I’m Burgundy with Qatar Airways – so there!

I posted this on my Compnay Blog too.

Yesterday I received my Qatar Airways Burgundy Privilege Card.

I’ve only flown with them twice – from here in Singapore to London and back last month.

But, you know what, it kind of feels quite good to be recognized by them already.  And not just recognition, but also some benefits – the usual priority this and that (things that rarely mean anything concrete) but an additional baggage allowance.  That’s something that feels real to me.

Now, I don’t know much about loyalty plans specifically.  But I think I understand some of the broad ideas.  And I’m guessing that there are various strategy shapes that can be adopted  – time on each tier, average time to reach next tier, when and how much to reward etc.

Call me a succor for recognition but I feel kindly now towards Qatar Airways.  The rewards structure / strategy they have adopted – the one that gives me a new colored card after just 2 (long) flights – makes me feel wanted.  They have recognized that, not only did I join the scheme, but I actually flew with them.

With British Airways I remember getting entry-level status and then nothing else, apart from earning points, of course.  I felt like one of the masses.

Qatar have (it seems to me) recognized me immediately and then rewarded me for becoming a customer of theirs.

I’m still one of the masses – I know that.  But I feel just a little bit special too.

Burning Man – a personal experience. Part Two.

So where were we? – Edward and I.


We’d turned off the two-lane blacktop and were heading down one of the six lanes constructed on the playa towards the entrance of Burning Man (BM).   The sight of our first Mutant Vehicle had had us laughing and we were on the way to the ticket pick up still smiling from our first encounter.

 I mentioned in Part One that we were arriving a few days after the start so all the arrival procedure went very smoothly including the visit of the guy into the back of our RV checking for stowaways and other stuff although his check was, at best, cursory which was nice. The next thing that happened was, however, an introduction to BM and some of what it stands for in a very uncompromising way.

 As we drove through the first gate after having the RV checked there were another few hundred meters to drive to the greeters – the people who officially welcome people to BM.  As we approached something immediately became quite obvious.  All the greeters were naked.  We had arrived during the naked greeting period. 

 There were several greeting points and I quickly scanned the options…  how many naked people were at each point? Were they all completely naked? And were they all men?  Almost as quickly as these thoughts entered my mind they were gone and the fact that we were suddenly heading for a group of 3 bollock-naked men (at least one of whom was clean shaven in the aforementioned area) didn’t seem to matter.  Indeed, it already seemed that it was exactly because of this kind of situation that we were here at all.  A couple of minutes later we were getting bear hugs from the naked dudes, doing ‘dust angels’ in the playa and then banging a large hanging bell and screaming to the world that we were no longer BM virgins.  It felt good.

 We drove in and quickly realized that the designated camping area was already quite full.  (This provides a nice view of the camping area and the rest of the BM site).  We drove around a bit and ended up parking up on the most outside road.  At the time this felt a bit like we were away from it all but with hindsight it wasn’t such a bad move for a first BM. 

 It was the middle of the afternoon and an hour or two later we were on our Wal-Mart bikes taking in some of the sights, the feelings and generally reveling in the all-encompassing vibe that is BM.  In Part One of this story I talked about my increasing cynicism towards alternative lifestyles and associated theories and I have a tendency (sometimes) to turn off when I hear about people talking about ‘energies’ in some contexts.  But over the next few days I was to realize that there are times when talking about the energy of a place and its people makes perfect sense and this was one of them.

 There is something wonderfully liberating about being able to talk with anybody passing by and being able to smile at someone without evoking some suspicious reaction.  There were many times when I ended up chatting with someone who was passing our camp simply because we both felt that here at BM that was ok. 


Other significant memories include being on the vast open expanse of the Playa cycling between some beautiful art installations with our rides being punctuated by delightfully ridiculous art cars and mutant vehicles cruising by. Some of these vehicles were small with a delicate persona – a pink rabbit based on the chassis of a golf cart perhaps whilst others were huge, shouting their way across the playa with 20 or so people dancing on top to thumping tunes with flames shooting out of the mouth of the vehicle.  They never got boring, never failed to make me laugh and I miss them all. 

