Monday, 28 November 2011

A Review of the "Green Rooms" book

I've seen this book a couple of times in bookshops and last Friday I thought I'd treat myself.  Not to mention that is was reduced.  So I felt obligated to pick it up, thumb through and then even buy it.  

Firstly before even checking starting into the worth of the book itself I took a cursory glance over it to check its own "green" credentials before looking more closely at it's contents, and yes it had a badge telling me that the CO2 emmissions had been offset by putting money into projects that work on reducing carbon emissions.  So if you believe in off-setting (and yes, I'll come back to that), it basically has a tick there and it also had a FSC mixed sources badge.  So hooray, a book that was about green rooms, which was quite green, in and of itself.   

So on to the book, it has a foreword by Richard Hammond one of the leading ecotourism writers within the UK who has his own column in The Guardian and as the papers eco travel correspondent. Then you get a sound overview and some basic background into the ideas and principles of ecotourism.  And Tourism Concern also offers you "Responsible Travel Tips" which gives you some basic pointers on how not to be exploitative when travelling.  All fine well and good so far.  

One thing I like about the guide, is that instead of talking about lodges or hotels or self-catering etc, rooms give it a great deal of flexibility and as a result there are rooms in eco-lodges like Guludo Beach Lodge but there are also "eco-hotels" like Fairmount Chicago, but also more eclectic fare like The Hoopoe Yurt Hotel, Whitepod and Damaraland Camp.  

The actual "Green Room" pages themselves, are nice and clear, each has a brief breakdown enabling the reader to do a quick scan.  It has the usual things like rates, best time to go etc.  On the eco side each listing has the amount of CO2 that would be generated for one person to travel from the various major cities around the world to that particular room, it helps give you a snap shot of what our travel actually costs the planet.  Beneath it are the amounts it will cost to offset the CO2 emissions generated by your trip.  Like you can just add that on to the cost of the trip, and it will take away all the carbon generated by the trip, which you can't.  Once it it has been released, it is out there and there's no putting it back.  Anyway, I think some good and bad there. 

Ultimately this is a "before you go guide" rather than "a guide for when you are there", it is 311 pages long excluding and being about the same width as a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide for a small country, it is not comprehensive enough for you to find places when you are actually within a country.  

As you go through the book there's various ideas for excursions and experiences and which have an ecotourism bent.  Like "Paddle Power" canoing around Isla Espiritu Santo (if you go, feel free to add to the minimal wikipedia entry) the trip is so eco-friendly that you "pack in", everything that you "pack out" which in the case of the trip taken by the contributors includes taking your own poo home with you, as there is no bacteria in the sand on the island.  There are other ideas like "The Grizzly Trail", "Spotting Jaguars" and "Karma Down" (shameless punning is apparently quite acceptable in some ecotourism circles).  These brief ideas and suggestions break up the listings nicely and also give you some unique travel ideas which I think really live up to the ethos of ecotourism.  

As well as the actual trip ideas there are other pages dotted through out the book which are more geared to educating readers on issues surrounding green travel, ecotourism and ethical tourism (one day these will all fit perfectly into a single, catch-all term). There are passages on "Should I hire a Car?" "Should I give to beggars?" and "Tribal Welfare", these help to add insight into the main point of the book and it is perfect for the dipping in and out reader, which is ultimately how the book is set out.  

What I really like about this book, is that it isn't overly preachy, it doesn't feel like it has been written by a group of revolutionaries who are going to make you feel like leaving your home is a crime against the planet, it deals with things in a balanced, intelligent way.  I think on balance I would give it a 7/10 and happily recommend it to anyone who was interested in planning an eco trip or who just wanted to learn more about the field itself.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Thomas Cook - Where next?

The travel business is an ever changing beast and after hearing about Thomas Cook's financial woes I thought I'd spend some time considering what it all means.  Both for Thomas Cook as well as travellers and tourists (I'm not going to get into a debate on what the difference is, let's just say mostly people see themselves as travellers and other people as tourists).  

Firstly, what is the problem that Thomas Cook has? Simply put Thomas Cook appear to owe 1 billion pounds to the banks and based on their current share price they are only valued at about 100 million pounds.  The company also needs to convince their bankers that the company's management can handle the companies existing problems.  So all in all then, quite far up a creek it might be fair to say.

As pundits and commentators have quite rightly observed the effects of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the floods in Thailand, have hit Thomas cook hard as these three countries are key markets for them.  Combined with the world's financial insecurity and the knock on effects of the ongoing "Euro-Zone Crisis" But I think there's more to Thomas Cook's current set of woes.  The business model of Thomas Cook is still based on the founding principles of "packaging".  Creating a "packaged holiday", at a time when we are all becoming aware of how less packaging is best.  Almost everyone in the UK will know the meaning of that term "package holiday" meaning a holiday or vacation, where you buy the travel, the accommodation, insurance etc at one price.  And basically you're whole holiday is sorted out for you, a business model that is starting to look a bit out of date after 170 years.  The peak of package holidays from the UK was the 1960's to the 1980's, people often going abroad for the first time, on affordable holidays to places like Spain, Portugal and Greece.  But now people can go anywhere and moreover the internet means they can do it all themselves and they don't need anyone to hold their hand any more.  Travel Trends point not just to people booking their holidays online, which in someways shouldn't hurt Thomas Cook too much as they have a huge online presence.  But having shops is certainly an outdated concept for most people looking for a holiday, it is also that people are more and more confident about making own their arrangements.  

