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January 17, 2017

FINDING ADVENTURE IN A CONVENIENT WORLD

When The Mayflower left Plymouth in England in 1620, it took the first pilgrims 66 days to reach Cape Cod, a journey that now takes approximately 7 hours. The fictitious adventurer Phileas Fogg just about managed to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, whereas the current record-holder, a Gulfstream G650, made it in under two days. Travelling long distances is becoming quicker, easier and cheaper than ever before, but for some people, this convenience is taking the adventure out of travelling. So they've decided to do something a little different, and have made their own adventures.

People have many reasons for going on a life-changing, time-consuming adventure, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to learn that drunken bets comprise more than a few of them. That's exactly what happened to Ty Dalitz, a former farmer from Melbourne, Australia. As he himself says, - I first planned the trip a few years ago, it started off as a joke on some drunk nights. I spoke about it too much and committed myself. -What was it he had spoken too much about? An attempt to travel from Sydney, Australia to London, England without using a plane. Flying would have taken him just over 23 hours; Ty’s method took two years and just under four months. By his own admission, he could have finished his travelling much earlier, having arrived in Europe in July 2015, but 'got distracted', and spent a further year and a half exploring Europe, having several adventures and close shaves along the way.

Of course, Ty was 'only' trying to get from one side of the world to the other, something that Danish explorer Thor Pedersen might consider a bit too easy. After all, Thor's own challenge to himself is similar, but with a much expanded scope, as he is also attempting to travel without using a plane %u2013 but he's going to every country in the world. This is an epic journey that started three years ago, and isn't likely to end for another three, as at present, Thor still has 82 countries to visit. He's been using container ships for most of his sea-crossings, something which seems to have been an overwhelmingly positive experience for him, even if the crossings are a little slow (averaging at about two weeks per ocean).

Of course, this is all well and good if you can afford to save the amount it takes to implement a plan such as this. Ty's journey from Sydney to London cost him $30,000 in total, and even with a strict budget of only $20 per day for food, accommodation and other expenses, Thor Pedersen's journey will cost him over $43,000. The ideal thing would be to travel the world and be paid for the privilege of doing so. An impossible dream? Not at all. For example, you could get yourself a job as an intern aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise line, and be paid the equivalent of $70,000 to take photos and post them to Instagram.

Alternately, you could take up the job offer recently posted by this family, who are looking for a nanny to help out while they travel the world. And this isn't a case of staying at home with the kids while the adults are off having fun %u2013 the kids, and the nanny, are coming too. While some on social media have commented that the salary offered ($1200-1500 per month) seems a bit low, it's got to be difficult to find something to compare it too. Whatever their thoughts on how the job pays, the family have been inundated with offers.

There's more out there than the hotel, beach and bar. You've just got to be willing to take the risk and explore the world in the ways that interest you. And just because we've made it quicker and easier to cover vast distances, it's worth remembering that there is plenty to see in all those miles that are eaten up when you're cruising at fifty thousand feet. So why not take your time and have an adventure?



January 10, 2017

CUSTOMER SERVICE

As the year draws to a close, there are the usual round-up of reviews and lists in the media. One such list out of the UK caught our eye - a weekly consumer advice column reviewed the worst customer service stories from the past year. What stood out was the amount of travel or travel-related companies that made the list: there are two travel agencies, a cruise line, a car hire company and an airline. When we took a look across the Atlantic to see if there were similar issues in the USA, the answer came quickly. Yes, there very definitely are.

There are subtle differences. While the UK says that the travel industry sector is the worst for customer service, American companies seem to do better. In their annual list of the worst performing companies for customer service, a travel company doesn't appear until 30th place, with Americans preferring to complain about banks and insurance companies, with the winners by a huge distance being telecoms companies and internet service providers. In fact, the view from outside the USA suggests that customer service is something that the USA does right, with 67% of respondents in a survey believing that America could show the UK how to do customer service right.

There are two main reasons why we travel - either we're on vacation, or it's a business trip. For people attempting the former, this might be something that they've been working towards all year, their one opportunity to be served by other people rather than the other way around. For the latter, having to travel to other countries for work is viewed by many as the opposite of fun, and anything that gets in the way of getting there, getting the job done and coming home again is a major problem. So when things go wrong, such as a flight being cancelled or delayed, an incorrect booking or even bad service from hotel staff, the level of anger and frustration is much higher than it might be at other times of the year. It's surprising what a huge difference this can make. Two recent stories out of Africa, for example, illustrate this.

The first story comes out of Cape Town in South Africa this week is sure to please any boss or industry professional - nothing but good things to say about a people who have embraced the concept of customer service. Contrast this with a complaint from the State Minister for Tourism in Uganda, who claims poor customer service is one of the biggest reasons why their tourism industry is floundering. Another country that is seeing some results from adopting a strong attitude to customer service is China - to an extent. It seems that the one hold-out to providing a good service are the most expensive hotel chains.

AI and automation are the buzzwords of the tech industry, with many believing that robots will replace many jobs currently done by humans. The truth is that this is already happening, particularly in the customer service sector. They are already working at airlines and in airports, and providing room and other services in hotels. Is removing the human element the answer to the perfect holiday? It certainly seems to be getting results.

With the web now in our hands wherever we go, doing something about bad service is only a few clicks away. Online reviews can mean life or death for a business, depending on how well they treat their customers. Now that a new law has been passed protecting online reviews, we can now be fearless in our reviews, and bring businesses that provide a bad service into the light, forcing them to change their ways. At least, that's the idea...


