Daily Cartoon: Tuesday, April 25th
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April 25, 2017 at 07:54AM
Progress and problems in Nepal’s post-earthquake recovery
Two years since a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, leaving over 9,000 dead, 22,000 injured, and millions homeless, the fateful date of 25th April 2015 is etched in the minds of many. Two years on, the country is recovering, albeit slowly, and one of its biggest revenue providers, tourism, is on the up.
Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the tremor also wrecked ancient temples, most significantly in the capital Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, left entire neighborhoods in rubble, and saw trekking routes closed for months. With tourism one of the country’s biggest income generators, it had an immediate effect on all those who worked in the industry from sherpas and local trekking companies to hoteliers and tour guides.
Since then, several tour operators have reported a positive turn, such as Intrepid Travel who noted a 97% increase in sales since before the earthquake. A special initiative also raised $750,000 for social projects through profits from Nepal trips, which went towards rebuilding teahouses along trekking routes, rebuilding schools and providing support to social projects. It’s welcome news, and a relief, to the many Nepalis who count on visitors for their livelihoods.
However, despite significant progress in some areas and billions of dollars donated in aid, thousands of citizens are still living in temporary shelters and other rebuilding work is slow. Aid agencies have accused Nepal’s government of hindering their efforts, with accusations of being asked to pay costly fees to approve projects, bribery and even pressure to host meetings in luxury hotels to appease officials. In an article in the Guardian, aid workers also say they organizations also face pressure to partner with charities personally selected by politicians.
The post Progress and problems in Nepal’s post-earthquake recovery appeared first on Adventure.com.
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April 25, 2017 at 07:46AM
Data could be the fuel that United and others need to soar (and recover)
NB: This is an analysis by Johan Hogsander, managing director for Transform.
Reactions to the United saga, in particular, have been wide ranging and well reported, but most of them miss the point.
The CEO of United, for example, blamed the fact that passengers were allowed to board the flight before being told some would have to be taken off.
The fact they need never have reached this point at all, particularly not in an age of deep qualitative insight, data-driven decision making and experience-led service design.
As evidenced by both the United and American Airlines incidents, there are now “citizen journalists” at every conceivable moment of the customer – and in this case literal – journey.
The best-designed journeys take this into account and prepare for the worst case scenario imaginable at each stage, whether a rogue employee or overbooking.
Businesses must avoid the bad experiences that the citizen journalists will report by taking a holistic, systems-driven approach to design.
This means mapping out where the pain points are and designing responses to them upstream in the customer journey.
This ensures the pain points either vanish or that the impact is dramatically reduced – and can even occasionally turn them into pleasant surprises or PR victories, if handled well.
In the case of United (like most large organisations) the focus was on their bigger processes and systems – they required the seats for an aircrew that needed to be at a specific location to make another flight run smoothly.
They felt justified for two reasons.
- The small print stated they could remove the passenger from the flight.
- In an aircraft the captain has ultimate authority – so they were legally covered.
This attitude positions the individual customer at the bottom of the food chain, just a statistical blip to be ironed out.
It also ignores the importance of customer perception and potential damage to the brand name, whilst handing over key steps of “delivery” to external parties – in this case the law enforcement officers who have no interest in United’s reputation, but simply felt the need to “do their job”.
One strand of thought that has emerged is that “passengers must acknowledge that low fares means low service”.
This is simplistic and an example of poor service thinking.
In the case of American Airlines, the brand was quick to distance themselves from the behaviour of the flight attendant, saying “the action of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care”.
Fundamentally the argument was again sparked by the lack of clarity around pain points and was ultimately preventable.
The difference here, however, is that the situation was handled far more smoothly by the brand.
Data key to tackling issues
Through smart service design and use of smart data (rather than just big data), we can map the requirements of the business to the qualitative needs of customers and staff and understand the right moments in the customer journey to deploy human or digital services.
The key is to empower staff to use this data effectively.
United could have gauged at an early stage in the booking process whether someone was willing to leave a flight with a cash reward, or whether they absolutely could not.
It could then put this information in the staff hands and provide them with the tools to make offers and negotiate. If this fails, equip them with the evidence that makes it clearer to a passenger why they have to leave the flight.
American Airlines similarly could have used data to assess the needs of their customers in advance, and prepare accordingly.
