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!

14 April 2008

Heathrow T5 debacle is a disgrace but not BA's disgrace

I was pretty hard on British Airways last week, calling them a national disgrace.

I haven't really changed my mind, but it appears that, on the issue of the Terminal 5 launch, I'm in a minority.

A fascinating survey of 1,220 international travellers by TripAdvisor, was published yesterday, revealing that most people think BAA is to blame for the T5 debacle.

Interestingly, while 20% said they are now less likely to use Heathrow or Terminal 5, and 14% said they would still use Heathrow but avoid T5, the majority (52%) said the T5 launch problems would have no influence on whether or not they use the airport or T5.

The press release continues...

Thirty percent of TripAdvisor respondents said that they thought it was teething problems and that the airport would soon be operating normally. Eighteen percent said it was just another Heathrow horror and 15 percent of travellers suggested it was a national disgrace.

Travellers seemed to be split about how Heathrow’s reputation had fared. Fifty-one percent of travellers said that the T5 problems had no impact on their opinion about the airport whilst the rest said that it either confirmed its reputation as one of the worst airports (23 percent) or that their opinion about Heathrow had gotten worse (26 percent).

Meanwhile, it does not seem that BA’s reputation is being hung out to dry in the minds of travellers. Only 13 percent said that they thought BA was to blame for the debacle. Thirty-eight percent blamed British Airport Authority and 19 percent said that T5’s designers were to blame. Fifty-three percent said the issue had not affected their perception of BA and 28 percent said that while perceptions were tarnished they would still fly with the airline.

It certainly appears that there is no terminal damage to British tourism, with an overwhelming 75 percent saying that the T5 problems will have no impact on their thoughts about visiting the UK. Only four percent of respondents thought there was any long lasting damage to the UK’s reputation and 45 percent said “no, it’s only an airport terminal”.

Said TripAdvisor European Communications Manager, Ian Rumgay, “This survey shows that the world’s travellers are a hardy and forgiving lot. This is not the first time that there have been problems with a new airport facility and it’s unlikely to be the last. Whilst those responsible have been pilloried at home, not least for failing to deliver on their promises, there is still a lot of credit in the bank for Britain, BA and even some for Heathrow”.

So, it seems I am wrong.

... and so is Jim McAuslan at the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) who last week said "Our reputation as a country has been harmed no end", and that shareholders and the city need to "wake up to the fact that there is something very wrong right at the heart of this company that is making our once great brand a laughing stock".

... and so are all the other airlines using Heathrow who are baying for BA's blood after BA and BAA suddenly announced on Friday that all the arrangements for BA longhaul flights to switch from T4 to T5...were on hold.

...and so is columnist Tony Parsons who doesn't mince his words about BA, saying they "do not fly the flag. They blow their nose on it."

... and so are the owners of the 28,000 pieces of stockpiled luggage, and tickets for over 700 cancelled flights.

11 April 2008

Funny ATTA

This press release headline from the Africa Travel & Tourism Association (ATTA) - who are trying to kickstart tourism to Kenya - made me smile over my breakfast coffee...

The Kenya Revival Has Started And The Mara Is Emptier Than The Terminal 5 Baggage Carousel

10 April 2008

What is a boutique hotel?

Lots of credit should go to Michael Cullen, the editor of hotel review website, i-escape.com, for recognising that the description "boutique" has become rather 'woolly' since it was first coined by hotelier Ian Schrager (allegedly) in the 1980's, and for proposing a debate on the subject.

"These days", says Michael, "it is applied to any new or refurbished hotel with an ounce of branding, no matter how small or beautiful. Recently we read about a new 'boutique hotel' in Atlantic City with 500 identical rooms, a 250-car parking lot, a retail centre and direct access to its sister casino. Surely this is like calling Tesco a family-run deli?"

Funny, I had much the same idea when I saw something similar a fortnight ago in USA Today's Hotel Hotsheet blog: St Louis area's new boutique-style casino hotel.

Michael Cullen suggests a 5-point checklist to determine whether a hotel qualifies for the description 'boutique'...

1. small – we have put the limit at 50 rooms (rural) or 150 rooms (urban). Anything really small - under 10 rooms or lacking hotel services can go for a spin-off term like 'boutique B&B' or 'boutique guesthouse'. We have even come across 'boutique campsites', while apartments are increasingly dubbed a 'boutique bolthole'.

2. personalised – it has to be an antidote to our automated world, with friendly staff who greet you by name (we're talking 'Hi Michael' rather than 'Hello Mr. Cullen'), rooms which vary one from another (personalised book and CD collections in your room earn bonus points) and a friendly, sociable bar.

