14 December 2010

bmi - Aaaah, bless!

bmi logobmi have made me smile over the years as they doggedly hung on to their lowercase corporate identity - a bit of a fashion faux pas from the last century - while the rest of the world moved on.

It's quaint in a sort of 'mullets will make a comeback, you'll see!' kind of way.

So I'm delighted to see that bmi have still not quite let go of their beloved mullet lowercase in today's revelation of their new brand identity...

For immediate release
14 December 2010


bmi strengthens brand further with new visual identity

British Midland International (bmi) has unveiled a new logo and visual identity to help strengthen its brand even further.

The airline undertook a strategic review of its brand when it became part of the Lufthansa family last year. The new logo offers bmi a much stronger identity by using the full name of British Midland International, rather than just bmi.

The new brandmark refreshes the heritage blue colour that bmi is known for but also creates a larger logo footprint for bmi, enabling it to achieve greater presence and standout in its communications.

Joerg Hennemann, chief commercial officer, bmi, said:
"In British Midland International, we are building a clearly-defined, well-positioned and easily understood brand. Our customers around the world associate themselves with a British airline and our refreshing, new visual identity will help us to communicate in an even clearer way with our customers and staff alike. Our new logo shows our customers that we are an international airline with a strong British heritage.”



18 November 2010

Net Neutrality - The way I remember it

People are still puzzled by Net Neutrality and why it is so crucially important to everyone, so here's my quick summary...

The way I remember it, or at least the first time I remember reading about it (and geek historians please step in here because I'm on the stratospheric edge of my techie understanding), it all started a few years back when there was some scratching of heads in the boardrooms of America's big telecoms companies (telcos) - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Qwest, et al.

"Wait a minute", they were saying "what's this Skype thing? VOIP? Voice Over Internet Protocol? These guys are in direct competition with us, especially on lucrative international calls, and they are using our own wires???? WE MUST CHARGE THEM!"

Ignoring the fact they were ALREADY charging ISPs and other data wholesalers for the traffic through their 'pipes', the telcos started talking to people like Cisco who make the routers that route internet traffic, about how they could investigate individual packets of data and either re-direct them or identify them for billing purposes.

That's when the balloon went up and the great Net Neutrality debate started.

But note well (NB): It started when the people who owned the physical wires decided they wanted to charge twice for the same carriage.

The analogy, for my travel industry colleagues, is a cross channel ferry company, who charges We Shift It Haulage Ltd a fare for taking their lorry across to France, but who then open up the packages on the lorry and consign them individually to the slow ferry or, if the owners of those packages pay a second 'premium' charge, the ferry company re-loads those packages onto their high-speed ferry.

On this hypothetical lorry are an equal number of packages containing high quality cheese from Green's Organic Farm, and plastic cheese from the giant All Foods conglomorate.

Here is your 'starter for ten'.... Whose cheese do you think makes the first and biggest sales impact in France?

That is what Net Neutrality is about.


Welcome to the two-speed internet - guess which speed is yours

snail on a keyboard
All that careful makeover work to re-brand the Conservatives as 'NOT the Nasty Party' was a bit of a waste.

Whenever the Tories get into power they always start selling off anything that 'we' own or cherish and isn't nailed down, to their chums. This time is no different. They've already made a start on our forests and woodlands. Now it's our Internet.

I wasn't surprised that Culture (that's a joke!) Minister, Ed Vaisey*, would want to side with big business and betray the founding principles of Net Neutrality. I WAS surprised that he's jumped to it with such alacrity. Normally the Tories trail cravenly in the wake of the Republicans on the other side of the pond, but this time he's leapt ahead of them. In America, even the omnipotent right-wing media lobby have been really struggling to re-instate commercial and political gate-keepers on the one media they don't control - and make no mistake, establishing a two-tier Internet is the first stage toward achieving exactly that goal.

I'm also surprised and disappointed at the total lack of interest/comment by anyone (other than me, as far as I can see) in the travel sector.

Let me put it to you simply....

  • When your video clips - I'm talking to you guys Tnooz, Travelgurutv, icrossing, etc, - start stalling because Murdoch has bought all the premium bandwidth for Sky, don't expect anything more than an "I told you so" from me.

  • What, Mr Cutting-Edge-Travel-PR? You think Google is going to pay extra so your clients' destination promo vids can run smoothly on Youtube? Dream on! If you want to publish high def videos, get out your credit card.

  • And, all you bloggers out there, don't expect ad revenues and affiliate sales to grow steadily and provide any kind of income when you are consigned, along with all the 'mom & pop' specialist tour operators and travel agents, to a sluggish Internet backwater populated by hobbyists and enthusiasts, while the big boys (Tripadviser, Expedia, Virgin, Opodo, travelsupermarket, TUI, et al) are running free with the wind in their hair on a paid-for premium Internet service.

Oh, remind me.....

What is the latest parameter that Google has been focusing on in the last 12 months, when it judges the significance of a website.... um ....SPEED!

Now get with it! Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy who invented the World Wide Web and defend it.

Write to your MP, sign every petition you can find, follow the #netneutrality tag, and start making a fuss before you lose the Internet that you've taken for granted all this time and your right to a voice that is as loud as everyone else's, not as loud as you can afford.

Further reading...








* Oh what's this? (Falls off chair in surprise - not) Ed Vaisey's Declaration of Financial Interests Note BSkyB.

11 November 2010

Social Media is not emerging

fist breaking out of an eggI'm a bit behind the vanguard on this, but it is a good point, made here in the Social Media ROI blog back in April, which in turn referred to the second half of this video post by Loic Lemeur.

We need to look out for and challenge on sight any references to social media "emerging".

SM is not "emerging media". It is simply "media".

It may be evolving and expanding, but not emerging - it did that ages ago!

The point is: to describe it as emerging is to take away its legitimacy as mainstream media.


