02 November 2011

Thank God for the Archbishop of Canterbury

... and the Vatican.

Now there is something I truthfully never ever expected to hear come from my lips!

But they get it. They understand the two TOTALLY CRUCIAL changes that have to be made to our financial system in order to avoid another full-scale global financial meltdown and all that might come with it (including conflict, which is why I expect they are so concerned).

At least I think they get it.

The separation of traditional 'high street' banking from the casino divisions is a no brainer, and I'm sure they understand that. It deals with the concept of 'moral hazard' - a phrase used and understood by both money men and priests. No bank should be too big to fail and no society, national or global, should have any truck with that notion.

The Transaction Tax or "Tobin Tax" is equally crucial but this is the bit I'm worried about. I've heard the Archbishop refer to the money it raises and how that would be used. No, no, no. If you think its objective is to raise revenue, you are wrong and you will lose the arguement for imposing it.

That's why I despair every time some moron in the media refers to it as the "Robin Hood" tax. Of course any cash raised is handy, but that's not the point. The point of a transaction tax is to control and curb the excesses of the financial markets.

The spivs and gamblers are dedicated to gambling with their plastic chip money as fast, efficiently and on as large a scale as possible. They are locked in a spiral of greed and ambition. To that end, their latest toys are the data warehouses where their computers use complicated algorithms to trade with each other at speeds up to 400,000+ transactions a second. Listen to this BBC World Service programme about High Frequency Trading (25mins) made over TWO years ago about the stuff they are up to already.

The concept of responsible share ownership counted in nanoseconds does not fly, and unless we move very quickly to impose a transaction tax across Europe and anywhere else that will accept it, they will bring their global financial house of cards down around our heads in less than a heartbeat.

So it's very important to realise that a transaction tax is our only scalable defence against future financial meltdown. What sums it might or might not raise is irrelevant.

The idea of taking money from the rich goes down well in public debate and in the tabloid newspapers but it is a trap. It you use that card you ignore the realities of trickle down economics - it doesn't matter if a rich man can buy yet another super yacht because that feeds the families of the 500 dockyard workers who built it and the companies who supply all the parts and services - and you play into the hands of the financial elite who take the moral high ground and point to the "politics of envy".

(There is a certainly case for stopping them parking their money in the Cayman Islands, or any other offshore tax havens - but that's a less crucial issue. That can come later.)

So, not a "Robin Hood" tax. A "Tobin Tax". Please!

Image: Scott Gunn

13 August 2011

SPICE - Sunday Papers in Crouch End

Sharing the news in Addis Ababa (Photo:  Terje S. Skjerdal)
I did something last week I haven't done for two or three years - I bought a newspaper.

It was the Sunday Times. These days, with Murdoch's asinine firewall in place, I don't even see The Times or Sunday Times

I really rather enjoyed it. I went to the pub and enjoyed a pint and a read. It reminded me that years ago, I and friends in the South-West where I was living & working, used to meet up on Sunday lunchtime at the local and share a collection of papers.

So I'm wondering if there are any Crouch End tweeps who fancy doing the same thing? 

Just an informal but regular Sunday meetup from 12.30.  If we use #_Spice as a hashtag (too many others using #spice) to organise, we can decide which pub, and who is bringing which newspapers. 

So tomorrow (Sun 14 Aug) I'm planning to go to the Queens with the Sunday Times again at 12.30. Anyone want to bring the Telegraph? Observer? Sunday Mirror? Mail on Sunday? etc

12 June 2011

Can't be Arsed with the Adverts

[I'll soon be moving to a new blog in my new Travel-Lists website. Rather than simply close this blog, I'm intending to change the title and use it for occasional off-topic posts. Consider this as the first of those.]

TV remote control
I started watching the new drama series Camelot last night. It looked quite promising.

Then, 15 mins in came an ad break, and I gave up on it. Pity.

It's not that I don't watch commercial programmes. I do... but thinking about it, I realised that I don't watch things I want to watch, or, as in this case, things I expect to be drawn into on commercial TV. I realised that on commercial/satellite channels the only programmes I watch are movies & programmes I've seen before or don't care about.

The reason in simple enough.

As ex-TV camerman, Jeremy Hoare, dryly pointed out on twitter: "#cantbearsedwiththeadverts If it wasn't for the adverts you wouldn't see the programme - been true since ITV started in 1955."

True, but satellite, and to a slightly lesser extent, terrestrial commercial TV has been 'Americanised' since then. I haven't sat there with a stop watch, but it often feels like there's more adverts than content. They seem to appear at 10 minute intervals, all sychronised (+10 mins, +20 mins, +30 mins, +40 mins, and usually in the last few minutes before the top of the hour) so you can't easily channel-hop from adverts to content.

