30 December 2008

T-Mobile Internet Censors

It's not just the government who wants to censor the Internet (they already do, through their self-appointed and highly secretive quango, the Internet Watch Foundation)...

The day after Boxing Day we decided to drive up to Dartmoor for a walk and lunch in a pub at Widdecombe. 

"Do we know for sure that they do proper lunches?" someone asked. 

"I'll just check on their website" I said and Googled them, but when I clicked on their url I was met with 

'You are not authorised to view this site'


We were at my Mum's home for xmas, so I was using my laptop and a T-mobile pay-as-you-go 3G broadband modem.

It turns out that T-mobile take it upon themselves to censor all connections. I was not allowed to view a pub website because T-mobile don't know that I'm over 18 yrs old. 

In order to view the Rugglestone Inn  (excellent pub BTW!) I have to go down to my local T-mobile shop with my passport. 

Ho hum...sign of the times. 

And, unless we stop them, there's more Internet Censorship to come. 

17 December 2008

Cuba's 50th - no surprises there

Anniversary research has been a regular exercise for me for years. 

It's just one of those things that every freelance journalist (and editor)  should be trained to do, but very few do.  In fact, I've started doing it now on behalf of my freelance colleagues at the BGTW (www.bgtw.org) and posting the results on the website.

It's very simple. You look ahead for the next 18-24 months (so right now we're looking at 2009 and 2010) and then go to your computer or library and find out what happened 25, 50 and 100 years ago (so 1984/5, 1959/60 and 1909/10). 

Then you start pitching for commissions and planning features way ahead of the pack. 

That's how/why I was asking United Airlines in 2001, how they were going to mark the 100th anniversary of powered flight (the Wright bros) on 17 Dec 2003

That's how I know which Oxford Street shopping icon will be celebrating in March, why the focus will be on Hollywood a year later , and why there will be tv crews down on the Dover cliffs in July

And why I wasn't surprised this morning to receive my first press release about Cuba, highlighting the 50th anniversary of Castro's  revolutionary government (which, although the release doesn't mention it, came to power on 2nd Jan 1959).

04 December 2008

Declaration of Intent

The story (perhaps "legend") goes that, faced with a number of 'declaration' questions on a, rather po-faced, visa/immigration form for entry into the United States, the comic songwriter, W S Gilbert, answered the question "Is it your intention to overthrow the government of the United States?" with "Sole purpose of visit". Apparently he got in anyway because they had no way of processing his answer! (Or maybe they had a sense of humour.)

I've just had the same thing.

I'm buying a new laptop for my son's xmas present (hope he doesn't read this!)...from Dell - an American company. So at the end of the online transaction I am asked to confirm, via a dropdown menu, the use my new laptop will be put to...


I'm telling you, I had to tie one hand behind my back and bite my knuckles to not select Nuclear Research & Manufacturing!

Definition of an ocean liner

One of John Heald's groupies asked what exactly the difference is between an "Ocean Liner" and a "Cruise Ship" and in yesterday's blog, John got Peter Shanks from Carnival UK to come up with a 4-point definition of an ocean liner. 

The first three points are concerned with ship design and routes. It was the  fourth that I liked...
Only Cunard has ocean liners - absolutely everybody else has cruise ships.

03 December 2008

How many emails are they snooping on?

I see from a www.theyworkforyou.com alert that the Labour MP, Micheal Meacher (Oldham West & Royton) posted a written question in the House of Commons on 26 Nov 08...

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many e-mails and other electronic communications data were sent in the UK in each of the last three years; how many were monitored by the authorities in each year; and how many were found to be relevant to (a) terrorist activity and (b) crime in each year.

He'll be fobbed off of course, but I'd love to see the answer if he wasn't!

02 December 2008

Germans put off visiting UK by our surveillance cameras

A colleague in the BGTW (www.bgtw.org) has just told me that her local newspaper in Berlin is reporting that potential tourists from Germany cite the pervasive presence of surveillance cameras in Britain as an important reason to chose anywhere other than the UK as a tourist destination.

Nuff said.

Compassionate air fares

Ok, I have been doing this (travel journalism) a long time but, just as there are some places I have never visited, there are (pause to compose myself) some things I don't know about (gasps from audience).

This is one of them.

I didn't know that many airlines have 'compassion/bereavement' fare rates. 

Seems obvious that they should.....now. But I guess I'm lucky in that I've never encountered it.

Some airlines are up-front and organised about it, like Continental. For most it is more of a POA thing (Price on Application).

Anyway, I learned about it from Mark Ashley's post here.

Obviously you'll already know about it, but I thought I'd pass it on, just in case...

29 November 2008

V-Jam mood maps

Oh yes, I forgot. (I twittered about this yesterday but not much space to describe it)

In one session we had lots of fun with a simple, but not very realistic idea.

Every seatback terminal has a mood selector. Where you can set your mood: Tired, Hungry, Irritable, Happy, Calm, Perky, etc etc ...whatever.

The resulting colour-coded digital map on the bulkhead or in the galley (for the benefit of Cabin Attendents) would be great fun. :)

Imagine the solitary green guy who finds himself sat in the middle of a miserable all red section!

Brainstorming on how web technology can improve flying

There were some interesting ideas at yesterday's V-Jam - an all-day brainstorming session organised by Virgin Atlantic and Nesta at which 60 guests (techies, air travellers, bloggers, etc) were invited to do some blue skies thinking on ways air travel could be improved, particularly by technology and social media.

IMHO too much time was wasted on the traditional 'families v travellers' debate (how can you separate families with young children from adult travellers who want a peaceful flight). Greater minds than ours at longhaul airlines all over the world have been pondering this for years. Other than a bit of tweeking on schedules, pricing and seat allocation, there's very little airlines can do. Like cats & dogs, motorists & cyclists, roundheads & cavaliers, they'll just never get on!

I thought a couple of ideas were "flyers", but that's largely because I thought of them.

Social logbooks for aircraft (to compliment their maintenance logbooks). Virgin Atlantic already name their aircraft - Sweet Dreamer, Bubbles, Lady Penelope, etc. So they already have identities/personalities. Each aircraft should have its own digital log book rather like a blog which lists the social history of the aircraft - eg. posts by staff moderators about famous guests or incidents - but the main contribution would be from passengers themselves. Like a guestbook, passengers can write (and read) posts when they are on board.

Flights are often about the big things in life - going to weddings, going to see long-lost relatives, going on the first teenage backpack adventure, going to secure that mega deal in New York, going to LA to make that movie, going to Miami for that operation - and coming back from those things. There's lots of time to write about those things, and to read them. A grandmother flying to Sydney to meet her grandchildren for the first time might search her aircraft's social logbook for "Australia + grandchild" and read about other people's experiences.

Passengers might learn that theirs was one of the aircraft sent to rescue stranded Brits from Hurricane Frances, and maybe read some of the experiences written up by passengers returning on board. Or a search for "football" (tag?) might reveal that Becks flew on this aircraft to his new life at LA Galaxy. He might even have written about it himself.

On a practical level, each social logbook would need a moderator (eg. you wouldn't want seedy passengers leaving sexual fantasies for youngsters to read). They should be available as an option on the v-port entertainment system. It would be good if there was a wireless interface with the on-board server so that could write using their own laptops (a bit hard to write anything lengthy on controller keypads). It would be good/interesting if all social logbooks could be available to read externally through the Virgin website. Maybe passengers could use a unique ref on their boarding card to login and add extra comments or images days or weeks after a flight.

