Climbing Kilimanjaro

Peter Kim at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro

Last year I summited Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

Prior to this trip, I had never been on an organised hike. The last time I slept in a tent was 1993, on a Route 66 cross-country road trip. I live at sea level. So when the opportunity to do this came up, I said why not?

Getting Ready

Pre-travel preparation included getting vaccinated. We had Covid shots and boosters, but I needed six additional vaccines: Tetanus/Diphtheria/Polio, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Yellow Fever, Meningitis, and Cholera. Five shots and one liquid.

That’s a lot of shots. Three in one arm, two in the other.

We also obtained malaria medication and Diamox for altitude sickness. It helps to test the Diamox at home and experience the tingly feeling in your fingers and toes so you don’t think you’re going crazy on the mountain.

Day One: Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp

We were scheduled for the eight day Lemosho route — more days to acclimatise, better chance of making it to the top. We began our journey at Lemosho Gate, starting elevation 6,980′ and in the very wet rainforest. Our trip was at the end of February, which tends to be drier than other months but they don’t call it a rainforest for nothing. In addition to our expensive Gore-tex it would’ve been nice to have packed a cheap poncho; easy on, easy off. Some guides even carry umbrellas!

Our campsite at Mti Mkubwa. We sleep in the red/green tents. The tall grey tent is the toilet. We wash up outside the big blue tent and dine inside.

We ascended 1,800′ in 2.5 hours the first day, following a well-maintained trail. It was pretty much stairmaster in rain and mud at high altitude.

Day Two: Mti Mkubwa to Shira I

A climb out of the rainforest and onto a desert plateau.

A whole new world. Above the treeline, bright sun and warmer temps. Sunscreen is key!

The day’s hike was about five hours, gaining 3,150′ in elevation. We made camp at 11,844 feet — over two miles above sea level. This is when high altitude headaches begin.

Day Three: Shira I to Moir

The days are getting colder as we ascend. Yesterday in the 50’s and we start today at 42F. It’s an acclimation day, with only 1,800′ gained but over a much longer, flatter span than day one.

Golden hour at Moir camp

We take an acclimation hike today, 510 additional feet to a hilltop point where you can see Kenya and get a bit of mobile reception. My phone compass says that Moir camp is elevation 13,650 feet.

Day Four: Moir to Barranco

Today we hike up to Lava Tower, ascending to 15,000′ just in time for lunch.

On the way to Lava Tower.

There are groups making camp here who are on shorter, faster climbs, arriving in three days instead of four. I’ve heard that 30 years ago, the entire climb was usually three or four days!

See all of those people by the hut? Barranco wall camp has a clear line of sight down to the valley and good mobile reception.

However, having a real-time connection to the world certainly influences the nature of introspection you undertake while climbing Kili. Our trip took place from 19-26 February 2022, coinciding with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While we certainly weren’t on a relaxing holiday, knowing this was escalating was unsettling. On the other hand, I received notice via email that my British citizenship had been approved! You’ll encounter lots of unexpected highs and lows on this mountain.

Day Five: Barranco to Karanga

A fairly short day; only 312 feet gained and we begin and end around 13,000 feet. But first you must climb over this:

The Barranco wall

This is the last night we’ll have a “full” night’s sleep, as tomorrow we will wake up just before midnight to make our summit attempt. Full in quotes, because it’s difficult to sleep an entire night on the mountain. The thin air, drinking fluids all day, being constrained in a mummy-style sleeping bag, sleeping on an incline…it is what it is.

Day Six: Karanga to Kosovo

Today we hike past Barafu camp, where many groups spend the night before summiting. This requires scaling a very steep and smooth rock wall, for the first time we see hikers going in the opposite direction — they’ve been to the top! Once in a while we see a person suffering from altitude sickness being helped down by a porter under each arm. We also see people with exposed skin, suffering from severe sunburn. It doesn’t feel hot but the sun is intense!

The view from Kosovo camp. Tomorrow morning we will be on top of this!

We’re on to Kosovo camp, which is about an hour further on. The day was intense with an ascent of 2,800 feet.

We’ll wake up at 11 pm and start our summit attempt at midnight.

