I remember you..you remember me..

It is perhaps the easier solution to raise your hand and say no to the people trying to sell you postcards, t shirts, trays and something called a lungi (probably the wrong spelling) which is the sarong type garment that men and women wear in Mynamar.

These people, many children, some very young,  are a persistent but polite and try hard to engage. Some we met spoke 4 or more languages as they tried their hardest to find some common ground to enable to make their pitch.

Almost uniformly on being told that we were English their response was ‘lovely juberly’ in a pseudo cross between an English and Indian accent. 

One group followed us on cycles as we transferred by horse and cart to see a pagoda, targeting a particular cart and asking people on board to buy their wares.

‘You buy from me? When you come back I remember you…. You remember me, yes? When you come back you buy lungi for your lady…yes…I have pretty colours…she like’

To be fair virtually all of them were not interested in hand outs, they wanted to sell us something. 

We took horse and carts through various tracks and in amongst various ancient pagodas to a small hill in the middle of nowhere to watch the sunset.

Within minutes of arriving a young woman arrived on a small motor bike and wandered over to see if she could sell us something.

Persistent yes, aggressive no.  These are people full of smiles… Wonderful smiles that light up their faces.

As you wander around the ancient pagodas, encounter monks going about their day and watch people toil in the fields using the most basic of tools and the skills passed from generation to generation over many decades if not centuries you can’t help to wonder about the long term impact of tourism on these gentle people.

Sure tourism will bring greater prosperity…but dancing with the devil has real dangers. I hope they are successful. I remember them. I very much doubt they will remember me.

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It’s the heat Carruthers, can’t stand the dammed heat.

Ok not original, but perhaps because it is repeated so frequently there is an element of insight. Landed in Yangon yesterday after a long flight from London over Singapore and the heat hits you as soon as you step out of the air-conditioned world of an international airport.

This is a very different place to my little Shire on a little island battered at Atlantic storms clutching to the side of Europe. Right from the moment you land through the explanation of the various buildings the British build during their…..is occupation the right word? ok lets use the word ‘stay’ and onto the teak terrace of the “Governors Residence” overlooking gardens and the pool the unmistakable presence of Empire is everywhere.

Benevolent rulers? I guess it depends where you sit. From the Shire reading stories of Carruthers, watching a Passage to India and so on you would be forgiven for thinking that us British were terribly good eggs and we helped the…. well there are words a man of the Empire would use that we can’t now…. to become more civilised. The truth is of course very different. Whilst at least in my mind the British did do a lot of good and where ever I have travelled in the world many of the legacies we have left such as the rule of law, democracy and infrastructure such as railways are highlighted with some degree of pride by guides and such like. We should be under no illusion that self interest was the driving force behind much of what we did. British rule was at times brutal, contemptuous to the cultures of indigenous people and above all self-serving.

So I sit on a teak verandah, drinking english breakfast tea, listening to a young lady plus the stings of a harp like instrument,  tucking into dragon fruit & melon, drinking bucks fizz (well it is a trade trip) served by immaculately dressed serving staff connected to the world by another British invention… the internet contemplating whether or not to have red onion in my omelette or not…. ahh… such are the worries of a former master of the Empire….

In terms of Yangon… very large impressive pagoda – lots of gold and people wandering around in bare feet. For the rest of the city….I am doing it a  disservice I am sure….but my abiding memory will be traffic, pink robed nuns, very run down buildings, people eating at the side of the street in informal cafes and traffic….did I mention the traffic? At least there is no London smog.

Mandalay next…..

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In people we trust

What I and my colleagues do happens in real time.  In North America we are called ‘Meeting Planners’ (even when there are no meetings). In the UK we are Event Managers (even when an ‘event’ can last over several days).

The final stages of my current programme are in play, 74 guests, 1 client contact and 2 colleagues are either in the air back to Europe or are moving on to their own separate thing from our base in Vancouver.

Sitting the hotel bar at the Fairmint Hotel Vancouver watching some Americans playing a posh game of rounders whilst drinking a Vesper it is possible to reflect on the last 10 days and the previous months of planning, meetings and discussions.

What we do is complex, there are many different suppliers and even within those suppliers a range of different departments with different processes, procedures and practices, all of which have to be aligned in the way that we want, at the time we want and in the manner we want to deliver the outcome we need.

To achieve a seamless guest experience that delivers the intended outcome is quite frankly bloody hard. But it is what we do day in day out.

This week we were due to fly our group by floatplane north of Vancouver to a wilderness resort on Sonora island. We couldn’t – forest fires around the city prevented us. At less than 24 hours notice we had chartered a 737 to take the group to the closest city, arranged coaches from downtown Vancouver, access to  the Tarmac at YVR, the jet, coaches on arrival the other end and water taxi’s to take us on the last 75 minute leg to the resort. All whilst remembering to organise chilled water on coaches, aircraft and boats as well as re-organising the arrival profile at the resort including rescheduling planned activities. As well as changing activities and a lunch in the city prior to departure and the needs of a couple of guests not ‘good’ on the water.

