Category Archives: Customer service

Who needs a concierge?

In our internet driven and social media obsessed world we can access numerous review sites, read travel blogs, get directions instantaneously and ask friends for recommendations at the click of a button (or face to face if we are feeling old school). With this in mind, I have been questioning the need for a hotel concierge. I mean, what can they tell me that Google can’t?! Especially if they look like miserable, tired, ‘bored with life’ type people wearing uncomfortable hotel uniform…and start to awkwardly twitch as you approach them with a simple question.

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Yes I’ve experienced concierges like this many times over the past few months, one at a hotel in New York in the summer who even went to print something for me from the back room and never came back..!

Surely hotel owners should be looking for other cost effective ways to help travellers find what they need – internet kiosks in reception or no strings attached free WiFi for example which is increasingly a guest expectation rather than a ‘nice to have.’

That’s what I thought until staying at The Shore Club hotel in Miami. Half reluctantly being led by my hubby over to the concierge desk on our first day we were greeted by Reo, a friendly looking guy in his late 30s wearing a loose fitting, bright coloured shirt. He welcomed us over with a huge smile, shook our hands and immediately complimented my engagement ring. Yes one could argue this was maybe a touch on the ‘false’ side, but I didn’t care. I’m on holiday and this guy was making an effort to make us, as guests of the hotel, feel welcomed and a little bit special.

We got talking about all of the things we could do during our stay in Florida and it became clear quite quickly that he knew his stuff, telling us the best bars to go to, the best Keys to visit, the best restaurants to eat in on each Key and the best day of the week and time of day to go. He was talking from experience, giving us little anecdotes from his own personal adventures. He was passionate and clearly loved his job. Every other guest who walked past gave him a wave. He asked how the things he’d recommended they do had panned out, remembering each person and exactly where they had been without taking any focus away from us. He spoke to us about how he ended up in Miami, having lived in the Caribbean, South America, LA, Australia and London. He randomly switched to the most impressive South London accent I have ever heard an American do which could have fooled even a Londoner into thinking he was from Streatham. He printed stuff out for us from the room behind him whilst still talking to us, rather than doing a disappearing act.

All in all, Reo was amazing and completely changed my view of hotel concierges. We even became the people giving him a little wave the next day as we came back from our trip to the Keys and he couldn’t wait to ask us about it. As we hopped into our car yesterday he bounced over to see us off, asking where we were heading for the day, genuinely caring about us making the most of our trip, telling us ‘I’m here for you if you need anything.’

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Reo clearly injects his personality into every interaction he has with each guest of the Shore Club hotel, wholeheartedly caring about each individual having the best holiday possible with nothing being too much trouble. But above anything, he has a twinkle in his eye and loves what he does. It’s not so much about what he is recommending guests do, but the way in which he recommends it.

This is absolutely when hotel concierges are worthwhile – when they not only tell you about the experiences you can have, but become part of the holiday experience itself. Anyone can simply look up an address and send something to the printer. Hotels should be looking to only employ a concierge who can naturally do more than this…an individual who is passionate about travel and people…an individual who doesn’t just follow the hotel brand guidelines but someone who does their own thing to make every guest have the best trip they can possibly have.

What is the quickest way to board a plane?

Many will agree that boarding a plane can be a frustrating experience. Being stuck in a queue, in a narrow aisle, whilst others around you fight for overhead luggage space is enough to get you in a bad mood. This article has acknowledged that the typical way we board an aircraft is not efficient and claims to have the ultimate solution:

http://www.vox.com/2014/4/25/5647696/the-way-we-board-airplanes-makes-absolutely-no-sense

More than just the meter

Taxis have been a hot topic in the news this week and this has got me thinking about the different ways taxis and minicabs feature in our travel experiences.