Day Seven: Kosovo to Summit to Mweka

As the world learned more about what happened to the human body when infected by Covid, blood oxygen level became a leading indicator of asymptomatic infection. By February 2022 it was easy to buy a pulse oximeter on Amazon for £10 and have around the house. I brought one on the trip to track vitals along with my Apple watch and Oura ring. The NHS advises that if your blood oxygen level is below 92%, you should visit A&E or call emergency services immediately.

Waking up at 15,940 feet – three miles above sea level – it’s freezing. I check my thermometer; it’s 20F in the tent. I check my blood oxygen level. It’s 49%. Maybe these devices don’t work properly at this altitude? Isn’t clouded judgment one of the symptoms of altitude sickness? No worries, we’ve come this far and we’re doing this.

We gear up in the most layers of any day so far: balaclava, hat, parka, down coat, fleece, thermal underwear, hiking trousers, wool socks, and gloves inside of gloves. It’s still cold and the wind is howling. Headlamps on and we start our long, slow march. For most of the climb, it feels impossible to catch a proper breath — even when we’ve stopped. But after five and a half hours, we’ve arrived at Stella Point — 3,000 feet higher than when we started. An hour later, we arrive at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Sunrise over the roof of Africa.

Next comes what I believe is the most difficult part of the journey. What goes up, must come down. We descend back to camp in 1.5 hours. After packing up, we spend the next four hours descending to Mweka camp, altitude 10,020 feet. Today we have climbed 3,400′ to the highest point in Africa, then descended 9,300′ afterwards. Exhilarating and exhausting.

The temperature in camp is 50F. My blood oxygen level is 94%.

Day Eight: Mweka to exit

The trails are well maintained and we descend 4,600′ through the rainforest to the exit.

The end.

Final thoughts

It’s said that almost anyone can climb Kilimanjaro. It’s true to a certain extent; good preparation and planning go a long way. An eight-day trek is a lot less taxing than a four-day scramble. Conditioning helps. We met people from Colorado who had little problem with the altitude. There were some individuals who we saw on acclimation runs, not hikes. But you can live at sea level and not be able to jog for a mile without stopping for breath…and still summit successfully.

Before and after the trip, we often described this experience as “type 2 fun.” The funny thing about the three types of fun is that people seem to generally agree on what they are and most explanations on the internet sit on outdoors-related websites. Climbing Kilimanjaro is definitely Type 2 fun. Try to remember that when you’re gasping for breath at 19,000 feet.

Some people say the experience is getting worse, with mobile connectivity and now wifi available. Is it? Everyone undertakes this journey for their own reasons. The modern version of the classic saying “take only memories, leave only footprints” replaces memories with pictures and videos. Would being able to livestream from a mountain be so bad? Times change for better and worse. It took me 14 months to write this blog post. Maybe a livestream would’ve been an easier way to tell the story!

Frequent Flying: Game Over

It’s been a year since I flew on an airplane. Travel has been part of my work life for the past 25 years – and that means I’ve become a pro at playing the frequent flyer game.

When I say “game” I don’t mean that figuratively. Frequent flyer programs operate on “gamification” or game mechanics that keep participants hooked. Let’s break it down:

  1. Collecting points. All programs operate on a premise of collecting points – for miles flown or dollars spent directly or with partners. Some programs have a loss-aversion element, where miles expire after a period of inactivity; others have removed this behavioural tactic choosing instead to devalue never-expiring points.
  2. Earning status. Tiers that encourage achievement. The more points you collect, the more precious your metal or gemstone level. Along with luggage tags to communicate your value to fellow travelers. Tiers also help players set goals and reset to aim higher once achieved.
  3. Value exchanges. Free upgrades and other benefits for achieving higher status levels. Status also confers profile badges and other recognition that cost the airline little while keeping players focused on the game.
  4. Receiving feedback. Acknowledgement of your status when interacting with an airline and well-designed tools to help you track progress up the levels. To keep flyers flying, these tools make clear how close you are to the next tier and elevating your status. They also help flyers keep their next flights in mind – a bit like binge watching Netflix, where the next episode is always ready to run.
  5. Customisation and personalisation. Ability to exchange points for free travel and other rewards, combined with a huge barrier to exit – those points are worthless outside of your favourite airline’s corporate alliance.

