Travel press reporting. Hearing the wrong message correctly.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 30 2010

 

Travel press reporting. Hearing the wrong message correctly.

 

T

HE media often misrepresents data and information – to put it politely. They are not alone; the following from paraphrased senior-staffer statements (department or regional heads, or CEOs) made in the public domain recently:

[] Statement: “All British Airways flights now connect under the same roof at London Heathrow, at Terminal 5.” After my query: 90% do.

[] Expedia’s Hotels.com in the UK lists Florence as a UK city, and reports a boom in the one-night-stay market for Marrakech in Morocco, a 3-hour flight (seasonal service by one airline).

[] Malaysia has done it again – produced visitor arrival figures that appear to have no link with air travel patterns. These include a ‘double-digit’ increase in arrivals from Europe – although air travel between the two fell 9%; a 34% increase from the UK, on air travel down 6%; Germany up 42%, down 2%; Netherlands up 63%, up 2%.

[] Statement: “All water used at Singapore’s Marina Sands comes from rainwater collected on the roofs”. After my query: “Around 90%”.

[] NYC & Company (the marketing and tourism organisation for New York City) might be creative in marketing, but it certainly is in statistical reporting.

Earlier I chronicled some of NYCC mis-statements related to deliberate or accidental mis-use of statistics. The essentials are that it reported a visitor arrival count for 2008 of 47mn, which I calculate would have meant 7% growth.

Now, NYCC reports a 2.2% increase for 2009 for a total of – you guessed it – 47mn. NYCC says international arrivals continued to grow faster than domestic arrivals, up 12% to 9.8mn. NYCC does not say what those figures also mean – either the domestic total fell fractionally in 2009, or was static.

NYCC also notes that NYC’s hotel occupancy was 20 points above the US average. But it does not note occupancy was down on 2008, albeit by just one point. Rates are also down over 10% although in 2009 they still managed a 2% growth. (My hotel data taken from Smith Travel Research.)

[] A press release described a ‘packed’ press conference for Qatar Airways. As the release was printed before the meeting, did organisers ‘pack’ the event with hired hands, or book a small room?

 

 

The Fox

 

IT&CMA and CTW 2010 in Bangkok. Going ahead.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 26 2010

 

IT&CMA and CTW 2010 in Bangkok. Going ahead.

 

M

 

ANY might think that IT&CMA and CTW exhibition and conference scheduled for Bangkok this October might be threatened, following the disturbances in the city. Indeed, part of the Central World complex, where the event is held, was badly damaged by fire.

However, the Centara group, owners of the complex (which includes the exhibition centre and hotel), says damage to part of its facilities was minor, and primarily smoke- not fire-related, and thus still in service.

And TTG Asia Media (TTGam), organiser of the event, adds that some exhibitors – it noted Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea (and Seoul) – have increased their exhibition space by 20-50%.

I presume those were booked before the Bangkok troubles, but I am nevertheless surprised about such big increases (although this partly depends who added 20%, and who 50%, etc), and why TTG did not release this boosting information before.

This could, of course, be a post-economic-crisis boost.

Or the additional was booked post/during the troubles, and there are hidden market incentives – for instance, discounts for booking additional space. As I never tire of saying, even I could easily get every exhibitor to double their space booked. How? The extra space is free!

Not surprisingly, Darren Ng, managing director of TTGam, is not as devious as me:

“The increased participation affirms Asia Pacific’s desire to further expand the MICE industry in Asia. Choosing IT&CMA is testimony of their confidence that the event can deliver superior business prospects.” Oh, ok.

The Fox

 

PAGPFT. WTTC’s Baumgarten, IPK’s Freitag; Thai Airways; Skyscanner’s Thailand.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 22 2010

 

PAGPFT. WTTC’s Baumgarten, IPK’s Freitag; Thai Airways; Skyscanner’s Thailand.

O

 

K, I may not be the brightest light on Broadway, so that is why I needed to be guided by the great and good in the travel industry. But frequently I stumble across PAGPFTs (pronounced PAG-puffed; People Are Getting Paid For This).

Here are some recent examples:

[] WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council – or is it Tourism & Travel?).

At a recent press conference, I was informed by its leader, Jean-Claude Baumgarten:

-“There is little chance of a V-shaped recovery.” Er, JC, there is no such thing as V-‘recovery’ because one side of the V is actually a decline.

-At the conference, JC introduced ‘Roger’ to speak, but did not say, nor did Roger, who he is/was. Presumably I was expected to know. So I cannot communicate the information to my readers (sorry, ‘reader’).

-JC (on behalf of WTTC) and Roger then signed a “partnership” arrangement. I don’t know what they have signed. Perhaps they are getting married?