For many of us, a cab ride to and from the airport signifies the beginning or the end of a trip. These threshold moments, as we shut the car door and hear the engine rev, bring a host of different feelings. It could be the sheer excitement in knowing you’re jetting off somewhere exciting…it could be the anxiety around needing to get to the airport in good time or the unease, even guilt, at having left loved ones behind when off on business. In many cases, on the return leg, it’s the sinking feeling in knowing the holiday is really over and it’s back to the grind…or for some, even concerns around finding your home as you left it.

So lots of emotional highs and lows depending on numerous circumstances… From the type of trip you are going on, the time of day and whether you are alone or with others… to whether it’s driving to or driving back home from the airport. All of these things can affect the mindset of a traveller and taxi drivers need to pay attention to more than just what’s on the road and tune into the needs of their passengers.

In many cases they don’t know how to. For example, a cab ride with friends to Luton airport a few days ago (at 4.45am) involved a 10 minute stop for petrol, despite us talking en route about being pushed for time and the likelihood of having to battle through the crowds at the check in desks. The driver definitely had enough in the tank to get us to Luton but for some reason hadn’t paid attention to our sense of urgency or even checked what time our flight was before deciding to stop.

I’ve also had numerous encounters where I am on my way home from Heathrow after a long transatlantic flight with little sleep and all I want to do is spend time thinking, reflecting (and more commonly nodding off). In these circumstances I’ll often pull the short straw and get the driver who insists on interrogating me about my trip…asking about my job and offering opinions, verdicts, solutions and stories of his own. Normally I appreciate the chit chat, but not when I’m so tired I can barely string a sentence together.

This type of conversation is best suited to when I’m on my way to the airport, especially when I’m going to a new destination. For example, I went to India for the first time a couple of months ago and the cab driver who took me to Heathrow had been to India several times before. Our conversation added to my intrigue and suspense about the country I was about to spend the next two weeks discovering.

And what about the taxi drivers at our destination? Cabbies on the other side are often our first insight into the new culture we have entered into…the first physical contact we have with a local. Often the shoe is on the other foot here and my co-travellers and I will be the ones asking them the questions and seeking their advice, making small talk to try a get some initial insight into our new temporary home.

Sometimes we’ll end up having deep and meaningful conversations and I’ve occasionally found myself thinking back to conversations in cabs and words of wisdom shared by taxi drivers themselves…from discussing the Tibetan population in New York City to the extreme poverty and slum life in New Delhi.

Right now I’m staying in a small village in Cyprus and was delighted to discover that the taxi driver who takes us back from the restaurant area is the son of the person who works in the village pizzeria and the same person who came to sort the WiFi in our villa. Speaking with him (albeit after a few drinks) resulted in a really memorable 5 minute journey where we ended up learning some of the local lingo.

The best drivers in my view are the ones who stay with you for long run. The ones in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand who, for an agreed upfront charge, accompany you for the day and go beyond being just a driver, becoming more of a ‘tour guide’ or ‘partner in crime’…doing whatever it takes to get you to your meeting, event or tourist attraction in time and even waiting patiently for you until it’s finished to take you back without you having to worry about transport.

The worst, on the other hand, are the rude, obnoxious drivers who barely acknowledge your existence, the ones who take the strange back streets and make you question your safety, and the ones who seem to just want an argument. I had an incident a couple of weeks ago in New York where the driver misunderstood me asking to go to a street number rather than a building number and nearly reached boiling point whilst blaming me for the mishap. Needless to say he didn’t get a tip.

So lots of examples of the different ways taxi drivers can affect our travel experiences, for the better and for the worse. It goes without saying that cab drivers, often far more than they are aware, contribute enormously to the highs and lows of a trip and set the tone for the journey, day or holiday ahead. And in many cases they become more than just a driver. We, as travellers, where possible should reap the benefits of this, learning from their knowledge and expertise and adding colour to our overall travel experience.

The hotel mini bar saga

Something I pay close attention to whilst staying in hotels is the mini bar. In fact, one of the first things I do when I check into any hotel room is suss out the mini bar situation. This has become a kind of ritual as I settle in and familiarise myself with my temporary ‘home’, despite the fact that 95% of the time I wouldn’t actually buy anything from it. We’ll come onto that.