(I don't know about TV but I can't help comparing with the license terms for Classic FM (UK's first national commercial radio station) when we launched in 1992 - we were allowed six minutes of advertising per hour max, in 3 x 2 min breaks. I expect the lobby groups have had those regs 'Americanised' since I left in 98, but probably not by much.)

So, like most normal people, I get up when the adverts come on, and wander away. But, and here's the important bit, since I already know the movie, or don't care about the programme, I'm under no pressure to return in good time. It doesn't matter if I miss the first few minutes of the next content section, or the next section, or the rest of the programme. Adverts can break the flow of the programme as much as they like because I HAVE NOTHING INVESTED IN IT.

Five or six advert breaks of between 2-3 mins mean that at least 15 mins in every hour is advertising. 25% ffs! Reduce it to 10% and I might watch new content on commercial/satellite TV.

Meanwhile, if I get the urge to watch Camelot, maybe I'll wait to rent or download the box set.

06 June 2011

Shall we rent our holiday villa, darling? Or buy it?

The Istana's swimming pool
Well there's something I've not seen before - a real estate press release, distributed to travel journos.
You can sort of see the thinking though.

The Istana is a luxurious villa in Bali, available for holiday lets and has apparantly been regularly featured in the likes of Conde Naste Traveller and the New York Times... and it's up for sale.

What does the spec say?

As one would expect from a property of this calibre, The Istana transitions seamlessly between opulent entertaining and private areas, such as the library, home theatre and dedicated spa and beauty treatment area that have been thoughtfully integrated into an estate that offers a something to everyone. Families will feel especially welcome owing to the vast children?s room and games room. The long manicured lawn and extensive service areas, along with the striking azure of the ocean, explain its popularity for weddings and events.
Bali's modern lifestyle is reflected in The Istana's delicious blend of indoor and outdoor spaces. The main swimming pool is 32 metres in length and offers yet another pleasant sanctuary. The 120 square metre master bedroom suite is an independent structure set aside from the main house with its own infinity edge pool.
The onsite team features a western chef who ensures an indulgent fusion menu from the villa's restaurant-grade kitchen. The management team consists of four butlers, two drivers, two masseuse and spa staff and countless housekeeping and maintenance people and round-the-clock security team.
Separate staff entrances, quarters and parking allow The Istana to remain an idyllic escape where guests can be comfortable in the knowledge that impeccably trained service staff are working behind the scenes to cheerfully cater for all requests.
The Istana has been competently operated as both a private residence and a commercial villa and currently has a substantial forward booking calendar of committed guests and repeat clients.

What doesn't the spec say?

...What the asking price is! It's simply too vulgar to talk money at this stage. Have your PA or manservant make discrete enquiries.

02 June 2011

Visiting Friends & 'Rellies' is risky for some

This is a bit startling.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is launching a campaign to try and convince British nationals (they estimate there are 12m of them) who might be planning to visit friends and family abroad - what we used to call "the VFR market" (Visiting Friend and Relatives) in the old days - to take travel insurance with them as well as teabags.

They've been doing some research. Their survey (of 4,647 UK adults) shows that a third of people did not take out travel insurance the last time they stayed with family and friends overseas. More than three quarters (77%) of those who stated they were visiting friends and family this year said that saving money is a key factor in this decision.

A third!

Minister for Consular Affairs, Jeremy Browne, said: “With over 5 million Britons living abroad, people are increasingly making the most of opportunities to visit their loved ones across the world. However, it’s important to understand that staying in someone’s home does not make you exempt from encountering serious problems. Take the same steps before you go as you would for any other holiday, such as taking out travel insurance and doing some pre-trip research, to ensure you are prepared if something does go wrong.”

Despite the belief that they don’t have to prepare for a holiday when visiting friends and family, 39% of British nationals have ended up relying on their host when things have gone wrong during their trip. British expats hosting visitors have to deal with a range of problems from taking their guests to hospital when they fall ill to providing financial help.

Of course it's not just the 'rellies' who end up sorting things out if there's a problem. Often the British Consulate get drawn in too..... which is why they want to highlight it!

They've given some examples of cases handled by the Foreign Office:

  • A man was visiting his mother in Canada and extended his stay. He suffered a heart attack and had to pay over $40,000 in medical bills as his insurance had lapsed during the prolonged trip.
  • A man had a stroke while visiting family in Cape Town. He was taken to a private hospital but could not pay for the treatment nor did he have any health insurance. The family could not cover the increasing costs and he was moved to state facilities where the level of treatment is significantly lower and where he eventually died.
  • A woman did not take anti-malarial medication before visiting her mother in Tanzania as she’d been to the area many times before. She became sick and was diagnosed with cerebral malaria which she later died from.

