21 July 2009

Co-incidence or joined-up PR?

Leeds city centre at nightYesterday I had an approach from onvisible, which is the online PR division of Brahm PR in Leeds. They were pushing the launch of a 1000 x £10 hotel room night promo for Visit Leeds, and were helpful sorting out some photos for me.

This morning I get a release from Resonate, which is part of Bell Pottinger, promoting Leeds as a short break destination and their client, National Express' various services to Leeds.

I can't see any obvious links between the two PR companies, but I also can't believe this is mere co-incidence. So, I'm guessing it must be simple joined-up PR. Somebody somewhere (probably at Visit Leeds) saw the synergy in a combined accommodation & transport promo.

If I'm right, 'congrats'! Somebody somewhere is doing their job.

Sometimes PRs deserve a little more respect than they usually get from journos.

20 July 2009

Bugatti 100th anniversary festivities in Alsace

Bugatti Veyron outside Bugatti family homeThere's no compelling reason for this post... other than, it gives me a thinly-veiled excuse to post this photo of a truly beautiful car - the Bugatti Veyron - parked outside the Bugatti family home.

Starting last week, and running through to 20 Sept the town of Molsheim is celebrating 100 years of iconic car manufacturing.

In 1909, the Italian born Ettore Bugatti chose Molsheim in Alsace as the setting for his racing and luxury sports car empire. Since then he designed and built some 7,500 top-performance automobiles in Molsheim, including the current 407km/h Veyron 1.6 that causes even the 'seen-it-and-driven-it-all-before' presenters of BBC's Top Gear to drool more than any other car.

17 July 2009

Why professional travel writers are important

Travel writers in the Vassari Corridor, Florence
They certainly don't feel important right now.

Self-esteem is very low as they are attacked from all sides. Their fees have been slashed and burned by publishers who by & large treat them like shit and demand all rights in perpetuity... plus free photos too.

And they get no support from anyone else, just derision and contempt poured down on a pack of 'miserable whinging freeloaders'.

But I was struck by something a traditional travel writer, John Ruler, told me last night. He is writing a guidebook on northern France and he spent yesterday pouring over maps of the area and making phone calls to France.

"The maps show the main road up to Douai as the N43, but when I was there I wrote it in my notebook as the D943 from the signage". His perseverance paid off. A contact in the regional government tourist office explained that a few months ago the French government handed over responsibility for main roads to the department so now the Route 'N'ational had become a Route 'D'epartmental.

"Even if you look at a Google map, which you'd think would be up to date, it still shows it as the N43", he said. "Unless I'd been there and driven that road, I wouldn't have known".

"The Internet is a wonderful thing", he said, "but you can't rely on it. Take restaurants, especially French restaurants. They all have websites full of stylish graphics and glamorous photos. They'll tell you about their food and their chefs, but they often won't tell you their opening hours".

As I listened, I was struck by the contrast with experiences that are often recounted by other BGTW members in our private forum. (So I can't wholly reproduce them, or identify the authors, but I can describe some of the points they make.)

One recent thread was started by a travel writer who is revising a guidebook and was stunned to find the original author, or last person to revise it, had simply copied word for word text from a website about certain attractions, hotels and restaurants. "Not only that", she writes,"but they state that a town is in a place where it isn't - it's about a mile inland and not on the coast. As a result, the accompanying map has restaurants whose location is marked in the wrong place!"

Another guidebook writer suggests it might be the other way around - the website copied the text from the book. That's happened to him several times. "...and those are only the websites that I've discovered", he writes, "almost always by chance. There are probably dozens more out there who think it's OK to copy and paste my text (and maps) onto their own pages".

A third described recently updating a city guide and finding a bar listed that had been closed in the mid-nineties, before the first edition of the guide had even been published. "The original author was presumably relying on his own old information about the city and hadn't checked it for this new guide. What is worse, the guide had allegedly been updated several times since it was first published, and not one of the updaters had deleted this bar from the listings."

A fourth points out that it is not just writers missing errors because they haven't been to the destination. There are the editors who think they know best and correct the writer's copy because they've read something different elsewhere.

"I've had this happen to me on numerous occasions", she writes. "I've painstakingly researched things, an editor has come along, read something in another guide and rewritten it without reference back to me. Sometimes I get to correct it again at proof stage, sometimes it goes straight to press without me seeing it. In one howler they decided I'd muddled up left and right and set my gentle stroll round a lake, off on a 40 km route march through the mountains!"

She goes on to point out that, "having done proper research for the first edition, an increasing number of publishers are asking us to cut corners, to the extent of not paying for trips and relying on web-based updates - meaning updates based on improperly and unreliably updated versions of plagiarised material based on the first edition of the same book...And they wonder why the industry is in trouble!"

The state of the guidebook industry is picked up in several threads, including one started yesterday about a guidebook publisher that is cutting jobs in London and building up their publishing base in Delhi. The post author makes it clear that he doesn't want to tar all Indian editors and writers with the same brush but he has had bad experiences "with some Indian packaging companies, whose rates are even lower than those in the UK, and whose standards, in my experience, have been abysmal".

"A year or so ago I was asked to verify a guide to Athens that had been commissioned and written in India. After a few pages I saw how awful it was, and that the author had clearly never been to Athens, and was even less familiar with the English language. It was written in a kind of 1920s English. The editor read the manuscript and agreed it had to be totally rewritten or it would have made them a laughing stock. Luckily I was free to do it and it paid well – they had to pay as it was about to go to the printer and the entire series would have been compromised".

