Archive for April 2011

A Secure Life Abroad – Part 6

I nearly called this ‘things that go hiss in the night’ as it is more about creatures than people and quite a number are the type that slither. It seemed that you could put up walls, wire and bars to deter the two legged type of danger but these obstacles acted more like a kids climbing frame for the local wildlife.

I had a good grounding in dealing with critters as I spent much of my childhood living in Trinidad which had an unhealthy array of biting, stinging and spitting wildlife. We lived in a big house on stilts next to a river which had an open storm drain down the side of it which was a highly desirable residence for most things reptile and it was hear that our cat Monty spent most his days hunting.

His favourite meal was snake ‘surprise’. The ‘surprise’ was that he would bring them into the house to show us how clever he was. He knew how to grab them behind the head, to avoid being bitten, and how to leap away when dropped on the floor. He would then sit quietly licking his private parts as all those humans around him screamed and fled.

Unfortunately sometimes there were no humans around to witness his bravery and, if he wasn’t hungry he would simply leave them there and wander off for us to find later. It ended up getting so dangerous we decided to find a new home for Monty but the decision came too late for him. A creature killed him in a strange way. A large lizard (brought in for a ‘play’) ran behind our big old fridge and Monty quickly followed. Unfortunately the fridge motor came on just as Monty was climbing through the fan belt. R.I.P. Monty.

Snakes were a hazard in many places I visited. In Freetown I was visiting our manager’s house which was located in a place called Signal Hill. It should have been called ‘snake hill’ as it was the area of choice for most of Sierra Leone’s reptile population. There were four of us sitting in cane chairs and drinking beer way into the night when something caught the edge of my vision.

Lying, curled up around the cross bar under one occupied chair was a very nasty looking snake and it did not look very amused. This was because the chair’s occupant was swinging his legs in a relaxed way and his sandaled heel was mesmerising the creature. As it swung I could see its forked tongue darting out and smelling it. “Hey Neil”, I said trying to sound casual. “Don’t worry but there is a snake under your chair”

He looked at me and I looked at him. “You are joking right?” His eyes sought my reassurance and there was none. “Crap” he muttered, and bent his head right down between his knees. He came nose to nose with the reptile. “Glug” (or something similar his yelled as they locked eyes. The snake blinked first and fortunately fled which is fortuitous as apparently it was lethal. To this day Neill brags about out-staring a Cobra.

I was lucky in that I was never bitten by a snake. The nearest I got was in Kenya when I found one wrapped around the base of my home’s toilet. It was me, it, a confined space and my golf clubs which I stored in a corner. I stared at my clubs, worked out the distance and chose a nine iron. The snake was no more but neither was my nine iron. It was weird but, until I was able to replace it, I always seemed to need a nine iron out on the course!

Can TMC Brain Power Still Save Money?

When I was at the TMC sharp end of the business I was a huge fan of employing clever people and, when possible, rewarding them for success in saving money for both my clients and my company I undertook quite a bit of research which confirmed to me that a good agent could bring an annual savings ROI of between 300% and 500%. Only trouble was that people were so focussed on taking any manpower cost out that they did not delve into the deeper implications of doing so.

Probably nothing much has changed in the last couple of years except that most of these clever folk have moved on to another industry. Headcount has given way to self book and people being employed are more likely to be for the lower skilled fulfilment side of these computer transactions. All cost is rightly under the microscope but is any allowance given to the need for savvy people who can look both inside and outside the box for service and savings opportunities?

As we all know, a booking computer is only as good as what is put inside it. It is also reasonably single focussed and can also be hoodwinked quite successfully when it comes to travel. Who is policing the content it stores? Who is fine tuning it? How often is it audited? Who is recognising the broader trends? This will become even more important soon as TMCs develop and refine their own yield and price capabilities.

I fear for a TMC industry that seems to be losing its own front line brains for the sake of saving a quick buck or two. Maybe someone will look at the same ROI figures that I did in the past and realise that employing smart people with the right incentives is an investment in saving money not just an unwelcome cost.

In some parts of the world there are big shortages of experienced staff as the market recovers. The UK is a good example where TMC stripped their staffing levels to the bone during the recession and now cannot get them back as demand rises. It is essential a way is found to maintain a core of bright ambitious people without having to chop them whenever the market varies. Corporates also need to think about this the next time they scream at their TMC to lower head count. They do not simply pop back when wanted any more.