Nov 032013
 
paris-gare-du-nord-departure-board

During last week I spent the last two days travelling by train between conferences in Spain and the UK while trying to work, write and blog. The lesson is you need to leave the tech at home if you want an enjoyable holiday.

Some of us however are travelling for business so the option of leaving the technology at home isn’t an option. Here are some tips on how to work effectively while on the road.

Charge, charge, charge

If you want to be connected you have to charge your devices at every opportunity, you never know when the next opportunity will arise.

Three pin European power socket

Three pin European power socket

One trap for players is the earthed adaptor plug as the third pin basically renders your equipment useless on most trains and bathrooms. So beg borrow or steal one that lacks the pin which will almost certainly leave you with dead batteries on a night train.

Get Connected

Don’t rely on WiFi, in many places it’s patchy and in France requires convoluted sign up plans. When you can get it, consider it a bonus.

If staying more than three days in a city buying a local pre-paid SIM saves money, but when travelling a lot in Europe it’s best to buy a European wide SIM which will cost more but won’t die at the border.

The dying on the border shouldn’t be understated. On the night train from Barcelona to Paris the service – which the salesman assured would work in France – stopped working the moment the train exited the tunnel from Spain at Cerbere.

Avoid night travel

Should you be intending to work while on the road, avoid night travel. You’ll get more work done in a hotel room or hostel than on a stuffy night train and be more productive than after an overnight flight.

Travel light

Keep things to a minimum, if you’re working that might mean laptops and big cameras but for leisure keep it simple. The less tech you carry, the fewer the power, security and other hassles you’ll encounter.

Forget a schedule

Work where you can and when you can. If you’re diligent then flight and train delays can be your friend in getting stuff done.

Get a room

Working in hostels is almost impossible and you risk having things stolen, staying with friends and relatives is great but their hospitality makes it hard get things done. Get a cheap room so you can work in peace.

An important thing about travel is that you are away from home to learn about and experience other places, spending your time stressing about finding a power socket or Wi-Fi access point is not why you’re on the road.

Overall, tech is a hassle when you’re travelling. If you’re on the road for pleasure keep most of it at home, if you’re working then keep it all to a minimum.

Nov 022013
 
the-golden-fish-hotel-arts-barcelona

Sitting next to Frank Gehry’s giant goldfish on the city’s waterfront and marina, Barcelona’s Arts Hotel was part of  the city’s redevelopment after the 1992 Olympics.

Like the giant fish, the hotel is a quirky building with a strange layout including an entrance that requires guests to catch a lift to the lobby on first floor.

Once you find the lobby, the staff are an incredibly friendly bunch hailing from around the Eurozone, including Dutch, French and Icelandic workers among the Spanish staff.

If you happen to be in the hotel between five and six, the management puts on free cava and nibbles in the lobby.

Free Wi-Fi is available is available in the lobby which adds to it being a comfortable place to sit if you have time to kill after checking out.

The standard suites, known as Deluxe Rooms, are comfortable with all the features expected in a five star hotel.

standard-room-hotel-arts-barcelona

Double beds are comfortable with a high tech bedside control panel with several pre-set lighting configurations, a built in alarm clock and electric blinds that do a very good job of keeping the sun out if you want to lie in.

standard-room-bed-hotel-arts-barcelona

The bathroom has a spacious bath with a separate shower, bidet and toilet along with a generous range of toiletries, toothbrush and razor. The bathrobes are particularly comfortable.

bathroom-standard-room-hotel-arts-barcelona

The writing desk is good but suffers from a lack of power sockets with only a double, standard European three pin plug slot that’s already used by the desklamp and cordless phone. You’ll have to at least unplug the phone to get some work done.

