The place where everything’s bigger than Texas

Burj Khalifa

People sometimes say, “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Well, everything seems bigger in Dubai.

Tallest building in the world. Tallest hotel in the world. World’s biggest fireworks display. And so on.



Kentucky #TravelTuesday



I’ll be in Louisville and Lexington next week to deliver a speech at the ACHE 2013 Annual Conference.



On the road: hotel horribility

Surely you’ve seen the hidden video from an Atlanta hotel, where a housekeeper was seen using industrial cleaner on drinking glasses. Or maybe you’ve been bitten by bed bugs. It’s tough to keep things clean in a hotel – my former colleague and travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt always removes the bedspread as soon as he enters a room.

This week I encountered a small surprise while staying at the Hudson Hotel in New York:

Notice the lip stain on the cup? I’m glad I did before I used it. The hotel didn’t respond on Twitter and I didn’t bring it up when checking out, because while somewhat disgusting, I’ve encountered worse. Like:

  • Using a hand towel then seeing foundation smeared on it from a previous guest (original W hotel, New York)
  • Opening a bottle of water then realizing it had already been opened – someone had refilled it with tap water to avoid paying a fee (Hilton Chicago)
  • Stepping into the shower at 6 am the day of a client pitch and looking up to find a giant cockroach on the shower head (Holiday Inn Baltimore Inner Harbor – and we won the work)
  • Finding a mousetrap under the bed, thankfully not sprung…or maybe better if it had been? (Sheraton New York)

    Mousetrap behind bed - Sheraton NY

  • Waking up early to get online and do some work, then hearing a scratching sound in the vent above. A mouse? No, a BAT! Which then came out of the vent and was flapping wildly around the room. (InterContinental Austin)

So, let’s say you do want to bring a situation like this up with the management. I’ve seen people complaining wilding, ranting and raving about never staying at a property again. Many times, the hotel is better off without them anyway. I’d recommend an alternate approach. Ask to speak to someone with authority privately or at least out of earshot of other guests. Describe the issue you encountered and stick to facts, leave threats – veiled or not – out of the conversation. Then ask for something specific and reasonable that can be accomodated – whether a reduction in your bill, loyalty program points, or other.

If you just want to rant, that’s what social media is good for. If you want results, have a face-to-face conversation. I’d love to hear your horror stories and tactics for dealing with them!

Around the world in eight days

I just completed a trip around the world. I know that sounds like a fun thing to do, but because teleportation hasn’t been invented yet, a lot of air travel is involved.

Screen shot 2011-08-09 at 10.07.52 PM

I started with a flight from Austin to Detroit. We pushed back from the gate and taxied to the runway for takeoff. After sitting still in the record Texas heat for a while, the plane turns around and heads back to the terminal – we have a mechanical problem. My third on Delta in three weeks. However, it turns out that the issue is simply an imbalanced plane – not something critical like inoperable flaps. So two young women get upgraded from the back to first class and we’re on our way. They’re giddy with excitement and taking pictures of each other – first time in first. Fun to see. Three hours, two minutes.

Connecting in Detroit to Amsterdam, another flight issue – the flight has an equipment change from the scheduled Boeing 747 to an Airbus A330. This creates issues, given the different cabin sizes on the two planes. When I hear the words Boeing or Airbus, I always think of economics and case studies in government involvement with private industries. The bathrooms in an Airbus are definitely nicer than a Boeing. Thank you, France. Seven hours, thirty-five minutes.

Connecting in Amsterdam to Mumbai/Bombay. It’s an easy three minute walk between gates. Why is it that I can connect between two epic international flights with ease, while a typical connection in the US usually involves multi terminal drama? Seeing the KLM staff walking around Schipol in their blue uniforms reminds me of which generic European airport I’m in.

At the departure gate, there’s additional security screening. The American behind me tells the staff that she wants to opt-out of the scan. Guard is confused. Calls over another guard. They start discussing and I take my turn. Waiting for my bags, the conversation is still unfolding on the other side between Guard #2 and the woman. Guard: “Why don’t you want to go through?” Woman: “Because I don’t like the radiation in those machines.” Guard: “There’s no radiation. It’s just radio waves.” Woman: “Oh really? Okay then.” And she gets scanned and walks through.

In the gate area, the young person next to me is checking Facebook. So am I. Two people on Facebook, probably twenty years difference between us. I call my hotel to arrange a transfer, which seems like a better idea than attempting to walk from the airport. Nine hours, forty minutes.

In Mumbai, I’m ready for anything. First time to India. Most international flights arrive very late, just before midnight. The airport is buzzing with activity and it’s steamy outside. Thankfully I did not try to walk over to the hotel – apparently Mumbai has a serious pothole problem. The Gateway of India is now fairly inaccessible to visitors; the area is surrounded by security barriers with controlled entry, as is the structure itself. All hotels stop vehicles for bomb checks (engine and trunk) and visitors must run bags through x-rays and step through metal detectors. Despite being fairly cautious with food and beverage, I still end up with some “Delhi Belly”. The Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport has an interesting name – but that’s about it. The Central Bank of India looks shady, but has exchange rates 10%+ better than Thomas Cook. No one demands that I turn in my rupees and apparently I have too few to exchange anyway.

I take a Singapore Airlines (SQ) flight from Mumbai to Singapore. You may have heard SQ described in exceedingly positive terms. All true. We’re on a Boeing 777 – a massive plane – and the service in economy class is comparable to first/business class on US carriers. Multiple meal options. Free inflight movies, same selection as Delta business. Blankets and pillows. Five hours, twenty-five minutes.

Landing at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3 seems like landing at an airport from a dream, or a movie set far into the future. This is the kind of place I imagine that infrequent travelers believe that airports – especially international ones – are, whereas in reality they’re mostly soulless boxes similar to your local DMV branch. T3 is massively spacious. ATMs in plain sight. A four-story slide for kids. Must remember to not chew gum. Slipping through the night in a taxi through the city-state feels like I’m in a video game; F1’s only night race – the Singapore Grand Prix – will be held on these streets next month. During the day, my colleague points out that I’m pretty much the only person wearing a blazer. Unfortunately, my physical state prevents me from sampling the amazing food options around. But I did try apples that were surprising salted and knew better than to sample the durian.

With the National Day holiday, meetings are difficult to arrange so I head home. At 4 am, I’m up and heading back to the airport. More F1-style as we hit speeds up to 160 kph (100 mph). That’s fine, more time for me to hang in the airport…except T1 is sadly nothing like T3. Singapore to Tokyo-Narita: seven hours, twenty minutes.

Connecting in Tokyo to Minneapolis. More US travelers are around and I can tell from their conversations. A woman in the rescreening line is talking the ear off of another woman. Why is this line taking so long? Bali was hot and a hassle to go anywhere. Why can’t I take this water through security? Thankfully she’s not on my flight – and the other woman is thankful to get away from her as well. I’m on the upper deck of the 747 for the longest leg of this trip: Eleven hours total.

But there’s something odd about this leg. On prior trips to Asia, I never looked forward to being in flight for a half-day and disconnected. Now, there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. The customs guy at MSP doesn’t seem very happy. Maybe it’s my Red Sox cap and David Ortiz hanging yet another L on a miserable Twins season. Layover and then a quick two hour, forty-one minute flight from Minneapolis to Austin and I arrive at one of the cleanest, friendliest airports in the world, with live music playing and BBQ readily available.

Total flight time: just under 47 hours. 22,000 miles flown. This makes 27 straight weeks I’ve flown somewhere. After next week, I hope to be at home for six weeks straight. Well, I thought that at the end of July and I ended up going around the world…