Travel

This site was NOT made on a Mac

Clean as an iPhone
Clean as an iPhone

If I ever needed proof of how much I love Macs, it came on Saturday when my other half put my iPhone on a 95 degree wash for two hours. After mild panic at how a budding freelancer would afford a new one (yes, I know about insurance and I know Im stupid for not having it), I looked up some info on the web and found some people had had success with wet iPhones by laying them in a bed of uncooked rice – apparently, the rice draws the water out. Two days later, I plugged the phone in and it worked – and  I got insurance!

When choosing what blogging software to used for worldofjames.com, I had a pretty straight choice: go for a regular blogging website like Blogger or WordPress or create my own blog using Mac’s fancy iWeb software. For anyone who’s not used it, iWeb is meant to be pretty intuitive, you pick a design, you type, you drag and drop pictures and you publish to .mac, Apple’s servers.

As I pay Apple £55 a year to host my email and give me lots of online storage, it seemed a logical choice to try on iWeb. But for the last four days I’ve been pulling my hair out… the Apple templates are not much to write home about so I tried customising. But there’s no easy way to save your new custom template… So every time I created a new page, I had to set new pages widths, designate new fonts and the like. Not too much hassle for web pages that are informational and will not change much at a time, but a nightmare when you have to do it every time you blog a new post.

I searched the web again and came across a company called 11mystics who sell iWeb templates you can download. So I found one I like, downloaded it, put all the info on, copied my old Metro blog posts across to give it some weight and told everyone about it…. only to find out that most PCs don’t have the American typewriter font that was the base of the bought template and that on Internet Explorer it all corrupted meaning all the entries had to be changed manually…. I’m going thin enough as it is, by now, I was ready to pull the remains out.

So this morning, I got up at 5am and switched to WordPress.com. It looks less clever but boy is it easier to use. And it has the added advantage of not needing me to carry my Macbook around everytime I want to update it. If needed, I can just head to an internet cafe, jump on a PC and do it.

So you’ve been warned: Macs, look good and survive washing machines … but absolutely crap for blogging!

[apologies to anyone who RSSed the old site, you will need to refresh the feed from here]

Rebranding the British seaside town

hemsby1

So I met a really interesting chap the other day called Simon Middleton. You’ve probably never heard of him but he’s a brand strategy guru – his words not mine!

Now I’d always thought his job was the kind where you get money for old rope but I was amazed at how clear his thinking on brand issues is – but let me explain how the meeting came about.

Earlier this year, Simon was asked by a group of traders in Hemsby to re-invent the town’s image. The local Pontins had closed which brought in revenue and with it went the famous rock n roll weekenders that bookended the summer and put the town on the map.

The experiment was quite successful, they rediscovered the town’s Viking heritage, got a new logo and now hold a Scandinavian festival which was so successful it is to become an annual event.

The traders at Hemsby have become so forward thinking, they have now adopted an instant feedback system: You go into the local chippy and, if you’re not happy with the produce, you send a text of your feedback for the traders’ association to dissect and address…

It was all made into a TV show and now Simon is about to do a show called the Great British Seaside Town (working title) with Duncan Banatyne that will do similar in other towns and all the above led me to think he would be quite a good interview subject given we’re in the year – or not – of the staycation.

Simon’s ideas are not rocket science, but they do show the benefit of bringing in people who are unaffected, unemotionally attached and have clear ideas when you are in a situation that’s muddied. The tendency at the moment seems to be chop when things are going wrong when sometimes, perhaps there are simpler solutions staring us in the face but we can’t see them for the trees. Companies can benefit from just getting someone in to do a bit of forrestry!

The piece Im doing on Simon will be my last copy for Metro as a staff employee and will be in this Friday’s section. After it’s published, I’ll run the transcript here for anyone who misses it.

Moving on…

KEN_0007

If you’re reading this you’ve probably seen the Tweet or the email about me leaving Metro – or you have remarkably weird browsing habits.

Anyway, it’s true. After 11 years, 10 of which were at the helm of the travel desk and as deputy features editor, I have decided to move on and will be departing this week.

Your first reaction is possibly panic at whether the story your client wanted placing is going to run, or whether you are still getting paid for the story you filed. The answer is yes to both.

While Metro will no longer have a dedicated travel editor, the features team will be handling scheduling as a group. Until the new system has bedded in, I suggest you send any queries to features@ukmetro.co.uk.

For the time being, I will be blogging on here, tweeting on twitter.com/worldofjames and offering my writing, editing, training and consulting services on a freelance basis. I’ll also be launching a website with Kieran Meeke (who is also leaving), concentrating on the book of my post-tsunami Sri Lankan experience and attempting to run 1095miles over the next year (that’s 3miles a day!).

So change your address books and keep me updated by clicking here and I hope to see you visiting worldofjames.com on a regular basis.

Finally, thanks for all the help over the years. I hope we’ll stay in touch.

Top stuff from Thomson

1199In an era where extra charges rule the roost and Ryanair think it’s appropriate to charge more to fly your luggage then they do to fly you, it’s nice to see a little innovation from Thomson that allows you to calculate some of the extra costs of a holiday.

The www.thomsonexcursions.co.uk website gives passengers the chance to view and book more than 600 excursions in 55 destinations that range from from swimming with dolphins and horse riding on the beach, to hot air balloon rides and safaris on the Masai Mara.

Whatsmore, you don’t even need to have booked your holiday through Thomson to use the website.

