Reflections on the Philippines post Christmas Holidays 2008 Visit

Reflections on the Philippines – Mabuhay Bloggers

Map of Philippines
I have written in the past that the Philippines placed highly (6th) in the World Economic Forum 2008 global gender gap ranking. The report says in the latest publication:
“…The Philippines is one of two countries in Asia to have closed the gender gap on both education and health and is one of only eleven in the world to have done so. However, the Philippines’s score relative to its performance in 2007 fell due to a drop in the perceived wage equality between women and men employed in similar positions and a decrease in the percentage of women ministers [to 10%].”
It would seem that this high ranking was largely favoured by the female President (the second Filipina President in its history) and the good representation of girls/women in school at every level. I also wonder about the impact of the relative earning power of Filipinas abroad who, with even numbers, send in $18B versus $32B for men (OFW statistics). After my visit to the Philippines over the Christmas holidays, I can make a few more observations.

Children playing in Garbage Dump
First, courtesy of my kind acquaintance Charlie Avila, I learned that 57% of the Filipino university students are women. Second, just by circulating around Manila, you can see that women very clearly have an active role in business. That said, in this activity, there is a traditional division of labour (e.g. 99.9% of jeepney and tricycle drivers are men; while, for the women, there is obviously a lot of childbearing and rearing) and, outside of Manila, the ‘latin’ machista culture dominates. And, third, during our stay in the Philippines, I read how the government signed into law the so-called Magna Carta of Women, presumably promoted by the relatively large representation of women in parliament. In the Lower chamber, there are 49 out of 240 (20.4%) women elected, while there are 4 out of 24 (16.7%) in the Upper chamber. The ‘Magna Carta for Women’ bill (#4273) seeks to provide women equal treatment before the law, equal access to information and services related to women’s health, and equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations. The cynic would say that if they need to create a law, there must be good reason for its need.

Skylab PhilippinesWooden Homemade Bicycle in the PhilippinesNonetheless, although I would like to believe so, women’s equality is not necessarily tantamount to progress. Since my first visit to the Philippines in 2004, I have observed little progress in the Philippines. The standout difference is perhaps the Subic-Clark-Tarlac dual carriage tollway (funded by the Japanese). Otherwise, the infrastructure and travelling conditions remain difficult–opportunities to break the speed limit (60kph) are exceedingly rare. Driving around the countryside, you are besieged by the 3rd World poverty (cf kids playing in the burning trash). People seem either to be mulling about doing absolutely nothing or on the move going absolutely anywhere. Any transportation is optimized; single drivers are an oddity. Passengers ride on the roof or hanging out the side. Cities are chockerblock with tricycles, bicycles and jeepneys. And the forms of transportation are quite inventive. You will see rice thresher contraptions and a “skylab” (down south, pictured above right) consisting of a balancing beam placed perpendicularly behind a bicycle/motorcycle with equal portions of people on either side. You can hardly fall asleep at the wheel thanks to the ingrained–if poor–driving habits and continuous overtaking.

  
Philippines Lorry Party - All AboardAs a testament to the constant to and fro’ movement of the people — and semantically revealing — the typical greeting in tagalog is “saan ka pupunta” meaning ‘where are you going?’ Another common greeting is “saan ka galing” meaning ‘where are you coming from?’ In terms of an answer to this greeting, you can say eith
er “diyan” (just there) or “doon” (doh-on, yonder/over there). 

Keep Philippines Clean Signpost

Signposts, and I am not referring to the names of towns, lead the way. There are signs calling for healthier (washing hands, drinking clean water, etc.) and greener Keep Bagac Clean - Philippines Sign(no trash, less water waste…) living; others invoking God and revoking drugs in the same breath; yet others demanding to stop abuse of children and/or women. All these signs, of course, are mixed in with a robust cocktail of commercial enterprise. And, yet, the progress seems slow.

As Charlie said, it seems that the Philippines suffer the instability of stability (as opposed to Italy which finds stability through instability). Part of the challenge evidently lies in the continuing stranglehold of the top 100 families who stubbornly refuse to yield. A defining Filipino saying is, roughly translated, Filipinos have “a loud but short fizzle” — the firecracker (a national pastime over New Year’s eve) is a good metaphor for the Filipino character. After the smoke, not much has changed. And yet, the success of Filipinos overseas, one of if not the largest diaspora (11 million or around 11% of its population) in the world is paradoxical. Beyond the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Dubai or the Filipinas that set the standard for domestic help around the world, there are ample cases of successful Filipino professionals (medical technicians, engineers, etc.).

