Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Who should buy travel? (Part one)

This debate has rumbled on for a very long time and I expect it will continue particularly at this time of financial and strategic difficulty. Suppliers have to earn more and corporations have to pay less to achieve their recovery strategy so it has never been more important that the function in the middle of the pricing debate gets it right. If they don’t we will end up either with less products or fewer customers or perhaps both. The key reason for there being an impasse in this debate is there is no right answer for all the stakeholders. It very much depends on the flexibility, specialist knowledge and skills of individuals concerned.

It is not an easy subject to comment on without rubbing someone up the wrong way and getting called biased to one particular part of the supply chain. Although I was very much a TMC man I now feel I can look back more objectively and hopefully put forward some valid considerations to be taken into account. For example I do not believe this activity should be outsourced to a TMC in the current climate as they will be viewed sceptically by the suppliers and not have sufficient mandate within the corporation. It also has the potential of removing ongoing control of the programme, especially within large organisations and their global subsidiaries.

To understand the challenge and make an informed decision you have to know the key issues. I believe many of you know them so I hope you will bear with me while I ad my thoughts on them. Rather like buying most things the secret is to get the correct blend between quality of product and price. In the travel arena this is easier said than done especially when the product is either a commodity or a service and more likely both. In this environment the corporation needs to look closer at a) what exactly they want to buy and b) how they are going to manage the programme to maximum gain when it starts. A decision has to be made as to who in the company is suited to doing both jobs or if the project should be split into two parts. This is where it mainly goes wrong as one task naturally blends into the other.

If you put the TMC and outside consultants aside for a moment that really leaves just two functions which are procurement and the travel manager. One view is that a buyer is expert at buying a commodity and a travel manager is much better at controlling a service. Having seen both in action more times than I can remember it is very rare indeed to find one person who can lead both functions successfully as the skill –set is so different.

So there we have it. When a buyer says it should be their job they are probably as wrong as the travel manager who says it should be them. In my opinion there are only two alternatives. One is that you go out and find that rare breed of person who can both buy professionally and manage a complex service orientated project. After all travel is a commodity when you buy but turns into a service when you use it. The second option (and best in my opinion) is to form a triumvirate of a buyer, a travel manager and a leader who should be a senior board member with a strong mandate from his colleagues. All three should work together from concept to strategy to buying to delivery. This liaison should not stop at delivery but move forward to ensure disciplines and benefits are achieved.
What about the suppliers? Who should be negotiating what with whom?
I will put forward my views in part two but I can say now that I think it works pretty badly in general!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Cheap flights. What we want? Are you sure?

I have been waiting for it to happen and now it has. The major national airlines that have been fighting low cost carriers are finally joining them with a vengeance that is creating its own backlash.
Naturally it is about money or should I say profit and ‘shareholder value’. Let me explain. Those same airlines that denigrated those ‘cheap’ airlines in the past have seen their profits suffer and have found it necessary to respond in order to maintain their position as market brand leaders.

Now, they are not going to give away their profit margins and pricing models are they? No. What they are doing is changing them into possibly more profitable returns. You see low cost airlines relied mainly on new routes, new markets, low charges for high volume and almost a carte blanche to do what they want as they were new kids on the block. In fact the crazier their actions seemed the more they were admired.

The big airlines could do very little to start with. These new guys were a pain but did not really hurt them too much on key routes. Meanwhile they still earned enough loyalty from business and other higher end markets to cope plus they had solid schedules to key cities to reduce the damage. In fact I think they did not want to play with low cost in those early evolution times. Then things moved on. Or at least they have on the smaller routes.

The new ‘cheap’ market reached almost saturation point. These airlines introduced as many new routes as they could and filled them with as many passengers that were ready and willing to use them. But what happens when there are so few new routes available anymore? How do these darlings of the City maintain the expected rapid, continuing growth expected from them? The answer is they have to compete for those passengers they once scorned and mainly ignored the mainstream airline traveller.

How did they do this? By in part becoming a bit like their adversaries by flying in and out of major airports and fighting on a far more level playing field. By this I mean they kept their opening fare at the same low levels but charged add-ons for everything else from meals, drinks, bags, credit cards to reserved seats, extra legroom and most of the other things you get (or used to) as standard from mainstream airlines. This has created a massive change which will grow before it diminishes
To some extent this is what the big world airlines were waiting for. People started finding that low cost airlines are not as low cost as they used to be. The ‘cheap flight love affair’ was beginning to be questioned. Those airlines that could get away with murder in recent years started being called to account when directly and openly being compared with their bigger and more established rivals.

