly because they wished to visit Angkor Wat. I said, “OK, we’ll go to Cambodia tomorrow!”
All went well with our flights into Phnom Penh, the capital, and our change of planes to Siem Reap. Upon arrival, there must have been 15 guards in uniforms escorting the group from the airport to tour busses and the hotel. Our tour called for three days in Cambodia for the Angkor Wat visit. All during our movement, these 15 guards traveled with us. I felt good that we were so guarded, but realized that the country was not secure and I should not have taken my group there. I only hoped that the time would pass without incident.
On the third Cambodia day we flew from Siem Reap back to Phnom Penh for a change of planes to Bangkok. The airport terminal was rather small and the airport manager told me to keep the group close because we might have to board our plane earlier than scheduled. This I did without any explanation to the tour members. Soon after this instruction I began hearing explosions in the nearby downtown area of the city and the airport manager came running with the message that the tour group should hurry and board the aircraft. Phnom Penh was being bombed! We scurried to the aircraft stairs, climbed aboard and even before everyone had taken their seats, the plane was hurriedly taxing for takeoff. I thought, “God, please get us out of here without incident!”
We made it without the airplane being hit by gunfire and proceeded to Bangkok.
That night I held a party for the tour members celebrating our victory over peril. I told them that the Cambodia incident would give them something to tell their friends and relatives when they got back home. They all agreed.
On one long 55-day tour of South America we had just completed a very nice lunch at a club just outside of Bogota, Columbia when I did a passenger count on the bus soon after we pulled away. Of course, I should have counted the group as they boarded the bus. There were only 15 members on this tour so it wasn’t hard to do the counting. I finally said, we are missing one person. Who is it? Everyone looked around and no one said they knew whom it could be. By now, we had returned to the club and a tour member lady was waiting for us to rescue her. She had wandered over to a corner of the gift shop and missed the bus. The funny part of this was the fact that she was traveling with her husband, who never acknowledged his wife was the missing person. Perhaps he wanted to leave her permanently!
I remember escorting a group on an around-the-world tour lasting 25 days. One very nice lady traveled only with a small airline bag. During the tour, I inquired how she managed to travel around the world with only a small handbag. She said she had planned this for weeks and rolled all her garments up so they occupied only a small space and washed her undergarments at night. She always looked well groomed and dressed.
Once each year the tour company chartered a 707 and sold only 50 spaces on the plane for an around-the-world tour. Everyone sat in a first class seat, enjoyed two lounges, and all flights were taken in daylight. The meals were as good as a meal can get on an aircraft, and all beverages and liquor were included. Each passenger paid $25,000 for the 30-day experience of the world. Keep in mind this was in the 1960s when $25,000 was a lot of money. We stayed in the best hotels available and the most experienced guides were hired for these special travelers. Included in our group were a couple movie stars, corporate heads and interesting retired folks. The tour was quite an experience. When we landed in Nairobi, Kenya our captain informed me that the plane needed some work on one of the jet engines. I didn’t tell the tour members until we were well into the outback of East Africa driving around for wild animal sightings. In one tented camp I gave a party with much alcohol and told them that one of the engines on our plane would hopefully be repaired so that we could continue our trip as planned. They were having so much fun I don’t think they really cared. That night it began raining hard and soon everyone was escorted by the “boys” to their individual tents to sleep for the night. I could see the eyes of animals watching as I was escorted to my tent. I zipped it up quickly and noticed that rain was coming down the light cord with a bulb located at the bottom and a rather large amount of water dripping down the cord over the bulb and falling to the tent floor. I looked around my basic surroundings and saw two cots, a small table and clothes hanger. That was it. Much to my surprise, I had also zipped up my tent with a large red-headed lizard about two feet long with its mouth open most of the time. I never slept a wink that night as the rain continued to poor outside and down my light cord. I was afraid to unscrew the light for fear of shock and I wouldn’t have done so anyway with that lizard staring at me all night.
When we returned to Nairobi at the end of our East Africa experience the 707 engine had been repaired and we continued on our way without delay.
The private plane around the world was an exciting experience. Included were several outback experiences.
On one lengthy South Pacific tour we were taking off from Apia, Samoa in a dense rain in an old DC-4 and we never quite got airborne. We ran at full speed across the end of the runway, bumped into a ditch and finally stopped sideways with the landing gear crumpled. No one seemed injured except for some neck pain, and we were pulled out with the assistance of ground personnel. After standing around in the rain, busses came to our rescue and brought us back to the terminal building. From there we were taken back to the hotel we had just checked out of and resumed using the rooms we had left two hours earlier. The airline didn’t have many aircraft and it was another day and a half before we departed Apia to continue our journey.
One Africa tour included a stop in Nairobi for an East Africa camera safari.
Our flight into Nairobi from South Africa was at night on Alitalia Airlines. We began descending about midnight and shortly landed. The aircraft slowed to a stop, turned and began going at full speed down the runway in the opposite direction and took to the air again. I wondered what was going on. The tour group looked around at me and I shrugged my shoulders to let them know by sign language that I didn’t know why we had taken off so quickly. Ten minutes later we landed again, taxied to the terminal and we deplaned. The local guide told me that the aircraft had landed at the military base the first time and was ordered to leave immediately or would be shot at!
There are many more incidences I could tell you about but space is limited. Perhaps another time.