I have been doing this a long time and even I have to admit what we achieved in the manner in which we achieved it was pretty impressive.

The title of this piece is ‘In people we trust’. The client trusted us to get this done. We trusted the client to take timely decisions based on the reality of the situation and we trusted our partners to find a way to deliver the way we needed to deliver. It worked and in spades. Arguably the actual delivered experience was a better experience than the one we envisaged.

I don’t believe guests or even end clients truly understand the complexity of our supply chains, the differing priorities of people we need to deliver or the practicalities of real time actions. As I  am sometimes given to say ‘the laws of physics do apply’.

So in closing this little gin enthused ramble I would like to name check John Philip at Rare Indigo Vancouver,  Younghye Kim at Fairmont Pacific Rim and Robbyn McDonald at the Sonora Wilderness Resort for making things happen for this group this week. Thank you.

These three people were supported by what I calculated to be probably over 200 people. In these three people I trusted, I was not disappointed.

We work in an amazing industry that create life long memories and sometimes life changing experiences.

I personally believe I am blessed to be able to work with some pretty amazing people including I should not forget to say at this point my own immediate colleagues Clare Jackson and Mr Stephen Pope.

We are able do what we do because in people we are able to trust….and for the most part never disappointed.


Saturday 11th July 2015 – 9.40pm local

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Being a bully is not clever

My US and Canadian friends and industry colleagues frequently assert that service standards in North America are the best in the world.

My observation is that service delivery in this part of the world is a facsimile of a real service culture. Ok that is a very broad generalisation and for a lot of service providers probably unfair… but stay with me for the moment.

It seems to me that service delivery is driven by money and by fear. Turn the money off and very often service quality disappears but what is more scary is seeing fear in the eyes of servers.

The fear that comes from the consequences of a customer complaint in terms of loss of income and worst still loss of a job.

What I find distasteful is how this is reflective in the relationship between customer and server. It feels much more like a ‘master’ and ‘servant’ situation from the 17th or 18th Century where miscreants are cast in irons and transported to Australia for the smallest error.

Many servers (not all) appear to be on tenterhooks all the time, making any social interaction feel false and very artificial. A ‘have a nice day’ culture at its very worst.

So when you do meet someone who is able to engage with you naturally (or are a lot better at hiding what they are really thinking) it feels very pleasant and much more enjoyable.

I am a human being, I like to think I am a nice guy and will treat people as I would like to be treated…

So to everyone who feels the need to beat up on a server take a step back. If you have a problem it is perfectly possible to get to a resolution without you bring a complete t**t. Bring a bully is not clever, not clever at all.

I have over the years expressed a view to my children that if they observe people who are constantly complaining, getting wound up by anything and everything that these people must live terrible lives as they are satisfied by nothing. How much better to be more chilled, work on the things you can change and not worry about the things that you either can’t or are really not important at all. Believe me as someone who has been under the surgeons knife – perspective is a wonderful thing!

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And the next one please….

Breakfast at 0645 through to about 0715, some meeting prep, quick face time chat with the family at 0840 then meeting 1 at 0900, meeting 2 at 0930, meeting 3 at 1130, meeting 4 at 1230…. and then I finally moved from my seat at about 1300 for a show round of the hotel….. no wonder fresh air and a walk around the block was called for…even in the pouring rain. All glamour this job :-).

I am not expecting sympathy….

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Chef on patrol (no i)

It’s not unusual for the boss to be on patrol, particularly early in the session. Checking and nudging things along, making sure the team on are their marks and ready to go.

It is now 7.15 in the morning and I have been in breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for about 20 minutes. Hovering close to the buffet is a chef. Checking everything is just so and remains so, his ‘engagement’ with me is natural and warm. We chatted about the Manchester derby yesterday, Old Trafford and Wembley. This approach and style provides a good start to the day. Well done, all hail the Chef…no i!

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What’s the buzz?

Is a line from Jesus Christ Superstar but a question I am sometimes asked by people ‘not in the trade’.

Why would I rush towards wanting to spend 9 hours on a small metal tube with hundreds of people I don’t know, screaming children and a dodgy chicken dish in some kind of zapable sauce?

Ok the opportunity to sit on the balcony of a 5 star hotel, drinking fizz and watching the sun setting behind snow capped mountains with fellow travellers with similar experiences has an appeal.

No, the buzz comes from planning and executing a really excellent event that blows the guests and the client away.

It comes from thinking through every aspect of taking 80+ people all of who are experienced travellers and consumers of high end luxury hospitality to exciting destinations such as Vancouver and the upper Pacific mainland and impressing this tough audience.

What’s the buzz? Doing all this, doing it not just well but exceptionally well…. oh yes and make a few quid along the well….

So I wait for my flight with some sense of glee…. there is a glorious opportunity to delight, this trip is one more step towards that goal…

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