Some of you may have noticed that this blog has not been updated recently, well that's because I left IBM for a brief soujourn into the world of selling Business Process Management. After 18 months I decided that I missed being able to make a real difference to my clients by bringing total business solutions to them so I rejoined IBM.
I'm now heading up sales for Travel & Transport in the UK as well as Consumer Products.
This means I'll be back, blogging and commenting on all things Travel & Transport
I was out the other morning for a walk to pick up some tickets from the post office. Having forgotten my headphones I decided to make it a "mindful" walk, this means I notice as much as I can as I'm walking, instead of wandering along with my head full of thoughts and ideas. This can be quite invigorating when you notice something you haven't done in the past, or you see an amazing event of nature that you would normally have walked past (see my post on the horizontal tree!). There is a down side of course, on this particular walk I spotted how much rubbish had been thrown into the bushes and the river as well as how many CCTV cameras were recording me (42 between home and the post office less than a mile away!).
However, I did notice something that both amused me and made me think about how often we tell people to follow the rules, and often berate them for not following the rules, but how rarely we either define the rules or check that someone knows the rules. A mother and father were walking with their toddler, Nathan I think, and he kept wandering into "the road" (it was a quiet cut through for buses mainly, so he wasn't in any major danger!). His mother said to him, "Nathan, you know the rules, stay on the pavement" and steered him back onto "the pavement" only for him to promptly wander off into "the road" again. I watched this play out a few times before I realised what was happening.
At some point his mother must have defined for him what "the pavement" was - in our local area it's all brick pavement - and what "the road" was, predominantly black tarmac. However, down this particular part of the road there were speed humps that went over the road all made of .......... bricks! And this is what poor old Nathan was wandering on to, correctly in his mind thinking it was the pavement!
After a rather tense "NATHAN" from his mother, poor Nathan having strayed on to "the road" again, I gently said to her that I thought he thought the pavement extended into the road and pointed out the brick speed hump to her. She smiled one of those "he's my son, I think I know what he thinks" smiles at me and thanked me. As I walked on I heard her ask him to point to "the pavement", which he did, then she asked him to point to "the road" and he pointed to the black tarmac. With a smug grin she turned away from me just as his father said "Nathan, is their pavement anywhere else?" to which he pointed to the brick speed bump, at which point I turned, looked up to the trees just in time to see a sparrow returning to it's nest with a worm for her young and continued my walk.............
I wonder how often we do this, not only to our children but also our teams, colleagues and friends? Perhaps we should consider checking people understand the rules before we tell them to follow them or berate them for not following them?
During the mid to late 90's I had the great privilege to work with an amazing team at American Express Business Travel after they bought the company I was working for. The then Vice President for Europe, Eric Brannan told a great story that I could relate to and it spurred me to come up the the "Business travel is only glamorous until you do it" saying. Given it was 20 years ago this is my best recollection of the story and I hope I do Eric proud!
It goes like this:
"My job takes me all over Europe, sometimes with many cities in each week, Monday it's Paris, Tuesday Stockholm, Thursday Frankfurt. The hotel rooms seem to blur into one and I work out the day of the week by which city I'm in. The funnest thing happened the other day though, I woke up, rolled over in bed and screamed as there was a woman in the bed with me. Then I realised, it was Saturday, I was at home and it was my wife!"
Says it all really doesn't it? My "Where I've Been" and "World Traveller Challenge" pages on Facebook say it all, some 40+ countries
and over 300 cities and towns that I've "been" in. But how many could I honestly say I've "seen" properly, spent time visiting them and understanding the culture, architecture and heart of the place. Probably a few dozen if that. I recently went to Paris as a tourist and realised that it was the first time in 30 years of travelling and multiple visits to the city, that I'd actually spent time in the city! Needless to say it was an immensely rewarding experience and one that got me adding cities to my bucket list that I've already been to but have decided I now need to go back and really see them.
So what's your experience? Is it the same as mine, early morning flights, cabs straight to the office and a late flight home, or, if you're lucky, a late flight in, hotel over night, office the next day, dinner then hotel then home again early the next morning?
Personally my "worst" business trip ever was London to Houston, 2 days (1 night) there, Munich (via London), airport hotel in Munich, train to Frankfurt, over night there, office the next day, flight to Paris, airport hotel before going into the office, Paris to Amsterdam, a rare 2 days there before flying back to Houston (via London to grab clothes and Dallas to meet a colleague at the airport!) for 3 days and finally back to Munich and then London! Other than Houston where I'd been spending a fair amount of time anyway, I didn't see any of the other cities at all! I'm sure people do worse on a regular basis and I'm sure none of them find it glamorous!