[] IPK.

Rolf Freitag is awesome in understanding the travel business. Somewhat (well, a lot) less so when he ventures into other areas. From his general commentary, for instance, I divine he does not like the UK, the US, and economic liberalism.

At a recent presentation:

-When Rolf was talking about public debt as a percentage of GDP, he said it was “minus 15% of GDP”. This is a meaningless comment; I presume he means that it was “15% of GDP”.

-He spoke of a return to “flagging global growth”. Eh? If it is a return to growth, how can it be ‘flagging’ already?

-He said “China” hacked into IPK computers last year. I am impressed but intrigued. However, I presume that they just wanted some comprehensive travel statistics and did not want to pay Rolf’s high (but justifiable) charges for his primary research. Or maybe China is planning global domination via the travel business?

[] Thai Airways.

I suppose I should not be hitting while Thailand is down, but a recent high-level presentation was so dumb (maybe ‘unworldly’ is more kind) and contradictory that I cannot let it pass. But I will blame the airline rather than the messenger, so no names:

-A 50th anniversary-year video on the TA smile - ‘your smile is waiting for you’.

-“Soon we should have the smartest cabin crew in the air.” I think this means intelligence rather than elegance - but I could be wrong. 

-“We started 1960, so we don't want to see the airline vanish.”

-“We want to be consumer oriented. We want to do what the customer wants.”

-“We want to be 'competitive' - best airline, best prices, and best routes.”

-“People ask us when are we going to South America. So we can now say we will use Johannesburg as our gateway to South America. We will go Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.”

-“People ask when we go to Honolulu. So we can now say we will go to Honolulu via Tokyo, with All Nippon flying TYO-HNL.”

-“We will use Nok Air to protect us against competition.”

-“We will have seatback videos in our aircraft in a few years.”

-“We want to win more awards.”

 

[] Skyscanner, a search engine for flights and other travel.

Whoops. “We [did not see] any significant drop in interest for summer travel to Thailand since the Bangkok protests began although I suspect that this may be because many travellers believe the unrest will be over by summer.”

That from the search-engine’s North America office. I hope the let-out is in the word ‘significant’, which I would guess means not more than 15% drop.

It then added that in late-2008 there were no “major drops in flight searches to Bangkok”. Again, maybe the details are in the precise meaning of ‘major’, but remember that this was the time when Bangkok’s two airports were shutdown by protestors. (Not the same as the present bunch, but the ‘yellow shirts’, who actually got want they wanted – the existing government thrown out, and their party in power.)

Back to travel. Around the time of the airport shutdown, monthly visitor arrivals in Thailand dropped 31%, 39%, and 20% November-January. If Skyscanner found no difference in searches during this time – and I believe that fact – then that seems to indicate that ‘search’ has little relation to actual ‘travel’. Or at least that the link is not as direct as we generally assume.

However, this could also be Skyscanner, which does not inspire great confidence of understanding the nuances of the travel business.

For instance, with its searches from the UK, it does not explain why Larnaca in Cyprus is searched less than Paphos (yes; it too is in Cyprus). And how Dalaman can make the world top-10. It is a gateway for Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, but presumably it is an important search item because Thomson Holidays or another operator was offering a special that month.

In a similar way, Paris does not figure in the top searches, although it is the most visited foreign city from the UK. Probably of course, because more people know Paris, so they do not need to search. So that fact needs to be incorporated in the analysis.

Do all these make you wonder? Welcome to PAGPFT.

The Fox

Malaysia. Minister Ng Yen Yen.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 17 2010

 

Malaysia. Minister Ng Yen Yen.

T

 

HE following should be considered paraphrased quotes from Ng Yen Yen, Malaysia’s minister of tourism, despite being in quotation marks. (She also has titles – Dato Sri and Dr.)

[] “We want to increase the repeat-visitors share from 17% now to 30% in three years’ tome, and then to 50% in five years’ time. We also want to increase visitors’ length-of-stay from 6.4 days to 8 days.”

In answer to my questions to this public statement, Minister Ng did acknowledge that these are tough targets. But she did not seem to realise that they are near-impossible in practical terms – unless, for instance, the government offers free second holidays to boost the repeat share. Also, she has announced no plans on how Malaysia will reach these targets, and no extra funding.

The minister also noted to me – but not to the audience – that her length-of-stay target excludes visitors from Singapore. That is an important qualification, with Singapore counting for over 50% of the visitors as Malaysia counts them.

I still don’t know if her target for repeat-visitors includes visitors from Singapore – because travel from Singapore already includes a high repeat share, probably over 70%.

