The Room Looks Secure, But Is My Personal Data?

Are we at the point where we’ll only buy from a company providing they look after our data properly? We say this because yet another travel company – this time the hospitality giant Marriott which owns several hotel chains including Marriott and Starwood – fessed up to a huge data breach where the personal data of a whopping 500 million customers was stolen.

This story made the headlines in the US not just because of the size of the hack (one of the biggest on record), but because the company has been the victim of several successful hacks in the past and – not surprisingly – its cyber-security system is now being called into question.

In fact the company is now being investigated by several government and regulatory bodies, including our own Information Commissioner who, under the terms of the new GDPR legislation, can impose significant fines on the company. This being America, the company is already standing by to receive a slew of class actions brought about aggrieved (and litigious) customers.

These types of incidents not only now cost companies big bucks but they put a big dent in their reputations too. And so they should. If a company can’t look after our personal details properly then it probably doesn’t deserve our custom.

It’s a view being taken by a growing number of people as we begin to wake up to the fact that we may have been too trusting in the past and if companies are going to be entrusted with our personal details then they’ll need to work a damn sight harder to earn that trust.

Travel companies in particular insist on our handing over lots of personal details about ourselves. Few people would willingly give a company their mobile number as well as email address, credit card details, home address, next of kin details and passport details, but that’s what we’ll happily hand over to airlines.

But the hack recently suffered by British Airways shows that maybe we shouldn’t have been so carefree with out as all those details were stolen from the company’s IT system. Hotels request lots of personal information from us too and as Marriott has shown they clearly don’t always take good care of it.

At some point, the conversation will go something like this, ‘I’ll give you my personal details but I’ll want something from you in return. An assurance that your cyber security system is fit for purpose would be a start’.



Time For a Painmoon?

Oh dear. It looks like painmoon is here to stay. Along with zen-do and mumcation. No, we haven’t got a bug in our keyboard, these are all new words that the travel industry is hoping to impose on us, sorry, encourage us to use as it (dreams up new holiday ideas for 2019.

At this time of year, the creative departments in travel companies across the land try to come up with new holiday buzzwords. It’s where staycation came from all those years ago, as well as glamping. Bleisure (a combined business and leisure trip) is beginning to take hold and many are hoping that microgapping may jump out of travel blogs into mainstream media.

(Anyone over 35 would call these experiences ‘short breaks’ but Visit England spurned that term and used #mymicrogap in a £2.5 million social media campaign instead).

For those not yet fully up to speed with these terms – and let face it few of us outside these creative agencies are- here’s what they mean.

A painmoon is what you take ‘for those who need an emotionally healing holiday during a difficult time in their lives’. (Remember, we don’t make these things up we just write about them). The term builds on babymoon (the break couples take before their baby arrives) and honeymoon (which thankfully needs no explanation).

A zen-do is when your closest friends have been to one too many hen-dos and so need pampering and yoga instead.

And finally for those young mothers needing some me-time, a mumcation offers the perfect antidote, particularly if the offspring have been left with the grandparents so they can enjoy a skipgen.

As the saying goes, you couldn’t make it up. Only somebody has.


Move Over Thomas Cook, There’s A New Kid In Town

Macclesfield doesn’t have a very high media profile. So its residents might’ve been pleased to see the town’s name in the national newspapers last week. It was only for a short period of time – one day in fact – but hey, every little helps.

So what caused this media interest? Well, during that brief period of time an online travel company called On The Beach – which had been set up in a terraced house in Macclesfield – was briefly worth more than Thomas Cook. On that day, On The Beach’s stock market valuation briefly overtook Thomas Cook’s whose share price plummeted after it announced a truly horrendous set of financial results.

Even by the world’s crazy standards, last Wednesday’s turn of events was, well, plain crazy. On The Beach, which despite being set up just fourteen years ago but already a FTSE 250 company, posted a 24pc rise in annual pre-tax profit that so delighted investors that its shares rose three per cent in morning trading. Whereupon it passed Thomas Cook’s shares which were heading in the opposite direction. Thomas Cook’s shares shed  five per cent on the day after being savaged by the markets the previous day (Tuesday) after it delivering its second profit warning in two months.