Finally it seems the national airlines have started to act and I am not sure how popular it is going to become with Joe Public who enjoyed slating them but needed them to be around too. As ‘low cost fares’ went up so did ‘full fare’ prices go down. Except they were no longer the ‘full service’ fare.
The opportunity for these global carriers was there for the taking and being openly displayed to them by those competitors they feared were their nemesis. If you change elements of pricing you can milk extra profit. So now the low cost charges are being introduced by the big boys, particularly on short journeys. Food and drink quality have gone down but now you have to pay for them on top of your fare. The airline takes out a cost and replaces it with a new income stream! This is not the only example of this rapidly growing income stream. On flights cabin crew numbers are getting smaller and compelling reasons present themselves for reducing pay and benefits too. After all it is what ‘the people’ (you and me) want. Now we are finding that major airlines are more often the same or cheaper than low cost airlines on main routes. Sadly it must be at our cost not theirs.

It is a bit sad really but I think the major carriers are going to get a bit of a public bashing over this but hey, they are more profitable and the city institutions will love them! The will also be able to defend themselves by saying they are reacting to what the public want. Meanwhile, as I said before, ultimately Joe Public will end up paying more for less.

Finally a look to the future. I think the short flight market will level out and airlines of all persuasions will compete on more equal basis albeit we, the public, will probably get a more reduced service and at higher prices. As far as the longer distance destinations are concerned, I personally think that it will be a while before this, what I call ‘cost plus’ model takes hold. Companies bankrolled by city institutions have tried before to start up new low cost long haul airlines and have failed miserably.

 This may change and I see airlines like Norwegian trying their new model in this market but I hold out little hope for such in the near future.
But who knows!

Hoping for an airline upgrade. You’ll be lucky!

No seriously, I mean it because luck is probably the best way to describe so called airline selection policy as it applies to that all important upgrade. A huge shame really as, with the arrival of single class competitors, the incentive of potential upgrades is a definite plus when deciding who to fly with. Sad that airlines do not recognise the power and competitive edge upgrades give them.

I read a long running blog the other day on the subject of ‘How to get an upgrade’. It started with someone’s opinion and grew enormously as others (including me at the time) regaled other readers with their tips, experiences and failures. The only thing that seemed clear is that almost everybody wanted upgrades and very few actually got them. The only successes seemed to with people that made no particular effort but got them as a pleasant surprise.

On looking closer at these and other people one thing began to become evident. It did not seem to matter much on what you looked like, how many in your group or how important you are to that airline. It seemed purely down to numbers an seemed triggered by how full the cabin was you were booked in. Obviously the vast majority of seats are in economy class and also economy passengers are more likely not to show up. As a result airlines overbook this cabin in the hope it ends up going out full. If there are seats available in higher classes then these are used for any surplus economy numbers via upgrades. The same approach applies right up to First Class. Very often when someone gets upgraded from economy they will create a chain reaction of upgrade through Premium economy and Club class right up to the front cabin. Either that or, to save hassle the economy passenger finds themselves placed directly into seat 1A.

Meals also impact the need to upgrade. If the particular cabin is short of meals they will often upgrade or sometimes if a forward cabin is almost empty but fully catered for they will again upgrade. There is also the airline staff upgrade where travelling airline folk hold upgrade tickets or possibly are friends of the crew. And if there are plenty of meals and not many staff? Then you might just get lucky.

Now I always used to think that if I looked smart my chances of upgrade were better. I had hoped that someone in the ground staff were wandering around thinking “now let me find a smart, deserving individual I can bestow this super upgrade on” I am afraid I do not believe this happens any more (it used to). Now some machine randomly selects you or a tired, bored departure desk operative gets told to offer upgrades to whoever is in front of them. I am afraid the truly discretionary upgrade has all but gone out of the window. I suppose the computer could be programmed to select that airline’s frequent flyer members but I have not seen this happening either.

