So the fog has lifted for now, and along comes the next excuse for poor holiday sales, namely the hot weather. It seems that May was not only the coldest for many years, but last week-end also prodced outstanding sales for ice-cream, BBQ's and sausages. Unfortunately, while good news for some, this has also led to fewer late holiday sales for the May half term break and price cutting has been rife. It is hard enough to make money in tour operating, but when high season is slow too, it looks like being a very difficult year. Of course, we will soon blame the soccer world cup and Wimbledon. However, these are compelling reasons to stay at home. Mind you, there are more to going away - the prices in the UK are way too high, poor value and even Centre Parcs is very expensive for families. Add that to the poor quality and choice of hotels in Britain's seaside resorts, dubious weather (in the UK a Four Seasons usually means one day's climate) and never-ending roadworks, and abroad really does sound appealing.
Went to see the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde at the local theatre on Saturday night with my wife. It was an amateur production, but outstandingly well performed. The humour was rather infectious, and I found it most enlightening. If only I had seen the play when I was studying it as part of my A-level examinations some 27 years ago, I would have understood it all so much better. I was thinking that having seen it I could explain it all and recount it so much better - very much like tour operator and destination Fam Trips in the travel trade. When travel agents and reservations consultants have seen it first hand, sales are driven forward, with confidence. Hotels are the same - where there are similar competing hotels in resorts, the ones that have been expereinced first hand will be the winners.
The dust has finally settled, at least the dangerous dust, and the planes are flying high. Many people still remain stranded, but normality is expected soon. So what has the travel industry learnt? I suspect that what was already known by experienced industry campaigners has simply been proven. Whilst the volcanic ash was unprecedented, it could always have been something else such as a heatwave melting runways or alike. The principle remains that it will be for courts to decide upon whom the responsibility of paying the bills and compensation ultimately lies. To my mind, this really is nobody's fault and people have to take care of themselves. Unexpected happenings do occur and why should tour operators be left to foot the bill? Why airlines for that matter? What has transpired is that I am not aware of any bed banks covering chrges for clients abroad, though am happy to be advised and proven wrong if that is the case. So, those who have not booked packages have potentially been left with little or no recourse, and perhaps little assistance abroad. I have heard of many being helped beyond the call of duty. Mosaic Holidays http://www.mosaicholidays.co.uk/ were working round the clock and others were too, I'm sure. I suspect the eventual winners will be the advisors and legal teams who would have been inundated with calls for advice.
Now the complaint letters begin to roll in as people have recovered from their ordeals and look to pin the blame on someone else in order to make a buck. I hope that companies stick to their guns and act in a manner they deem to be fair and just.
As time goes by, 150,000 UK citizens currently find themselves stranded abroad, unable to return to their loved ones. Stories I'm hearing all too regularly are of people being told they might be able to return in May. Of course, this is where social media is really coming into itsown. I am receiving alerts from google about people writing on their blogs while stuck in their hotels in Egypt, Greece, France, USA, Canada and more. In addition to this, Facebook allows a fully informed, up-to-date version of what is happening in different countries to people you know and allows an excellent exchange of ideas on how to return home and the situation they are currently facing. At the same time, I'm hearing of people desperate to travel to the Far East and elsewhere for the sake of their businesses, which may be put into jeopardy if transactions cannot be performed in person. At Darren Panto Associates (www.dpaglobal.co.uk), we have been working hard to try and assist tour operators and individuals get people back to the UK, any way possible, generally by train and road. Of course, ferry companies between many different companies are also full to the brim.The consequences of all these seemingly endless cancelled flights may be dire and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Whilst the internet is keeping people in touch, what the internet cannot do just yet is blow away a cloud.
What a strange phenomenon. A volcano in Iceland is spewing tonnes of volcanic ash into the sky and it is drifting acorss the UK, slowly. The result of this is that once again Iceland is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, only this time it really has brought Europe to a standstill. Well, at least as far as air travel is concerned. The real money apears to be on international flights re-starting in a couple of weeks, but we see everything postponed day by day, one at a time, officially. The implications are going to become clearer as time rolls on, with dire consequences for some, not least those in the travel industry and the travel news in Travel Weeekly (www.travelweekly.co.uk) , TTG (ttglive.com) and Travel Bulletin (www.travelbulletin.co.uk) is likely to be dominated by stories coming out of the industry. Those with a sense of responsibility to their clients are likely to be the hardest hit, ironically. for those in the hotel representation and destination marketing fields, well, it is a case of wait and see. I'm not a fan of the "staycation", but it has some merit. Conversely, how will the fruit and products get to the UK if not by air? Watch the supermarket shelves empty, fast.
