Monthly Archives: March 2014

Another India observation

Following on from my post before about first impressions of Delhi and India, it made me smile when noticing the below bottle in our hotel meeting room. It seems TATA are acknowledging the honking horns as part of their brand messaging:

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India – a few first impressions

I have been in India for a few days on a business trip and can now say that this is the most chaotic, unpredictable yet magical country I have ever visited. The work I am doing over here has mainly been taking place in the afternoons and evenings so I have thankfully been able to get out and about a little bit to see some of the sites, to observe and to experience the Indian culture and way of life (though never by myself as have been told on several occasions now that Delhi is not particularly safe).

I thought I’d share a few first impressions from the capital city of Delhi before I head down south to the city of Hyderabad in a few days time.

Organised Chaos: We had a car pick us up at the airport and as soon as it got onto the main road I was deafened by the on-going drone of horns honking all around us. These were coming from the surrounding cars, rickshaws and our driver himself. After a few moments it became apparent that, despite being on a 4 lane road in a fairly modern car, there is absolutely no highway code, indicators are either considered as décor or no one understands how to use them. The horn seems to be honked at every opportunity – for changing lanes, to tell other drivers off or perhaps to just let off steam. I soon realised that as crazy and chaotic as these roads felt, the honking system somehow seems to work and strangely starts to convey a sense of order and structure. In fact, the following day whilst en route to a meeting, our driver made a wrong turn and decided the solution was to do a U-turn in our lane on a busy main road and start driving back in the direction we came from, head-on against the oncoming traffic. Despite the surrounding drone of horns momentarily getting louder with our driver now contributing to this, no other vehicles seemed to imply this was out of the ordinary. This leads me to believe that the system on the road is simply ‘anything goes’ as long as you use the horn…and holding on for dear life is pretty pointless as the chaos of the roads just seems to work. Or as our driver put it “In India you need good horns, good breaks and good luck.”

The head wobble: I was informed about this pre coming to India. It is a unique movement which consists of bobbing the head from side to side in response to a question or a statement. I find this particularly fascinating because I know quite a few Indian people in the UK yet have never really seen this trait in action, whilst over here EVERYONE seems to do it. I haven’t exactly worked out what it means and I’m not sure if Indians really know themselves – it seems to be used in lots of different situations and there are some attempts to explain it such as the one at this link and a possible theory behind it here. As intriguing as it is, it can make the experience quite tricky for a visitor as it means you don’t really get a straight answer… leaving you to feel like you don’t know quite where you stand, even with the simplest of things such as opening hours, directions and availability of food on a menu.

The food and waiter service: I love Indian food back in the UK and so far have thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve eaten over here – and it tastes even better albeit even more spicy (probably because it hasn’t been modified for an the British palate). I’ve also been safe so far from any kind of Delhi belly (though don’t want to jinx anything!!) The service has been interesting and on the whole waiters have been extremely attentive and smiley, creating an impression that they are willing to do anything for you. We did hear from one taxi driver that the Indian way is to consider ‘the guest as God’ and visitors are treated in line with this.

Stares and Smart Phone pics: Something that does make the experience over here rather unsettling is being stared at and having your picture taken everywhere you go. We have been to visit the Lotus temple and the Red Fort (which are absolute must sees in Delhi) but the experience was slightly tainted when realising that other people are more interested in staring at you rather than the actual site. I can understand the intrigue and the fact that we look different so have just about managed to let the staring go over my head, but have also been approached on numerous occasions now to have my photo taken with people, almost like I am some kind of ‘celebrity’. At first it was an absolute no as I felt uncomfortable with the idea of someone I don’t know having my photo on display in their home (which one man said was the reason for asking) – but when realising that they are just going to take my picture anyway (which everyone else around who hasn’t had the guts to ask is doing) I have started to give in and pose for pictures only if it is with a woman or a family. What is peculiar here is that when trying to engage in conversation with them – asking their names and where they are from – they have no interest in asking anything back – they simply just want a picture. Our Indian colleagues explained that it is a way for people to feel a sense of status, showing pictures to their family and claiming they have a westerner ‘friend’. So I guess, as nonsensical as it is, I can on some level accept it and am trying to not let it bother me, especially since it is even happening in the 5 star hotel we are staying in!

And a few other shorter, yet equally interesting observations:

  • It’s over 30 degrees here at the moment yet most of the men seem to be wearing smart shirts and a guy in the hotel gym even started running on the treadmill wearing a full on suit.
  • The extent of poverty is heart breaking with children coming up to your taxi door in the middle of a busy road and begging for money – one girl must have been as young as 6. We have been advised to restrain for giving anything as it will go to the corrupt people who have, in many cases, kidnapped them and it is much better to give to an official charity. There are also stray dogs everywhere which is sad on many other levels.
  • Bribery seems to be the done thing. One of our taxi drivers got told off about parking somewhere by a policeman and we noticed him hand over a wad of cash and he seemed to go away.
  • Men seem to really dominate the streets and whilst walking around you see lots of groups of men together but few women without men. Many of the men are very affectionate with each-other, often walking along holding hands which seems to be socially acceptable. I looked this up and there is some explanation on this blog: http://www.womentravelmotherindia.com/i-wanna-hold-your-hand-not-in-india/

I wonder what else I’ll encounter over the next week. So far I have realised anything is possible!