But what really caught my eye was this video. It's hard to believe people can be so blasé!

20 May 2011

Your first encounter with a destination icon

 (Photo: flickr/geoftheref)
RunawayJuno has written an excellent post today about a child's excitement on their first flight. She asks the question "do you remember your first time?"

I don't, but it reminded me of a couple of other travelling firsts. I remember both having a huge impact on me.
  1. My first time in America. It was Boston and I remember walking out of the hotel and seeing a police car with all the red & blue lights and the chrome gleaming in the morning light. I grew up seeing American police cars on TV and in films but this just didn't seem real to me. I couldn't get my head around it for a moment. 
  2. My first time in Japan. I was walking in the early evening in one of the old parts of Kyoto and stopped in my tracks when I saw a real Geisha in full costume, clattering towards me on those wooden shoes they wear. She was stunning and I was stunned.

I guess the same must happen when people encounter their first London bus,  red pillar box, wild kangaroo, Tibetan monk or Canadian mountie.

Do you remember any first encounters with a destination icon?

16 May 2011

Target attribute - what's the thinking?

How many new windows can you open?
Ok you programmers & developers out there, what's the latest thinking on this?

Site wide external links should open in a new tab/window (target="_blank") or the current tab?

The purists always used to say 'current', but that's not the way I like to work so I've always made my links open in new tabs. 

That's because when I'm browsing I ALWAYS open links in new tabs so I can go straight back to the original page. Eg on a Google search, I right-click+tab three or four results that interest me, leaving the results page open so I can go back for more if they prove useless.

This is especially important on Travel-Lists, because... they are lists! It would do fabulous things for my stats if visitors had to re-open the list every time they wanted to click the next listing, but would be pretty irritating to use.

However, with a site re-design in the pipeline, I'm beginning to wonder. 

Not least because of the increase in mobile users. If I visit my site on my mobile, I can only open a couple of links before Android tells me I can't open another window. (According to tech forum posts the limit is 4 windows).

So is it time to ditch the 'blank'?

10 May 2011

Dreamliner represents something more than just an evolutionary airliner

I was talking to Yoshimi Ogura from ANA - All Nippon Airways, last night at the APRO (Airline Public Relations Organisation) event.

We were discussing the Boeing 737 Dreamliner, for which ANA is the launch customer.

As you probably know the Dreamliner has had a less than perfect development with endless delays. Since 2007 the delivery date (originally scheduled for May 2008) has been postponed at least 8 times, the latest delay being announced this January. ANA hope, finally, to take delivery, fingers crossed, before the end of the year, but none of the aviation journos I know are placing bets.

I was asking Yoshimi about the 'difficult to quantify' effect all these delays must have had on the airline, with people, training, equipment, resources, jobs... all being put on hold, then starting up again, then being put on hold.

She said something rather interesting. She said: Yes, it has been a strain for everyone but recently it's taken on an added significance.

Now, they just can't wait to start flying the first Dreamliner because "after all the bad things that have happened recently (earthquake & tsunami) we really, really want to have something good to talk about!"

The Best Airline in the World*

Qatar Airways A340-600 (Oops! Long gap since last post. I've been a bit buried recently, working on a new home for Travel-Lists and for this blog. Watch this space)

I had an interesting time at the APRO (Airline Public Relations Organisation) evening last night - sponsored by Qatar Airways (thank you, guys) who are, not just the *'Best Airline in the World', but are also expanding like crazy at the moment.

Last year they launched flights to 10 new destinations (Bangalore, Tokyo, Ankara, Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Phuket, Hanoi & Nice).

This year they have added five new routes (Bucharest, Budapest, Brussels, Stuttgart and Aleppo). The Aleppo service, which launched at the beginning of last month, is the significant one because it is their 100th destination.

Next month the Iranian city of Shiraz gets added to the network, along with Venice and Montreal. In July it's Kolkata (Calcutta), in September it's Sofia, in October, Oslo and in November Entebbe, Baku (Azerbaijan) & Tbilisi (Georgia).

Meanwhile they have been increasing frequencies on their existing routes and expanding their fleet, currently 97+ aircraft... not one of which is older than 4 years (and remember they started 14 years ago with four aircraft).

The plan is, that by 2013 they'll have a fleet of 120+ aircraft serving a network to 120+ destination.

Talk about 'busy, busy, busy'!

Model aeroplanes on shelf* Qatar Airways are self-evidently the "Best Airline in the World" and my saying so has nothing to do with the glorious model of a Qatar Airways A340-600 which was in my goodie bag last night. I remain a totally impartial and incorruptible travel journalist ;) and will continue to declare Qatar Airways the "Best Airline in the World"..... unless another airline (cough) does better. (Did you see what I did there?)

