Monday, March 30, 2009

Ticket to Timbuktu, Outer Space & Back

The travails of the Travel industry 

I am not in the Travel industry but work with several companies who are from this sector including airlines, hotels and tour operators. Last month, 6 of our client's staff who were on an Incentive Holiday in Southern Thailand were abducted by insurgents and had to spend 5 harrowing days in captivity before a large ransom was paid and they were released. Added to this, the suspicious deaths last year in Croatia of a few business tourists on an organised ‘business visit ‘is a case in point. More recently, the miraculous escape of recruits of a big name IT major from their drowning cruise boat in Goa, India; the temporary suspension of flights to Bangkok and the hijack of a tourist tour bus in Timbuktu was simply the latest in a succession of incentive travel related scares affecting this sector.

Evidently no matter how outstanding some incentive travel promotions may be, none of them are worth dying for. After all, it's only exaggerated marketing. But the constant search for the exotic and the arcane can lead to silly errors of judgement when it comes to destination choices for incentive, business or leisure travel.

Our world is still safe by and large. For as long as I can remember, Pakistan is perfectly safe, provided you stay in urban areas and resist the urge to go deeper on a Taliban sight-seeing safari. Equally some parts of Sri Lanka are strictly out of bounds, unless part of the promotion is an unscheduled trip to LTTE country and an indefinite stay in a fortified Army mountain village with no road or electricity. Somalia is pirate paradise - a virtual buccaneer zone where anything and everything is possible. But all of these places are only a spit and a stride, aviationally speaking, from some of the worlds most popular and stable tourist areas. Sorting fact from gossip is not easy.

A irresponsible media also aggravates. I recall the astonishing and once-only occurrence of a failed terrorist car bomb attack at the Glasgow airport a few years back. My client, who was an Italian subsequently, cancelled a group meeting in Glasgow because Scotland was suddenly perceived as 'dangerous'. The client's office was in Palermo, Italy home of the modern Mafiosi gangster!

The 2 disastrous Gulf Wars itself produced an amazing volte-face within the incentive and business travel industry during which all outbound destinations westward received an unparalleled rise in business. Anywhere east of Paris was deemed to be inherently perilous by the corporate world. Yet, a few countries have always remained in the limelight. Thailand, Dubai, Singapore, Ibiza as an outbound destination from Europe and the US have remained in top spot for quite some time. India remains a favourite too but exorbitant hotel rates and fraudulent tour operators are a major spoiler. The recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks, bad PR, dim-witted marketing and the monthly reports of rape and molestation of foreigners have only compounded India’s already poor image.

So, who can you turn to for help? You can ask friends and business colleagues, but they are there to enjoy themselves or do a bit of business, not to do a site inspection for demanding corporate customers. You can ask a reputable travel agency, but they are unlikely to paint anywhere totally black, if there is even a small chance you might spend some money with them.

Fortunately, in some countries like England and US, the Nanny State - in the guise of Bureau of Consular Affairs or the Foreign and Commonwealth office travel advice section - can come to your rescue. If you care to visit or, you get an alphabetical listing of nations around the globe which are rated a bit risky, medium risky or very risky - so risky that the probability of you coming back alive is a question mark.

Croatia is okay now; Somalia is a strict no-entry. Apart from Malaria and Dengue fever, India is a cautious 'yes'. Algeria, Azerbaijan, Philippines, Albania, Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, Russian Federation, Georgia, Madagascar, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Yemen are advised against. Many comparatively noiseless African states like Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Mali and Niger (where Timbuktu is located) besides the usual suspects like Burundi, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda also make it to the No-Go list. Needless to say Afghanistan, Chechnya, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Kosovo, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe are Strict No- Fly zones - out for the foreseeable future.

But as with all this information, Caveat Collector! It is well known that the situation has to be terminally bad for the UK’s FCO or USA’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to advice against traveling. After all, its true function is to sell exports abroad. Johnny Foreigner is not going to buy if he's getting bad reviews in the sales office of US & Co or U.K. plc. So if the official advice is to exercise prudence, it's already gone from bad to worse. Don't send your Champions there. They might not come back alive and with the exception of the funeral business, dead winners are no good to anyone, least of all your client!

Incentive Travel may be unsafe and complicated but there a viable 'out of this world' safe solution. In 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama, a reporter of Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) was flown to the MIR Russian space station where he spent a week giving the world’s first TV broadcast from outer space. Akiyama became the world’s first corporate–funded space traveler as his employer TBS bore all costs and paid the cash starved post-Perestroika/post-Cold War Russian space folks - a handsome $28 million for the full trip including space boarding, space food & galactic sight seeing!

Its 2009 now and the travel costs haven’t changed much. If you want to send your best performers on a outer space incentiviser, contact Space Adventures. Space Adventures is a real company and have been instrumental in sending all the Space Tourists (albeit self-funded) to outer space so far. For $25 million upwards per space passenger, Space Adventures will take your star employees to Outer Space aboard a Soyuz aircraft to the International Space Station for a week or more. With the recession in the background, you could perhaps negotiate a discount as well!

And if your company can’t afford those costly millions, contact the Spaceriders and they could help. A bunch of space travel aficionados who are building a private spaceship in Nevada, their super secret Spacerider as its called is allegedly capable of taking you on an extraterrestrial flight for only $100000 return, 6 people per flight, gourmet food, hi-fi virtual reality entertainment and a hot supermodel space hostess on board. I don’t know if this is a hoax as a departure date has yet to be announced but apparently, the Spacerider is soon to be tested at the Mojave Desert. Outer space as a destination is still not on the Foreign Office, CIA or the travel insurance list so I guess it must be safe and besides, even your most disgruntled employee will thank you for the Star Trek!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you but blogadda is not approving my comments!


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