Don’t piss off Ryanair: Disgruntled pilot transferred to Lithuania

RyanairThanks to OnlineTravelReview for this gem: A Ryanair pilot has quit after being transferred to Lithuania, allegedly in response to his remarks against CEO Michael O’Leary in the Financial Times newspaper.

Captain Morgan Fischer, a five year RyanAir pilot with more than 20 years of experience, is the first senior staff member to comment publicly against his employer. He wrote a letter in response to CEO O’Leary’s suggestion that a 737 aircraft only needs on pilot and a “trained flight attendant” to jump in in the case of emergency. Fischer, who is no longer with the company, is quoted in FT as saying:

“I would propose that Ryanair replace the CEO with a probationary cabin crew member currently earning approximately €13,200 net per annum,” Capt Fischer has written in a letter to the Financial Times, which reported Mr O’Leary’s comments last week.

“Ryanair would benefit by saving millions of euros in salary, benefits and stock options,” the captain said, and there would be no need for approval from the authorities.

Fischer, an American, was recently transfarred from his base in Marseilles, France to Kaunas, Lithuania after his based closed. Cooincidence? We’re not sure. But Fischer believes it’s more than just bad luck – other pilots were offered spots in Spain, France and Italy, he says. Fischer has since quit.

That will teach you not to argue publicly with your employer. Or not.

[Image via Flickr user Mielko]

Photo of the Day (6.12.2010)

I look at this photo and I think, “ruh-roh.” Besides the fact that the plane is facing the same direction a similar plane was faced in a recent nightmare of mine (I mean come, sign people. What the H happened with this one?), I also really like that the plane and the arrow are facing different directions. It gives the impression of a person with their arms crossed, pointing in opposite ways in an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of way.

Have any photos that bring to mind traveling nightmares? Maybe don’t post them to Gadling’s Flickr pool. Okay, okay, just kidding… post any and all of your travel photos — we might select one for our Photo of the Day feature!

Trade Mocked

You were a cheerleader, you dated a cheerleader, or you hated the cheerleaders. As I recall, that’s how high school worked.

Thanks to travel PR, that same primeval paradigm lives on long after graduation. That miniskirts-shouting-slogans thing still works, whether you’re a used car salesman, Miley Cyrus on VH1 or the tourist board of a small Balkan nation. When it comes to selling your destination in today’s busy world of busy people, a country’s name just isn’t enough–just like school spirit, you need colors, a pep band, a mascot, a brand and most important–a cheer.

It’s tragic but true: tourist boards don’t trust their country’s name to inspire appropriate thoughts in your brain. Toponyms are too open-ended and too untrustworthy–also, way too obvious. For example, what’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say . . . Monte Carlo? How about Australia? The Bahamas? Kuwait? The Gambia?

Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not enough. Tourist boards want you to choose their destination over all others, then allocate all of your vacation days to them and then come spend your money on very specific things–like miniature golf by the sea or hot air balloon rides across the prairie. In short, they want your school spirit so much they’re churning out cheers to fill up all the Swiss cheese holes in your mental map of the world.

Like a good cheer, a good destination slogan is simple and so memorable it sticks in your head like two-sided tape. Sex sells, but then so does love: “Virginia is for Lovers”, Hungary offers visitors “A Love for Life”, Albania promises “A New Mediterranean Love”, while the highlighted “I feel Slovenia” spells out sweetly “I Feel Love”. Meanwhile, Bosnia & Herzegovina call themselves “the Heart Shaped Land” and Denmark’s logo is a red heart with a white cross. Colombia and Dubai have red hearts in their logo. Everybody else uses sunshine.
There is a direct correlation between sunshine deprivation and travelers with disposable income–sunny places sell, which is why Maldives is “the Sunny Side of Life”, Sicily says “Everything else is in the shade”, Ethiopia quizzically boasts “13 Months of Sunshine”, Portugal is “Europe’s West Coast”, and Spain used to be “Everything Under the Sun”. Spain was also the first country ever to have a logo-the splashy red sun painted by Joan Miró in 1983. Some destination logos work–like the black and red “I LOVE NY” design of Milton Glaser that’s been around ever since the 70s. Others fail to grasp the spirit of a place (cough, Italia). Reducing one’s country to a crazy font and some cheesy clip art often detracts from that country’s best assets. Like nature.

When chasing the crunchy yuppie granola suburbanite dollar on vacation, you’ve gotta roll out Nature and promise them the kind of purity that lacks from their daily life. British Virgin Islands claims “Nature’s Little Secrets” while Belize counterclaims with “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret”. Switzerland urges us to “Get Natural”, Poland is “The Natural Choice”, Iceland is “Pure, Natural, Unspoiled”, Ecuador is Life in a Pure State, “Pure Michigan” is just as pure, Costa Rica is “No Artificial Ingredients”, and like a clothing tag that makes you feel good, New Zealand is simply “100% Pure”. New Zealand also wants us to believe that they’re the “youngest country on earth” but that’s pushing it. The youngest country on earth is actually Kosovo (Born February 2008)–so young they’re still working on their slogan.