18 April 2011

Blogtrip Asturias

Netbook on table by railway carriage windowIt's been an interesting few days here in the Asturias region of northern Spain.

It's not my first visit to the region, but the last time was very brief. On this trip I've been travelling with a group of blogger friends through an incredible range of landscapes from sandy beach resorts on the coast to remote pastures high in the mountains, en route I've learned how unique shellfish are harvested, processed and marketed in the quayside auction house at the Cornish-style fishing village of Cudillero, and how the art of cheese-making by hand is being taught by shepherds in a purpose built 'school house' in the mountainous Covadonga National Park.... while travelling from place to place in the El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo - a brand new luxury train launching next month.

All the time I've been thinking "ooh, X would love this!", where X is a journalist, editor, blogger, photographer, or tour operator with a special interest. So, if your niche is activity or culture based, you can expect me to tell you all about what you are missing in the Asturias in coming days/months, and who you should talk to about making your own visit!

11 April 2011

Wave your hands in the air

passenger cabin during flight
I have a prediction for you.
Nothing very momentous.
In around five years you are going to be sitting on a long haul flight. At some point en route you'll turn to your companion and say something like "That's the third or fourth person I've seen stick their hand up and wave it. Why don't they use their button to attract the cabin attendents? ... Who, I notice, are ignoring them anyway!"
"Re-cogs" Your companion will say, knowingly.

Here are some of the breadcrumbs that led me to that scenario.
  1. Two or three years ago I spent a day in a social media brain-storming session called vJam run by Virgin Atlantic Airways. There were around 50 Virgin frequent flyers, staff, social media apps designers & programmers and other assorted bods including fellow travel journo, Jeremy Head (www.travelblather.com, @jeremyhead) and myself... all thinking about ways Virgin Atlantic might use social media in the future. So we know they've been thinking about the ways social media might be incorporated into the flying experience both on the ground and in flight.

  2. And (although, as Malcolm Ginsberg reports in today's issue of AERBT Virgin Atlantic's new entertainment system doesn't look quite so advanced) we know that Virgin America and V Australia are already (since 2009) using their RED In-Flight Entertainment (IFA) system which, in addition to an on demand library of films, TV programmes and music, also offers seat-to-seat chat and video games.

    Furthermore other IFA manufacturers, such as Thales Aerospace, are also working on similar Linux-based systems.

  3. Not for Wimps in-flight gamer seatMeanwhile, the 'Not for Wimps' concept gamer seat was unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last week and subsequently appeared in lots of travel trade and mainstream newspapers... accompanied mostly by derision from commentators. But, as I pointed out in the comments on Telegraph's coverage, while the seat itself might only be practical in some rich guy's private jet, the interesting bit was the recognition that many of the new generation of flyers... are gamers.

  4. In January I flew with other BGTW colleagues to Oman and back on Oman Air aircraft equipped with in-flight wi-fi and a broadband(-ish) internet connection. We were able to tweet, use web mail and surf using our smartphones, laptops or PDAs. Of course, being colleagues we were able to gather our twitter conversation between seats in the aircraft and friends on the ground around a common hashtag.

So here is my thinking.

Very soon now passengers are going to be playing more games, and more sophisticated games through their IFAs. While satellite links will become more stable they are never going to be wholly reliable, so I see the emphasis for in-flight gaming and social media focused on local area networks.

In short, it will quickly become common for passengers to be chatting in chatrooms, playing cards or other simple games, and playing mainstream video games like Call of Duty, FIFA 11, HALO, Forza Motorsport, Lego Star Wars, etc.... with other passengers on the same flight.

How will they know who they are?

They'll be saying to each other: "Where are you? Put your hand up."

Hence the "recognition wave".

Scenario continues...

"The flight attendants ignore them because they know it's a re-cog wave. Anyway, when we want service, we'll order it through the IFA", says your all-knowing companion.

"Smug know-it-all!" you think.

31 March 2011

Sunshine.co.uk's list of Top 50 Online Travel Meeja is too traditional

people with boards in front of their faces
What a shame.

These things are always subjective, and I don't want to be overly critical because this is not at all a bad attempt to list the most influential online journalists & bloggers, but there are just too many of the former and not enough of the latter.

On Tuesday, Sunshine published its list of the "Top 50 Travel Journalists and Bloggers to follow on Twitter" on its blog.

Their declared method for assessing who should be in the list was: "a combination of Klout, Peer Index and a sprinkling of fairy dust" - which sounds a pretty good formula to me, and indeed, as I just said, has resulted in a really useful list. I would concur with about 85% of it.

You can hear the "but" coming.

The trouble is, this list feels like one that had to be supplemented. I'm guessing the author started with less than 50 and had to make it up, rather than starting with over 50 and having to whittle them down, and he/she might know traditional trade & consumer travel joggers* but isn't too 'au fait' with the world of travel blogging.