Over the past 12 months, airlines have suffered mightily as business meetings have gone online for health & safety reasons. So what happens when the world is widely immunized and we can travel again, without red list countries, travel corridors, and quarantines on arrival?

I’ve logged over two million miles in my travels (1.8 million with SkyTeam, 0.3 million with Star Alliance, and more with OneWorld, JetBlue, Southwest, and others). When travel resumes, I’ll be happy to see foreign colleagues in person again and to see our business operating first-hand. I’ll be delighted to spend time with family and friends, who have for too long been faces in a Zoom gallery. And I can’t wait to look you in the eye face-to-face, instead of looking up your nose on Facetime.

But I’m done with the frequent flying game.

To be clear, I’ve never been so hooked that I’ve gone on for a mattress run or would pay for a flight to nowhere. But I’ve definitely rationalized away the risks of frequent flying, including increased radiation exposure and unlikely crashes. And I’ve always tried to balance time away from home by making the most of the time when I’m not.

Knowing how the system works and having a long break from participating in it provides space for clarity. How much are points and status really worth? How valuable are the rewards? Is the engagement truly earnest? Upon reflection, it’s easy to get caught up in frequent flying’s gamification. The players must realise the part they play as pawns in the game, while companies treat them like royalty.

I wonder if you’ve taken an extended break from travel and thought about what will be different, if anything, in your future?

Shopping is fundamentally social

If there’s one lesson the world can agree on from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that humans need face-to-face contact. Most people have tolerated lockdowns for the benefit of the greater good, but it’s clear that the world misses in-person interactions. The world has adapted – at least temporarily – to the current state of affairs, watching sports teams in bubbles, ordering gourmet takeaway meals, and attending classes over Zoom. But let’s face it: fans want to be back in the stadium. Diners want to be back in their favorite restaurant. Kids want to be back in school.

Retail and the act of shopping have naturally followed the rest of the world into an online-to-survive state. We’ve seen social distancing inside and outside of physical stores. When stores closed to customers, many shifted to click-and-collect. When even that was regulated as too risky, stores shifted to e-commerce.

Some might say that the shift is permanent, as well-known high street brands like TopShop and Brooks Brothers declared bankruptcy, along with retailers including Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. However, looking closer at the fundamentals provides a more nuanced understanding of the retail picture. Lack of footfall did not cause these bankruptcies; coronavirus complications only accelerated their demise. New entrants with a better understanding of consumer desires had already been gaining market share, offering products on trend and on price, made possible without the overhead of a bland retail experience.

People want to get back to a world of real human interactions as soon as possible. When restrictions are eased, the world will see a return to physical shopping in safe environments. The retailers that haven’t adapted will resume their decline as the government subsidies disappear. The retailers who understand how to deliver experiences that meet consumer needs will lead the way, face-to-face with their consumers.

Minority Report: Chapter 3, Part 3

This is the third instalment of my irregular Minority Report. Previous instalments include Chapter 3, Expatriates and the Patriots, and London, Part 2.

I accepted a job offer on Wednesday 22 June 2016, which would take me from New York to London. On Thursday 23 June, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Almost three years later, the UK still hasn’t left and I’m still living here as well.

However, I am leaving the toy industry and starting a new role in luxury retail. I’m taking on a new role at The Bicester Village Shopping Collection to define, develop, and deliver a global digital experience and ecosystem.

The Bicester Village Shopping Collection (also known as Value Retail) has delivered 24 consecutive years of annual double-digit sales growth. In 2018, 42 million guests visited 11 properties in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and China.

Bicester Village outside of Oxford is the second most-visited destination in England by Chinese tourists (the first is Buckingham Palace). Guests can purchase using Alipay, train signs and announcements include Arabic and Mandarin, and the average international visitor spends over £1,000.

If you’re involved in this space (luxury, omnichannel, retail, international), I’d love to hear from you!