As a result, both companies were valued at around half a billion pounds, with On the Beach edging ahead of Thomas Cook early in the day. Of course like all good things, it couldn’t last and the old order has duly now been restored with Thomas Cook considered a more valuable company than On the Beach – for now at least.

That the two companies were briefly worth the same amount of money is the only similarity between them. On every other level they are like chalk and cheese. Set up in 1841, Thomas Cook employs over 22,000 employees and has 190 own-brand hotels. It operates in 17 source markets and serves over 20 million customers annually. On the Beach was set up in 2004 and, err, still now employs less than one hundred staff.

But it is growing fast. Last year, it generated £104.1m in annual sales, up nearly 25% on the previous year and so a double-digit growth rate that Thomas Cook can only dream of. Which is why institutional investors have gone crazy for it. And why Macclesfield residents may need to get used to being in the limelight.




Hashtag We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday

‘We know what you did last summer’ sounds like big brother is watching. And in some ways, he is. Especially if you’re using social media to talk about your holiday. Because all those online conversations add up to an awful lot of data that a social media company has now analysed.

As the company (called Immediate Future) estimates that over the last twelve months we have created no less than 30 million social media posts that specifically mention the word ‘holiday’, then the company has had lots (and lots) of data to sift through.

And boy do we like to chat. Holiday conversations held on Twitter were up 93% year on year, whilst Instagram holiday nattering increased by a whopping 213% compared to the previous year.

So what do we talk about? Well, we seem to be using Twitter for dreaming about our holidays or for saying who we’re going away with. We also use that particular platform to ‘talk all the way through the purchase journey, discussing inspiration, looking for recommendations, buying and sharing holiday memories and pictures’.

But once we get to where we’re going, many of us then switch to using Instagram. Presumably because by then it’s all about ‘the experience, the view, the luxury and the destination’.

Not surprisingly, as holidays arouse such strong emotions – including anticipation, happiness and stress (sometimes all on the same holiday) – then we love peppering our posts with emojis that express those feelings. Emojis signifying happiness or love stand out head and shoulders  above all other emojis (at 37% and 38% respectively).

When we do talk about our holidays using social media,  we appear to spend most of our conversations talking about who we’re going with. Family (66%) is mentioned the most, followed by friends and then couples. Meanwhile preparing for the holiday features largest in the lives of family conversations on social.

Apparently packing – at 86% – is the most dominant part of the conversation. (Surely these conversations could have taken place in the house instead of online?!) Couples, on the other hand, talk more about spending money (46%). Friends also talk about packing (49%), but also about holiday shopping (20%). And best friends shoot the breeze about holiday shopping the most (41%).

‘Beaches’ came out top of the list of key words mentioned at 25%, leading from ‘hotel’ at 15% and ‘romantic’ at 8%. ‘All Inclusive’ cropped up in 5% of conversations tied with ‘skiing’.

Sadly for us, ‘Travel insurance’ didn’t appear anywhere on the list. Maybe next year, huh?


Why Breaking Promises Never Pays

Tour Operators will tell you that their’s is a tough business. What with holidaymakers cutting out the middleman and booking their own holidays. To counteract that threat many work doubly hard to promote the ‘value-adds’ that they can offer including all the little things that help make a choosing and booking a holiday through them all the more enjoyable; like personalised customer service.

So we were amazed to see that a stonking 41% of holiday makers who booked their holiday with a cultural tour operator (called RSD Travel) were unhappy with the service they provided. What’s even worse, this company specialises in escorted tours!

As a result of their woeful customer service, the company tops the list of ‘Customers who had a problem on their holiday’, which arose from a survey carried out by Which? Travel. Jules Verne, (strap line’ Inspiring tours worldwide’) came in second with a score of  30% whilst lesser known Newmarket Holidays garnered (if that is the right word), 27% – so sharing third place in this rogue’s gallery with Leger Holidays.