I'm delighted to see Darren Cronian in there, but then he is probably the UK's best-known travel blogger. He is the equivalent of inserting just Jonny Wilkinson with the likes of Gerard, Rooney, Wilshere, Crouch, Bent, Defoe, etc in a list of the "Top 50 England Football & Rugby Players" put together by a football fan.

For the cognescenti, Darren isn't the only uk-based travel blogger of note. For example, the author wouldn't need to use much fairy dust on some of these:

  • Andy Jarosz (501places.co.uk) Klout: 66 Twitter Followers: 7,043
  • Kash Bhattacharya (www.Europebudgetguide.com) Klout: 62 Twitter Followers: 3,937
  • Karen Bryan (www.europealacarte) Klout: 61 Twitter Followers: 4,454
  • Tom Mcloughlin (www.backpackingtraveldestinations.co.uk) Klout: 46 Twitter Followers 2,099
  • Matt Preston (www.travelwithamate.com)Klout: 61 Twitter Followers: 3,571
  • Jools Stone (www.trainsonthebrain.com) Klout: 56 Twitter Followers: 1,947

And these are just some bloggers who, unlike some on the Sunshine list, actually reside in the UK when not travelling. EasyJet have just published a list with some of the other non-UK residential top bloggers, and so has Yucatan Travel.

Anyway. No matter. It's not important in the scheme of things. I'm not saying some people shouldn't be in the list. I'm just disappointed that it doesn't recognise some people who most certainly should be in the list, and I wouldn't even have blogged on it ... if Sunshine.co.uk hadn't decided not to publish my comment pointing out the list's shortcomings.

*Joggers. Name invented by Gosh PR's MD Dru Bryan for 'journalists who blog' (but destined, I fear, only to confuse!)

24 March 2011

CIMTIG awards are important for everyone

Casey Mead & Lewis Shields from Flagship ConsultingA big CONGRATULATIONS to Virgin Atlantic for winning Travel Brand of the Decade... and to all the other winners this evening...including Flagship Consulting (photo).

For travel consumers and travel journalists/bloggers the marketing awards given by the Chartered Institute of Marketing - Travel Industry Group (CIMTIG) may seem boring and irrelevent, but this is important/influential stuff.

Only today I received a round-robin email from a national tourist office asking for advice, opinions and examples of what makes a good tourism org website because they are about to update theirs.

Well, tonight Black Tomato won Best Travel Website. Ok, it's a tour operator not a destination, but it's now a benchmark.

Eg. "Give me an example of a really good travel company website".... er, well, Black Tomato by definition.

And that means you - the journo/blogger or consumer - will encounter more travel company websites structured, styled and with content like Black Tomato, more online ad campaigns like Tourism Ireland's & TV ad campaigns like Visit Wales, and (thankfully) cheeky & stylish 'rockstar' marketing like Virgin Atlantic.

Now tell me that isn't important.

19 March 2011

The Olympics or the Airport?

Man stripped down to underpants, waiting to pass airport security
Hmmm, let's see...
  • Tickets from £20 to £2,000
  • Long queues
  • Officious security
  • A ban on liquids over 100ml
  • No items that could be used as an offensive weapon eg umbrella, tripod

Where shall I go next summer? The Olympics or the airport?

Well clearly I'll be made to feel welcome at neither, but, according to The Independent, the airport is looking the more attractive option.

At least at the airport I'll be allowed to wear clothing of my choice (clothing or other materials with non-Olympic partner logos or branding, is banned at the Olympics), and I'll be able to carry and use my mobile phone.

At the Formula 1 weekend in Valencia last summer I was amazed and angered at the contempt shown to racegoers, who despite forking out a small fortune to watch their beloved sport, are pushed, shoved, corralled and generally treated like scum with wallets to be exploited at every turn. I shan't forget the sneer I got from the security guy who took the cap off my water bottle and threw it in a bin so I wouldn't be able to keep the bottle in my bag (I'd have to drink it and/or buy some overpriced drink from their stands).

So Lord Coe, remember, if you treat your customers like shit, don't expect them to come back.

Oh, of course, I forgot. That's not your problem is it? The next Olympics will be 4 years away and in a different country, with a new pool of fans to exploit.

16 March 2011

The Minister of Tourism on UK tourism and social media

I had a chance to talk to John Penrose, the Minister for Tourism & Heritage this morning on the way to the Best of Britain & Ireland show at the NEC, Birmingham.

This is what he had to say.

