Smelling the world on behalf of our clients
hen I entered this industry, umpteen years ago, my goals
were fairly straightforward. I needed to get people safely
from place to place. Generally, they told me where they
wanted to go, and I knew which buttons to push to get
them there. But then, along the way, something happened to my rather clear job description.
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Clients, I observed, were making a lot of
wrong decisions, and I began to become uncomfortable with this whole “travel agent”
thing. I didn’t like robotic reservations, and
I started to observe a whole new breed of
travel agent. I decided I would get to really
know my products well so I could do more
than book travel. I would advise travelers.
So, like many of you, I made a decision to
complicate my life. I took on a new responsibility.
Unfortunately, the “products” I was selling were countries and cities and in-between
places. So I made a decision to know the
world. That is, of course, an impossible feat
on any level.
But then I realized that it was no longer
enough to know the geography of the world.
To really serve my clients well, I would need
to know the innkeepers on the world map
by name. I would need to tell them my clients were coming.
Soon after that, I realized that knowing
the geography of the world and having a
working relationship with every important
G.M. on Earth was not nearly enough. My
clients started to depend on me to be a me-teorologist. I had to know months of maximum rainfall and heat indexes from Alaska
to Abu Dhabi. It was expected.
It soon became clear that arranging travel
in foreign lands properly would require a
deep knowledge of the best restaurants in cities around the world. But it wasn’t enough to
know the names of the restaurants. I quickly
realized that my clients would need to know
what dishes to order to get the most out of
the experience. This made me take on the
compilation of a guide to every top restaurant as well as more reasonably priced local
discoveries in destinations around the
globe. I needed to
become a walking
Some of this started taking its toll. I had
to read more and more. I was working
nights and weekends just to keep up, and it
still wasn’t enough.
Ten years ago, I realized that my clients
wanted to read books about the destinations
they would be visiting. I still love books; I
love touching them and cleaning the covers. I use my Kindle as a coaster for cheese
plates. So I took on the job of knowing the
best travel books for every major destination
in the world.
That turned quickly into apps, because
my younger clients need to know I speak at
least a few words of their strange language.
I started assigning myself the
task of reading virtually every
computer magazine published in
America. I went Apple at home
and PC in the office because Mac
users like to get their correspondence from other Mac users. If
you respond to a Mac user on
a PC, you might as well include
your AARP number in the email.
I had become a geographer, a meteorolo-gist, a tech nerd, a book reviewer, a restaurant critic and a hotel maven. That was
when I realized that my Mac and PC clients
needed to have me provide a content-rich
website experience of the kind that would
be updated daily. I wanted to be a good adviser, I wanted to meet their needs, so I took
on the challenge.
And you know what? I was feeling overwhelmed and overworked, but I felt that I
was serving my clients well.
Then I opened the December issue of
Conde Nast Traveler, and everything fell
apart. I realized that I had overlooked one of
the most important responsibilities a travel
adviser has to his clients. I have not advised
them how to smell when they travel.
The article featured commentary by
Chandler Burr, who, it turns out, was previously the “scent critic” for the New York
Times. I never knew such a journalistic position existed.
The point made in the piece was that certain scents repel and attract in lands abroad.
And I suddenly realized that this is a whole
new subject I had to master to be a credible
I learned from Burr that when traveling
in South America, for instance, clients need
to be advised that they
should wear “
whatever your dad wore in
the 1950s.” This would
include Old Spice for
men. Shalimar for the ladies. Heavy on the
When in France, he reports, men are ad-
vised to wear Kouros, “which smells like
body odor and French truckers.” For ladies,
something strong, earthy and “dirty” like
Vetiver by Guerlain. The French, the former
Times critic advises, like their women to
smell “like De Niro in ‘Raging Bull.’”
I started to think how many clients I’ve
sent to France without sharing this impor-
tant information. I have been a failure. I am
an incomplete adviser.
The Chinese, Mr. Burr explains, can handle
florals, citrus or fruits as long as they are light,
while the Japanese like scented minimalism
with nothing heavy. They most dislike heavy
florals and anything that smells of smoke.
In the Middle East, travelers should bring
something dark and heavy with elements
of moss or the woods. For ladies visiting
Dubai, Burr recommends Annick Goutal
Sad to report there is, apparently, no country on Earth
in which the wearer of Britney
Spears’ new fragrance has a tactical scent advantage.
How one should smell is a
matter of tradition, preference
and national pride, and I suppose
savvy travel advisers now have to
add mastery of this rather complex subject to their repertoire.
A few other examples:
• Travelers to Brazil, for example, should
be aware that fragrances for infants is big
business. South America is the only place
on Earth where babies are properly scented
before going out in public.
• In much of Africa, the wearing of any
type of cologne or perfume might call attention to the fact that you are from out of
town. While on safari, I will be advising my
clients that, in the bush, the only acceptable
fragrance is one that smells like rain.
• In Ethiopia, it is believed that the best
scent on Earth is that of cows, while the Do-gon of Mali would be most impressed with
any woman who shows up redolent of the
smell of onion.
• One of the more interesting scented
travel experiences can be found in the more
remote stretches of the Amazon region,
where more than 50,000 Avon ladies sell the
product line literally hut by hut. They exist even in those villages so removed from
civilization that they can be reached only by
Travel agents who just take orders, one
could argue, are the industry’s high school
graduates. But there is college for those who
seek to be destination consultants, and graduate school for those who wish to become
trusted advisers. It all has to do with the
years one is willing to devote to one’s craft.
But it is a life filled with the frustration
that we can never know even a small portion of what we really need to know. So we
press forward, always reading, always adding courses to our curriculum. It just never
ends, and you never go to sleep thinking you
have completed your work.
I am still not sure how one should smell
when visiting Canada, so I still have work to
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Contributing editor Richard Turen
owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to
Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the World’s
Top Travel Specialists since the list be-gan.Co ntact him at rturen@travel
FEBRUARY 6, 2012