Although simplistic, these example illustrates an opportunity to humanise your service and gets away from the monolithic, process-driven thinking plaguing large organisations today.
In large organisations, staff are increasingly likely to blame bureaucracy and “rules” when things go wrong.
It absolves blame and removes the option of negotiation. If, on the other hand, you give power to the staff member through information and control over incentives, you signal to both employees and customers that you respect them.
Digital solutions as enablers
You can gather as much data and build as many apps you want, but if you don’t change your culture, processes and relationship with customers, nothing will improve.
The good news is that digital makes so much possible that wasn’t before – faster information sharing, earlier prediction of pain points and more rapid communication around solutions.
There has never been a better time to re-design your services, because there have never been better tools to build great service with.
NB: This is an analysis by Johan Hogsander, managing director for Transform.
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April 25, 2017 at 07:16AM
Time is of the essence – travel app speeds vary greatly for leading brands
The humble travel app faces huge challenges when competing in the world of consumer shopping and buying of products related to trips.
Firstly there is the trend that travellers tend to not have many apps on their devices now, preferring to have a favourite and sticking with it.
Also, consumers are not always directed to a brand’s app in search, but rather to its mobile website.
Finally, purchases are simply not made as frequently, compared to other products in ecommerce.
In other words, the chances of dislodging a popular consumer travel app in the mind of a consumer can be hard.
The performance of app can go some time to creating loyalty, according to Packetzoom,.
Image load and search result speed is one area that can be measured and then improved, a mobile technology provider says.
The company obviously has a product to sell but its analysis of some of the leading travel brand apps in the market is interesting.
PacketZoom CEO, Shlomi Gian, says “performance is of the essence for every type of app”, but especially for those dedicated to travel services.
“Consumers have come to expect speedy content downloads, and when it takes too long they don’t necessarily blame the networks or external factors – they blame the apps, and they’ll close out of them or sometimes even uninstall them altogether when things are too slow.
“It is crucial that app developers do all they can to make sure that their apps don’t experience any undue delays.”
NB: Travel app search image via Pixabay.
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April 25, 2017 at 07:14AM
3 online travel industry essentials: data, AI and the human touch
Creating the ideal travel experience requires both a radical devotion to technological innovation and a reliance on traditional, shared interactions that so many travellers are after.
This balancing act is a challenge, with swift changes happening all the time in technology and customer expectations. But there was plenty of practical advice and industry expertise for attendees of the EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit with executives from companies sharing their advice on how brands can stand out in a digital and mobile world.
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April 25, 2017 at 06:28AM
Trump’s Laptop Ban Could Be Expanded to Arrivals From the UK
Trump’s road to the White House, paved in big, sometimes impossible pledges, has detoured onto a byway of promises deferred or left behind, an Associated Press analysis found. He’s pictured with UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Andrew Harnik / Associated Press
— Patrick Whyte
U.S. President Donald Trump is reportedly considering extending his laptop ban to the UK.
Two UK newspapers, The Times and The Guardian, carried stories quoting anonymous sources that suggested the current proposals might widen the current U.S. laptop ban to include one of the U.S.’s biggest allies.
Expanding the ban would have a major impact on transatlantic traffic, and would be a significant blow to the U.S. travel industry. There are already plenty of reports from airlines and tourism bodies suggesting that Trump’s policies and rhetoric have negatively impacted visitations to the U.S.
Currently passengers travelling from affected airports in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cannot take any electronic devices larger than a smartphone in their carry-on luggage.
The UK has its own ban, which affects a slightly different set of counties.
One source told The Guardian that it wasn’t certain that the ban would be extended but that it was under consideration.
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April 25, 2017 at 05:50AM
Data is driving the next wave of mobile-first travel insurance
Evolving a business to address travelers’ needs doesn’t have a start and end date – it’s a constant flow of change and transition. From how consumers book a hotel to how they submit a travel insurance claim, technology is a given when it comes to customer service.
NB This is a viewpoint by Beth Godlin, president, Aon Affinity Travel Practice.
But in spite of all the technology swirling around us, travelers do still need human interaction from time to time. The key is to know when – when is it easier for travelers to get what they need from an app or a website, and when do they need a live contact to support them
Travel insurance is adapting in response to how consumers now research and buy their travel.
