When your fiancée is flying from London back to her hometown in China for Chinese New Year and in order to prepare for our wedding (which is on Chinese New Year itself!), you want to do something to make her trip extra special. Unfortunately because of logistical and personal reasons, I could not go on the same flight as her, and will be joining her a week later in Yangzhou. So, I passed a kind request to the lovely team in the PR department at British Airways to see if they could do something. I was hoping that the Captain would make an announcement, but the wonderful crew of flight BA169 from London to Shanghai exceeded all expectations. Not only did they upgrade her to Business Class (known as Club World at BA), but she was given a surprise congratulatory announcement in-flight. I could only wish I was there, but what a flight she had. Great stuff. Massive thanks to the Senior Purser, Captain and the whole operating crew of BA169, and of course, the ground staff at BA's head office in London. You guys are amazing. The perfect customer service that one can ever hope for.
Finally, we can all say "Thank god it is over"....I am, of course, referring to seeing the end of 2016. In a year that saw Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States of America, numerous terrorist attacks around the world, terrible natural disasters in Italy, Chile among other places, and the deaths of many famous people, I am sure we would all like to put this year behind us and move forward.
For me personally, 2016 has been good because I got engaged to a wonderful woman, and 2017 is going to be an even exciting time as we both prepare to get married in January during Chinese New Year. I have been overwhelmed by a feeling of thankfulness. This year has been perhaps the best year of my life so far. I am grateful for the support and love of my friends and family and above else, I am grateful for an amazing job and a career that many others dream of having- I LOVE my job as a writer. I am grateful for my fiancée, Vicky, for the incredible positive influence she has had on my life and the constant motivation she provides to me.
This was my first time to visit the New Year eve's fireworks in London. Usually, every year we stay at home and watch the event on TV. However, given that I was provided two media tickets to cover the event, both Vicky and I enjoyed what must be the best New Year festivities ever. It was also nice to bump into the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who took time out of his busy schedule to come and briefly chat to the media. What a year it has been for him and if there is one piece of great positive news in 2016, then it has to be Sadiq Khan being elected by the people of this great city as their mayor.
One piece of advice for anyone who wants to visit the fireworks display next year - try to stay on the Embankment side of the river as that is the place to capture the best views (and avoid the thick smog from the fireworks afterwards!). Here's cheers to a healthy, prosperous, safe and joyful 2017 for all of us.
Looking for a nice, quiet and elegant place to have your anniversary dinner? I would highly recommend the Les 110 de Taillevent in Cavendish Square in London- just perfect. The chef may also conjure up a few culinary surprises too!
Sad to read about the death of British writer AA Gill, who provided inspiration to many writers, including me. I was never his friend but it was clear from his writings that the man possesed a talent and gift for words that rarely you come across in the industry...his mind spoke and his fingers danced...the heavens have gained a gifted food critic.
The UK Sunday Times columnist told the newspaper last month that he had been diagnosed with the "full English" of cancers. Gill, who had been having chemotherapy, said that he did not "feel cheated" and had been "very lucky" in his life. Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said Gill had been "a giant among journalists" and the "heart and soul" of the paper he joined in 1993.
May god bless AA Gill. Amen
Many congratulations to my mate and colleague, Owen Smith, for being voted in third in the BBC's Countryfile readers photo competition. Owen made it into the top ten shortlist in his first photography competition, out of over 700 entries. He was voted by over 300 of his friends and family to come third in the public vote. You can see the final top 10 here, which includes some stunning shots.
With less than 20 days to go to Christmas, official figures revealed today by YouTube Ads Leaderboard show that the digital Christmas ad by UK retailer John Lewis named ‘Buster the Boxer’ tops their annual festive leaderboard globally. However, supermarket retailer Sainsbury’s ‘The Greatest Gift’ was most popular with the British audience.
Supermarkets and department stores continue to dominate the digital ad space during the Christmas season; however, luxury retailers such as Burberry and pure-play digital companies such as Very.co.uk are also showing promising results.
As Christmas adverts have become a key part of the holiday season, much like the Super Bowl in the US, people across UK – and the world – are turning to YouTube to search for the best. As a result, there has been a 53% increase in the number of UK views of the 2016 top 10 vs the 2015 top 10.
