28 December 2009

What should a travel organisation have on its website?

Confused girl on computerI've just deleted the entry for De Vere hotels on the BGTW contact book database.


Well not because I wanted to. It's just that The Massey Partnership (PR company) have told me that De Vere are no longer a client and, on a Bank Holiday Monday (so not much point in phoning), I can't find a press contact for them. I've tried all the obvious routes, including Google, their website, and searching through thousands of press releases in my own email trays (an amazingly powerful research tool sometimes).

Am I bovvered?

Not really. I can always put them back in if/when I discover who handles press enquiries. I'll probably find out when somebody spots this post, or my tweet about it, and gets in touch.

Should they be bovvered?

Yes, they've probably lost their chance to be listed in the 2010 BGTW Yearbook. ("the travel industry bible").

What surprises me is the lack of info on their own website. As every travel journalist knows... as every journalist, specialised or not, knows... the first port of call to find information is a company's website.

Usually their media pages, with press releases, press office contact details, and maybe images, are tucked away in the 'About Us' section, or the 'Corporate Info' section.

So, some questions for fellow journos and PR/Marketing peeps - in your experience...

  • What percentage of travel/transport/tourism websites have up-to-date press contact information? eg. International media relations/PR/representation in your country?

  • What percentage have up-to-date press releases? Very few in my experience. If they are there, they vary from very old and dusty releases that just make the website look tired and unloved, to not-quite-up-to-date-enough press releases. I frequently see a new story suddenly appearing in several places with the same copy, so I know there's a press release floating around out there, but when you look at the company's website it's not there! (ofc it's easy to phone and get it, which is what I end up doing, but what a daft wasted opportunity!)

  • What percentage have briefing notes or factsheets? Often useful and more detailed than the summary on the "About Us" page.

  • What percentage have "press materials" eg a gallery or picture library? In my experience, very few. Lunacy in a new media age where bloggers and small media websites need a constant supply of images and don't have photo budgets! How does your new product/service get written about on the Internet? Well, I can tell you - the chances are doubled if it comes with a decent photo!

I recognise there's some sort of fear that press contacts might be inappropriately exploited by ordinary members of the public (aka customers!), but I am often amazed at how many travel companies and organisations miss the opportunity to make themselves immediately & easily available to enquiring journalists & bloggers, by not providing this sort of basic information. And it's not just British organisations! (In Britain, information is always to be kept secret by default, unless officially decided otherwise, because it gives petty officials power).

...not that it makes much difference to me. I and fellow guildies, and most commissioning editors have got the 2,700 listings (less De Vere) in the BGTW press contacts database to fall back on.

History doesn't guarantee permanency

First flight to India, Lady Hoare in shot

I'm struck by this item from the British Airways press office.


British Airways this week (December 30) celebrates 80 years of flying to Delhi. The maiden flight in 1929. took nearly seven days to complete and cost £130 (one way) – the equivalent of £6,190 in today’s money.

The 80-year anniversary underlines British Airways’ position as the longest standing European operator to India. The very first journey involved four different aircraft and included 20 stops on route. Customers spent nights in hotels, and for the leg between Switzerland and Italy they traveled by train.

The 80-year milestone of travel between the UK and India takes place in the same year that British Airways celebrates its 90th year anniversary as an airline.

BA has every right to be proud of its heritage, to shout about it and be applauded by us on their achievements, but don't let those remarkable achievements lull us or them (or their would-be striking staff) into a false sense of security.

Nowhere is it written into aviation law that there has to be a British Airways.

In many ways, the future existence and prosperity of British Airways is even more precarious and uncertain now than it was on 25 August 1919, when a De Havilland Airco 4A, operated by Air Transport & Travel Ltd, a forerunner company of British Airways, launched the world’s first daily international air service. It flew from Hounslow Heath to Paris Le Bourget carrying some newspapers, a consignment of leather, several brace of grouse, Devonshire cream and just a single passenger.

On a wing and a prayer, as they say.