Evenings were when BM really came alive and our evenings quickly developed a kind of ritual.  This started with drinking with our neighbors outside our RV followed by the adorning of both ourselves and the bikes with glow sticks and other flashing things.  Bowler hats, fur jackets with el-wire, and even a full-face mask (worn for a whole evening) were some of our costume elements.  For our first BM we looked pretty good mostly due to Edward’s (my brother) reading up on how to dress and his infectious enthusiasm for both his iPhone Amazon application for supplies and more real trips to various shops in London for clothes.

 BM is full of huge dance clubs places replete with massive flamethrowers, trapezes, multi-layered dance platforms and hundreds of people all feeling just that extra bit liberated.  Of course there were some naked people and we even saw one couple getting down to it right there in front of everyone.  But, for me, it was the liberation of being able to step outside some of society’s norms – out of my own comfort zone – that will survive as a real legacy for me.

 Sure, in many ways it’s a huge party with some pretty amazing art pieces, lots of crazy vehicles, people blowing up hundreds of gallons of fuel (a bit of swearing – sorry) and a man who gets burned on the Saturday night. 

 But much bigger than all of this was my own personal experience – a gentle reminder of our own potential as human beings and the realization that our comfort boundaries need not always be where they usually are.

 It was also a time when I got very close to my Bro – thanks Bro for everything.


Who wants to come next year?



The Basics will always be the same.

In three weeks time I will be attending WIT and participating on two panels.  And today I enjoyed a lovely lunch with Siew Hoon talking about the event, all the arrangements and how tweeters and bloggers can participate in the true spirit of engaged and connected consumers.  We talked a little about Foursquare and other trends and technologies that dominate the space, some of which those involved in promoting their travel products and services are still trying to get to grips with and understand how they can best use these for their promotional, marketing and engagement-making ends.  All good stuff and I look forward to some enthusiastic discussions and exchanging of ideas and views.

 After my lovely lunch and the engaging company I made my way over to the gym for an afternoon workout.  I go to the Fitness First in the UOB Centre in Raffles Place.  It’s not close to home and not even close to my last permanent workplace but the staff are delightful and being greeted by smiles is always a great start to my session.

 After my workout the manager spoke with me.  “Hi, Carl”, he said, “how are you doing? And great to see you back after your trip – New York wasn’t it?” 

“Actually, it was California and Nevada, but thanks for asking, and how do you know my name?” I replied.

“I always make a point of looking at the names of those who visit the gym” he said, “and I like to find out a bit about them.”

Hi name is Ernest and he is man who, for me, stands out because of the simple steps he took to interact with me – one of his customers.  He took a few seconds to find out my name and a quick bit of information about me so that he could address me directly and engage briefly in some relevant and timely conversation.

 There will be lots of conversation at WIT about search optimization, the implications of location-based social networks like Foursquare and what to do with those fifty thousand fans you have on Facebook.  But whilst those at WIT would do well do understand the technologies and their implications here’s a little reminder from one of your potential customers. Some simple and basic things like knowing a little about your customer and making them feel just that little bit important by engaging in some relevant and timely dialogue goes a long way towards building affinity and getting me to love you a little bit more. 

 The online space provides more and more possibilities for brands to interact with their customers but whilst potentially being swallowed up with technology driven innovation we shouldn’t forget those little emotional triggers that, when all is said and done, can often be the reason why I might choose, for example, one hotel booking site over another.  Or even one gym over another. 


Burning Man – a personal experience. Part One.

My brother, Edward (who lives in London), mentioned going to Burning Man to me earlier this year quite out of the blue and, whilst not on top of my things to do list, there were enough images and thoughts in my mind collected over the years of this enigmatic event for his suggestion to resonate with me.  It would be a long trip from Singapore to Black Rock City, Nevada and not inexpensive so when he didn't mention it again, I decided to let that be that. 

 Weeks later I booked a trip to the UK punctuated at either end with visits to some old friends together with a trip to Devon for a surf week and a trip to Ireland to see my mother sandwiched in the middle.  There was a gap in my plans though during this planned time in the UK (completely coincidentally), and that gap was the 2 weeks when 50000 people gather in the middle of the desert in Nevada and burn a man.  The timing of that gap was not lost on Edward and it wasn't long before arrangements were beginning to fall into place.

 This is not the place to give you the history of Burning Man (BM) or go into much detail of what it supposed to be but rather an excuse for a brief indulgence and sharing of my own experience.  To help it all make a bit more sense, a bit of background is pertinent at this stage I think. 