15 March 2011

Never mind your question, here's what I want to tell you

radio journalist recording an interview with two businessmen
I'm a bit worried what I might do the first time this crops up in an interview I'm conducting, because it has become my absolute pet hate just recently. I've been lucky so* far, but there has been a noticeably sudden and alarming rise in the number of times I hear this, and what worries me is that it has become a fashionable affectation that we're going to hear more and more.... and one that I'm going to encounter sooner or later.
What am I talking about?
People beginning their answer to a question with the word "so".
...WHAT?? Has there been a time-shift? Did I miss a preceding part of your answer?
What irritates me every time I hear it is that it's so* rude!
"So..." means "I'm not going to do you the courtesy of answering your question. I'm going to use this opportunity to give you a statement I've already prepared in my mind".
I'm hearing it most often on radio news interviews. The presenter will ask an open question, or even a closed one (expecting a definitive answer like 'yes' or 'no' or '215'), and get an open-ended answer beginning with "so".
Q. "Well, Mr Smith it sounds like the results of this research could be rather controversial. How many people did you survey?"
A. "So... The Oxford team & I spent several years developing the methodology for our research programme, blah blah"
Where does this come from? Corporate America or somewhere? Somewhere where they view every media interaction as either hostile or a PR opportunity?
I'm hearing it so* often and it is irritating me so* much, I fear that if/when it happens to me I'll be so* shocked I'll have stop the interview and explain the rules!

Of course there's never an example around when you want one, so* I've been waiting to find one before I posted. Here it is. Look for Jack Dorsey's opening answer. (In fact, in his first two sentences he demonstrates the wrong and then the correct use of 'so'!)
* Correct usage!

10 March 2011

Want to know what happens in a recession? Ask an old guy!

Nerdy accountant with calculatorI was struck today by a post in PR Week on the buoyant or otherwise, mood of PR & Marketing folk facing an economic downturn.

Unfortunately for the author, and (so far, only) comment-poster, their frame of reference is a little thin. They are judging the effects of a downturn based on the ups & downs of the last decade.

Should they be fearing a proper grown-up downturn?


If you work in the PR, marketing & advertising sector, just ask anyone in your office over the age of 40 because they will remember the last period of prolonged recession in the eighties.

With a dread feeling of deja vue, let me explain what we all knew back then.

In a recession, the bean-counters move into the ascendancy, finance directors become the alpha dog in the boardroom, and budgets & staff are cut in this order...

First - PR

Second - Advertising

Third - Research & Development

Fourth - Production (the people at the coalface actually doing the work or providing the service)

Fifth - Sales (Direct sales - people on the phones and on the streets selling directly to customers)

Sixth - HR (You need people to handle the cuts above)

Seventh - Accounts

Is pretty simple to see why.

Costs have to be slashed or clearly justified. Bean-counters like to see definitive ROI. They'll pay for a new machine tool because they know it will increase productivity by x% - a number they can quantify in pounds & pence. Budgeting for a new PR campaign, on the other hand, is pure speculation to an accountant. Likewise funding Research & Development is just too much of a gamble to make accountants feel comfy.

The order of Sales v Production should be the other way round, but accountants have a real need to stay close to the money. They 'sort of' feel that Production can always be made more efficient, but whatever happens, unless Sales are there to actually sign the money, it's all rather academic.

So, where does this leave us?

If the economy goes pear-shaped and you happen to work in PR or Advertising.... OR in the creative industries funded by advertising (ie broadcasting, graphic design, publishing, etc)...

Be afraid! Be very afraid!

06 March 2011

20 of the best time-wasting websites

bored woman at work

I've been looking through some of my old Delicious bookmarks (Hands up if you didn't know Delicious is under threat) and realised I could easily mess with your day by creating a list of 20 compulsive websites that will definitely prevent a consciencious travel blogger/journalist, PR or travel professional from doing the work they should be doing.

Deadline, you are so busted! Muhahahaha

  1. Rock, Paper, Scissors This one drives me mad. There is just no way I could be so predictable.... or so I thought.

  2. The Daily Mail-o-matic The tool Paul Dacre uses to set the day's agenda ;) If you begin to get bored with the permutations it has handy links to other similar tools like the Alastair Campbell Wheel of Retribution.

  3. Hand-Written Clock This is guaranteed to waste at least a minute!

  4. National Grid Frequency A Duty Engineer (yes, one man!) controls the minute-by-minute balance between the entire country's electricity demand and supply. Electricity cannot be stored, so the instantaneous generation must match the demand. His (or her) guide is the frequency - nominally 50hz. If demand is higher than the generation, the frequency will fall, and vica versa. National Grid has statutory obligations to maintain the frequency within +/- 0.5Hz around this level. However, they normally operate within +/- 0.2Hz. Watch how well he is doing in realtime as he literally 'drives' the grid. Bet you won't take electricity for granted anymore!