06 November 2010

No more air security restrictions? Dream on!

air freight containersEveryone seems to have breathed a sigh of relief after last week's printer cartridge bomb alert because it appears to be an air freight issue, not an air passenger issue.

As nightmarish as the scale of the security problem is for the air cargo industry, to the undoubted relief of the chairmen of Ryanair & British Airways, not to mention squillions of travellers, nobody seems to be talking about beefing up the already grisly security restrictions on air passengers.

But don't imagine we are going to get away with it that easily.

1) A significant amount of freight is flown on passenger aircraft. In the USA for example the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) calculates that 25% of the 50,000 tons of cargo shipped by air within the U.S. every day, is flown on passenger airlines.

2) The bomb packages, such as the U.S.-bound printer discovered on a plane in Dubai, contained explosives and an electrical circuit linked to a mobile phone SIM card.

Over the past few years, many of the major airlines have been investing heavily in the development of in-flight mobile phone communications.

D'you think any of that is going to happen now?

I suspect that before too long, instead of being politely asked to switch off our mobiles while in the air, they'll be taken off us.

I think there's a chance they'll become a banned item in the cabin and consigned to hold baggage.

...which doesn't bode well for the development of mobile phone boarding passes either.

01 October 2010

A little joy

screenshot from Virgin Atlantic adYou know, flying is a miserable experience these days.

I think Cebu Pacific Airlines and Virgin Atlantic should be applauded for injecting a little joy back into the aviation world this week.

Thanks guys :)


World train speed record broken...or not!

Chinese high-speed train at platform
A little fact-checking is always a good thing.

On Weds, the China Daily News reported that the new Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed train had, the day before, set a new world speed record with a run peaking at 416.6 kph (258.8 mph).

Later that day, Popular Science magazine ran the story - which is where I picked it up - but acknowledged their source, International Business Times.

As I started writing notes for what would be my version of the story, I began looking for the previous record-holder, who I assumed would be the French since I had written about their record-breaking TGV a year or so back.

Then I read to the bottom of the International Business Times version, which now has a new, rather bland, headline (compare & contrast with the page title in the url!)

As it admits in its correction (and as is pointed out in all the comments) , the French TGV speed record still stands (easily!) at 574.8 kph.

Furthermore, as one commenter points out, the Chinese train is actually an adapted version of Siemens' Velaro trainset!

So, not the fastest and not Chinese.

I don't want to be overly critical.

Firstly, because it is still a remarkable achievement. This train is a production train - one which will, later this month, go into service carrying passengers, as opposed to the French train, which was a specially stripped-out and tuned trainset designed specifically to make an attempt on the speed record.

and secondly, because it's quite an easy mistake to make.

Ok, so engineers working in high-speed rail should and would be aware of the current speed record, but it's not always so easy for others on the fringes, such as PRs. And some 'top-of-the-pile' claims are more obscure.

Take Travelodge hotels for example. Travelodge are a strong brand, pro-actively marketing themselves (we luv their cockney teddy bears!). Yesterday they sent out a press release with the headline: "Travelodge is the first UK hotel to tweet exclusive discounted room rates".

No it's not.

You can see and understand they probably thought they were because they were simply not aware of anybody else, but as it happens another chain (Red Carnation) was doing exactly that at the beginning of the year.

They are not the first and won't be the last (I can say that without fear of being disproved!). I well remember Virgin Atlantic proudly declaring themselves to the the first airline to install seatback videos in all classes... when I had flown in an all-seatback video Emirates plane two years earlier!

So, PRs and marketing folk, when you put "first", "biggest", "tallest", "most expensive" or any other superlative in a press release... be prepared to back it up, or maybe mark it with an asterisk refering the reader to your "unless you know better" get-out clause at the bottom of the page.

We'll be watching.




20 September 2010

The particle physics of proof-reading

particle acceleratorHow does this bloody work then?!

It has fascinated me in a macabre sort of way for as long as I can remember...

The way a piece of text can change as it switches medium or goes 'live'.

We all know this. We have all done it.

You work diligently, carefully, comprehensively on a document on your word processor. When it is finished you hit the print button and wander over to the printer to collect it. As you watch it coming out, you see for the first time THE most glaring typo! (where you mis-spelt your company name, or absent-mindedly described your boss as 'profligate' instead of 'professional').

What is the process that turns the invisible, highly visible, as your work changes medium? It's as if you were moving your document from air to water, where the colours change and everything is magnified?

I'm convinced there are rules at play here that are just as baffling as, and closely linked to, the behaviour of quantum particles. The state of the particle (document) changes if it is being observed. Maybe two versions of your document exist in parallel universes, and only become apparent when the reader inadvertently crosses from one to the other.

That's what just happened to me when I wrote a lengthy and complicated email telling all BGTW members how to update their biogs on our website by the middle of next month. It's been a work under detailed review for a week. This afternoon I finally drew all the last strands together, previewed what the layout looked like and then, as a final check, sent myself a test email. Perfect. Then I sent it to all 278 members.

My first glance at the second version to arrive in my in-tray took in the opening, bold print, line...

"Deadline is 15 October 2011"

FFS!

OK, I'm now going to power up my small hadron particle accelerator and squirt this blog post through inter-webby thing to your screen. I fully expect the headline to read 'PARTICAL physics' or some such, and will need to re-edit as soon as it has been published!



17 September 2010

The Murky World of Blacklists

child frowning at cameraI've just caught up with this bit of news, which I think did the rounds earlier this week - a new database of troublesome guests notified by subscribing hotels, B&Bs, campsite and other accommodation owners, who, in turn can quickly check for potential trouble-makers before taking a booking.

It's interesting because this is the first time I've seen this sort of blacklist out in the open.

The first "FAQ" on Guestscan's FAQ page says...

Q. Why has no one done this before?

A. While the concept is simple, complying with all the legal aspects is complicated and time consuming. (Guestscan has taken two years to get it right.)