I received my Tier 1 visa today

Most non-EEA professionals work in the United Kingdom under a Tier 2 visa, which is how I immigrated / expatriated from the US in 2016. In 2018 the UK issued over 50,000 Tier 2 general and inter-company transfer visas. It’s similar to the United States H1-B visa and South Korea E-7 visa. The Tier 1 isn’t quite a green card or F-5, but it does allow the holder to work and live in the UK without a corporate sponsor.

The UK makes 2,000 Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent visas available annually across the fields of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology, the arts, fashion, architecture, and film and television. In 2018, 528 were issued and I estimate about half of those are for digital, split evenly between “talent” (based on what you’ve done — this is what I’ve been granted) and “promise” (based on what you will do in your career).

If you are considering this visa, there are a lot of good write-ups out there regarding people’s experience with the process and Parliament acknowledges that you don’t need to be a potential Nobel Prize winner to apply. UK Visas and Immigration has thankfully made the entire application digital and the user experience is fairly straightforward. The biggest unavoidable drawback are the fees — the NHS may not have co-pays but immigrants must pay a hefty surcharge as a condition of residency. Regardless, I’m happy to continue contributing to the UK economy, even with its 45% income tax and Brexit uncertainty.

Many thanks to the people who helped support my application: Jeff Dachis, Dion Hinchcliffe, Ray Wang, and Jessica Gioglio.

Digital Transformation: easy to say, hard to do


Ten years ago, I wrote the post coining the term “social business” to describe a growth opportunity for brands beyond social media strategies at that time. Dion Hinchcliffe and I eventually wrote a book to unpack the concepts, illustrated in this graphic:

social business design

Today, “social business” has reverted back to its original meaning within the non-profit/philanthropic community, while social media for business has folded into the broader scope of digital media and marketing. But brands still need help and the current hot term for the changes needed is “digital transformation.”

The key drivers of yesterday’s “social business” underpin today’s digital transformation, having evolved over the past decade:


  • Mobile devices are more powerful than ever, but Moore’s law has plateaued and Apple and other manufacturers are seeing upgrade cycles slow down. A decade ago you might have been hanging on to your Blackberry for the full physical keyboard; today you’re hanging on to your iPhone 7 or 8 because new features aren’t enticing.
  • Broadband connectivity at home is widely available, leading to mass adoption of smart home technology. Searching online for knowledge used to mean opening a web browser on your desktop computer and typing words into a search engine. Now Alexa and Siri are a conversation away from completing your quest for knowledge.
  • The cost of physical data storage has gotten as close to zero as profitably possible. Conference tchotchke USB drives used to be so awesome, with 4 or even 8 MB of storage. Now you can get 5 GB of free cloud storage along with your mobile device that could land an Apollo spacecraft on the moon.


  • Online sharing has become commonplace and some people have made a living out of the practice. Ask kids today what they want to be when they grow up and many will answer, “a YouTuber.” Social media isn’t just for sharing consumer service frustrations and conference updates; it’s how the world gets its breaking political, economic, and entertainment news.
  • Millennials have not only entered the workplace; in many cases they’re running the show. The oldest millennials are almost 40 years old and carry expectations for their work and world around them, which may not align with institutions that are grounded in the values and beliefs of a different generation. The result has been cultural change; witness #MeToo and Brexit.
  • “It’s not information overload…it’s filter failure.” This groundbreaking insight from Clay Shirky in 2008 describes how the internet’s minimal cost for publishing and distribution resulted in too much irrelevant information online. Now we have filter failure of an entirely different sort – our newsfeeds are finely tuned to provide very narrow streams of content that are personalised, monetised, and politicised.


  • When we thought through social business design in 2008, the world was bottoming out in the Great Recession. Since then, we’ve seen a historic bull market run and collateralised debt obligations have returned. Fewer businesses are operating with a burning platform but those that are – e.g. UK retailers with widespread physical presences – discover that underinvestment in social business design was a mistake, as new market entrants are more closely connected to consumers and winning in the new world.
  • The open office plan has been exposed for its true purpose: cost-savings. New studies show that productivity and employee dissatisfaction drop in open floor plan offices. Startups didn’t have or want to spend money on the non-essentials, so they went with open space. Enterprises spin the open plan as collaborative and agile, but walk around an open office in New York or London and you’ll see the majority of workers wearing headphones – it’s because open offices kill productivity. Save money on hard costs, lose more on soft costs.
  • Long live email! Email used to be maligned as the place knowledge goes to die, but lives on due to regulatory requirements, budget constraints, and unwillingness to change. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Kakao, and Discord play an important supporting role, even if not officially supported by the IT department.