From my various conversations, it would seem that the Filipino education system has taken it on the chin in recent years. An experiment to convert the curriculum entirely to Tagalog lasted a couple of years, but has had a lasting negative impact on English literacy levels. What was once a sizable competitive advantage — wide ranging English fluency — has decreased without compensation in any other form.

The other calamity is the growing strength of the “other” Filipinos occupying the southern islands, particularly Mindanao. Aside from hurting what is already a diminutive tourism, there seems to be a real schism between the predominant Catholic Filipinos and the Muslim population in the south.

Philippines TricycleTo overcome the handicap of the terrain and climate and its reliance on the centralizing, megapolis capital (12-15 million), the Philippines will need to overhaul its education system (as is the case, that said, for so many countries) and invest in its infrastructure (none more so than in Manila itself). With its pro-Western stance, the large and growing population and the generally genial charm of the Filipinos, there is much potential for this country. Will have to come back in another ten years to see how it all transpires. 

Airline Competition & Inflight Entertainment – How do they fare?

AIRLINE COMPETITION & INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
ARE YOU ON BOARD?


As the competition for airline passenger dollars is only going to get worse — between higher oil costs, personnel issues & union negotiations, terrorism threats, ecological considerations [not to mention economic crisis] — you wonder how most of the companies in the airline industry are going to get through this. In many regards, the question is whether the airline companies have kept a keen eye on customer satisfaction? For myself, there are five key criteria (in order):

  • time/direct flight
  • cost
  • comfort
  • food & amenities
  • service

The first two criteria have the benefit of being quantitative. The last three are subjective and certainly vary within a company’s fleet, much less between the competitors. So, on what basis should airlines be competing?

Although the US market remains the most active in terms of volume (see here for the Worldmapper by number of flights by country), the margins are clearly under tremendous pressure and there seems to be little value creation by the US companies. The hub system, security hassles and unpredictable weather make travelling in the US already quite the burden. But, on top of that, the US airline companies seem to be in a negative spiral of cutting costs, eliminating frills and, as a consequence, taking the fun out of flying — particularly for domestic flights. It would seem that the US airlines are bent on competing on cutting of costs, which unfortunately means too many grumpy personnel and unhappy passengers.

Looking at Europe, you only have to think of the exits of SwissAir (now Swiss Intl Airlines) and Sabena (now Brussels Airlines and 45% owned by Lufthansa), the continuing tribulations at Alitalia and the massively splintered market (with each country having its own network of companies) to know that there is going to have to be a further shakeout. Moreover, the frills and pleasures of flying on European carriers isn’t particularly thrilling either. And, if the high speed train network becomes more commonplace, there will be evermore competition on the ground. But, for now, I am going to compare the experiences inflight.

To illustrate the difference in offer for two international flights with a similar duration (6 hours), I have made a few comparative snapshots of life in the cabin (economy class that is) for two different routes, with a focus on the inflight entertainment.

First [above], there is Air France (for which I am generally a big fan). On this route from Paris to Boston (26 Jun 2008), they offered a dingy inflight entertainment — with no personal screen (left – you get to see where it might be) on the flight (7 hours in broad day light). What you get is the ‘ole pathetically small and distant general screen (to the right). The good news? You are encouraged to read or rest…On the flight back from New York to Paris, the plane was equipped with a [very small} personal screen, but on the West-to-East flight, you are only interested in sleep.

Now taking look at another international flight of a similar distance, Paris to Dubai with Emirates Airline; the story is radically different. The personal screen (pictured to the right) comes with masses of choice. The touch screen is very user friendly (I blogged about this before — see here). And, even the booklet announcing the inflight entertainment is interesting to read. It comes with an informative music anthology (scanned below)…

What is even more startling is when you start to compare Emirates Economy Class and Air France Business Class. On the left, you see the Air France business class experience, Paris to New York. The screen is stationed on the back of the seat in front of you which, good news/bad news, is quite a distance. And, on the right above, you see the Emirates’ economy class entertainment system. The screen is touchscreen (better functionality), bigger and, as you can see with the seat number (28A), is entirely personalized. You might say it’s a small detail. First, details count. Secondly, I feel it is a huge difference because it is what I want in a long flight. Kudos for knowing your customer.