  5. Bloody Day An oldie, but goldie. This is SICK, SICK, SICK... and therefore perfect for some of you! But be very careful who you let see you playing this. It could take a long time to restore your 'PC' credentials!

  6. Singing Horses The antidote to No.5 above. I first found this in 2005. It's still cute.

  7. Live Tube Map Watch the little trains go round & round :)

  8. Monitter.com Hard to believe, I know, but there are people who don't use Twitter, or Tweetdeck. This is for them. A simple way to watch what's going on without becoming involved. Change the keywords at the top of the three columns to things you are interested in (eg. Oslo, money, vintage camera) and watch people all over the world writing about those things in realtime. This site cost one of the BGTW's most prolific and self-disciplined journos, two days' work, after I showed it to her!

  9. Blue Ball Machine This is another golden oldie. I bookmarked this back in 2005. It still makes me happy watching it.

  10. The Dialectizer This is a little flakey, but quite fun. For example, see how a fine site like Andy Jarosz's www.501places.com can be improved in 'redneck'!

  11. Sandcastles When you figure out how it works, and get through round one.... yer stuffed!

  12. British Pathe If you are over a certain age, Pathe News will bring back all sorts of memories. They've digitised a lot of their old newsreels and now you can search them. Try your local area/town name. (Bye bye...see you in an hour or two!)

  13. Fly Guy Looks a little dated now... but still quite fun :)

  14. Flightradar24 Watch flights progressing around the map in real time.

  15. Famous Objects from Famous Movies Start this one, and your morning has gone!

  16. Eye Revolution Local photographer (to me in Crouch End) who specialises in 360° photos has built up a pretty spectacular portfolio. You can waste 20 mins in here, easily.

  17. Will You Join Us What they call an "educational simulation" game. You are charged with making decisions on how to power a city, balancing environmental and financial needs/concerns. If you like this sort of thing, NASA have got a multi-player 'edu sim' based on the moon (that you have to download).

  18. Rush Hour at Lukla Listing a Youtube video is a bit of a cheat because we all know you can spend a lifetime on Youtube once you start, but I can't resist this one, especially for travel peeps. Many of you will know it already, but I bet even you watch it all the way through! And if you wonder what it looks like from the other direction, so to speak - see this.

  19. Airpano High resolution aerial photos. They are pretty spectacular. I like the shots taken over Amsterdam.

  20. and for the last one...

  21. World Travel Map This will have travellers hooked. Tick off the places you've been. It doesn't matter how many you tick (26% for me) the map still manages to look empty (unless you've concentrated on the biggies - China, Russia, Brazil, etc)!

Oh, and a couple of seasonal time-wasters...

  • The snow map I spotted this in 2008 when Ben Marsh first created it. This winter it came of age; the Met Office started using it to show what was actually happening on the ground as opposed to what they predict. It's fascinating watching the snow spread over regions during the course of a day.

  • NORAD Santa Tracker Somebody has to keep tabs on Santa, why not the US military?

Now, for heaven's sake don't go sharing these, or I will be charged with bringing the entire UK travel industry to a halt single-handed.

...unless you want to share culpability...?

Hands up if you didn't know Delicious is under threat

Back in December, Yahoo announced they were restructuring (downsizing) some of their services, including the popular bookmarking tool Delicious.com (I'm sure it used to be del.icio.us when it first launched, didn't it?), which they plan to either sell or close down.

So there's a good chance somebody may take it over if they can see a way of 'monetising' (I hate that word so much) it. This is what Delicious said at the time.

It's worth noting that the BBC have started using Delicious for programme notes, so maybe they might be a suitor.

Thinking I would play safe, I exported my bookmarks in simple .csv formats and started looking for alternatives. I've been using Wonderpage.com for a couple of months now. I quite like it, but its structure is a bit more formal, focusing on folders rather than tags.

A couple of weeks ago, Google launched a Delicious importer that, in one click, takes all your bookmarks from Delicious, along with the tags, descriptions, dates & other meta info and imports them into Google Bookmarks.

So now I have three bookmark systems. Confusing :(

04 March 2011

Is it me?

man with clothes peg on nose
Is it just me, or does anybody else get this problem?

Skype - a brilliant tool for communication, but it takes two!

How many times do I agree with somebody to meet up or keep in touch on skype, exchange usernames, find them in the skype directory and send them an invitation... only to be met with silence?

It happens all the time.

Do people not understand the skype invitation? It's not an invitation to open a video conversation right there & then. It's simply an invitation to link to each other.

If you want to use skype you BOTH have to send or accept an invitation.

Oh, and you have to actually open the program to use it (I'm talking to the colleague who has Skype, works online, and who I talk to every day..... down an ordinary expensive phone line, because she never switches skype on!).