Well... they have done it before. I've heard about schemes like this operated by tour operators, hotels and even PRs, several times over the past couple of decades, but on enquiry they've always turned out to be 'informal sharing of information arrangements' that nobody ever knows anything about!

The reason is in the answer (above), which is accurate. The whole concept is a legal minefield and one that most travel companies and associations have been very reluctant to enter, even though there has always been a real demand for blacklist information. What tour operator, for example, wouldn't want to know that Mr X whose booking he is about to take, is a notorious serial complainer, who will almost certainly lodge a complaint plus claim on return from his holiday?

It looks, on the face of it, that Guestscan has overcome all the legal hurdles. I notice, for example that users have to become 'members' of the Guestscan Association and indemnify the Association against the "consequences" (legal?) of malicious reporting. So I hope it all works.


Oh, and if you are a journo, don't think you are exempt. I well remember a travel PR telling back in the early nineties how she kept and shared a blacklist of journos who behaved badly on press trips or failed to produce any copy.

15 September 2010

Directories - Who do they serve?

Three prize winners hold a cup
A colleague from the Guild, Jane Anderson who runs the excellent 101Honeymoons website, tweeted excitedly this morning: "We've made it to the Good Web Guide".

'Congratulations!' I was thinking (and was about to tweet in reply) as I checked their entry and then began to nose around the GoodWebGuide to see who else was on it and what the criteria are for being accepted.

It turns out of course, cash plays a big part.

It's all here. The criteria are...

  1. The site must be clear in its offering. (I would hope so. Pretty standard for any serious site).
  2. Telephone contact details as well as email contact details must be included. (A good basic requirement. Any website that is obscure about who runs it and from where, or avoids contact, is to be avoided).
  3. The site should fit in with one of their existing channels (eg Travel, Home & Garden, Money & Business, etc).

So.... pretty much any website 'with a pulse' then.

Then comes the real hurdle. Assuming your site meets those stratospherically high standards, you need to pay £150 + VAT per annum for your entry.

It seems the Good Web Guide might be not so much a 'Guide to Good Websites' as a 'Guide to Passable Websites that are willing to pay us for Advertising'.

It's not an unusual business model, but you can set the standards higher.

I've always liked the excellent Alastair Sawday (another ex-guildie) 'Special Places to Stay' directories (printed books), but never felt the same about them after I discovered the properties listed have to pay for their entry (That was a long time back, when I lost my innocence!). Nevertheless Alastair's directories still list what appear to be lovely properties, even if they feel very slightly tarnished by commerce.

These directories are more an 'Exacting Guide to those Special Places to Stay that are willing to pay us for advertising'.

Of course, directories, printed or online, have to earn a living. They can't all be as worthy as Dmoz - the (human volunteer edited) Open Directory Project, in order to gain beatification for their editorial independence, but there is a third way. Mine!

The reason I can be so sniffy about paid-for advertising directories is that my directory (Travel-Lists) IS independent and is designed to serve the site visitors not the companies listed.

The business model is simple.

You get listed if I think your website is good enough for my visitors. I use a range of criteria, starting with the GoodWebGuide's basics, but also taking into account things like trade accreditation, financial bonding, and gut feeling.

Where do my gut feelings and those of the GoodWebGuide's editor(s) part company? Well, there are always some finely balanced judgements. GoodWebGuide have to make theirs knowing that they stand to gain or lose £150. I don't have that burden.

Jane's 101Honeymoons (and its sister site, 101Holidays) is listed in my directory for free, as are the vast majority of sites. The only people who pay anything are those who can't wait for me to find them and pay a 'fast-track' review fee of £12.50.

I take that £12.50 regardless of whether I decide to list them or not. So there's no commercial pressure on me. I can decide freely if my visitors would benefit from knowing about this site, or not.

Furthermore, if you pay me £12.50 for a review and get in (most do. I reject only a handful each year. People tend not to spend the money if they suspect they may not get in) that's it - it is a once only payment.

At midnight on 14 Sept 2011 standards at 101Honeymoons will slip so badly that it will become a website that is no longer worthy of your attention... according to The GoodWebGuide. A situation that can be remedied if another 150 quid is handed over.

In my directory, you are listed as long as you do what you do - IE forever. If you stop doing it, I will kick you out. If you start doing other things, I may add you to other lists. You are in, as often and as long as you benefit my visitors. You are my play thing (muhahaha) and I write your description, not you. That is because it is not advertising and you are not paying for it.

At the bottom of Jane's 101Honeymoons site there are a number of clickable logos.

As recommended by: The Sunday Times | BBC World | Daily Mail | TheGoodWebGuide.co.uk

If I were Jane I would be wondering if the last is of any value to me or my visitors. (I hope the link is not a contractual requirement)




Ooops - Normal Service will resume

OMG!

I knew I was long overdue for a new blog post, but I had no idea how overdue!

Sorry! Normal service resuming soon.

07 August 2010

THE VALENCIA RULES (VR) - Template for a Blog Fam Trip


If you plan to host a travel bloggers fam trip, here are some guidelines.

Background

Group of bloggers on fam trip to Valencia, getting lined up for a photoFirstly the disclaimer: this guide is based on my experience of only ONE (sorry!) blogger trip, BUT... somewhere approaching a hundred traditional media press trips since I started as a travel journalist in 1988.

In June 2010 a "crack Spanish social media team brought together by Land of Valencia's Joan Llantada" (Quote: Terry Lee) held the first of two fam trips for bloggers. #blogtripF1 was a 5-day trip to the region and city of Valencia highlighting the Formula 1 European Grand Prix in Valencia.

A couple of weeks later, #blogtripFIB repeated the excercise, this time focussing on the Benicassim Music Festival. Several bloggers covered both events.

I wasn't on the second trip (#blogtripFIB), but the first trip (#blogtripf1) had a significant impact, as outlined here.

During the first trip, Joan and his team held a brain-storming session on Social Media techniques for marketing travel destinations, forecasting trends and discussing the best way for both destination marketeers and travel bloggers to maximise on fam trips.

