Contradiction No. 1: Although it was highly exclusionary by definition, Virtuoso's annual members-only gathering in Las Vegas last week remains the largest U.S. leisure travel conference, with more than 6,500 attendees.
Contradiction No. 2: Front and center at Virtuoso Travel Week were two central messages, also seemingly incongruous: Selling travel is, at its essence, a human-to-human interaction; and Virtuoso's latest algorithmic technology platform, Wanderlist, is being touted as invaluable to uncovering client travel preferences.
These human vs. machine messages reconcile only when it's understood that Wanderlist's results are most impactful if interpreted and activated by an experienced advisor who has taken the time to probe and analyze a traveler's individuality.
Viewed through certain lenses, contradictions often become complements. And, listening to various perspectives from the dais and in the hallways, it became clear that understanding what makes a traveler happy requires understanding what makes a traveler unhappy.
In one session, a panelist used a phrase heard frequently last week: bucket list. I was sitting next to John DiScala, a blogger and influencer known as Johnny Jet. He said the phrase annoyed him and that he and his wife had come up with its opposite (and complement), a list that rhymes with "bucket list" but expresses obscene disdain for travel experiences in which they have no interest.
Signage at Virtuoso Travel Week. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
Myriad articles on overtourism have given us a pretty good idea of the items that commonly populate bucket lists, but I wondered if there were, likewise, certain places or travel experiences that showed up with frequency on DiScala's alternative list. So, while at the conference, I polled friends and colleagues, some in person, some via email, to see if there were patterns to what might appear on what I delicately described as their "anti-bucket lists."
A few Pollyannas claimed that, as far as they were concerned, there are no bad travel experiences. But I did selectively reach out to people whom I knew to be opinionated, and some relished the opportunity to share. Here's what I found:
Skydiving took first place as an activity to avoid. It appeared on DiScala's list as well as on the lists of travel essayist Paul Theroux, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" author Patricia Schultz and CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg.
There might have been some subliminal messaging behind its frequency, since skydiving was the example I used when soliciting for the list.
But the results also suggested that a fear of heights frequently triggers avoidance behavior: Singapore-based Travel Weekly columnist Yeoh Siew Hoon listed bungee jumping. "Overbooked" author Elizabeth Becker, Virtuoso consultant Cate Caruso and Schultz all had no interest in climbing Everest. (Becker suggested overcrowding was her motivation to avoid Nepal entirely; Caruso added that Mount Kilimanjaro was unappealing to her, as well, while Schultz, unbidden, said she wanted to climb Kili).
Overall, the most robust response came from Theroux, who finds Disneyland and Nigeria unappealing destinations and considers ziplining, fancy dress galas and stand-up paddleboarding uninviting. He further has no interest in "spending time in any cave, cavern or underground passageway, no matter how amazing it's said to be."
Animals figure prominently on eff-it lists. Theroux doesn't want to hunt. Former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall doesn't want to fish. Adventure Travel Trade Association CEO Shannon Stowell has no interest in attractions that manipulate animals for human entertainment. Outside magazine founding editor Tim Cahill specified that riding elephants is a no-go.
Luxury Gold and Insight Vacations president Jon Grutzner used an animal comparison to express how he avoids "contrived experiences": "With all due respect to Disney, I'd rather go to Rwanda and see gorillas than watch two rodents dance in front of a castle."
Cruising holds no appeal to Cahill. Greenberg turns thumbs down to "one-port-every-16-hours" cruises. And Becker, Stowell and guidebook guru Arthur Frommer withhold approval specifically for "large" ships. Frommer also sees "mindless" motorcoach tours of more than 40 people as "destructive of everything I value in travel."
As regards destinations, founding Travelocity CEO (and founding Kayak chairman) Terry Jones eschews Antarctica. The Tahoe resident said he has no need to see more snow.
Former Carnival Cruise Line CEO Bob Dickinson said he is disinterested in Las Vegas ("There's a sort of 'social stench' that I find wholly unappealing."); Branson, Mo. ("I guess I'm not old enough."); and Siberia ("I suspect the juice is not worth the squeeze.").
Greenberg takes a pass on St. Thomas and the Algarve. Stowell shuns Venice, Miami, Waikiki and Cancun because "overrun places that are seemingly on everyone's 'want' list tend to drop off mine." For similar reasons, Travel Weekly columnist Richard Turen has no interest in visiting Machu Picchu.
Glamping mystifies Greenberg. "Either you rough it or you luxuriate. Pick one."
And you'll never catch Stowell on a Segway tour. "I'd rather mow my lawn," he wrote.
This exercise also elicited much more nuanced responses that strike at the heart of why people like certain experiences and avoid others. Contradictions there, too. I'll share those next week.
This column was updated on Aug. 19, 2019.