For someone whose life is all about travel technology I occasionally worry about who is actually using it? This is the first in a series of posts where I will explore the use of technology in the travel process, in this instance, the mobile boarding pass.
Not having the exact statistics to hand (and being too lazy to research it for now) I'm going to base this post on my own experience, that of my family and friends and my casual observation of people I've travelled with.
So lets have a look at mobile boarding passes (see my post on The Hierachy of the boarding pass). At one extreme we have my mother who still struggles with the concept of not having a ticket to hand over at check in let alone a boarding pass on her phone! At the other end is my middle brother who, for an accountant, is more technically savy than me. In the middle is me who has airline apps on every device and a couple of spare batteries "just in case", and my older brother who has the app but will print the boarding pass "just in case they don't accept mobile boarding". Interestingly when I travelled with my fiancee, she considered it more likely that I would lose all of my gadgets that a printed boarding card, so that's what we took!!!
On a recent trip to Paris I watched others both inbound and outbound and concluded that only about 10% of the people I saw were using mobile boarding passes. Most seemed to have self printed ones and the rest had either kiosk or check-in agent printed ones. The interesting part is that the number of mobile boarding pass users seems to have doubled in the last year, so if that rate continues hen wide spread use isn't far away.
What is your experience or view of the use of mobile boarding passes and what more needs to be done to get them used more?
This was the question I asked my self at breakfast in Prague before Christmas 2012, as I was grappling with how I really felt about the place! Having only spent half a day there, I was very unsure if I liked it or not. Let me explain.
We landed at about 11am having left at 7am from London. To the excitement of nearly every child and female passenger on the plane, including my fiancée Debbie, we landed into snow which made everything seem surreal and pleasant. Passage through the airport was slick and enjoyable, even the surly border guard smiled and wished us a nice stay (it may have been "day" and I was just being hopeful that the Americanism's hadn't arrived!) after he'd checked our credentials. Our driver (yes my younger days of hopping on a bus and seeing where it takes me are long gone!) was a well dressed young man who spoke impeccable English and whisked us off to his pristine Mercedes and on into the city via the scenic "past the castle" route.
So far so good, expectation and reality were matching up. We checked in to the hotel, had a quick freshen up then headed out into the cold to have a quick look at the Christmas markets and then some lunch. This is when my expectations came crashing down! The markets were underwhelming, while pretty, the stalls all seemed to be selling similar stuff possibly from china and certainly from the same supplier who had also kindly provided the same A4 laminated price and marketing flyers! I'd expected quaint "made on site" stalls with locals from the surrounding area making stuff while the aroma of mulled wine and freshly cut ham wafted around. Ahh, do not get me started on the ham! 800CZK (£26 $40 €31) for two pieces of ham, a sausage and some bread! Don't get me wrong, they didn't rip me off but they did see me coming! The price was per weight and they gave the two of us enough to feed a family of eight looking to stock up for the winter! A lesson well learned.
So we headed back to the hotel via Starbucks for a tea and some carrot cake, and resolved to try again the next day when we were a little less tired. However, dinner that night at the Bellvue restaurant was outstanding. Everything from the view of Charles Bridge, the food, the service and the wine were impeccable. The waiter was exceptionally attentive and gave us a little history of the restaurant and the wine we had ordered. The food was exquisite, the quality was on par with top London or Parisian restaurants. In fact everyone from the taxi driver there and back to the lady at the front desk were all friendly, polite and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
So the next morning, having been warned it would be busy, we trooped off to breakfast to be squashed into a table by a pillar blocked in both sides by rugby players on one side and a rather rotund family the other. The waitress was clearly struggling with the sheer volume of people who had arrived so wasn't quite as attentive as she could have been and her smile faded a bit too quickly after she'd served our tea. This is where we come to the point I began this blog post......there I sat, feeling some what despondent about Prague but with 2 days still to go in the city. Therefore I asked myself the question, "what is making you feel this way? Is it the place, the people or the perception?" My conclusion was the latter, my perception of what Prague should be like was along way off from the reality, so I resolved to look for the good in the place and the people.