And there’s a tough one–how do you sell a country that’s just poking its head out from under the covers of war and bloodshed? Kosovo’s big bad next-door neighbor Serbia asks us frankly to “Take a New Look at Your Old Neighbor”; “It’s Beautiful–It’s Pakistan” steers clear of the conflict, Colombia owns up to its knack for kidnapping by insisting, “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay”, and Vietnam nudges our memories away from the past and towards “The Hidden Charm” of today.

Our nostalgia for simpler, better, pre-tourist times invokes our most romantic notions about travel: Croatia is “The Mediterranean as it Once Was”, Tahiti consists of “Islands the Way they Used to Be”, and Bangladesh employs a kind of reverse psychology to insist we “Come to Bangladesh, Before the Tourists.” Such slogans of unaffectedness mirror the push for national validation by tourism, where actual authenticity is second to perceived authenticity, hence Malaysia is “Truly Asia”, Zambia is “The Real Africa”, and the Rocky Mountain States make up “The Real America”. Greece is “The True Experience” and Morocco is “Travel For Real”. Everybody wants to be legit.
country logos
Countries without the certified organic label try merely to stupefy us: Israel “Wonders”, Germany is “Simply Inspiring”, Chile is “Always Surprising”, Estonia is “Positively Surprising”, “Amazing Thailand” amazes, and Dominica claims to “Defy the Everyday”. To that same surprising end, Latin America loves trademarking their exclamation points (see ¡Viva Cuba!, Brazil’s one-word essay “Sensational!” and El Salvador’s “Impressive!”)

Where punctuated enthusiasm falls short, countries might confront the traveler with a challenge or a dare. Jamaica projects the burden of proof on its tourists by claiming “Once You Go You Know”, Peru asks that we “Live the Legend”, Canada insists we “Keep Exploring”, South Africa answers your every question with a smiley “It’s Possible”. Meanwhile, Greenland sets an impossibly high bar with “The Greatest Experience”.

Working the totality of a country’s experience into a good slogan is a challenge that often leads to open-ended grandstanding: “It’s Got to be Austria” might be the answer to any question (and sounds better when spoken with an Austrian accent). Next-door Slovakia is the “Little Big Country”, insisting that size is second to experience. Philippines offers “More than the Usual” and small, self-deprecating Andorra confesses, “There’s Just So Much More” (I think what they meant to say is, “come back please”). Really big numbers carries the thought even further: Papua New Guinea is made up of “A Million Different Journeys”; Ireland brightens with “100,000 Welcomes”.

When all else fails, aim for easy alliteration, as in “Enjoy England“, “Incredible India“, “Mystical Myanmar”, and the “Breathtaking Beauty” of Montenegro. (For more on the correlation between simplistic phrases and high mental retention, See Black Eyed Peas-Lyrics).

The point of all this is that today, the internet is our atlas and Google is our guidebook. It’s how we travel, how we think about travel and how we plan our travel. Punch in a country like Tunisia and you’re greeted with a dreamy curly-cue phrase like “Jewel of the Mediterranean”–Type in next-door neighbor Algeria and you get a glaring State Department warning saying “Keep Away.” In a scramble for those top ten search results, destinations compete with a sea of digital ideas that pre-define their tourist appeal. It’s why we’ll never find that page proclaiming Iran “The Land of Civilized and Friendly People” but why a simple “Dubai” turns up Dubai Tourism in first place, along with their moniker “Nowhere Like Dubai” (which should win some kind of truth in advertising prize.)

That aggressive, American-style marketing has taken over the billion-dollar travel industry is obvious. Nobody’s crying over the fact that we sell destinations like breakfast cereal–that countries need a bigger and brighter box with a promised prize inside in order to lull unassuming tourist shoppers into stopping, pulling it off the shelf, reading the back and eventually sticking it in their cart. I guess the sad part is how the whole gregarious exercise limits travel and the very meaning of travel. By boiling down a country into some bland reduction sauce of a slogan, we cancel out the diversity of experience and place, trade wanderlust for jingoism, and turn our hopeful worldview into a kind of commercial ADHD in which we suddenly crave the Jersey Shore like a kid craves a Happy Meal.

Nobody’s ever asked me to join their tourist board focus group, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own opinions and tastes. For instance, my daily reality is a stereo cityscape of car alarms and jackhammers. Any country that simply placed the word “Quiet” or “Peaceful” in lower-case Times New Roman, 24-point font white type in the upper right hand corner of a double-truncated landscape spread–well, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Better yet–how about a one-minute TV commercial of total silence. (“Oh, wow honey, look!–that’s where I wanna go.”)