Looking deeper there is only one true way of getting an upgrade and even that is risky and impossible for most people and that is before check-in. If you can persuade the right airline person at the right level to mark your booking ‘upgrade space available’ it might just happen. A lot depends on the relationship between reservations and airport staff and if the latter remembers to do something about it. For example I tried to help a friend who had just lost his wife and needed to get to Sydney. I phoned the airline reservations number and explained the situation and got nowhere until I got my call escalated to a supervisor. After a lot of persuasion on my part she agreed to try and help and ultimately he got upgraded. Not easy but possible if you persevere

So that is that really. Computerisation, apathy and, in my opinion, short sightedness by airlines means upgrades are hard to get and mainly coincidental. Just think what a valuable selling tool they could be. They would buy loyalty, give recognition and fill seats productively instead of dishing them out indiscriminately to those not expecting them.

So. You want an upgrade? You WILL BE LUCKY!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bookings.com - A Cautionary Tale

Having been in the travel industry very many years and reached pretty much the top of the tree I thought I of all people would not get caught out by anyone. Sadly I was wrong. In the hopes that I might spare someone (i.e. possibly you) some anguish/annoyance I thought I would share my experience with you. After all over 20,000 people have read this blog so I might be able to help one of you!

The 'issue' is one of online bookings.

I wanted to book a surprise 3 day break in my wife's favourite childhood holiday venue of Scarborough for her birthday. Easy I thought. I simply got on Google and found Bookings.Com. The website was the usual friendly and easy display so I booked The Mount in Scarborough and sat back waiting to enjoy the break. Sadly something came up and we had to cancel so back on the site I went and carefully cancelled the booking as I noticed that otherwise fees would apply.

That was that really until I got a message saying my card would be charged £180 for failure to cancel. Not correct I wailed and emailed Bookings.com and told them so. Ah, they said. Send us proof of cancellation. O.K. I thought, I will go back into my sent/recieved messages to see if there is anything referring to my cancellation, but there wasn't. I became a bit indignant. Polite but indignant. Look, I said, I used to run the biggest hotel booking company in the UK. not only did your system not cancel when asked to but there is also no record of the cancellation in my mailboxes.

I pointed this out in a subsequent email (friendly and slightly less indignant) but was told that the manager 'Craig' had basically pronounced 'No proof then no refund'.

So the lesson to be learned is yes, by all means book and cancel online BUT make sure you get and keep immediate proof you have done so. Bookings.com must have assumed I was either 'trying it on' or they could get away with it. As for me? I will still book/cancel online but use an online agency that believes in my integrity as much as I do! That counts Bookings.com out then!

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Mechanics of Business travel - 3

What is a ‘fixed’ ticket price? Well actually there is no such thing as the cost of a particular ticket usually varies greatly throughout its life. You see a ticket is like any other commodity in that its value gets smaller as its likelihood of sale diminishes. In the case of an air ticket the value hits zero as soon as that aircraft takes off with an empty seat on it. An airline flight seat is more perishable than a bunch of ripe bananas.

It has taken a while but airlines have now recognised this having competed and mainly lost to no frills companies that work on the ‘stack them high and sell them cheap’ business model. Now you have the most conservative of the major airlines of the world discounting their prices to produce full flights. Everyone is working on the same concept which is to sell their seats at the maximum price they possibly can but shift them nonetheless.

I challenge anyone to run a straw poll on price paid on any airline flight and I can almost guarantee that they would all be different. Much depends on the popularity of the service as the ‘rush hour’ peak aircraft will always be able to charge a premium for the exclusivity of what they have.

If you are flying to Paris on business on a Monday morning there is no point in arriving early afternoon so you, like everyone else in that situation, pays extra to go early and do a full day’s work.

So how do airlines work out their fares? Firstly they look at the trends. They see how that flight did previously going back a considerable distance. They calculated who paid what and when. They identify when they booked and how often people then cancelled. Then they look at how full the aircraft was and what prices people paid who occupied those seats. They learn from this information and build a pricing plan.

The vast majority of airlines invest in ‘yield management’ as a way of optimising seat usage and making money. I would say the price of a seat in a particular cabin on an airline can change over 50 times from first being put on the market up to departure time. Get it right and you have a full aircraft and no wastage. Get it wrong too often and you go out of business or need a government bail out!

