Rabu, 28 Desember 2011

Travel Report Anguilla

Anguilla Trip Report

If you are like me you will love this place. What is like me? You might get a lot of answers to that depending on who you ask but I think I like the following:
a) I enjoy my luxuries which include air conditioning, a comfortable bed and food/drink when I want it.
b) I like accommodation which is safe and hassle free which is no longer that easy in the Caribbean.
c) People are important to me. I like them genuine and friendly rather than snooty or brash.
d) I am not overly active but enjoy sea sports and scenic comfortable beaches.
e) I enjoy my food but hate overly formal, pretentious and expensive restaurants.
f) Fun bars where you can relax and dance if you want is a bonus.

It is incredibly rare to get all these things in one place but Anguilla provided them all and more. It really is an exceptional island and I am amazed (but secretly relieved) that more people do not know about it. You ask most people in Britain about Anguilla and they will think you have pronounced Angola in central Africa badly! But there it is: this beautiful friendly island that is merely a 30 minute connection from the main British Caribbean holiday hub of Antigua.

We arrived from Antigua on 28th November 2011. The connection was great as you can avoid the chaos of arrival immigration as long as you remember to book checked bags through to Anguilla at UK check-in. If so you simply transfer across to the departure area on the right as you face immigration.

On arrival at the tiny airport in Anguilla you will obviously need to clear immigration. Remember two things, first, be sure you have got hold of and completed an arrivals card and secondly be carefully to write clearly. Very often LIAT Airways forget to give out these forms in advance so ask for them. Also immigration copy almost every last bit on the form into their computer so, if you have not written clearly, it takes ages. Trust me on this!

Once through immigration and customs you will probably need a taxi and there is a taxi controller right in front of you on the left. Taxis can be quite expensive due to their ‘sectional’ charging tariffs where, if you cross over a number of these geographic sections the price jumps. We decided not to pick up a car at the airport as even though it is a small island signs aren’t great and you could struggle first time in the dark. We hired a car which they delivered to the resort and left it at the airport when we departed. Driving is like the UK (on the left) but so are the steering wheels on the hire car!

We stayed at Meads Bay Villas which is within 20 minute drive (most places are) from the airport and we loved it. There are four villas in a zigzag line back from the beach itself. They are located between two small boutique hotels which, although unobtrusive provides added security to the location. We really did think twice about renting a villa in the Caribbean since hearing about a number of high profile incidents over recent times but I can say we felt completely safe here.

You can never rule out crime whether you are at home or on holiday. Nowhere is safe when you have people of any type around. All you can do is be sensible and part of that is to look closely at where you are planning to go. We found that the people in Anguilla all seem to know each other and understand how much they depend on tourism for their future. They want to keep their island safe so people keep coming and also there are not that many non Anguillans living there. From what I see most incidents on other islands are related to issues and people not currently active in Anguilla.

So what about these villas? Well they are well run and looked after by some exceptionally nice and helpful people. You only have to look up some of the reviews and they always recognise these folks. This matters as you really have to depend on them if something goes wrong. For example I was certain our bedroom aircon was faulty as there was a terrible buzzing coming from the wall.

Chris, the boss spent ages on his hands and knees, followed by heads down holes and walls but still no cure. No problem he assured me and called in an expert from across the islands. Still no solution until suddenly he asked me if there was anything in my suitcase leaning against the wall. We opened it and found my razor had switched itself on. I could have died but there were laughs all round and a total refusal to accept any payment for wasted time. Just a small example but I think an important one.

We settled in and spent 3 nights in villa 3. Two big bedrooms, two en-suite bathrooms, outside shower, fully equipped kitchen (better than home) and a comfortable lounge area with plasma cable TV. If we needed anything we asked and it was quickly delivered even if they had to go out and buy it. By the way they will do your initial food shopping for you so it is waiting when you arrive. As a result we were able to sip our own cold drinks and make an omelette soon after we arrived.

They also tidy your villa every day which includes loading the dishwasher, making the beds and putting out fresh beach and bathroom towels. The pool and pool deck were similarly maintained and they will do your washing and ironing at a fair price per load. Just like a hotel but with the added benefits of villa life. By the way the voltage is 110, the plugs are US two pin, robes are provided, as is a safe.

After 3 nights we moved to villa 2. All the villas are identical but we moved to be that bit closer to the see. On reflection a waste of time and the slightly higher rental as they are all so close that we only reduced less than 30 seconds walking time! They are clever the way they have landscaped and positioned these villas to ensure privacy and soundproofing from each other. The move was seamless as you go to lunch and when you get back everything has transferred to the self same location in the new villa.

We tended to spend most days at our villa and beach except for the occasional outings to other beaches and locations. The beach at Meads Bay is terrific with a large expanse of powder white sand and small breaking waves. The island is blessed with superb beaches and the other favourite one of ours was Rendezvous Bay where the Cuisinart Hotel is located. Meads Bay villas provide plenty of shades and sun loungers on their stretch of the beach.

There is not a huge amount to see on Anguilla apart from great beaches and views. If you want an action packed holiday or if you have active children you might have a problem. For example jet skis are banned which adds to the peace but may annoy a few. Most other water sports are there and they have one pretty good golf course although it is overpriced in my opinion.

Another amazing thing about Anguilla is the dining choice available. The quality is enormously high and you can get almost anything you like. It will not cost a fortune either and I am staggered that a place as remote and small as Anguilla can attract such culinary skills. The local lobster is delicious and we even found one small new restaurant (On Da Rocks) where you could buy them for $5 each!

We could split our favourite restaurants into two types. The ones you went to purely to eat and the others where you spend the whole evening drinking and dancing. Our favourite eatery was ‘Sand Bar’ which is located in the area called Sandy Ground where most of the other restaurants are. We also enjoyed ‘Straw Hat’ which was located right next to Meads Bay Villas, in fact a 4 minute walk on a moonlit beach.

For fun we went most nights to ‘Ripples’ at Sandy Ground. It is a bar restaurant and it does the best steak and mash as well as fish and chips I have tasted anywhere. The bar section gets pretty lively sometimes but all very good fun. The British Navy goes in there when visiting port and the bar is full of great memorabilia. It really is a place you can go in alone and come out with new friends.

If you want lots of good local music and food there is ‘The Pump House’ at night and ‘Johno’s’ for Sunday afternoon Jazz. Both are at Sandy Ground. These are my personal favourites but, as I said earlier, there are many more that are equally popular including the more expensive which we did not go to like ‘Jacala’ and ‘Blanchards’, both at Meads Bay.

Our two weeks rushed by and the day of departure loomed. Again it was totally relaxed and hassle free. Somebody was going to move into our villa after we left but we were invited to take our time as the staff were willing to fit their preparation around us. The car hire man popped around for the first and last time, swiped my card and suggested I took the car to the airport and left it there. Give the keys to anyone working there he said grinning. We ended up hugging and kissing the great Meads Bay villa staff with genuine warmth and headed home.

Our particular connection at Antigua was not too good. In fact it was going to be a 6 hour wait at the airport which frankly I thought was going to be a nightmare. In my view Antigua airport is a disgrace. Considering the high density of flights passing through it at certain times the facilities are at best primitive.

To help those that have to endure an Antigua transfer I have a couple of suggestions. You will need a fully completed landing card even if you are transferring. You should have told the check in staff in Anguilla that you are connecting and although they will not check your bags through they will mark them with a transit label. This helps the other end.

When you arrive in Antigua you will usually be faced with an enormous queue of hot tired people waiting at immigration. Instead of joining them go over to the left (as you face them) of the desks and there should be a much less busy one for transferring passengers. When through there you have arrived at customs. Again, if you look on the right you should see a smaller queue for transfers.

Now at this point we did something a bit different. We could not face 6 hours at the not so tender mercy of Antigua airport so we used a fantastic, reasonably new service called ‘Outbound Lounge’www.outboundlounge.com. This is a special facility located the other side of the airport that has its own excellent facility. It is a large single story building that has a luxury lounge, sleeping room, showers, outside tables with sun loungers and everything else you could possibly wish for.

A fabulous place to pass time but it does cost and you currently have to be a British Airways passenger (any class) to use it. While you are in the lounge they check you in, sort out your baggage and bring immigration and security over to you. They then drive you directly across the runway to the aircraft steps. A grand way to finish a holiday! I cannot recommend them enough.

Jumat, 23 Desember 2011


To all my readers: Yes I know you are out there because I read the stats!

No, you are not the best at giving me feedback so please have a go in 2012 as I really miss what you have to say and it keeps me writing.

Christmas Wishes: Oh American Airlines will you please grow up and
stop being so self destructive.

Can members of the travel supply chain think of better
and possibly easier ways of making bigger profits than over the
bleeding bodies of their partners and customers.

Finally? Have a great Christmas and New Year and I look forward
To trying to keep you interested and amused next year.

One last ‘story? I flew to New York last weekend and found myself in Club Class and directly facing one of the most attractive woman I have ever seen. We got talking and I asked her what she was doing.

She explained that she was going to speak at a very large womens society the next day about the sexes and planned to debunk a number of fallacies that people had about certain nationalities. “Give me some examples” I asked and she did.

It is not true that French men make the best lovers. It is the Greeks.
The most well endowed men are not African Americans they are native Indian Americans.
Finally the men most likely to talk women into sleeping with them are not Italian they are the Irish.

“Fascinating” I said. “What is your name” she asked.

“Tonto Papadopolous” I replied. “But my friends call me Paddy”

Senin, 21 November 2011

A London Airport Solution?

I wonder if we will ever get one. Recent discussions gyrate rather like a manic tango. You know how it goes, striding forward only to come to a dramatic halt, a frenzied shake of the head, and then lunging back again.

Everyone with a brain in their head knows a solution has to be found. In truth many also realise that it is nearly already too late to stop the UK slipping down the major trading nations success chart. One thing for certain is the UK should be ashamed of its current airport infrastructure and the inefficiency, inconvenience and downright embarrassment of it all.

