Monday, 1 December 2014

Advance Passenger Duty Needs to be Reformed

With the news that one of Britain's most loathed taxes is 20 years old this week it got me thinking about just how much this loathsome tax costs everyday people.

A family of four flying to a destination outside Europe will  pay £284 in tax, compared with just £40 when the levy was introduced on November 1, 1994.

That seven-fold increase in APD has taken place while inflation has not even doubled over the same period.

APD, which is the highest aviation tax imposed anywhere in the world, has also hugely outstripped other UK taxes such as petrol duty, road tax, duties on alcohol and insurance premiums over the last two decades. Annual Treasury revenue from APD is now nearly ten times as much as in the tax's first full year. In total, air passengers in the UK have paid more than £26 billion in APD since 1994.

Even on short-haul flights, APD has become a big proportion of the ticket price. The £26 APD payable per person on a return flight within the UK is frequently at least a quarter of the total fare.

According to City analysts PwC, abolition of APD would boost Britain's economic growth by 0.5 per cent within a year and lead to the creation of 60,000 new jobs without reducing the Treasury's net revenues. Now that really is something the government should ponder.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Gordon Ramsay's Hotel Hell is just Hell itself

I forced myself to watch 2 episodes of Gordon Ramsey's latest TV series Hotel Hell. Whilst his previous series Kitchen Nightmares USA was predictable and formulaic it was nevertheless a subject Gordon can boast he knows a thing or two about. This time around however, he is attempting to make us believe he is not only a hotel expert, (which he clearly isn't) but also a therapist (in one episode he talks an owner into admitting he is an alcoholic and needs help). The owner that is, not Gordon although after this series finishes who knows.
This is a series so clearly staged it's embarrassing. Are we really expected to believe Gordon's seemingly astonished looks when given some new dramatic information, trying to make us believe this is the first time he has heard it? Are we really to believe in the matter of a two day stay a hotel's business woes can be literally swept away, rooms renovated and entire menus transformed.
He might be good, but he's not that good.
And do we really need to be subjected to his naked rear in a shower, or see him disrobing to swim wear for a swim he was never intending to have as we all saw the state of the pool. I even chuckled at his quick stomach tuck in as he took off his towelling robe.
This is a hotel series which is simply abject hell to watch.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Can we really get sued for writing a bad review?

With the recent court case in mind, where a French food journalist was sued successfully for €2,500 by a restaurant for a bad review, it struck me as a warning shot across the bows for all on line reviewers.
It poses an interesting conundrum simply because of how Google handles search results.
In the case of the food journalist, her headline was the culprit;  it was about an Italian restaurant called Il Giardino and the headline ran "The place to avoid in Cap-Ferrat. Il Giardino."  It seems Google placed it very high under Cap-Ferrat searches and caused business at the restaurant to plummet. it didn't help of course that she called the boss a "diva" which under French libel law is an insult.

Nevertheless, under normal circumstances any review has to be simply seen as a personal opinion, however Google has become so intrinsic to finding information online, it is quite possible for something like this to happen over and over again.
So what do we do? Should we include large swathes of legalise at the bottom of each review? Should we all take legal advice before publishing anything? How about filling the review with middle of the road non confrontational phrases?

And why stop at food reviews, the same goes for hotels,  films and shows. Could we get sued by a hotel interior designer because we didn't like the decor?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Hotels fail to cater for diabetics

I was reviewing a clutch of top hotels recently and the dinner and breakfast menus made interesting reading. Anyone with nut allergies need not fear, there were plenty of warnings to ensure clarity in that department. Gluten free products? Again, if you were looking to stay gluten free you would have no problem here either. What about lactose intolerant then. Fortunately, in most cases, my menus were sympathetic in this regard and offered all kinds of alternatives.
However, when it comes to diabetic friendly dishes it's quite a different matter.
Mention to a member of the waiting staff about available sugar free dishes or the dreaded word diabetes and I see panic set in. I've come to the conclusion that any guest who suffers from diabetes might as well bring their own food with them and this is just not acceptable in any standard of hotel and restaurant in my opinion.
I'm not saying for one minute the hospitality industry is collectively conspiring to alienate diabetic guests, just that the subject of diabetes has silently dropped off the radar. This simply means hotel staff are not trained on what to do or how to cope in a situation I've just described. Porridge normally comes with honey and brown sugar, some fresh fruit salads are made with syrup, obviously jams or marmalade are made with sugar. Or are they?
I'm delighted to reveal, that on a recent visit to the Langham Hotel in London, our waiter passed my little sugar test with flying colours. It was breakfast and we asked if they had any sugar free jam. Within 5 minutes an array of mini St Dalfour jams materialised. St. Dalfour for those of you who don't know, makes jams using just natural fruit sugars from an ancient French recipe and is about as diabetic friendly as you can get for a generic food product.
So well done The Langham and well done that waiter, who got a vote of support from me to the management.
Diabetes is one of the highest killers of the human race. It's a serious matter.
If The Langham can get this right so easily, it surely cannot be difficult for the hotel industry to wake up and ensure their menus carry dishes for diabetics or at the very least offer guaranteed sugar free menu items.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Free food on Ryan Air at last!

