Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

When it comes to rising trends, forget ecotourism. It's not nearly as widespread as "egotourism."

I think there are few more obnoxious questions in the English language than "Do you know who I am?" It's usually uttered by someone trying to get special treatment (or protesting that they're being treated like everyone else). I am sorry to report that I've found travel industry personnel, including industry journalists, among those attempting to throw their weight around to get upgrades or favors.

I've heard two good retorts to this assertion of exceptionalism. The first was told to me by an Australian chef who said a well-known American software executive came into a popular restaurant without a lunch reservation and was told he'd have to wait two hours for a table. He asked the hostess, "Do you know who I am?" The hostess, who was also the owner, replied, "Do you know who I am? I'm the person who decides when you'll be seated. And that will be in two hours."

The other incident, as reported to me by a Delta flight attendant, occurred when a passenger was told by a gate agent that no, he wouldn't be among those getting an upgrade. "Do you know who I am?" the passenger asked. The gate agent picked up her microphone and said, "May I have your attention? Does anyone recognize this man? He doesn't seem to know who he is."

Although "egotist" carries negative connotations, we all have an ego, and that's not a bad thing. What's of interest is how the ego comes forward during travel.

For better and worse, travel heightens the acuity of our senses and intensifies our feelings. Our emotions are closer to the surface, and in a foreign environment we might feel a strong need for familiar comforts or, perhaps, revel in what's different about our surroundings.

These are not mutually exclusive. We're more at the mercy of our personal mix of neediness, curiosity, empathy, preferences and prejudices than we are at home.

Or, expressed in Freudian terms, how we manage the balance of our ego, id and superego on a trip tends to be revealing to those around us.

I know a woman, an adventurous traveler, who broke off an engagement after she and her fiance decided to take their honeymoon prior to saying their vows. She said she learned more about her prospective groom in two weeks on the road than she had during two years of courtship.

But change the first personal pronoun and "Do you know who I am?" becomes the eternal, existential question, "Do I know who I am?" This, too, can be clarified by travel. In fable, literature and autobiography, from "The Odyssey" to "Under the Tuscan Sun," the undertaking of a journey or quest is a familiar device to better understand or reveal one's character or purpose in life.

My two literary examples above, however, are now ancient and premodern. The most contemporary way to explore both "Do you know who I am?" and "Do I know who I am?" is through social media.

We curate our travel stories on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, but the process might begin well before we pack our bags.

Thomas Cook recently hired the research firm Medallia to explore the role social media plays in selecting hotels and discovered that a majority, 52%, of travelers between 18 and 24 choose hotels based on experiences that could make their friends envious. Not exactly the motivation for Odysseus' character-defining journey, but who knows what impact Instagram would have had on his travels had it been available? A selfie with the cyclops Polyphemus after blinding him?

It's not only young adults who are under social media's influence. According to Thomas Cook, 15% of those over 55 take the possibility of envy-inducing posts into consideration when booking.

Being sensitive to the range of how an ego manifests itself can be crucial in qualifying clients and making sure their ego needs will be met during a trip. But understanding the role ego plays during the actual sales process can be equally important to your business.

A few years back, I heard Jim Taylor of the research firm YouGov present the results of a survey on the affluent and wealthy in America. Among them, he identified a subgroup he labeled "ego eminent."

They were a slice of a larger subgroup of wealthy people who saw the purchase of luxury goods and services as a journey of self-discovery. They represented the highest-margin business a luxury travel adviser could hope to sell.

Those earning the ego eminent label would, if asked, agree with three of these four statements:

  1. I think there are people who are out to get my money.
  2. I think it's important to stay on top.
  3. I can't stand it when I don't get the attention I deserve.
  4. I won't do business with people who don't understand how valuable my time is.

Of course, these are not questions one would ask directly, but it shouldn't be too hard to identify the ego eminent. Taylor even offered a more familiar label: It's a seven-letter word that begins with an "a" and ends "hole."


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