Can you honestly see it happening anywhere else in world? I can’t. Even in the most heavily populated countries they still prioritise and act on making sure their airport infrastructure is prepared for the future. Some simply take the flack and build more runways at existing airports whilst some construct huge islands with fast city links. What do we do? We find solutions, discuss them, semi-commit and then back off for socio, environmental and/or political reasons.

Of course solving our air infrastructure crisis (yes it is one) will upset someone be they people, birds, voles or snails, that’s obvious. And of course it will take time which we are just about run out of but goodness me it has to happen. We all know that don’t we. Or there is the other option and that is give up our place as a major global, political and trading nation. Do we want to give that up and resign ourselves to being a second world nation?

So what are the options available to us? There won’t be any more new ones cropping up so, if we do anything it will be one of the following:

Island in the estuary. Great idea and it has been done before in places like Hong Kong. Remember them? They had this overcrowded airport in the city (sounds familiar?) so they started from scratch far enough away to get the lowest resistance and then built a superb city link by road and rail. It cost them mega money but hey it provided jobs, appeased the majority and ensures they have few problems in future.

Expand one of the existing London airports. I guess it would work…in the short term. But look at the charade that was the last attempt to put that much needed extra runway at Heathrow. What a waste of time and money that was. A ‘no brainer’ that turned out to be nothing of the sort. We can be so darn democratic in this country that we stifle the life out of ourselves.

The third option is the one I favour. Why? Because I think it is the only one that could possibly drag itself through the mire of politics and protest. This solution is to turn the airports of Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick into one mega hub. I have been advocating this for years but let me remind you.

The key fact that will never change under the current structure is that the vast majority of people want to fly out of Heathrow. This is because of its proximity to London, its interlining capability and its catchment area. Gatwick and worse Stanstead will never match it, unless they link up to form one big seamless interlinking airport. This would need superfast links from each location and its terminals to the other parts of the hub.

Is such a solution practical and what good would it do? Yes, I think it could work. I am not an engineer but looking at what has been done with superfast rail links and channel tunnel connections to London I think it can. What it will allow is the efficient usage of existing runway space plus a spreading of the Heathrow load across a bigger base. The customer will be able to transfer airports as though they were moving from one terminal to another. With minimal hassle and maximum speed. In effect each of the three airports become a ‘terminal’ of the new ‘Super Airport’.

I put this forward again as a compromise not a solution. The solution is obvious and would involve building an airport in the Thames Estuary. The compromise solves a short/medium term problem but will ultimately require new runways being built. Although we could do nothing I suppose. Or is that really an option?

Think I am nuts? Well tell me why and I will publish it. Same goes if you agree.

Kamis, 27 Oktober 2011

So will Airlines go Direct Connect or not?

Of course some will, but not completely and many will not at all for competitive, budgetary or capability reasons. Will all TMCs link direct to those that do? Definitely not. The customer ultimately will decide and they will have a choice… at a price.

Let’s get down to basics shall we? Firstly there is nothing wrong with the GDS model we have at present as far as the whole chain (excluding the supplier) is concerned. For the supplier it is a frustrating cost of sale that they have failed to negotiate down sufficiently and one they are not willing to pay for any more. In simplistic terms they cannot see why they should pay to enable customers and intermediaries to have a ‘one stop shop’ and besides it distances them from their customers.

So airlines like American have decided that it is time for a change in model. A bit like Lufthansa did in Europe. Enabling technology capability is perceived to be there now so they have thrown down the challenge to the GDSs of negotiating or risk market attrition. However what they seem to have failed to grasp is that maybe the rest of the supply chain is either not capable or unwilling to embrace the direct connect model. Some have too much to lose and definitely little to gain by doing so.

The current dynamics and rationales are both fascinating and disturbing and worth analysis. The market is enormous and with many players in various shapes and sizes. It is also bound up in a ‘cats cradle’ of payment incentives, global market variations and cultural ways of doing business. There are still places on the globe who are transacting business two steps back from what the so called driver markets discarded years ago.

The above does not appear to concern the main drivers of change like American and Lufthansa but they need to remember that they aspire to be global entities yet seem to be applying their local majority market strategies on ultimately all of us. I am certain that, in the current environment this will not work but equally convinced they will be able to do it where they have critical mass. So this means that the world will have to handle air transactions on a more complex multi-tier basis.

So I for one accept that it is going to happen in parallel with the current booking methodology. This means that one can either book direct or through someone else at an additional cost. Cost, of course is the operative word. To book ‘direct’ you will either have to go straight through the airline or through a TMC who has a non GDS link. This will cost the TMC in money and resource as they will need to radically change their systems and they will not do it for free. The airlines will have to pay them instead of the GDS although not so much. The corporations will also want their cut or at least compensation for extra TMC cost.

I do not believe for one second that any volume spending corporation will decide to bypass the TMC because of this new model. What airlines choose not to understand is that a booking (and the cost of it) is not the be all and end all of travel management. In my days in travel management the actual booking itself was just the tip of the iceberg of travel management activity. Will corporations accept the fooling around of their programme just because an airline wants to save their own distribution costs?

To me it is logical that not all airlines are going to follow this path. It is also logical that some (i.e. American) will do so but with a much smaller impact than they might hope for and then only in certain market areas. I think others will watch them succeed or fail before rejecting it or taking into account the mistakes they make. It will become just another option which will bypass the GDS, give further power/income to the TMC and pass a potentially higher tab to the end user. I have said it before but what it will do is turn the big TMCs into mini GDS who will want incentivising while having greater control over airline share.

Finally one needs to ask what the smaller and less endowed airlines and TMCs are going to do. Those that do not have the capability or infrastructure to operate two different main booking methodologies. Sure as anything, they are not going to sit still.
Neither is the GDS. I suspect both will do all they can to bypass American and anyone else who tries it and invent alternative value adds.

As for the large TMCs I expect them to eke out every competitive and financial advantage out of the chaos that will ensue. They should be able to both have their cake and eat it by managing the different options in different regions and using their superior technology. Mind you they too are under a degree of pressure as they are less able than most to turn around to a mega supplier partner and say they won’t play. That could get very messy so I am not surprised they are ‘working’ with American.

I will watch with interest and a high degree of scepticism over what American might achieve. I wonder whether they will see the savings made from GDS bypass fading away in TMC and corporate incentives and market share loss. Maybe they will remember that they used to get a higher yield using the other model. Who knows, but it will give everyone in the industry a wake-up call at least!


I still don't think we've even scratched the surface of how bad direct connect will be for airlines, tmcs and customers Martin

Minggu, 23 Oktober 2011

Memories of a less disapointing Rugby World Cup

Some of you may remember a little true story I wrote about when I was fortunate enough to go to Australia and watch the 2003 Rugby World Cup Semi Final between England and France. This was the year we ended up beating Australia in the final.

I watched the latest World Cup Final today and, in the closing minutes my phone rang. Good grief it is not my Aussie friend again I thought as I snatched the reciever out of my startled wife's hand. Why did I do that? Here is a reprise of that 'little true story' that happened 8 years ago:

My relationship with my wife has been tested sorely twice in my years of being corporately entertained. It could have so easily gone the wrong way twice but thankfully Judith and I are still together. The occasions were even worse than the time I murmured “Oh yes Valerie” in my sleep. A terrible thing to happen, especially as I do not know anyone called Valerie.

The first occasion was when I was invited by British Airways to fly to Australia to see the rugby world cup semi final match between France and England. A fabulous opportunity which I could not turn down even though we would only be there for less than four days.

Anyway, we went to the fantastic Telstra stadium which makes our Twickenham ground look like a public toilet and sat just above the half way line in some of the best seats in the place. Marvellous, and to complete our joy England won, thanks mainly to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson. After the game we went into one of the ground’s hospitality suites and imbibed in copious quantities of the amber nectar (Australian for beer).

The need to make more room for the next pint(s) became irresistible so I went back into the main stand to find the lavatories. In the nick of time I found one and as I did what comes naturally at such times the loudest, drunkest and rudest Australian jubilantly staggered into the convenience. “Is that all you have got” he crowed as he relieved himself in the middle of the room. We are going to thrash you bstrds in the final next week. I disagreed and we had a little undignified pushing and wrestling.

The argument was settled by me during a pause in grappling. “Look” I said. Why don’t we swap phone numbers and agree that whoever loses next week phones the other to apologies”. He agreed and parted and I frankly thought nothing further about it.

The following week I sat down back home with my wife and watched the final and, thanks to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson, we won. I went ballistic and jumped all over the room screaming “YES, YES” rather like that famous scene in the film ‘When Harry Met Sally’. I did not here the phone ring but Judith did.

The first thing I noticed was the shocked look on her face. She asked me if there was something I needed to tell her about my sexuality. The question rather shook me so I asked why she should enquire. “Well” she said “I have just spoken to a drunken Australian. He was crying. He said he met you in a toilet in Sydney and that you had been rough with each other. He says he feels sad and ill but wants to say sorry. Hard to explain convincingly, I am sure you will agree.

Senin, 10 Oktober 2011

Good Evening Count – Do Come In!

Without insinuating they are all a load of blood suckers I believe that inviting the press to listen to you is akin to inviting Count Dracula around for a nightcap. You want the experience to be worthwhile and enjoyable but there is a chance you will have a pain in your neck and the need for a transfusion afterwards.

Never could this more true than in the corporate travel business as recent events at an ACTE conference testify. They willingly invited journalists in to their sessions, tried to slap down an ‘off the record’ mandate and then were mortified when the press did their job. You cannot hold a very public and very large conference and then say everything (bar what we tell you) is a secret.

Reading about this furore got me thinking about my career as a senior in a travel management company and the experiences I had with the press. They were many and varied and I think they highlighted some of the things that are right and wrong in this particular industry. As a result, here are a few thoughts to ponder on.