I never thought I would live to see the day, but finally yesterday I had a meal supplied by Ryan Air and it didn't cost me a penny! How can this be possible I hear you shout. How can an airline, who at one time were rumoured to be even thinking about charging passengers to use the toilets, stump up a free meal.
I will tell you. It is all part of CEO Michael O'Leary's new charm offensive. A new improved Ryan Air where customers come first. The new look Ryan Air where you can now take 2 carry on bags, get pre allocated seats, be able to change a booking on-line without a penalty and best of all, a new web site that promises you a much better user experience, where you can see just where the cheap seats are in seconds and even register your personal details so next time the site will remember who you are.

Perhaps it is because easyjet has already brought in allocated seating and is charming the pants off business customers, or perhaps it is because Mr O'Leary has realised insulting passengers just because they are paying rock bottom prices doesn't lead to a lot of loyalty and love. What ever the reason, I applaud Ryan Air for doing it, because anything that makes travel a better experience is good in my book whatever the reasons behind it.

So what about that free food? Well in a swish press bash in London yesterday, where very attractive models dressed up as Ryan Air cabin crew and all the top brass were rolled out to present the new improved Ryan Air to the travel press we were treated to a sumptuous lunch with all the trimmings by the side of the River Thames. Even Mr O'Leary had to admit it was an extortionate amount to have to pay, but nevertheless he did and shook everyone's hand too.

Good for him and good for Ryan Air to be honest and bold about changing an already successful albeit tacky service into something hopefully a lot more customer friendly.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

You really can time travel in Ethiopia

The hills above Addis Ababa (c) Andy Mossack

On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I had a 9 am meeting arranged, and the night before I received a call from my Ethiopian colleague reminding me of it. "see you at 3" he said.  "err, no I have 9 am"  I replied" "oh yes of course, for you it's 9 for us it's 3 see ya."

It seems Ethiopian time works completely differently to ours; their day begins at 6 am rather than our midnight, so 7 am for us is 1 am for them! Similarly, 1 am for us is really 7 pm for them. I am not making this up.

Just to make things even more complicated, they also have 13 months in their calendar year, so technically they are still in 2007 seven years behind us!

If anyone can shed light on this alternative clock and calendar please let me know. By the way I would love to see what their watch dials say........

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Airlines now clear for take off on mobile phone chatter

With the recent news that the regulation on using electronic devices on flights has finally been relaxed is joyous news indeed. For years now, airline passengers have endured the glare of flight attendants marching up and down the aisles hell bent on finding miscreants flagrantly flouting the law on electronic devices. I know it was the regulations, but clearly we all know flight mode enabled devices do not transmit anything so the threat of interfering with aircraft navigational systems was really a non issue.

The new law permits passengers to use their electronic devices from gate to gate now, as long as they are enabled in flight mode. Marvelous news. Now we can finish that movie or keep reading our stories instead of having to thumb through the latest in flight magazine we have already read three times at the beginning and end of flights.

However, I fear this news is not so joyous in the longer term. There are already plans afoot to allow phone calls during flights as faster wi fi access becomes a reality or cellular technology evolves over 10,000 feet.
My worry is this. Do I really want to sit next to someone who is having a conference call board meeting, or selling the very latest line of adult nappies, or negotiating with their divorce lawyer during my flight? The thought of a few hours of peace from anyone who has been, prior to lift off,  glued to their smart phone or immersed in earnest conversation is a window of opportunity I always embrace. The thought of this peaceful time shattered with a constant barrage of endless chatter feels me with dread.

Can you imagine a scene when (and I'm not being disparaging to any particular nation here) someone who revels in letting everyone in earshot hear how successful he or she is, or how good a Wall Street wolf they are is too horrible to contemplate.

Perhaps we should all go back to banning PDAs after all.