 I suppose you could say that I had quite a liberal youth.  I had plenty of 'hippy' type friends and was exposed to most things (and indulged in quite a few) by the time I was in my mid teens.  I remember them as good times, quite bohemian and occasionally hedonistic, but have become increasingly skeptical and cynical towards anything 'new age', 'alternative' or radical in my advancing years. 

 It was with these feelings that my brother, my cynicism and I attended a BM 'newbie' event on my second evening after arriving in London.  This was run by some experienced 'burners' all with there own Playa names (names used only in connection with, and whilst at, BM) all of whom seemed kind of decent but, at the same time, the quite cliquey atmosphere and my jet lag combined to irk me and, towards the end of the evening, had me feeling less than optimistic about the whole thing.

 And when talk turned to the subject of the people who stand and wait for rides to BM from the nearest town, worries and thoughts about Edward and I sharing our RV with some random stranger who'd bummed a ride with us rose to the surface.  This led to a pretty raw discussion between my brother and I during the cab ride back to his place, but we were agreed that neither of us wanted that. We were both on board with the giving and contributing notions that form some of the underlying principles of the festival, but this was as much our time together as it was time at BM and giving up space to strangers wasn't part of the deal.

 A couple weeks later (those weeks being mostly filled with Brick Lane shopping trips for fur coats and Amazon orders for glow sticks, face masks and head torches) Edward and I were in our RV driving the last stretch of road before we reached Black Rock City (heavily policed by law enforcement officers basically having their Christmas and collective Birthdays in this part of Nevada for a couple of weeks in the middle of September).  We had arrived in Los Angeles 3 days before. It had been a good few days but this was it.  This is why we had come to the US. The road was the classic two-lane blacktop almost deserted for the majority of the year but today, despite our arriving at BM three days after it started, it was a steady stream of RVs, pickups and other assorted vehicles. 

 We passed through the last town, Gerlach, and purchased a couple of pairs of additional goggles to protect us against the dust storms.  (One pair was covered in fur and had dangly bits – very BM).  We then headed out for the last eight of our six hundred plus mile drive and as we rounded a couple of bends we could see a vast expanse ahead of us and the dust being kicked up over a large part of that expanse and some fireballs exploding in the air above it told us that the majority of the expected 50000 people were already there. 

 With various musical accompaniments from Faithless and The XX blaring out of the stereo we followed the signs and were directed off the road into one of 6 lanes arranged on the dusty playa.  Fairly empty now, these lanes would have been chock full of vehicles a few days earlier as huge numbers of burners arrive hours before the event starts.  Shortly after turning on to the Playa a car came towards us and as it sped past we could tell that it was a real BM car – no roof, all beat up and multi coloured it was driven by a guy with no shirt sporting a great BM beard.  Edward and I laughed and I enthusiastically banged down on the horn to say hi to him and we were both, if we hadn't been already, firmly heading towards a BM state of mind.  The laughter slowly subsided but would return many times but the smiles and grins remained and, for the next four days, they rarely left our faces.

 To be continued…


Search without Searching – implications for the travel industry.

(Originally written for Web In Travel)

I've written a couple of articles lately on websites/applications that allow us to plan a trip.  Essentially they act as a portal providing access to information around certain aspects of the trip – the flight, the accommodation, and, as I recently reviewed in the case of NileGuide, events happening in and around my destination when I plan to be there.  All good stuff and very useful.  And, quite clever in terms of some of its functionality and application but just how clever are these things?  I really don't mean this disrespectfully in any sense.  But I've been reading a couple of articles just recently on a Google initiative they call SWS – or Search Without Searching

When using NileGuide or even just booking flights online we are essentially telling the application everything about our trip – where, when, how many people etc.  We tell it where we want to stay and how much we want to pay.  In the case of NileGuide events we tell it what kinds of things we might like and through some fixed criteria (that, frustratingly, someone else decided) we are then presented with options albeit very beautifully and intuitively. 

But one of the core principles around SWS is exactly the absence of this telling.  Google talks about presenting you with search results that you didn't even know you wanted.  How do they think this might be accomplished? Well, through analyzing everything they can find out about us from our (presumably public) online profiles.  I don't want to dwell on the potentially scary privacy aspects around this here – plenty has been said before and will be said again, so for now I'd like to focus on what I see as the huge potential here specifically for the travel industry.