Who in the travel industry needs the press? We all do yet we go about fulfilling this need in strange ways. You can take it as a given that unless you deal with them right you can get into trouble. Deal with them properly and you will get all that you desire. Bullshit, dictate or threaten them and you get what you richly deserve. Ignore them and you can start wondering why nobody knows about you.

On the other side the press needs you or they have nothing to write about. Simplistic I know but this is something often forgotten. So if you want to be a player in this industry you have to help them and not throw obstacles, smokescreens and dictates in their way. You also need to tell them something useful, not just the samey releases and platitudes that make you yawn let alone them!

I have never known an industry so selectively secret than our own. Many corporations won’t tell you what TMC they use let alone anything about their travel profile or philosophy. Suppliers only want to talk in sanitised clichés about new products and services but become very reticent when it comes to evidence and case studies. Hardly surprising as very often such products are in their early stages or even a hurried reaction to a competitor’s announcement. Hence the so called ‘smoke and mirrors’ syndrome we have encountered over recent years, Just ask yourself how many of those super duper announcements five years past have ultimately turned into anything worth having.

My own experiences with the press were many and varied and I must admit some of them gave our PR departments kittens. But I can honestly say they were both useful and rewarding to me and the companies I worked for. Why? Because I told them’ like it is’ but in a way that gave us credibility and, hopefully, respect. There is nobody better to have on you side than a journalist who believes in you and nobody worse than one who feels patronised and used.

What advice would I give? The following might help:

Never give a journalist a story and expect him not to use it. It is not in his nature.
Never give them something unsubstantiated and boring and expect publication.
Treat them as the valuable marketing tool they are not as a company stooge.
Stop being so darn secretive. If you got it then flaunt it.
Never treat them or their readers as idiots (American Airlines take note).
If you invite them around do not let them bite your neck! I suggest you try providing high quality ‘blood bags’ of information that are digestible and tasty!

Minggu, 25 September 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 4

OK, where was I? Oh yes, that night in the Scottish pub when I rediscovered that some of the locals still maintain that ‘mutual rivalry’ and ‘friendly respect’ between our two great nations. I also learned that, in times of duress you get loyal support from the most unexpected quarters!

The next morning dawned and we were all up early for a tour around the Trossachs and a visit to a stately home. What is a Trosach one guest asked over his full Scottish breakfast? Is it a rodent like the haggis another asked? Is a stately home a home that is in a state asked a third? All will be revealed I said cryptically as I was still feeling the effect of the previous night’s whiskies and could not face a long discussion on Scottish wildlife and ancestral homes.

I was just leaving the room when Mr High (the nickname of one of my Nigerians) stopped me and asked for a bigger room. ‘Why’ I asked? ‘For my wives who arrive today’ he smirked. ‘WIVES’, I gasped. ‘Yes’ he replied. ‘Mine are coming too’ chipped in Mt Mighty (the other one). ‘How many’ I sighed? ‘Three’ said the first. ‘Four’, replied the other ‘and the baby’. Life should not be so cruel, I thought.

This time we really did have to pile into a single coach but thankfully a truce between the nationalities had broken out since their alliance of the previous night when protecting my racial rights. They even behaved (well slept actually) the whole morning as we drove around the soggy Trossach hills and valleys as the tour guide talked to himself. They were even most patient when I stopped the coach so I could be sick behind a bolder to get rid of the previous night’s excesses.

At lunchtime we arrived at the stately home (Prestonfield House). It was incredibly packed and we could not get into the car park as it turned out they were hosting the ‘World Haggis Hurling Contest’ that very day. This involved contestants standing on top of a whiskey barrel and throwing haggis as far as they possibly could and it was being taken very seriously. My gang decided that they were all going to have a go so they could become champions of their own countries in something.

There is an art to hurling a haggis. It involves being able to turn one’s body around to maximum torque before twisting back and catapulting said bladder of offal in a forward direction. All this while balanced on top of a wobbly barrel end. Not as easy as it seems we witnessed as various muscular Scots tried and mainly failed. Finally the organisers ran out of excuses and they allowed my guests to have a go.

First up was the dapper Ghanaian who was still wearing his pin stripe suit and spats. ‘I got the idea from seeing the British boxer Chris Eubank‘ he confided ‘and thought that was what all fashionable English sportsmen wear’. Anyway, he vaulted onto the barrel and got handed his haggis which he held gingerly in his yellow driving gloves to avoid contamination. He crouched, yelled and hurled. The haggis went straight up in the air before arcing down straight onto his head causing him to fall of the barrel and twist his ankle.

My Liberian was next. He was still wearing his full Royal Stuart tartan and looked very grand indeed. ‘Mt Mike, I think I know how they do this’ he muttered,’ it is all in the spin’. Up he got and he started spinning round to get maximum speed of throw. His kilt flew higher and it was then that everyone saw his ‘crown jewels’. Apparently he had read that Scots in kilts did not wear pants so neither did he. His jewels were both enormous and in flight and everyone was mesmerised by the sight. Eventually he got dizzy and fell off with his haggis landing about two feet away.

My turn now my enormous Mr Mighty said. Now he must have weighed at least 160 kilos and there was no way he was going to get on that barrel without help however the team rallied around and tried to lift him. I ended up with my face between his vast bottom cheeks as the Gambians made a joint assault on his thighs but eventually he was up although wobbling dangerously. Someone give him a haggis quickly before the barrel implodes I shouted.

I will remember what happens next for a very long time. The looks on people’s faces, particularly the judges and serious competitors were an absolute picture. Our man just stood there, didn’t twist, didn’t hurl, he just put his hand behind him and threw. The haggis hurtled off as though it was rocket propelled, flew past everyone’s markers and won the competition. He had won that year’s world haggis hurling competition with his first attempt.

We tried to carry him shoulder high but it could not be achieved. He was given his trophy and then the organisers suggested we might like to leave now. Back in the coach we got and sang all their African national anthems all the way to the hotel. I did not even mind when we found the foyer half full of wives, girlfriends and suspect ladies. After a day like that they could do what they wanted.

I ended up really enjoying these trips and practically all I have written is true. I made great friends and was never bored and it has been a joy sharing my memories of them within this blog.

Senin, 19 September 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 3

I had a lonely breakfast in my room. My charges were to have a day ‘free for shopping’ and I simply could not go down to face them in the foyer. I could see it in my mind though; wrecked breakfast buffet, beleaguered concierges trying to explain the Edinburgh road system and cab drivers rubbing their hands with glee thinking about what ‘rip off’ level they could reach.

I stayed in hiding for half the morning and sneaked down when it was safe. It was not. There in the lobby was my Liberian absentee from the previous day wrestling with a multi fold large scale map of Scotland. It was spread over two tables and a stool and he was asking folk how to get to Edinburgh. “Your there mate” came a less than helpful remark from the waiter who was pointing at Aberdeen.

‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he beamed, ‘I have been waiting for you, shall we go now’? I could barely muffle my groan. Gone was the opportunity of a leisurely visit to the spa and instead the prospect of a shop from hell loomed. ‘First we buy a kilt, yes’? ‘Where is Marks and Spencer’?’ Do you have some Scottish money’? The questions came thick and fast as we left, dodging the eager taxi drivers.

The rest of the morning was a busy blur of shops, shops and more shops. I was loaded up with bags like a mule, following my guest up and down Princes Street until we finally got to a kilt shop. At least I will never moan about shopping with my wife ever again I thought as I brooded outside the changing cubicle. And then he emerged. He looked fantastic in his Royal Stuart tartan and spent a great deal of time preening in front of the mirror. ‘OK, I will take three’ he beamed. ‘Mr Mike, do you have a credit card’? He never took it off for the rest of the trip, sporran and all.

We all teamed up again in the evening and we looked a strange bunch what with our Ghanaian in tweeds and spats, my Liberian dressed like Bonny Prince Charlie and the rest in formal dining robes which were exactly the same as the clothes they arrived in.
Our meal was in a ‘traditional’ Scottish themed banqueting hall across town and we all piled into the eager taxis which had lurked around for this moment all day.

The evening was interesting. In came the haggis on a plate carried by a chef surrounded by pipes and drums, and the address to it began. ‘What is this’ one guest demanded in a loud voice. ‘Why is he stabbing it, is it alive’ shouted another? ‘Why does he not speak English’, demanded a third? Snore, grunt went another as he had dropped off.

Then they found out what was in it.’ I think it is against our religion to eat this’ moaned one. ‘You people are not civilized’ groaned another. So they drank the whiskey it came with instead on empty stomachs. They were all near to drunk when the main course of roast beef arrived. ‘More whiskey’ came the shout. Then the dessert arrived. ‘More whiskey’ they called again. By the end of the meal they, and I, were plastered.

‘Now we go to a traditional pub for a whiskey’ somebody said as we left a very relieved dining hall. ‘Let us walk until we find one’ another agreed as we moved deeper and deeper into the less salubrious part of the city. And then we found one. It was next to some very run down tenement flats and the outside walls and windows were covered in years of grime.

‘Hello friends’ my very bulky Nigerian shouted as he walked into a stunned public bar. I saw one person actually drop their drink. ‘Who would like to drink with us’ the other bulky Nigerian chipped in? There was a stunned silence, and suddenly the whole pub rushed to the bar to have a drink with their new found friends. Strangely they all seemed to be on double scotch although they had beer mugs in their hands.

It turned out to be more fun than I expected. We got some strange looks but the locals soon integrated with my group especially while my guys were paying. There were songs from Scotland, Africa and everywhere in between. The bar soon filled as people heard there were free drinks.

Then something happened. My Gambians were shouting and pushing a group of youth and the dreadful word ‘racist’ was shouted. ‘Oh no’, I thought. Some bigot has made a racist comment to my guests. ‘We must go now’, my whole group demanded. ‘We will not stay to hear these insults’ they said and out they walked. I was on my way after them until the landlord called me back. Apparently nobody had paid for their drinks or those they bought the pub and the bill was astronomical.