Travel inspiration search engine. (I didn't entirely think of this one! Jeremy Head started a train of thought on where we get travel ideas. I've been refining in my mind my idea for a customised search engine to aggregate inspirational ideas for travellers.) Instead of working in the traditional way, using rational algorithms to produce SERPS based on authority/link popularity, it would be manually biased towards particular travel sources (based on human-edited authority ratings) and produces a 'SERPS mash' comprising x% newspaper articles, x% travel forums, x% review sites, x% travel blogs, x% social network posts, etc.

One of the other ideas (not from me) that straddled several other thought lines and ran throughout the day, was about enabling social interaction on board. There was a lot of interesting talk about opt-in systems that allow passengers to register their interests and find others on the flight that they might meet, sit next to, chat online with, or engage with in some way.

It's based on the 'six degrees of separation' concept. Put another way, in any group of thirty people it's an almost mathematical certainty that two of them will share a birthday. On a flight of 350 people it it inevitable that many will know people in common, or more practically, will share similar interests or professions. Put even another way....wouldn't you want to know if there are other Arsenal supporters on board - all right-thinking people would!

26 November 2008

Disappointing use of Tripadviser muscle

Surveys are a pretty standard PR tool, and Tripadviser have just published a pretty standard survey that I'm sure will get some coverage because it appeals to our baser instincts.

It's on Travel Annoyances. 

Apparently the top ten are..

1. Children kicking your seat back 31%
2. Rude seat recliners 21%
3. Loud mobile phone conversations 16%
4. Passengers taking too long to stow overhead baggage 12%
5. People getting up before the seatbelt sign is off 5% 
6. Armrest hogs 4% 
7. Passengers consuming smelly food 4% 
8. Travellers blocking moving walkways 3%
9. “Shoulder surfers” reading over your shoulder 1% 
10. People wandering in front of airport service carts 1%

That'll get coverage because because it immediately taps into our own experiences in a 'Yeah, I've been there' kinda way, but here comes the clincher... The Top Ten most annoying travellers...

1. Americans 18% 
2. French 12% 
3. Germans 10% 
4. British 6%
5. Chinese 6%
6. Russians 5%
7. Japanese 5% 
8. Italians 5% 
9. Indians 2%
10. Emiratees 1%

Yeah! Now we're talking! That pretty much guarantees coverage in our hate-brigade tabloids who can use it to reinforce all those stereotypical images of other nationalities. 

And it works everywhere else too. American media can indulge in outrage, French media can relish in American discomfort, the Germans can delight in being less hated than the French, and so on down the line. (Oh, that reminds me of an anecdote. I'll stick it in a comment down the bottom *)

Anyway (getting to the point) the reason I clicked on the press release from my news distribution service was the opening line...

"A TripAdvisor® survey of nearly 9,000 worldwide travellers has revealed the British are amongst the most annoying travellers in the world. "

Nine thousand! That's serious! That's a real sample! Normally PR puffer surveys are based on samples from 100 - 2000.

With that kind of resident audience to sample, Tripadvisor could do something worthwhile. A travel survey that actually adds to our knowledge. 

Listen up Tripadvisor guys, 'Most Annoying Travellers' is un-worthy. Add to the conversation or shut up.

16 November 2008

The truth about endangered broadcasters

I've just watched a trailer on ITV for a series of reports by ITV news science editor, Lawrence McGinty,  about polar bears.

He'll be viewing them from a tourist tundra buggy, seeing how an Intuit community fend them off, and watching helicopters drug them & fly them to safe areas.

What irritates me is we've seen all this before on specialist nature programmes. It's ok to go over it again, but the series title is "The Truth About Polar Bears", as if it is an 'exclusive'.

What arrogance, they just don't geddit! It's 2008 and they still think they are one of only a handful of  gatekeepers broadcasting to the nation.

What's that sound? 

It's the sound of a cluetrain running over an ancient relic.

12 November 2008

Farewell QE2... but not from me

Back around 1993 somebody offered me a competition prize to run on my radio programme - a trip to New York out on Concorde & back on QE2 (or the other way round). 

"A pity", I told my boss the Programme Controller when I happened to mention to him that I was turning it down, "because I could use a good prize right now."

"Why are you turning it down?" he asked.

"Well, it's all so dated now. Concorde & QE2 may have been sexy icons back in the 70's when the concept of luxury travel was personified by Alan Wicker, or Leonard Rossiter & Joan Collins pouring Cinzano over each other, but it's the nineties now, for heavens sake!"

"Don't be so sure", he said, "watch..."

In those days we had a big open-plan office. He raised his voice. "Anybody want to go to New York on QE2?"

A comprehensive forest of hands shot skyward.

He turned to me. "See? They're still sexy!"

I realised then, fifteen years ago, that I was out of touch on this one. And I still am.

To be fair, I admired Concorde and was sorry to see it go, but in my book QE2 was/is an old relic and I'm astonished it has taken this long to get rid of it.

11 November 2008

easyCar growing

easyCar is celebrating 10,000 car rental bookings in Cyprus over the past three years.

I wasn't sure whether to be impressed by that. It doesn't sound like a lot, but then (gets calculator out) that's 278 a month...just over 9 rentals a day, seven days a week, summer and winter, on average. I suppose that's quite good.

The "Obama effect" on Kenya

Kenya's tourism industry has been in the doldrums recently but now all that is over, according to the Kenya Tourist Board. 

Not only did the government create a new national public holiday on 6 Nov, but in yesterday's press conference at the World Travel Market in London, Kenya's Minister of Tourism, noted that they are anticipating a 10-15% increase in visitors from the United States. 

30 October 2008

Bad directory! Shame on you!

I'm feeling a little guilty.

I got a phone call this afternoon from a site visitor who was wondering if I had any more information on a Ski Chalet specialist website which I list on Travel-Lists, because he was interested in booking a chalet in the French Alps and they wanted full payment up front. He just wanted to know if I could recommend them. 

...yea, I expect so. It wouldn't be on Travel-Lists if I didn't think it was worthy.

As I looked up the listing, and from there, checked out the website...I had a sinking feeling. This site did meet any of my basic criteria....most of all, no transparency. 

Bad enough that there was no sign of any professional affiliation/licensing scheme/financial protection  (no ABTA, AITO, AITO Trust, ATOL, Travel Trust Assoc, etc), but there was just no transparency at all - no address, no Terms & Conditions page, no About Us page, nothing. The kind of site I hate.

I told him to avoid them, suggested a couple of alternatives, and deleted them from Travel Lists.

But how could it have slipped through in the first place? (... unless - maybe, fingers crossed - it wasn't like that when it started out.)

I would name names, but I could do without the legal hassles. They were shit, and you won't find them on my site anymore.


06 October 2008

To do list: Get a job or go skiing? hmmm...tricky!

Interesting press release from posh ski holiday operator, Fish & Pips.

Following the recent Lehman Brothers banking collapse, gourmet ski specialists Fish & Pips, received calls from a number of the bank's former employees enquiring about cancelling their winter holiday.  Rather than lose the entire booking Fish & Pips offered the employees a further 10% discount, which they all accepted.

The operator has now opened this offer to all Lehman Brother employees who were working for the bank at the time of its collapse. 

Comments Holly Fisher, co-founder of Fish & Pips: “It's unlikely those who were working for Lehman Brothers when it went bust will now be able to afford a ski holiday this winter.  So for the month of October we will be offering all former employees of the bank (when it went into liquidation) a 10% discount on the cost of our 2008/9 skiing holidays in Méribel.”