The hope, expressed at this session, was that a blueprint for future social media travel events could be developed from this seedling. For that reason - in tribute to Joan and his colleagues, and mindfull of landmark development moments like the RSS/XML conference in Dublin that established 'Dublin Core' - I'm calling these the "Valencia Rules".

They are not the first. Andy Jarosz (@501places) has already blogged on lessons learned from the trip and made some suggestions (points 8 & 9) for 'best practise'. And they won't be the last. So let's just call them: VR 1.00.02. And for Twitter: #vrules.

The Key Factors

There are a number of factors that make a blogger trip very different from a traditional press trip. Five in particular...

  1. Bloggers are nearly always independent travellers and their followers are the same. For this reason some organisations are well-suited to hosting blogtrips. Some are not.

    Bloggers are great for tourism organisations (national, regional or local) because they blog about travel components - excursions, festivals, restaurants, experiences, architecture, etc. They are not so good for tour operators because they are not viewing the 'product' as a whole.

    With traditional media press trips, as a tour operator you could take five newspaper and magazine journos on a single product press trip - your 'Music & Culture' tour to Verona or Luxury catered chalet break in Courcheval - and expect five articles to appear at different times covering your tour and its various aspects. If they were bloggers, they'd all be publishing at the same time, there wouldn't be enough variation for them, and they'd all be writing about the town and its *restaurants with little or no focus on your 'package' because their readership travel independently. (*Not sure why, but food is a big thing with bloggers. They photograph every plate put in front of them!)

    So,
    inbound operators/agencies with lots of local excursions and tours might benefit from hosting a travel blogger fam trip, but outbound tour operators and travel agencies are unlikely to unless maybe they have flexible, multiple-option, tailormade programmes with lots of components.

    Other travel organisations for whom a blogtrip might work are: Cruise Lines (some are already well ahead of the pack on this), and transport companies (airlines, ferries, etc) who want to highlight a route by featuring the destination at the end of it.

  2. Bloggers are 'live'. They publish DURING the trip, where traditional media publish after they get back home. For this reason Connectivity, Time to blog and Variation are crucial to the success of a blogtrip.

    • Connectivity - Bloggers need to get online to write and upload pictures when they have Time to blog, but they also need connectivity in the field. Most are wedded to their iPhones & Blackberries and will still be tweeting even when they are on that camel!

    • Time to Blog - Bloggers need clear patches of downtime, particularly at the end of the day, to blog. Most of their longer and more considered blogs will appear 48-72 hours after the trip is over, but the shorter blogs will be posted during the trip.

    • Variation - The more experiences, opportunities and aspects there are on a blogtrip, the easier it will be for each blogger to find their own unique angles. If you take ten bloggers pony-trekking in the dunes, you're likely to get 10 posts appearing at the same time about pony-trekking in the dunes. But if you take four to the dunes, leave two in the hotel kitchen doing a culinary 'how to make pasta' session with the chef, arrange for one that meeting with a local musician he has been asking about, and send the other three to the vinyard... you get variation.


  3. Travel bloggers know each other, well. Some traditional travel writers and editors know each other too. They meet occasionally at industry events and product launches, or, if they are members of a travel writer organisation like the BGTW, at their own events. Sometimes they may have been on press trips together before. However, on most traditional press trips less than 20% of the 'press' are travel writers. Most newspapers treat press trips as a perk and send anyone deserving. If the hosts are lucky, they are a writer. Often they are a picture ed, sub ed or somebody from the advertising dept. So, for traditional travel writers, meeting up on a press trip is a happy co-incidence.

    Travel bloggers, on the other hand,
    do know each other already, and in real-time. They are actively, chatting, promoting each other online, and are aware where each other is and what they are up to. Not only do travel bloggers expect to meet other bloggers they know on a blogtrip, they have an insatiable desire to meet up. (Read my blogs on Virtual Friendships)

  4. Travel bloggers have a relationship with their audience. Nobody knows traditional travel journalists unless they are right at the pinnacle of the profession and appear on broadcast media - eg Frank Barratt, Simon Calder , Michael Palin. As regular and prolific as trad journos might be, the next edition of their magazine or newspaper will have somebody else's destination article. Other than a few specialist PRs and travel writing colleagues, they don't have a following. For this reason, they consider the destination to be 'the story' not themselves, and they would never include other members of a press trip in their report.

    Bloggers do have a following. They have a loyal audience who follow their blogger as a personality, sharing their experiences.... and sharing their friends. My biggest shock on this first all-blogger trip was to see the bloggers pointing cameras at each other, something that would never happen on a traditional press trip (other than for personal use/fun). Bloggers and what happens to them personally
    are the story.

    It follows that...

  5. Bloggers do it in public. Traditional travel journalists know that everyone - including their mother, their children and their partners - thinks they are on a giant scam, but nobody objects to travel bloggers. Somehow they are considered to be 'of the people'. So you don't need to be discreet about mentioning who is coming or who has been on your blogtrip.

  6. Travel bloggers do it every which way! Traditional media are generally one thing; either they write, or they are photographers, or they are radio journalists or they are TV presenters (OK, some writers take photos too). Bloggers work on multiple platforms. Any one blogger may blog, record video (for Youtube), audio (for Audioboo), tweet (or 'Orkut'), post on social networks (Facebook, Bebo, etc) and publish photos (on Flickr, Picassa, etc).

So, how does all this come into play?

Well, if you are planning a blogger trip, here are my...

VALENCIA RULES (VR 1.00.02)

  1. Remember, this is 'live'. Bloggers will be publishing in near real-time. If you are highlighting an annual event, your guests will be writing about this year's event, not next year (though in 11 months there will probably be some residue for Google searches). If you're taking them to your ski resort or whale-watching, do it at the start of the season, not the end.

  2. Tag the trip early on, and tell everyone. Create a short Twitter hashtag (the shorter while still unique, the better) for the trip, so hosts and guest bloggers can start talking about the trip.... before it even starts!