So I am left with the suspicion that these targets may be no more than the not-infrequent manipulation of statistics by politicians to serve a particular political need.

[] “Malaysia is now ranked 11th in the world (in visitor arrivals, according to the World Tourism Organisation); we want to be 10th.”

This comment was made two months ago, before many results for 2009 were available. At the time, I said that this sounded like more politician-speak.

I noted that quite soon, Malaysia would announce with pride that it had already reached its target. That was because at the time, the destination in 10th place was Mexico, and when Mexico announced its count of visitors in 2009, it would likely show a fall of about 6% in visitors to 21.2mn. At that time, Malaysia had already reported a 7% growth to 23.6mn.

Data now released by the WTO shows that arrivals in Mexico did indeed fall in 2009, by 5.2% to 21.5mn, and this giving Malaysia the top-10 recognition it wanted.

The minister will not quibble with the fact that Mexico does not count land arrivals from the US, whereas Malaysia does count land arrivals from Singapore – so the measures should not be directly compared. (Something that the WTO should auto-correct also, but it often ignores its rules if they become inconvenient.)

Nor will she be bothered with the fact that, because of the way Malaysia treats its Singapore-arrivals data, Malaysia is still not in the top-10 in terms of visitor-spend; it is about 14th.

[] “Our main target markets are China, India, and the Middle East. We are also building domestic tourism. We now have 3600 homes for homestays, for instance, but we need to do work harder. In 2009 there were 109,000 guests in homestays.”

Earlier data indicates clarification is needed. Ng’s ministry said that in 2008 there were 142 villages in the program and 2800 foreign guests.

[] “We see our neighbour destinations as partners, not competitors; we want our visitors to also visit other destinations. This is not a campaign, just a wish. We need to make the country more welcoming.”

No more specifics; can be considered commendable sentiments or more politician-speak, not business-talk.

The Fox

ITB Berlin. Counting up, down, and out.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 14 2010

 

ITB Berlin. Counting up, down, and out.

A

 

FTER a decent wait, I have reflected on some of my experiences at ITB in March – ok, I’m not as quick as I was. The reason for these comments is to wonder if they indicate a change of patterns. More comments after the facts:

[] Up.

-ITB conference. As usual, good attendance, except on Friday, when attendance collapsed. But see comments below.

-IPK. Again full-room attendance; slick-going-on-glib presentation. See below for related comments.

 

 

[] Down.

-The official launch (er, the second one) of ‘Southeastasia.org’ was attended by about 15 officials and maximum five others – hopefully all media – of which two were present at the first official launch (at ATF in Brunei in January).

-The main WTO press conference usually attracts a roomful, which I guess means 300 people (of which 65% would be media-related)? This year, it was half, if that.

-WTO-rival WTTC usually books a small room for its main press conference (to impress that there is overspill after the 50 seats are occupied?). This year, it booked a bigger room, and attendance was about 20.

 

 

[] Out.

If I gave prizes, I would give them for those who can interpret what the following promotional slogans mean:

-Qatar Airways. “Find your appetite for balance, before the appetiser is even served”.

-Club Med. “Where happiness means the world”.

-Taiwan. “Touch your heart”…unless they are promoting medical tourism.

 

 

[] Comments.

 

There are some explanations for some of these realities.

-Those promotional slogans. I have listed just three, but many similar ones pass me by, almost daily. That is the fault of advertising agencies which, despite their international coverage, are acting more local. And sometimes, those phrases seem to be the result of poor translation.

Nevertheless, I am aghast at the waste of money. Would that Qatar ad, for instance, encourage anyone to fly Qatar? And Club Med – which should know better after its supposed years of experience!

-‘Southeastasia’ has no pull as a travel website, even when it is a launch (ie, a real news event), because ‘travel’ is not in its name, and it is ‘.org’ not ‘.com’. So most would assume ‘southeastasia’ was a political or academic site.

These are essential and basic shortcomings, which seem unlikely to be resolved ever, unless they are changed – to southeastasia.travel or southeastasiatravel.com, for example. Quite simply, ‘travel’ must be in the website name in some form when the rest (southeastasia) is generic.

-For IPK’s presentation, there are always a (substantial) clutch of students in attendance at this free conference. I would guess 20% and even as high as 40% of IPK’s attendance were students and related types (ie professors but research analysts, although I accept RAs and maybe professors are ‘legitimate’ attendees).

That said, IPK’s topics are hard travel facts (even though my favourite professional observers, Travel Business Analyst, exposes many of them as contradictory, misleading, and occasionally, wrong). That said, IPK head Rolf Freitag seems to drop in more philosophical rantings each year, many based on his favourite hates. Even he may not recognise them, but I observe them to be the US and the UK; on the contrary he loves Italy and of course his native Germany, and accepts France mainly because France shares his pet hates.