I can't decide whether this is clever/sensitive marketing or cynical/exploitative...?

02 October 2008

Journalists do copy articles wholesale

There's always a lot of chatter in media circles about "bad" or "lazy" journalists who use other people's work, and I've generally assumed that there are many journalists who hover in that grey area of 'research'  where ideas, facts and elements of other articles are worked into their own. 

I don't think there's anything wrong, for example, in finding a useful fact in somebody's article - "the Plastic Duck Company Ltd recently supplied 40,000 plastic ducks to an Arab businessman for use in his several swimming pools" - phoning the Plastic Duck company to ask "is this true?" and then writing it into your own article about swimming pools.

And I've always assumed that bad/lazy journos just fall the wrong side of that. They take the story and use it un-checked and in the worst case, copy the original paragraph more or less word for word. 

I have never believed stories that sometimes journos take whole articles and pass them off as their own. I mean, how would you expect to get away with it in a Google-ised world?


I was poleaxed by a feather with my jaw hanging open when I visited a friends' house yesterday and they showed me three articles in a supplement published last week by one of the UK's most highly respected broadsheet newspapers. My friends are both respected and well established specialist journalists writing on the marine industry. Two of the articles were based on articles they had written in the last couple of years, with large chunks lifted more-or-less word for word. The third, written (supposedly) by a well known journalist on that paper was a straight word-for-word copy!!!!!

What the F**K were these journos thinking??

I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. 

Needless to say, there is some shit heading their way.

11 September 2008

Take the money and run, Virginmedia! ...or not

My dad, who was a very successful businessman, always used to say (often while standing in a queue for the till in a shop) that one key indicator of a badly-run business is making customers wait to pay.

No delay in meeting customers' expectations is good, but making people wait when they are ready to hand over the 'readies' is just plain stupid!

I wanted to give Virginmedia a couple of hundred pounds for their splendid services this morning. They do have an online payment system but it has stalled on me a couple of times in the past, leaving me unsure whether the payment had been taken or not, so I phoned the Virginmedia Payments line...only to find myself in a call centre queue of "over 10 mins".

Now, let me think......  hang about with a warm ear for ten minutes in order to deplete my bank account..... or maybe leave it for now..... hmm ......... tricky..........

09 September 2008

Nice things said about Armenia

I was doing some research on Armenia yesterday and posted a quote I found about Armenia on the private members' forum on the British Guild of Travel Writer's site. Almost immediately some of my well-learned colleagues added a few more.

Here are my two favourites...

"If the scriptures are rightly understood it was in Armenia that Paradise was placed." - Lord Byron.

"I should like to see any power in the world destroy this race. This small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the deserts without food and water, burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia." - William Saroyan, Armenia American writer.

05 September 2008

Online PR - A simple survey

I'm going to conduct a little research. 

I'm curious to find out how many PRs (later I'm going to try journalists) are actively using the tools of "Web 2.0". 

So I'm using Google Docs to collate a simple survey with three questions...

1) Do you blog?
2) Do you use a social network? (eg facebook, myspace, second life, twitter, etc)
3) Do you use a newsreader? (eg google newsreader, bloglines)

I'm distributing it directly by email to approx 200 PRs in the travel pr sector, and hopefully by other means (yet to be agreed) to a wider cross-section of PRs. (I don't think I can embed it here, or on my Linked-in or Facebook pages for fear of biasing the results!)

I'll post the results I get here on this blog when I've got a reasonable sized sample.

Eleven travel websites to watch

Ginny McGrath at Times Online has put together a list of ten.

I've got one to add.


I found it yesterday.

Somewhere for disgruntled travellers to sound off... and, consequently, somewhere PRs & Brand Managers will want to keep their eye on!


Good or bad PR can just come down to timing

I was reminded of that a couple of years ago when Crystal Ski had a launch party for their new season brochure including an unusual/exotic ski location - Mount Lebanon. Less then 24 hrs later the Israelis invaded and Lebanon was - at least temporarily - wiped off the tourist map.

I was reminded of it this morning when I started reading the daily summary of press releases from Travmedia.

The Born Free Foundation have written a stinging critique of zoos who keep Pandas as part of a conservation programme, especially Edinburgh Zoo.

Born Free urges Ministers and Edinburgh Zoo to abandon panda plan.

Following the sad news of the death of a newborn panda in a Japanese zoo, the Born Free Foundation has written today urging decision-makers to consider the global picture instead of continuing to support Edinburgh Zoo’s misguided plan to import pandas from China.

Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said today: “When will we stop making excuses for zoos? Education, conservation, research are all high-brow justifications for the inexcusable. And the case of Edinburgh’s plans to bring in giant pandas makes the case. The chances of successful breeding are tiny. The educational value is, at best, superficial. And the research seems to me more about keeping these creatures locked up for life than genuinely contributing to improving their survival chances in the wild.”

In Europe, giant pandas have been a novelty feature of zoos in England, Germany, Austria and Spain, yet it is believed that there have only ever been two successful births of pandas in Europe, and only one of these has involved natural conception. Between 1982 and 2007, despite the presence of pandas in zoos, no cubs were born in Europe. It has long been acknowledged that panda reproduction in captivity is extremely problematic, and many zoos have resorted to techniques such as artificial insemination in their efforts to produce cubs. In the majority of cases in Western zoos, captive-bred panda cubs do not survive. In addition, giant pandas can suffer from behavioural problems in captivity, including repetitive “pacing, pirouetting, head-tossing, self-biting, somersaulting, masturbating, swaying, tongue-flicking, sitting up, paw-sucking, cage-climbing, and regurgitating” (Swaisgood RR et al. (2003). Zoo Biology 22: 347-354)

In March 2007, at the height of the hysteria surrounding the polar bear cub Knut at Berlin Zoo, disturbance from the increased number of zoo visitors was blamed as the stress-related cause of death of female panda Yan Yan. Berlin Zoo currently houses a solitary male panda, Bao Bao.

Laura Zimprich from the German animal protection organisation Animal Public e.V. said: “I have known the panda Bao Bao (who is nearly my age) since I was a little child. Since that time, I have experienced so many things in my life and yet Boa Boa is still in the same place, still staring at the same walls. Berlin Zoo has kept giant pandas for 28 years – in that time, there have been no successful births, but two giant pandas died. There has been no benefit for the pandas in the wild. I believe that the keeping of giant pandas in Western zoos does not help to save the pandas. It only brings money for the zoos.”

STOP PRESS: Zoo Atlanta, one of a handful of Western zoos with giant pandas, has just taken its "Panda Cam" offline amidst fears that something is going badly wrong with its newborn panda. The baby panda is now believed to be in intensive care.

How unfortunate for Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts whose news release: “We Love Panda” programme launches at Changri-la hotel, Chengdu appears almost immediately underneath in Travmedia's roundup!

Shangri-La Chengdu staff with giant pandaShangri-La Hotel, Chengdu’s “We Love Panda” programme was recently launched with a staff visit to the hotel’s adopted giant panda in Yaan Bi Feng Xia Resort -- a temporary home for giant pandas from the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve that was damaged in the Wenchuan earthquake on 12 May 2008.

29 August 2008

Will the Zoom message be lost on consumers?