    Set up pages to aggregate content on Facebook or Twazzup.com (just circulate the link for a search on your twitter hashtag on Twazzup), or any other site you like.

  3. Distribute participant lists and itineraries as soon as possible. It will enable the bloggers to build a conversation and community before the trip starts. Remember, bloggers do it in public.

  4. Resist pressures to overcrowd the itinerary Bloggers need time to blog. This has always been difficult. Every local tourism organisation, hotel and travel provider involved understandably wants to make the most of their investment. Keeping the itinerary simple enough to avoid schedule overruns and keep the journalists onside has always been difficult, but bloggers need EXTRA 'free time' in order to do their work.

    However, here's the good news, you can spread it about. Consider offering a range of optional excusions in the same time slot.

  5. Meals: one in, one out. If you can (excluding breakfast), try to schedule one meal 'in the field', and one meal at the hotel. This way bloggers get a chance to re-group and work in their (wi-fi enabled) hotel room each day.

    If you can't, end the evening meal at the restaurant no later than 23.30pm, giving bloggers the chance to retire & work, or continue & play.

  6. Start with an Intro event. The first event after arrival should be an introductory session, maybe built around an informal meal (a buffet?). Bloggers know each other online, but may not have met yet 'IRL' (in real life). You could have a formal event to start your trip, but if you expect your guests to stay quite, listen to the mayor making his dull welcome speech, and not talk loudly to each other...forget it! So start the trip with an informal opportunity for the guests and hosts to get to know each other.

  7. Follow with a Connection Session This is VITAL. If you are hosting foreign bloggers, it is almost guaranteed they will have connections problems - even the most prepared ones. Even domestic bloggers, away from their normal connections, will have probs (Read points 7 & 8 from an American travel blogger visiting a travel blogger conference in her own country here).

    So, bring spare local 3g sim cards to this session and the venue's resident wi-fi engineer. Use the expertise of local journos. The goal of this session is to see every one of your guest bloggers log on successfully to wi-fi and mobile broadband. It's up to you, but if you don't have a Connection Session you risk emasculating your investment at the start.

    This session could, if necessary, be combined with the Intro Event.

  8. Log everything. Remember, you are going to have to show some kind of Return On Investment (ROI) to your boss (or his boss, the bean-counter!), so you'll need to keep tabs on all those platforms & media. Task somebody back at the office to do that thoroughly. Once you've hosted your first social media fam trip, you'll be able to establish a set of metrics to judge the success of future trips.

OK. Your turn.

What would you add? What would you change? What are your 'Valencia Rules'?

05 August 2010

Murdering peasants in the Portuguese Alentejo

Cork tree in PortugalYou know that thing where you run your finger around the lip of a thin wine glass and set up a harmonic tone... thereby according to popular folklore, killing a sailor somewhere in the world...?

I've just done a terrible thing and I feel so guilty. I've killed off a peasant.

Well... maybe not killed him exactly, but killed off his livelihood and thrown him and his miserable family out of their pathetic cottage on the cork plantation in the beautiful Alentejo region of Portugal, and onto the streets.

I've just opened a screw-cap bottle of wine.

When the first plastic corks started to appear in wine bottles, I didn't care for them much. But then how would you know you're buying one? You can't avoid buying bottles with plastic corks if they are covered like traditional wine bottles (and, it must be said, you don't get that thing with the corkscrew tearing out half the cork leaving you to delicately prise the remainder out).

But when the idea was first proposed that wine bottling should be modernised one step further by using screw caps, I had a luddite hissy fit: "Absolutely no screw capped wine bottle shall cross the threshold of my home!"

How times have changed.

Now I'm a repeat offender, murdering peasant livelihoods with the gay abandon of a drug baron armed with an Uzi! Sometimes, given the choice between two similar wines & prices, I'll even prefer the screw-cap. (It cost me to admit to that. I may need a drink to steady my nerves)

I haven't yet crossed the line into double, "surf and turf", homicide - opening a screw cap bottle, drinking a glass and then running my finger round it, wiping out sailors and peasants simultaneously..... but it's only a matter of time!


04 August 2010

Extreme fun down at Cowes

Extreme 40 catamarans racing at Cowes

That was an interesting/fun day yesterday.

I was invited down to Cowes (Isle of Wight) by Oman Sail to watch their boats racing.

Being Cowes Week, I was expecting to see their Extreme 40 catamarans out with the other classes racing around the Solent (I was even trying to explain to a non-sailor on the way there, how sailing courses are laid out in 'sausages' & 'triangles'), but no.

Extreme Sailing is a recent innovation - an independent racing series, now in its 4th year, with its own purpose-designed boats and its own rules, all designed to combine top-level competition with spectator-friendly showmanship, even allowing spectators to participate.

Instead of spending a few hours thrashing around a course a long way offshore, Extreme 40 races last around 10 minutes each (there can be as many as 8 in a day), and are deliberately run close in along the shoreline so spectators can watch.

The Extreme 40s are 40ft high-speed racing catamarans with a 4-man crew. In sailing terms, they move like lighting - up to 40 knots! By comparison, traditional 40ft yachts, like the hundreds running past us down the Solent with their spinnakers up in the Tuesday afternoon sunshine, were getting close to max hull speed and broaching (losing control) somewhere around 12-15 knots. What's more, being very light, Extreme 40s are extremely skittish. They slow down & accelerate very quickly, they can manage speeds of 25 knots in only 15 knots of wind and they can fly a hull in only 8 knots of wind. So you can imagine these things, close inshore on a small circuit, provide lots of colourful action!

And spectators can get in among it. Race rules provide for some races to be run with a fifth crew member - a passenger.

Here comes the clever bit. They describe it as a "sport, a show, and a VIP experience". The whole event is organised as an integrated sports, media and corporate hospitality package.

