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MY MISGUIDED TOUR
Art Rosenbaum
October 24, 1960
When the executive sports editor of the 'San Francisco Chronicle' was asked to lead a tour to the Olympic Games in Rome, he was frightened. When he actually found himself doing it, he became frantic. Here is the hilarious inside story that the "members" never hear—of crises with hotels and buses, of plumbing that wasn't and the bagno that was, and how a little man became a Leader
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October 24, 1960

My Misguided Tour

When the executive sports editor of the 'San Francisco Chronicle' was asked to lead a tour to the Olympic Games in Rome, he was frightened. When he actually found himself doing it, he became frantic. Here is the hilarious inside story that the "members" never hear—of crises with hotels and buses, of plumbing that wasn't and the bagno that was, and how a little man became a Leader

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You should take your wife to Europe," the Travel Agent said. "It's quite simple really, and it won't cost you a penny. Well, maybe a few nickels for incidentals. All you do is accompany 30 people to the Olympic Games in Rome and you and your wife go free."

It was a frightening idea. Steering a collection of flag-wavers and old widows around the Continent was not my idea of fun—or even of work. I am not a tourist type; I forget important papers, and train and plane schedules confuse me. I pointed this out to the Travel Agent, adding: "After all, I'm a sports editor, not a travel guide."

"That's just it," he said. "You have the experience of covering three Olympics. Everybody will rush to join this tour. And you won't have a thing to worry about. You'll be met everywhere by couriers who will take over the details. They will greet you at the airports, arrange for buses, check you into hotels, explain the customs of the country and tell you how much to tip. This will be a first-class tour: fine hotels, good Olympics tickets and special parties. Think it over."

"I'll think about it," I said. And that was my first mistake. I made my second mistake that night at home by not thinking about it enough. "You just lost a trip to Europe today," I told my wife. "Silly, isn't it?" And I repeated what the Agent had said: "For each 15 people we get one pass. Thirty people, two passes. He says a million Americans will tour Europe this summer and Rome will be like Grand Central Station. He says he can guarantee good accommodations and tickets. He says our friends will rush to join this tour but, of course, it's out of the question." My wife, only half listening, was already framing her shopping list—home and abroad.

Three weeks before scheduled departure we had grown to 35 strong, and I was learning the travel business. I learned of "wholesalers" who take over the handling of tours from travel agencies for a commission of about 10%, and of subwholesalers who specialize in certain cities. I also learned about what the industry calls "members," the trusting souls who join such tours and who, from disembodied characters known only through letters, phone calls and checks, evolve into the actors of the Tour Leader's personal little drama—the Star Salesman, the Quiet Doctor, Mr. Dignity, the Happy Foursome and, of course, the Relatives. All of them turned out to be quite different from what I had imagined.

With our group secured, the Agent felt it was time for a hard lesson in psychology. He revealed that there would be difficulties, small crises, now and then. "In this business," he said, "you must be able to rationalize, to turn a debit into a credit. You must remember that you are dealing with human beings and no two humans are alike."

My career in rationalization began a few days later. The Star Salesman telephoned to ask what I was going to do about the change in the air schedules. He had heard (I hadn't) that our midweek jet flight from New York to Lisbon, the first leg of our 10-city tour, had been changed to a propeller plane.

"What are you going to do?" he repeated.

"Let me check," I hedged. The check revealed that he had indeed scooped me. What was I to do? There was no other flight possible that did not involve losing or gaining a day, or revising the entire schedule. I phoned the Star Salesman. "After all," I said, "the DC-7 was the queen of the skies only a year ago.... Planes go faster west to east because of the tail winds.... Flying is smooth over the water and we'll sleep like babies all night."

He didn't cancel. We refunded the $10 jet surcharge to all members.

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