The truth is, however, the level of comfort, service and amenities absolutely depends on the route you are on. Some routes — for the very same airline — are better equipped than others. The problem with such “variation” is that, as a passenger, you no longer can trust the brand you are choosing. And, in terms of comparing one airline with another, unless you have the option of taking different airlines on the same route, you and I are systematically evaluating apples and oranges. So, there remains plenty of confusion out there and, to the extent that timing and cost remain top considerations, the “fluffy stuff” all too often takes a backseat.

All this to say, all things are not created equal in the airline industry. And, with the stiffening of competition, the economic crisis and inflexible cost structures, you have to imagine that the market forces will not be kindly for the airline companies that have taken the fun out of flying for both cabin staff and passengers. In another post to come, I am going to look at the advertising campaigns as a looking glass into the strategies employed by winning and losing airlines. Watch this space. In the meantime, please give me your feedback!

Sports Sponsorship from Lovemark Emirates Airline

PSG Team - Emirates Airline sponsorshipI had a marvelous marketing moment recently. I was walking down the Champs Elysées and, having just flown and enormously enjoyed Emirates Airline, I saw a photograph [left] on this storefront of a Paris St-Germain (PSG) football player wearing his uniform emblazoned “Fly Emirates.”

Here is the thought: the Emirates’ advertisement actually made me feel good about PSG, a team I don’t follow at all! I wonder to what extent the marketing folk at Emirates are aware of such a reverse feelgood factor? Is there any way to capture that beneficial sentiment emitted from a sponsoring brand? It could appear a cruel twist of fate that Emirates must pay so much money for this real estate. The complementary imagery between any two associated brands is vital.

Arsenal FC & PSG - Emirates Airline sponsorI add that Arsenal FC currently has the same Emirates-style contract; however, in this case, it does not move me in the same way (as I am a Liverpool die hard fan). Meanwhile, the marketing team at Emirates clearly has targetted many top notch teams around the world. As their Chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, says on this site: “Emirates believes that sponsorship is one of the best ways to integrate with our passengers. It allows us to share and support their interests and to build a personal relationship with them.” They participate in a whole host of sports (golf, tennis, rugby union & league, football, horse racing, sailing, etc.) and have a long trail of sponsored teams and associations, including the English RFU Rugby Sevens, Team New Zealand America’s Cup, FIFA, and many more.

Aside from pondering the efficacy of sports team sponsorship, I would love to know if anyone else has had other similar moments where the sponsor company (lovemark?) actually creates the affection?

Knowing that any single person can be a brand him or herself and may want to buy or sell (i.e. blogs) advertising space, I have come up with a few magical, fantasy associative advertising opportunities:

Any other joint ad-ventures you can come up with?

No Country for Old Men – Film review

No Country for Old Men – Film Review: 4.7/5.0 stars

“No Country for Old Men” was one of two films that I saw on the plane from Dubai to Paris, both of which featured Vietnam veterans. And, I was totally surprised by the strength of this film since I hadn’t read up about the film ahead of time.

The New York-based Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) have created a powerful film noir style that is masterfully applied to No Country for Old Men. Having just been on safari in Kenya, observing the ouster of the “older males” among various animal species, one is reminded of the pitiless nature of Nature.

Directors of Raising Arizona (whacked out comedy), The Man Who Wasn’t There (film noir) and the whimsical Barton Fink, the Coen brothers are returning to American cinema what generic Hollywood is taking away: superior plots, unpredictability and thought provocation.

No Country for Old Men
, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy (which I never read), was released in November 2007. Among the clever parts to this film is the ability to express extreme violence without necessarily showing it. And, among the finer surprises, evil is not vanquished…if anything, it is insidiously starified. And, with all three main characters’ lives intertwined yet rarely overlapping (physically), you never really know who the “hero” is. And the ending is designed to make you reflect. There is no gratuitous happy ending in NCFOM.