We headed out that morning with a renewed vigour and an expectation that we would shop and sightsee rather than entertain ourselves in quaint Christmas markets. So that's what we did, we walked around the city all day looking at the magnificent buildings, popped in and out of a few shops, bought some shoes (for my step daughter surprisingly not for Debbie!) and then jumped on a boat trip down the river. We had another amazing dinner that night overlooking the castle, food, service views and wine were equally impeccable as the night before! The only "down side" was I didn't check the price of the champagne we ordered at the beginning of the meal, so my credit card took a bashing when the bill came The next day we spent the morning doing the same before heading back to the airport much the same way we had arrived.
Overall, once I'd reset my perception, it was a fantastic trip in a place that is full of wonderful people and sights, the architecture is stunning if you take the time to look. In future, I'm going to go to places with an open mind and just accept them as they are with no preconceived ideas of what a "perfect place" is, everywhere can be perfect, you just need to open your eyes and see what is really there!
My first ever flight was to Hong Kong some forty (cough) something years
ago when I was about a year old. Apparently I "slept like a baby in
your sling", unlike my then 5 year old
brother who "threw up all the way apart from when we got off at Bahrain
to refuel". Of course I don't remember anything about it, nor the
flight back four years later, but the "experience" was all to vivid to
my mother who I've just quoted.
So why am I sharing this with you? Well British Airways have just launched their new advertising campaign (which can be seen here)
via Facebook that made me think about the "experience" of flying. The
advert, entitled "Aviators", goes back over BA's history and their motto
"To Fly To Serve". It's both nostalgic and authentic as you can be in a
90 second advert but really hit the mark for me in bringing back
memories of my "flying" days.
I do remember flying when I was
younger, although not that well, and since that first flight "in a
sling" I've taken more flights than I care to count (I did count one
year where I took 155 flights although I'm sure there are people who
take many more than that each year!) I've had many experiences while
flying, from waking up during a take off with an oxygen mask in my face
and a stewardess screaming "don't touch it" at me - it was a faulty
compartment and if I'd pulled it to my face it would have released all
the others, aborted the take off and caused all sorts of mayhem! - to
being called "the most selfish traveller ever to darken this planet" -
that was a rather frazzled American chappie who had been upset by me
sleeping an entire transatlantic flight in one of only four smoking
seats in Continentals first class as was!! I've had outstanding service
in cattle class and lousy service in first class, I've flown cattle,
business and first in every trans-atlantic carrier present and past
(with the exception of BA First, never had that pleasure yet) and a few
Asian carriers too.
I still see flying as an experience but it's
become less so over the last few years sadly. This maybe due to many
factors, the fact I'm flying less now than I was 20 years ago, the fact
I'm 20 year older, the changes airlines had to make after 2001 or maybe
simply because flying, like me, has matured over the years. What ever it
is, if British Airways can bring back some of the excitement of flying,
some of the experience and some of the excitement I must have felt as a
young boy boarding that second plane home from Hong Kong then I for one
will look forward to flying again.
"To Fly To Serve" is
simplistic in its words but powerful in its message and I hope British
Airways can use it to bring the fun back into flying.
British Airways, the world's favourite airline, is issuing it's Cabin Service Directors with iPads - not all 1,800 of them but a trial of 100 or so. You can read more about this here BA give cabin crew iPads
. I was lucky enough to see their application the other day when I was in their offices over in Waterside near Heathrow. It was impressive stuff I have to say and the stuff BA have planned that I can't talk about is even more impressive! I'm really hoping it will give them the customer service edge that they had back in the 80's when I first started flying with them, talking of the 80's.........
The whole concept of outstanding customer service is one that I was trained in from my first ever job managing wine bars in the City of London back in the 80's. It's where the concept of my "Big Black Book" comes from. The firm I worked for, Davy's of London, opened their first wine bar in London 47 years ago in 1964 near London Bridge. They served quality wines, by the
glass no less, accompanied by quality food but above all, exceptionally high quality customer service. The business relied on regular city based customers coming in at lunch time, having a bottle or two of fine wine with clients or colleagues and then popping back in on their way home for a quick glass of wine. Occasionally, generally at Christmas but sometimes after a big market crash, they would come in and spend most of the evening getting absolutely hammered! It was at times like this that I learnt to gently steer them towards the door and usher them on their way without upsetting them so much that they never darkened the doors again, a subtle art trust me. The whole ethos of Davy's was about treating the customer with the ultimate respect and care. All the managers wore suits and ties, all the bar staff were well educated, pretty young things (it was the 80's ok!) and even the more mature waitresses who were grumpy as hell in the kitchen, turned into visions of loveliness the moment the kitchen door swung closed and they were in the restaurant! Everyone was address as "Sir" or "Madam" or by their Surname once we knew it. Referring to a customer by their first name, even if they said it was allowed, was a disciplinary offence. Keeping the bar spotless was an obsession, the thought of a city gent getting red wine on his cuffs from one of our bars was thought of as heresy!