18 December 2009

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner: Great take-off, but what about those wings?

B787 first flight
I've not had a chance till now to collect my thoughts on the maiden flight for Boeing's new generation "plastic" airliner, the B787.

Tuesday's first flight (click 'webcast' to see the vid) in some truly dreary weather (!), was hailed as a triumph by aviation workers and enthusiasts...mostly in the U.S. obviously, but also around the world.

Triumph? Well, yes and no.

The flight appeared to go like clockwork and was certainly a relief for all concerned with the project but the wild enthusiasm and jingoism probably overplays the success of this event.

For a start, much of the relief is due to the project finally getting 'off the ground' because it is already two years behind schedule and Boeing fans (Americans) are acutely aware that in the meantime the European Airbus A-380 (not a direct competitor - phew!) is already in service, and the A-350 (competitor - eek!) is well into development.

The background: Almost a decade ago when Airbus announced it was starting work on a giant airliner (A-380), Boeing fumbled.

They reacted by first announcing a near supersonic airliner, plans for which they quickly ditched in favour of a more realistic proposal to build enlarged versions of their 'proven' B747 Jumbo, and then finally said (I paraphrase): "Actually, we're not playing, because we think the future of air travel is in smaller fuel-efficient aircraft flying point-to-point rather than big aircraft flying to hub airports where passengers link to regional services".

Who's to say they were not right? Well, Airbus, who are building for both scenarios, leaving Boeing's new flagship to do commercial battle with not one, but two European airliners.

So, if the Dreamliner represents a 'new generation' of airliner, what is so revolutionary about it?

Well, there are lots of things but the main one is: it's built out of carbon fibre, not aluminium, (You mean, like the A350? SSSH!) making it much lighter and stronger than traditional airliners... and that brings us to the wings.

I wasn't aware of it till Tuesday but carbon fibre wings are a lot more bendy than metal ones.

As the B787 took to the air and then headed away from the airport it was the first thing to really stand out about the aircraft (other than the wiggly engine cowlings, she's a pretty ordinary looking plane made much prettier with make-up. The blue paint job gives her curves she doesn't really have) and I wasn't the only one to notice. Twitter lit up with comments about it, and so did the aviation forums.

B787 first flight, landingI wondered at the time if the effect wasn't exaggerated by camera optics - telephoto lenses can have that effect - but there's no doubt about it, with or without optical assistance, those wings flex a great deal. You could see it again when she came in to land, and this is a maiden flight with little load. What on earth will those wings look like when she's full of passengers, luggage and a long-haul fuel load?

Why is this important?

B787 first flight lift-offWell, passengers know wings flex. They look out of the cabin window in amazement as the wings come apart in sections for landings and watch them wobble up and down. It's a very impressive display of unbelievably superb engineering. But they don't like it. Wobbly wings make passengers nervous. And instinctively they sense that if something bends a lot, sooner or later it'll snap.

Aeronautical engineers and airmen know that too, which is why airframes - wings in particular - are tested to destruction. In order to prove its airworthiness and be licensed to fly the B787, in common with other new aircraft, had to show that its wings can carry 150% of its total possible weight. They do. But when the load tests were done, parts of the wing root (where the wing joins the fuselage) showed enough stress that Boeing decided to redesign and strengthen them - which delayed the first flight to dreary December.

None of this will help to reassure the public, and that's where I'm going with this post. I think they will love the modern amenities and extra space (esp the large overhead lockers) inside the cabin, but the signature feature will be the bendy wings. "The Dreamliner? Oh yes, that's the one with the flappy wings!"

Of course Airbus' plastic airliner, the A350, will also have bendy wings, but it will be the B787 that has to get the public used to it.

What do you think? Will you prefer the B787 to build up a bit of a trouble-free service record before you are happy to fly in it?

