16 November 2009

My Edward Woodward moment

Lots of RIP Edward Woodward tweets today, so here is my anecdote.

My career started in the theatre. In the late eighties when I'd moved into radio, I used to use my Equity membership to do 'walk-on' work on TV and movie shoots in the west country on an almost weekly basis.

This one time, my friend (presenter on local tv) & I, with around 50 other extras, were taken by coach early in the morning to a country house where a TV company was filming.

It was a bright sunny morning and we assembled in front of the house, where the director explained they were shooting a spy thriller and we were all going to be members of the public visiting the gardens while a covert meeting was going on.

Then he and his assistant studied the group and to our surprise, picked out my friend & I.

"Come this way", said the director leading us into the gloomy hallway. "We want you two to be MI5 men, and you'll be playing a couple of scenes with Richard and Edward here."

As my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I found myself shaking hands with Richard E. Grant and Edward Woodward.... who were both charming & generous to us :)

(The show by the way was called Codename Kyril)

11 November 2009

Social media tips at Travel Blog Camp

Concert crowdIt was an interesting session at last night's TravelBlogCamp. I picked up a few nuggets and came away feeling rather pleased that I've stuck with 'pre-moderation' on blog comments - even though I generally get very few comments on this blog and like to fool myself that the main reason for that is they're pre-moderated and not that I'm a crap blogger!

I've had some self-indulgent 'esprit d'escaliers' thoughts...

  • Several people noted during the event, and today, that we talked a lot about Twitter.

    I'm not surprised. I think of Twitter as the 'Senior Service', and that's because it has become the index to so much of what is going on in social media. It's from the live "conversation" on Twitter that everyone gets directed to blogs, comments, forum posts, youtube clips, twitpics, facebook pages, etc etc. Ask yourself, in a normal day which live update system do you visit more: Twitter (Tweetdeck, Monitter, etc) or your RSS reader? I bet it's Twitter. How many times did 'RSS' - THE buzzword only a few years ago - get mentioned last night? Not once.

    And speaking of things that were not spoken about... I only heard one mention (in a list of social media) of Bebo. We know that the typical middle class family holiday choice might be initiated by (for example) an excellent article about a Mark Warner holiday (probably written by a BGTW member and published by @TimesTravel , hehe!) , but what 'seals the deal' is not what dad subsequently reads on Tripadvisor, nor what mum learns from Mumsnet.... it's what the kids hear about Mark Warner hols from their mates on Bebo or Msn!

  • Like many of us, I enjoyed Murray's animated talk but I wasn't sure whether I just missed his conclusions, or that he hadn't drawn any. I wanted to ask him if he'd noticed a pattern of 'returnees' to traditional travel agencies, but felt I'd already talked enough and it was probably time to shut up.

    I was thinking that when the online travel agency industry took off, everyone got carried away with it... forgetting that while e-commerce is brilliant at the simple stuff - selling packets of cornflakes, DVDs, flights and hotel rooms - it is no so hot when it comes to the complicated stuff - selling fruit that you can't prod, architectural services, or family holidays "with auntie and her boyfriend who live in Aberdeen and will be joining us in our Menorca villa a couple of days later" (you know...real life).

    In those days (when they first started) OTAs could barely manage anything more complicated than city-pair flights and a few room nights in a single hotel. It's only thanks to clever people like @alexbainbridge and some of the others there last night, that they can now handle quite sophisticated multi-leg itineraries and small group tours, but the basics still hold true: travel e-commerce can only 'build' itineraries from simple, non-prod-able components.

    Which is why I've always argued that traditional travel agents and tour operators can dabble in direct online sales on their website if they want to, but should focus on providing detailed destination & product info for the vast bulk of visitors who use the internet primarily for travel research, and then take their enquiries and sales by phone.

    And now is a good time for that. I think the shine has very definitely gone off DIY holidays. A year ago I talked to a young couple on the Explore Worldwide stand at the Daily Telegraph (?) Destinations exhibition in Earls Court, who seemed to me to be a classic example of what I'm talking about. The year before they organised their own trip to South America themselves, online. "The trouble was", they said, "it took a huge amount of effort, research and planning, and even when we had got it all sorted we didn't really relax and enjoy it as much as could have done, because at the back of our minds' was the nagging doubt that we might have missed something - got a travel connection wrong or something. And, were we staying in the best hotels or B&Bs? We couldn't be sure. So, this year we're going to spend a little bit more and leave it all up to Explore!"

    I had to bite my tongue and not say "Yeah, DUH! That's what travel agents were invented for! Somebody who knows the ropes. The fundamentals have not really changed since the early days of Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings!"

    So my ...late.. question to Murray is "have you noticed a trend of consumers returning to traditional agents and how might you/do you use social media to seek them out and engage with them?"

  • Finally, at the risk of pissing off @uktraveleditor ("#tbcamp has denigrated into Murdoch/pay 4 content discussion. Yawn. Here's a pic out the window.") sorry. A couple of people asked me afterwards about my comment about content subscription wholesalers, which makes me think I probably didn't explain it very well. It's better explained here.

Anyway, ramble over.

It was a good event and many thanks to Darren, Kevin, all the speakers and all the sponsors for organising it. :)

01 November 2009

TankAway - a concept for UK travel writers and tourism organisations?

Screenshot from Boston.com

I've started noticing (probably years after the event!) a new concept creeping into the travel pages of the local press in the USA - the 'one tank (of gas) trip'.

I haven't found a definition yet - Are we talking one tank there & back? What's the average mileage of an American car these days, and the average petrol tank capacity? - but the concept seems pretty straight-forward: travel features and promotions about destinations roughly within 100-200 miles of home.

Screenshot from ajc.comIt feels very much like a sign of the times. In a post-Fannie Mae/Freddie Mack/Lehman Bros induced recession, Americans, like us, are looking for economic breaks nearer to home.

So, for all those travel writer colleagues in the BGTW and on Twitter who have recently railed against the over-used "staycation"... how do you feel about promoting TankAways?

...Responsible/green travel issues not withstanding!