Extreme sailing VIPs on pontoonThe boats, display & merchandising areas, floating service pontoon, VIP hospitality lounge, balcony, bar and catering facilities are shipped around the world from venue to venue and re-assembled for each event. The routine is standardised. In the morning VIP guests mingle with crews in the lounge, watch presentations, and those who want to try it out get kitted up and taken out to the boats for a spin. After lunch the races start. Newly knowledgeable VIPs with first hand experience under their belt, watch the races start and end right in front of them, and a lucky few get to be the fifth member.

It's all clever, glamorous stuff and seems to work at every level - as a sport, as a business model, and as a media event. Newspaper & tv coverage is extensive. Why's that then? Well no need to hire powerboats and helicopters to get cameramen near to the action. Anyone onshore can photograph it, film it... and understand it - three times round the course, first one back wins. So, what was the Daily Telegraph's main Cowes Week report about on Monday? Not any of the dozens of official Cowes Week races. It was one of the Extreme 40s having a crash.

13 July 2010

A boost for Romanian Tourism

There's an interesting 'trade' news item today - Blue Air have appointed Flights Directors.

For those who don't know them, Flight Directors have been around for a long time. They are a specialist sales & representation company for foreign airlines. Basically, they provide point of presence (POP) services for small airlines in the UK; handling reservations, marketing, promotion and liaison with travel agents & operators.

...Exactly what Blue Air could use because, unless you were specifically researching possible flights to Romania, you probably wouldn't know that they are quite a large low-cost airline flying to 24 destinations from their base at Bucharest's Baneasa airport and they currently operate 13 flights per week from London Luton Airport to Bucharest and the regional cities of Sibiu and Bacau (with fares from £17 one way inc taxes).

I didn't know that.

Paul Argyle, Flight Directors' MD says: "We are going to add a seven days per week UK call centre with both English and Romanian speaking agents, plus a knowledge of the UK travel trade that will encourage more holiday and leisure travellers to use the Blue Air flights. We are already working closely with the dynamic marketing team at London Luton Airport to increase the profile of Blue Air within the Luton catchment area and with the Blue Air development team to improve access for agents via the Blue Air web site."

You're thinking: "Yes, but why is this important to me?"

One word. Sibiu

Historic medieval city in Transylvania. European City of Culture 2007. Potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lots of good hotels & B&Bs.

Get there for a weekend while the prices are still low and before the pack.

05 July 2010

All quiet on the London tube network

Aw, what a shame!

Last week we were all enjoying little train symbols running around the live tube map and now we're looking at a dead page.

The problem is, the live tube map and dozens of other applications that have sprung up since Transport for London (TfL) started giving app developers free access to their live train data in the middle of last month, have been so popular TfL's servers have been overwhelmed. So they've shut it down.

The underground train departure data, made available through London Datastore, was receiving 180,000 requests/hits a week when it became available on 15 June, but quickly soared to 10 million hits.

As Dr Giles Nelson of Progress Software says: "Let's hope it'll be up and running soon. What this episode illustrates is the thirst that consumers and businesses have for real-time information".

04 July 2010

Sha Wellness

Benidorm may not seem the obvious location for a 5-star spa hotel but discreetly perched up in the hills on the outskirts of the resort (technically on the outskirts of its neighbouring resort, Albir), is the newly opened Sha Wellness Clinic - an architecturally stunning 33-room hotel/spa/clinic where guests can relax, recuperate and restore their health with a program of macrobiotic diets and theraputic treatments designed to suit them individually.

As Alejandro Batalier, son of the founder Alfredo Batalier, has been telling me, the clinic is really designed for those looking for a real lifestyle change...






I stayed at Sha Wellness Clinic on a blogger trip (#blogtripf1) organised by Land of Valencia & the Spanish Tourist Office.


03 July 2010

Photo libraries should be about speed

Steam train in the Swabian Alb, GermanyI was sure I had written about this before - but I can't find the post.

I make a point of registering with photo libraries - specifically, tourist office picture libraries - so that I can find images to go with news stories and blog posts.

For me, photo libraries have to have two crucial things...

1) Photos (!) Good ones hopefully.
2) Speed. They have to be quick & easy to use.

Why?

Because the interval between my finding a story idea I want to use and publishing it is counted in MINUTES, not days or weeks.

So, registration is not really an option for me. I don't have time to fill in a form ...yawn... and then wait 24 hours, or 48hrs, or over a weekend, for my application to be approv....... zzzzzzzzzzzz


Sorry, I nodded off there.

For this reason I try to register with as many photo libraries as possible in advance, so I can go straight in.

If I could remember which American state tourism organisation it was, I would, at this point, publicly castigate and humiliate the one who last year refused me a login on the grounds that I didn't have a specific need at that moment for a photo. Morons!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming tourist offices for having a registration system. They need one. However, one thing they could do, is ensure that during "working hours" at least applications are turned around instantly.

Anyway, I only mention this because I've had three contrasting photo-library moments in 24hrs.

Yesterday I thought I might run an item about Star Clippers. I emailed a question and an enquiry to their PR, Mary Stewart-Miller. Within 10 mins she had replied and offered me her own personal login to access the Star Clippers photo library - Result! Mary understands online publishing.

A bit later I thought I'd run an item about flights to Deauville, so I went to the Atout France (French Nat Tourist Board) photo library, for which I have a login. Or so I thought. They appear to have changed their login system (without telling existing users), so my login not only didn't work, it wouldn't generate a 'forgotten password' email. At this point I'm faced with the familiar choice - spend time trying to sort it out, or drop the story, or spend money using a public photo library (I use iStock usually) - which is what I ended up doing. Fail!

This morning, it all works the way it should. I get a release about the 175th anniversary of German Railways. I go to the German National Tourist Office photo library, login and find a photo of a steam train. Bish bash bosh, job done. Result!

Online publishing relies on instantly available images. The destination marketing company, PR, Tourist Office or travel provider who doesn't understand this risks losing coverage no matter how good the story, because bloggers, travel writers and online editors will just move on to the next story with a photo.






