18 July 2006

Declaring an interest

If you are going to have a "fiercely independent" travel directory it has to be "fiercely transparent" too!

How else can it claim to an authoritative resource?

I am indebted to a friend, Chris McIntyre, a guidebook writer and expert on Southern Africa, who has enthusiastically contributed a number of suggestions for the Safari Camps in Zambia list.

Because I trust his judgement, because he too is fastidiously independent, and because he has matched my editorial style perfectly, I am successfully tempted to use his listings and notes pretty much un-altered (IE. passing them off as my own!).

So I have to declare an interest (and I've linked those listings back to this blog). Chris is also the Managing Director of safari tour operator, Expert Africa.

17 July 2006

Telephone transfer nightmare

I am incandescent with rage.

My business phone line, which I have had for ten years, is floating around in a digital no-man’s-land thanks largely to Telewest. They have now failed THREE TIMES to take over the number from BT, and I am very worried I may lose it all together.

I first arranged for the transfer in mid-June, to co-incide with my house move on 23 June. Something went wrong. I'm not sure where the problem was but Telewest's transfer request was refused by BT. The process had to start again.

This time I got a letter from BT confirming that they would release the number to Telewest on 6 July. Nothing happened. I called Telewest and BT. It turned out the number was ready for release but Telewest failed to collect it. The transfer window closed. Back to square one. To their credit, Telewest were quick to admit their error, apologised, offered me two months free line rental and set the order in motion again for a transfer on Fri 14 July.

On Fri 14 I phoned Telewest just to remind them and check all was in order. It was. The transfer should go ahead, but a day late on Sat 15.

On Mon 17 (today) I called Telewest to be told. There was no sign of the transfer. No it hasn't happened and they'll have to start again!!!!!!!

The next scheduled transfer date - now being overseen by a manager and guaranteed to happen - is 27 July.

... Yeah! And Elvis is his boss.

I'd better postpone printing the stationary and business cards for another month. Thank God for mobile phones and email!

12 July 2006

The art of good comedy/journalism.... timing

Sometime around 1990 I recorded a destination feature for a travel programme that I was presenting on local radio, in Yugoslavia - or rather off the coast of Yugoslavia, it was a flotilla sailing holiday.

Six months later when it was due for transmission the director of the tour operator (Yugotours) sailing division and a local travel agent joined me in the studio for the live programme. I played the recorded feature and then we started discussing the holiday and the political state of Yugoslavia, because in the interim a fair amount of unrest had been flagged up in the media.

"What people will want to know most", I asked my guest from Yugotours, "is - is it safe?".

"Most certainly", he told us. And went on to convince us that their comprehensive network of workers and contacts in the travel industry throughout the country and tourism ministry officials were all very relaxed about the political tensions.

Within a fortnight all bloody hell had broken loose, and Yugoslavia, let alone Yugotours, was no more!


Tricky stuff.

Yesterday I recorded some stuff about skiing in the Lebanon (See previous posting). During the course of today I wrote a short item about it, edited the audio, compiled it as an mp3 clip and inserted it in couple of locations on the Travel lists website. I also offered it to a colleague on a national newspaper for their website.

When I finished I got in the car and set off to collect my son from school. As I turned the ignition and the radio came on, Radio 4 started their news at the top of the hour.

Hezbollah in the Lebanon have kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and Israel has declared it to be an act of war...


Skiing in the Lebanon

Had fun yesterday at Crystal Ski's annual press review of the ski market, where they look at what happened last season, and talk about the season ahead. Crystal are the largest UK ski operator and they put on quite a professional show. This year it was held at the Absolut Ice bar in Heddon St where on arrival we were fitted with peculiar arctic ponchos with hoods and mittens before being led into the bar where all the fittings, furniture and glasses are ice, kept at -6c. Perfect on a hot day!

The presentation was in another room at normal temperature, but during this cool pre-presentation gathering I was chatting with a colleague who asked where I fancied going skiing. I said it would be fun to go off-the-beaten-track and try the Andes, or Japan or the Lebanon.

At that, she looked slightly taken aback and I started explaining that people have been skiing in the mountains behind Beirut for years. The trendy thing to do is ski in the morning and water-ski on the Med in the afternoon. Furthermore there is a ski resort up there which has recently had a makeover and so there's been a resurgence of interest. (I remember writing about Intercontinental taking over the chalet style hotel there, but I can't find it in the archives.)

Needless to say, she looked deeply sceptical.

A few minutes later we were sitting down listening to Crystal Sales & Marketing Director when he suddenly announced that next season (06/07), Crystal Ski are adding two new and unusual destinations to their programme - Japan and the Lebanon.

My friend practically fell off her seat.

Train operators who don't know where they are going

I can't quite believe it's been a whole month (nearly) since I last blogged here.

To be fair, it has been rather busy and I have been distracted by a number of things, not least moving home/office.


I've just been updating the list of UK train operating companies, and getting very irritated by some of their websites. I should have thought that it would more than blindingly obvious that for a rail company - like an airline - something you MUST have, clearly available through a button or link on your home page, is a schematic map of your network. A map hidden two clicks away from the home page is simply not good enough. How can a user know it's there and why should he/she have to hunt?

For any new visitor one quick glance at the visual layout of the routes and stations showing their relationship to each other can save endless minutes of confusion in the website's booking engine and timetables. It instantly answers the primary questions from a potential customer, 'Do their trains go from my departure point to my destination and what happens in between?'

This is so fundamental I am astonished at the railway companies who get something so basic, so wrong!

I'm talking about the likes of you: NI Railways, Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways, SouthEastern, Virgin

By contrast, well done: Central Trains, C2C, First Great Western, First Scotrail, GNER, Hull Trains, Merseyrail, Midland Mainline, South West Trains, Southern, Silverlink, Northern Rail.