3. stylish – if it looks like an office block or grandma's spare room, then you might as well stay at work, or visit granny; this should be a treat for today's time-poor, cash-rich travellers. Bespoke artwork and design classics earn extra points – though it does not have to be a design hotel (see below) to be a boutique hotel. But design clichés lose points (monochromes with one swirl of Osborne & Little wallpaper, single green apple or kala lily in vase, bowl-shaped basin with concealed lighting etc).

4. contemporary– somehow you can't call it boutique if it has Louis XIV chairs and chintzy curtains. We need hi-tech extras: flatscreen TV's and wifi are de rigueur, ipod docks and laptops score extra points.

5. independently owned – a multinational chain, with its standardised procedures, uniform room décor and high staff turnover, cannot be boutique, however hard they try (as Starwood have with their W hotels, for example). But smaller chains can get away with it: we reckon anything up to 20 co-owned / co-branded hotels leaves enough room for individual expression.

Interestingly the first person to comment, Kurt Bjorkman ( Managing Partner, over5hospitality.com) points out that he came up with an amazingly similar set of criteria in a recent article he wrote on the subject.

So, I think we have something of a consensus here. I think I'll adopt Michael Cullen's definition for Travel Lists. Thanks!

Ventura - old design?

P&O's latest cruise ship, Ventura, is in Southampton preparing for her naming ceremony and maiden cruise.

She is carefully billed as "the largest cruise ship built for Britain" or "the largest superliner built exclusively for British holidaymakers" in order to side-step comparisons with Cunard's Queen Mary II, which is much bigger.

Looking at her pics again just now I was once more struck by how 'Princess' she looks.

In the old days (pre-2004) when P&O Princess Ltd hadn't yet been gobbled up by Carnival Corp, they used to go to great lengths to keeps the identity and style of the two fleets separate. Princess ships with their laticework funnels were larger and for an American market. P&O's German-built Oriana & Aurora were smaller and 'British' through & through. Then they started compromising; taking old Princess ships & refurbishing them for P&O.

Now this latest 115,000-ton ship is a pure Princess design, laticework funnel and all, straight from the 'Princess yard'; Fincantieri in Italy.

And she doesn't just look familiar to me, she looks very familiar. Back in 1998 I was one of the first journalists to go on board the first Princess "superliner" Grand Princess. She was the first of the Grand class, which at 115,000-tons/3,000+ passengers simply dwarfed the then current generation of cruise ships which were mostly around 270,000-tons/2,500 passengers.

Cruise Ship Ventura
Grand Princess

One glance at the pics is enough to recognise that Ventura is simply the latest of a last-century ship design.

09 April 2008

What a joke! BA passenger offers prize trip for the return of his bags

You know, even if you were the House of Borgia, you simply could not pay to have this degree of bad publicity heaped on your worst enemy!!!

What makes it truly pathetic is that..

1) British Airways bring on themselves

2) they deserve every bit of it.

What a complete national disgrace that airline is!!!

Anyway, on with the show......

This time a press release from somebody in the travel industry with a grudge against BA and the power to do something about it.

Find my bag - claim a prize

I am the Managing Director of European Rail Ltd, and BA don't
have a clue where my bag is, or seem to care.

The opening day of Terminal 5 was greeted with much fanfare as
the dawning of a new age of air travel from Heathrow. It was
also the day I was invited to a travel trade event in Aosta so
I was to fly to Milan. Our flight BA 576 was delayed while the
captain told us twice that our luggage was being loaded.

Unfortunately as some baggage handlers could not get into the
car park only a select few were reunited with their bags at Milan.
The rest of us had to queue up to 2 hours to report the loss of
our luggage.

I instructed my bag be sent on to the hotel, then on to my
holiday address in Switzerland and now to my UK address, but
still nobody knows.

So, I'll open the hunt to all comers. Find my bag and deliver
to my office and you'll get a free pair of standard class return
tickets on Eurostar to Paris. Closing date is this Friday at
5 pm, the BA reference is MXPBA25168. You can reach me at work
on 020 7619 1090 or mobile 07890 891681 or email

Media Contact:
Michael Birtles
Telephone: 020 7619 1090
Email: Michael@europeanrail.com

07 April 2008

Robert de Niro hotel opens the old fashioned way

Hehe, there's a nice example of the old print gatekeepers at work.

An "international publication" (best guesses seem to be Vanity Fair) secured an exclusive deal with Robert de Niro's new hotel, The Greenwich in New York which prevents anyone else taking photos of the place before they publish.

Trouble is, the hotel opened on 1st April and not only do they not have any images on their own website, but new media journos & bloggers are getting a little impatient too...


USA Today

but Curbed.com sneaked in and got a pic

As HotelChatter put it: "the hotel has an embargo on photos with some international publication with a long lead time, how archaic is that?"

lol! indeed!