Everyone knows that only individual private travelers and tourist book and pay early so the prices initially start low. Closer to departure date you get the more thrifty business traveler and those that need to go more suddenly so the price goes up. Three to four days out you have the business traveler.

They need flexibility and they have to go so they get hit with the highest fares. The day before, if there are any seats left, they are discounted for the last minute traveler who is looking for cheap deals and can risk being turned away
This is the sort of basic model that is used today. Within that there are prices for groups booked together, ships crews, tour operators and numerous others. Success or otherwise is measured by filling that last seat however they can, and at the best price for the airline. Most planes are overbooked by airlines as they even gamble on how many folk will turn up on the day. This is especially true when an airline operates different classes as they feel safer overbooking economy seats if they can upgrade any surplus into business class. This happens a lot.

Another method of selling large volumes of seats is through consolidators and wholesalers. These people have a lot of customers and they buy seats at low net prices from airlines for resale to their own market. Airlines get less but they have outsourced the responsibility of selling them to a third party.

How do you get the best ticket price? The only way is to book when others do not. Either early or risk a last minute attempt. It is like a game of chess really, except your competitors employ ‘grand masters’ to play their pieces!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bequia Travel Report -Pics on Travelprotales

Where and what is Bequia and why have so few people heard of it? The simple answer is that it is one of the Grenadine islands in the Caribbean just south of St Vincent, a little north of Grenada and about 35 minutes flight west of Barbados. It is quite small but remarkably full of all the pleasures and amenities people look for on holiday. Why have so few people heard of it? It is probably because it has a small airport and nowhere for cruise ships to dock. It is literally an unspoilt gem of a place.
We first found it about 3 years ago. The attractions of Barbados, Antigua, Tobago and St Lucia were beginning to fade as their popularity grew so we set out to find places that still reflect the charm of the Caribbean. Somewhere that did not have mass tourism but was still civilised, welcoming and reasonably easy to get to. Previously we discovered Anguilla that fits the bill perfectly but now we wanted to see if there were any more out there.
Our ‘must have’ list was not huge but important to us and included the following:
A secure place with nice welcoming people. We did not want to be robbed, abused or snarled at on holiday.
A scenically pretty island with plenty of beaches and picturesque countryside.In other words a place that is welcoming to the eye.
We like to eat out on holidays so we searched for a place that had a diversity of restaurants from local bars to fine dining.
Accommodation to be comfortable in. We did not want crowds so we looked for something more boutique in size with air conditioning, a nice pool and alongside a beach. Somewhere you could really chill out in comfort.
Our first visit to Bequia those few years ago met all these criteria except for accommodation. The island is full of reasonably priced villas to rent and small hotels with basic amenities but we wanted to spoil ourselves. We moved into a hotel that was clearly perfect for us but unfortunately we did not listen to the owners when they said it was still being developed. We lasted only three days but vowed to return when it was finished and this is what we have just done.
So here is the story of our trip to what we hoped would be paradise. I think most will agree when I say there is a lot to know when you visit somewhere for the first time so I will pack my story with lots of detail which you can choose to absorb or ignore!
Obviously getting there is the first part. We flew from Gatwick to Barbados on Virgin in their Upper Class cabin. We chose them because they leave slightly earlier (1030) than British Airways and we had booked a connection separately on SVG airlines. I am glad we did because it gave us the necessary time buffer in Barbados and also BA have been cancelling and delaying their services to Bridgetown recently.
The flight was rather nice. Having got over the strange feeling of sitting 45 degrees to the direction of travel we enjoyed the service. The staff were good, the seats comfortable to sit in, there were plenty of drinks and they had been discreet in the way they had upgraded people into the cabin.
Every airline I know overbooks their economy cabin to holiday destinations as there is simply not enough business folk or higher fare payers to fill the front cabins. There is no way they can alter cabin size or seat types on big jets so they overbook and leave it to the day of departure to sort out. Who gets upgraded can be a bit of a lottery and often staff are assigned the task to walk around the gate area and choose likely folk. If you want an upgrade I suggest you dress smartly and make smiling eye contact with any staff that seem to be looking for someone! Other times the staff are likely to upgrade their friends and other airline staff. In my experience this happens a lot with BA at Gatwick.