Another great Social Media example

Thanking my friend Alice who, after reading my post this week about Social Media shaping our travel experience, shared this with me:

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It seems Tripadvisor are going to new lengths here to encourage in the moment feedback via QR codes and the Cullen hotel in Melbourne is working hard at reminding people to go and shout about their experience on Google, Facebook and Twitter. This certainly helped prompt Alice to share this status with all of her Facebook friends:

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How Social Media is shaping our travel experience

We know for a fact that word of mouth now plays a key role in customer experience with customers increasingly using social media sites as platforms to provide feedback and share experiences… the good, the bad and the ugly! Some argue that this phenomenon has led to customer experience being more powerful than advertising, with blogs such as business2community.com claiming that 85% of customers who have had a bad service experience want to  warn others about doing business with said company. I agree with this claim, but it seems that word of mouth has become a massive form of advertising in itself with companies striving to make customers happy simply to encourage them to generate positive buzz
on social media. This is especially evident in the travel space with review websites such as Tripadvisor playing a key role when it comes to booking any kind of travel. I for one will not book a hotel unless I’ve sussed it out first on Tripadvisor and my final decision is always based upon reviews from others who have recently stayed there. Travel companies have now started to cotton onto this and more often than not it seems that anywhere I go when doing something touristy, I get encouraged to go directly to Tripadvisor to shout about how good it was to the rest of the world. I’ve even been handed out business cards from companies working with Tripadvisor to better ensure this happens:

Tripadvisor card from Poseidon
Tripadvisor card from Poseidon

But that’s not the only way Social Media is shaping the travel experience. Many airlines and hotels are pulling out all the stops to engage with their customers via the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, whether it be encouraging them to share feedback, having full on conversations with them or getting really creative with characters and campaigns. A couple of favourites are the Air New Zealand Fairy who with nearly 60,000 likes on Facebook uses her magic wand to provide gifts for loyal customers or entertain them with her ‘happy dance’. There was also the British Airways Race Against the Plane campaign during the launch of the new Dreamliner route which encouraged British Airways followers to get on board the ‘Tweetliner’ and race against the 787 on it’s first route to Toronto.

And the story published last week which sums up how pivotal social media is when it comes to our travel experiences is the #Pleasehelp incident on a Virgin train. A customer, irritated by a banging noise under his seat, turned to Twitter to raise the issue rather than alerting a member of the crew. As a result, the service was stopped and Virgin acted promptly, with another customer stating “It shows the world has changed, that passengers get listened to and can play a part in customer service.”

Bonjour Edinburgh

I am currently in Edinburgh for a ‘city break’ long weekend with the hubby. We knew before we made the last minute booking a week or so ago that it was set to be a busy weekend with France playing Scotland in the 6 Nations rugby. However I don’t think we quite anticipated how busy it would actually be and moreover how FRENCH it would actually be…

Pulling up at the hotel the first thing I noticed was a French market and creperie stand:

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I got quite excited about this as I do love anything French – especially if it’s food related.

When checking into the hotel I heard an excitable buzz of French accents surrounding us and noticed lots of signage up in French. For a split second I questioned whether we might have somehow mistakenly flown to Paris rather than Bonnie Scotland.

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My confusion didn’t stop there. When venturing out into the city centre and the Golden Mile ALL we could hear were French voices and ALL we could see were swarms of berets and French flags. Trying to get into a pub for a drink and bite to eat was an absolute impossibility with every inch being taken up by boisterous French rugby fans.

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Eventually we managed to get a table in an American style diner – not the quirky pub we’d hoped for but at this point we were willing to take anything. However, even in here we seemed to be the only non-French tourists, so much so that the waiter was genuinely surprised to be serving two non Frenchies (and also possibly slightly relieved) with loud chants of ‘Allez les bleus’ erupting around the room.

After lunch we decided to go to the Scotch Whisky Experience for some Whisky tasting thinking it would be rude not to after hearing somewhere that Scotland is the only place in the world where Whisky outsells Coca Cola…or maybe that’s Irn Bru?! Either way, whilst queuing for a ticket, again we seemed to be the only non-French tourists in here, noticing that there were special deals for the tour aimed just at the French:

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When reaching the front of the queue, we were pretty shocked to be told by the assistant that the whole tour would in fact be conducted in French and, if we needed to, we could listen to it in English via a special headset…!? This didn’t particularly bother us as I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice my French… It was just rather fascinating – the extent to which a tourist attraction had re-adapted itself for it’s clientele on this particular weekend:

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We really enjoyed the tour and the opportunity to taste and learn about different types of Whisky, despite the bizarreness of it not being conducted in English, in the UK…! If anything I think it added a little bit more amusement to the whole experience…well for us anyway as there did happen to be one other rather disgruntled looking British couple who seemed a little lost among the sea of ‘Ooo la las’.

The rugby match took place last night and saw the French win in the last 5 minutes. Even today there are still swarms of French tourists in and around the city clearly enjoying a long weekend. Edinburgh certainly is a beautiful place and a great destination for a short city break – even if it does feel more like we are in France right now. Perhaps tomorrow once all the rugby fans have departed we might get more of an authentic Scottish experience?!

One thing’s for sure – Scotland may have lost out on winning the rugby match, but they’ve certainly scored lots of points and earned heaps from tourism by pushing out all the stops to cater to a specific target market this weekend!