theWorks - the Nexus Blog

houston, we have a hotel problem...

I blame myself for the error of judgment. I should have realised that this 'independent Mediterranean-style family-run property' was not going to be an ideal choice based on the Trip Advisor comment that said 'this could be a great hotel, just not in this country.' But downtown Houston was full for the NBTA Convention and I didn't want to be stuck out in the boonies with an almost-in-Dallas zip code. So I took a chance...

It was a Sunday afternoon; the mercury way up over 100°F; and the city streets were deserted as the taxi pulled up outside the hotel entrance. It was an anonymous looking building with a simple glass door and few clues as to its function. Then a figure emerged from inside. Dressed in old jeans and a t-shirt, he had the grizzled and emaciated appearance of a man who's eventful life has added 70 years to his 40 year old frame. As he paused at the entrance, I could just make out the slogan emblazoned across his chest - 'body piercing saved my life'. There was a reddish stain on his shoulder that looked suspiciously like blood. He started to walk across to the taxi. My heart beat a little faster. Was this man typical of the hotel clientele? Maybe it was one of those welfare hostels. Would I have to spend the night fully dressed behind triple locked doors clutching a kitchen knife? "Careful man" murmured the cab driver as he prepared for a fast exit.I opened the taxi door. "Good afternoon sir", said the blood-stained, grizzled 110 year old, "may I take your bags?"

The blood-stained, 110 year old grizzled doorman led me into the tiny lobby where I was checked in by a thickly accented man of Mediterranean descent. In the background, two weary women of indeterminate age absent-mindedly shuffled papers and yawned. I took my key and followed Grizzly up the stairs and into a room on the first floor. He seemed like a nice man so I tipped him generously, partly as insurance against any nocturnal axe-thru-door incidents. After he'd gone I surveyed my surprisingly pleasant room. There were two large windows...but these were covered by blinds that refused to open. There was a coffee maker... but it refused to make coffee. There was a wifi signal... but my laptop refused to connect.

I had three hours to kill before the NBTA opening reception. So I triple locked the door, sat on the bed and - kitchen knife in hand - waited for night to fall.

hotels & the beautiful game

The final occupancy numbers won't be with us for a few weeks, but - surprise, surprise - to quote one African newspaper,'the World Cup has not been the cash cow many expected it to be.' Wow. Hold the front page. How many major international sporting events ever deliver guests at the levels computed in the febrile imaginations of owners and developers? Despite the usual surge in available 4 and 5-star rooms, it seems most fans were happy to settle for converted schools, universities and guest houses. And to make matters worse, Visa's list of big spenders - citizens of England, USA, Australia, France and Brazil - all packed up and decamped fairly early in the proceedings thanks to risible performances on the field....

...talking of which, there seems to be no meaningful correlation between the standard of accommodation enjoyed by the teams and their success in the competition. The French team were accused by a government minister of staying somewhere 'far too flashy', while the Nigerians booked themselves into a Hampton Inn next to an interstate. Both teams were eliminated at the group stage, though presumably the Nigerians will feel the more satisfied of the two: how can you be expected to defeat Argentina with only an 'On the Run Breakfast Bag' for sustenance?

Finally, spare a thought for the England team. Humiliated on the pitch by that footballing powerhouse Algeria, then embarrassingly exposed by Germany, their final ignominy was to have their underwear stolen by members of staff at the team hotel. Should've stayed at a Hampton.

bali breathing...

Last time I was in Bali I was carrying a backpack, wearing sandals and chilling out to the wind chimes in Ubud. A 'few' years later and I've returned in smart casuals for a conference. Many things have changed - more traffic on better roads, an incongruous Planet Hollywood, the tight security around Nusa Dua - but thankfully the essential Bali is still intact. There's an overwhelming sense of tranquility and everyone really does smile. Whether this is a cultural/ religious phenomenon or a narcotics related trance is unclear, but it certainly makes for a peaceful experience.

Jogging along the beach one early morning in search of authenticity, I come across a group of locals wading along the shoreline collecting seaweed off wooden barriers and piling it into small flat boats that bob along in front of them. How heart-warming to find a genuine cottage industry! Later I learn that the enterprise is just one of hundreds throughout the region owned by a big American corporation. Still, shattered illusions can't remain long in an environment like this....

....because back at the conference the mood is positively bouyant. Somehow the fusion of Balinese wellbeing, Asian dynamism and travel industry optimism has created a brew so heady that one speaker can declare - with no apparent irony -"In August the region was 28% down, now... we're only 21% down!" Bless.

grand rapids, michigan

...so the plane (a Northwest puddle-jumper) left the gate 2 hours late from Detroit for the short flight to Omaha. Having left home in the UK at around 5am that morning I wasn't best pleased at the delay but at least we were now on our way. We taxied out to the end of the runway.We waited half an hour.We turned round and went back to the gate. Mechanical problems. Everyone off. Replacement equipment supplied an hour later. We boarded. We took off. 20 minutes in, announcement: "Warning lights are on... we have to land in Grand Rapids, Michigan". Where? We landed and stopped abruptly on the runway as fire trucks swooped in to look for smoke. There was none. But the plane could not be cleared for take off. We disembarked at the terminal and waited for more replacement equipment. Ever been to Grand Rapids? It has a an airport and a bowling alley. But no replacement equipment. By this time, darkness had descended on Michigan. We all lined up while the nice ladies from Northwest, Grand Rapids, re-booked us one by one and handed out hotel vouchers. That took another hour and it was 11pm when I finally rolled up at the Holiday Inn. I think. Hard to remember because I was only there for 5 hours before heading back to the airport for my American flight to... Chicago.I arrived in Omaha at 10am, 16 hours late.

So thanks, Northwest. After 20 years in the business, that was definitely the most frustrating journey I have ever experienced. And apologies to all citizens of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm sure it's a lovely place to raise a family.