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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And that’s a wrap….

We are aboard a Qantas Airbus 380 crossing into Europe, the bulk of our journey home is done. We left the hotel in Auckland at two in the afternoon on Monday (one in the morning in the UK). We will land at Heathrow just after half past twelve Tuesday lunchtime via Melbourne and Dubai…. A tough ask for any traveler.

This time my ‘cunning plan’ to book window and an aisle seats actually worked. My simple logic was by booking the aisle and window no one was likely to volunteer to place themselves in the middle and someone would only end up there if the flights were busy. The shortest sector Auckland to Melbourne we volunteered to ‘give up’ the window seat to a lady travelling alone. On the two longest sectors no one was placed in the middle so we had a spare seat…. Result!

The last few days we spent in New Zealand’s metropolis, Auckland. A sizeable and quite pleasant city with a waterfront that provides the option to catch a a downtown ferry to reach a variety different communities including the wine producing island of Waiheke. On balance we liked the city although the increase in the number of people living on the street did generate an edge to the city which was a little unwelcome.

Auckland is certainly the most sharpish of the New Zealand’s cities and towns we visited with service levels much quicker and a sense of people being switched on a lot more.

So our journey is all but complete. I have certainly enjoyed my visit to this visually stunning country and to meet such warm and kind people of many nationalities…

I have always liked to travel to new and interesting places, to see how different peoples live, to understand their histories, culture and to enjoy everything such countries have to offer. This has been a longish trip by my standards , I left the 6th – today is the 24th, and as the plane crosses the skies of Europe towards London i have the same recurring feeling. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to many different countries over the years and despite having seen and experienced so much each time I travel it is always so good to come home.

Probably this is a good time to close this piece and avoid (any more) cringing sentimentality….

And so for New Zealand 2015 that is wrap….

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The middle bit

You may have gathered my last post was largely crafted after I had left Wellington, as this one is being written in the metropolis of Auckland.

Taupo is very similar to Queenstown a largely unreal collection of restaurants, bars, shops and activity outlets all of whom are exclusively focussed on the visitor rather than the resident.

Staying in Taupo was actually felt good. There were less coaches than Queenstown and fewer groups with face masks and cameras…. If you know you know….

The one example of being stuck in two worlds that I forgot to mention last time is that they still have video/dvd rental shops here…. The only word I can think of is ‘quaint’….

We drove from Wellington up Highway 2 to Napier. The scenery is simply stunning.

Napier is an interesting town, very oddly wedded to all things ‘Art Deco’ for some reason we didn’t fathom during our short stay. By the time we got there we only experienced the tale end of that curse of mass tourism…. The cruise ship passenger – on shore… We came, we saw, we walked along the beach a little, had an ice cream and went again.

The landscape on North Island is less dramatic than the South but we took a chair lift to the snow line, saw an active volcano, saw the power of some amazing natural falls, delved deep into caves to see thousands of glow worms clinging to ancient rock roofs and cruised across a huge lake… Not too bad for the middle bit.


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Wellington – A town stuck in two places

For those of you that didn’t know Wellington is the capital of New Zealand not it’s much larger Northern cousin Auckland.

So the city has the Parliament buildings and national institutions including galleries and museums and a business district complete with tall skyscrapers. Elsewhere however the city remains full of colonial buildings and homes, helping to turn this capital city into a visible outpost of the former Empire.

It is not just the buildings tall or colonial where this battle for identity is being played out. Ok I saw this in Taupo in an Estate Agents window, but I am guessing it wouldn’t have been out of place in Wellington. I quote from details for a house “…and there is a little veg garden at the back for mum.” I am wondering how many nano seconds it would take for such a comment back in the UK to go viral and for the offending estate agent to be hung and quartered…..I was expecting to read ‘mum would also enjoy cooking in the fully equipped kitchen whilst her man whilst enjoying a cold one on the decking….’

We ate in a restaurant called the Five Stags down by Courtney Place if anyone knows it. Nice place, good atmosphere, sound food at a reasonable price. No consider this establishment appears to be in one of the busiest social areas of the town on a Saturday night…. So I was a little bemused at the sight of the guy on the next table who had carefully placed his rucksack/day bag behind him out of the way. Perhaps it is the cynicism that comes from living in the UK but I couldn’t help but thinking that back home the guy would have parted company with his rucksack somewhere between his starter and mains….

When in a foreign town, especially yet another one that claims to be a ‘coffee capital’ a pretty safe bet and arguably more refreshing is a nice cup of tea. Now in the UK if you ask for tea in Starbucks, Costa or anywhere else for that matter the order goes no where near the barista, the cashier will grab a cup, sling a tea bag in it, fill it with water and point you at the milk. Not here, the record for waiting for a pot of tea was about 14 minutes and we only got it then because I could see it languishing on the side waiting to be collected by a waitress. You could argue this is better service, I just think it was frequently and needlessly slow.

My final example of not quite being up to speed is a petrol forecourt. So I stopped to fill up the hire car and trying to work out how to select pay in shop instead of pay at pump – both options being available, when a very kindly and polite attendant popped along and filled my tank up for me. Now this was a large forecourt with it’s own BK’s built into it, large shop, sophisticated EPOS technology and they still felt the need to have an attendant…. This is a wonderful example of a town being stuck in two places….trying to be modern and sophisticated but in reality clinging onto their past a bit too tightly….

Oh I forgot the advert on national TV for some product to prevent the udders of diary cows getting chaffed… And the regional TV is as almost as hysterical as the worst of local US TV….(if I am going to offend lets share it around a little).

New Zealand is a wonderful country, and I have really enjoyed my visit so far and have liked the people I have met….Kiwi’s, Irish, Jock’s (a lot) and a very polite Geordie, however reading back what I have written here it would appear critical and condescending. Probably it is, I am sorry, these are just some observations I have made.

At the end of my trip advisor reviews I try to indicate (when I remember) if I would be happy to visit or stay again. So far for New Zealand I would visit again if given the opportunity in a heart beat. To stay (and live) would be a different answer. Probably I am already too old and I am too use, even in my Worcestershire home, to doing things at pace, to flitting around Europe and so on. New Zealand feels and really is a long way from anywhere.

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