The flight left bang on schedule and arrived early. In Bridgetown you walk off the aircraft and, as you are about to enter the building, you will be met by a representative of SVG (St Vincent and Grenadine Air Alliance) who will be holding a placard with names on it and taken to their transfer desk. There they will process your transfer and guide you to the departure lounge.
You will need to have completed a Barbados landing card even if you are in transit. They will also get your bag for you and put it on their aircraft. It will help enormously if you make your bags easily identifiable. I tied a yellow ribbon on bag handles (SVG colours are yellow) and took a picture of them to give to the transfer guy. It worked like a dream and they were the first found. If you are getting hot and thirsty by this time then either bring some EC$ (East Caribbean Dollars) or US$ as the stalls there accept both.
The connection flight will go on time. It has to because the smaller island airports do not have landing lights and shut around 1730. They usually operate De Haveland Twin Otter aircraft which are sturdy and safe but rather noisy. As we taxied out we saw the delayed BA flight landing which meant all their connecting passengers would waste a night of their holiday in Barbados.
The flight was scenic and uneventful and 35 minutes later we were approaching Bequia airport. A word of warning here. Not only do these island airports have no lights but they can be subject to crosswinds and Bequia is no exception. You land right next to some hills and often the wind hits the hill and bounces back. Do not worry! This is normal and the pilots are entirely ready for it even if you might not be!
So there we were. A seamless hassle free pair of flights and safely in Bequia. So what was it like? Well it is not huge. In fact it is probably about 6/8 square miles in total and less than 5000 people live there. They all seem to know or be related to each other in some way which helps keep community spirit high and crime low.
Anyway, I am starting to digress! Immigration and customs at the tiny airport are probably more thorough than Gatwick or Bridgetown. They take their job very seriously and do it thoroughly. Make sure you have filled in your arrival form; smile and you should get through without too much hassle. After all, if you had a job where you hung around all day for a very few small flights you would want to do it thoroughly to prevent terminal boredom.
The transport was waiting. It consisted of a man who was grinning from ear to ear and a canvas covered pick-up truck. We piled into the back and weaved down the road to our hotel. A hire car had been delivered to the hotel for us. If you send them a print of your license in advance they will queue up and get your local permit for EC$50. Do it as otherwise standing in line yourself is a pain. Did we really need a car? No. If we took taxis every time we needed them it would be cheaper than paying for your own vehicle to sit in the hotel parking lot. It is convenient though!
The Bequia Beach Hotel was everything we hoped it would be. What had been a building site is now a small but immaculate hotel resort with free form pool, spa, and beach restaurant. Everything seems new and clean including the pool and beach chairs and I admit we were very impressed…and not a little relieved. The food was good and so was the limited entertainment they provide. Everything is low key, relaxed and high quality, in fact very Swedish. The GM is a beautiful (in every sense of the word!) Swedish lady called Carina Peterssen and she was always around to take care of her guests. You want something? Just phone reception and a cheerful lady will get it for you.
They have a range of rooms there. We stayed in a beachfront suite which was exactly that. The room faced the sea which was no more than 30 feet away. We chose the first floor so that it was both quiet and perfect for sundown balcony drinks. Other rooms are all comfortable and they also have three villas you can hire as well. All plugs there are British three pin and the current is 220 volts so no adapters needed for the Brits. Those that do need them can borrow some from reception. Bottled water is best and you get free bottles to start you off when you arrive.
We were too lazy to try the spa and immersed ourselves in our Kindles instead. There are plenty of sun shades around the pool and trees next to the beach to shelter under if you wish. The bar is close by and they occasionally check to see that you do not dehydrate! The local beer is Hairoun which tastes better every time you try one.
WE had an unforgettable time there and made lots of new friends. OK there is no room service but, if you need it, pick up the phone and it will come. There are no real water sports but hey, do you really want to jet- ski and they will lend you flippers? There is no TV in most of the rooms but to me that was an asset! The best description of the place would be that you are a 5 star house guest of some very nice friends
The best part was the people. Apart from the lovely Carina there were the guys and girls in the bar and restaurants. So thanks Ozan, Colin Garvey ,Bridget, Daria and all of you for an unforgettable stay. By the end I even had the barmen buying me drinks. You don’t get better than that!