So the world has gotten more wired, consumer and employee expectations have risen, and businesses face increasing pressure from new market entrants that face lower barriers to entry. Many brands now look to digital transformation as the solution, with dreams of quantum computing, self-driving cars, and augmented realities.

But let’s be honest. All executives know their companies could get better at digital, but individual compensation schemes and corporate shareholder expectations aren’t structured to allow for proper time and investment into the hard work and deep cost of a true transformation. It’s easy to say “transformation” but the hard work and political commitment to make investments can take years to become reality.

Thus, we end up with fragmented efforts across departments, whether marketing, product, or operations: a campaign with a great sharable hook, but no CRM; a product with so much potential for connectivity, but no integration; or a system “upgrade” that takes years to implement that nobody wants to use because their consumer experiences are years ahead.


Getting digital transformation correct requires a commitment to change. It requires a holistic approach to people, process, and technology. WHY and HOW it happens depend largely on strategy that’s specific to situation:

  • How do we create and sustain competitive advantage?
  • What unique capabilities do we have?
  • How can we manage financial commitments?
  • What do we do and not do?
  • What is our timing?

In the next ten years, no one will be surprised to see hundreds of well-known brands go into administration. Outdated business models obscure the critical changes needed to deliver the contemporary experiences that consumers, customers, and employees expect. The winners will understand how to invest early and judiciously, turn assets into advantage, and harness evolution in work, society, and technology.

London, Part 2

South of the ThamesThis is the second installment of my irregular Minority Report. Part one was “Expatriates and the Patriots” and the full series contains dispatches from Seoul as well.

I’ve lived in Central London for almost two years. During this time, I’ve experienced plenty of situations to dispel many of the preconceived notions I had about life in the UK. It’s not as if I’d never been here before; I spent a few months studying at a university in the mid-1990’s and have visited on dozens of business trips since then. But it’s one thing to visit — it’s another matter to live somewhere with no intention to leave, which changes your mindset and what matters on a daily basis.

    • Here’s a tip: tipping may not be expected, but it’s quite common.

When paying by cash in black cabs, the round up to the nearest £1 still applies. But who pays with cash anymore? Card readers are installed in almost all cabs and although I’ve encountered the rare cabbie who claims that his reader is broken, it’s the fastest way to pay. I haven’t seen any studies on whether riders are leaving more tips by using plastic, but it’s been proven in the US.

12.5% Service ChargeIn restaurants, tipping has taken a more passive-aggressive approach. Many restaurants add an “optional 12.5% discretionary service charge” to the bill without asking. But does that actually go to the staff? Maybe, maybe not. So if you really want to do the right thing, ask for the optional charge to be removed and leave cash instead.

    • It seems that many of the service workers in Britain aren’t British.

A visitor might stop into a pub — perhaps a Red Lion, Black Horse, or Green Man — and seek to refresh oneself with a proper pint of basement-temperature cask ale. Sure, you’ll find a stout wooden bar and old musty carpet, but the drinks on offer? Most likely a lineup of AB InBev brands. The person serving you? Probably not British either.

The bar at Dishoom Kings CrossAccording to Ben Judah’s 2016 book This Is London, “at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 percent are living illegally in the shadows.” A related book that dives deep into the world of low wage Britain is James Bloodworth’s Hired, which illuminates much of the tension that exists in pro-Brexit UK.

    • Not-so-special deliveries.

Inside this box is the biggest LEGO set ever produced — the UCS Millenium Falcon. But why is it wet and ripped? Because the the delivery person opened the outer and inner boxes, removing all of the valuable eBay-able minifigures!