Featuring non-standard actors for Coen films, NCFOM has, all the same, a strong cast:

  • Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (for Whom the Bell Tolls?);
  • Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss (the man who never quite makes it);
  • Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh (pronounced so close to sugar you can taste it);
  • Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s wife, Carla Jean Moss;
  • and, finally, a somewhat unbelievable Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells (the supposedly toughest SOB bounty hunter).

Amply recognized, No Country for Old Men was honored with numerous awards: three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See here for a slew of other “official” reviews of the film (4.6/5 on average). Definitely a film to see when you are not feeling down, though.

Emirates Airline marvels again on Nairobi-Dubai-Paris

Emirates Airline logoAfter a first experience on Emirates Airline, two weeks ago (post here), I have since taken three more flights with Emirates (EK). Turns out our first experience was not one-off. We flew from Dubai to Nairobi a week later, then on Thursday we did a double header: Nairobi to Dubai (5 hours) then Dubai to Paris (7 hours) with a two and half hour layover in Dubai’s bustling airport. Each time, the flight (in Economy) was a pleasure.

This last time, we added a special wrinkle, something we could have made a real flap about: a last minute injury. At 1pm on Thursday, our very last day on holidays, my son, Oscar, fell by the pool on a lava rock and gashed his knee. So badly, that it needed 6 stitches which were put in by the Serena Lodge (Amboseli) medic. The “operation” took over an hour and a half (including having to find him, first) and happened on our room’s balcony (i.e. outside), replete with monkeys onlooking (photo to right; one of them finally managed to steal some cotton).Kenya Amboseli Monkey watching first aid

With Oscar sown up, we hit the road (and in Kenya, that is not an understatement). Our valiant driver, Ibrahim, took us to Nairobi airport in a little over 5 hours, with Oscar stretched out in the backseat. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and were able to get a decent seat for Oscar in order for him to keep his leg straight as much as possible.

On the flight EK722 (May 1) to Dubai, the staff were good enough to reserve a set of four seats which allowed Oscar to sleep stretched out for the full 5 hours. I would like to signal out the kind Dubai Airportservices of Mohamed Haji. When we got to Dubai, Oscar got a fast and furious nose bleed. This afforded us a visit to the Dubai Airport medical centre. A doctor from Senegal and a nurse from Kerala, India, took care of Oscar’s nose then reviewed and re-dressed his knee. All clear. And very civilised! Then Oscar was taken by wheelchair to the “Special Handling” area which meant a comfortable seat, juice and biscuits… The rest of us managed to find seats outside (although they are at a real premium at the overcrowded Dubai departures level).

Our flight EK073 (May 2) from Dubai to Paris was as pleasurable as the flight out (again on the Boeing 777-300ER), if different because of Oscar’s leg.

Here are the further thoughts I would like to add to the prior post regarding the EK service:

* The flight attendants are very international — intentionally, Emirates recruits from a very wide array of nationalities, allowing them to announce at the outset: “On this flight, we have crew members speaking the following languages…” On this EK073, there were 10 different nationalities. Some kind of proof that diversity pays! The wonderful staff that helped us out included the energetic Lydie (an Aussie) and dapper Aman. There was also the kind Z’ied (notEmirates Airlines ICE sure on the spelling).

* Each seat is equipped with a “ICE” (information, communication, entertainment) system. The ICE digital wide screen is a touchscreen (super easy to use) and is as good as it gets.

* The USB slot at each seat (to the right of the telephone-cum-“remote control”) is to allow passengers to view your holiday pictures on the wide screen TV or to listen to your personal media player through the ICE system. IPODs can even be read if they are set to “disk mode.”

* The ICE booklet (for May) is very agreeable to read and shows the extremely wide variety of options and selections available. It even includes a set of good old rock’n’roll box sets, a random set of audio books (Crime & Punishment, David Copperfield, Tom Peters Live in London…), comedy (Monty Python, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers…) and a brief guide to the anthology of major composers and classical musical periods over the past 500 years (nice pedagogical touch, no?).

In any event, as if I needed any further proof, the very day we took our flight back, the newspapers were splattered with the Emirates financial results: profits rocketed up 62% to Dh5.3 billion in fiscal year 2008 (Mar) on revenues of Dh41.15 billion, despite a Dh1.83 billion extra fuel bill. As this Gulf News article writes, Emirates Airline is indeed an important part of the Dubai success story:

“Emirates contributes about Dh47 billion, or nearly a quarter of Dubai’s Dh198 billion GDP, to its economy, the airline said yesterday.”

