Friday, March 06, 2009

Travel guilt versus bragging rights.

One of the saddest and most bizarre notions we have come across in travel writing recently has just surfaced in the online USA Today. It revolves around a new phenomena called "travel guilt" - the idea that travelling is somehow wrong during the so-called financial crisis.

She had planned to visit the Medina in Fez, the souks in Marrakesh and the mosques in Casablanca. But the Moroccan vacation would have set Nancy Yale back $15,000 for her family of five. And after laying off a full- and part-time employee last fall, the travel agency owner in Fairfield, Conn., decided to scrap the December trip.

"I just didn't think it was prudent. It wasn't a good message," she says.

Call it luxury shame, stealth wealth or guilt downsizing. Even if you've "got it" — and maybe especially if you've got it — economic times like these are no time to flaunt it.

In a time when posh has become a four-letter word, forget about keeping up with the Joneses. It's more socially expedient to stay down with them. Economic turmoil is giving luxury a bad name, it seems, and not just among the private-jet set, either. The desire to tone down consumption is affecting how some Americans vacation — or at least how they say they vacation.

What is so off putting about this scrambled piece of logic that it is all about "me". Nancy Yale is more concerned about what her friends and employees might think of her than anything else. And the phrase "flaunting it"? Is that why some people travel? Such self-centred thinking does not take into account the good that travellers can do in countries like Morocco who depend so heavily on tourism.

At a time of economic downturn, spreading your wealth around would have been a good thing, Nancy. But, do check with your travel agent (oh, I see you are one), because most people with an itinerary like that could have found a fare and accommodation for less than $15000. Or is it that you need to stay in only five star accommodation so you can gain "cred" with your social set? And, Nancy, while we are on the case, try spring or fall, rather than December, the weather is so much better.

"Luxury shame is very real," says travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. "When your neighbors are losing their jobs and you're doing well, you don't flaunt your success. Of course, there are still people who will continue to enjoy the fruits of their success. They may still rent the beachfront home and continue to fly in the G5 and tool around in the leased Bentley, but they're not going to go home and brag that that's what they did on vacation."

Maybe people need to travel for the rewards of cultural exchange, new experiences and not for the bragging rights?

The good news? According to the Fes Riads, the top accommodation specialists for people wanting to stay in genuine riads in the Medina of Fez, "I am getting more enquiries than ever".

Nancy, you should get over your guilt trip, give her a call - and save yourself a bundle.



Anonymous said...

Surperb article! Well done.

Anonymous said...

Your post is definitely true... Still, middle-class members of the society are still affected by the global financial crisis so it really can't be helped if they travel less. On the other hand, those blessed with luxury should then at least enjoy the fruits of their efforts. That way, they can also help travel industries survive in this crisis.

Jonathan said...

I saw this article whilst waiting in line at the coffee-house this morning, and remember thinking- "How would one spend 15,000 dollars in a couple weeks in Morocco?" And if such a price-tag comes out of the interest of having all the niceties, still- I stayed in budget-level places in Morocco that were as comfortable if not more so (and certainly with friendlier and more personable service) than what I've stayed in here in the US.

Of course, I would not be surprised if our pricey traveler is the sort of person whose trip would be immediately devastated by the failure of the "natives" to live up to Western upper-bourgeois standards, and would proceed to complain the rest of the time and carry woeful tales of "dirty rude Arabs" back home...

Anonymous said...

Sorry folks, but Nancy has a point. She laid off two employees in her office.
Also, the airfare/transportation for a family of five is going to be close to $10K.
And if she does stay in high class hotels, so what?? The Moroccans do it, too. I think y'all need to get out of the medina and see a bit more of the country.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with anonymous above. I think it's a bit inappropriate to judge someone's situation when you know nothing about it. How about we stick to living our lives and let others live theirs?

Anonymous said...

Travel guilt! These people are the ones who need to get out more. What a sad condemnation of the American psyche!

By the way I have been reading the blog for a year now and love the little gossip snippets. You rock!