This is probably why I’ve never been in a focus group. For all the focus on authenticity and reality, I find most tourism slogans lacking in both. For the most part, they are limiting and unoriginal, easily dropped into any of the above categories. Even worse, today’s slogans challenge actual truths gained through travel experience. One day spent in any place offers a lifetime of material for long-lasting personal travel slogans. My own favorites include Russia (“Still Cold”), Turkey (“Not Really Europe At All”), England (“Drizzles Often”), Orlando (“Cheesy as Hell”), and Ireland (“Freakin’ Expensive”).

As a writer, I must argue against the cheerleaders and in favor of words–the more words we attach to a destination the better the sell. I think it’s safe to assume that Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia has done more for Argentina tourism than any of their own slogans. Similarly, Jack London gives props to Alaska, Mark Twain mystifies us with the Mississippi, and Rudyard Kipling keeps sending people to India. All four authors wrote about love, nature, and sunshine. They wrote long books filled with enthusiasm and punctuated with exclamation marks. They made us fall in love and yearn for places we never saw or knew.

No matter how many millions get spent on tourist slogans, today’s trademarked PR phraseology has generally failed to hit the mark. Perhaps they’ll make us rethink a place–reconsider a country we’d somehow looked over, but can a two or three word slogan ever touch us in that tender way, make us save up all our money, pack our bags and run away?

I don’t think so.

Adventure Tourism Development Index rates top adventure destinations

The Adventure Tourism Development Index is a study put together by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, in conjunction with George Washington University and Xola Consulting. The joint effort examines 192 countries and ranks them based on their commitment to sustainable adventure tourism, as well as a number of other factors that influence their ability to host an adventure travel market and offer unique experience to travelers.

The ATDI uses what it calls the “10 Pillars of Adventure Tourism Market Competitiveness” to determine its rankings. Those pillars include Sustainable Development Policy, Safety and Security, Tourism Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources, Adventure Activity Resources, Entrepreneurship, Humanitarian, Health, and Image.

The study used a combination of surveys, gathered from top adventure travel specialists from around the planet, and quantifiable data from each of the countries to establish a list of the top adventure destinations in both the developed and developing world.

The results of the research are quite interesting, offering up some destinations that might not have seemed like viable options in the past. The top ten developing countries are as follows:

1. Slovak Republic
2. Israel
3. Czech Republic
4. Estonia
5. Slovenia
6. Chile
7. Bulgaria
8. Latvia
9. Botswana
10. Lithuania

And the top ten developed countries are:1. Iceland
2. Switzerland
3. New Zealand
4. United Kingdom
5. Australia
6. Luxembourg
7. Denmark
8. Ireland
9. Germany
10. Spain

A quick look at both lists offers some perennial favorites, especially on the rankings of the developed countries. For instance, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia have long been top destinations for adventure travelers. The list of developing countries is far more interesting however, with long time favorites Chile and Botswana making the list. But even more important is the emergence of the Eastern European countries as increasingly viable options. That region is quickly gaining a reputation for great hiking, backpacking, and paddling destinations, with amazing scenery and fantastic cultures to explore. It doesn’t hurt that they travel in the region is very affordable and not yet over run with tourists too.

To download and read the full ATDI report, click here.

Top travel destination countries? Canada is number one and Nigeria is. . .?

When asked the to respond to the statement, “I would like to go to visit this country if money were no object,” Canada ranked number one in a recent global survey conducted by Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brand Index.

Where was the U.S. in the mix of 50? Number 10. Harump!

Steve Stephens, the travel editor for the Columbus Dispatch offered up these tidbits last Sunday and provided the ranking for the other top five choices plus provided some reasons for the results.

From 2nd to 5th in that order:

  • Italy
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • France

What’s your guess for number 50? No, it’s not Nigeria.

Number 50 goes to Iran. The people who responded to the survey must not have read my post on how friendly people in Iran actually are or have seen the trailer for I RAN Iran or the video postcards film.

Nigeria is number 49 and lost a second to last place standing to Saudi Arabia.

Estonia was 47 and Lithuania was 46. Stephens begs to differ with these two small countries’ close to last place spots. Pointing out that both countries’ capitals have town sections listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, he vouches for their beauty and interest.

One theory for Estonia and Lithuania’s poor showing is that possibly people who took the survey knew nothing about them so skipped them altogether when checking off boxes for possible destinations.

I can vouch for Nigeria as a worthwhile destination if you can get parachuted in and airlifted out to avoid customs. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

Why does Canada rank so highly? Its natural beauty for one thing.

If I could go anywhere in the world where money is no object, I’d probably pick Bolivia–or Peru. How about you?