Hopefully the bosses of these flight attendants will get wind of their great service. In the meantime, I can only say: fly Emirates whenever you can!

Comments and Thoughts after Visit to Dubai 2008

OUR VISIT TO DUBAI FOR FAMILY HOLIDAYS

Dubai - 20% of world's active cranesRarely does one get a chance to see a city in the making, especially if you have lived all your life in “old” Europe and/or the East Coast of America. For those in the Shanghai’s of the world, it is perhaps current currency. Dubai was my first such experience, where there are an enormous number of cranes constructing the city in front of your eyes. According to a number of sites (for one, see here), 20% of the world’s active cranes are in Dubai City. You wonder if or how all the empty spaces will be rented out at the promised exorbitant rates. But, you do get the feeling that Dubai is the new promised land…

Dubai - Camel, the desert and modern technologyFashioned with verve, ambition and purpose, Dubai is a fascinating place to visit. For such a lightly populated city, it has many surprises, especially in terms of its diverse architecture. Dubai is a hybrid of many cities. At times, you see can the Las Vegas inspiration (all along the road to Bab Al Shams you can see large detoured billboards representing the type of resort to be constructed by the Al Bawadi Group over the next 8 years). The project involves the building of 12 enormous themed tourist attractions (as in “Andalusia” photo to the right below, or Asia Asia, Europa, Musica, Americas, etc…) that speak to Dubai’s international appeal. Then there is the NYC feeling of the monster skyscrapers–albeit with Dubai - Andalusia Theme Attraction en route to Bab Al Shamsa greater density of interesting architecture–along Sheikh Zayed Road. Down at the Dubai Marina, you might as well be in Dubai - Modern Skyscraper with Arabic TouchMiami. That said, Dubai also has its own markings, including the Arabic finishing touches on many of the skyscrapers, and wonderfully decadent hotels lining the beach (numerous 7* locations, if not necessarily 7* in service, certainly in price). To make sure you aren’t in the West, you also have the painted camels (ex cows) dotted around the city and beach (see down below for one fine example).

The Dubai airport is an experience unto itself. The diversity of people lining up at immigration takes a page out of the United Nations yearbook. It would even have been proportionate representation except for the relative under-representation of the Chinese. The airport, which is open 24/7, is just bustling with activity. Its duty free stores are the most active in the world–the liquor stopover is elemental for all Dubai residents as it is impossible to buy liquor in town.

Our first port of call, after profiting from the “inside the airport” 88-room NH Hotel, was the delightful Bab Al Shams desert resort (part of the Jumeirah Group). Along the way, you go through the Desert Gates (pictured below).

Dubai - Desert Gate en route to Bab Al Shams
The authentic outside-in-the-desert dinner at the Al Hadheerah, replete with horse show, camel riding (photo on right) and a variety of dancers, was a lovely first ‘night out.’ You can also have your personalised henna painting or partake in a traditional Shisha. Altogether, we spent two fairly slothful days at Bab Al Shams, including a one-hour camel ride — a warning to those who don’t know: a camel’s girth is huge and for your legs, therefore, riding a camel can Dubai - Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant Camel Showbe a tortuous experience. As I mentioned above, on the way to and from Bab Al Shams, you see at once the desert of the past and the Dubai of the future. With all the themed resorts along the road (due to be built between now and 2014 — see here for virtual vision of the future projects), Bab Al Shams desert resort will likely become some day Bab Al Shams downtown resort.

Moving to the city, we next stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where we had a lovely experience, benefitting from the splendid family activities available (especially the Wild Wadi 12-acre water park). The beach facilities and amenities, the multiple pools and ever-available buggy services were just perfect. We also enjoyed a very lively dinner at our friends Peter and Isabelle who live in Jumeirah 1 [thanks!].

The mega hotels in Dubai, dotted along the beach, are impressive. The standout architectural novelty, Burj Al Arab Hotel (below in the distance), comes complete with helicopter pad (cum tennis court) on the 25th (top) floor and a panoramic restaurant/bar on the other side that will cost you $500/pp on average for dinner. In typical extravagance, the hotel offers helicopter or Rolls Royce airport transfer for a ride that only takes 20 minutes (without traffic) or costs 40 Dirhams (c. 7€ or US$10)
by regular taxi.