We got back to the hotel and congregated in the bar for a whiskey. I told them how sorry I was. ‘It is inexcusable to make racist remarks to foreign visitors’ I murmured. ‘Oh no’ a Gambian assured me, ‘it was you they were being racist about. They said you English should crawl back over the border where you belong’!

‘What an evening’ I thought as I slid into bed trying to ignore my queasy stomach. A liquid feast, a huge raid on my expenses and finally an attack on my nationality which was defended by a group of loyal foreigners. It can only get better I thought. But it didn’t as my final instalment will tell.

Senin, 12 September 2011

The Beat Live? Boy What a Blast

I have just been reading the agenda and speaker list and boy what a blast I would have if I were there! No folks, this is not an advertorial for this event, more a recognition that at last somebody in the travel world is getting together some smart guys to air critical issues. I hope they do not let us and themselves down by blowing the opportunity to sidetrack posturing and ‘company speak’ to thrash out some alternative arguments.

My time for speaking at such events has diminished either by the lack of an own company to provide travel logistics or concerns about just how forthright I have become since shedding company policy shackles. Either way it reduces wear and tear on my heart and liver but sometimes, rather like my scruffy old jeans, I miss them like this one.

I then started asking myself why I am so het up about not attending yet another industry conference. What would be the one question I would ask if I was there? What would I press speakers about? Why do I think it is so darn important? How much would I lose at the Blackjack table?! Before moving on I thought I would scribble down a few thoughts on the topic I would bring up if I had made it to Las Vegas. You never know, somebody might use part of my thinking within their own contribution.

I would ask airlines to explain the practicalities of how they make their strategic commercial/distribution decisions. Within that who the decision makers are? Who within their organisational management do they interface with (i.e. sales, marketing etc)? Do they factor in the impact and needs of their corporate customers and, if so how and through what channels? Do they consult the corporate customer and who/how?

I would want to know about their policies and priorities. Are their decision makers fully market aware? Do they think they need to be? Does their organisation feel any duty of care to the industry they work in or do they simply focus on their own needs and expect the supply chain to adjust with their changes?

I still find it extraordinary that after all this time even people of my years do not really truly know who makes the key decisions in the air supplier sector. Experience has made me pretty certain it is nobody less than twice removed from customer interface. In fact I am pretty certain that most sales divisions are low enough in the company pecking order not to have much input. If they are being honest they are mainly left to pick up the strategic pieces.

It does not need a brain surgeon to get to the point I am trying to make which is that I believe this market is supplier and not customer driven. This was (perhaps) OK in the past when the industry was heavily regulated but surely not now. Not only do they want to have their cake and eat it but they want somebody to wash up after them…for nothing!

The point of the question is to explore if there is any better way of receiving and giving true consultation between corporations, their TMCs and their supplier partners. I know it is a competitive world out there but surely there is a better modus operandi than the current system of making decisions without true understanding. You only have to look at some of the arguments coming out from AA regarding distribution to see that they either do not understand their customers wishes or choose to ignore them.

Anyway, to those that are going to ‘The Beat Live’ have a blast from me and get some answers!

Sabtu, 03 September 2011

A Distribution Prediction

Perhaps if you want to understand some of the practicalities of the airlines planned change over to direct connect you could look at the current hotel booking model and how it does (or does not) work. To me the hotel model is where the airline industry is heading. Let me explain.

Money and strategy matters aside the consolidated ‘one stop shop’ offering provided by the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) is perfect for customers and intermediaries alike. You do not have to go to numerous different ‘shops’ to buy your airline product. Shops that have different languages, booking methods, rules and reporting. It is all there for you in one common language package with little diversity or complication.

Now hotels are totally different and far more difficult to package. Each location can be independent, owned by a chain, part of a consortium and sometimes a mixture. Each speak a slightly different version of the same language and they very rarely sell their inventory through a GDS because they are too expensive. Instead they do their own thing via many different outlets at many different tariffs. Frankly it is all a bit of a mess if you want a properly managed travel programme, particularly as they use differing technology.

So what is happening with hotels now and how does it compare with the current GDS system? In the main TMCs must have some kind of ‘connection’ (either direct or via third party) with key hotel establishments and chains. Some TMCs have created their own databases to hold inventory and information that then gets linked up to the GDS air booking screen. It ends up all looking like one source but contains numerous connection types that range from online links to manual entry.

The TMC has to create room allocation acquisition and management systems that doubtless include room close-out periods and price variations by customer and intermediary. These need constant adjustment and repopulation to remain current.
Ultimately they end up with their own mini GDS for hotels with numerous information flows coming from a similar number of independent sources.

OK, back to airlines. They are necessarily a selfish bunch. They don’t want to pay for the current excellent consolidated air booking system any more. They just want to sell their seats in a way that gives them more power/control and less cost. They try and dress it up differently by saying it is what the customer wants which of course is laughable if it wasn’t so serious. I wish they would just come out and say the truth which is that they intend to eradicate this cost or pass it elsewhere.

Where might this end up? Some might call it industry evolution but I would call it going backwards. Instead of efficiency and commonality in air travel it will revert back to the hotel model of individual airlines operating at different speeds with different communication methods. They will deal through TMCs who also vary in skill and flexibility. There will be dual pricing and availability depending on which model you book through and which source you use. That is progress?

I am sure the GDS have explored all avenues to find a solution to being considered bad value for money by their airline customers. I have always thought that if they presented and justified their cost more intelligently, reduced prices strategically whilst building in new markets (such as hotels) they might do a lot better for all our sakes Either that or negotiate their wares with corporations/TMCs in a new and different way? After all people will pay if they see a value and surely it is better than the chaotic alternative illustrated by the hotel market?

The smart TMCs have seen this direct connect war coming. In fact you would have had to be blind not to. They have been building what they call ‘super platforms’ and the like in anticipation of it. I predict it is only a matter of time before the mega TMCs connect their ‘pipe’ to the main suppliers in the air and hotel world. In fact it is happening now. What happens then? Are the TMCs going to distribute inventory at no charge? I doubt it. They will most likely become the new GDS of the future but with broader product reach and more control on who the customer uses and at what price.

Perhaps the GDS and airlines need to get there heads together in more harmony or they may end up creating something that compares with Frankenstein’s monster. Built with various industry parts but likely to murder them!

Anonymous Comment:

Brilliant commentary. Mike has REALLY hit upon something important here.

Love the line about airlines wanting more control and less cost, "They try and dress it up differently by saying it is what the customer wants which of course is laughable if it wasn’t so serious. I wish they would just come out and say the truth which is that they intend to eradicate this cost or pass it elsewhere."

Again, brilliant analysis

Anonymous Comment

As ever Mike hits the nail on the head whilst other so called industry experts have a tendancy to hit their thumb with an oversize hammer. What is being described as more than likely to happen within the industry is in fact already work in progress; and perhaps further down the line than many (on all sides of the equation) would care to admit.

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries – Part 2

My second group of West Africans consisted of a totally mixed bag of folk coming from everywhere between the Cameroon and Sierra Leone. They ranged from 25 stone robed Nigerians to a little chap from Ghana who wore a pin stripe suit with spats and a red bow tie. He had diamonds embedded in two front teeth. Their personalities also varied hugely from quiet and courteous to downright obnoxious.

Again we made the foolish mistake of thinking they would all mix in well with each other and not mind sharing things like coaches and tours. ‘I am not going to sit with these Gambian riff raff’ a portly Nigerian yelled. ‘You Nigerians are all fat and greedy’ came the Gambian reply. There were then cat calls and sneers and it was hard to believe these were top industry executives.

‘We must do something’ my boss confided, which translated to ‘YOU must do something Platt’. It was clear that failure would not be a viable option and, as they were due to have dinner with our chairman I had to act fast. I had visions of a pitched battle ‘food fight’ with our man ducking to avoid chicken bones and cutlery. I even seriously considered changing the menu to only soft food!

I then remembered a man called Charles. He had spent half his life posted all over West Africa and I was sure he could give me some pointers. During his sojourn abroad he had unsurprisingly turned to drink and adopted strange habits like keeping chickens (live) in his company house and making crowing noises instead of laughing.
Anyway, I tracked him down to a pub in Crawley.

I bought him a pint of IPA bitter with a Glenmorangie chaser and explained my problem. ‘Show me the guest list dear boy’ he demanded. ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’ he shrieked, ‘this is a recipe for a massacre; you cannot have this guy with them’. ‘And what about those chaps, they despise each other’. I felt sick, ‘Help me I begged.

After a large number of heavy drinks I had my best solution. Amidst robust cock crowing Charles had divided the party up into sub groups with hints on how to handle each one and who not to sit with whom. It was impressive. Henry Kissinger could not have done better I thought as I weaved back to the Copthorne Hotel where my new brood were sleeping, and possibly simmering.

As soon as they came together for breakfast I set out my new seating plan and the relief was palpable as they all seemed to talk quite amiably to each other. I scrapped the large coach they were due to be transferred by and replaced it with four mini vans and a taxi for the two giant Nigerians who seemed not to like anyone, not even each other.

We went back to the airport and checked them in for the flight to Scotland. The VIP bar got raided even though it was only 9.45 a.m. but thankfully this seemed to sedate them rather than excite. The flight was slightly delayed as we had to convert three seats into two for our Nigerian ‘High’ and ‘Mighty’ guests (these became their nicknames) but otherwise the flight was uneventful. Unlike our arrival in Edinburgh.

We lost one. Somewhere between the aircraft steps and the baggage belt we lost a Liberian. My group were unsympathetic. There were shouts of ‘leave him’ and other inflammatory remarks, with each group trying to out do the other. ‘We must find him, he could be ill’ I said and left them to wait in the VIP lounge.