Package deliveryIn another lower stakes example, I ordered some socks and they were promised with free two-day delivery. When they weren’t delivered on the expected day, I called the delivery company. They said they I should request a refund from the brand and they’d file a claim against the driver. File a claim? Yes, because the driver was technically a contractor to the delivery company. Speaking of tension in low wage Britain, this issue represents one story of many that reflect the global capital vs. talent crisis that’s well underway.

    • Has brick-and-mortar retail been impacted? You bet.

Globalisation has made its mark here and any American would be hard pressed to feel homesick in London, with retail therapy available to soothe any sadness of what was left behind. Take a walk down Oxford Street and you’ll find Niketown, Disney, and The Gap, in between Selfridges, John Lewis, and Debenhams.

Credit: BBC News smaller towns, you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner but you won’t find a pub on every corner either. Every high street seems to have estate agents, newsagents, a cafe or two, maybe a Tesco Express, some hair salons, and always betting shops. It’s Las Vegas in convenience-store format and the lure is addictive.

    • Sorry, some things haven’t changed, thank you.

One element of stereotypical British culture is its politeness and a recent study claims Britons say thank you more than anyone in the world. After spending a week driving 2,394 miles through nine different European countries, I absolutely noticed the difference in interactions when returning across the channel.

How to be BritishHowever, it’s important to not judge other cultures too quickly as “rude” or “inconsiderate” — rather, it’s more instructive to reflect on one’s personal inclinations and how that perspective shapes expectations of others.

Quick take on what’s hot in digital right now

There’s a lot of noise in the marketing world, with industry players from all angles talking about what’s now and what’s next. What that in mind, I have some thoughts on the hottest topics that will be big bets for the near future:

    • AI

Once the stuff of science fiction, now part of the real world. Lots of commercial potential here, but how can this be best unlocked for consumers (and brands)? Current pathways to market are through tech companies, e.g. Amazon Alexa skills like Duplo stories or a Facebook chatbot. The real fun begins when digital is baked inside — which is a tough decision for companies to make, jumping off of a profitable s-curve into an unknown future. Tesla’s autopilot and Nest’s connected home give us hints, but for now we’ll just need to be satisfied with the A.I. we see in Westworld and hope that’s not what the world will become.

    • Voice

The evolution of human-computer interaction continues, from punch cards to keyboards, from mouse to touchscreen, and now from tactile to audio. The flip side of voice is that the microphones are always on, creating privacy concerns…but will consumers sell out their rights for convenience? Regardless of the outcome, it’s up to brands to do the right thing as this space evolves. Next step? Brain-to-computer connections. Yes, just like The Matrix.

    • Video

Moore’s law may not hold true like it used to and feature sets within mobile devices certainly seem to be plateauing. However, wireless bandwidth still has plenty of room for improvement (as does last mile connectivity), so video will continue to increase in importance as infrastructure improves. What’s critically important now is content and editorial — with unyielding watch-time algorithms, brands must capture attention as quickly as possible and hold attention like an eight second championship bull ride.

    • Personal data

GDPR is a huge current issue for brands and consumers are taking notice of the privacy policy updates they’re receiving from companies they forgot about years ago. In contrast example, the Cambridge Analytica situation highlights what can be done with personal data. Meanwhile, many marketers still struggle to attribute their efforts to sales. If a data-wielding company can influence the course of history, why can’t big budget brands figure it out?

    • Types of Reality

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality are all taking shape as affordable hardware finds its way to market. Most content focuses on education and entertainment; once connectivity use cases become more prevalent, we will find ourselves increasingly living and working in a virtual world. Ready player one?

Our operating environment is constantly changing; however, the pace of change seems to be slowing down — at least that’s my perspective from returning to the client-side and seeing opportunities from this side of the table over the past couple of years. Most initiatives that were recently considered innovative, particularly social media marketing, have moved into the mainstream. Today, the foundations are being established for a new wave of enterprise-shifting digital trends that require significant assets to create and capture value.

The GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit sales pitch is a lie

UPDATE:  This post was originally written in January 2018 and GDS hired a new CEO in November 2018. She responds to my experience in the comments below and describes actions that she has taken in response as of June 2019.

Are you planning to attend a GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit in North America or Europe this March? If so, you won’t see me there. However, GDS sales people are informing prospective sponsors and attendees that I will be attending and looking to network and hire service partners. Nope.