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Both ethernet and wireless access are available with a 25 Euro a day charge for access. It is possible to leech off the free hotel access as it appears to allow consecutive logins after each twenty-four period expires.

in-room-coffee-machine-hotel-arts-barcelona

The inroom coffee machine is a Nespresso unit — the innovation that has change hotel coffe. One drawback with these devices is that management restricts guests to two free cartridges a day with additional ones charged at an extortionate four euro each. If you’re a coffee addict, it’s worthwhile buying a box of cartridges from the supermarket two blocks away.

min-bar-fridge-hotel-arts-barcelona

While you’re at the supermarket it’s worth buying some drinks and snacks to get around the standard extortionate five star minibar prices, be warned though that the term ‘mini-bar’ was coined for the tiny fridges in the hotel so if you bring your own supplies don’t expect to fit in anything larger than a 600ml bottle.

A similar problem affects the room safe which is big enough to fit passports, wallets and phones but not a 10″ iPad.

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One of the features with the Arts Hotel are the delightful roof top gardens with quiet nooks and crannies featuring various sculptures and architectural features.

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The hotel’s swimming pool is 25m but is fiendishly cold, it’s good to wake up to but the idea of doing 40 laps quickly evaporates as any more than ten minutes in the pool isn’t comfortable.

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Warming up after a swim isn’t so bad with some hammocks to relax in, these are popular with conference delegates killing time after checking out from the hotel, so grab one early.

cosy-hammocks-hotel-arts-barcelona

Overall, the hotel is a good choice if you’re not travelling on a budget. While the location is a little way from Barcelona’s major tourist attractions it’s a 15 minute walk from the El Born district of Barcelona and two of the city’s tourist bus routes.

Bull-in-the-cafe-hotel-arts-barcelona

The most notable thing about the Hotel Arts is the friendliness of its staff – even if you can’t afford to stay there it’s worthwhile dropping around the lobby at 5pm for a glass of cava.

Oct 302013
 
singapore-airlines-777

The unusual Singapore Airlines service to Barcelona and Sao Paolo service is a long journey made easier by it not being very full.

Singapore Airline’s SQ 68 is a truly long haul flight with a 14 hour leg between Singapore and Barcelona followed by another nine hours onto Sao Paolo.

The Singapore to Barcelona leg departs just after midnight and arrives at dawn on the same day, for all but the last hour the flight is in complete darkness. It’s a flight made for sleeping.

Luckily for those of us in Economy Class, the flight was only one third capacity and sitting down the back of the Boeing 777 in seat 54A meant getting a full row of seats — perfect for stretching out on the three abreast seats.

sq-68-spare-seats

Even without the spare seats, the Singapore Airlines 777 has the same seat dimensions as their A380 services which makes the seats reasonably comfortable with adequate rest room.

sq-68-leg-room

sq-68-leg-room

Being able to stretch out does make a difference and it was possible to get a fairly solid eight hours sleep by stretching across the three seats.

sq-68-dinner

As usual with Singapore Airlines the food was good with a nice dinner of roast fish in white wine sauce shortly after leaving and a breakfast choice of barbecue pork noodles or a standard eggs and chicken sausage – the noodles are good.

sq-68-breakfast

With 14 hours in the air KrisWorld, the inflight entertainment system, gets a solid workout and in many ways the service is bizarre with a few informative business or news channels but an impressive collection of crappy reality TV shows including My Cat From Hell and the Totally Insane Guinness World Records Christmas Special.

Like the Sydney-Singapore flights, satellite Internet access is available on this service and coverage is constant through the flight.

sq-68-power-outlet

A notable point for Australian travellers on Singapore Airlines’ 777 services to Europe is that the inseat power sockets are 110v and don’t support Australian plugs. So take a European or Asian adapter if you want to charge devices enroute.

Staff did have a habit of vanishing into the galley during the night, but they were obliging in providing water, juice and snacks during the long night time leg if you asked.

Were the flight full, this journey wouldn’t have been fun as the 777 economy class cabin would struggle with toilets and food service during the trip but when half-full it’s quite a pleasant way to fly.

It’s hard to see how the Singapore – Barcelona – Sao Paolo is going to be sustainable if the load factors on my flight were normal but in the meantime, getting a row to yourself means it’s a nice way of getting to Southern Europe from East Asia.