The top 10 Christmas ads* of 2016 in the UK were:
1. Sainsbury's OFFICIAL Christmas advert 2016 -The Greatest Gift
2. John Lewis Christmas Advert 2016 - #BusterTheBoxer
3. M&S 2016 Christmas Ad: Christmas with love from Mrs Claus
4. Waitrose Christmas TV ad 2016 | #HomeForChristmas
5. The Tale of Thomas Burberry - Burberry Festive Film 2016
6. Very.co.uk Christmas Advert 2016 - Get More Out of Giving
7. Big Dilemma (Asda)
8. The Argos Christmas Yetis TV Advert
9. Aldi Christmas Advert 2016 – Kevin The Carrot
10. #BootsChristmas TV advert 2016 - the gift of beauty
And the leaderboard globally* was as follows:
1. John Lewis Christmas Advert 2016 - #BusterTheBoxer
2. Sainsbury's OFFICIAL Christmas advert 2016 -The Greatest Gift
3. The Tale of Thomas Burberry - Burberry Festive Film 2016
4. #Zeitschenken – EDEKA Weihnachtswerbung
5. Neste Natal, agradeça com Coca-Cola
6. Apple - Frankie’s Holiday
7. M&S 2016 Christmas Ad: Christmas with love from Mrs Claus
8. Come Together – directed by Wes Anderson starring Adrien Brody – H&M
9. TEMPTATIONS™ - Keep them busy (30)
10. Coming Home for Christmas | Heathrow Airport
* Both leaderboards are ranked based on an algorithm that includes paid views, organic views and how much of a video people watched. The UK list includes only views from people in the UK. For both lists we applied a filter to capture the ads that were referring to Christmas.
“It’s fantastic to see our Very.co.uk Christmas advert riding high in the YouTube Christmas Ads Leaderboard. YouTube plays an important part in every campaign we run, and never more so than at Christmas due in part to the ‘Christmas ad battle’ where you see people crowding around monitors to watch adverts, or sharing links on email.” Said Kenyatte Nelson, Group Marketing Director at Shop Direct.
“This year we created a longer-length Christmas ad specifically for YouTube, which allows us to tell our Christmas story in greater depth. YouTube as always is a great partner in getting the content we create in front of the people we think it will resonate with, and we’re thrilled to see our Christmas ad getting such a great response.”
David Black, MD of Branding at Google UK, said: “We see people coming to YouTube again and again to look for their favourite Christmas ads. In fact, they start searching before the ads are launched on TV - we have seen a 40% year on year increase in Google searches for Christmas ads.
“Brands know the value of YouTube as the destination for Christmas ads and when they use paid, owned and earned media together, they see strong results. They see YouTube as a platform for creativity and storytelling, where they can harness the power of sight, sound and motion to connect with consumers.”
“More brands than ever are making Christmas ads that users love. Now, the likes of H&M, Burberry, Coca-Cola and even Heathrow Airport are joining John Lewis and Sainsbury’s and performing brilliantly this year.”
“Here in the UK, Sainsbury’s quintessentially British commercial, playing on our love of stop-motion animation, has captured the public’s imagination. It’s great to see UK brands leading the way with Christmas ads, and exciting to see American, Brazilian and German brands tapping into this opportunity to put themselves at the heart of a global cultural moment every year.”
December has arrived (finally), and as we get ready to say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the festive season, the White House has found an interesting way to open up the iconic building to the whole nation - through innovative technology and interactive storytelling.
In a symbol of how digital is having an impact on all aspects of our lives and how important digital is, Nexus Studios’ innovative Interactive Arts division have created and featured animation from Nexus Studios director Jack Cunningham, with a new, free mobile app '1600', which will allow the public to explore the White House using augmented reality (AR) technology. The experience is narrated by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and tracks a stunningly intricate AR animation off a one-dollar bill.
1600 is an immersive and interactive mobile experience; a beautifully realized animation celebrating the traditional events that unfold each year at the White House. It continues President Obama’s legacy of using digital innovation to increase accessibility to the White House.
All you need to do is open the app '1600' and point your phone at George Washington. Watch as the White House beautifully augments the one-dollar bill and move freely around it in 360 degrees as different events take place in and around the White House.
