18 May 2006

Casinos - sorry we don't do them

At no point throughout my entire life (and I'm getting on a bit now) have I ever been aware of any pressure group, lobby or campaign in this country to relax the gambling laws. Drinking - yes. Sunday shopping - yes. Gambling - no.

So where did this rush to build super-casinos, relax the regs on existing ones, and fill our TVs and computers with online gambling, suddenly come from?

I have my suspicions. I don't think it was initiated by anyone in the UK. I think an American businessmen got access to our Prime Minister and persuaded him it's what "lil' old Britain" needs... and, probably (the clincher) that "God is 100% behind the project"!

Over the years as a travel journalist I've visited a good many casinos. In Middle East resort hotels, on cruise ships, in the coin-tinkling / light-blinking night-clubs of Tokyo, or the ski resorts of Colorado. One thing I recognised early on: this is not the happy vivacious pastime it is made out to be. Most people in casinos don't smile. I have seen the exact same sad faces with the same fixed - anxious or determined - look of concentration in the Salon Privé of the famous Casino in Monte Carlo, as I have on the grubby casino barges moored alongside the seafront in Biloxi, Mississippi. (Not sure if they are back yet. Hurricane Katrina smashed them up. Maybe God's backing is less than 100%!).

That's why - and now we are getting to the message in this blog - I never cover casinos. I don't think they are glamorous. I think they are squalid. So they are never mentioned in anything I write and are never listed on Travel-Lists. It's also, I'm afraid why I have never written anything about Las Vegas. Can't see the point.

Oriskany gone

I see the 'Mighty O' has been sunk as planned.

Congratulations to all involved. If that's not premature. Navy divers are scheduled to go down today and inspect her on the bottom. And we'll only know then that all is ok. (I don't think anybody is expecting her to have tipped upside down or broken up, or anything!)

As I've said before, I'm sure it'll attract divers and sports fishermen to the area not just from the USA but overseas as well.

If you want to be one of them, you might check out www.divemightyo.com.

Addendum (23/05/06). It seems she is upright at least. I've found some footage taken by the first navy divers to visit her on the bottom.

17 May 2006

Hurtigruten ferry strike

Here we go again. Norway's ferry officers are on strike. I've just written a short item about it. Let's see if Google starts delivering public service ads onto the news page. (PSAs are triggered when Google detects 'stop words' like "murder" "accident" ... and "strike")

15 May 2006

Santa tours off the map

Oh, there it goes again... Santa tours is off the map once more!

'Santa tours' is a search keyword that I track on a daily basis. It's one of a basket of 40 keyword phrases that I follow to see how the site is performing on Google (and by comparison, Yahoo & Msn). 'Off the map' means that it has fallen below position No. 50 at which point the software ceases to look for it.

Most of my 40 keywords used to be 'on the map' until Sept 05 when Google started its 'Big Daddy' infrastructure changes. Now only a handful are on the map and they tend to come & go. 'Santa tours' is one of those.

A search for 'Santa tours' should find my page Travel List : Tour Operators of Santa Tours / Father Christmas Breaks.

The graph of where it appears in Google's search engine results pages (SERPS) is very interesting...

  • From June 14, 2004 to October 1, 2005 Google thought it was the most relevant/important page on the internet to anyone searching for 'Santa tours' and continuously listed that page right at the top of the pile at position No.1 (apart from a couple of weeks when it dropped to No. 2 and then returned).

  • Then on October 1st, 2005 it disappeared off the map.

  • It re-appeared on Jan 27, 2006 at position No.17 and then remained fluctuating about between positions 17 - 12 until March 18 when it disappeared again.

  • On April 28 it re-appears in position No.2 where it remained... until today.

The question is, regardless of how important the page actually is or how important Google thinks the page is, how many searchers are aware of just how inconsistent Google's results are?

It's not the page that has changed. At least, not materially. It is updated periodically but remains broadly the same. Google is in flux.

Of course if there's just one change, that's fine.

For example. One of my other test keyword phrases is 'tour operators to Estonia'. All keywords fluctuate a little but this one used to be the most stable of all. It returned my page Travel List : Holiday, Travel and Tour Operators to Estonia in position No.1 right up to Sept last year when it disappeared from the Google SERPS and never returned. That's fine. You could argue Google thought it was important, then changed the criteria it uses to judge and now considers it isn't an important page for that query.

The problem comes when pages keep appearing and disappearing.

If Google thought that my list of Santa tour operators should be brought to the attention of Searcher A in February or Searcher B yesterday, why shouldn't it have been shown to Searcher C in late March or be shown to Searcher D today?

Undoubtedly two of those searchers are being given poorer search results. Which two is not important.

Travel Lists more useful than Google

What a great way to start the week: an email in my intray from a Travel Lists visitor...


Sorry to clog up your email - but I just wanted to let you know how useful I have found your site. You have given me a very comprehensive list of operators for my "glacier express" holiday - and much more complete and easy to use than the list I got from my google search


penny jackson

No, thank you, Penny!

That is precisely what I built Travel Lists to do. So it's a real shot in the arm to have someone go out of their way to tell me that's what it is doing.

04 May 2006

Public Holidays - Well, so much for forward planning!

Appropriately, at the time of year when Bank Holidays are thick on the ground in the UK, I've been doing some freelance work on an international business resources website. Updating their political, economic notes and public holiday dates for 27 countries.

The biggest headache is checking dates for up-coming public holidays. You'd think that most of these would be pretty easy, eg. 'Victory Day' falls on 1st Aug every year... but it doesn't necessarily!

That's because:

The world's countries seem pretty evenly split between regimes where, if the 1st Aug falls on the weekend, tough! No forwarding to Monday nor any days off in lieu! And the more relaxed governments who automatically move every holiday forward or back if there's any kind of date clash.

Then there are the festivals whose dates are set by a lunar calendar, or religious calendar... anything but the Gregorian Calendar. This means that some festivals can leap about all over the place from year to year, and in some cases, such as the Hari Raya Haji (Feast of the Sacrifice), appear twice in one year and then skip the next year!

And if that isn't enough to wrong-foot you, nothing, it turns out, is fixed forever. Governments add holidays (Japan has introduced a controversial Emperor Day into their calendar which in turn has bumped another holiday to another date) and take away national holidays (In 2005 Russia dropped the old Nov 7 Revolution Day that marked the Communist revolution, and Boris Yeltsin's Dec 12 Constitution Day holiday introduced by President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 to celebrate the adoption of Russia's current constitution. To make up for the loss they added some days this year to the New Year holiday extending it into the Russian Orthodox Christmas in Jan to make it one long holiday) or switch them from one calendar to another (South Korea is moving some of its festivals and holidays from their solar/lunar calendar to a Western Gregorian calendar).

Blimey! Who'd be a diary publisher!!

And even then, no two lists of a country's National Holidays agree. Take any list of a country's public holidays and I can show you another seemingly authoritative list of its holidays that will have additional holidays (or fewer) and at least one different date.

But this is the bit that really surprised me.

Given how incredibly complicated and inconsistent it is, you'd think for everybody's benefit - authorities, businesses, citizens - that it would be important to calculate and publish official lists of all these dates way in advance so everybody can forward plan.

But hardly anybody does. It is almost impossible to find a list of public holiday dates beyond the middle of next year (2007). In some cases they are not that far advanced at all - the Swedish Tourist Board is currently listing public hols in 2005.

If ever there was a case for centralisation... Perhaps the United Nations website should host a definitive version of the world's public holidays.