When the first reports came in yesterday afternoon about Zoom aircraft being impounded my first thoughts were 'what a shame for everyone involved. It was a good airline on a noble cause; trying to operate low fare flights over the Atlantic'.

My second thought was... 'told you so!'

I've been banging on and on about the role of the internet for travellers...

Unless you are buying simple short-haul flights & a hotel for a weekend break, use the Internet for research only. Always book holidays and long-haul travel on the phone and with a bonded agent or operator.

This is for a number of reasons, but in the case of the Zoom collapse, I think The Times puts it rather succinctly:

Travellers left stranded by the collapse of the budget airline Zoom were forced today to pay thousands of pounds for alternative flights, or cancel their dream holidays.

The airline's collapse has left 4,500 UK passengers already on holiday abroad high and dry. The Civil Aviation Authority warned that only those who had booked their flights as part of a package deal were guaranteed a flight home without having to buy another ticket.

"If you book direct, you're on your own," a spokesman said..

26 August 2008

So! Pyjama-men are real!

I was half asleep when I heard this story this morning on the radio, but awake enough to realise that it was a significant sighting of what I've always called "pyjama-men".

Pyjama-men (and women) are professional Web 2.0/PR 2.0 opinion formers or guiders. Their job is to present the 'company line', and seed the 'right' ideas in forums, in blog comments, and in social networks.

I named them after those old style pyjama bottoms with the thick string that gets pulled out of balance in the washing machine. To get the missing end back out of its hole you have to slowly & gently coax, massage, cajoal, prod, pull, push and persuade it back towards the daylight. That's what pyjama-men do online.

Up until now their existance has been semi-theoretical, but because the influence of the Internet is so great, I can't imagine they don't exist. This medium is simply too important to just leave opinion-forming to the great unwashed.

I've always supposed that lobby groups, political parties, government and corporations have shadowy PR people performing this sort of role, and sometimes thought I've spotted their posts.

After all, if for example you were an airline who had suffered a spate of airborne incidents. Wouldn't you want to have an anonymous poster on the aviation forums posing the balanced or counter view to all the "their maintenance sucks" postings springing up where the mainstream media journalists are reading them?

It's a job that requires a knowledge of the net, subtlety, patience and good writing skills (nobody will read bad stuff)...hmm.....I wonder what the pay is like....? ;)

New...ish website from the TIA

There's a little bit of Internet lag here.

USA Today reports......today..... that the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) has launched a new website, through which it is "reaching out to foreign tourists".

What's odd, and what confused me at first, is that the TIA told us about this over a month ago (15 July).

It is actually an Associated Press article, but I don't think is was AP who were lagging behind.

Also slightly confusing was the TIA's lead assertion: that DiscoverAmerica.com is "the United States' first-ever official travel and tourism website".

So what was SeeAmerica.org which they launched in Jan 06??

25 August 2008

US voters will decide our online future

There may not be much distance between US presidential candidates Obama & McLean in the polls but there is a wide blue ocean of open water between their policies on the Internet.

It's mostly about 'net neutrality' - a huge talking point in the geekosphere. I'll summarise it as snappily as I can: the big telcos who carry all this digital traffic on their wires would like to charge not purely by volume but by content too, offering a 2-speed highway with a premium service for big corporations and ordinary speeds/bandwidths to everything else.

McLean says (roughly) it should all be left up to the marketplace. ("an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices").

Obama says he will prevent the telcos from creating"a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers".

Government manderins and corporate fat cats have been cursing the gods since that fateful day in 1989 when an academic published his ideas for a World Wide Web. "Why couldn't it have been a commercial visionary? One of us!"

This could be their chance to turn the Internet from an open-access social network to a commercial one.

...pity we don't all get a vote

18 August 2008

Who are your most influential communicators?

New Wave PR have started a meme on the top 3 most influential communicators.

As you can see, several peeps have picked it up and run with it.

I didn't get tagged, but I'm joining in anyway!

The greatest communicators, almost by definition, must be among those with the greatest charisma. So logically the likes of Nelson Mandela or Bill Clinton should be there.

But the question is a subjective one: who's communication skills have most influenced the way I think about communicating?

  1. No 1 is easy. I agree with whoever nominated Richard Branson. I've met him a couple of times (and his dad & mum, once!) and I like him, even if I don't always applaud what he does. The important thing is that he was personifying his company, and talking to consumers as real people, in a Web 2.0 bloggy non-corporate style... before Tim Berners Lee (another nominee) even invented Web 0.1!

    And that has always felt instinctively right to me. The relationship between corporation and consumer in the old world was un-balanced and formal. Companies (and PRs) paid lip service to the 'customer always being right', but micro-managed the relationship and kept them at arms length. In the new world the relationship is consensual, and a street-savvy consumer/audience has to be engaged naturally.

    So, who else have I seen doing that, and sub-consciously emulated?

  2. (I'm going to regret this because I think I am possibly the last person in London standing up for him) Ken Livingstone. A real wysiwyg politician. Like him or loathe him, his communication style - NOT patronising his audience and inviting dialogue & engagement with them at every opportunity - again, pre-dates PR/Web2.0.

  3. And for my third...

    I'm going to give it to a true communicator whose 'off the script' style is WAY more influential than I think anyone suspects... BBC Radio 4's Eddie Mair.

15 August 2008

British Guild of Travel Writers new website

It's been a busy week

...made seriously more stressful on Tuesday evening when my Pro Tools digital audio editing computer died just as I was trying to finish a job, and not 24hrs after my friends at Webit PR - the social media news release specialists had just made me a business partner (making audio clips for their clients)!

( I took it apart and fixed it with a bit of open heart surgery. So now I'm feeling VERY smug!)

Anyway... That was not why the week was busy...

British Guild of Travel Writers websiteThe week was busy because we finally launched the BGTW's new website (www.bgtw.org) after years of planning and months of building. (Busy for me because I'm the webmaster. But made easier by the guys at Marbrow who did the programming!).

Monday & Tuesday were tied up in re-directing the nameservers from our old site to our new one, connecting up the e-commerce, and adding all the last bits of missing info, not to mention recording my thoughts for the press release...

Weds was the launch night at the trendy Ambassadors hotel in Bloomsbury (thanks guys for hosting it!) and the last two days have been hectic as it fills up with visitors and registered users logging on for the first time.

So... the normal routine of travel editing and blogging has taken a back seat. I'll need to catch up now.

Comment spam - what are they thinking?

I will happily publish comments, even bad ones, on this blog as long as they are not obvious spam (feels like spam, looks like spam, smells like spam - easy to spot!) AND they are roughly 'on subject'.

I amazed at how often a comment arrives in my in-tray for moderation and I think 'oh good. I hope this will be interesting' only to find it's somebody sounding off on a subject completely of their own choosing.

...like the recent one from somebody upset about geographical names used in a publication I have never once mentioned in the 3+ years this blog has been running!

You know who you are! Muppet!

07 August 2008

PR speak - you've gotta love it!

I love this!

A press release from MSC Cruises....

MSC Cruises' UK & Ireland office has appointed Sarah Longbottom as Head of Public Relations, effective from 1 August.

Ms Longbottom has more than a decade of experience working in the travel industry, as editor of leading B2B publications TTG Middle East & North Africa, based in Cyprus and, most recently, Travel Weekly in the UK.

Commenting on her appointment, a newly created role in the company, Ms Longbottom said: "MSC Cruises is a dynamic company with a young fleet and big plans for further expansion.