16 December 2009

BAA wants more kissing at Heathrow

...to that end, they have installed the world's largest sprig of mistletoe in Terminal 5 (or at least, the world's largest model of a sprig of mistletoe)

The ten foot by eight foot structure, which took designers and engineers three weeks to construct, weighs 43kg and includes more than 50 feet of steel tubing and 25 stainless steel balls, is suspended 3 metres over the entrance to Terminal 5. (Bet you don't feel so romantic if that falls on your head!)

It's only up for a month, but maybe they should leave it for longer - and I bet they wish it had been up when T5 opened - because the Romans believed mistletoe had peace-making powers. When enemies met beneath it, they apparently threw down their weapons - a handy property for an airport.

15 December 2009

Honolulu! Really?

Waikiki Beach, Hawaiiebookers.com have just posted their Top Ten Best Sellers (Flight + Hotel) for 2010.

There's a noticeable - and perhaps suprising, given the recession - swing from short haul destinations to long-haul. Short-haul accounted for 7/10 top destinations in Dec 2008 and only 3/10 now.

That said, most of the Top Ten for 2010 (* also 2009) are fairly predictable...

  • Rome *
  • Venice
  • Istanbul *
  • New York *
Well, I might have expected Paris*, Barcelona, Dublin* or Amsterdam* in there, but these are pretty standard city break cities for us Brits.

  • Las Vegas *
  • Orlando
  • Miami Beach
Always popular & new flights, Mickey Mouse and gateway stopovers for cruising, etc

  • Cape Town

  • Dubai *
Everyone loves a bargain.

But, this is the one I can't fathom out...

  • Honolulu
It's a long way for us Brits and it's never really been a big seller... so what has suddenly put Honolulu on the map?

Anyone know?

12 December 2009

Editorial independence - sightings are rare in travel journalism

thumbs up, thumbs down

There's an interesting conversation over on Jeremy Head's blog at the moment about travel providers turning to travel bloggers for editorial coverage. Jeremy invited a guest, Tom Power from Pura Adventura, to post his thoughts on the subject and it has provoked a large number of comments.

One of the issues raised is the old controversy about editorial independence. The debate is always particularly intense in the field of travel journalism because the cost (of travel) creates an inter-dependency between the journo and the supplier, and because obvious examples of that independence being exercised are thin on the ground. How often do you actually see an article tearing into a resort or tour operator for bad service? It's pretty rare. Usually 'independence' is exercised by an editor not printing a stinky article written by one of his/her journos. Who needs the aggro...or litigation?

In fact it is so rare, examples have quite an impact when you run into them... which coincidently, I did yesterday (and I'm rather smugly pleased about it).

I've been cataloguing some of my old radio programme tapes for the BGTW archive at the University of Surrey. I was listening to one of them and ran into two examples in the same edition (Classic Travel Guide, Classic FM, 8 Feb 1997).

The first was a journalist reporting on a very luxurious Italian resort hotel. The hotel was fine, the problem lay with its clientele.

"Never before has a more sour-pussed, charmless, stuck-up, spoilt, snotty-nosed, ungrateful bunch of lira-drenched Italian millionaires been assembled in such luxurious and idyllic surroundings, simply to prove that there are some people on this earth for whom paradise just isn't good enough!" (Listen)

Eeek! I remembered, as I listened, the alarm bells going off in my head when I first heard that! And I remember deciding: 'Ouch! This might hurt a bit, but I'm going to air it'.

In the event, there was little fuss. The hotel and their PR couldn't get very steamed about it because the journo had also recorded and included in his piece, one of their staff, in an un-guarded moment, corroborating his thoughts...

"They are so rich that they are always pissed off. I don't know why" (Listen)

...which is probably why I decided to play it to just under 1 million listeners.

The second example came moments later in the programme, in a feature by me about a Swiss ski resort, in which I referred to a popular mountain restaurant...

"Sadly, because everyone wants to eat up there, the restauranteur and her staff have become somewhat arrogant, and in our case yesterday when we dared to swap tables, unbelievably rude! So you eat there at your peril" (Listen)

So it does happen, sometimes, and its rarity gives it a little added potency.

Does anyone else have any other examples (to dilute my self-serving examples)?