Multiple prospects have asked me about this and it’s just not true. Here’s a screenshot from a sales webinar, showing proof of the lie. No surprise, they messed up the logo.

GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit
Supposed GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit attendees, North America 5 – 7 March 2018

GDS, stop with the fake news. I have contacted your sales people about this blatant misrepresentation and they refuse to acknowledge the situation. Not surprising, as it appears that this is business as usual.

If you are considering sponsoring or attending this event, it might be worth your time and budget. But if you expect to connect with a specific attendee, it’s worth the effort to check references before committing. A simple search and inquiry on LinkedIn will give you plenty of information.

For anyone who’s been lied to by GDS and wants to hear about my digital agenda for 2018, here are some initiatives my team is working on:

If you’re visiting Austin this March, enjoy. If it’s your first visit, here are some things you might want to know.

Expatriates and the Patriots

Expat living in London is easy. Almost everyone speaks English, you can watch Westworld on Sky Atlantic, and Ocado brings groceries right to your front door. However, this isn’t enough for some people. In which case Starbucks inhabits every other corner of the city and NFL GamePass allows you to watch “American” football teams like the New England Patriots, live every Sunday evening. The incessant spread of capitalism has created a commercial monoculture in which an expat can find the comforts of home, until realising that the sameness is terribly boring.

Of course, not everything in the UK is the same as the US, beyond the typically cited differences: driving on the left instead of right side of the road, replacing many z’s with s’s, Boris Johnson’s hair vs. Donald Trump’s hair, et al. If you haven’t lived in the UK, you might not know that:

  • You often pay for consumer service calls.

"calls charged at 7 pence per minute"

I needed to change the mailing address on my British Airways Executive Club membership from New York to London. This wasn’t possible online due to technical difficulties on BA’s side. After exhausting all free options, I called the service center. About £15 later, my account address was finally changed. “Business rate numbers” can cost you 6p to 51p.

  • You can usually withdraw money from any ATM without a fee.

On a more consumer-friendly note, when you have a UK bank account you can withdraw money from almost any UK ATM without paying additional bank fees. This is unlike the US where you might go to a bank’s ATM advertising “free” withdrawals, only to have your own bank charge you a $1 or $2 service charge. I was surprised to find that even the ATMs at Heathrow Airport — which seems like a place ripe for price-gouging — were indeed free of service fees.

  • The tax year starts on 6 April.

The current tax year runs from 6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017. Not the calendar year. It’s been this way since 1800.

  • You need an annual £145.50 ($180) TV license.

You can check whether you need one, but basically if you intend on watching a moving picture on any screen, you need to pay £145.50 every year to the government. While this may seem odd to Americans who are used to watching PBS for free (and taking this for granted), the visibility of this fee seems to make many UK residents defensive and proud of the diverse programming the BBC offers.

  • Mobile phone pricing is competitive.

I pay £60 ($75) per month for a wireless data/text/minutes plan for four iPhones that cost $160 from AT&T for similar service levels. The UK and US have roughly the same number of large carriers, but regulation seems to have reduced prices more in the UK consumer’s favor.

  • Transferwise is the best option for normal people to transfer money across borders.

Despite the number of Britons who live and work abroad, banks still charge hefty fees on foreign currency transfers. Some of these are transparent (e.g. “wire fee”), but there are absolutely hidden costs buried in unfavorable exchange rates. I’ve found that Transferwise is the best option for getting rates close to public quotes, wth clearly outlined fees.

  • Contactless payments are a thing.

In the U.S., it appears that chip-based credit card transactions have finally caught on. However, some retailers I visited over the holidays had handmade signs over their chip readers indicating that cards could only be swiped. But just when the US seems to be catching up, the UK is already far ahead as chip-and-PIN payments are ubiquitous and contactless is accepted almost everywhere you’d need it — the Underground and fast food outlets, in particular.

Life as an expat is full of looking for similarities and appreciating differences; for Americans, life in the UK can lull one into a false sense of familiarity, which is when frustration or something a pleasant surprise usually finds you in situations like these.

Being: Peter Kim