Substandard accommodation, incompetent reps and terrible customer service are the three gripes that came out top in the list of problems encountered by Which? Members. What’s so surprising here is that all these issues are largely within their control and so are ‘fixable’, as opposed to adverse weather, striking workers or mechanical failures, all of which can ruin a holiday too but are definitely outside the control of the tour op.

Specific complaints lodged against RSD was that the company ‘didn’t deliver on its promises’. This would appear to break rule #1 for a customer service company, which is ‘never break a promise made to a customer’.  One customer, who says was promised a ‘sumptuous buffet’, ended up  ‘eating a cheese roll while standing in reception’. Others complained of enduring ‘the hard-sell’ to upgrade their itineraries and of being taken to jewellery, carpet and leather goods shops as part of their trip, and then being put under pressure to buy merchandise.

Reading this litany of how not to run a tour operator we were surprised how many of these irritating things are still being tried on customers. In 2018! Of course, RSD might well point to the hundreds of satisfied or very satisfied customers that they have served over the years. The trouble is, they haven’t voted for them, whereas the disgruntled ones have.


Yes, But Can It Be Stowed Under The Seat in Front Of You?

Good news. You can carry a Christmas tree on board a Delta Airlines flight in the US. That’s providing its ‘adequately packaged with the root ball and all branches wrapped in burlap type material’. Phew. That’s a relief, huh?

Given that Americans view air travel in the same way that we see travelling by bus (ie, no big detail) it’s not surprising that all the airlines there offer some pretty comprehensive guidance and advice on what unusual items can or cannot be carried aboard. We thought these were all worth being aware of.

We particularly admired the approach that Alaska Airlines took to baggage as it’s the only U.S. airline that allows kayaks as checked baggage. Other airlines, being the meanies they are, restrict kayaks to ‘only the folding sort’.

Actually, travelling on that airline must be kind of fun. Oenophiles (that’s wine lovers to you and us) can take advantage of their ‘Wine Flies Free’ programme, which allows passengers to check in (for free) a case of wine – providing it comes from vineyards located in the states of Oregon, Idaho, Washington or California.

Most US airlines will let you travel with your cello, which is good to hear, as well as many other smaller musical instruments.

Golf clubs, surfboards, bicycles, skis and snowboard gear are all considered pretty normal stuff, but some airlines, providing its appropriately packaged and protected, will let you onboard with items as wide-ranging as ‘spearguns, javelins, snowshoes and scuba gear’.

This all makes our overnight bag plus duty frees look a bit tame really.

Get Ready To Take Off To…Nowhere

Think of airports and you’ll probably think of big noisy buildings full of people. Lots of people either queuing, eating, or, if you’re in arrivals or departures, maybe even laughing or crying.

But not all airports are full of people. Some, in fact, have been abandoned and are quite empty. Eerily so as empty airports really capture the imagination. Here’s a selection that caught our eye and tickled our fancy.

Unlike most of the other airports listed here, Jaisalmer Airport in Rajasthan, India has never received any passengers at all. Nor have any planes landed there either. Almost inconceivably, the airport, which cost £13 million to build,  never opened as it couldn’t compete with larger travel hubs that sprung up in the region and so was immediately mothballed. (Some mothball).

Nicosia International Airport in Northern Cyprus did receive both passengers and planes – although admittedly most were military ones  –  but as it was situated in what since 1974 has been a demilitarised zone, the airport has now been empty for over forty years.

The Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany also now lies empty although film makers occasionally use it as a location for films including ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ and more recently, the ‘Bridge of Spies’.

Montserrat’s W. H. Bramble Airport will never be used again, for anything. Its runway is half covered in ash following a volcanic eruption which took place on the island in 1997.

Finally, and closer to home, is Manston Airport in Kent. Correction. Was Manston Airport as it closed in 2014 taking 144 jobs and over £100million in lost revenues with it.




America Revs Up In Readiness For Thanksgiving

Phew. And we thought the Great Bank Holiday Getaway was a big deal. That would be considered small beer in the US which is gearing up to celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday of enormous importance to the Yanks who, when we say will go the extra mile, we actually mean will be prepared to travel enormous distances so as to spend the holiday with their families.