The contents of a mini bar can tell you more about the hotel brand and the location you are staying in than you might realise. For example, I stayed in a quirky boutique hotel in Moscow a couple of years ago called the Golden Apple and was amused to discover that vodka was cheaper than water. Got to love the priorities in Russia!

This mini bar in the Eros Hotel, New Delhi also intrigued me in its dominant offering of British branded alcohol:

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Coincidence? Or a reflection of how prominent British culture is in modern India?

And this picture below taken of a mini bar in the Zetter hotel where I stayed a couple of weeks ago in Farringdon London, has moved away from your typical classic ‘open-the-cupboard’ mini bar to having all the tempting snacks in full display on the unit next to the bed. What is more interesting is the hotel’s choice to supply a product called ‘Faust’s potions’ – a relatively new product on the market, described as a ‘recovery pack aimed at professionals to help you feel your best’… or in other words, to help ease the hangover. Says a lot about the clientele… I had in fact just come from an evening of wine tasting!

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So we have lots of different types of mini bars offering a range of different products. But who is actually buying the contents? Apparently very few of us according to TripAdvisor who shared results from a research study conducted for them by Ipsos earlier this year which suggests that mini bars are soon to be a thing of the past. Only 14% of global travellers consider the mini bar an important amenity whilst 63% of global hoteliers have already done away with the mini bar.

This made me question why I very rarely take anything from the mini bar and I came to two conclusions. Firstly, the majority of snacks in a mini bar are loaded with carbs and covered in chocolate. Although I love to indulge, especially when I’m on holiday, I tend to do my indulging when I’m out and about. Snacking on crisps and chocolate is often the last thing I want to do when I come back to my hotel room after a heavy meal, or when I leave the room first thing in the morning. Mashable, in its 15 ideas that would vastly improve travel suggests that healthy vending machines offering olives, dried fruit and organic foods would go down well in hotels and I have to agree…not just for corridor vending machines but within mini bars in bedrooms too.

Secondly, there’s the guilt thing. We all know that the prices of products in mini bars are likely to be at least treble the prices of the same products in the shop just outside the hotel. We have also clocked onto the fact that mini bars are designed to catch us at our weakest moment, with some hotels now (like the Zetter) having their mini bar products in full display, eyeing up their guests and luring them in. As tempting as the display might be, I think that travellers are outsmarting the system and realising that popping down to the 7-11 to stock up on water and snacks for the room is the way to go. People just can’t justify the current cost of products from a mini-bar, even business travellers using the company credit card. We want to feel smart about the choices we make when we travel and spending over the odds for a bottle of water, a packet of crisps and a shot of whisky doesn’t seem so clever. So we’ll apply control, restrain ourselves and resist temptation…or be shrewd and come armed with pre-purchased snacks.

Perhaps if hotels considered significantly lowering their mini bar prices to a level that guests are more likely to be able to justify (with less margin but still enough to make some profit) the impending death of the mini bar might be less of a reality. Oh and they should look to supply some healthier product options. Personally I think it would be a shame if mini-bars ceased to exist. They are an iconic feature within hotel rooms and, like I said earlier, having a look at what’s on offer helps ease us into our temporary ‘home.’

I’ll finish this post with a story of a mini bar incident that occurred on a business trip earlier this year which still makes me chuckle. We were in New York, staying at the Intercontinental Times Sq. One of my colleagues, the newest member of the team who was excited to be on his first trip away for work, started getting to grips with his room. He was intrigued by the bright coloured packet on top of one of the cupboards and upon closer inspection, realised this was a condom pack. He then realised that attached to this pack was a wire and that wire ran back behind the cupboard connecting to something else. By the time he had registered what it was connected to – the mini bar – it was too late. He had nudged the condoms and they had now been out of position for over 10 seconds. The sign next to the bar said that anything out of place for 10 seconds or more would be charged – the bar had a sophisticated sensor system so could recognise this. The panicked expression on his face and shaky explanation to our team of what might be appearing on his room bill at checkout is something I’ll never live down.