That's why professional travel writers are important.

...unless, of course you don't care about quality.

The writer who discovered the city bar that had been closed for over ten years points out that, presumably, in all that time not one reader complained, or the publisher would have picked up on the error. Maybe publishers moving towards the 'pay shit/get shit' business model think that the public aren't bothered about accuracy.

What do you think?

15 July 2009

The new travel accessory - Radio-Opaque Sleeves

Oh the delicious irony!


Somewhere in the Pentagon there's a General thinking: "The trouble with insurgencies is that you can't tell who the bad guys are. Wouldn't it be great if our clever scientists could come up with a foolproof gadget to identify the terrorist in a street full of civilians and blow him up for us!"

Meanwhile probably...

In a compound on the Afghan-Pakistani border there's an Al-Quaeda operative drawing up a shopping list of cheap bomb-making components and thinking: "Isn't it amazing that America's clever scientists and stupid government have given us a foolproof way to remotely identify Americans anywhere in the world and blow them up!"

All they have to do is hide a small explosive charge with a programmed rfid chip reader in any street, in any town in the world, and let it wait selectively for an American with a partially open passport in his/her bag to walk close by.

Hmmm. I wonder what kind of high-tech passports our clever (UK) government has given us...?

And let's not go into the data security implications...

Think it might be a good moment to open a radio-opaque sleeve shop.

10 July 2009

United breaks guitars

OK, I am pretty much the last person in travel media to post this, and plenty has been said about it already by the likes of Neville & Shel and Alex Bainbridge and Nathan Midgeley etc ...

But it is a great (and self-explanatory) video (and the truth is, while I was aware of it before, I've only just got around to watching it!).....enjoy!

Apparently a 'grown-up' at United who knows what social media is, has now responded on Twitter, but now it has reached the mainstream media I feel this is going to get a lot worse for United unless they move real quick to repair their reputation with musicians, let alone the rest of their customers.

So, there you go. If you get bad customer service, make a music video :)

09 July 2009

Hashtags should be the grit in a conversation

I saw the Guardian's story about News of the World phone hacking breaking on the Internet late last night, and I've been watching it go into high gear this morning.

It's a story I've been morbidly keeping an eye on because I used to know someone at NotW who I suspect might get caught up in it.

As usual Twitter is the index to any new stories/angles but I've been surprised that the 'conversation' isn't gathering in it's usual co-ordinated way around a hashtag or two. I've been monitoring the most obvious keyword phrase: 'News of the World', and there's plenty of tweet activity...but despite my asking aloud if anyone had seen a hashtag yet, it is now lunchtime and there has been no sign of one.

I think originators - in this case, newspapers - are missing a trick here.

If you are going to break an exclusive story (for other kinds of originators it could be a scientific paper, or a product launch, or a survey, etc) you should always give it a hashtag. Like the grit in an oyster or a hailstone, twitterers need a hashtag to build the conversation around.

Why didn't the Guardian simply print #NotWphonehack at the bottom of their article. Then the online community would know where to gather to discuss it.

As @Aleksandr_Orlov says: "Simples!"

Afterthought: Actually #NotWtelhack would be shorter :)

08 July 2009

2.5m Brits planning to abandon their passports?

I'm not really sure what to make of this.

It's a promo survey for Park Resorts, but unlike many such marketing releases it has ok credentials (ICM Omnibus survey of 2038 UK adults conducted between 19th – 21st June 2009), so I have to take it seriously.

Once a ‘must have’ item, the research has revealed that 2.5 million UK adults will not renew their passports when they expire, as they state that they will never travel abroad again.

Whilst this might be expected of the over 65 age group, a surprising 4% of 18-34 year-olds plan to holiday only in the UK for the rest of their lives.

By region, the Welsh are the least likely to be travelling abroad again, with one in eight saying they are ruling out foreign holidays forever, followed by 8% in both the South West and East Midlands, and 7% in Scotland.

Really? "...never travel abroad again"?

Or is it more "not expecting to travel abroad again".

As they say, we can expect the 65+ age group to let their passports lapse - for many, overseas travel becomes more challenging and disconcerting - but for the younger age groups?

Some might baulk at the thought of all that sensitive personal data the government wants to gather, store...and probably lose.

Some might think that their recessionary finances and adverse exchange rates don't make overseas travel very attractive right now.

Some might think that security in the age of terrorism makes foreign travel deeply unpleasant.

But are any or all of those things enough to cause 2.5m Brits to abandon their passports?

What do you think?

07 July 2009

No snow train disco fever this winter

Sleeper compartment on Snow TrainOn a Friday evening back in April, my 13-yr-old son & I caught the bus from outside our door to St Pancras where we climbed on board a Eurostar to Paris Nord. Then, while we went and ate some supper, our bags were taken round to the Snow Train for our overnight journey in a sleeper compartment down to the French Alps, arriving in Moutiers at 8.00am.

I was quite surprised. I had fully expected the service to be swamped with 20-yr-old boarders, but when we visited the all-night disco/bar carriage it was mostly middle-aged skiers and young families.

Apart from the lack of organised resort transfers (meaning a €60+ taxi fare for the 15 min journey up to Meribel) it's a good service, so I'm sad to have received a letter from Rail Europe saying that due to the recession, they won't be running it this season.

(There are still alternatives, but you'll need to book early)