Are tourists destroying tourism?
The ones Bob Menconi saw on the lido deck of the Celebrity Solstice were - one heaping plateful at a time.
At the megaship's all-you-can-eat buffet lunch, they piled slices of pizza, grilled fish and coconut flan on their trays like it was their last meal.
"I was amazed," says Menconi, who owns a framing business in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It was to the point where it was falling off the side. It was the dumbest thing."
Dumb on more than one level, actually.
The morsels going overboard collectively represented a titanic waste of resources, which must have been more than a little embarrassing for a cruise line that prides itself on its environmental record. Not only did these passengers leave their manners and common sense on shore; they also were selfish gluttons.
What is it with travelers today?
•Rachel Harrison recently overheard a guest at a Tampa, Fla., hotel order a veggie burger "medium rare."
•Michael Dillon saw one airline passenger drop her bags off at a check-in kiosk and walk away. "She thought someone would pick them up for her," he remembers.
•Michelle Bell heard a passenger ask why it was necessary to stay on the ship in Antarctica. "Couldn't they just get a hotel?" she wanted to know.
Most of us still pack our sound judgment and good manners when we go on vacation. But there are a few annoying exceptions, and they're hurting travel in ways you probably don't know. Here are five types of travelers who fit that category:1. The stupid touristWith the possible exception of a Caribbean all-inclusive resort, you won't find a more impressive collection of brain donors than on a cruise. Once these passengers set sail, they belly up to the bar, get blitzed, and act like ... well, drunken sailors. Some of them jump overboard, too. Our friends at the Web site Cruisejunkie.com keep a list of cruise and ferry passengers who fell off a ship. Since 1995, there have been more than 100 documented cases. How many of them involved passengers having one drink too many and then doing their best Kate Winslet impersonation?
2. The rude visitorI live in Orlando, which has more than its fair share of discourteous tourists. These vacationers cut in line, drive like teenagers and the words "please" and "thank you" aren't in their vocabulary. When I lived in the Florida Keys, the locals had a saying: "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?" But one city has figured out a better way of punishing the unmannered masses. Bars and restaurants in Venice have three price lists: one for locals, the other for visitors and a third for rude tourists.
3. The obnoxious americanLet me be clear on this point: I'm an American, and I love my country. My countrymen? Not necessarily.
I've spent nearly half my life overseas, and I've seen some of my fellow citizens behaving so boorishly that I cringed when someone asked where I was from. ("Me? Uh, I'm Canadian.") Obnoxious Americans are loud, demanding, arrogant and insensitive to local culture. I was relieved to learn we aren't the worst.
A recent survey found that the French, Indian and Chinese tourists ranked even more obnoxious than us, while Japanese were considered the best tourists.
4. The absent-minded vacationerThese are the ones who get left behind at the gate because they didn't know they needed a passport for an international trip. They don't call to confirm their flight and miss it because it was rescheduled. They don't pay attention to where they parked their car at Disney World and then wander around the property after dark, hoping to stumble upon their rental.
I think there's something about being on the road - you're out of your element - that turns you into a little bit of a ditz. The problem is when you try to blame everyone but yourself.
5. The time travelerThey call flight attendants "stewardesses" and ask what's on the in-flight menu. The answer, unless they're sitting in first class, is a glare - and peanuts.
Time travelers are either unaware that the airline industry was carelessly deregulated in 1978, or they're in denial. These passengers don't make themselves look bad as much as they point out how far we've fallen since then. But if you're an optimist, they also help us see what air travel could one day become again.
So how are these tourists damaging travel? When an inebriated tourist trashes your cabin on a spring break cruise, you can put a price on it. But when that passenger goes ashore in a foreign port and makes all Americans look like xenophobic elitists, it costs us in ways that are difficult to quantify, but no less real.
People who make unreasonable demands on the system raise the cost of travel for everyone, because we'll be paying for the army of lawyers the travel company must hire to defend itself from frivolous claims.
And passengers who live in the past? They interfere with an airline's ability to make money in the future, because they raise our expectations, and hopes, for a better travel industry.
How dare they!
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site, www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.