From the Easter Egg Roll to a press conference in the Rose Garden, users will experience all four seasons at the White House, as they try to spot President Obama and the First Lady or President Kennedy or even President Lincoln.
There are also a number of moments that can only be revealed through exploration; try tapping on the oval office or the White House roof for a hidden surprise.
Additionally, users can literally pause the entire scene to explore the action in detail, zooming in and out and take photos for sharing on social media.
Nexus Studios was pleased to use Unity as its game engine of choice to develop this animated AR experience #madewithunity.
Luke Ritchie, Head of Interactive Arts at Nexus Studios, said: "It's a great honour and pleasure to have worked with the White House Historical Association and the Executive Office of the President on their first AR story. We believe interactive storytelling and emerging technologies can be unbelievably valuable in reaching audiences and with 1600 we've worked hard to tell an important story in the most beautiful and unexpected way".
Effectively, anybody with access to a smartphone will for the first time be able to enjoy the story and experience a year at the White House in Augmented Reality. This digitally innovative experience is a fitting collaboration to mark the end of the Obama’s administration that has sought to engage the tech community in government at an unprecedented level.
Very proud of the staff at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, which has been recognized by the World Travel Awards as Nepal’s leading hotel in 2016 in a recent event held in Vietnam.
Sinead O’Reilly Henell, General Manager at the hotel said, “We are excited to be recognized as Nepal’s leading hotel 2016 and will continue to strive to be the preferred brand in the hospitality industry. Also, we feel humbled by this honor and do attribute it to the continued dedication of our associates, love and affection extended by our guests and partners and the support of our Hyatt™ family. ”
I had the pleasure of staying at this fine property in August 2015, and I hope to be back soon. I do miss Nepal a lot- especially the beautiful temples and scenary.
The main challenge with being in Shanghai, like any other big city in China, is the sheer number of people here. Step into Luijiazui or anywhere around People’s Square or the Nanjing Road (East or West) area and you’ll find yourself jostling with other tourists, legal migrants from the West (the word Expat doesn’t gain much respect here) and city yuppies alike; head out in a taxi and your driver will likely have to dodge other cars- don’t be surprised to bump into a couple of Maseratis or a Bentley on the way to your destination as financial allure looms here. It’s a magical place, but it’s no wonder the locals have such a strained relationship with the visitors who overrun their city.
There are a few hidden gems in Shanghai which allow you to escape the crowds and give you a sense of tranquillity within the comfort of four walls. I have been fortunate to experience quite a few such places in Shanghai. Indeed, I have tried all of Shanghai’s big hotels. There is another such place that offers perfect sanctuary among the concrete jungle. That is in the fine five-star Grand Kempinski hotel in Pudong- tucked away to a corner next to the Shanghai HQ of DBS bank It was only after I checked-in to the hotel, I realised that I have actually stayed in this building before. In 2011, I stayed here for a week when the same building site was occupied by the Gran Melia Shanghai hotel. The restaurants, the swimming pool, the Executive Lounge at the 28th floor, and the spacious foyer hall, as well as the size of the rooms is exactly the same. The only difference is that all of the décor related the Spanish owned and themed Gran Melia have been replaced with the Kempinski brand.
Another big difference is that the Kempinski is operating at almost full capacity- this wasn’t the case with the Gran Melia. This hotel is in high demand, and the Kempinski brand is loved and appreciated by the locals as well as foreign visitors. While the Kempinski is not a household name as, say the Holiday Inn or the Hyatt, but it still has that allure and glamour that visitors find attractive. One of the reason for this is the excellent customer service and the way the hotel is managed. Back in 2011 when I reviews the Gran Melia, the hotel as literally empty during the five days that I stayed there. While the Gran Melia was a great hotel (note that I mentioned the word hotel and not building), not many people knew it well and the management at the time found it difficult to market and connect the brand with consumers. The key to connecting with consumers these days is through tools such as social listening and social media channels like WeChat or Weibo in China- and especially even more so during public events and holidays. The Kempinski is doing this very well. The management seem to have learnt the lessons of why a brand such as the Gran Melia failed to connect with their consumers. Social and brand engagement is so important.
