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The Savvy Traveler

Beware of 'Hype' in Literature

June 26, 1988|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

The brochure promises an "ocean view" hotel room. But an arriving guest needs a pair of high-powered binoculars to barely make out the sea a mile away.

The literature for a package tour to the Soviet Union promises that the trip includes a spectacular evening and "tickets to the theater where the Bolshoi Ballet performs."

But it is not to be. While the brochure was essentially correct, and they have indeed arrived at the theater where the Bolshoi performs, that's not to mean there was any specific promise that the Bolshoi would perform.

The brochure promised tickets to that theater, and that's what these unwitting visitors got. Instead of Soviet ballet, however, it's a disappointing performance of Russian folk songs.

A resort is described as being "five minutes from restaurants, shopping and entertainment." But the ad doesn't reveal if that five minutes is by walking or via the Concorde.

Watch for Hyperbole

Welcome to the wonderful world of travel promotion and hyperbole, a semantic battlefield where seductive and often misleading words and phrases are used to convince you to visit a particular country, stay at a certain hotel, fly one airline over another or rent a specific car.

In the highly competitive travel business, unfair advantage with the language is often taken at the traveler's expense.

Most of the time these descriptive words and phrases aren't blatant lies, but it can be argued that in many cases they are intentionally misleading or, at the very least, not structured to help would-be visitors find the truth about a destination or type of transportation.

Some amount of hype in the travel business is a given. You don't have to be the world's most sophisticated traveler to dismiss--or at least suspect--outrageous superlatives.

Saying something is the "best in the world" almost immediately invites derision. If it's the best, who says so? By whose standards are we to judge this absolute term?

But hyperbole isn't the problem. It's the subtle stuff--words with double or triple meanings, or subjective adjectives impossible to define--that cause travelers true pain.

All too often, if you don't read a travel ad or brochure carefully, you could find yourself a victim.

Misleading Boasts

Here is one of my favorites: A cruise line brochure boasts that "you will sail on a classic." True meaning: The ship is 38 years old and is only months away from the salvage yard.

How about this one: "A traveler's oasis." If that's really true, you'd better like solitude. You could be miles from nowhere.

"Fully equipped spa." Does a solitary exercise bike qualify? You'd be surprised how many hotels think it does.

Here's another candidate: "Beautiful swimming pool." Yes, but how large? And where is it sited? It may be beautiful, but only 10 feet long.

How about the hotels in Honolulu that market themselves as "on Waikiki"? The inference is that they are on the beach. Don't count on it.

"You'll love our secluded beaches." Does this mean so isolated that no other services are provided? Or does it mean the beaches are isolated because of the interesting marine life . . . like sharks?

From a package tour brochure to Egypt: "You will see the great Sphinx." What the brochure doesn't tell you is that while you will, technically, see it, you won't be getting off the bus as it speeds by.

Then there are the baldface lies: "The weather is beautiful all year round." Besides this statement being a statistical impossibility, it is also an insult to our intelligence.

Traditionally, the biggest abuses of misleading descriptive language have taken place in package tour brochures.

For example, if you ever see hotel rooms listed in a brochure as "run of the house," beware. You could get stuck next to the boiler room.

And of course who can forget the notorious airline statement that "some restrictions apply?" This all-purpose disclaimer has created confusion, frustration and anger among airline passengers.

Then there's the cruise line brochure that says: "We are proud of our crew, representing 47 nationalities." The idea of a floating United Nations sounds great . . . until you need to talk to some crew members and discover that they don't speak English.

Communication Problem

What's worse, because so many nationalities are aboard, they usually have great difficulty communicating with each other.

(Something to think about in an emergency: It's one thing if you are cruising, for example, with an all-Italian crew. Their English may not be up to speed, but if there's a serious problem, at least they can talk to each other.)

You can't know everything about your trip and what to expect before you take it. To me, the romance and excitement of travel still comes with the discovery of new places and people.

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