A somewhat debilitating day with BT's network exchange being flooded and my internet and email access being paralysed. Thankfully, I have an Apple iPhone which allowed me to access my emails but it is interesting that I am in Hertforshaire and the flood was at Paddington - yet my office access is affected and Paddington's is not. My wife had taken the week off to work from home, so you can imagine how impressed she was. Trouble is, there was nothing on the news until the following day, though one news broadcast on the radio did suggest a website to visit to get the latest on the situation.....brilliant as my good friend Hans Loontien, General Manager of the Renaissance in Beijing, would say.
Today was a great day out. Met up with Vee from Peltours early at Paddington Station for a day out at the races. Arrived at Cheltenham which was brimming with people buzzing around, frequenting the public houses, reading the newspaper sports pages, and generally having a good time. The day was hosted by Ladbrokes excellently and my thanks to them. The wine flowed, the gin was a perfect tonic for all the losers I selected, and the Gold Cup winner was a worthy winner, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. Mike Cattermole, the racing commentator, gave us all a pep talk on what he thought might win - interesting and covered his back with most of the selections. He did pick the winner in the first though. The day ended early evening and it was quite a demanding task to board a bus for our return journey to the train station, followed by the train journey back to London. Sad, though, to have to endure the mindless swearing of certain loud and foul-mouthed Chaltenaham races goers who were not bothered about whom they offended with their sharp tongues. A great day though; now back to the marketing, PR and representation that is required to be able to afford to attend Cheltenham next year.
Flew to ITB on Wednesday morning, following a very late night on Tuesday preparing for the next few days ahead. Flew with Easyjet and all ran smoothly until security at Luton Airport. There must have been some 200 people ahead of me in the queue, and it was to the airport's credit that the waiting time was only 25 minutes. The flight was pleasant though I was stuck in the middle of the row of 3 seats - not my preferred position. I had Mr Moscow on my right hand side, and Mrs Sleepthroughtheflight on my left. Once at Berlin Schonefeld Airport, I managed to share a taxi to the Conference Centre with Victoire of Design Hotels at a cost of some €45. I took a train journey involving only one change of train some 3 days later when returning to the airport for just €2.80 and it was a very pleasant allowing me to see many parts of Berlin not viewable by taxi.
Spent a busy 3 days having meetings hoping to make some progress and meeting new prospective clinets. Also saw Rafi and Yaron of longwood holidays, as well as a host of other people I've not seen for a long time, including Theo Demetriou - a devoted Arsenal supporter.
Wow ITB really is as big as they say. Stayed in the Park Inn in Alexanderplatz and was pleasantly surprised with Berlin city itself. Freezing but very impressive.
I understand there are holidays available to North Cyprus for this Easter's school holidays - it is a lovely family-friendly holiday destination with unspoilt authenticity and quality hotels - the weather should be great too. I believe they are very reasonably priced too, £600 for a week at a 5* hotel, including flights from Gatwick and Heathrow and Manchester. Check it out at: www.mosaicholidays.co.uk or call on 020 8574 4000.
As everyone fights harder for business, hotels and destinations need to seek new ways of attracting tourists and the MICE market. At present, discounting still seems to be far too prominent, but there are also added value offers around that offer something really tangible. However, it seems everyone is fighting for a market that is not convinced it should travel, with a lack of certainty still prevailing. It is down to hotels, resorts, destinations and countries to innovate and use the services of local companies (or perhaps I should say people) who really know how to get to he people who are selling holidays, and who can create a co-ordinated, integrated marketing campaign. Awareness and accessibility are fundamental, though it sure helps to have some unique selling points too. I am gearing myself up for next week's ITB show in Berlin where I shall be meeting with organisations for whom Darren Panto Associates can make a real difference. We have the ideas, contacts, knowledge and determination to make it happen - as we say: "Your success is our success."
It seems that 2010 has started quite briskly for many travel agents, and certainly tour operators are sounding positive. Busines has been coming in but the question is how much of that is due to the freezing weather conditions that the UK has been encountering, and how much is recovery or low prices? It seems short breaks are doing well, Canada is doing very well, and short haul ski has been slower than expected....perhaps due to the snowy conditions here or maybe the recession biting.