The country I am writing this about does not deserve to gain a bad reputation at a time when tourism is still in its emerging stages and it has suffered a violent and destructive past, and due to this I won’t be naming it, but the experiences I have had here have been bad, there are no two ways about it. I don’t aim to discourage people from visiting this country, but only because I know everyone’s experience is an individual one, and while I presently feel I have no desire to return here, others have had the time of their lives.
I doubt I would be writing this at all if it weren’t for having skimmed through my Lonely Planet guidebook earlier and having read that travellers are encouraged to contact them and other organisations about their bad experiences in an attempt to encourage the country concerned to do something about it where possible, especially when it is somewhere that thoroughly deserves a fresh start – something which tourism can easily provide when successful.
With travelling comes adventure, and with adventure comes difficulties. The most common of which is the age-old language barrier. Though I thoroughly believe nobody should go abroad and expect locals to adhere to their linguistic needs, there are some instances which are exempt from this. For example, individuals working directly in the heart of the tourist industry. I am not referring to excursion offices or restaurants here, but the important stuff: flight centres and visa offices, amongst other things. The country I visited recently seemed to have a common rule amongst locals, being that if they did not understand what you were asking them, they would reply with ‘yes’, regardless of what you may have just said to them. It doesn’t take a long time before this practice, combined with asking questions regarding visas to neighbouring countries, ends in disaster. For me, it meant not being able to board a flight and losing the money I had paid for it. For others, it has meant arriving in their next destination, only to be denied entry. A related instance in which some level of international English should be spoken is in an international airport. Instead, I found myself having to scour the departures check-in, desperately seeking someone who could say more than ‘yes’. A frustrating task when you’re asking the question, ‘do you speak English’, and never quite being sure if their answer is a genuine one, or one of common response.
It wasn’t just the lack of available communication that shocked me here, but the general workings of the airport itself. It is often found that small-scale airports lack the high standards of security of the ruling international ports of Heathrow, JFK and the like, but this experience was something else.
When my attempt to check in to my flight caused initial difficulties, I had my passport taken from me and tossed to a side, resting next to the disgarded lunch remains of the check-in desk staff. I was showed that I was expected to stand to one side, and while doing so left me expecting that my problems were being resolved while not holding up the queue of other passengers, it turned out that I was actually just being left until last, when a solution would have hopefully appeared by magic it seemed. It was due to this that my check in was delayed by almost an hour – a crucial amount of time in aiports that can make or break your chances of catching your flight. In this case it was the latter of the two.
The problem seemed to be that I was not on the passenger list printed for that particular flight. I had booked my flight that morning, whereas the ‘final’ list had been printed the previous day, regardless of tickets still being available for sale. My reservation number did not hold the solid argument I imagined it would that I had indeed paid for a ticket and expected a seat on that flight. I asked to use the airport’s wifi to access my email account for further proof, and for the contact details of my e-ticket provider. It turned out that the wifi didn’t work, but the solution I expected was not to be given access to the airport’s computer system in order to access my emails from there.
Amongst strange looks from other passengers, and rightfully so, (when have you ever seen a passenger being a check-in desk, free to look at whatever they can get their hands on?) I provided them with the proof that I was entitled to board my flight. Only by this time, my luggage had been tossed aside and flight labels removed, and my flight had now fully boarded and was preparing for takeoff.
The trouble I then ensued when trying to gain information about the fate of my purchased ticket is another story, but the general outcome was that I found myself in a situation that could be avoided with the right build up to operating as a country which encourages tourism. Security could have been put at risk, a considerable amount of money was wasted and a country’s reputation has been left considerably lowered after this experience, and many others like it. Perhaps its more successfully developed neighbour was in the same position in relatively recent years, and can provide an example of what the country has to look forward to with invested developments. As for now, however, I can only wonder how many others have been put off returning after a similar experience, and worry what impact the backpackers’ word of mouth will have if things continue without structured plans for improvement.