30 May 2007

Plastic travel sites, bleagh!!!

I was just adding an entry to the list of tour operators to Slovenia, and as usual checked over existing ones, when I found a typical plastic site... ugh!

So I deleted it.

Three years ago it was a small travel agency with specialist knowledge of Slovenia. They may still have some specialist knowledge of Slovenia, but their site is now just another mass-market bland clone with 'white-label' travel 'products' supplied by one of the big online travel 'providers'.

There's a place for mass brands & standard products. It's on every high street in Britain - Starbucks, WH Smith, Orange, Vision Express, Tesco, Waterstones, Clinton Cards - and every search engine results page (SERP) - Lastminute, Expedia, OTC, Travelocity, A2B.

...but wouldn't you rather shop at your local independent fishmonger, baker, optician, etc, and buy unique travel directly from an independent specialist travel company?

21 May 2007

PSARA gets a decent name

I've been banging on about PSARA for many years now (in a good way!).

It's the Passenger Shipping Association's Retail Agent scheme. Members of PSARA have to reach standards in training set by the PSA. In other words, if you are looking for a cruise, go to a specialist travel agent accredited by the cruise industry itself.

The trouble is, PSARA has never really caught hold in the public's collective consciousness in the same way that say ABTA has, or to a lesser extent, AITO. It sounds like a trade organisation - which it is really - and not something of interest to consumers.

So it is welcome news that PSARA is changing its name to ACE - the Association of Cruise Experts.

Hooray! Much better. Simple and to the point. Now maybe the public will catch on.

17 May 2007

Ramblers go worldwide

Ramblers Holidays have changed their name to Ramblers Worldwide Holidays.

Of course, Ramblers always have taken people on walking holidays worldwide. In fact they've been doing it since 1946, the year after WW2 ended, when they took 600 people on walking holidays to Denmark, Sweden, the French Alps, Tunisia, Andorra, Provence, Corsica, Paris and the Ardennes. Imagine how easy that was to organise in the aftermath of the war!

But that's not the general perception. People think of them as operators of walking holidays in the UK. Hence the need for a change of brand image, which they are marking with a new look expanded brochure and website.

The problem is (and this is a name you will not read in their press materials covering the re-launch) people link them with the Ramblers Association - a uk-focused charity.

Hardly surprising, because although Ramblers Worldwide Holidays studiously avoid making that connection, they are linked.

The official line is:
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Countrywide Holidays are the 2 trading names operating walking holidays. Both are owned and operated by the private limited company Ramblers Holidays Ltd (RH).

RH is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ramblers Association Services Ltd (RAS) which is an Industrial & Provident Society regulated by the Financial Services Authority. As such it has around 300 "members" or shareholders which own and control RAS. It is governed by a management committee elected from within the shareholders. This committee appoint the directors and senior management team of RH and therefore control the management of both Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and Countrywide Holidays.

RH gives a certain amount of profits into the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust (RHCT) each year. This is used to fund various projects in support of walking and enjoyment and protection of the countryside. The Ramblers’ Association (RA) is one of the main beneficiaries of grants made by RHCT.

The Ramblers’ Association is a totally separate legal entity and operates entirely independently of RAS & RH. At a management and operational level there are closer ties between the organisations, working closely for mutual benefit.

Be that as it may....

As a 'worldwide' brand, RWH would like to distance itself from the RA (indeed there was apparently much internal debate about ditching the 'Ramblers' part of their name entirely), but the RA, through its newsletter & website, is one of RWH's most loyal & lucrative sources of business.

So although RWH & the RA share a bed, right now Ramblers Worldwide Holidays would prefer it if they are not seen in public together.

15 May 2007

Airbus A380 - weighty issues

Airbus A380
Airbus rolled out their first commercial A380 from the paint shop (well, huge hanger actually) in Hamburg last week, all decked out in the livery of their launch customer, Singapore Airlines.