Larry David’s take on the travel customer experience

I am a massive fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm. While some may find him irritating, I can’t help but think that Larry David’s experiences in hotels, restaurants and on aeroplanes beautifully capture some of the anxieties and inconsistencies we endure as customers of travel.

If, like me, you think Larry David hits the nail on the head, take a look at some of my favourite LD clips here:

Larry David on tipping a bellboy

Does a thorough tour of the room really deserve a $20 tip or is it an unnecessary waste of time?

Larry David on sticking to your cabin
The unwritten rules around sticking solely to toilet usage in your own cabin.

Larry David on how the chosen attire of other passengers can affect the in flight experience
How the hairy legs of the guy next to you can be a rather unpleasant distraction on board!

Larry David on sample abusers
How far is too far when it comes to ice cream samples?

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.”

To tip or not to tip? That is the question…

The prospect of giving a tip can be one of controversy and is something that has triggered much debate and discussion among friends, family and colleagues over the years. As such, I thought I’d share some views and stories of recent tipping experiences whilst travelling, as the whole concept and the unknown ‘rules’ between different countries is one which continues to baffle me.

Tipping is clearly a point of anxiety for many travellers. The fact that we now see sections in travel guides advising on the appropriate percentage to tip when visiting specific countries shows this is something that plays on peoples’ minds during and even prior to a trip…and I am testament to this! There is nothing more awkward than a bell boy taking luggage up to your room and then hovering around for a few moments whilst you have an internal moral dilemma about how much to give him. And that’s made even worse when you have just arrived in the country you are visiting, unable to think straight after a long flight and haven’t yet grasped the currency break down. Then after some fumbling around you realise you don’t even have any small change. Mega awkward! I wonder if these moments of mild discomfort are intensified because I am British or whether the experience is just as uncomfortable for others around the world?

So, correct me if I’m wrong but I always thought that you tip someone based on how you rate their service and their ability to make your experience in a restaurant, hotel, taxi or whatever it may be painless…perhaps even enjoyable. That’s the way it works right?

Apparently not…

A friend recently told me about how she was asked to pay AND provide a tip upfront when having a manicure done in the states. I get that it would be easier to deal with payment before having wet nails, but how on earth was she expected to decide upfront how much tip she should award the manicurist? Surely a tip is something that should be earned and the amount given should be based on my friend’s judgement post receiving the service and assessing how good the manicure was?

Another friend actually got kicked out of a restaurant in San Francisco because she is Australian and Australians have a reputation for not tipping. She was told whilst ordering drinks that unless she paid $11 upfront (which the waitress described as ‘the worth of her seat’) she would have to go outside. That’s pretty shocking on a number of levels.

Now I know in the likes of America it seems that people in the service industry are not paid particularly well and rely on tips to beef up their wage. But what I don’t think I’ll ever really understand is why they can’t be paid more in the first place to avoid relying on customer donations so the actual cost of something is spelt out from the start. Anything extra should be earned and awarded at the discretion of the customer. Because what really starts to anger me is when customer facing staff don’t provide an adequate level of service but STILL expect a tip.

I was in a restaurant at JFK airport last week and received some appalling service. The waiter pretty much forgot about my colleagues and I to the extent that one of us had to go and get the drinks ourselves, Larry David style. When another waitress walked past with a tray of dirty plates half the food got spilt over another colleague and there was a mix up with orders (among a number of other mishaps). Consequently, when calculating the bill we decided that our waiter did not worthy a tip. After handing back the payment to him and swiftly trying to leave the restaurant (obviously being British and wanting to avoid confrontation) I caught a glimpse of him frowning and adding up the dollars against the bill. He was confirming that we had indeed not given him the tip he somehow felt he deserved for his non existent service and started shaking his head in disbelief. He then turned towards us and gave what can only be described as ‘the look of death’ – not what you want before getting on a plane – leaving me questioning what planet this guy was on if he thought he deserved a reward for his horrific ability to ‘serve’.