From flights to vacation rentals to cruises, the demand for customized travel protection products continues to grow. The wide variety of offerings and number of channels is providing travelers with more choice than ever. Many options fare now available for instant purchase online, often through mobile devices which align with consumer accessibility expectations.
That’s why we relaunched our Aon Affinity Travel Practice online claim system to make it mobile-first and allow a customer to file a claim on the go. We’ve collaborated with partners and done extensive user testing to make the process more accessible, easier and faster and will continue launching more features, such as providing online status updates on claims and electronic payment reimbursement.
But that has not eliminated the need for real, human customer service. The chatbots and conversational interfaces that are commonplace in the customer service space have not been widely adopted from an insurance sales perspective because customers typically want to know if their specific, personal situation will be covered. People usually only call about their insurance because they are unhappy or distressed due to an issue with their trip, so our process has to be a very human and intuitive one.
How B2B shifts impact the travel insurance industry
Investment in technology is leading to rising sales of travel ancillaries, including insurance. According to the US Travel Insurance Association, the number of plans sold in the U.S. has risen by more than 15 percent since 2012. New B2B tools for analyzing data are helping to update industry practices and customize products to meet consumer demands. In turn, they are helping make supplier workflow more efficient for our customers through product development, analytics and program management software.
Today, we also can use technology to connect more closely to the sellers and to the consumer and simplify the process for the traveler.
For example, if we’re provided with a customer’s itinerary information, we ought to be able to use that information to populate a form and streamline the data entry. We can use technology to help us quickly understand where a customer is having a problem, give information earlier in the process, and ideally, speed things up for the customer.
The long road of change for travel insurance
While it may be at a different pace, travel insurance will continue to evolve as travel evolves. Alternative lodging, such as peer-to-peer vacation rentals, creates the need for new products, such as cancellation insurance or protection from property damage.
Having said that, product development in general can be slow – the US insurance industry is regulated by 50 state departments of insurance for example. So while changes do not happen overnight, the leading firms continue to drive change and innovate to meet new consumer demands and needs.
Underpinning all this is technology and the analytical power that comes with it, helping to simplify the claims process and make it simpler for the industry and the consumer.
It is crucial to study analytics to learn how to speed up the claims process, make it available 24/7 for the consumer, keep it as intuitive as possible, but not lose the very human side of insurance.
NB2: For more travel tips and insight, visit Aon’s blog.
NB3: Image by BigStock
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April 25, 2017 at 05:36AM
Great Uses for 40,000 Southwest Miles
In case you haven’t heard, Southwest has a new offer out worth considering. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit card is offering 40,000 points after you use your card for $2,000 in purchases during the first three months of account opening.
This particular offer does come with a $99 annual fee that is not waived the first year. However, the points you’ll earn will far outweigh the fee – and could be worth a whole lot more.
In case you haven’t flown Southwest or used their rewards program, 40,000 points can go pretty far – especially during one of Southwest’s famous sales. Most of the time, you can use 40K points for:
- 2 round-trip flights to the Caribbean from the U.S.
- Up to four, on-sale round-trip flights within the U.S.
Southwest flies all over the country, but also to select destinations in the Caribbean. Not only that, but they offer two free checked bags whether you pay with points or cash.
They also let you cancel or change your reservations without a penalty, which is a generous policy considering most airlines charge a huge change fee. Among discount airlines, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Gift Cards, Hotels and Rental Cars
And if you don’t end up flying, you can use your Southwest points for other stuff, too. For example, 40,000 points is worth $400 in gift cards to a wide array of merchants. You can also redeem your points for hotel stays or rental cars, although that should be your option of last resort due to low redemption values.
||Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
$69 annual fee
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after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
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Should You Get the Southwest Companion Pass?
Obviously, there’s a big elephant in the room, too. Should you use this card to get the Southwest Companion Pass?
As you’re probably well aware, the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best deals in travel. Once you earn the pass, you’ll get free travel for a companion of your choosing for the remainder of the year you earn it plus the entire next year.
To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to earn 110,000 qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year or fly on at least 100 qualifying, one-way flights.