Oct 282013
 
singapore airlines a380

The twice daily Singapore Airlines A380 flights between Sydney and Singapore is probably as good as economy class air travel can get if you’re able to snag a seat on the upper deck.

On the way to Barcelona to attend the Cisco Internet of Everything conference I took seat 71K in that upper deck economy section for what turned out to be a pleasant seven hour trip to Singapore before a 14 hour trudge to Spain.

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Window seat 71K has the advantage of being just forward of the rear exit door so there’s no passenger behind, the upper deck economy section also has the advantage of only being a 2-4-2 seat configuration which makes relations with your fellow passengers a lot more comfortable if you’re in the window seat.

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For someone just on six foot like me, the leg room is fine and there’s plenty of space to stretch the legs out under the seat. Power sockets are inside the ends of the moveable armrests so in the case of these seats, the single power outlet is shared.

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If you choose the Window seat so you can sleep against the fuselage then A380 on all airlines is a disappointment as the cabin wall’s curve means there is a wide gap between the seat and the windows. The advantage of this is are the useful storage bins by the window

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During the flight the crew were friendly and quite happy to keep the alcohol flowing to the more enthusiastic passengers over and above the three regular drinks services.

Being upstairs in the smaller economy cabin also means slightly better service and the toilet to passenger ratio is somewhat more friendly too.

The food was tasty with the Sydney caterers doing a good job with the Asian options.

20131028-000201.jpgDinner service was a tasty Thai beef on rice with a Cornetto ice cream dessert.

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Chicken Noodles were a delightful evening snack before landing, the vegetables in this dish were so good they’d have been a nice meal in themselves.

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A nice touch with Singapore Airlines are the toiletries and complimentary tooth brushes and combs in the toilets. This something that’s largely been lost with most airlines.

The inflight entertainment is what you’d expect of a modern airline with several hundred channels offering everything from language services to recent movies.

Watching World War Z on the system was an interesting experience. The plane crash was edited out with a strange leap in the narrative as no doubt showing air disasters isn’t a good idea on flights.

The IFE also had a strange bug where the movies would be in different languages when you switched between them. It took five attempts to get Brad Pitt to speak English.

In Flight Internet

Singapore Airlines is now offering inflight internet which is nice but insanely expensive. An attempt to run Speedtest blew through the 15Mb limit and hit $20 US in twenty minutes. Choose the plan that disconnects you on reaching the limit to avoid nasty surprises.

For those looking at working online for the flight it’s worth noting the service wouldn’t have worked the whole route, while Australia has granted regulatory approval for inflight internet, Indonesia hasn’t so a third of the flight wouldn’t have approval.

This is an interesting problem for the on air service as approval hasn’t been granted by other large countries – most  notably India and the United States.

One quibble with the flight was the cabin was quite warm and without individual air vents, there’s no way to cool yourself.

Apart from some minor quibbles, the Singapore Airlines Sydney to Singapore service is probably as good as it gets in Economy.

If you can snag a seat upstairs on an A380 it’s probably the best place for long haul travel in economy class.

Aug 272013
 
hotel_in_the_wild_west

Speaking at the recent ADMA Global Summit in Sydney, Starwood Hotel’s Phil McAveety described Generation LuXury – the changing hospitality expectations of Gen X and Ys.

McAveety sees the new generation of travellers as being more diverse, younger, female and increasingly from emerging economies making them very different from the middle aged Caucasian male from Europe or North America which seems to be the focus of most of the hospitality industry.

The lessons from McAveety’s presentation weren’t just for hotels, much of his message applies as to almost every other business sector.

3D printing featured heavily, with McAveetry seeing the technology as delivering the personalised experiences demanded by Generation LuXurY, as an example he cited a concierge being able to create a pair of running shoes for a guest in exactly the size and style required for a guest.

Big Data played a role too with McAveety illustrating how hotel managers used to watch for important, valued guests with hidden windows letting them see who was checking into their establishment, a role that’s now carried out by Big Data and social media.