I’ve also started to notice on restaurant bills that some places actually dictate how much tip you should give on the bill itself. A few months ago I was actually chased out of a Mexican restaurant in New York for not aligning my tip to the one that was ‘suggested’ on the bill. The service was average at best and the food wasn’t anything worthy of an Instagram upload, so my colleagues and I thought a 15% tip was actually quite generous all things considered. And that is what we decided to award our waiter, despite the bill giving three tip options only with a little check box beside each one for 18%, 20% or 22.5%. This did mean having to calculate the amount ourselves rather than ticking one of the three pre-calculated options, but we were standing our ground here! The waiter clearly disagreed and just as I was opening the door to leave the restaurant I heard heavy footsteps and a voice behind me shouting “maaaam I think you’ve miscalculated this!” I glanced back awkwardly, told him it was perfectly correct based on 15% and left feeling like I’d committed some sort of crime. Ridiculous!

It seems these tipping games are played by lots of people I know and there are actually a number of different ways that people approach the ‘to tip or not to tip?’… or ‘how much to tip?’ dilemma:

The tip Jar approach is most suited to a restaurant type situation and involves setting a maximum amount that you are prepared to tip upfront (say 18%). Then each time something goes wrong during a meal, whether that be a waiter getting an order wrong or forgetting to bring something, a deduction of 1% is made to the final amount.

The pre-tip is something a friend told me their father does from time to time. When checking into a hotel he’ll hand over say a couple of $50 notes and give the simple instruction ‘make it a good stay’. Apparently he has seen this pay off a number of times and has been known to have staff in hotels (clearly thinking there might be more where that came from) running round him as a result.

The tip and run is probably the one that I and most Brits are guilty of. Assessing the service you have just experienced, deciding the amount the waiter or whoever it may be deserves (which is often likely to be lower than they expect) then shooting off as quickly as possible and not hanging around for a confrontation. BEWARE – sometimes this results in being chased out like a criminal.

The reluctant is actually my Ozzie friend’s attitude – she does not enjoy the whole concept of tipping because she feels “putting a five dollar note in a grown man’s hand is like tapping him on the head like a dog” as she describes it.

And my favourite which another friend recently told me about… The just get drunk or Pretend to be more drunk than you are approach to avoid the situation outright. This isn’t necessarily designed to get out of giving a tip full stop, but could help you get away with only giving the amount you feel is deserved by playing dumb to subsequent confrontation or help to innocently justify your inability to add up correctly.

I’m sure many more approaches exist (which I’d love to hear about). But just a final point to end on… I have mentioned how tipping is not really part of the Australian way of doing things. Australians are in fact paid a lot better and the minimum wage is higher than most other countries. As a potential result of this, I think some of the best customer experience I have ever encountered has taken place in Australia. The service over there feels genuine – not just with a potential reward in mind like it is in many other countries. The impact of this actually on some level made me want to be more generous with my tipping for the duration of my trip down under. Go figure!

Fighting Jetlag

Tomorrow I’m off on a business trip to New York. I feel (just about) prepared for the week ahead and am looking forward to what will hopefully be a successful few days with a little time on the side to enjoy one of my favourite cities. However, one menacing element of travel which is currently lingering in the back of my mind and threatening to accompany me for the next few days is Mr Jetlag.

I’m sure many will agree that, when travelling, there is nothing more irritating than jetlag. It’s every long haul travellers enemy. For leisure travellers who have limited time to spend at a destination, jetlag eats into precious holiday time and can often prevent us from really making the most of a trip. When recently arriving in Adelaide, Australia at midday after what seemed like an eternity in the air, I tried my best to fight the beast and stay up as late as possible. This resulted in falling asleep standing up in the middle of a busy street at 6pm whilst en route to a restaurant, with a very hazy memory of what happened after that. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to dinner and consequently sacrificed one of my precious evenings to then find myself wide awake at 2am. Is there anything more frustrating?!

