27 October 2006

Visitors to Travel-Lists.co.uk

Somebody from a travel PR firm has just called to ask about the number of visitors we get.

She asked about 'hits' - so, quickly for anyone not up on this...

Hits - useless, irrelevant. A 'hit' is recorded for every object on a page. One visit to one page of a website could record 10 or 200 'hits'. For this reason most website statistics concentrate on...

Impressions aka pageviews - how many pages have been visited. But this measurement is increasingly misleading because it measures every visit by man or machine, and these days spiders and news aggregators (checking every few minutes to see if newsfeeds and blogs have been updated) can make a huge difference to the stats for a site, so...

Unique Visitors - are the statistic to look for.
How many real people have turned up once. Or for monthly statistics...

Unique Visitor Sessions - How many visits have real people made to the site.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested, last month's (Sept 06) figures were...

(Hits: 515,516)

Impressions: 437,805

Unique Visitors: 11,706

Unique Visitor Sessions: 15,556

Not as high as I would like, or as I have had, but ok. Especially, for a site that has a strict 'no link exchange' policy, which does handicap our search engine rankings.

Time standing still

I write a regular travel column for a monthly magazine for business bosses which appears in print two months after I hand it in.

A couple of months ago, in anticipation of the switchover from summer to winter airline schedules which occurs at the end of October (with the clocks) I wrote a piece - that will appear early Nov - about rail and air timetables and how they've evolved and been digitised.

At the beginning of the article I made the point that it was the introduction of the railway that triggered the widespread development of clock technology and the mass-production of clocks. Until trains nobody, except navigators, needed to tell the time accurately.

I wish now that this little piece of news from Virgin Trains, which arrived today, had been more timely... because I could have used it

Virgin Trains has now announced that it is to include ALSTOM's depot staff in its Every Second Counts initiative, which was launched with Network Rail earlier this year. ALSTOM depot staff at the Midlands Traincare Centre will become the first ALSTOM staff to be issued with Radio Controlled watches, which receive electronic time signals and are accurate to within one second every three million years. The watches will be rolled out at other ALSTOM depots over the next year.

The watches were issued to Virgin Trains' drivers, train managers and station staff earlier this year in a project to ensure everyone was working to the same time.

The decision to issue staff with the watches was taken after a survey of station staff, drivers, train managers, onboard staff, suppliers and signalmen showed that there could be differences (fast and slow) in the timepieces being used.

"This meant that in some instances staff might not be in the right place at the right time", said Charles Belcher Managing Director Virgin West Coast, "and a mere ten second delay at the start of a journey could cause a domino effect delaying not just that one train even more but also creating knock-on delays to other trains along the 401-mile route from London to Glasgow. That ten second delay could have been caused by the train being late off a depot.

"We have used the 'Every Second Counts..' name for our staff awareness campaign because it is delays of mere seconds -as well as minutes - that can affect train performance. A one second delay may not seem significant but multiplied for every mile travelled it would total six minutes and 41 seconds for a train travelling from Glasgow to London. The likelihood is that the train would also lose its timetable slot somewhere on its journey and the delay could then easily become ten minutes or more late."

Times may change, but in some respects some things don't change with time... like the need for accurate clocks!

18 October 2006

Don't rule out the Lebanon

A significant part of my electronic and physical post, comes from regular sources - daily or weekly updates, newsletters, press releases, etc.

One specialist Travel PR, Nick Redmayne, sends journalists a weekly batch of press releases about his client companies which he prefaces in his covering email with a few idiosyncratic thoughts - often amusing, usually (rather like a blog) little vignettes on what he personally has been up to in the last few days, and always with his suggested 'website of the week'.

They are fun, and I suspect most of his recipients enjoy reading them. This week's was thought-provoking and since it doesn't mention any of his clients and it isn't a blog or on a site that I can link to, I've asked him if I can reproduce it here...

I've just returned from a few days in one the Mediterranean's most fashionable cities, where the hotels are top notch, restaurants excel and cafes, bars and nightclubs, amongst the world's funkiest, are filled by possibly the chicest and most civilised party crowd I've experienced. Where is this Shangri-la of sophistication? Beirut of course, that recent target of high explosive ordnance supposedly smarter than the average bomb, and redoubt of those Islamophilic good-time guys, Hezbollah. Here in the UK the overriding impression is that Lebanon fell off the wagon of peace yet again, careering into the 'last chance saloon' of Middle East politics and, in an uncertain progress, spilled the pint of its most belligerent neighbour, Israel. The rest is 34 days of history that have cost Lebanon 20 years of progress.