December 19, 2016

GOING THE DISTANCE

2016 is coming to an end, so it's time for a review of the travel trends and habits that will shape the coming year. So far, one thing is clear - we're getting really good at choosing vacations that suit us.

If there's one thing the internet is good for, it's giving you options. So if you're the sort of person who is happy to select a package deal that includes your flights, hotel, car hire and even meals, you can do that. But increasingly, we're taking a closer look, selecting each individual option ourselves, selecting them for convenience, cost or for any other reason we might have. So we're picking a different airline for our flights home than the one we picked to fly out, but more interestingly, we're flying to new places and further than ever before.

This is because nations and businesses are falling over themselves to make life easier for travellers. Norwegian Airlines, for example, has pledged to increase its transatlantic flights from the US to Europe by 55% next year. The country of Iceland has seen an epic rise in tourist visitors (a 38% increase in total, with 11 times more US visitors than last year) after cleverly positioning itself as a stop-off between the US and Europe. Travel to Europe is up in several key destinations, with savvy travelers taking advantage of the weak pound and coming to the UK, while steering clear of some places on the European mainland that have been the target of terrorist attacks.

It’s not just traditional destinations that are doing well. In our search for adventure and authentic experiences free of the normal tourist traps, we are headed to new places. You would not necessarily expect Kazakhstan to make the list of highest-rising tourist destinations for 2017, but this is another country that has gone to great lengths to make itself more attractive to travelers. In Kazakhstan's case, this means improving the country's air safety records, cracking down on terrorism and offering visa-free entry to visitors from 48 countries. 2016 was also the year that Cuba opened its doors to the US after over 50 years of stalemate. The question for many would-be visitors to the island now is whether they want to see it before anything changes too much, or whether they'll wait for modernization.

Whatever your plans are for your next vacation, don't be afraid to be bold. Go off the beaten track, have new adventures and life-changing experiences. Wherever it is you're thinking of heading, the chances are that it's a lot easier to achieve your goals now than ever before.


November 22, 2016

BUYING AND CELLING

With Black Friday coming at the end of the week and Christmas just around the corner, this is a great time not only to find the best bargains, but also to get a snapshot of current consumer trends. One thing that experts are expecting to see this year is huge increase in how much we use our smartphones during this period. While this information will be tremendously important when looking to the future to see how we might move toward a cashless economy, it's in India where the real changes are happening, for better or worse. And while the better is slowly beginning to gain ground, it's the worse it still very much in evidence.

On November 8th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled and unexpected appearance on national television to tell the population that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes (with a value of approximately $7 and $14 respectively) would be demonetized. This move was as massive as it was unexpected. At the stroke of midnight that night, 86% of all the cash in India was declared invalid in a country that uses cash for 90% of all transactions. And all of this happened overnight with only 4 hours' warning for the world's second most populated country - 1.2 billion people.

There are, of course, several incredibly good reasons for this. The first is that India has a problem with tax, in that people just haven't been paying it. According to a 2013 report, only 1% of Indian citizens paid any income tax at all, and just 2% filed a tax return. The official figures showed just six individuals paying the highest rate of tax, but in a country that boasts over 80 billionaires, something seemed wrong. People can go to banks to change their old money for new, but anyone wanting to change amounts of a certain size will draw the attention of tax inspectors. Secondly, there's the issue of ‘black money' - the untaxed, untraced and unknown amounts of Indian currency that some experts estimate makes up 20% of Indian GDP. Swiss banks are said to have anywhere between $1 trillion to $2 billion (depending on who you ask) of untaxed Indian cash sitting in their accounts, which this demonetization is squarely aimed at. However, it's not just the ultra-rich that are having problems now but ordinary people, who prefer to stash their savings away at home, rather than put it in a bank. There is a recycling scheme in place - a way to change the old, worthless bills for new ones - but the sheer amount of hidden money that is suddenly coming to light is causing unexpected issues. The cash coming in is so dirty, that they may have to literally launder money. The final aim of the demonetization process is to disrupt terrorist activities in the volatile Kashmir region, an act that is already showing some success.

Obviously, such a seismic change to such a large country with a huge population is causing problems both in the long- and short-term. Banks are overstretched and ATMs run out on a daily basis. Not enough of the new 2,000 rupee bills have been printed yet, and many traders are unable to change them because they don't have anything smaller. (It also doesn't help that the new notes are bigger than the notes they replace, and therefore don't fit ATMs.) However, travelers are finding themselves caught up in the middle of things, and they're not having a great time. Many people are finding themselves with money they can't spend and are unable to change at the nearest bank as they don't have an account. Foreign travelers are more likely to have credit cards, but not everywhere in India takes a credit card, especially restaurants and bars. Early advice to bring dollars has not worked out, because local vendors don't have the cash to make change either. It's even causing huge problems at currency exchanges out of the country.

Necessity, as the proverb goes, is the mother of invention, to which we can now add adoption. After all, mobile wallets and e-commerce are nothing new, but with this crisis unfolding across India, more and more people are turning to their smartphones for a way to help. Things have progressed so quickly that demand for items such as credit or debit card swipers has outstripped supply, so what other options are there? The various mobile wallet companies across the country are already seeing huge results, with one company seeing over 7 million transactions over the last weekend. Earlier reports suggested that digital transactions would not exceed cash until at least 2023 - in India, this figure may well need to be revised. For now, no one is sure whether Modi's reforms are sustainable, or whether this will prove to be a stroke of genius or a huge misstep. Either way, it seems that we'll start to rely on our smartphones just that little bit more in the future.


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