"There is much untapped potential for cruising in the UK market and we anticipate a huge response to our new products and itineraries for next year".


How quickly they learn 'PR speak' when they change sides!

And how disappointingly quick to generate the bland quote.

She would never have written anything like that as a journalist.

At a tangent... there are a couple of things for Ms Longbottom to address when she starts work...

1) .pdf is not a suitable medium for press releases. Change it to Word docs.

2) make sure the website keeps up to date. This release is dated yesterday. I read it as a news story, and came to the MSC website hoping to source the original release. To my amazement, it was actually there. That is VERY rare. Most companies' website media pages are hopelessly out of date. They issue/distribute a release today but don't get around to posting on their website for weeks. Note to Ms Longbottom - keep up the good work!

Singapore Airlines A380 milestone

Blimey! Already?

Singapore Airlines has just operated its 1000th A380 commercial flight.

I know these (V expensive) pieces of capital equipment are not making money when they are sitting on the ground, but it seems like only yesterday they were taking off on their first commercial flight!

(Actually it was 25th Oct last year)

Yeah, yeah....I know.... and policemen aren't really getting younger either.....groan

31 July 2008

Americans get a new passport card

The U.S. authorities have started distributing their new wallet-sized Passport Card designed for use on land and sea journeys between the United States and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It is not valid for international travel by air, for which Americans will still need their blue booklet passport.

The card, which they can start using in June 2009, has an RFID chip that can be scanned by DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, to retrieve photographs and other biographical information stored in secure government databases before the traveller reaches the inspection booth so that inspection can bespeeded up. For privacy protection, no personal information is stored on the electronic chip itself. The chip will have only a unique number pointing to a stored record contained in secure government databases.

No doubt our government will start creating & highlighting similar travel benefits into Europe for the dreaded ID card as they try to persuade us to take it up, and then force the resistant remainder to have one by changing the law and making it compulsory. (Then you can look forward to the future moments when your local friendly parking attendant and other petty officials demand your ID card.)

According to the Home Office's website "he exact format of an ID cardisn ’t yet decided but it’s likely that it will be a credit card-sized plastic card featuring the holder’s photograph and a computer chip storing basic personal information".

Which is very similar to the format of the new British biometric e-passport, which "features a new design and additional security features, including a chip containing a scanned image of the passport holder's unique features and personal details".

Spotted the difference yet...between us and the Americans?

That's right, our details will be carried on the card itself, encrypted in a 'secure' chip.

And we can all guess how secure that will be! Probably as secure as the triple-armor-plated, never-will-be-cracked, secure embedded chip used on the Oyster card and many other security cards these days.... which was hacked with great ease by a team of researchers at the Raboud University in Holland in April. (By the way, a fortnight ago a Dutch court backed their intention to publish the details of their hack on the Internet!)

It makes you want to weep!

29 July 2008

Virgin Galactic is NOT a travel story

Virgin's mastery of PR, packaging and presentation have, as usual, overwhelmed the media. So you cannot get away from the news today that Sir Richard and Bert Rutan have unveiled their 'mothership' Eve - which is the first part of their spaceship combo.

I've written about this before. I'm uncomfortable about the repetitive use of "space tourism" and "space tourists". This has nothing, conceptually, to do with tourism. This is not a journey with a 'destination' where you can get out and meet the locals or take a weekend break. I think broadcast channels, newspapers and websites tend to file this story under 'travel' because of Sir Richard's associations with the travel industry, but this is at best a 'transport' story. To my mind it is actually a 'science' story.

And that is the project's most intriguing and inspiring aspect. Forget taking thrill riders into space. That's the job of Alton Towers, Disneyland, et al. This project should be concentrating on freight - delivering small packages into space.

If we are going to develop our capabilities and expand our knowledge in space we need to be sending lots of probes off to explore our local planets, and preparing for permanent or semi-permanent manned colonies...on the moon first and then Mars. To do that we need a cheap, quick and easy way of delivering stuff into orbit.

We should be mass-producing small semi-automated freight pods for Sir Richard to put into space. Hundreds of little boxes than can carry building materials, food, equipment and other supplies to a point on the Moon and Mars so they are already there when manned expeditions arrive.

That's the role for Virgin Galaxy.

So Virgin, stop sending me press releases as a travel editor and distributing them through Travmedia.co.uk - this has nothing to do with travel!

'All Business Class' not dead

Titan Airways Boeing 737-300QCThe "All Business Class" airlines may have died (Maxjet, Eos, Silverjet) but that doesn't mean the end of all business class flights....or the demand for them

Titan Airways, a Stansted-based charter airline presented its newly configured 44-seat all-business class Boeing 737-300QC to some air charter brokers last week and say the response was unanimously positive.

Apparantly the aircraft has been in the Titan fleet for a year, but flying in a single class 130-seat layout. Now, after a three month reconfiguration, it features just 44 seats in a spacious business class layout.

The new layout is designed with corporate charters in mind - incentives, product launches, music tours and football charters. (One well known premiership team has already flown on the aircraft, they say.) It features two club-four seat arrangements at the front, with a coffee table that can convert to a full working/dining table for each club-four setting. A fixed divider separates these seats from the rest of the cabin, which has 36 forward facing seats with a seat pitch of approximately 62 inches – almost twice that of your average 737.

Each leather seat has a moveable headrest and footrest, ample recline and in-seat power connectivity for laptops, electrical equipment or inflight entertainment. Titan uses Mezzo hand held multi-channel units which play include a selection of films, short features and documentaries.

However, here's the clever twist... technically speaking, the aircraft is not exclusively Business Class.

It turns out, all the seats are palletised on a roller track and are removed inside one hour enabling the aircraft to undertake night flights for the Royal Mail. Clever eh? The seats are kept safe overnight in one of Titan’s hangars.

28 July 2008

It's 'Airline Consolidation Week'

Well, as fuel prices soar and the economic black clouds gather, everybody in the aviation industry has been talking about a period of airline mergers - with those smaller airlines who fail to find a partner, being left out in the cold to wither and die.

So this observation is far from newsworthy, but I'm struck with the sychronicity of news items this Monday morning...

  • BA has completed its purchase of the French regional airline, L'Avion. (Travel Daily)

  • China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airways are rumoured to be about to merge (Travel Daily & numerous Asian news outlets)

  • Austrian Airlines has been advised by management consultants it needs to be taken over by Lufthansa in order to survive (Expatica)

  • Ryanair shares nosedived this morning, knocking a fifth off the value of the airline, when they revealed a €90.5m loss for the first quarter of this year. (Telegraph)

  • The new and outgoing chief executives of Australian airline Qantas predicted today that soaring fuel prices will help spur a new wave of airline mergers, including for their own carrier. (AFP)

  • The European Commission has set a deadline (6 Aug) to speed up its inquiry into U.S.-based Delta Air Lines's proposed merger with Northwest Airlines. (Forbes)

---- Postscript Tues 29 July, 2008 ----

Ah, ok.... we can now add to that list British Airways and Iberia. So Airline Consolidation Week is well underway!

24 July 2008

Oh, that's quite clever...

Two Oh That's Quite Clever ideas I spotted today...

To get around the continuing security restrictions on liquids, Austrian Airlines have started handing all long-haul passengers their personal 0.5 litre bottle of Austrian Vöslauer spring water as they step on board.


Ocado - the Waitrose grocery delivery people - sent me an email today suggesting that if we were going on a self-catering holiday this summer in the UK, we could save a lot of effort by pre-ordering food & essentials and having them delivered to our holiday address.