. I found him but how he did it I do not know. Somehow, without going through immigration or security he had got into the International departures area. He was propped up against a bar with two huge bags of duty free including everything from whiskey to giant Toblerone bars. ‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he grinned, ‘can you pay for my drink please’. I plucked him out and got him back to his name calling friends.

We had a full welcome party waiting for us at the Caledonian hotel. They stood in a line in order to greet our guests one by one. This was not a good idea as all our guests wanted to be at the front of the line. As a result they pushed forward in an untidy V formation towards the startled hotel commercial director. The lady mayoress put out her hand to shake with our man from Douala but he placed his bag in it and told her to take it to his room.

At least I had got them there safely with few scares except a misplaced Liberian, a smothered commercial director and an indignant mayoress. Must be plain sailing now I thought, but no. I still shudder to think of it all in one go so I shall tell the rest of my sorry tale next time!

Jumat, 26 Agustus 2011

An Innocent in Brazil - Part 3

My second trip to Brazil was no less eventful than the first:

Brazil hosts a lot of congresses. You name it, however obscure, and you can just about guarantee that a major congress on that very subject has taken place in Rio or Sao Paulo. From Chiropody to Chlamydia and Brain Surgery to Brassicas they have all been discussed by earnest groups of global specialists selflessly giving up their time to spend a week in Brazil.

When working for a Brazilian airline one of my jobs was to escort large groups of such boffins from the UK to Brazil and back to ensure that their travel arrangements went smoothly enough for them to appoint us for the next congress. This task usually was quite uneventful until my number finally came up when escorting a group of ‘agricultural economists’ to their congress in Sao Paulo. I was a bit worried because I did not know what agricultural economists were but I felt reassured when I discovered neither did they.

I met them at Heathrow airport and they were very easy to spot. They looked like a blend between country yokel farmers and the university lecturers they actually were. Most dressed like they had just mucked out their pigs and most wore baggy old tweed jackets and corduroy trousers which displayed interesting stains including bull semen apparently.

One thing blindingly obvious was that they were dressed for a severe British winter and heading for the hottest season in Brazil. I mentioned this to one guy whose heavily meshed string vest was poking out of his plaid shirt and, right in front of the check in desk, he stripped his top half bare, removed his vest, tied it by its arm loops to the handle of his suitcase and off it went down that black abyss known as the baggage chute. At least I was pretty sure no one in their right mind was going to ransack his bag with that grubby mass of string vest tied around the handle.

As there were quite a few of them we were using two desks for check-in. Suddenly a loud commotion came from the other one. I got there to find two legs sticking out of the baggage chute and the sound of a West Country accent saying ‘don’t worry love I’ve got the bugger’. It turned out that a member of my group had packed his passport in his suitcase and only remembered as it tipped out of sight. He pounced like a spring lamb after it and was dragged out from between the rubber curtains brandishing his cardboard suitcase by its home made string handle. It belonged to my granny he told me afterwards. What is your name I asked? Colin he replied.

It was a long flight to Sao Paulo or ‘Sayo Payolo’ as my companions pronounced it. Fortunately most of them attacked the free drinks so fast that they sank into sleepy oblivion whereas I sat up next to Colin who was putting the world to rights on subjects ranging from crop rotation to artificial insemination which explains how I knew what the stain on his trousers was and how he got it. Oh what laughs we had, especially as he would persist in pressing my chair recline button instead of his own all night. If I had only had the slightest inkling of what was to befall me the following night I would have turned down this assignment.

We arrived at the Sao Paulo Hilton reasonably easily apart from a short delay when our friend discovered his vest had been lost in transit and insisted on filling in a lost baggage claim there and then. I am sure that to this day the offending article is causing the main baggage belt at Heathrow to break down regularly as it jambs the works. But now we were here and we were unleashing forty British farmers in full winter gear into the maelstrom that is down town Sayo Payolo. Most of the group had not left their county let alone their country and here they were, at a hotel surrounded by the most extreme flesh pots of South America. Like a fussing sheepdog I herded them into the congress centre and left them in the hands of the organisers.

After such a tiring flight of bouncing back and forward in my seat like a yoyo, courtesy of Colin I fell into my bed and a deep dreamless sleep only to be woken, what seemed to be seconds later, by the telephone. It was one of my charges and he breathlessly informed me that a fellow agriculturist from Bogota had told him about a ‘hot’ nightspot called ‘The Orchid Club’ a few streets down and he, Colin and a bunch of others were setting off from the foyer right now. Wait for me I screeched as I could only imagine what might happen to them alone in such a place, so on went my clothes and off I rushed.

We arrived about ten p.m. on an intensely hot and humid evening. I was sweating in my thin shirt and these guys were still wearing the very same gear as when I first saw them at Heathrow. It must have been the first time that anyone sat in such a club with bull semen on their trousers but you never know in Brazil. The club was full of punters, very muscular fat bouncer types and a plethora of scantily clad multicoloured ladies. After a few caipirinhas one of my flock proposed marriage to a girl who I thought was a boy, but thankfully she looked him up and down and declined. I presumed someone had warned what Norfolk is like in winter.

‘Its show-time’ screamed a loud announcement and my flock grabbed chairs and sat down about five centimetres in front of the small stage. You do not get this in Grantham announced Sid whilst busily cleaning his glasses. Colin looked visibly uncomfortable even though he had grabbed the seat nearest the stage and nervously lit his pipe. A bit strange really what with the exotic location, heady atmosphere charged with anticipation and perfume now smothered out by Colin’s ‘Old Holborn Shag’ pipe tobacco.

First on stage was our man’s ‘fiancée’. ‘Great,’ he said, ‘I will get a chance to look at the merchandise before the wedding night’ and sat back arms folded with a smug death head grin on his face. It soon faded however as his hearts desire tamely twirled and gyrated a few times, grappled herself through her clothes and marched off with a bored expression.

This was an outrage and I was dispatched to the manager to find out what it was all about. The man told me that they were complying with local ‘decency’ law which stated that the ladies could only ‘express themselves fully’ after midnight. I relayed this to my horny new friends. Drinks were ordered and the wait commenced.

Colin was silent. He was drinking too much and puffing his pipe a great deal but he said nothing. Not even about his beloved bulls. As the acts went on he got redder and redder and I had my first nagging fear that something was going to go awfully wrong. It did. Midnight came and bedlam ensued.

It was the ‘fiancée’ that started it. On to the stage she came and her ‘act’ started naked and got ruder by the second. ‘Bloody Nora’ said Sid. ‘Last time I saw a pair of bosoomers like that it was on a Jersey cow’ said another whilst Colin went crimson and his pipe glowed like the flames of hell. Seeing this shy gnome-like apparition sitting in front row the girl decided to play up to him. Down she went into a limbo dance position and started edging forward. The atmosphere was electric and I heard someone dropping their glass. By the time the ‘lady’ was about twelve inches from Colin he exploded into action with great speed and accuracy he pounced on the lady yelling something like “now then my dear” and spitting his pipe which hit and burnt her nose. There was silence for a second followed by a scream and the sound of the doormen clambering over tables to get at us.

It all became a bit of a blur. Five of the boys, including Colin, and Sid were grabbed and I was physically picked up and pinned against the wall with my feet dangling below me. The police were called and the five of us spent a night in a Sao Paulo jail along with drunks, pimps and God knows what. How do I keep this quiet I thought as I was sure my boss would not understand why I had ‘coerced’ my charges into a den of vice? I could see my future life as a travel leper opening out before me.

After the most uncomfortable and dangerous night of my life they let us out and we went back to the Hilton. Lets have a drink said Sid, I am having a bath I said. Colin said nothing except ‘How can I get my pipe back’ as it had finally ricocheted off the startled young lady and bounced off the stage. I ignored him and said that from now on they could look after themselves.

When we flew back Colin looked very uncomfortable and studiously ignored me. I had heard that he had gone in search of his favourite pipe but no more. I heard nothing for two weeks until my boss called me into his office to discuss a letter that he received from the mother of a man called Colin. She complained that he had picked up a very nasty rash on his private parts and Colin said it was my fault. Tell her to ask where he left his pipe I suggested.

We never heard from either of them again.

Rabu, 17 Agustus 2011

Do we need another Industry Association?

Surely we have enough associations? Do we really need another one? I think the answer is probably no…if those we have provide greater focus on the re-engineering and industry strategies that are developing as I write. But they don’t.

Corporate travel industry evolution is predominately run by it’s suppliers who then create a further strategic reaction across the rest of the supply chain. It has always been so and sadly decisions are made not by the sellers who attend industry conference but executive well removed from them.

In fact I would say the travel supplier strategist liaise as little with their own salesmen as they do with their customers. In addition the airlines have another vehicle (IATA) who are even more removed from the corporate buyer and justify their existence by introducing policy changes that pay for themselves and earn airlines more money. The money comes from tinkering with the rules that were created by airlines for the airlines and are mainly unknown to the other end of the supply chain. Amongst them are things that impact corporates cash flow data fares and rules.

So what is my point? What I am saying is that the whole industry needs to have input and understanding travel evolution and I do not think this is getting any kind of priority by the existing associations. I think there is still too much smoke and mirrors and too little hard information.

Do not get me wrong. GBTA, ACTE et al all provide a useful and valuable service but how deep do they delve into the shadowy world of industry development. I think the trouble is that they have to be all things to all men. If you rely on supplier income from advertising and sponsorship for your very existence can you really afford to challenge your benefactors? Can you really have those suppliers represented at the very core of your own executive grouping? Although I admire these associations greatly for the excellent job they do in their field I do not think the answer lies with them.

So what else is there? I never thought (in my old life) I would say this but the nearest thing we have is Kevin Mitchell’s Business Travel Coalition. For some reason, as a TMC, I found them rather galling but now I have looked closer I realise a developed model could possibly do the job. It represents a key group of large corporations with little or no outside influencers. The problem is that it is not big enough and needs to be more global. It also needs (in my opinion) more subtlety when dealing with international suppliers.