-At one time, the WTTC also produced mainly hard useable travel facts. But it has recently become more professional and professorial and mixed in economics data. And that, even if legitimate and necessary, is boring to most of us travel business writers because it is difficult for us to understand. Which may partly-explain the low attendance.

That, and the fact that WTTC’s credibility may be under threat, although it does not seem to have any inkling of this. It is full of stories of growth (ergo, the importance of the travel business and thus its raison d’etre) until there is a downturn. And then it tells us when growth will return. But does it not realise that this means its (earlier) forecasts nearly always turn out to have been wrong because it foresees no downturn – and they come all the time.

-ITB conference. Beware. As noted, students top up attendance, which may look good, but is that driving others away?

And has anyone else noted that the conference is not pulling in so many big names for the stage? For the (badly monitored) hotel sessions, for instance, there were no big personal names and few big corporate names.

Messe Berlin needs to look at this one but it may be swayed by the quantity rather than the quality.

-WTO. I cannot think why attendance at its press conference should be lower. The new head is more human than the previous – who made the presentations, but never left the impression that he was on top of the topic.

-Or are there other reasons altogether for the apparent downturn in interest in some key events? Are there fewer media around? Or their interests are different? ITB counted a 7% fall in media attendance this year – although 7200 (but that includes people like sound engineers and probably editorial secretaries) is still an awesome number. But perhaps more of those 7200 are consumer-travel blog-type writers who may be less interested in the minutiae of the travel business and look more for ‘real’ travel stories, such as Qatar Airways’ appetisers?

The Fox

Trottings: Passing comments on Shanghai.

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TROTTINGS

Travel stories from The Fox & Friends.

May 11 2010

Trottings: Passing comments on Shanghai.

I

 

WAS in Shanghai last month for TTG Asia’s IT&CM China exhibition. This was my first visit to the city.

[] Shanghai is enormous, with a modern skyline and a lot of grey buildings; architecturally, little is left of Chinese heritage.

[] The scale of the city is enormous. Like many post-communist countries, there are a lot of imposing buildings.

[] Even though my origins are Chinese, I feel distinctly a foreigner. The Shanghainese putonghua is far more polished than the Mandarin I learned.

[] What a business in amazing original-looking imitations! It is Fake Bazaar Heaven there.

[] Communication is difficult, even for a tourist speaking some putonghua asking for simple directions.

[] The salesgirls can count in many languages but can barely string together sentences in English.

[] I even had difficulty to get cab driver to understand to take me back to Gran Melia Hotel in Pudong – although it is a new hotel in a city with many new hotels. Finally I got a passer-by, a young German, to explain directions to hotel in putonghua to the driver.

[] So much for Deng Xiaopeng unleashing the 60 years of pent-up Chinese capitalist instincts.

The Fox & Friends

 

 

Differences. ITB Asia and Singapore Tourism Board.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 8 2010

 

Differences. ITB Asia and Singapore Tourism Board.

 

R

AIMUND Hosch, CEO of Messe Berlin (which runs the ITB travel exhibitions in Berlin and Singapore) is refreshingly frank. The Fox talked to him recently about MB’s expansion into Singapore.

This is MB’s second move into Asia – although it now tries to separate itself from the first, called ITA, starting in 1999. It ran three years before being dropped.

In 2008, Hosch told The Fox that he was expecting 1000 exhibitors for the Singapore-based ITB Asia 2009 (ITBA), which would require a second hall at the venue. The exhibitor count in 2008 was 651, but its second show, last October, actually counted just 679.

Given the economic circumstances at the time, and during 2009, that could be considered a good result, particularly as Hosch said there was no discounting of booth rates. However, I presume there were other incentives that in good times would have been charged, but for 2009, charges were waived. However, I have no evidence of this.

Some other comments from Hosch (which may be paraphrased, answers to my questions, and which may be out of context in the absence of additional comment):

[] We hope there will a 20% increase in exhibitors for this year’s ITB Asia. [To about 815.]

[] The Singapore Tourism Board did not pay more to support ITBA 2009 but did increase help. [Separately, STB’s deputy head said categorically and contradictorily that the STB had “increased funding” to ITBA.]

[] We told STB that we needed more help in getting exhibitors and they did not really help so much in 2008, [so we pushed them more], particularly in the case of provinces in China.

[] China was upset that we chose to hold ITBA in Singapore and not in Beijing. [That may explain the near-total absence of China at ITBA.]