Dubai - Medinat Jumeirah Hotel + Burj Al Arab
At Madinat Jumeirah, down the coast, is an Arabian-style sprawling complex with 3 different hotel environments (Mina A’Salam, Al Qasr and Dar Al Maysaf). There are nearly 600 rooms & suites, 29 summer houses and 7 royal villas (each with a private pool). And with each of the estimated 30 pools in the complex, there is a lifeguard (by law) through to 10pm. With guards sitting even at the private swimming pools, there is not much room for skinny dipping and it certainly is an intrusion on romance. We enjoyed a lovely abra ride around the Madinat creek, a visit to the “souk” (aka another big name mall) and dinner at an Arabic/Lebanese restaurant (one of 45 restaurants located in the Madinat complex).

Dubai - Painted Camels instead of CowsAside from the muezzin and ever present veiled women, you get a sense of the formalism in Dubai after reading the newspapers. When reporting on the country’s ruler, you can read on any one page of the Gulf News up to ten times the full moniker of “Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum” (which, once you have written it once, you can apparently reduce to Sheikh Mohammed for short). Of course, you will also see multiple references to Abu Dhabi President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, not to be confused with General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Sure makes one appreciate terms like Sarko and GW.

Burj Dubai Tower - Projection LookAmong the curious sights, you will see buses after 5pm in rush hour, packed with exhausted Indian construction workers, their heads bowed in sleep, leaning on the headrest of the seat in front. Earning a paltry 700Dhs per month for non-stop 12-hour gruelling days, they are at the low end of the totem pole (and are frequently treated as such by the locals). There are apparently 20,000 workers at the Dubai Burj Tower alone, working day and night. We were driven onto the construction site of the world’s highest building by our driver — unheard of access in western countries. But it is an impressive sight to see cranes functioning some 629 metres (today’s current height) up above you. The building’s completion date varied according to the person with whom you were speaking. And its final height has been kept under veil as well (some figures point to surpassing 800 metres– wikipedia says 818 m).

I have two astonishing mental images to share with you (not photographable). First, was one of a fully veiled woman driving an SUV with dark windows. The second was when a young (25-years-old) Emirati drove up beside me (seated in the taxi passenger seat) at around 60kmh and, burnishing a big smile, faked turning his SUV into the right flank of the taxi. Very pointed.

Deira Dubai by NightSpeaking of DTA taxis, which were nationalized in 1997, there are 12,000 of them in Dubai — apparently not enough for the peak hours and, because of the heavy traffic, invisible in downtown Deira (the other side of the Creek – night time photo to the left)… But, virtually all the taxi drivers were polite and service oriented.

As for taxi economics — a topic which continues to interest me (a hangover from «Freakonomics»?) –I found one willing driver, Mohammed, who revealed all. If a car (whether the driver is solo or partnered) earns Dhs12,000 in a 30-day month (i.e. the car must rack up Dhs400 every single day 7/7), the driver earns a 35% commission. With the metre feeding directly into HQ, every move of the taxi is recorded. All the petrol and insurance, etc., is taken care of. Therefore, a solo taxi driver can, if he makes the quota, earn Dhs4,200/month or about $650USD.

As usual, each “foreign worker” sends home any excess cash. And, of course, a majority of the Dubai residents are “foreign workers.”

There is a very clear cultural division (of labour) when it comes to the jobs. Here is what we discovered:
* The non-officer Police are from Yemen.
* The Taxi drivers are Pakistani (also heavy trucks) or Indian [all of the ones we had were from Kerala]; any female taxi drivers are Filipina.
* Personnel in the hotels are mostly Filipino and Sri Lankan.
* The technical jobs are also won by the Filipinos.
* You will find Bangladeshi as waiters.
* And, as for the Emirati–those that have to work–you will find them at the airport and as officers in the police force and army.

