My colleague, friend and business partner Kieran Meeke has just been in Australia for a couple of weeks and keeping in touch has been a nightmare largely thanks to a tight schedule and the lack of free wi-fi access he could find while traveling.
I’m getting a bit tired of all this so am launching the worldofjames.com Campaign For Free Hotel Wi-Fi and I’ll be lobbying hotels to start offering a service that is more meaningful than a fruitbowl or slice of chocolate for free…
As mrs worldofjames and I are getting married in Scotland this year, we’ve been travelling north of the border quite a bit.
Our first trip in January saw us touring venues throughout the country looking for somewhere suitable to wed and it seemed appropriate, as we headed back to England, to stop off at ‘the British Las Vegas’ or Gretna Green.
Gretna became an elopers’ paradise thanks to Scotland being exempt from a 1753 act of parliament that made it illegal to get married if you were under 21 without parental consent. As the first major village over the border, young Brits would solemnise their illegal trysts by tying the knot over the blacksmith’s anvil.
As we approached I had a romantic vision of what the village would be like: a small green surrounded by a few quaint houses with the smithy’s shop at its centre. Instead we found a town that seems to have been given a Trueman Show-esque mall-style makeover.
Walkways lead round a procession of buildings where any sense of identity has been whitewashed into oblivion and everything from the sound of Scottish pipers piped ubiquitously throughout to the tartan tourist tat on offer screams: YOU ARE IN SCOTLAND.
The restaurant was even worse and made my heart weep for the coachload of American tourists that had just pulled in to the ginormous car park: sub-school dinner fare with pies, lumpy mash, peas and gravy all congealing under infrared heat lamps all served with little charm by a spotty oik in white overalls.
As we disappointedly trudged back to the car, we passed the sure-fire stamp of any true rubbish tourist attraction: the head-through-hole picture board, in this case depicting a bride lifting her groom.
When done well, even obvious travel PR stunts can have a ring of charm… Step forward Walt Disney World which is trying to find a UK town with which to twin the Orlando resort.
People across the country can nominate their town via word, pictures or video at waltdisneyworldtown.co.uk telling the good folk at Walt’s World as to why they deserve the honour; the person who submits the winning entry gets to treat their family to the official twinning ceremony at WDW.
To promote the campaign, Disney has released a set of pictures of Mickey Mouse in typically British locations. Entries have to be in by November 22.
So Panorama vs Ryanair turned out to be somewhat a damp squib and you can’t help wonder what all the preceding fuss was about. (Although the correspondence between the two at http://bit.ly/43nd1r makes some interesting reading and I like the new verb ‘to Ryanise’).
But it did make me think how much the travel industry has changed since I took my first flight as a seven-year-old in 1975.
We were on a Singapore Airlines flight bound for Athens. The plane was an old 747 and it was in the days when the bubble still retained an air of mystery rather than being farmed out to increase revenue from premium economy passengers.
The air hostesses and stewards – long before they were PCed into ‘cabin crew’ – looked smart, chic and were ever attendant, to the point where it took almost two decades of flying and a free upgrade to stop me from citing Singapore as my favourite airline.
There’s a wonderful post on the vacations.com blog with a host of pictures from travel’s glory years, when the female crew looked like glamour models (and spent an inordinate amount of time standing on the wings) and pilots looked like action heroes. The above pic is one of them, the rest can be found here.
I like Twitter – mainly because it allows me to take part in social media without all the hassle of Facebook. I don’t have to sit around for hours on end updating my status, sorting through all the latest messages, walls and pokes and uploading my latest private photos so they can be seen by all my work contacts.
There’s a host of people like myself who work in the UK travel industry as either scribes, PRs, travel editors or tour operators on Twitter too and, in the main, most of us follow each other.
What I do wonder though, is how much of what we all say is ever noticed by other people in cyberspace or whether we are keeping the social media equivalent of a closed shop.
How things tend to work is one of the many active Travel Twitterati, say @101holidays or @matthewteller, puts something out there and, because the travel fraternity is quite small, we all for different reasons re-tweet their tweet.
Further down the line, as we are by and large a nice bunch, the favour is returned when they RT links to stories and blogs by the rest of us who Tweet. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the people involved in PR and sales will also RT, possibly because… well it’s a good PR move to let a journo know you respect what they write.
The really canny Tweeters will also send thank yous for all the RTs out there, mentioning all the kind people who did so and usually with the link from the original tweet attached… just in case anyone missed it the first time or they didn’t read all the RTs that have been pinging around.
In the process of this circular backslapping, we might pick up the odd follower from our colleagues’ followers, making our common sphere of influence increasingly the same but with little outreach beyond that…
I’m not a canny enough social media expert yet to know whether this can be changed, or even if it needs to be… after all, a little mutual tummy tickling is nothing to get too riled about. But I do wonder if the Travel Twitterati aren’t fooling ourselves a little in the new world of Twitter that we are all trying to explore.
I’m currently sitting by a roaring fire in the lobby of The Priory (click here), a small hotel in Beauly, north of Inverness.
I’ve been in the capital of the Scottish Highlands for a couple of days and, while the surrounding countryside is gorgeous, it’s the kind of remote place where satellite navigation and mobile phone signals are often blocked out by the surrounding mountains… and yet I’m here with full wi-fi connectivity.
The Priory is a small basic but clean family-run hotel with just 39 bedrooms and Beauly is a very small tourist town around three streets by five that is famous thanks to the ruins of a medieval abbey and the fact it gives easy access to the north Highlands tourist trails and Loch Ness.