Anyway, I digress from my "Big Black Book"! As these customers were so valuable to us we knew each by name, although we only ever called them by their surnames, we knew which firm they worked for, their family situation, birthdays, anniversaries, any "delicate" information (divorces, affairs, family losses) etc, etc. You get the picture, given our position we knew pretty much all there was to know about them. However, the last thing I wanted, as a manager of a wine bar, was for a relief manager to come in while I was away and upset my regulars, so all of the information on my really important regulars went into my "Big Black Book". Any time a new staff member started she, or very occasionally he (this was the 80's remember!) would be sat down with the book and educated about all the regulars. If a relief manager came in they would have the same drill as part of the handover & stock take. That way, none of my regulars were sat at the wrong table for lunch, or offered the house wine when they were Château Neuf de Pap drinkers, or worse asked how their wife is when sat with their mistress!
So my "Big Black Book" served me well, I was constantly complimented on my outstanding customer service even by my non-regulars who often became regulars just so they could be treated so well. It also taught me the value of good, current information about your customers, what we often elude to it today as "at your finger tips" information.
This got me to thinking about the use of iPads, and more importantly the data behind the application. It also got me thinking about what I could have done back in those days with that sort of technology and the type of technology coming. Imagine if, using Near Field Communications, I'd been able to know that one of my regulars was approaching the bar, I could have had his wine opened, decanted and at his table before he walked in. If I hadn't been there his picture could have flashed up to the staff so they knew what he looked like and could have done the same thing as well as greeting him by his name and taking him to his favourite table which would have been marked on the iPad app.
So now start thinking about what you could do for your customers using good solid business intelligence and information and the smart technology we have available to us today.........
Today, the 27th of July, must be the Turkish national "take your infant on a plane" day! Either that or the Turks as a nation travel a lot more with infants than we Brits do!
Let me explain. I'm currently on an AnadoluJet plane from Ankara to Trabzon 11 hours into a 12 hour journey and near enough every row has one or more infants, under 2's and therefore in their parents arms. The plane from Stansted to Ankara was similar, although there were more older children on that flight.
I'm therefore curious, is it a Turkish thing? It can't be the school holidays as these children won't be at school yet. Is it people getting out of the cities as they do in Southern European countries?
So why am I enduring 12 hours of travelling to get from leafy Surrey to Trabzon on the North Eastern coast of Turkey. Well there is a little known, but quite big, European Youth Olympic Festival going on there and my 16 year old son Oliver is swimming for Team GB. I'm on my way to watch him swim for about 24 seconds (if he does well!!) in the 50m freestyle event, hopefully twice, once in the heats and again in the final. He's been in Trabzon since Saturday and has already won a silver medal in the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay. My ex-wife got to watch that one, all 52 seconds of it! We decided it would be cheaper to split the week between us rather than both fork out for a weeks hotel!
It's been a good journey, AnadoluJet have treated me well and Ankara is a good airport, apart from the lack of clarity about where to get the £10 visa!! I'm looking forward to watching Olli get his second medal with the Olympic rings on it!
(Post blog note: As you can tell I wrote this on the plane but took some time to post it here! As an update, sadly Oli didn't get his second medal as the field he was swimming against was very strong! Nonetheless I am still massively proud of him and the picture of him to the left in his Team GB colours will take pride of place on mine and all my families mantel pieces!)
With news of a profit warning and the on going debt crisis sweeping Europe, Thomas Cook shares fell in value by 15% this week. TUI
was tainted too as the City started to worry about the travel sector again, although their shares only fell by 4% or so (see this article in Travel Weekly)
Continuing political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East as well as the weak pound are worrying holiday makers in the UK and the "staycation" word keeps popping up in analyst reports and travel articles.
In this article
Andrew Monk, CEO VSA Capital, offers the opinion that it might be time for Thomas Cook to move into a more upmarket brand and out of the low margin, high volume business. TUI have already moved into the upmarket space with higher margins but lower volumes in their Sensatori
brand via Thomson Holidays. However, they have also held onto their high volume, low margin brands while trying to be different in the market by making First Choice holidays solely all inclusive.