Last weekend we were camping with 3,000 other people at the Larmertree music festival in Dorset. Now if Ocado could dream up a way to deliver to our tent, THAT would have been really clever!

23 July 2008

"Because the world is not flat"

power assisted luggage

... that's the sales strapline for the world's first power-assisted luggage.

I thought it was a joke when I first read about it, but apparantly not!

Still, I suppose at £700 each they won't have find too many 'challenged' travellers with deep pockets.

09 July 2008

Adventures in the Far East - you heard it here first

I went to the AITO summer press party last night (usually an outdoor BBQ at a London hotel, with the option to quickly move indoors if needed - and surprisingly, given our horrible weather at the moment, it wasn't needed!) and met up with several friends and aquaintances from both sides of the fence; travel journos & tour operators.

As a result I've got two 'tip-offs' for you this morning.

Inside Japan Tours (who specialise in just one thing - guess what! You can listen to their director, Simon King, talking to me a couple of years ago about how the company got started...here) are developing their 'Responsible Tourism' programme and are planning to offer working farm holidays on a Japanese farm in the rural south. It's not in their brochure yet, or even on a press release, but if you are interested you should give them a call.


KE Adventure Travel, (rated by the National Geographic's Adventure Magazine as the Best Trekking Operator On Earth) who operate small group trekking, climbing, family & biking tours in the mountainous regions of the world (over 40 countries), will be adding trips to the mountains of Taiwan next year, and winter activities on Lake Baikal in Russia. Again no detailed info. It won't appear in the brochure till October.

07 July 2008

Holidays more important to Brits than home ownership

I was talking to some friends on Sat evening about the state of the world in general (as yer do) and the economic downturn in particular.

"How is the travel business fairing?" they asked.

"Pretty well" I said. "I know a couple of tour operators who are very happy with bookings last month - well up on the same period last year."

Confused looks. This was not the answer they were expecting.

"No, really!" I said, "People always assume that one of the first things that families cut back on is holidays...when in fact it is one of the last".

A couple of my mates clearly still didn't quite believe it.

How I wish I had had to hand the survey stats that Travel Daily alerted me to this morning (though it turns out I could have had them. The survey that Travel Daily says was published "today", was actually published in May!).

The survey into 'Summer Travel Trends' was conducted by the travel search engine Kayak.co.uk. The sample numbers are frankly too small to give it any kind of serious consideration, but the general trend is easy enough to discern...

Q. Is taking a holiday at least once a year essential for your overall state of wellbeing/happiness?

A. 100% say 'yes'.

Q. Out of the following, which 5 things do you consider most important for your wellbeing?

Drinking /eating out once a week 61%
Being in a romantic relationship 58%
Having the latest gadgets 2%
Having private healthcare/pension 22%
Owning my own car 15%
Affording a hobby (eg gym membership) 76%
Shopping for clothes 44%
Having children 22%
Taking a holiday at least once a year 95%

Well that's pretty clear isn't it!

03 July 2008

Lederhosen in Singapore

This sounds a little surreal...

Wait... this sounds a lot surreal!

Singapore's Changi Airport PR have emailed to say that they and Lufthansa are promoting a new service to Munich by setting up a beer tent in the terminal.

At the Bavarian themed blue & white tent passengers can dress up in Bavarian costume and take part in a 'merriest passenger photo contest' (the prize is an economy ticket to Munich), all with the aid of a complimentary "cup" of beer, a pretzel, and performances of traditional German music and dances...plus a chance to play Oktoberfest themed games like Slide-A-Beer Mug and Toss-A-Pretzel.

The "Munich@Changi" celebrations run every evening between 5.00pm - 9.00pm till 15th July.

26 June 2008

P&O Cruises in yer face

I like P&O Cruises.

It's a good cruise line and I've known them since the Lord Sterling / Gwyn Hughes days when David Dingle (the now MD) was a young whipper-snapper .... well, actually he was the Marketing Director, but it doesn't sound as good!

But not this morning, I don't. No warm fuzzy feelings towards the brand this morning because they crossed the line.

Let me quote one of the Travel-Lists.co.uk mission statements about limiting the amount and type of advertising across the site...

4) Ease-of-use

Our 'lite' design is fast and simple to navigate. Alexa.com says we are: "Very fast. 89% of sites are slower". The reason is, it has no graphics, images are limited to thumbnail size pictures on the news pages only, and we have limited, text-only advertising - with no irritating pop-ups, pop-unders, on-mouseovers, or get-in-your-face-ers, cos like you, we hate the f**king things! (Hold on! You don't think that's a bit, gratuitously extreme? - Ed) ....... um..... no.

P&O Cruises in-yer-face web advertTake a look at this 'get-in-your-face-er' on my yahoo mail this morning. Not only is it there, it is an animated clip, with a temporary, on then off, close button in the top right corner. Can't see it? That's because in its dormant state, it is not visible.

It is almost impossible to avoid clicking on this ad in an attempt to get rid of it.

(At least I assume it is almost impossible. For me it was impossible. I could not close it without being taken to P&O's screen. I was unable to read my mail.)

Shame on you, David Dingle. Don't you guys know how the new web works? How in Web2.0 the relationship between advertiser and audience is much more balanced, natural and based on consent?

FOFO! as they say

(Fix-it Or F**** Off)

17 June 2008

Mitsubishi.co.uk - the triumph of design over practicality

Something very rare indeed happened to me last night.

  • I was watching television - that in itself is a pretty rare occurance.

  • A commercial break started - Cue to go do something else, except this time I didn't.

  • I saw a car advertisement - No matter. I'm not in the least bit interested by cars.

  • ... for a Mitsubishi - Woah! Wait a minute! I AM interested by this one. It looks excellent!
(OK, here comes the sales manager's wet dream moment)

  • Ping! A light comes on somewhere in a dark and unused corner of my small brain. In Homer Simpson 'Duff Beer' voice I say to myself: "mmmm...car...must find out more..."

  • I go to the computer, do a search and arrive at Mitsubishi website. Search for the model and...

  • ...find that the page won't load because it needs some wizzy plugin that my completely up-to-date computer can't download for some reason.

  • Try twice .... give up.

A classic example of how not to try to sell something on the web - make the website too complicated for its own good.

16 June 2008

Hilary Bradt gets MBE

Hilary Bradt MBEI'm not a big fan of royalty and all its trappings, but I am a big fan of Hilary Bradt - the founder of Bradt Travelguides, which I've mentioned from time to time in this blog.

It turns out Hilary (who is a friend & colleague in the British Guild of Travel Writers) has been included in this year’s Birthday Honours List just published by Buckingham Palace ‘for services to the tourist industry and to charity’. She is now Hilary Bradt MBE.

The honour acknowledges Hilary’s achievements in opening up new destinations and encouraging ‘responsible tourism’, even before the phrase was coined.

Well done Hilary

10 June 2008

Some historic aviation milestones to be celebrated in the next 12 months

Bleriot flying across the Channel
Back in 2002 I emailed United Airline's UK PR, saying: "Dec 17 next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight. What will you be doing to mark the event?"

I think that may have got a few PR minds quickly working at United because I seem to remember in the end they were quite closely involved with the celebrations at Kitty Hawk in Dec 2003...but the lack of any really clever marketing campaigns or newspaper articles did demonstrate to me that, surprisingly, very few PR folk or journalists bother to look ahead and anticipate what story ideas could be coming up.