McAveety though had a warning about social media in the risks of giving away business intelligence and intellectual property to the services.

The big risk though is in technology itself – that hotels treat it as an end in itself instead of tools to deliver better experiences to guests.

“It’s not about tech,” warns McAveety. “If so, we are going to lose.”

That’s a lesson all industries need to heed, that technology is a means to the end of delivering better products to customers. Understanding what Generation LuXurY perceive as a better product is one of those uses for tech.

May 182013
 
the lobby of melbourne crown metropole

Sitting on Melbourne’s Southbank and tucked in behind the Casino, Crown Metropole is a convenient and comfortable business hotel, particularly if you’re attending conferences at the city’s Exhibition and Conference Centre.

In Sydney, the city’s casino is tucked on an old power station site in an inconvenient location so the locals can – and mainly do – ignore it. Melbourne’s Crown Casino on the other hand, has one of the best locations in the city.

While I’m personally uneasy about the role Crown seems to play in Melbourne’s social and political circles, that location makes the casino’s hotels a very convenient place to stay.

Networking vendor Cisco kindly flew me to Melbourne and put me up in the Crown Metropole hotel, part of the casino complex, for three nights to attend their Cisco Live! conference at the convention centre.

Attending a conference

While Crown Metropole isn’t attached to the conference centre like the Hilton South Wharf, in many ways it’s more convenient being just over the road from the other end of the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre. If your exhibition is in the Eastern end of the building it’s a far shorter walk between the room and the event.

That convenience also translates to seeing the rest of Melbourne with major tram routes nearby and a short walk to Southern Cross Station. For Cheap Charlies, there’s a supermarket and liquor store across the road if you don’t want to partake of the expensive mini bar.

In room facilities

the tea making facilities in melbourne's crown towers

Nice choice of teas in the room

Along with the usual expensive mini-bar, there’s a good range of in room facilities including a nice range of Madame Flavour teas.

In the bathroom there’s also a pleasant range of amenities and very comfortable bathrobes. The bathroom itself has a full size bath to use some of the lotions in.

Work desk in Crown Towers hotel room

crown towers hotel room work desk

For the connected traveller though the most important thing are power points and there were plenty available including two easily accessible on the room’s desk. If you need more they are scattered around the room including under the bedside tables.

There’s also HDMI and component video connections to the TV if you want to stream feeds or practice presentations from your laptop. The TV has the standard hotel range of Australian Foxtel channels but lacks some of the international stations.

Wi-Fi is available at an extra charge but I didn’t use it and instead relied on a Telstra 4G hotspot. Some guests did report that they found the hotel’s network could get congested.

Hotel facilities

Outside the room, the hotel has the standard facilities of a five star hotel. The rooftop fitness centre is very nice though while it’s possible to do 25m laps in the pool, it will get crowded during the day. It also appears the gym is open to the public so there will be busy times there as well.

For eating, the first floor has the Mr Hive Restaurant which Cisco were kind enough to host dinner one night. It’s a nice place with good food at standard restaurant prices. Crown has dozens of eating establishments in the complex along with a somewhat expensive food court .

There’s no reason to eat in the Crown complex when its an easy walk into the city for cheaper dining options or down Clarendon Street to South Melbourne. The 96 and 112 trams which stop nearby will take you to St Kilda where there’s no shortage of pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Getting in and out

When it comes time to leave, checkout is easy and the service at all times was professional and courteous. Rooms were made up and cleaned properly. The beds were comfortable and the rooms quiet with very good block out curtains.

Overall, Crown Metropole is a good choice for business travellers attending the Melbourne Conference and Exhbition Centre, it’s also conveniently located for tourists. In all, it’s a good mid-priced hotel.

Apr 232013
 
Jetstar plane at sydney airport

For the budget conscious business traveller, flying economy is an important way of saving money. In Australia, often that means the choice lies between Virgin and Jetstar.

When you’re self employed, you tend to watch your pennies and choose based on what you get for your money rather than just being focused on the perks when somebody else is paying.