... or maybe it's just me.

Time to get connected


I'm becoming an evangelist for Poken.com (maybe I should ask for a commission or something!).

I'd really like to see the travel industry press and PRs using Poken regularly at press events, product launches and other travel trade gatherings. In fact, I'd go further than that: I think every day Pokens (not sure what the plural is) are not 'part of the furniture' at travel industry gatherings is a social media marketing/networking opportunity lost - and let's face it, there are 1 - 3 travel media events every working day in London alone.

Poken say they will discount for bulk (but they are a bit slow to talk detail), so maybe all it will take to achieve critical mass is a few innovative sponsors to start dropping them in goody bags.

To get a real sense of what can be done with them, see the video in this recent blog post: http://blog.poken.com/2011/01/31/poken-included-in-mcis-annual-meeting-of-worldwide-event-planners/

Maybe we should all be wearing those Italian jeans! ;)

21 February 2011

Your chance to work in a Summer Camp in the USA

I'm way too old for this, but I've always thought it looked fun! So I'll pass the info on...


Final round of nationwide interview sessions in March

BUNAC, the provider of summer camp adventures and gap year experiences, is holding a final round of interview days throughout March in major cities around the UK for candidates interested in working with children on Summer Camp USA 2011.

Summer Camp USA is a rewarding experience for anyone keen to enhance their CV, make lifelong friends and gain an insider view of a long-standing American tradition. Salaries for an eight to nine-week placement range from $790 to around $1,215 depending on age and experience; food and accommodation are also included.

To book an interview, visit http://www.bunac.org/summercampusa or call (020) 7251 3448.

The schedule is as follows:

London: Saturday 5, Saturday 12, Wednesday 16, Saturday 19, Sunday 27, Wednesday 30 March

Bristol: Saturday 5, Saturday 26 March

Glasgow: Saturday 5, Sunday 27 March

Leeds: Sunday 6, Saturday 26 March

Manchester: Sunday 6, Saturday 19, Sunday 27 March

Southampton: Sunday 6 March

Birmingham: Saturday 12 March

York: Saturday 12 March

Cardiff: Sunday 13 March

Sheffield: Sunday 13 March

Aberdeen: Sunday 13 March

Leicester: Saturday 19 March

Newcastle: Saturday 19 March

Edinburgh: Sunday 20 March

Liverpool: Sunday 20 March

Exeter: Sunday 20 March

Dublin: Saturday 26 March

24 January 2011

BGTW in Oman aka #bgtw2oman

Some background detail about the #bgtw2oman tag.

Every year the British Guild of Travel Writers (approx 275 members) holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in a, supposedly(!), alternating destination either in the UK or abroad. Recent AGMs for example have been held in Tenerife, York, Malta, Aviemore, Cyprus, Cyprus,etc.

The event is hosted by the destinations (who year on year tell us they get an 'excellent return on their investment') and usually attracts between 70-100 guild members.

This year we are guests of the Oman Ministry of Tourism and the trip follows a traditional pattern.

The Committee (10 people) go out the day before the main contingent, which is why you got that initial flurry of tweets from me, flying on Sunday evening to arrive in Muscat 7+ hrs later on Monday morning. I would have posted more shots and maybe some video but the system notes say that on some aircraft graphics are blocked to reduce load on the satellite uplink. (which explained why my twitpic & flickr pages kept stalling.

This morning, when we landed we travelled 48 miles up the coast to a brand new resort hotel and complex, the Millennium Resort Mussanah at Al Mussanah - so new it is still having the final tweeks before being opened next month (including the swimming pool, which sadly is not ready yet!)

The resort is unique not only for being the first Millennium in the region but also because it has its own marina, with moorings for local yachtsmen and boat owners, and a full range of watersport actvities including diving and racing Extreme 40 catamarans.

As I write, almost 90 guild members are gathering at Heathrow's terminal 3 to catch the overnight flight, which is being promoted as a possible mile-high tweet-up due to oman Air's online wifi connectivity.

Bright and early in the morning we (the committee will go into the airport to meet our friends emerging blinking off the plane.

They are being thrown in at the deep end. First there is a 2-hour Muscat city tour then they board a high speed ferry to sail up the coast to the Millennium's dock. In the evening there's a drive back into town for receptions and supper at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the Chedi.

Next day is the AGM itself. an all day meeting, during which at Lunch time local travel providers will be meeting and talking to members big.

After is a big gala evening event to celebrate then I and many/most of the others will fly back to the UK, leaving 5 small escorted fam trip groups to separate off and explore the mountains, deserts, coast and culture for another two days.

Meanwhile I'm knackered (and was falling asleep in the meeting this afternoon) so here (above is a pic of the snacks I just found in my room just now (above).