It is not rocket-science. It's an exercise I do each year, and I have just this week been doing it again - looking at what travel related events are reaching their 25th, 50th or 100th anniversary later this year and in 2009.

There are a bunch of interesting ones. I won't tell you all, but I will point out a couple of upcoming aviation milestones....

  • On 4 October 2008 we'll be marking the 50th anniversary of the first transatlantic scheduled jet service launched by BOAC using the De Haviland Comet 4 to fly between London and New York.

  • On 26 October 2008 we'll be marking Pan Am's response, a New York - Paris service using the Boeing 707.

But the big aviation celebration will take place next year on 25th July. The 100th anniversary of Frenchman Louis Bleriot's successful attempt to be the first man to fly across the Channel. His 43 minute flight from Sangatte to Dover Castle enabled him to claim the £1,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail.

Notice, this anniversary comes just 6 years after the one celebrating man's first successful attempt to get airborne at all. So it was quite an impressive feat!

05 June 2008

HM Customs podcast

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have released a new podcast about what travellers can bring back into the country.

It's too long (8+ minutes) and rather bland (sounds like one of those po-faced government infomercials from the 80s) but at least it's there.

Now all HMCR have to do is embrace the spirit of Web 2.0 and try to sound like real people!

03 June 2008

Brothel statistics

Lol or cry? Not sure which...

I've just this second had a call from a woman at a PR company (don't know which) wanting to know the visitor stats for Travel-Lists.co.uk. No prob, but she had to wait for a few secs while I extracted last month's Unique Visitors figure.

She sounded a little deflated when I revealed that it was just over 5,000....and so did I.

When I put the phone down I scrolled back to this point last year. The monthly unique visitors then were regularly over 17,000.

What happened? Google.

I've blogged about it before. The long-anticipated Google crackdown on paid links & directories began to bite in Sept last year. Google can't distinguish between good directories and bad ones, and thinks any directory with a payment mechanism is evil.

It's a bit like running a legit massage parlour. People (Google) still assume its a brothel.

Another example of consumer power

EasyJet taking offI'm always interested to see examples of travel consumers exploiting the new power that the Internet has given them, to complain about bad service.

A decade or so ago, it was only travellers like me (a travel journo) who could complain about bad service with any sort of clout. Travel and transport companies could safely ignore howls of protest from anybody else and, if the worst came to the worst, leave them to flounder about in lengthy and confusing claims procedures. Now they do so at their peril because anybody could have a 'loud voice' on the web.

This week's 'loud voice' is John Heald - Senior Cruise Director with Carnival Cruises who has pretty much had it with easyJet.

Unfortunately for them he writes one of the top 100 most popular blogs in the world (2+ million readers since he started just over a year ago) and in last Thursday's edition he ripped into the treatment he recently received at their hands.

Even easyJet, who in common with their low-cost airline rivals are notoriously thick-skinned, must have wondered what impact his comments would have on their reputation, particularly if it gets picked up in the blogosphere and begins to run...oops.

02 June 2008

I hate bland PR quotes

Three business executives outdoors
One of my pet hates is the standard PR quote used for padding. (I have mentioned this before)

PRs know that all journos need to quote somebody to make a story stand up. So every press release comes with a ready-made quote, 'off the shelf'. Many are bland and banal 'corporate speak'.

Let me go find some examples....

(returns 5 mins later - promise!) OK, these are some of today's. They are by no means the worst I've seen, but they'll help illustrate what I mean.

  1. [company]’s Chief Executive Officer, [name], added: "We are most proud to have contributed and to continue contributing to [company]’s growth. The largest cruise operator in Europe, [company] has just celebrated its millionth passenger in the year. I am confident that this alliance will stand the test of time and enable our companies to further consolidate our positions as market leaders in our respective business areas."

  2. The deployment of [company] technology is another great UDOT success story according to Governor [name]. "Utah's decision to deploy[company] is making Utah highways safer, cleaner and more efficient for us all."

  3. "The overwhelming popularity of [company]'s innovative, express bus service prompted us to expand to the East Coast," said [name], president and chief operating officer of [company]. "Our Midwest same city sales are up 107 percent from 2007."

    "Seventy-nine percent of our customers are choosing to travel with [company] instead of driving, flying or taking the train and have been delighted with their travel experiences, " [name] added. "With current gas prices and financial strains, [company] continues to be the best value for the money choice of the traveling public."

  4. Hotel Relationships Director, [name] comments: ‘The rapid growth of [company] is a result of constant evolution to meet the needs of customers and hotels. We’re thrilled to welcome both [name] and [name] to the [company] team, their expert knowledge will help us enhance our service to the relevant hoteliers in Scotland and the North of England. By having a market manager based in specific regions we can get a much better understanding of the markets and individual hotel needs’.

See! They are THAT easy to find!

Now look at them.

"With current gas prices and financial strains, [company] continues to be the best value for the money choice of the traveling public"

"I am confident that this alliance will stand the test of time and enable our companies to further consolidate our positions as market leaders in our respective business areas."

I mean, cmon! Does anyone in real life really talk like that?

I know they do in corporate presentation mode, but in today's Web 2.0 world consumers can smell hype at a thousand paces. Instead, they respond to, and believe in, normal kitchen-table conversations. That's why company blogs have taken off.

So what is the solution?

Well, I have two...

The first is for PRs to use SMNRs and include multiple and extended .mp3 interview & conversation clips, from which journos can select the quotes they want. (But then, since I make those sort of podcast clips for people, I would say that wouldn't I!)

The second is for PRs to simply inject some personality into the quotes they quote. When you phone your client to ask for a quote (or tell them the quote you are proposing), make it something personal that couldn't be said in the body of the release. IE Instead of...

"We are delighted to add this new hotel to our portfolio, which expands our properties in Scotland to 11"


"I've been visiting this hotel every month during its construction and getting more and more excited with every visit, but when my 12-year-old daughter saw it for the first time yesterday and said 'Dad. it's beautiful', I knew we have a success on our hands"

It's not rocket science, it's people science.

31 May 2008

Lateral thinking from First Luggage

Woman surrounded by luggage
I quite admire this move from First Luggage.

They are a fairly well-known web-based start-up in the travel sector. They specialise in forwarding travellers' bags so, for example, passengers (well-heeled passengers) can avoid carrying loads of bags to the airport by having them forwarded to their hotel or villa. The service operates throughout Europe, North America, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand.

Obviously, like any other business, they've been casting about for other potential markets, and have come up with this one.... Students

The launch blurb reads...

"So you’ve survived your first year at university? But, how are you going to manage the stress of shuffling all your stuff between home and halls? Think smart and choose First Luggage to take the load of your mind, and your hands. If you’re fed up lugging heavy cases between university and home First Luggage’s Smarter Student service will do the work for you - now there’s something you won’t hear too often!"

Good thinking!

06 May 2008

Don't like this travel company? Then find a blog and post your thoughts!

I don't get many comments on this blog, and some I reject (not publish) because they are not relevant, but even though the numbers are small, a couple of comments submitted in the past few days have highlighted a clear trend - the way social media is used as a platform by disaffected consumers.

The two key points are:

  • The majority of comments submitted to this blog are a subjective complaint about bad practise by a company or organisation mentioned in the post.

  • All of those are made in response to a post which paints the company in a favourable or neutral light.

IE. If I pour scorn on British Airways, nobody adds their 'two-penny-worth'. If I mention Raphaels Bank, Qatar Airways or Nortours in a favourable light, readers queue up to denounce them.