The shift the world has undergone certainly in the post-industrial information age (thanks for that term sociologists) is people are far more used to travel generally.  When the Thomas Cook, the founding father of the company arranged for a group of temperance (tee-totallers to you and I) to go to a rally in Loughborough in the 19th Century it was all a completely new proposition, a travel "agent" sorting it all out for you.  Subsequently the emphasis was in taking the stress out of travelling, and allowing you to enjoy your time away, without having to think much about arrangements other than making the initial departure point.  So even if the advertising has changed a little and we now see the "done-well couple from next door" namely Harry and Louise Reknapp, who need a break from their busy schedule advertising the Nintendo Wii, and need to look photogenic on a beach in front of a sunset.  We don't see Thomas Cook as reflecting our needs, perhaps for the young family, not for the young couple who are more likely to look to  

Social media sites like TripAdvisor have helped to chip away at Thomas Cook, because people enjoy reading peoples reviews and like to think more closely about where they holiday than they did in the past.  (Leaving aside that some unscrupulous souls seem to be actively holding hoteliers to ransom,even when there have been no problems with their stay as well as some postings are by hotels themselves and a system which is wide open to abuse, which seems to be on the rise, right, enough I'll park this tangent).  

Also the travel market has broken into many different markets and the mass market has become harder to define as well as market to.  People want more, they more for less and they also know far more about what they should expect.  The time of people accepting what they are given and making do is long gone.  

Obviously some people will be looking for a beach, a pool and a hotel with restaurant and bar, a package firm will be perfect for them.  But these days, more and more people want more for their money and that means experiences, in the way people love to cook far more than they did a few years ago.  They are far more willing to be more adventurous with their travel.  In a time when the word "Lifestyle" actually means something to so many people, they see their travel needs as reflecting the image that they have for their own lifestyle.  

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Travel Insurance and Scamming Emails from People in Spain

One thought this week and a word of warning about emails....

Right this is perhaps a very obvious posting.  As someone who has travelled around the world at different times, to various different places.  Including 1st, 2nd and 3rd world countries.   Every time I have been away from my home country of the UK I have had travel insurance.  I was effectively indoctrinated into that being the first thing or the second thing after vaccinations that you got straight on to.  On one level to ensure that you have decent insurance which will cover you in the event of the worst situation becoming a reality and also making sure that the insurer would take the appropriate action and make payments to you as fast a possible, rather than being obstructive.  As a result when I have been abroad and things have gone array, I've always had the psychological reserve that I had financial and medical support.  So much so that I have never made a claim on my travel insurance as the amounts have never been enough to really make it worthwhile.  

So fast forward to lunchtime, this Monday and an email from an old friend who said she had made an unplanned trip to Spain.  She had been robbed, lost all her cards, all her cash and her mobile phone, leaving her in Madrid in the desperate situation of having no money and having to beg friends to send her cash via a Western Union money transfer.  On one level obviously I felt incredibly sorry for her.  But I was also really annoyed that she had just assumed that being a European visiting another part of Europe she didn't need travel insurance. 

Then, after I got over my initial irritation at my friends recklessness while travelling abroad, I remembered that this sounded very like a scam I first heard of about a year ago and had disappeared into the abyss that is my grey matter.  But gradually my steam-powered memory started to recall the details of a scam where people are sent an email, which is written from someone who you know is or was planning to be abroad at the time when the email arrives, purporting to have been robbed and in desperate need of cash.  Looking back at the email I noticed errors in spelling, admittedly at times of stress there's more than a slim chance that most of us would be less concerned about that.  But my friend is cracking linguist and even though English is not her mother tongue she is very precise.  When I responded to the email I got no response on Googlechat while I could definitely see that she was online and someone was logged into her account.   

So please beware, unless you've had contact with the person and you're sure they really have been robbed in Spain and have rather poor spelling.  Then don't send any money.  

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Last Week

Well a it's been a busy week.  Working on the various different elements that go into Eco Accommodation. The struggle I've been wrestling with is that you can either write something in relation to an area of an accommodations offering that it is very detailed and perhaps overly specific, or something that is more general but verges on being so vague as to really not be fit for the purpose of giving a wider understanding of the "eco" terms around eco accommodation. So for example something like "waste management" it's obvious what it means. But the manifestation of this management of can be so varied, it can be tricky to nail down. An Eco lodge can have such a different offering to its guests from an eco urban hotel. I think it can be split simply into two straight forward catagories, there is the minimisation of waste by controlling consumption at source, for example, smart lighting which turns on when there is movement in a guest's room and turns off when there isn't.  The other form of waste management is the more obvious is the more obvious, namely the management of waste after it has been created, like sewage or plastic for example.  Anyway, I'm still wrestling with it all so more tales of further definitions to follow no doubt.  On another note, the website is getting more pages indexed by Google which is a great, we're now comfortably into double figures.  
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