So, imagine that I’ve been tweeting about how stressed I am at work and need a break.  And a few days ago I ‘liked’ a friend’s pictures on Facebook from a trip they took to Vietnam.  And, the SWS algorithms were able to look at recent hotel bookings I’d made on AsiaRooms and some positive comments I’d made about a specific hotel type I liked on TripAdvisor.  Imagine all this.  Getting the idea now?  So, coupled with these and perhaps some recent search history going back a few months and some SocialGraph ‘likes’, the Google algorithms then cobble together a ‘trip theme template’ (my own expression) and then run through all the portal stuff looking at flights and accommodation etc and tie this up with my diary free time to come up with the pre-packaged trip along with dates, flights and all the usual stuff that I might otherwise have to go searching for.  I then get notified from the ‘intelligent’ travel site…”Hey Carl, we think you could do with a break now and we’ve put this itinerary together for you leaving Thursday next week and getting you back in time for your first day back at work and that important review meeting” And then there’s my full itinerary with all its components listed out perhaps with quick options to fine tune various aspects.

It’s not here yet but, you know what, I think this kind of stuff is just around the corner and for me, at least, it represents the next kind of paradigm shift that the ever social and interactive web will lead us towards.

NileGuide adds Events

Screen shot 2010-07-26 at 13.35.41


A few days ago, NileGuide
announced their new ‘events’ functionality for their already great
website.  I test drove the
NileGuide website before here.

As soon as I was on the site I immediately felt ‘at home’.  Although I haven’t used the site a lot,
my experiences so far have been good and there’s something nice about coming
back to a place where you had a good time last time you were there.  Flowery language you may think, but I’m
a strong believer (as some of you may know) of things and places having the
potential to make me smile and feel good and websites are certainly no

The events are quickly accessed from another tab that sits
logically alongside tabs such as ‘restaurants’ and ‘nightlife’.  Initially I hadn’t signed in and I was
presented with an interactive map and various search criteria.   Interestingly, one of the event ‘types’
was ‘Dangerous Festivals’.  It
immediate caught my attention and an event I am attending in September falls
into this category and is descried on NileGuide as: ‘…event is not for the feeble-hearted. More than 30,000 participants
purchase a ticket. …Understandably, tempers are short, and foul language and
nudity are very much a part of the experience.’
 Can you guess where I’m going?  You can be sure that I will blog about it!

Anyway, back to NileGuide.  I decided to focus on Singapore as a reference point to get
a feel for what I could find.  The
list of events was impressive.  It
covered a wide-range of things including exhibitions, sports events and religious
festivals.  I’d logged in by this
point and so was able to add them to ‘my list’ using the excellent core
functionality of the NileGuide site where one can create one’s own trip around
choices of hotel, restaurants and places to visit.  I could sort the list of events by start date and
proximity.  I liked the ‘proximity
sort’ option allowing me to sort with respect to a place of my choosing – my
hotel for example or the airport. 
This made very good sense. 
There were also some search filters including criteria like ‘kids
friendly’, ‘outdoors’ and ‘active’ etc. 
These too make sense but I look forward to the day when the web and its websites
and applications know me as an individual a little better and I don’t have to
filter and make choices based on others’ segmentation and differentiation however
well informed and intentioned.  (This is only around the next corner I think)

A click on a specific event brings up all the details you
might need – all contact details, a brief description and a map location.  It’s also shown on the page’s own map
as are all the events when looking at the whole list so proximity is easy to
gauge.  This is all integrated, as
I said, with the already great website and adds depth, context and richness to
the whole experience of planning a trip and working out what to do when

As I was viewing Singapore events, it occurred to me that
I could use this aspect of the website simply as a local ‘what’s on’ guide for
me.  I would certainly recommend
the folks at NileGuide to see how they could re-skin their existing content for
this purpose.

Oh Come On! Don’t you get it yet?

Screen shot 2010-05-26 at PM 02.34.34

Ok, so I received an email
from AsiaRooms.  It had a nice
picture on it and the now obligatory logos of both Facebook and Twitter.

The text in the box read
as follows:

Stay up to date with all the latest
news from AsiaRooms.com by following us on your favourite social networking
site. Be the first to receive expert advice and top travel tips as well as news
of exciting up and coming events plus our best deals and newest special offers.
So what are you waiting for…?!