It's easy to understand why, and easy to do. Until now individual consumers have had little or no voice for their complaints. Now suddenly they do. If you feel you've been ripped off, wouldn't you want to shout as loud as you can? All you have to do is use a search engine to hunt for your target's name in blogs and forums, and post your complaint.

PR man, Neil McLean, is often warning companies to be aware of their online image in the new world of Web 2.0. I guess this is one of the reasons why.

01 May 2008

Bradt Travel Guide to Iraq - unexplained

Bradt Travelguide to Iraq, 2nd editionHow frustrating! I was sitting in my car listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning feeling very sorry for the peeps at Bradt Travelguides as a rare opportunity for good publicity on primetime national radio was flushed down the toilet.

Bradt have just updated their guide to Iraq, which they first published in 2002, a few months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It was a bad interview (at 8.51am if you want to listen to it) that never got off the ground. Sarah Montague never moved on from her first and pretty much only question: variations on: "is it a guide for tourists?". The author, Karen Dabrowska, just got hopelessly bogged down in a dour academic explanation of the subject matter.

So the audience never really got a feel for the fact that this was a timely book from a publisher that has a reputation for covering off-the-beaten-track destinations, and that it was never intended to be a practical tourist guide, more a sort of stocktaking inventory of what lay in the cradle of civilisation between the Tigris and the Euphrates....before the Americans started bombing it.

Bradt Travelguide to Iraq, 1st editionNor was it explained that far from being a failure in terms of sales - something you might expect for a guidebook aimed at non-existant tourists - it sold very well, and there is anecdotal evidence that many copies were taken to Iraq in the hands of military personel, security services and NGOs. (A case of: "Wait a minute gunner. Before we put a tank round into that minaret, let me just check the Bradt guide to see if it is a historic monument!")

The publication of the 1st edition triggered a certain amount of respect and admiration from the travel and publishing trades for Hilary Bradt and her team. Sadly
Karen Dabrowska's interview made them look ridiculous.

25 April 2008

More national disgrace

Under our consitution, members of my professional association can be thrown out if by their behaviour they 'bring it into disrepute'.

Anybody who thinks that British Airways, BAA and T5 haven't done that - brought our country and transport system into disrepute - should read Roger Collis' article in Sunday's edition of the New York Times. Collis is a longstanding and highly regarded business travel correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, as well known to Americans as Simon Calder is here. His article, entitled Heathrow Terminal 5: How to avoid it gives fellow Americans practical advice on how to travel to the UK without going through T5.

It begins...

It is hard to imagine that the airport experience, especially at London's dreaded Heathrow, could get any worse. But the opening of Terminal 5 on March 27 was a fiasco of epic proportions. British Airways, sole occupiers of the "state-of-the-art" terminal, canceled hundreds of flights; some 20,000 bags were parted from their owners — many are still lost

Nuff said.

24 April 2008

Only 1 in 5 holidaymakers use travel agents?

"Booking a holiday over the internet has become so popular that only one in five people use a travel agent, according to a new survey"
...says the Telegraph

That can't be right!

At least I really hope it isn't, because I have been vigorously arguing for years that the Internet is excellent for buying simple travel products (short breaks for 2, city pair flights) but for anything more complex you should use the Internet for research then pick up the phone and book with a real person at a travel agency or tour operator.

Aaaah! Wait a minute...

Who is Ciao Surveys?

An online shopping community. It turns out they operate a paid survey system. People signed up with them get paid (£1-£5) to fill out online surveys. So hardly a well-balanced random survey sample of the British public. These are people who are almost certainly wedded to their computers and probably buy everything online.


23 April 2008

Boeing / Airbus love fest

Here's a piece of trade news I hadn't expected.

There's been more bad blood between the aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus than there ever was between the Montagues & the Capulets, the Lancastrians & the Yorkists, or, on a more contemporary footing, Ken Livingstone and the Evening Standard!

So what a surprise to read that:

Boeing and Airbus have signed an agreement to work together to ensure global interoperability in air traffic management as part of an effort to help reduce the impact of aviation on the environment.

The companies will seek the acceleration of improvements to the world's air transportation management system in order to increase efficiency and eliminate traffic congestion.

Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO, and Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO, signed the agreement between the two industry leaders at the sidelines of the third Aviation and Environmental Summit in Geneva.

"Airbus and Boeing are great competitors, and this has been a critical element that has sharpened our focus and efforts toward making aviation more efficient," Carson said. "While our approaches often differ, we are working towards the same goal -- to reduce aviation's environmental impact."

"I am convinced technology and innovation hold the key to reducing aviation's environmental impact and increasing eco-efficiency," Enders said. "And competition is a great motivator for this. Where Boeing and Airbus share a common position on the environment and safety, it is in all our interests that we cooperate to achieve our common goals more quickly."
...feather smashes writer to the ground!

22 April 2008

Google - it's all about money

Grrr! That must be the tenth automated email I've had from Google Adwords this morning. Same as yesterday and the day before.

I use Adwords from time to time to run short ad campaigns for Travel-Lists. I pay a lump sum in advance by BACS transfer and when it runs out (usually in a month or two) I top it up, or not.

Of course, like most businesses, Google hates this. They want me to set up a direct debit so it just keeps feeding them cash. Hence the deluge of emails reminding me to "update my account details" or pointing out that my ads have been suspended.

I'm struck by the contrast with my own business approach.

In recent weeks I've been adding a hidden comment about 'Google link condoms' on my list pages at Travel-Lists as I update them. (You can see it if you go, for example, to my list of visa & passport agencies and press the 'view source' button on your browser.)

Why is it hidden? Well it is just for the interest of people who like to check the source code of pages, and one of the most common reasons for doing that is to see how a site deals with links - are they counted or followed by search engines? Do they have a commission-earning affiliation code on them?

Google is hunting down links that are paid for (good idea) and its primary hunting grounds are any online directories with an e-commerce page.

Eek! That's us!

The only way to avoid being dumped from Google is to use their link condom code (rel="nofollow"), which in effect says "don't count this link as a vote for the target site" - the primary reason to sell/buy a link.

Well, I'm not too bothered about that. The site is not built for travel companies, it is built for consumers. I'm not selling links. But I am selling my time to people who want to be reviewed. What they get is traffic (ideally like the operator who tells me he sold a £40,000 package from a Travel-Lists referral, or the one who dithered about submitting and then, when he did, got his first sale within 24hrs). Less than 2% of the listings on Travel-Lists arrive there through a submission, and 12% of those who submit are not accepted.

So, in effect Google, by default, wrongly accuses me of selling links for money......while spamming my intray with emails pestering me for money for their paid links.

Like I say..... Grrr!

21 April 2008

Bad airports, bad airlines......good satire

Never underestimate the power of the web to sap the influence of traditional PR & media.....especially when it is super-charged with humour /satire.

These are two of my very favoritest (sic) youtube vids at the moment.

The first sends up low-cost airlines in general...

The second is a work of genius and takes the piss out of Terminal 5...

Hehe. Can't get the tune out of my head...been singing it for days!

Snappy car hire offer from easyCar

I haven't seen a quickshot travel offer like this for a while.

The release was emailed at 10.26am (grrrr) with details of a discount on car hire which is available from 9.00am this morning till midnight tomorrow.

I guess they don't really want anyone to apply for it....? They should have emailed it tomorrow evening!