If you’re already cheering at the thought of not being hassled by a rep to buy extras in resort though, think again. The package giant says: ‘You will be able to contact the Thomson team to discuss your excursion at anytime during your stay.’ I guess you can’t always have everything…

For once I can't be cynical

Nice to see EasyJet, probably the most sympathetic of the low cost airlines, come to the rescue of SkyEurope passengers.

Sir Stelios’s team has offered passengers stranded by the failure of SkyEurope a ‘return home’ fee of just euro 40 on overlapping routes, which include: London – Prague – London, London – Vienna – London and Milan – Prague – Milan.

The offer is available until 23.59 (pedants) next Tuesday and to claim, passengers need to call 0870 6 000 000 (from UK) or 899 676 789 (from Italy) and quote their original reference number.

When the press release came into my inbox, the euro 40 price had an asterisk next to it and my original thought was that there would be a host of T&Cs attached to it such as having to fly at certain times or not including taxes… but the footnote simply said: ‘Includes all taxes and charges’.

So for once, I can’t be cynical about an offer and unless proved otherwise by reader experiences telling me differently, I have to say: Well done EasyJet.

Theme park stunt alert

A nice job of following where others lead popped off the pages of today’s daily papers with the story that Thorpe Park is banning people from raising their arms on rollercoasters over the summer, less fellow riders get an offensive whiff of BO.

Of course, the announcement has nothing to do with the acres of coverage rival Alton Towers got last week with its ban on Speedos and everything to do with their spokesperson saying people sweat more because their rides are so scary.

Aside from the fact it’s scientific hogwash – it’s stale sweat that causes BO and not fresh – it also assumes the rides are going so slow that the offensive whiff is not carried away on the wind… hardly a great advertisement for the parks rides.

To paraphrase Lynard Skynard: ‘ooh ohh, that PR stunt smells’

What's the worst job in travel?

For me, currently, it has to be reading any more about Ben Southall – the young lad who is doing the so called best job in the world, or looking after Australia’s Hamilton Island to the rest of us.

For anyone who’s been living in a bubble, Ben ‘won’ his job in a competition (read PR stunt) held by Tourism Queensland earlier this year.

I don’t begrudge Ben the job, far from it in fact; fair play to him and I hope he enjoys it. But as a story it’s been done to death: announcement of the competion, preliminary rounds, local hopefulls, last ten, Ben winning, Ben going out there, what Ben’s having today for breakfast.

Great stunt, nicely pulled off by TQ, tonnes of publicity and even imitated by a couple of other travel companies and destinations (second best job in the world anyone?).

So time to let it lie and bask in the glory? Nope, TQ are about to ram the idea down our throat once more with a new competition: to find four mates to join Ben (best best mates in the world?).

Im sure tonnes of people will want to join up (Im pretty sure it was 35k entries the first time round) and if you’re one of them, you can do so at www.islandreefjob.com. But it’s one dead horse I’m not keen to flog.

Can we agree on the definition of staycation

Can we finally come up with a definiton for staycation and stop altering it to suit our own means?

My understanding, when the term was first bandied around as the new buzz word a year or so ago, was that it was all about holidaying at home. Forgoing the hassle of actually travelling and seeing things within the vicinity of your house that you would normally never go and see. From my Streatham abode, for instance, I could head into London and see some of the sights I’ve not seen since I was a kid, or I could equally head to the South Downs for a bit of a hike.

Predictions of a barbecue summer – yes, thanks for that Met Office – saw VisitBritain and the like jump on the term though and it seems to now mean simply holidaying in the UK. But is that really a staycation when it takes me as long to get to Inverness as it does to the Algarve?

In the last two days alone, Ive had two press releases from two different airlines that show the different meanings.

One from Aer Lingus, still jumping on any PR bandwagon possible as it pushes its new routes from Gatwick, proclaiming that the staycation (ie staying in Britain) was over as thanks to the weather it is now officially the ‘dulcation’.

The other came in from FlyBe (the biggest domestic airline in the UK but with European routes too) that claimed the staycation (staying in your own back yard) was dead and there was a flurry of bookings to Scotland and Spain.

Personally, I prefer the original definition. It makes a ‘staycation’ seem something new, a fresh way to look at local sights and encourages people  to take a more active interest in their immediate area.

When it comes to the ‘bastardised version’, if you travel more than an hour from home and stay elsewhere, you are quite simply on an old fashioned holiday – no buzz words needed.

Brid or Madrid? Does anyone care

Headed into town on Saturday with two godkids to a very, very packed Madame Tussauds, one of Southern Railways posters from a campaign earlier this year caught my eye: Portsmouth, the new Malta.

I know it’s a campaign that’s been running through the summer but the reason I bring it up is a story that also caught my eye over the weekend. Apparently, following a debate on aBBC Radio Cambridgeshire show when Janet Reuben of Visit Hull and East Yorkshire went head to head with Beatrix Balesteros of the Madrid Tourist Board, Bridlington was voted a better holiday destination than Madrid.

What I don’t really get is why either Portsmouth or Bridlington want to advertise themselves in contrast to somewhere else. In fact, aspiration to be the ‘new Malta’ is as likely to put me off going to Portsmouth as anything else.

Portsmouth has tonnes of history and last time I looked – admitedly in 1973 – Bridlington was a perfectly adequate seaside town and I’m sure it has only got better in the last 36 years.

So why don’t the tourist boards give me a better idea of what I can actually do when there and try and lure me that way instead of telling me what other destination it could be like.

Despite Aer Lingus’s latest campaign today to convince people to ditch the staycation it seems many people are still taking some of their holidays in the UK, so come on Pompey and Brid, blow your trumpets and tell us what you’ve really got.