We ate in the hotel a lot, not just because we were staying in the hotel but because the food and service were so very good. They seem to have imported some very good chefs which combined with a very promising local lady turn out exceptional meals. We probably had 12 breakfasts, 8 lunches and 6 dinners here and not one was poor.
The lunch menu stays near the same with at least a couple of daily specials like pasta and fajitas. Otherwise they have burgers that make you drool and all sorts of club, bookmaker and fish ‘sandwiches’. Do not be fooled, they are not sandwiches in the traditional sense but tasty variations on a theme.
Evening meals were different each night and you can eat all kinds of fish, meat and salads. They were all good. And the desserts?! Wow, they were great. They have both a lobster and a barbeque night. Lobster was on Saturday and cost EC$116 (UK£26.50 each) for two courses. They are fresh because we saw the fishermen delivering them when we sat by the pool! The barbecue night was not that expensive and you have a choice of beautifully marinated steak, fish and chicken. Average lunch courses cost EC$55 (UK£12.59). Continental Breakfast EC$30 (UK£6.87) and cooked breakfast would increase this to about EC$50 (UK£11.45).
We also tried quite a few local restaurants which were very good considering the size of the island. Most were concentrated around the ‘capital’ Port Elizabeth. The ‘city’ has two main roads imaginatively called front street and back street with a few intersecting streets. The main supermarket for the island is called Knights and you can get most things there. Knight’s is on the corner of Back Street and the main intersecting lane. Further up is the Pharmacy, Hospital, Police Station and Doctor. We had to see the Doctor with ear infections and he prescribed antibiotics that would stop a charging Rhino in its tracks. It fixed us but boy the toilet visits were ‘interesting.
Many of the bars and restaurants are on the Belmont Walkway. This is a five foot wide strip of a path that creeps between the harbour itself and the mainland. It fell apart in a storm but has now been rebuilt and is better than ever. Here are some that we ate at:
Tommy’s Cantina – A nice reasonably priced place to eat
You can find Tommy’s right at the entrance to the Belmont Walkway. It is nothing pretentious and can get quite busy. We sat next to the rail overlooking the sea in wooden seats (no cushions) and watched the world go by. Do not expect gourmet food here but if you want something basic but tasty and not as pricey as some it is worth a try. The service was friendly and helpful and they will give you food to go. We had 4 beers, Goats Cheese Salad and Grilled Chicken for EC$98 or UK£22.44
Macs Pizza - Didn't want to go but glad I did
This is nuts. I don’t go to pizza restaurants, hell I don’t even like cheese! Nevertheless we went, mainly because of its good reviews and I am very glad we did. These pizzas are VERY well cooked and come in three sizes (9”,13” and 15”) and they will even do a delicious creation without cheese if you ask. There were a huge choice of fillings as well as wraps and sandwiches and, if you cannot finish (you won’t) then take it away in a box.
The place is nearly at the end of the Belmont walkway and is charming to look at and sit in. You can stop on the road high up behind it and go down some special steps to collect a takeaway. If eating there I recommend you sit at the upper level of the restaurant as it catches more of any breeze. It is also a good place to meet local people and we enjoyed a pleasant evening next to our hotel security guard and his wife and child. Cost for 3 rum punches and a 9” and 13” pizza was EC$160 or UK£36.64
Papas Bar – Best bar on the island
This place is sometimes billed as a ‘sports’ bar which I am sure will put as many people off as it attracts but it is much more than that. Yes they do show all sorts of sport from cricket to rugby to NFL to Baseball but mainly on request and only in one area. The rest of the place has panoramic views, good service and decent well priced food. It is perched overlooking the harbour on the left hand side of the road passing the ferry docking pier. You can sit and eat indoors or al fresco on its large balcony. We sat outside watching a children’s dinghy race, drinking rum punches and enjoying some burgers and salad. When we left they charged us $110 which I thought was pretty steep but, as I left, the waitress chased after me saying that I had paid far too many US$ as the price was in EC$. Nice and honest and well appreciated. A great place.
Jacks Place – Very pretty and relaxing
If you want an interesting picture postcard type of place you will not be disappointed. It is very well laid out and overlooks one of the best beaches on the island. They will let you use their beach sun loungers if you eat there which is a nice touch and it is owned by the group who operate Papas and Devils Table.
We had Barracuda and chips as well as pork loin. To be frank the pork loin was rather bland and dry but the fish was very tasty. For some reason many places in the island tend to overcook their meat. So the food was adequate, it was scenically stunning and the people were nice. You need to take a narrow steep track down the hill to it and parking is a little limited. Probably a taxi might be best.