Dubai - A city with verve but still under construction
Dubai is a modern marvel (perhaps a lovemark unto itself!). In the image of the monumental Burj Dubai Tower, its future is inspiring, but not ensured. It sometimes feels like a house of cards — but, it has every chance of success based on the sense of service and its prime location in the world. I would be an even bigger fan if there was not always a latent feeling of oppression. Then again, you can get the same feeling, in different parts of town, in pretty much any city. It is a worthy visit — just don’t forget to budget for it.

Emirates Airline: Superlatives for flight to Dubai

Emirates Airline Lovemark?Emirates Airline Customer ServiceWow! I felt like I actually rediscovered the pleasure of traveling yesterday. And, ironically, I did so going on holidays in the economy class of Emirates Airline, on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER. Expectations were totally outpaced. I was left utterly and positively surprised, almost regretting the fact the flight was ONLY seven hours long… That sums up what I have to say about my very first Emirates Airline flight, EK074 from Paris to Dubai.

Ensconced in row 21 with the family, I can only shake my head at the extent of the superior performance that Emirates Airline (EK) provided. If I were a competitor of theirs, I would be worried. From a business standpoint, when you take efforts to know what the ‘competition’ is doing or offering, you can get a wicked surprise. I suspect that if American Airlines (United Airlines has a best-in-class partner in Singapore Airlines) or Air France (which generally I enjoy very much) have fully checked out the state of advancement of Emirates Airline, they should be scurrying to invest. The boom in oil prices and the economies in the Middle East are obviously helping EK. In 2007, according to the Gulf News (Apr 20, 2008 article by Abel Ali), Middle East passenger traffic was +11.7%, and up a record +19.2% in December. EK’s ability to invest in state-of-the-art planes (just to absorb rising demand), as well as their efforts on customer service (and the training that goes behind it) will create a significant competitive advantage due to the life cycles of planes and the difficulty to change a corporate culture (not to mention a hideous industry climate?). In the case of EK, according to their website, they have been growing at 20% annually and have recorded every year since its 3rd year of conception (it was started in 1985).

In any event, this type of gap in performance will make a difference in my next booking. I have to believe that a superior Emirates Airline product will contribute to the success of Dubai, benefiting from its opportunistic location as a hub. [The airport works 24/7 and was absolutely bustling with activity when we landed at 1 a.m.]

EEmirates Airlines ICE Entertainment Systemvery economy class seat on this new Emirates Airline plane offers:
* A complete on-demand set of films (multiple categories), games, sitcoms and news… (As good as any good Business Class). Called ICE, the entertainment system has a digital wide screen option.
* A USB socket (never saw that in any business class before) — that anticipates a usage of the personal console as a personal computer.
* Electrical outlet (which is far from a gimme in business)
* A slick multi-size cup holder
* Coat hook on the side (so the jacket doesn’t hang between your legs). Smart.

Among the multiple surprises, we were allowed to fire up the videos while on the ground (I therefore didn’t even notice that we took off 30 minutes late). And we were able to watch the video throughout takeoff and landing. Unheard of, normally.

The kids were offered a whole kit of goodies — hand puppets, teddy bear, crayons, books and more… Between the goodies and the personal entertainment system, the kids felt like they were in Disney…

The kids also got a special dinner, including a Mars bar and a toothbrush…

The main screen featured the viewing from a camera attached to the airplane nose. It was not the first time I have seen this, but I say it is part of best practices. For the remainder of the flight there was a simulated following of the flight over the various geographies.

At the same time as Alexandra said she liked the crackers, I mentioned to the flight attendant that the Shiraz wine was good. Both of us were promptly re-served without even asking. Another surprise.

Even dinner was a result. With a choice between lamb and chicken, Yendi and I both chose the lamb stew (“tender cooked pieces of lamb served in a rich coriander jus”) which turned out to be a wonderfully zesty (and spicy) dish. I suspect that unadventurous palettes might have stumbled.

As I went past the business class seats, I noticed that they featured the same poorly located headphone socket as the one on the KLM flight I took a couple of weeks ago (prior blog post). So, not everything is perfect…

Moral of the story:
* innovation works (in different forms)
* great training of the staff is visible (and great recruitment, too, on YouTube)
* better to keep an eye on the competition

I will report back after the 3 other flights that we have on EK to see how consistent the service is (knowing that Dubai-Nairobi is surely an inferior route). Will see if it deserves lovemark status!