[] But also we have other influences. In Berlin, we have the biggest consumer electrics show and the organisers want to find a location to run a regional version in Asia. They do not want to go to China, Japan, or Korea because of various conflicts. So Singapore could get this.

[] The agreement with STB and Singapore is for three years, and we want to extend this to five years. But other destinations want to attract the show, particularly Hong Kong – because that is where the first ITB show was held in Asia.

 

[] [A ‘country partner’ for ITB Berlin pays Messe Berlin about €1mn, US$1.5mn. Partners in recent years have included India. The deal for ITBA will be different, and cost less. Messe Berlin is talking to Korea about sponsorship of this year’s ITBA.]

The Fox

 

Ho Kwon Ping. The travel race.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

May 2 2010

 

Ho Kwon Ping. The travel race.

 

I

 HAVE written before about Ho Kwon Ping, head of Banyan Tree, concentrating on the expansion of his family-founded Banyan Tree resort group, and his broad business philosophy.

I have ignored his racial comments (basically, Asia-v-‘the west’) but in more recent outputs his comments have moved closer to racist, and therefore I feel warrant rebuttal. I would like to keep topics close to the travel business, but accept that some are simply counter-comments to Ho’s disturbed (note, ‘disturbed’ not necessarily ‘disturbing’) statements. But I also believe that Ho’s philosophies – based on his comments – must negatively affect the activities of his company, if he matches words with actions.

I also feel it is relevant to note that Ho was once a salaried journalist – for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. And during this time, when he was Singapore-based correspondent for the FEER, he was held in jail in Singapore, presumably for political reasons but without trial and thus without charge or conviction, for about two months, including about one-month solitary confinement.

The following comments from Ho, despite being in quotation marks, should be considered paraphrased:

[] “Europe and the US think the economic recession was worldwide. But in Asia it was ok.” Recession has a financial definition of two consecutive quarters of GDP decline. The facts are that over 2008/9 that definition covered Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, but not China and India.

[] “Many non-Chinese see China as a negative. I am Chinese. China is going to be on a par with the west.” In economic terms, many might think that is an understatement for an economy which has overtaken Japan to become world No 2. But does Ho mean ‘level’ in some other way?

[] “I think it is not good that there are so many non-Asians in management positions in Asia.” I would always hope that intelligent people prefer meritocracies whenever possible – the best-available men and women for jobs at all levels in all regions. I hope that Ho’s widespread Banyan Trees select their employees on merit, not race.

[] “The modern tourism that started in Europe was colonial tourism and colonialism. Phase 2 was the American; Phase 3 will be global.” Generally, modern tourism is presumed to have started in the late-1800s with Thomas Cook tours from the UK to France (viz, the Promenade des Anglais in Nice) and Switzerland. I cannot see the colonial connection here, unless it is that the UK and France were colony-acquiring powers at the time. That would seem a tenuous connection to warrant such a ‘colonialism’ charge, but Ho seems to be an extremist…

[] “I don’t go to events such as Copenhagen because I don’t think they achieve much.” This sounds pompous as well as wrong. Some events do make progress, but whether Ho went to Copenhagen or not, it would have made little difference.

 

Because in most cases – Barrack Obama is probably the only current exception – one person rarely makes a difference, and certainly a person in an insignificant company (in world terms) in the leisure industry in a peripheral country (in world political terms).

 

 

Fortunately, Ho is also outspoken on travel business matters:

[] “It is ridiculous for a fashion designer to put his name on a hotel; pretentious luxury. High-price products are out of fashion. I don’t think people would buy a Banyan Tree perfume. Everybody talks of brand extension. Our expertise is hospitality. We need to control our brand.” Agreed.

[] “Club Med was a leading brand that did not change with the times.” My understanding is that the reason for the decline at Club Med was more sordid – a co-founder who preferred to give the top job to his son than find someone with talent for the job. In fact, ironically, the equivalent of choosing race over merit.

[] “The hotel business resists change. See how much manufacturing has changed.” Ho may be right in some details, but he is incorrect with this unsubstantiated and even puerile comment. Hotels have changed their way of business, and change constantly. Conversely, many manufacturing business have failed because they could not adapt to new customer demands. The truth is probably that the hotel business is as good or as bad as other industries.

[] “I am worried that thinking people are starting to think that not-to-travel is good. What about the poor farmer in Trinidad if we take only local food?” Unfortunately, this sounds like Ho dumps his scruples if they become inconvenient. I would see a more nuanced response to this CO2 problem. And presumably that poor farmer in Trinidad could change to sell his food to the hotels not in Paris but in Port of Spain – who in turn would no longer be importing their food from afar?

The Fox