02 July 2010

Watching Formula One again



This all feels strangely familiar!

It's only been a few days since Valencia, and I'm watching Mark Weber again!

22 June 2010

Blogger trip to Valencia

students with laptops
This is going to be an interesting trip.

I'm packing my bag for a 4-night trip to Spain's Valencia region. Not a Press Trip. This one is a Bloggers Trip. (Though for my part, I'm going to be mostly Tweeting, Audiobooing and maybe some Youtubing... oh, and gathering material for one of a new series of Travel-Lists articles.)

The Spanish tourist peeps are quite keen on developing social media (SM) marketing techniques and they're not stinting - 15 (I believe) bloggers from Spain, USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy & Netherlands flown in & put up in 5-star accommodation, touring around the region and ending up on Sunday in Valencia for Sunday's Formula 1 race.

The objective is "to visit the Land of Valencia, the tourist sites, the gastronomy, some hotels, to get to know each other, to talk and to discuss about social media and tourism, to promote social media in the new marketing age and to empower networking as the ultimate tool."

And that's why it's going to be interesting. It's not just a destination facility trip. The idea is to promote a two-way flow and generate ideas about new social media travel marketing techniques.

You can watch it all going on, because the 'Senior Service', Twitter, is indexing all the other sm content under the tag: #blogtripF1 It is also being aggregated at Twazzup .

The Spanish tourist peeps are quite pro-active on social media. When we - the BGTW - took 90 members to Tenerife in Jan, together with our Spanish friends in the media & tourism on the island we managed to generate quite a stream of online content and SM activity.

I'm hoping this will be similar.

05 June 2010

Renaming the brand

Businessman on a ladder with paint rollerI see Vince Cable has quite rightly pointed out that President Obama is, deliberately or unintentionally, ratcheting up anti-British sentiment by continuously referring to the Gulf oil-spill 'bad boys' as "British Petroleum" when they are no longer British, having changed their name a decade ago to simply "BP", in order to reflect their multi-national status.

But who can blame Obama for missing the subtlety? It's one of those weasely name changes that companies make when they are quite happy to let confusion reign.

Put another way: if their name was degrading their brand, they would rush to make a distinctive name change in order to make the separation clear.

We have our own examples in the travel sector.

Why is BAA not dropped in favour of their parent company, Ferrovial? After all, Abbey became Santander when their Spanish parent took over.

It can only be because it suits Ferrovial that everyone in the UK still thinks of the principal UK airport operator as the "British Airports Authority".

And what about bmi? Have they gone far enough? They DO want to be dis-associated from their regional roots, but hands up everyone who still thinks of them as British Midland?

Flybe have probably just about got away with it because theirs was a two-step change - from Jersey European Airways to British European, then FlyBE.

It's not easy to change a brand name completely - nobody wants a Post Office/Consignia fiasco - but the name of the game these days is 'transparency'. Companies who like to conveniently hide behind an old identity should be regularly 'outted'.

Can anyone think of any others in the travel sector, who have either been successful, or not, with a rename?




28 May 2010

Digital Photo Frames - What we need

digital photo frame
I've just had a 'genius' idea, so I'm going to smugly jot it down here, in order that everyone can see how 'genius' it is and how I got there first... unless someone else already has.

I've just been out on a fruitless shopping expedition, looking for a birthday present for my ancient mum.

It can't be a gadget because, not only has she never been good with technical things (the grandmotherly joys of email, Facebook, Skype, etc are denied her...and us), but also she is now developing alzheimers.

My sister bought her a digital photo frame last Christmas and that threw her a little. My sister has been switching it back on and adding images every time she visits, and I think now my mum is used to it and quite likes it.

So, here come the genius bit.

Why don't the digital frame manufacturers get together with the mobile phone networks and create a 'plug-in-and-forget' digital frame with a low end broadband modem and an extremely cheap, low-usage connection charge, so users (family, friends) can login to the frame and update it remotely.

It would be a perfect gift for someone like my mum. She wouldn't have to do anything, other than watch out for new photos (& video clips) appearing in her frame from her family (esp grandchildren) scattered all over the world.

It would want some good security to ensure that some shitty little script-kiddy in Eastern Europe doesn't post porn or spam on it, but other than that it should be pretty easy to design.

Addendum: Oh, and look what, by complete coincidence, I've just read.

According to industry research firm IDC, there are over 10 billion non-PC devices that connect to the Internet today and that number is expected to grow to almost 20 billion by 2014. Furthermore, these Internet connected devices often have little or no security built into them. Norton for Smart Devices brings Symantec embedded security and other services into non-PC internet connected media devices such as Blu-ray players, televisions and media streamers, smartphones, home security systems, digital cameras, picture frames and more. (Source: LeeHopkins.net 28/05/10)

20 May 2010

Stuff I didn't know... about covered bridges

Hartland covered bridge in New BrunswickI was doing some research yesterday about Maine, which got diverted for a while into covered bridges. Then, by coincidence today, KBC PR sent me some stuff about one of their clients, Atlantic Canada, which also had some stuff on covered bridges.

I've always been aware that there are covered bridges, mostly in North America. That they are...well, bridges, and they are covered(!).... they must be quite picturesque (or "picture-skew" as my dad used to say) because people seem to photograph them a lot, and Clint Eastwood made a movie that involved some in a place called Madison County.

That's it. That's all I knew.

Anyway, I know a bit more now, so I thought I'd share it with you.

  • Madison County, Iowa, is not at all renowned for its covered bridges (it has only 6 of them). Its twin claims to fame are that the book/movie was set there, and it was John Wayne's birthplace.

  • Top dogs in covered bridge ownership are Indiana 98, Quebec 100, Vermont 106 and Pennsylvania 200.

And why are all these bridges covered?