Spacious rooms are one of the highlights of the Grand Kempinski. There are plenty of nice eateries in the hotel, and also nearby to the property. Worried about going hungry at midnight? No problem. My wife and I ordered local Chinese cuisine using WeChat (Chinese social chatting platform) from a local noodle joint at 11.30pm and it arrived direct to our room within 15 minutes. I was hosted at the one of the diplomatic suites- one of the largest I have experienced in Shanghai at 88 sq m of space. In our Diplomatic Suites we benefited from additional facilities and services of the Executive Lounge. Then there was the spacious bathroom, which offered a massage bathtub and a separate rain-forest shower, perfect for relaxing after a busy day. Toiletries in the suites are provided by Etro Relent.
I also believe there are four key reasons why the Grand Kempinski is doing well:
1. Matches rising expectations consistently throughout the customer journey
The Kempinski is a disruptive brand that constantly raises the bar to match hotel guests rising expectations and they are always reinventing how hotel guests access products and services, whilst in interaction with the Kempinski brand
2. Creates experiences to ease decision-making and drive conversion
The Kempinski offers more choice, less complexity, and more time for hotel guests to consider which product is right for them- whether it is the restaurants or the rooms. They help hotel guests to make and then justify purchase decisions is a crucial function of any hospitality experience – business driven or leisure-led
3. Empower their front-line employees to consistently tell their story and sell the Kempinski brand
For example, the hotel's GM was at the check-in front desk most of the time during my stay. Anyone can go up to him and speak to him about anything. That is one of the best things a hotel manager can do because that way they are constantly in touch with the guests and they understand and know everything that is going in their hotel. This is derived from the golden ethics of managing a hotel. Many of the best hotel guests’ experiences still rely on great front-line people delivering great service. The challenge is to create an employee experience that enfranchises your people to deliver quality customer service every time
4. Deliver their brand’s purpose across every touch point to inspire and validate purchase
Understanding a brand’s wider purpose can help drive sales and build customer loyalty. The challenge is to embed this purpose into every moment so hotel guests are reminded of it throughout their entire experience. Hotel guests need to be cherished and welcomed as if you would welcome a guest to your own home.
Will I be back? You bet I will.
...a great man in Hammersmith. I know very well from my time while working at the Walt Disney company in Shanghai and Suzhou how much important it is to provide excellent customer service....it could be a smile, a hello, a greeting by addressing your first or second name (The Ritz-Carlton way!) or just a simple genuine gesture or action that speaks volumes and effectively says "Thank you...you're a valued customer and we want you to come back to us." This barista (he was too shy to have his photo taken) at a Starbucks store went one step ahead and asked me for my name and wrote it in a stylish signature. THIS is what customer service is all about. Will be back for sure.
Balanced about 15mm above the tracks, Shanghai’s Maglev Train zaps the 30 kms between Longyang Road Station and Pudong International Airport in a remarkable 7 minutes. Cost is 50 RMB one-way (about £7). Winding up to the maximum commercial speed of 300 kp/h takes about one minute (it’s done 501 kph in testing ). There are no seat-belts - at this speed it’s not worth worrying about the consequences. The front of the train displays battle scars - victories of scrapes with birds and bugs. The train banks into corners and produces a shotgun-like sound when it passes its sister at speed.
Go and experience it...you'll never get anything like this in the UK (maybe not for another 20 years at least...)...
Time to go back to Shanghai (via Hong Kong)...def will beat DHL to get my parcel to the British Embassy- as that would have taken 3 days...quickest turnaround...12 hours of running around London getting errands done (including a quickfire shopping trip to Harrods) and 8 hours of bliss sleep thanks to a great book by James (read his book...perfect for long-haul flights and short stopovers!). Ciao London...
After just three days, saying goodbye to the captivating sights of Shanghai. Off back to London...but only for 22 hours to collect something...before flying back to Shanghai again on Thursday and then back to London AGAIN next week...(Unexpected and liberating...like all great journeys...). My mate, James Nixon, said I could have used DHL...but I need to go to my bank branch which is not available in China and need to get original documents for the British Embassy in Beijing...had no choice. Piles up the air miles though!
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