Of course, most people choose the former option to earn their points – earning 110,000 points through credit card spend and signup bonuses. If you can get two Southwest cards with the 40k offer and earn two signup bonuses during a single calendar year, you only need to boost your point total a few thousand more to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
This is obviously a lot harder to do now that Chase has made approvals harder for people with more than 5 new credit cards within the last 24 months. Add onto that fact that you can no longer transfer Marriott points to Southwest and have those points count toward the companion pass. But still, it can be done.
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April 25, 2017 at 05:05AM
Sorry, This TSA Checkpoint Is Closed — Reader Mistake Story
One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.
From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).
Recently, I posted a story from Matt, who woke up to an unfortunate surprise while traveling by train through Europe. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Hayden, who learned the hard way that airport security keeps its own hours. Here’s what he had to say:
Last year, my wife was working in Boston while I worked in the Finger Lakes region. The non-stop American Airlines flight between Syracuse and Boston was our best option for getting between the two cities, so we signed her up for an AAdvantage credit card that was offering a bonus of 50,000 miles at the time. The Syracuse to Boston route is under 500 miles (so it qualifies for the 7,500-mile awards), and Syracuse has sometimes been eligible for reduced mileage awards, so those miles went a long way. However, it wasn’t always a smooth trip.
At the end of one of her visits to Syracuse last fall, we received a text alert that her flight was delayed for several hours. The same thing had happened on a previous trip, and she wasn’t keen to repeat the experience of waiting around for the incoming Boston flight to arrive. I kept an eye on her itinerary, and when I saw that the inbound flight wasn’t scheduled to leave Boston until after 10 pm, I figured we had time for dinner with friends.
When we arrived at the Syracuse airport at 10 pm, we found the TSA security checkpoint completely locked down. There was no one there. Even though we had arrived at the airport ninety minutes before the rescheduled departure time, there was no way for her to access the boarding area. It was only then that I looked up the hours for the TSA in Syracuse and learned that they close at 9 pm.
Because my wife needed to be at work the next day, we immediately started the late drive from Syracuse to Boston. The five hours on the road through the night was not ideal, but at least she made it on time to work the next day. The moral of the story is that you should confirm the TSA checkpoint hours before arriving late to a delayed flight!
Lengthy security lines are a common concern, but most travelers probably don’t consider the possibility of arriving at the airport to find no security line at all. The reality is that while some airports offer 24-hour screening, most do not (including many major facilities like DFW and SFO). TSA checkpoints close surprisingly early at some smaller airports, and airline check-in counters may also close well before the last scheduled departure. Make sure you know the hours for both if you’re booked on a later flight.
Airlines expect you to check in and clear security based on your originally scheduled departure even when your flight is delayed. You can take a gamble and show up according to your updated departure time, but keep in mind that those times are estimates. Delays can evaporate just as quickly as they materialize, so even when you’re not worried about the airport shutting down, you could still lose your seat if you’re not at the gate.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Hayden for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels.
I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured image courtesy of tbradford via Getty Images.
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April 25, 2017 at 05:00AM
A Journey Through Baja California’s Wine Country
It’s a wine country unlike any I’ve come across. Start with the fact that in these parched environs, only splashes of vines are visible from the highway. Nowadays grapes grow in all sorts of places, but how they came to the valley is a peculiar tale. An obscure Russian sect of agrarian Christians known as the Molokans immigrated to Mexico around 1905 and put their farming talents to the test of the desert. The Molokans didn’t drink alcohol, but they sold their grapes to those who did.
In 1988, a scientist of German ancestry named Hans Backoff Senior founded Monte Xanic and thereupon became the first maker of high-quality wines in the Valley. Others followed, and the oenologists they hired from France, Italy and Spain brought their native varietals with them. You would think the resulting wine would be a hopeless multicultural jumble, everywhere-tasting wine in the middle of nowhere.
But then you would start drinking and stop quibbling. As one of the region’s pre-eminent winemakers, José Luis Durand, told me: “That eclecticism is part of our wine’s character. It expresses the freedom that our culture affords us.”
I dined with Mr. Durand, a native Chilean, one evening in the unprepossessing oceanside city of Ensenada, a half-hour from the valley, at an Italian restaurant called Da Toni. My brilliant if endearingly attention-disordered companion makes deeply personal valley wines featuring far-flung grapes like nebbiolo and tannat.