I guess the organisation I am hoping for is a group of key global corporate customers who are strong enough to win serious attention and prepared to invest both brains and power into understanding and contributing to the market they spend so much money in. Could it possibly happen? I hope so. Otherwise we can continue to evolve the way we currently do which is that suppliers such as Lufthansa and American come up with their own strategies and savvy corporations invest in finding an antidote.

You may think I have a point or you might not. May I suggest you take a look at the conference agendas of the major association players and see how little time has been given to the key issues relating to distribution, regulation and other industry developments?

Selasa, 16 Agustus 2011

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 2

After an eventful first 24 hours in Rio things began to settle down, probably because I was confined to bed with an acute bout of diarrhoea which is pretty par for the course for foreign visitors. I am not sure if it is the water, food or whatever but if you ever need a complete cleansing of both your bowels and the rest of your digestive system then go to the hotel Gloria and order a burger and a local drink. There were things coming out that I never saw going in and at one stage I thought I spotted my tonsils.

It was awful and everybody on our course had it. Our German tutor suggested that he ought to station himself outside the toilets in order to have a better chance of teaching us. ‘I would put microphones and speakers in the cubicles if I could bear the noise coming back’ he said. We laboured on and I learned very little except where the toilets in head office were and exactly how long it took to run to each one. At one time the gripes were so bad we staggered hunched and sideways like an obscure type of mutant crab.

I woke up after the third night and suddenly it was all gone. I felt great and well rested and even my whimpering Dane neighbour had failed to keep me awake with her nocturnal activities. ‘I am cured’ I exalted and resolved to go out and celebrate that very night. I linked up with some colleagues and marched out of the foyer right into the arms of my taxi driving friend who was dropping people off from the airport. ‘You wanna go see Gloria’ he asked? ‘Sure, why not’ I replied and in we jumped.

There was me, the groaning Dane and two Dutchmen and we were up for a good time. My taxi pal was keen to advise us so he drove on a tour around all the clubs who paid him backhanders to deliver gullible tourists. The first was so vile that we immediately fled back to the taxi. The second was barely better and the third likewise. In the end we got through to him that we were not sadist, masochists or fans of bestiality but a group of young people out for a laugh and a few beers. He seemed deeply disappointed but visibly cheered up when he remembered another club on the edge of the slum quarter. ‘Maybe we find Gloria’ he confided as we sped through the night.

We arrived at the ‘Holiday’ club. It looked in imminent danger of falling down but the deep throb of base and the sound of female laughter drew us in. I am not sure what hit us first, the wall of sound, the smell of bodies or the bright red spotlights shining over the stage. I cannot tell you what was going on under those lights but it made the Paris Hilton sex tapes look like Sesame Street.

We eventually found a booth and ordered drinks. It was strange because every time we ordered beer they came with bottles of ‘champagne’ which we promptly sent back until the manager came over and told us in pigeon English that he insisted we drink champagne. The human gorilla behind him finally persuaded us to agree when he started cracking his knuckles while staring at us.

All of us agreed we were not safe here and decided to leave. Almost like a genie our taxi driver appeared at that very moment. ‘You cannot leave’ he cried, ‘I have brought Gloria and her friends’. Behind him were a bunch of the most beautiful young women I have ever seen before or since. ‘I am Gloria’ the prettiest one said. ‘Do you want pokey pokey with me’ she asked demurely.’ I don’t think so’ I muttered uncertainly while wondering if she was a mind reader, ‘but I would like to dance with you’

We squeezed onto the circular stage which now served as a dance floor and joined the other wildly gyrating couples. The smell of sweat, cigarettes and cheap perfume was heady and the red lights continued to blast down on my already sunburned head, I must have looked like the devil. I sure felt like him as I was flung forward into the arms of Gloria. She was a bit taller than me so I ended up with my head burrowed into her neck while our thighs were jammed together. Is this heaven I thought as we became entwined together? ‘I wonder if my mum will like her’ I mused.

Then the mood suddenly shattered. I am not sure which lump I noticed first. Was it the enormous ’Adam’s apple’ I was kissing or was it a lump further down that should not really have been there. It turned out that Gloria had what I can only crudely describe as a ‘hard on’. I catapulted back and crashed into our Danish lady who had at least found someone of the right gender. This caused a ripple across the whole dance floor with the person at the end falling off the stage.

I dragged Gloria back to our booth where we were greeted by our madly grinning driver. ‘You go pokey now? He enquired gently. NO!’ I yelled over the music. ‘Gloria is not a lady’ I shouted while thinking of all the lingering kisses I had given her. ‘I am Ramon’ Gloria advised me, ‘I am pleased to meet you’ he continued. ‘That is it’ I stormed and fled alone from the club and into the first taxi I could find. Back at the hotel I brushed my teeth until my gums bled and fell into an uneasy sleep.

The next morning I met my fellow adventurers. One had obviously been punched as it was him that had received the final bar bill which was astronomical. He wanted to discus it item by item but the manager’s assistant had resolved it with one blow of his fist. Our Danish nymphomaniac was apparently still upstairs with the ‘gentleman’ she had been dancing with and was probably the only person who had enjoyed the evening.

Never again I thought. But there is more to come!

Senin, 08 Agustus 2011

An Innocent in Brazil – Part 1

Well I was pretty innocent when I first went there. I felt pretty mature and worldly in Twickenham UK but nothing really had prepared me for Rio and Sao Paulo. These places made Twickenham seem like a mother’s union headquarters in an old people’s home. A bit like what I thought my perfect woman would be at that time, beautiful, exciting and a little bit dirty.

I was only 20 when I first went. I had just started working for a Brazilian Airline and they were sending me on an induction course mixed with a familiarisation tour. I was packed off with dire warnings ringing in my ear. My boss at the time gave me sage cultural advice which was ‘drink little, trust nobody, particularly your local colleagues’ and finally, ‘don’t dip your wick out there as it may well end up falling off’. Silly man I thought, I can look after myself, and have a good time.

It did not start too well. The flight was full between Lisbon and Rio so my boss insisted I should travel in the ‘jump seat’ situated directly behind the pilot. This cockpit seat may sound exciting as you get the best view of the plane and its flight crew but the thrill fades when you have sat on what is really a thinly covered tiny wooden seat for nearly 12 hours. It also does not help when the senior captain resents your presence so much that he has instructed the whole crew not to speak to you in protest.

My final memory of that flight was when the co pilot panicked. The captain (Bligh I called him) demanded that his number two land the plane in Rio for the first time. It was dark, visibility was bad and Galleo airport is surrounded by mountains but Bligh assured him that even a useless pilot like him should be able to do it. The poor chap froze about three quarters of the way down. I just sat, frozen too as Bligh grabbed the controls. I expect that poor chap needed counselling and a new job afterwards. One day I might chronicle all the things I have seen or heard about in cockpits but you might not want to fly again!

We landed and my lift was not there. In this case the "Mañana" attitude really meant mañana as the guy reportedly turned up the following day and waited five hours whilst cursing me and all late and lazy English people. In the end I just got a taxi which was hard as the only Portuguese phrases I had learned in advance were ‘a cold beer please’ and ‘leave me alone’ which were not much good at that time but essential later.

It seemed the taxi driver understood a few more words of English than I his language.

You want ‘pokey pokey’ he asked giving me an exaggerated man-of-the-world wink.

‘’No I replied’ I want the Hotel Gloria’. ‘Ah, you want Gloria’ he nodded enthusiastically.’ I know this Gloria’ he said smugly, ‘she is my sister’s cousin’. ‘I do not want her bloody cousin you moron’ I raged. ‘I just want my bloody hotel! ‘Why you say you want poke pokey’ he asked clearly hurt?

The hotel Gloria sounds as good as it looks but it felt like Nirvana when I finally arrived. It was then a dark shabby place that was full of airline staff, cruising ‘ladies of the night, boys of the night and the occasional transvestite. It seemed ‘pokey pokey’ was a local pastime and the sound of groaning, yelping and ‘oh yessing’ from next door kept me awake all night.

My alarm went off about 6 a.m. as work seems to start and finish early in Brazil. It felt as though I had had no sleep and I was yawning repeatedly as I stood outside the hotel waiting for our minibus. The squealer from the next door room arrived and it was a very demure middle aged Danish lady. It annoyed me that she looked so relaxed especially as it was partly at my expense. We ended up next to each other again on the bus as we motored around Guanabara Bay to the local airport where the courses were run.I could not help staring at a very large bite on her neck which she had clearly not got from any mosquito.

The room was stuffy and very hot. I had grabbed a window seat before realising my mistake. Out there you avoid windows as that is where the blazing sun shines through. I quickly learned that seats further in the room are stuffy but window seats are both stuffy and excruciatingly hot. My lack of sleep started to show and when combined with the soporific atmosphere and direct heat caused me to fall into a deep sleep.

It was here that I got the nickname ‘sleeping beauty’. Apparently I drew attention to myself when starting to snore. I heard the course leader tried valiantly to wake me by roaring in my face and squeezing my nose to no effect. Then they decided to have a little fun with me. They went to the medical room and got a blanket and pillow and wrapped me up like a baby with my head resting on the desk. They then managed to get my thumb in my mouth. Somebody wrote ‘sleeping beauty’ across my forehead in lipstick and then the cameras came out.

I woke and was deeply embarrassed, but even more so when I saw all the Polaroid shots of me on display in the staff canteen, company notice boards and, most humiliatingly, behind the hotel swimming pool bar. ‘Ah, meester sleepy’ the barman greeted me drolly. There was no escape. ‘Things cannot get worse’ I exclaimed. But they did.