Devils Table - A difficult one to critique
This is a hard one because I met one of the management while having a drink in Papas Bar (they run it too). He was telling me how unfair some of the criticism was about the Devils Table and how he suspected some of it was malicious and possibly local. I told him we would eat there and give an honest personal view and here it is.
This place is visually sumptuous and fun to the eye. It looks like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean which we enjoyed. The setting is perfect too as it seems built into the side of the rocks and has all sorts of nooks and crannies. It is a place to sit back and relax and, unless you take yourself very seriously, a place to chill and enjoy. So that is the best part.
The less special part was the food and I urge them to look harder at this aspect of their service. My wife had baby ribs and I had rib-eye steak. Both were not really up to standard compared with the rest of the island. My steak was dry and poor quality and the ribs were inedible. Sorry Mr Owner sir but they were. They were cooked to dryness and smothered in a dry burnt pepper crust which was not nice. As a contrast the chips and Christophine gratin was spot on. Yet there was a kind of macaroni pie that was truly horrid in a dehydrated sort of way.
The price for our evening which included the two mains and 5 rum punches (we became very thirsty) was EC$233 (UK£ 53.36) so it was not exactly cheap. So my verdict was that the place was great and has fabulous potential and I wish I was there sipping yet another rum punch. I would however recommend that you should monitor your meals more closely before they go out. I would also suggest you allow more space between tables.
Finally, how about putting a sign by the road showing where you are. I bet many like me did not realise you are up that side road between Coco’s and the beach and you have parking available.
p.s. your expat locals do seem to scorn island visitors but I expect there is not much you can do about that!
Whaleboner – Thar she blows!
Now this is an interesting place and something I have never seen before. It is about half way along the Belmont Walkway and entered through what looks like an arch made up from whale ribs. The bar itself has another ‘rib’ built into it and the bar stools are made from what appears are whale vertebrae. The rum punches are wicked and the place becomes hard to leave if you settle there! The drinks are very nice, bar staff charming and it is positioned next to a dinghy park which is wonderful for late evening ‘entertainment’ as yachties return to their crafts. It is both open air and sheltered and has a boutique and restaurant attached We did not eat as the menu was frankly pretty average.
A great place to chill and relax. Good luck getting home!
L’Auberge Des Grenadines – Not much changes
The last time we went to this restaurant was about 3/4 years ago and I was looking forward to see how it had developed since then. The answer was not at all. The menu was the same as was the d├ęcor. Even the owner appeared the same as he sat in his corner bar stool looking cool, French, and not very visitor friendly. There was a jazz trio with a good guitarist a most adequate lady saxophonist and a distinctly strange keyboard vocalist that looked just like Zoot in the Muppet Show. They actually were rather good except for some laden remarks from ‘Zoot’ if we did not applaud loud enough! It was not crowded so we had to do a lot of clapping to keep him happy.
The starters were excellent and we had the same as our first visit which was Calalou soup and Onion soup and they were first class. We began to relax so ordered wine and water and two lobster mains fresh from the tank. My wife had to hide her eyes as a struggling lobster was plucked from its pool. Sadly it might have died in vain as. Like a lot of things on the island it was a bit dry but I enjoyed mine at least.
By this time the owner’ regular drinkers turned up to join him at the bar. I am sure I recognised some from last time! We certainly started to feel like outsiders at a private party as the bar got louder and louder with much posturing and teasing going on. In fact we paid our bill and slunk off without a farewell from good old Jacques but EC$410 lighter (£93.89). For that price a mere acknowledgement of existence would have been appreciated!
All in all it was great to have so many different places to eat and we barely scratched the surface. There is a place called Fernando we never got to. This is like the front porch of a house where this guy Fernando goes fishing in the morning and cooks it for ‘house guests’ in the evenings. Absolutely brilliant apparently but we never made it. Coco’s is another fun relaxing place that we missed. Many are hard to find so just ask anyone and they will tell you. You will love it I promise.
I hope we have identified that you will not starve on this island. But what about activities? What is there to do and see? Perhaps unsurprisingly there is not a vast amount apart from greenery and beautiful beaches. By the way the best beaches are Lower Bay, Princess Margaret’s Bay, Friendship Bay (where our hotel was) and Industry Bay.
If you want something different visit The Old Heg Turtle Sanctuary. This is a place at the furthest tip of the island run by a guy called Brother King. He both rescues and breeds turtles to a point where they are ready to release back into the sea. This guy must talk about it thousands of times but you can still feel the passion and dedication in him. The island used to be a local centre for the whaling industry and that is what most of the fishermen used to do. He is trying to convert them in to more eco-friendly activities. Entry is free but please make a small donation.