Elsewhere in Ensenada, at Sano’s, a dignified steakhouse, I washed down my filet mignon with a silky tempranillo-syrah blend from Norte 32, whose owner, a retired pilot named Oscar Obregón, beamed modestly as I stammered out praise.
And one afternoon in the city I found, alongside a clutter of docked fishing boats, a sunny seafood shack named Muelle 3. The yellowfin tuna sashimi and shrimp puff pastry might have been flawless by themselves — but, leaving nothing to chance, I ordered a needle-sharp sauvignon blanc made by Wenceslao Martinez Santos of Relieve Winery, and perfection was assured.
In the preceding paragraph I unintentionally made the case for simply staying in the poor man’s Cabo San Lucas of Ensenada where, in addition to the excellent restaurants, the usual beach hotels and tequila bars abound and the roads are paved. I won’t stop you, though you are especially likely to regret your choice should you linger in Ensenada in the middle of November, when the so-called Baja Mil procession of Americans in off-road vehicles makes its bellowing way down the thousand-mile coastline from Tijuana to Cabo. The serene rusticity of the valley has the feeling of a place rather than a playground.
“If you come here directly from Napa, you’ll feel like you’re on a safari,” the winemaker Fernando Perez Castro said as we enjoyed a grand lunch of pig’s feet taquitos, tomato salad, radishes with black mole sauce and cabrito tortas (a sandwich of grilled baby goat) on the shady patio of TrasLomita, the restaurant on the premises of his family’s winery, Hacienda La Lomita. “But you see that this isn’t a place where big corporations have imposed a narrative. This is all about small families who actually live on the property. And along with making a tiny amount of high-quality wine, we’ve now brought tourism to the table. We’re giving our clients a full experience.”
At certain sites like La Lomita, that experience — superb wine and food in a picturesque setting presided over by a charming host — feels unassailably complete. Or it would, if there were rooms. Once Kirsten arrived three days into my weeklong trip, we stayed two nights in the area’s oldest hotel, Adobe Guadalupe, an elegant inn built in 1999 by an American businessman and his Dutch wife, who came to the valley to make wine and raise horses. Today, according to its website, the hotel is the most prolific breeder of Azteca Sporthorses in the world, and guests may ride them through Adobe Guadalupe’s vineyards.
As I prefer horses from a distance, we largely contented ourselves with the view from the hotel’s lovely pool, the armada of mountains providing a backdrop of surly majesty. Adobe Guadalupe’s conceit is that of a self-contained refuge. Its gracious courtyard and high-ceiling public rooms stocked with well-traveled books invite the visitor to proceed slowly, if at all.
Just by the entrance, a gift shop of local crafts is also well stocked with early vintages of Adobe Guadalupe’s excellent wine at startlingly low prices. More recent versions of the same wine are available by the glass at the adjacent charming food truck, which sells flavorful if strangely non-Mexican snacks. The greater disappointment comes with Adobe Guadalupe’s dinners, which feature the banal sort of beef-and-asparagus fare one encounters at Middle American country clubs.
Thus come evening we would find ourselves bumping down the unlit desert roads. One particular three-mile divot-riddled byway connecting two paved thoroughfares is the address for some of the valley’s best-regarded restaurants. These include the aforementioned veranda grill Finca Altozano; across the street, Brasa del Valle, another Campeche-style restaurant emphasizing fresh ingredients; and a quarter-mile down the road, Laja, the valley’s venerated ranch-house establishment with a prix fixe menu that leans more to the Mediterranean than to down-home Mexican. From Adobe Guadalupe, the drive to each of these is a mere 10 minutes, though getting there is not half the fun.
We were glad, then, to procure a room for our final night in the valley at Bruma Valle de Guadalupe, a first-class resort-in-the-making owned by Juan Pablo Arroyuelo, a restless Mexico City developer. When we visited, Bruma’s rambling complex consisted of six sleek guest rooms, a pool, dirt-biking trails, a vineyard, a kitchen for daytime meals and an architecturally stunning winery built out of recycled optical glass and discarded wooden beams from a San Francisco bridge.
As of this writing, two suites with private pools have been added, along with two residential villas. And this month, the resort opened Fauna, an upscale restaurant whose chef, David Castro, has spent the last several years in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
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April 25, 2017 at 03:39AM