That night I had my first brush with the local drink of choice, Caiprinha. It is lovely stuff made from the local cane based fire-water called Cachaca, ice and lime juice. The Gloria pool bar had justly earned great renown for its heady blending of these ingredients and any Caiprinhas I have tasted since are pale imitations of these ‘stingers’. I sat there in the heat of the night talking to my new found friends and drinking a stream of these drinks. I remember saying that I must have an early night to avoid further public humiliation in the morning.

I have often wondered about the expression ‘legless’ when it comes to drinking too much. Unfortunately I and this expression became well acquainted that night. You see those drinks were so cool, fresh and tasty that you really do feel better the more you have. The danger is that you honestly feel stone cold sober. My mind was clear and I thought I was talking lucidly and sharply. Others argued differently later.

All was well until I tried to stand up. You see my head was sober but my legs were not. I honestly could not stand up. Below the waste I was like jelly. I was ‘legless’ and the staff left me there until I got over it. Again I nodded off but this time on a cane seat flopped across the table. I had to bash on the glass doors until the night porter came and grudgingly let me in on the agreement I would not be sick in his hotel.

So that was my first 24 hours in Rio. Want more? Want to know how I survived further scrapes? Want to know how I met Gloria or Ramon as ‘she’ turned out to be?

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of ‘An Innocent in Brazil’!

Kamis, 28 Juli 2011

What the Customer Really Wants? – Part 1

OK, I know I am becoming a grumpy old man. As my appointment with the ‘Grim Reaper’ gets closer the more things in corporate travel seem to rankle. For example my pet hate at present is the strap line used by ACTE to promote itself.

It seems the three key things that most attract new and current members are to ‘be smart, be hip and be seen’. Now I can go with the first one but I think there are a few other worthy aspirations slightly ahead of being ‘hip’ and ‘seen’. I mean what is all that about? But I digress!

My diatribe today is all about ‘the customer’ and what they truly want. Now this is not easy as, depending where you dip into the supply chain, you get a different definition of customer. It becomes clear that each definition of the customer is more linked to who we want them to be rather than who they really are.

If you go to an airline like say American they are likely to say the traveller. Go to an international corporation and they would say we, the company are. Go to a TMC and they will say either or both depending on who makes the decision to appoint us and who has the strength to get us sacked. Go to the GDS and they will say ‘we buy/sell segments from and to airlines and TMCs so we don’t need to know. However I think they do as the traveller is far more likely to book outside their service on direct websites.

Now let us assume for one moment that the traveller is the decision maker. In many cases this is fact. They may get influenced either strongly or weakly by their budget holding employers but hey, they can usually find a way around that. So what do they want? Simple you may think but I contend otherwise.

If you read the papers, magazines etc what everyone is interested in price. How do I get this cheap, who can give me the best price package, how can I get lower fares but better perks? The low cost carriers came along and thrived by undercutting the big established boys and the glory of cheapness became a reality. But hold on a minute, those low cost flights were on high density short haul routes and every time a transatlantic model was launched it failed. Does that say something?

It says to me that people are prepared to put up with most kinds of discomfort on little commuter routes but not when they are going any distance. Then the cabin gets cramped, the service poor and the food practically inedible. But despite all this the media and corporate hype is all about how all travel should be cheap and fares stripped down to their component parts.

The result is that although the truth of low fares is that they are in reality getting less available, the call for them is getting greater. It is also now on all routes not the one hour local shuttle service. So how do the mainstream airlines cope with this demand? They simply give the customer what they think they want in a base price but ‘nickel and dime’ the price up on ancillaries. Result? They are probably better off because they have also stripped out a load of service costs.

Unfortunately these extra services that have been removed out are the very things that differentiate them in the market place. They have also had a major impact on how they are perceived by ‘the traveller’. To me British Airways is a fine example of this although there are many more. BA has shed cost like a snake sheds skin. With all these customers supposedly wanting lower prices they either had to re-register as a charity or strip to the bone. They chose the latter and it is bearing dividends for them…in the short term, as the backlash is growing.

My mood was not improved last Sunday when I was reading the Sunday Times Colour Supplement. In it there was an article that was hugely critical of British Airways and its Heathrow hub. It self righteously condemned BA on everything from staff attitude to catering. I did not get a proper traditional English afternoon tea one interviewee bleated; another was depressed about meagre snacks and miserable staff.
Come on guys, you killed the airline BA was in order to create the one you say everyone wants.

BA simply charged too much for the modern world to stomach so what did they do?
They made themselves competitive by taking on the unions to reduce overheads, shed unprofitable routes, cut back on catering, and started charging for previously free services. And what do we do now they have become lean, mean and cheaper? We criticise them and mourn the demise of those dear little things we took for granted.

So is there a moral behind all this? I think there is. And the answer, in part was in the final paragraphs of that idiotic article. The piece listed all the things that passengers are supposed to want from an airline like BA (most were what BA used to do) and then it said on behalf of the traveller ‘We’ll pay – provided it’s good’ Wow!

So the traveller wants service after all? Maybe it is not universally about price? Could people really be prepared to ‘pay – provided it’s good? Your guess is as good as mine but in the meantime I suggest we could all take a good look at what we are turning this industry into and whether we are willing to pay to put part of it back together again – if it is good.

Rabu, 27 Juli 2011

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries - Part 1

At one stage a major part of my job was to meet and greet VIPs from abroad and escort them on special tours around the UK. These journeys were usually linked to the launch of a major new air service to their particular country and designed to ‘build relationships’ with those that could smooth our way.

Naturally these guests were very senior, very demanding and sometimes totally out of order in the things they did whilst staying as our guests. The people I was responsible for were mainly from West Africa. They were very wealthy in their own right, used to getting what they wanted and usually Muslim which meant that you had to be very careful about what food or drink they were offered.

These visits were often great fun and I made some strong friendships during that time. Needless to say there were other occasions where I, they or both combined caused such havoc that it could have resulted in some major international incidents. After all, the combination of differing races, religions, cultures and nationalities in a confined area is always going to make for a volatile mix. This blend can result in both offence and hilarity as my recollections will show.

I remember standing nervously at Gatwick’s arrivals area waiting for the first Nigerian group to arrive. They were very easy to recognise in that they were all enormous and wearing large flowing, mainly grey/white robes. I could see by their body language that they were not comfortable or used to travelling in groups or passing through the public areas of airports. The second thing I noticed was they had barely any baggage which I found strange until all was revealed later on.

I walked boldly up to the first guest and introduced myself as his host and escort. I held out my hand to shake his but instead he dropped his big black attaché case in it. Where is my car he demanded as I stood squirming trying to explain to them all that we had laid on a coach for all transfers. They looked aghast. No cars? One said he had not been in a coach in his life and another said he would lose face if he travelled in one.

Having finally got across to them that it was coach or nothing we took them to the parking area where our rather aged non air conditioned 52-seater coach was waiting to take them to their London hotel. It was the hottest day of the year so far but probably not as humid as downtown Lagos.

The real fun started when we tried to board them. You see each one had their own vision of where they featured in the tour’s ‘pecking’ order and, rather like cows at milking time, they would not get on out of sequence. The leader would insist on the front seat with the other less worthy individuals sat in their own chosen order behind. The jostling by these supposedly mature and wise men was something to behold. One particularly fat gentleman wearing what looked like a huge tent sat down in the front seat and refused to move despite shouted protestations of others.

Somehow we finally got them seated and off we went. The whole lot of them fell deeply asleep and we drove up to the hotel to the constant drone of snoring with the odd staccato fart in accompaniment. The air inside the coach was ‘steamy’ to say the least by the time we rolled up at the Cavendish hotel. On arrival I had to wake them up which earned me many reprimands and one slap in the face from a guest who thought for a moment that I was his wife….or one of them.

They were with us for only three days and we gave them all the free time they needed aside from official dinners, a trip to the theatre and a guided tour which was mandatory. I tried to tell them this at the hotel briefing but, by the time I had finished most were already on their way to the shops. It was soon after that I got my first complaint from the hotel management.

The mystery of the non existent baggage on arrival was solved. Why bring stuff from Lagos where there were shortages when you are flying to London and get anything. In the case of my group this included hi-fis, refrigerators, half of Selfridges, a touch of Harrods and the equivalent of a whole Marks and Spencer lingerie department. The hotel foyer was soon completely filled with boxes and even crates on wooden pallets. They had to turn (at a price) a whole conference room into a temporary store.

The trip to the theatre was a disaster. We went to see Phantom of the Opera and had seats at the front of the dress circle. Firstly the seats were too small and secondly they would not keep still or quiet. The first rumblings of snoring started shortly after the first song and it began to put the actors and their audience off. I started creeping around poking the perpetrators or sometimes squeezing their noses to try and stop them. Finally our giant in grey broke wind so powerfully that everybody thought it was a gunshot. Then the smell started.

The next day was set aside for the coach tour of London and I was dreading it. I had only just come off the phone from negotiating compensation with the theatre and now I had to escort these shopping-mad sleepyheads around the sights. I lost four entirely but managed to shuffle the rest on the coach. The running feud as to who sat where continued. The only undisputed seat was in the front row where our grey-clad giant sat as the group’s undisputed ‘top dog’.

We had a really enthusiastic guide who bragged to me that he always managed to keep peoples attention with his knowledge and humour. You have never met my boys I thought o myself. It started badly and ended worse as he spent the whole time talking while they slept noisily. They woke up briefly for lunch and then virtually passed out when back in the coach.

When we arrived back at the hotel and they were still comatose. I found myself hemmed in at the front by the guide and his driver who gave me a right earful. ‘These people are rude’ the guide said. ‘Yeah, no manners’, the driver pitched in. ‘I am warning you now’ the guide snarled. ‘If you ever again have a group of Nigerians like this do not under any circumstances expect me to guide them’!

He had started to shout and our guests were waking up. Having seen we were back they started to disembark in order to do a bit more shopping. When one guy demanded that the coach take him to Austin Reid in Regent Street I thought things might get violent.