Anyway, here’s to making travel a childish pleasure. Anyone else know of an airline that can surprise thus?

Do you know about any other company taking an industry by storm?

Taxi economics in Paris

This is not a Grinch who stole Christmas or a post about Uncle Scrooge, but it does have to do with money (economics) and service…

During the last public transport strike in Paris in November, I avoided as best I could taking a taxi. Aside from the staunch traffic jams and eco-guilt*, I was not keen on padding the taxi driver’s pockets. Instead, I hoofed it as frequently as I managed my timing. Adding the practical (exercise) to the ecological.

One day, I was forced to cab it. Not that it was quicker, but the bags obliged. I happened upon a talkative and, possibly frank, driver. We struck upon the topic of profitable rides. What is a profitable ride for a Parisian taxi driver? By the judge of how many rides I have been refused, I assumed there was an unwritten rule not to take passengers like me, whatever I may look like.

As we may yet enjoy more strikes in Paris in the new year (are you kidding me about the subjunctive?), I recount what I was told about a taxi driver’s profit motive. There are no fast rules as the traffic will vary with great inconsistency. [I did not get to discuss the different fare zones according to time of the week, area of Paris].

For the trip to the main Charles-de-Gaulle Roissy Airport (27km north-east of Paris), the typical fare is 45-50 euro for 35 minutes work–“well worth just heading back into town empty,” said the driver (rather than waiting the 2-3 hour wait at the airport). I can infer that 45 E for 70 minutes (minimum) translates into a good hourly rate (38.6E).

Naturally, as with any trip, the fare and duration depend entirely on the traffic. The driver recounted that intra muros Paris with the strike in full swing meant 30E for a 60-minute fare stuck in traffic. Plus, there is no “rest” (as in need to deal with a client). And there is the added stress of the constant gridlock and unhappy co-drivers.

That said, the economics of the taxi have been steadfastly manipulated. Courtesy of a Vox on-line article entitled, “The price of suspicion,**” I discovered that there used to be 25,000 taxis in Paris…in 1925! I quote from the article: “For fear of competition, those concerned latch on to a Malthusian system (25,000 taxis in Paris in 1925, 15,000 in 2005) – of which we know the result; users can’t find a taxi when they need one, and drivers practically have to bleed to death to get the famous taxi-badge – a clear example of a lose-lose outcome.” Clearly, market supply has been carefully strangled.

From another article, “Paris Capitale Taxis,” I find the statistic that, “…in 2005, each day 15,200 taxis carried more than 350,000 customers, i.e. 190,000 trips per day.” This means that each taxi (the car itself, as many cars are driven by multiple drivers), has 12.5 trips per day on average. If the average ticket (including tips) were about 13E (1 ride to the airport and the remainder at 10E), the daily revenues would be 185E or 55KE over a year containing an arbitrary 300 work days.

I am not in a position to know the costs for the driver (cost of the license currently estimated at around 200KE, fuel, insurance, amortization, etc.), so this is not an economist’s analysis. What I wanted to do was get into the taxi driver’s psyche–his/her top of mind profit motive.

Meanwhile, I still can’t figure out the reason why the counter must be set to begin at 2.10E, yet the minimum fare is 5.60E. Why not just begin at 5.60E and let it sit at that price until such time as the distance warrants the uptick? It just doesn’t make sense to have a metre read 4E at the end of an ultra short (and totally profitable) trip and yet be obliged to pay 5.60E minimum anyway.

In any event, there is talk of change of the regulations…as per this recently published French Journal de Dimanche article “Revolution en vue pour les taxis parisiens” in order to encourage more taxis back into Paris. The JDD article says that there are now 15,600 taxis in Paris. Hopefully, the new year’s resolution will also include making more as well as nicer cab drivers.

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*As with many expressions I make up, I think I’m being orginal, but it turns out, as usual, that the term eco-guilt has been broadly used across the Net. I cite a couple that I enjoyed:
Coffee, tea… eco-guilt? A not so complementary view of Virgin Atlantic’s ploy…
The twitch of Eco-guilt… the guilt of enjoying a holiday in a non eco-friendly location such as Dubai

**This article, written by Professors Algan and Cahuc, presents a (very cogent) history from which has growns the current state of affairs in France (worth the read).