Of course Airlines have balanced the low margin, high volume (economy class) with low volume, high margin (business class) mix in their business for a long time. However, they are much more susceptible to fuel price changes especially if their hedge positions are wrong.
So my question is this, is travel really in turmoil again over and above the recession biting the country? Or is this just a case of better fiscal management is needed within the industry? I don't have the answer and I'm sure I'm over simplifying my analysis, but I would be grateful for people's thoughts on this latest news.
On a trip to Madrid last week I realised something that I'd become vaguely aware of last year when I used an electronic boarding pass on my iPhone on the way out of Canada, there is a hierarchy of boarding passes - and the electronic one is top of the pile. So here is the hierachy:
1. The Electronic Boarding pass (iPhone, Blackberry etc)
2. The Traditional card style boarding pass
3. The home printed A4 boarding pass
4. The kiosk printed "fax paper" boarding pass
Let me explain my rationale:
Outbound to Canada last year I checked in at one of the many excellent kiosks (i would say that, we supply them) in BA's Terminal 5 at Heathrow. This dispensed a rather flimsy piece of paper as my boarding pass. While in Canada, the BA team I was travelling with introduced me to their mobile app on my iPhone. I used that on my return journey and didn't really think much about it, other than it worked fabulously, as I'd used a boarding pass via text on another airline before.
Last week going to Madrid, I realised there was a subtle change in my overall journey using the BA app again on my phone. There was a special line at security in Terminal 3 for those of us with electronic boarding passes, the smile from the stewardess was that little bit brighter when I showed my phone to her, and then finally, when I handed over my phone to show my boarding pass with my Executive Club number while buying duty free, there was the reverence that the stewardess showed towards it! No word of a lie, she took it from me by offering a cupped hand as if I were handing over a new born baby. She held it so carefully as she read off the number to her colleague and handed it back to me with both hands again as she gave it back. To top it all, as she was giving it back she wiped the corner of the screen where I'd smudged it with my finger handing it over to her!!
The reasoning for the positioning of the other three is quite simple, the traditional card everyone knows what to do with it, it's efficient at the boarding gate and holds up to the rigours of being thrust in and out of a jacket pocket. The A4 one is less efficient and no matter how you fold it to display the bar code, everyone who touches it unfolds and refolds it a different way. This causes it to strait to disintegrate at an alarming rate...........but not as alarming a rate as the fax paper kiosk dispensed one! By the time I got to Toronto last year the one I had looked like it had been through my washing machine several times!
However, I did notice one potential down side to the electronic boarding pass............... an over zealous air steward/ess could cause a major problem to your phone when they hang your jacket for you, if they stab the hook of a coat hanger through it in the same way they do the traditional cards
Here is a selection of my favourite April Fools stories from this year. If you have any more please post them in the comments, I'd love to see them!
Have a good weekend.
So the anticipated APD rise has been "delayed" - I haven't seen details of for how long yet but hopefully it will be to allow some consultation with the industry to work out what is best for the industry, the economy and bizarrely of all, the traveller!
So what do we think will happen this lunchtime to APD in the UK Budget announcements? Will APD be frozen
like the industry want, or will it be put up again so the beleaguered traveller has more to pay for their holiday or business trip?
I'd love to know your views and also a view on whether or not it should change? Should it remain as a "Per Person" tax or move, as the low cost part of the industry want, to a "Per Plane" tax?
I guess we will know in a few hours time!
I was pleased to read this article recently - BA Boss asks for a new start
- where it seems the Keith Williams, the new CEO of British Airways, is taking a new approach with the long running Cabin Crew dispute. Looking back on this dispute, and many others that have affected me in the past, it is rare in a purely adversarial dispute for either side to come out well. Normally both sides end up losing something and even if one conquers the other, there is often a bad taste left in the mouth!
So, a more collaborative and conciliatory approach to the resolution of this dispute is likely to yield a better result for BA, the Cabin Crew and most importantly of all, the travellers!
Mr Williams, I salute you.
So this is my first blog entry, welcome - as everyone has to have a first entry I decided that I should call mine exactly that. It's rather dull and uninteresting but it breaks the ice and stops me staring at a blank screen thinking about what to write!
This blog will cover my life in IBM's UK Travel & Transportation industry. I hope you find it interesting and if you do then please comment as it's always encouraging to know people are actually reading my drivel!