The wi-fi connection isn’t blindingly fast, I couldn’t stream X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing last night (some would say mercifully) but it is adequate (I can read email, see the headlines and blog) and, crucially, free in all areas of the hotel from the lobby to the furthest bedroom.
Now, I appreciate there is a low-cost airline pricing style argument for hotels where you strip away non essentials and get guests to pay if they want them, but connectivity is such a basic part of our lives now, it would seem to me to now be an essential.
And if they did decided to knock the price off the cost of the room, what kind of a saving would it really be? I doubt the service costs the hotel anywhere near £39 a day, in which case the most they could knock off would be £1 per room – hardly worth the effort.
Instead the hotel manager Blair Sinclair and his excellent staff realise that low-cost with added value is the way forward and gives them a crucial advantage when there are only two hotels in town. The provision of free wi-fi is great added value: massive hotel chains, take note…
Following the recent news that TripAdvisor users voted Barcelona as the pickpocketing capital of the world, it was inevitable that someone would get mugged at Abta’s Travel Convention this week. What I didn’t expect was for it to be me…
The first piece of advice I normally shell out when writing a ‘how to be safe in a city’ piece is ‘don’t walk around with your mobile phone showing,’ the second is ‘stick to busy main streets and avoid dark alleys’. The third should now be ‘follow your own advice’ – because last night my iPhone was snatched from my hand by a passing cyclist.
Abta had recommended that delegates who wanted to socialise after last night’s opening party should head to Born, an area famous for having more than a dozen bars all within a couple of hundred yards of each other. And so it was that myself and a handful of other journalists, who eschewed the shenanigans in favour of a superlative meal at Barcelona’s brand spanking new W Hotel, found ourselves in a bar in called Mix waiting for the rest of the Convention to catch up.
Around midnight I stepped outside to make a couple of calls: one to home and the other to Jamie Wortley of tour operator On The Beach, who was trying to find us but was having a hard time doing so. As I was trying to give him visual clues to point him in the right direction, a chap swooped by on a Bicing bike that you can rent on any street corner in Barca and swiped the phone mid-conversation.
Why did it happen? Well I was walking down Comerc Street, the main drag through Born, it was busy but not too crowded and there was an army of Abta’s local volunteers around, conspicuous by their bright red waistcoats. It felt safe and comfortable but clearly wasn’t and I let my guard down a little.
Begrudgingly, I have to give the chap his due: it was a well-practiced and perfectly executed crime. He’d obviously been loitering just behind me as I walked, waiting for a time when I was more relaxed and there were less people immediately around me. The snatch itself was flawless, hardly disturbing a hair on my head despite his bombing past me.
I tried to give chase shouting to some of the volunteers but, despite a semi-decent lunge from one of them, he managed to get away. Ten minutes later a police patrol car turned up but the officers were at best nonplussed at yet another mugging in the city. Their best piece of advice? ‘Don’t go to the local police station, it’s in a bad area and too dangerous to get to,’ I was told as he seemingly forget he was driving the very means that could get me there safely.
Instead I had to turn up early two hours early this morning for my flight home to do the paperwork at the airport’s Mossos D’Esquadra – the Catalan police force – headquarters
I’ve always felt there’s something bizarre about reporting a crime – the police seem to have an uncanny knack of making you feel as though you’re the criminal and it’s a feeling that multiplies when you are trying to make yourself understood but don’t speak much of the language.
Officer 14098 and I got there eventually via some schoolboy Spanish and English, along with a smattering of my acting and his hand waving. The report though has him mixing my places of birth and abode and my mobile number on the form is actually that of my passport. Hopefully the insurance company will take it into account – but that conversation could be my next mugging given the amount of get out clauses policies tend to have.
Interesting talk just now at the Abta Travel Convention in Barcelona by a chap called Mark Hudson of Price Waterhouse Cooper.
The gist was people’s purchasing habits have changed over the course of the recession and some companies are having to adopt the low-cost airline model of stripping out some non-essential services and charging extra for them. He also said that people would still shop at the higher end of the market if they thought the luxury element was worth it.
Both would seem to be in direct contrast to my flight out here to Barcelona yesterday with Iberia, which has to be the most expensive no frills flight in the world.
I have to say I was pleased with the welcome onboard the Iberia plane: ‘Turn that phone OFF’ was one of the first instructions barked to me by one member of crew; the second came a while after take off when the seat belts sign went off. I was in the row just behind Business Class and it seemed a relatively easy solution to use the loo at the front of the plane. ‘Go to the back’ shouted the dragon who was serving the upper class customers.
Even better was the food and drink trolley that came round. My ‘jamon’ sandwich had no cheese or salad (as shown on the picture on the menu card) and, on inspection, no butter either; the beer was warm and, if you ever needed proof that packing is the same while portions get smaller, the 10 crisps in my mini carton of Pringles would bear great witness. The sum paid for this princely meal? €11 and I didn’t even get to try out David Whitley’s RyanAir exchange rate scam (see here) as they would not accept a £20 note.
Now the Spanish Tourist Board (links and info below) paid for all the journalist’s flights to Abta and I am grateful to them for doing so… Because the price of this sub-Ryanair treatment was an absolutely extortionate £790.70!
Hudson said that people have purchasing zones which range: bargain, value, indifference (price makes no difference), switching (people change suppliers) and insult (people get pissed off). If I’d paid for the flight, I’d be well in the last zone.
SPANISH TOURIST OFFICE, PO Box 4009, London , W1A 6NB, Tel: 020 7486 8077