They issued some stats:
Approximately 792 gallons (3,600 litres) of paint was used for the livery. Some 100 painters worked over four shifts polishing the 3,100m2 surface area of the aircraft fuselage by hand, and the painting process took 21 days.
It got me thinking. How much does almost 800 gallons of paint weigh when it is dry? It must be a lot. And we know how concerned Airbus has been over the weight issue. How do they factor it in to the the calculations when, presumably, different liveries weigh different amounts? (depending how subtle they are!) And those differences for a paint job on such a large scale, must be significant...

Thinking about it reminded me of the time when, after the Paris crash, BA & Air France had to fit Kevlar linings around the fuel tanks in Concorde. I remember doing a story about how they were compensating for the extra weight.

British Airways - and I can't find my notes here, so I'm sure someone will correct the detail if I'm wrong - did a redesign of the cabin for the re-launch of services, which included replacing all the seats with new ones commissioned from Recaro (I think). Their significant design feature was that they were all lighter than the old ones, offsetting the weight of the new tanks.

When I phoned Air France and asked them how they were going to deal with the weight problem I could 'hear' the disdainful Gallic shrug at the other end, "but of course, we are just not selling the last four seats!"

09 May 2007

Un-fashionable pastimes becoming trendy breaks

I'm just in the middle of writing an article about canalboat holidays...

... in which I'm arguing that the new surge of interest in domestic holidays - brought about by environmental concerns over flying and the increasingly horrible airport experience (delays, strikes, security, et al), coupled with the rise in the number of short breaks we all take now - has meant that canal boat holidays are no longer considered to be a pastime of the 'tired & retired', but instead are becoming trendy.

The shiny Mercedes 4x4 disgorging a large middle-class London family, plus all their bikes, into the rented narrowboat moored alongside ours a couple of weekends ago (when we spent a few days on the Grand Union canal) was anecdotal evidence of that. And I notice there have been a couple of travel pieces about canal holidays in the Times recently, backing that idea up.

But it's not just canals. The resurgence of interest in traditional UK holidays has made several things 'trendy' again.

There's a fantastic new generation of stylish hotels and B&Bs breathing new life into the traditional British seaside holiday - think how fashionable Cornwall (or "Rick Steinwall") has become in recent years!

Farm holidays are back in vogue - take a look at the Featherdown Farms brochure for the very definition of middle-class aspirational family holidaying!

Camping (especially at music festivals!) is fashionable again. That range of designer tents with cows printed on them probably helped! It certainly triggered a spate of 'camping is chic' articles last year.

and they even say, (sometimes using photos of retro-styled aluminium Airstreams or refurbished horse-drawn gipsy wagons to back it up) that caravanning is becoming trendy


I'll go along with the rest, but that is one proposition too far!

Caravanning has never been, and will never be fashionable. Period.

k. Rant over. Back to the article.

04 May 2007

Boo.com re-appears as travel site

As anyone who read the book (boo hoo) knows, boo.com was the definitive dotcom crash. However, not daunted by the legacy, somebody has bought the domain name and is this week re-launching it as a travel website.

That 'somebody' is Web Reservations International (WRI), a Dublin-based online reservations company that includes
hostelworld.com, hostels.com and trav.com among its brands and provides 'white-label' booking engine services to other websites.

I'm sure Ray Nolan, CEO of boo.com, has read the book and knows the history. WRI probably think (quite rightly) that people are unlikely to make directly negative associations between the new site and the original site. Indeed they probably figure that the familiarity of the name will have a positive benefit...

But my instinct is the opposite.

By re-using a well-known brand name with a previous history - good or bad - you are only highlighting the fact that it is 'second-hand', 'used', which somehow makes it feel cheap - like a cyber-squatter.

And by re-using a well-known brand name with a spectacular previous history - good or bad - you are setting a high standard to live up to. A site that is any less spectacular is just going to look second rate - a pale imitation.

I wish them well (not least because I like the site) and hope I'm wrong.... but I don't think I am.