Now, I spend a lot of my
life encouraging brands and organizations to engage with their customers in the
social media space so what’s my beef here?  Read the text again and think about it.  Now let me summarize it for you:

Please give us the opportunity to
market at you on your social networking sites.  And please let us market at you quicker than we are
currently able to market at you (we don’t want to wait for you to visit our
website or for you to read our emails – we want to get you when you are socializing)
And we use words like ‘tips’ and ‘exciting events’ and ‘special offers’ but
actually, yeah… we just want to market at you.

Worrying right?  I’d have preferred something like:

Here at AsiaRooms we’re keen to
understand what you think of our products and services.  Let us know by getting in touch via
Twitter or Facebook.  Share with us
and some of your fellow travelers your experiences. We are keen to see some of
your photos and videos and every month we’ll ask you all to vote for a winner
who’ll win a luxury weekend break courtesy of AsiaRooms.

Just a thought ….


After 3 Days at the CSC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

So, here I am at the end of day 3 of our trip to Cambodia.  We are here to visit the Children's Surgical Centre run by Dr Jim and his team.  I am here with Ian Mullane who runs Vanda, Andy Dyer who works for Ian and helps with our training, George – ex ESPN – who is filming us and Chris Snell who, like me is one of the White Collar guys being trained for our bouts in October in Singapore.

The CSC is the beneficiary of the funds raised by Vanda's events and Ian makes reagular visits here to get involved with whats going on and give White Collar boxers, like Chris and myself, a chance to really see where the money goes.

I've lived in Asia for a while and so, I suppose, what I have seen has not suprised me a lot.  However, it is the really intimate contact that we have had with the patients, the staff, the volunteers and, above all, our emotions that has made this trip absolutely incredible at so many levels. 

For the last 2 days we have been right in the thick of things at the hospital on rounds with Dr Jim and his team and helping out with both consulations and with operations in the Operaring Theater – being involved in ways that I think none of us first timers could have imagined.  And the impact of that involvement was not, at least for me, imagined before I cam here.

Three of us have been paired with a medical student from the UK each of whom is doing a six week stint out here as part of their studies.  We have shadowed them and this has given us a unique opportunity to get involved at a level that doesn't get any closer.  Only today, I actually assisted (allbeit it with a bit of swabbing and suture snipping) on 2 hernia operations on young children and in the cleaning of a wound on a lady's foot where it had become seriosuly infected following a snake bite.  This was particularly challenging for me.  This poor lady's foort was seriosuly infected with a large area of dead skin and loads of puss and general nastiness.  And there I was looking at and helping clean a wound that was like nothing I have ever seen and would have had me reaching for the remote had it come on TV (or at least had me squinting to blur my vision)!  The other guys and some of the students were genuinely asking me if I was OK as they looked on telling me afterwards that I was gently rocking at one point and they theought I was going to collapse!  It was a struggle but I knew that I wouldn't keel over – I just had to do it.  I just had to get on with it.


It's struck me how some themes have been developing. Many of you know that I struggled briefly after sparring started at the gym.  But I just had to get on with it.  And, had I not 'just gone one with it' today then there's no way I would have done what I did.

I mentioned to Ian of Vanda today that I can see why he gets on so well with Dr Jim.  They both have a no nonsense approach and both, I think, foster and encourage an atmospehere of challenge and escaping the comfort zone.  No one ever asked any of us here if we wanted to assist with the operations (although we could easliy have said no without any embarrasement or reprecussions) – it's just the way the guys make you think – get in there, get on with it and get it done.

It's an amazing experience and one that will live me – on the one hand, forever – and on the other as I continue my training.  I now see what an incredible job these people do here with the money that is raised and I have been reminded what a liberating and empowering thing it is to not think too hard about something, to not shy away from a tough challenge and to push the boundaries of one's comfort zone.

This afternoon we visited the Killing Fields and S-21 but I'll blog about those in a day or two and get some of my own photos and video content posted up when I can sort all that out back in Singapore.

Tomorrow we will visit another 'part' of the great work done here.  It's a house where the acid burn victims have a place of relative peace to try and come to terms with their horrific wounds and get some support.

I pinced the photo above from Ian's post where you can read a bit more and see anocther couple of shots.