Friday, May 09, 2008

What business is the Holiday Inn in?

Greetings from the Holiday Inn Express in Hammersmith - in the twilight zone between living in London and living in New York. Flat is packed, bags are bulging & Heathrow beckons. But I couldn't pass an Internet connection without asking the question - what business is Holiday Inn in?

I think it's the "affordable business travellers" market. The problem is that a customer segment is not an experience. The Internet connection here provides the example. They have a plug in cable, but the browser the opens up a page asking that you enter in your credit card details and address in order to pay £15 for 24hrs access. That experience is terrible - they do not even allow you to bill to your room.

The hotel have outsourced Internet provision to an intermediary as they don't think they're in that game. Nothing else is obviously outsourced - hot water, bed and food are considered core. Sure, go ahead and price discriminate for movies or the mini bar (or the Internet) if you must, but make it as simple as typing in your room number on the screen or just grabbing a bottle. an easy and integrated Internet experience is not a fundamental requirement of today's travelling business exec on a budget, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Note to Tyler Brûlé and departing EOS employees: Service is relative

I was happy to see the return of Tyler Brûlé's Fast Track column in today's weekend FT. It provides breezy opinion-rich accounts of the life of business travel of the black credit card variety - no Little Chefs here.

Despite regular suggestions from an unbelieving public that Tyler's column, which charts the antics of a diva-like jetsetter stomping carbon footprints around the globe, must be the handiwork of one of the FT's relentless micky takers, the man does actually exist. Tyler made his name founding Wallpaper* magazine and is now back with Monocle - a cross between the Economist and, well, Wallpaper*. He does indeed live a colourful life, bouncing around the globe with boundless enthusiasm. I've met him several times and enjoy his company - though can't keep up with his travel tales, since Nokia's travel policies make me turn right at the plane door.

And business travel is the subject of his column today. He is shocked by the failure of EOS, an all-business-class airline that jetted execs between "London" (or Stansted, 40 miles north) and New York. He provides some lessons in hindsight, but I think he misses the most important one that applies to just about any "all elite" service such as an all business airline. It's an oxymoron.

Elite is relative.

It's not just about having more leg room. It's about having more legroom than you.

Of course, I'm humble (see above note about turning right) and can't afford to have an ego or let such superficial, competitive thoughts enter my mind, but how many fat cat businessmen are as charitable as me, St. Stephen? These people eat babies for breakfast and oneupmanship makes them tick. They're unhappy with a million dollar bonus if their mate gets more. So I'd suggest that a good part of the value they receive when their secretary pays several thousand pounds for a flight ticket is comprised of exhibitionism and the feel good sense that comes with attaining what others can't get, and want. Gore Vidal put it well, "It's not enough that I succeed. Others must fail." And there's no point in succeeding if you're hidden from view in a separate airplane and a separate airport.

I'd hazard a guess that the Venn diagram of people rich enough for such premium services, and those immune to such posturing has not much by way of overlap.

With that in mind, am interested in how Singapore Airlines will manage the experience for their customers of their new Suites product. It uses the massive space on the A380s to take first class to a new level of exclusivity, providing enclosed cabins for those paying £6k each way to escape from the crowd. But, as a word of advice from me - don't cut them off too much. Give the execs the joy of jealous looks from those traipsing to economy class, or the ability to share a smug smirk with their fellow cabin-travellers. After all, if good service was everywhere, it wouldn't be good any more.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Stephen's Charitable Foundation for Household Appliance Engineers

Continuing to document my service experiences good, bad and downright ugly, today's gas stove engineer was probably among the most expensive experience on a per minute basis. £70 for approximately 600 seconds (most of which involved opening his magnificent toolbox and displaying his wares). I really felt like a chump - scared off by the fiddly screws and 50,000 volt mini lightning strikes that the ignition switch creates that can floor a rhino (maybe).

However, I blame Google - I tried various terms relating to "sticking ignition on NEFF stoves" hoping to find some forum of technically-adept housewives chatting endless about modding their domestic appliances, but oddly the cupboard was bare.

So, who needs to be a lawyer earning $700/hr - you can double that by just grabbing a toolbox and finding dopes like me wrestling with domestic appliances.