As they left our grey giant grabbed each one as he went past and muttered to them for some money. He was the last to leave and by that time he had a fist full of cash. He added another fist full from his own wallet and dumped the lot into the hands of the driver and guide. He gave me a conspiritorial smile as he left which made me wonder if he had been asleep at all.

My two companions gazed at the notes and started counting. There was just short of seven hundred pounds and this was around thirty years ago. It was a fortune and it immediately created a different mindset. The guide said ‘maybe I was too hasty so if you have any such groups in future do not hesitate to ring me. Here is my direct number, I am always available’.

The next day I had to commission a removal van plus our coach to take their baggage to Gatwick Airport. The guests themselves got their way and went by individual taxi. They would not share with each other and the big guy had to be in the first one to leave! Me? I was shattered and fell asleep. I probably snored!

Senin, 18 Juli 2011

Who is the customer around here anyway?

OK, OK, I know. I said I was going to quit corporate travel and disappear into the mists of travel legend…or something like that. But it is so very hard! I am rather like Frank Sinatra was, or Michel Jordan is, where something happens which triggers off a new reason why the lure of starting again becomes too much.

The trigger for me was American Airlines president Tom Horton and a guest article he wrote for ‘The Beat’ on ‘Customizing the Travel Experience’. Right, it was the expected sanitized statement that had no doubt done the rounds of the AA public relations department before release but it made one thing screamingly clear to me. That is, who American Airlines think their customers are.

They are clearly playing their ‘customer’ card. In fact in a smallish statement of circa 800 words they had used the term (and derivatives) at least 15 times before I gave up counting. Reading the words of the article it is also clear that by customer they refer to travellers and the choices AA are offering these individuals. In contrast he used the word ‘corporate’ once (that I saw) and that was referring to ‘travel agents’ customers.

Does this matter? Is it a simple slip? Or does it show a complete lack of recognition, empathy, and understanding with the corporate travel world? After all, do corporations really want their travellers to have all these extra choices at an extra price? Do they want the lack of control that this brings to their travel policy? Do they want the extra expense taken out of their control for potentially both bookings and ancillaries?

Does it matter that the president of AA still thinks of such a key intermediary as a ‘travel agent’ when the corporate service provided is now Travel Management hence the correct and more accurate term TMCs. This may sound like splitting hairs but is it. Or is it more that? Is it AA demonstrating a worldwide apathy amongst airlines to accept that the corporate world is changing around them?

So what is this ‘customizing’ all about? To me it is about the airlines tweaking the evolving business market to their own advantage whilst ignoring the needs/demands of a major sector of their market. Is that such a surprising thing? Probably not but I cannot bear all this sugar coating around what is actually some very unpleasant tablets. Here are some examples:

We don’t want to pay the GDS any more even though it is the medium of choice for those ‘travel agents’ corporate customers. We do not seem to be able to renegotiate a deal with these GDS so let’s provide a direct product. OK it is not what corporates want but hey, think of the savings, the control, the MI and the ancillary selling opportunity.

We have been badly stung by the inroads ‘no frills’ airlines have made in our markets. Fares have gone down and their shares have increased, but hang on, there is an opportunity here. These airlines have reached critical mass to the point where they have to add more charges to maintain growth and survive. They are not the threat they were and we can now use their weapons against them. We too can offer basic core prices and then bolt on all those other ancillaries to mask the true cost.
It seems to me that corporations themselves are helping (or at least not hindering) such strategies. Corporations seem to like unbundling as it works in other spheres of procurement. But does it work in travel? Ah, that is far more complex and has greater ramifications in the supply chain. Cost has a habit of moving, not disappearing.

I suggest corporates need to have a much greater influence in the travel industry. Their associations need visibly shift away from their suppliers who they use to subsidise their costs through sponsorship and advertising. These bodies need to push their way to the table which is totally dominated by the major suppliers. They need to be heard and recognised.

Suppliers need to understand that the world has moved on and that the ‘customer’ in the corporate world is the company itself and not its employees. Those intermediaries such as TMCs are not simply booking travel agents but an outsourced arm of their corporate customer. Only then will we have a successful transition to a new model.

Jumat, 08 Juli 2011

A Blogger in Paradise – Majorca Part 4

The main thing for me about this holiday was that it was in a villa not a hotel. I have done it on short stays twice but never a fortnight and I wondered whether the novelty would wear off… and it did. Yes, the novelty of it went but got replaced with far better feelings of relaxation and peaceful familiarity than I have ever felt in a hotel where I usually start climbing the walls by day ten.

To understand why I am now a villa convert one needs to know why me, and possibly others often feel let down when staying in hotels. To me the best word to explain my disappointment is freedom, or lack of it. In a hotel I feel too regulated. You end up eating what they want, when they want at a frequently unacceptable and unjustifiable price. Once you are there you operate under their rules alongside their guests using their dress code.

You cannot really get up when you want, have a light snack of your own choosing and pick your own environment to spend the day. For example you could go to the pool and not find a quiet, comfortable, shaded spot. The pool menu will serve portions big enough (and costly enough) for three. So you go back to the room and find housekeeping there. Some people even smuggle out food from breakfast purely because it gives them the kind of things they want to eat at lunch.

Later you decide to have a relaxed meal but can your wife really go down without washing, drying and straightening her hair? And what about the other guests who seem to think the whole thing is a fashion contest. Can you really face another full set meal of something you would never bother with at home? Can you do this at breakfast, lunch and dinner for 14 days and nights? We all seem to but I reckon the first hotel to come up with the alternatives people want will make a killing.

Right, that’s now off my chest. After all those years of holidays where I thought that if I ate another lunchtime shared club sandwich I would kill myself or the waiter…or both. I found a well planned villa holiday can save me this grief albeit at a cost. The cost? Well you better be sure it is the right villa for you or you have had it for the duration.

You have to buy your own food but the consolation is that you can eat what you want, when you want it and in the right portions. OK, you have to pay for the staples like pepper, salt, oils etc but it is all far cheaper than hotel dining and you can stock up on drinks, crisps, and nibbles etc at a fraction of the price. When you don’t want to cook? Well you go out!

Villa concerns for me were mostly not problematic. You have to have a car. You need to seriously consider security especially in some places. You need good easy means of contact with the owner or their agent in case of problems and you have to take location and the proximity of neighbours into account. I cannot imagine what it would be like to move into a place with screamers and loud music lovers over the fence. We did our research and we were fine…thankfully!

OK, there can be some niggles. For example there is a growing habit in Majorca of owners putting the air conditioning on a timer so you can only use it at night. They conveniently assume that everyone will either keep the doors and windows open all day or go out. So the sales pitch says air conditioning when it should say ‘part’ air conditioning. I think if you are paying for aircon you should get aircon when YOU want it rather than reduce the owner’s electricity bill. Others may be more eco minded than me. I found a little visit to the fuse box controlled solved my problem!

So, the headquarters of my Majorcan ‘paradise’ was the Villa Son Rotger in the hills 5kms from Pollensa. Our days panned out like this: Get up at around 9.30 a.m. , open the shutters and pad downstairs to pick up cereal, fresh fruit and tea and bring up to the balcony overlooking the sea. Then agonise over whether to have yet another fry up or salad. Then morning swim, sunbathe and read Kindle under the sun umbrella. Lunch is large or little depending on the fry-up decision. Afternoon? Repeat morning or possibly tour the area.

The evenings were great, particularly as they were warm and starry. A barbecue? A swim? An evening in front of the T.V watching UK programmes? Mostly we went out. The only unwelcome nocturnal noise was the neighbour’s dog who partook in bouts of barking. We solved this by bribing him with cat treats we had brought in from the UK in case there were local moggies!

As I said earlier there were not many neighbours. We had orchards and a farmhouse on one side. We always smiled and waived at the owners as they picked fruit from trees next to our driveway. I am not sure what they thought of us after we got caught ‘sampling’ their plums. It was made worse when I strode naked onto our balcony doing a mighty stretch only to lock eyes with grandma sitting on her tractor holding plums in her hands. She just looked, shrugged, muttered and drove away. Ah well.

So the end of the holiday came and unfortunately we had to vacate the villa by 10 a.m. which is pretty normal but a pain when your flight leaves in the evening. I had booked a day room at the Hilton near Palma airport. It is a lovely hotel but we ended up being reminded why we had chosen a villa. I simply could not have imagined staying there a fortnight.

The hotel was great, its staff were mainly great, but its guests were not. The pool was crowded, noisy and full of people tucking in tummies, running fingers through hair and indulging badly behaved kids. They had the usual snack menu that was only available through certain times and starred ‘club sandwich’. Yuk! The room was a snip at £160 (excluding food/drink) for six hours!

Finally we got to the airport. The car return was very efficient and we went to check in only to be asked for the £100 excess baggage for the extra case. I told them I was not charged on the way out so they said I had to pay them now for both! To be fair the check in was manned by Iberia Airlines staff and they called in the Thomson representative who agreed to ‘let us off this time’. A reason she gave was I had been polite when most people yell at her. Worth remembering as airline staff are the last people you should yell at, especially when they have you by the ba**s.

The flight this time was on a modern Thomson aircraft which was clean, comfortable and on time. The crew were courteous and by then I was used to paying for everything on board. The family we saw on the way out were just in front again and clearly. Dad, with the tattoos, looked like he was missing his ‘Forever Karen’ and mum and daughter looked like they wished he had stayed with her. ‘Did you have a nice time’ I asked the girl. Daddy says I can’t talk to you’ she replied morosely.

So there you have it. The villa life was paradise to us. Thomson was far better than expected and Majorca was everything we wanted it to be. And spoilt little me? I learned that first class travel and 5 star hotels is not necessary for holiday ‘paradise’
I hope you have been both informed and entertained by this 4 part report