As with all good things our holiday came to an end. We travelled in late November early December and stayed at the Bequia Beach Hotel. The weather was brilliant with only two rain showers which was quite a change from the alarmist forecast that said rain every day.
The flights back were tedious but relatively uneventful. You need to totally clear customs and immigration in Barbados so fill in all those forms! If you want to use a lounge in Bridgetown there is still only one and it is not very nice. All the BA, Virgin, American, Air Canada folk all pile in it. Flying overnight on Virgin was a bit disappointing. Their very new flat beds are not as comfortable as the old ones and their flat pillow means your head is lower than your feet! Turbulence was bad (a seasonal thing) but service was better than BA.
You may have already guessed that we love Bequia. And we will go back. It is how you expect the Caribbean used to be before the crowds moved in. The people are nice and you feel safe there. The scenery is stunning and the sea beguiling.
If you want to know more then send me an email!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Mechanics of Business Travel - Part 2

OK, where was I? I had just explained the first major evolutionary development in the travel cycle which was the demise of airline commissions resulting in TMCs (Travel Agents) presenting bills to clients rather than incentive cheques. This resulted in sweeping changes in the major travel markets although some of the smaller airlines still paid commissions to remain competitive. In fact in some regions of the world this change is yet to happen. Some might think that companies would be 'up in arms' over the change but most welcomed it with open arms. You see, from a buyers perspective it is better to negotiate from a net price than a commodity that has built in add-ons already especially if you might consider some of them unnecessary. The key word here is commodity as it means the stripping of something to a base product that you can buy rather like drawing pins, washers or computers. Every buying decision is based on price,at least that was what they thought. At this time technology was moving on in leaps and bounds and many airlines recognised that here was an opportunity to sell direct to the traveler at prices and payments they could control. In the same way you could argue that airlines thought they could cut out (or at least not pay) the TMC middle man they could also identify a method of getting direct to the traveler. All change was viewed as progress and in most cases, it was. Except all progress releases a new set of challenges and this is particularly the case when talking travel development. Airlines had got what they wanted and so had travel buyers so what could go wrong? What went wrong was that little cost had gone away, it had just been deflected on to someone else. Who? Well in the main, the traveler was asked to pick up the tab as TMCs were able to prove themselves indispensable. Why indispensable? Why not book direct? It would be so easy for individual travelers to pick up the phone (or PC) and make their own arrangements. Quite so but many corporations had a different need altogether. That was the need for Travel Management. It may sound crazy but a travel booking is probably less than 10% of what a TMC does in the course of their activities. The rest is everything known a travel management. On the corporate list of travel essentials were such things as authorisation, booking changes, travel administration and billing/accounting. There is also a need to support preferred airlines that have offered discount prices based on minimum volume, The growing need for 24 hour traveler monitoring and support. What happens if there is a catastrophe somewhere? How and who gets your people out of there? These and more are essential requirements and none of them are free. So who pays? Not the airlines as they have moved to a commoditised net price. Not the TMC because they are actually providing the service. Not the corporation either. They have welcomed the shift in the payment cycle but are not internally constructed in a way to take on such a cost centrally. They have mainly moved to charging cost centres which means the traveler invariably picks it up. But hold on a minute. The traveler's primary interest is just 10% of all that. Why should they pay?. And here we have the key issue troubling the industry at this time. Travelers ar looking at their budgets and saying that all the want or can afford is to make a simple booking and travel. Companies are saying OK, but use this TMC and pay their service charge. The traveller either does it grudgingly or more likely, books through a cheaper means that does not carry these overheads. If nothing goes wrong the traveler wins, at the cost to the TMC and, more importantly their employer. Next time I will tell you about all those cheap (and not so cheap) fares out there.