This year’s Thanksgiving celebration starts next Wednesday (21st) thro (as they would say) to Sunday 25th. During that time the vast majority – and we do mean vast –  will travel by car with an estimated 54 million estimated to take to the roads. That’s practically the entire population of the UK all on the road at the same time. Admittedly, they have a lot more roads on which to put these cars, but it still must look like – and feel – like the great wildebeest migrations that we see on the TV. Only without the dust – or the lions.

This being America, nor only must these drivers contend with driving huge distances but there’s the weather to contend with. And we mean proper weather, not piddly UK stuff. Like major snow storms, heavy rain and, depending where you are, the added risk of wildfires.

Of course they could always fly, which is what over 30 million holiday-makers will do or travel by other means, including train or bus which only a very small percentage of the population do.

However they get there, we’re sure it will be worth it where the traditional turkey meal will be the star of the show in the vast majority of homes. In fact, one last Thanksgiving factoid to leave you with. Over 46 million turkeys will be consumed next weekend. That’s a helluva lot of wish bones.




How To Look Cool and Be Safe On A Bike

Anyone visiting Stockholm, Copenhagen or Berlin may have seen plenty of cyclists pedalling around with large collars around their necks. Well, we’d better get used to them as they are making their way to the UK soon too.  (The collars, not the cyclists).

They’re not fashion items but airbags and, should the cyclist wearing one be involved in an accident, they have proven to offer up to eight times better protection than a traditional cycle helmet.

The airbags are called Hövding helmets and are proving to be a real hit, sorry, we’ll rephrase that, success. With 100,000 already sold, they’re clearly hugely popular across Scandinavia and the makers claim they’re now being sold in sixteen countries across Europe and Asia, with the US and Australia in their sights too.

Working on the same principle as a vehicle airbag, these contain sensors that record the cyclists’ movements 200 times a second. In the event of an accident, the sensor detects the change in movement and inflates the airbag. This then wraps itself around the cyclists’ head so protecting them from impact.

Of course, some cyclists may take some convincing. At around $300 the helmets are a lot more expensive than the traditional helmets they’re hoping to replace and there is nowhere to fix a Go Pro camera (obligatory for those cyclists who need evidence of motorists cutting them up and the stand up fights these can cause). But traditional helmets do have their drawbacks too, not the least that they mess up your hair and, despite what anyone says, they make you look, well, nerdy.

The Swedes might have the right idea though. There, most insurers will cover the cost of the helmet as part of customers’ home insurance packages in the case of an accident. Their argument is that the helmets’ superior protective ‘efficacy’ makes it a good deal for insurance companies who are hoping to incentivise customers to be safer in traffic.

Some customer have experienced early teething problems with the helmets. Apparently, a common mistake is that people forget to turn the collar off when they get off their bikes. This must make for quite an entrance. And an expensive one too as the company won’t replace it with a free one.

The helmets are already available in the UK. Click here to see them in action.



G’Day Mate. Is This The Queue To Get Into The UK?

If you’re standing in line at an ePassport gate next year then you might hear an Australian accent. Or a Canadian one. Or even an American one. No, you won’t be queuing in the wrong place, it’s just that HM Government has decided to open these gates to eligible travellers from these countries, plus Japan and New Zealand too.

These inbound travellers will be able to access 250 ePassport gates at 14 airports as well as the Eurostar Terminals at Brussels and Paris. And if they do qualify, they’ll be amongst the estimated six million international travellers who won’t then have to queue at the notoriously slow security decks manned by the UK Border Force that offer such a poor welcome to the country. The current waiting record stands at two hours and 36 minutes which was set on a day in July. (‘Welcome to Britain where our national pastime is queuing; now get back in line’).

Nationals from these five new countries – incidentally called the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance – will join travellers from the European Economic Area as well as Switzerland that will be eligible to use the gates.

That’s if they can find one that’s open, as this is another national pastime, spot the e-Passport gate that’s working. The government insists that this technology works and that most gates remain open. That’s not what most users would say (in any language).