For business travellers jetlag can take the enjoyment away from any spare leisure time and seriously hinder the ability to think and function during meetings, presentations and conferences. When in Los Angeles on a business trip in November I experienced what felt like mini earthquakes the evening we arrived. I kept asking my colleagues if there was an earthquake happening as my head felt all over the place and I soon realised the swaying feeling was indeed one of my jetlag symptoms. Thankfully we had incorporated a day to ‘acclimatize’ into the schedule otherwise I’m not sure how I’d have been able to work productively.

I asked a few friends about how they deal with jetlag and thought I’d share some of their words of wisdom to help anyone else who wants to overcome the jetlag blues:

1. Choose a destination with limited time difference. As good a solution as this sounds, we don’t want to restrict ourselves from travelling afar and experiencing the likes of Asia, the USA and Australia. However, there are some fantastic holiday destinations if we fly South from the UK and visit places like Cape Town which is only 2 hours ahead. Some friends did exactly that over the Christmas period and only spent a week there which (for a long haul leisure trip) seemed a bit ambitious. But, due to not suffering at the hands of jetlag, they were able to really make the most of their time away and could fully enjoy their first few days without feeling like death.

2. Cut ties with the homeland. Small things like adjusting your watch when you’re on the plane and not checking Facebook to remind yourself that everyone in the UK is fast asleep can help get you adapt to the time zone of the country you are visiting.

3. Don’t fly in economy. I know most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to afford a premium cabin. However, for business travellers especially, if budget allows it’s always worth going to your boss with a case for flying in business class or even premium economy, emphasising that being more comfortable on the flight will help with productivity at the destination. For leisure travellers, it’s worth sticking with one airline and earning points with their loyalty scheme to then use as an upgrade treat for that long awaited long haul trip.

4. Acclimatization time. Be sure to factor in allocated time to acclimatize when arriving at a destination that has a time difference of 5 hours. Where possible, it’s worth having at least a day in the place you are visiting prior to any business events. When travelling for leisure, it’s worth considering the first day/evening as a write off and then if you do happen to feel more alert than anticipated, there’s a bonus time reward. Don’t forget about your trip home too. Jetlag can be at it’s most powerful on the return leg, so it’s always worth having a day to recover at home before going back to work.

5. Make the most of it. If you do find yourself awake before sunrise cursing the clock then why not use the ‘can’t beat em, join em approach’? Treat it as bonus time to catch up on work emails on a business trip. Have a work out in the hotel gym. See if there are any activities you can organise prior to your trip that require an early start and plan this in advance for the first day. WARNING – this is not advisable beyond the first day of a trip otherwise getting over jetlag will be hard to achieve in the long run.

Some airlines have acknowledged the pain and frustration their customers experience as a result of jetlag and have measures in place to try and help their customers deal with it.

On a recent Cathay Pacific flight from Sydney to Hong Kong they purposely blacked out the inside of the cabin to help passengers get to sleep. In theory this was a good idea as it’s difficult to get to sleep in a fully lit cabin. However it didn’t particularly help my situation when arriving in Hong Kong fully alert at 10.30pm after a good sleep on the plane…so it might have been better for my specific travel requirements if the entire duration of the flight was not in full darkness.

British Airways have a page on their website dedicated to helping their customers plan for jetlag. They advise on the best approaches to minimizing jetlag, such as how much light exposure you should get prior to a trip in accordance with Britain’s leading sleep expert. I’m not sure yet how viable this is, but the calculator has instructed me to seek light between 21:00 pm and 23:30  pm this evening and avoid light between 23:30  pm and 2:00 am – so will see how that goes!!