However, as with all things Middle Eastern the reality is more complicated. From Beirut 'downtown' the scene is not of rubble-strewn streets patrolled by chanting mobs, rather a stylish city's showcase redevelopment frequented by the country's 'beautiful people'. Even during Ramadan, other areas of the capital are more alive than ever, from the coffee shops of Gemayzeh and the bars of Achrafieh's Monnot Street to the city's many and several hedonistic night clubs, all are thronging with an affluent Lebanese-only crowd.

In contrast, the population in the southern suburb of Harat Hreik, targeted by Israeli, has suffered. Areas around the al-Manar TV studios, and other Hezbollah-associated structures have been razed below the ground. In many instances buildings not directly hit have been and so badly damaged that demolition is the only answer. Bridges, including the highest in the Middle East, have been destroyed and though traffic finds a way through, snarl-ups are unavoidable. Along the coast, treacly oil spilled from ruptured storage tanks has left black tide marks around boats, on beaches and in historic harbours. Though the clean-up is well advanced, marine and birdlife has been decimated. In the south of Lebanon cluster bombs ignore the UN ceasefire and fail to discriminate between the old, young, unwary and unlucky, maiming and disfiguring all with equal malice.

Lebanon's tourism community remains resilient and waits for confidence to return. In the tourist areas of Byblos and Baalbek, guides and shopkeepers twiddle their worry beads waiting for foreign travellers - no great deluge is forecast anytime soon. FCO travel advice still recommends against all but essential travel.

This week's website of the week is http://yalibnan.com/site/

15 October 2006

The Greek cycle of life

As two go, another appears.

In recent weeks two longstanding high-quality specialist operators to Greece (Tapestry & Laskarina) have closed or announced their closure, victims of a changing market where more and more travellers arrange their own DIY holidays to popular European and Mediterranean destinations.

Interesting then to see an announcement from another, Vintage Travel, who have been specialising in villa holidays in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and more recently Croatia for over 17 years. Vintage say they are launching a Greek properties brochure for 2007 covering the Ionian islands of Corfu, Kefalonia and Ithaca, the Aegean island of Skopelos and the Peloponnese peninsula.

09 October 2006

Florence - One of Italy's tourism icons

Ponte Vecchio
I was in Florence last week for a few days on business/pleasure. My first time there. It is a lovely city and it's hardly surprising it has been such an influential and iconic destination for so many visitors over the centuries.Ponte Vecchio

You'd think all those visitors would be spread out over the centuries but most of them seem to have congregated in the months of Sept/Oct 2006! It was heaving in the 'honeypots' - around the Uffizzi palace, the Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. I was surprised. This is very much 'shoulder season' when Europeans are back at work and their children at school, but of course this is a different market. The vast majority of visitors were either older students on class trips or retired couples, and for the local tourist industry Sept is peak season.

Roman AmphitheatreTo get away from the crowds, I and a colleague caught a bus up to Fiesole in the hills overlooking the city, where we explored the Etruscan and Roman ruins including an amphitheatre and baths. Not that we came away very enlightened, the vast majority of visitors to the site were English or American yet there was no English-language signage on the site or in the museum of artifacts - just one half-hearted A4 sheet and some guidebooks you could buy in the shop. Useless!

While the Uffizzi gallery itself was hot and overwhelmingly crowded, the Vasarian Corridor, was most certainly not.

While I was in Italy, the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, delivered his proposed budget to parliament which included a provision for urban councils to set a tourist tax (up to 5 euros per visitor per day) to support their tourism infrastructure. One of the cities that might take advantage of the new tax is Florence. You can recognise the use it might be put to in the Vasarian Corridor - one of Florence's most important historic buildings and notoriously impossible to visit.

Vasarian Corridor interiorThe 1km medieval corridor was built above the streets and over the old bridge (Ponte Vecchio) to give the Medicis a private passage between their palaces on either side of the river. Along its length there are 6-700 priceless paintings so any visitor who is allowed in (eg academics) has to be accompanied by a gallery official at all times. The trouble is, the main galleries of the Uffizzi are so busy, they just don't have the staff.

Guide in Vasarian CorridorSo it really was a bit special for a small group of us, with our guide (appropriately named Giovanni Guidetti!), to be able to walk the Vasarian Corridor from the Uffizzi Palace to the Boboli Gardens in the Pitti Palace (.mp3).

You're going to ask, 'how did we get in?' Well, largely down to our hotel (Hotel Bernini Palace next door to the Uffizzi) and a little bit of luck I think.