Well, most of our bridges were built in stone, or over the years we replaced wooden ones with stone. In the pioneering days of North America, wood was plentiful and quick to build with, but according to Wikipedia (which has a fair bit on covered bridges), it didn't last so long. They discovered they could extend the life of a bridge from almost a decade to 80 years if they put a roof on it to keep the rain off.

Personally, I reckon they also worked out that, like a box girder, it's much more structurally rigid.

It turns out there were a couple of supplemental benefits.

  • Herds of cattle were less skittish crossing rivers when they were boxed in.

  • Turn of the century lovers could achieve a lot of snogging, unseen by disapproving eyes, as they passed through on their buggies.

Cyclist pass thru covered bridgeSo, there you are. Don't you feel enriched from dropping by here for a few secs? :)

Next week... The lighthouses of Maine and New Brunswick

Maybe

19 May 2010

Is this the face that launched a thousand articles?

On Monday (17 May) I tweeted that this up-n-coming news story was guaranteed to become a tabloid newspaper feeding frenzy.

Not hard to see why it works.

V pretty, young (22 ffs!), blonde + easy to understand story + big f**k-off mountain (scene of former Brit glory) + heroic achievement = wet dream for tabloid newspaper editors.

...but I underestimated.

Not only have the temperate Guardian & BBC have enthusiastically run with it...it's already gone worldwide. Even China's Epoch Times and Vietnam's VT News have gobbled up the female mountaineer climbs Everest story.

Don't get me wrong. I think think she's done great, but that's not really my point.

Expect more..... lots more.

(And now, I'm using that photo, groan.)

24 April 2010

UN-ELECTABLE Naming the muppets who voted for the Digital Economy Bill


UN-ELECTABLE: Tony McNulty (Lab, Harrow East). This man voted for the Digital Economy Bill / Act. Bye bye #deact #debill #ge2010 #ukelection Pse RT

UK Election 2010 Ballot BoxI started posting tweets like the one above the day after the Digital Economy Bill was rushed through its 2nd reading during the "wash up" in a Labour + Tory stitch-up. I've been posting them in drips & drabs in quiet moments and should be finished in time for Election Day.

It's not that I was opposed to the whole bill. Far from it. Nor do I entirely disagree with the need to curb pirating. (See previous post)

But this bill was the latest and last in a long chain of BAD legislation created on behalf of vested interests and their powerful lobbies, and then voted through by a bunch of whipped MPs too ignorant and arrogant to know better.

This is not the most outragious, significant or important legislation demanded by American politicians & businessmen, by the City, by manufacturers, by the CBI, or other vested/establishment interests, and supplied by a compliant Labour government in the face of direct opposition by British citizens (ONE MILLION marched against the Iraq war ffs!).... but it's a classic example, and it happened right on the eve of an election. Pay back time. This time we have a voice.

So my small, self-assigned mission is to name every single one of the MPs who voted for the bill.

They knew what they were doing. They were aware how controversial this bill was, but they trooped into the lobby under the watchful gaze of the whips all the same. Only a small but significant number of heroic back-benchers were brave enough to stand up for what was right or made any sense at all.

I want the Labour, and handful of Tory, drones to know that their actions did not go un-noticed.

Anybody searching twitter for their name or their constituency, or following an election hashtag, might come across my post, or somebody re-tweeting it. Their activists might. Their opposition might. And, if just one voter sees it and thinks twice about voting for them, it will have been
worth it. It's my tiny contribution to the election.

And yes, I am aware that some of the MPs named are no longer standing. That's great. One less muppet to worry about.

OK. Why get bothered about the Digital Economy Act (as it is now)? Here is some background reading for you...































07 April 2010

Digital Economy Bill - Your hand in our downfall

Computer user in handcuffs

I've been tweeting quite a lot recently, not about travel, but about politics and in particular, the Digital Economy Bill (#DEbill)... or as I prefer to think of it, the Internet Control, Surveillance and Punishment Bill.

A couple of people have queried me about it, so here's where I'm coming from.

I don't have a problem with much of #DEbill. Most of the provisions on regional news, DAB radio, etc are fine. So too are the clauses on infrastructure, though I think we've been short-changed. The national target min speed should be at least 50Mb, not a pathetic 2Mb, if we are to keep pace with other digital economies.

I do have an issue with "orphan works" clauses which, like much of the bill, haven't really been thought through or debated enough and should have been amended to protect the rights of contemporary photographers.

Importantly, I am not against anti-piracy legislation to protect the music, tv & film industries even though many commentators argue that those industries are out of touch with new technology and need to change their business models. I could be swayed either way on that, but I pay for all my downloaded music & video and feel at least in the short term there should be a way to stop the large-scale free sharing of those works.

My big issue with #DEbill is that, instead of being targeted, it introduces sweeping sledgehammer legislation (deliberately I suspect) that once again tramples all over our civil liberties. It doesn't just cover .mp3 and .mov file sharing. It covers all content that a copyright holder considers infringed, AND the offended party doesn't even have to prove the infringement before a jury (remember those? No longer required thanks to this totalitarian government).

So, if, despite my encouragement over recent weeks/days, you didn't try to counter-balance the huge industry lobby by writing to your MP about this, let me see if I can paint you a simple hypothetical picture of what your back-sliding acquiescence may have enabled...

Letter #1

From: Chairman, GreedyBastard PLC

To: Secretary of State

Dear employee,

It appears somebody has leaked an internal memo listing the sums we have been covertly depositing in your Swiss bank account. Something must be done immediately. By the way, we consider this to be a frightful infringement of our copyright on this document, nod nod, wink wink.

Letter #2

From: Ofcom Enforcement Officer

To: Innocent Conduit ISP Ltd

Dear Sirs,

It has been drawn to our attention that two websites which you host, Wikileaks.com and BroadsheetNewspaper.co.uk, are offering for download a copyrighted work belonging to GreedyBastard PLC.

Under our sweeping new powers, I order you to sever connections to the aforementioned websites. You may ignore any protestations of innocence which are irrelevant under the Digital Economy Bill 2010.

Now do you geddit?