Generally freelancers tend to be flying at the back of plane where it’s not so much worrying about whether Krug or Bolly to entitled executives but whether you’ll get slapped a $70 surcharge for your bag.

In Australia, affordable business flying tends to be between Virgin and Jetstar with Qantas being the best example of an Australian business exploiting its domestic market position while running down international operations.

Tiger doesn’t qualify as an airline suitable for anyone who needs to be somewhere at a given time so it isn’t relevant to business travellers.

Dollars please!

Much of the difference between Jetstar and Virgin are the underlying business models.

Virgin Australia was set up as a low cost carrier to compete against Ansett and Qantas but shortly after Virgin started operations, Ansett went bust and the startup airline found itself the nation’s number two airline.

Under CEO John Borghetti, any pretense of Virgin being a low cost carrier has been dropped and now the service competes on service against Qantas.

Jetstar on the other hand remains true to its roots as Qantas’ low cost operation and it plays firmly from the Ryanair book of screwing money out passengers at every opportunity.

While Virgin isn’t shy at trying to upsell you, booking a ticket though Jetstar involves twenty minutes of declining various options and additions. By the time you finish booking a Jetstar ticket, you’ll often find the price has gone up in the meantime and you have to start again.

Another irritation with Jetstar is its codeshare arrangement with Qantas which means the airline inherits its parent’s screwy seat allocation systems which block out availability based on a passenger’s frequent flyer number.

You will obey

A big difference between Jetstar and Virgin is the customer service, Virgin’s cabin crew tend to be helpful and cheerful while Jetstar’s seem to be on a KPI which encourages frowning and stern warnings.

Jetstar’s attitude to mobile phones is instructive. Unlike Qantas and Virgin who allow passengers to use phones until the cabin doors are closed, Jetstar order customers to shut down before boarding. This is a nuisance if you’re running your own business.

Another nuisance is the airline’s attitude towards laptops where Jetstar’s crew usually insist passengers have to shut down when the plane starts descending rather than when the pilot turns the Fasten Seatbelts sign on Qantas and Virgin.

This sounds trivial but just this alone should be a deal breaker for many small business travellers.

On a one hour Brisbane – Sydney or Sydney – Melbourne flight, this effectively gives a time poor business traveller twenty minutes work time from 90 minutes on the plane.

The Seventh Circle of Hell

The seventh circle of hell in Jetstar's Melbourne terminal

The seventh circle of hell in Jetstar’s Melbourne terminal

While we’re on the topic of Jetstar’s Melbourne operations, a special mention should be given to their poorly signposted gates at the airport.

Situated at the most remote part of the terminal building – almost as remote as Tiger’s abysmal tin shed – Jetstar’s gates are disorganised mess that make boarding difficult. The airline advises getting to the gate half an hour before the flight and at Melbourne that is good advice.

For those arriving in Melbourne, getting off the plane involves fighting your way through queues, lost children, Bedouins building campfires and peasants clutching chickens. If you’re really unlucky you may find yourself accidentally trying to board JQ5749 to Wagga Wagga.

What’s good about Jetstar

Decent legroom on Jetstar flights.

Decent legroom on Jetstar flights.

Despite airline’s drawbacks Jetstar has some things going for it, the main one is the airline’s modern fleet compared to Qantas or Virgin. Jetstar’s A321s have better leg room than the 737s flown by the other carriers – Qantas’ 767s are comfortable like your grandad’s armchair and almost as old.

If you’re flying longer distances such as Melbourne – Cairns or Perth – Sydney, particularly the ‘red eye’ flights heading east from Western Australia, then Jetstar is the more comfortable choice for economy fliers.

Then there’s cost – usually Jetstar is cheaper than Virgin for most flights and at busy times the cost savings may be worth the irritations – but check fares from all three airlines before booking as sometimes the Airline Gods may decide Qantas has the cheapest fares for the time you want to fly.

As a low cost carrier, Jetstar is the reality of flying’s present and a vision of travel’s future. If you have visions of glamour when catching a flight, then shell out for a business class fare.