My wife and I would like to give a special thanks to Hong Kong based Passenger Services Officer, Ms. Koyi Wong from Cathay Dragon. After our flight was delayed from Shanghai Pudong to Hong Kong, we evidently ended up missing the HKG-KUL flight as well. Ms. Koyi Wong went out of her way to help us get not only onto our next flight, but also to make sure that our luggage arrived safely onto our next flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi (which was with Malaysia Airlines on a different ticket).
Koyi is a customer service professional extraordinaire, and in all my travels so far I have never come across an airline personnel who genuinely goes out of their way to help passengers. If it was not for her, we would have missed our flight to Langkawi from KL and it would have occurred us extra charges and delays etc. She deserves a special mention in your company newsletter or similar communication materials and I hope she can become more successful in her career and life. There are some truly amazing people in the aviation industry and Ms. Koyi Wong is definitely one of them. Amazing human. I did not take her photo, but here is a photo of her badge, which she quite rightly deserves to wear with sheer pride. People like Koyi ALL work for airlines (except for the ones who work in hospitals...or ambulances...or rescue helicopters etc.). My hats off.
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.
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.
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!
The staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong, which by the way is my favorite of all the Ritz-Carlton hotels I have reviewed so far around the world, really know how to make an engagement special. All I said was that I will be arriving with my Laopo (老婆, wife/fiancée), and they had the whole suite decorated as I have never seen before. A big thank you to the team there. The whole room was heavily decorated with a sea of fresh roses.
In September 2015, the company introduced a fresh new brand-voice to keep up with the times. It was a refreshing feeling to experience this new brand tone and voice in the Shanghai property- everything just seemed to be rejuvenated- except that the first-class luxurious trademark service was still the same. The views, the glamour, the food, the smell, the experience- this flagship property in Shanghai has it all. I feel like coming back here again and again.
The hotel has also introduced a couple of special packages, including guests to embrace its rich heritage with a new immersive experience, “This is Shanghai.” It basically balances modern luxury with the glamorous, art deco design inspired by the roaring 1930’s, and the hotel is the perfect place for guests to learn about Shanghai’s legendary history and gain insight into its bright future. Included in the three-day packaged tour, is a half-day architectural tour by local historian Dr. Spencer Dodington. The packaged tour allows travelers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of life in the world’s largest city and celebrates the best of Shanghai’s seductive and storied past, present, and future. It also includes Tai Chi classes by grand masters and a visit to a famed tailor. Offering guests a luxurious way to explore the city’s rich past and vibrant present, the “This is Shanghai” package starts at approximately 5,880 USD per package based on double occupancy. (This price is subject to 15% service charge).
This time around, I had the pleasure of being accompanied on this press trip with my fiancée, and so it was good to get her viewpoint and prospective on things as well. The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong is a whole lot more opulent than most of its neighbours. Despite the rapid growth of the area around the property, it remains a firm favorite with the good and the great- everyone from foreign dignitaries and stars prefer to stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong. Despite another Ritz-Carlton property to be introduced to Shanghai, this flagship property will always remain a firm favorite with both of us.
The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong
Being a chocolate fan, Vicky, my fiancée, opted to try the chocolate spa treatment at The Ritz-Carlton Spa.
Who can resist the allure of chocolate? According to the staff at the Spa, the scent of chocolate stimulates “happy feeling” endorphins, which create feelings of well-being and can actually reduce stress. Vicky certainly agreed to that!
After having a cup of rich hot chocolate drink, Vicky enjoyed immersing her senses with the aroma of a full-body chocolate scrub, a personalized chocolate massage and a soothing chocolate wrap with a chocolate facial. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The spa features a private shower room and is equipped with luxurious amenities.
RMB1,800 (approx. £180/US$230) per person for 120 minutes
This treatment includes a chocolate scrub, chocolate body massage, body wrap with a chocolate facial, and home-made chocolate as a dessert after treatment.
Jin Xuan Dining Experience
I last dined here in 2012. It was a great pleasure to be back at Jin Xuan again, and this time it was a different and special experience all together as both Vicky and I indulged in scrumptious Cantonese Dim Sum in the company of spectacular views and the sound of the beautiful Zheng being played in the background. Chef Daniel Wong's whimsical culinary creations are to die for. It is not just food but sheer art, and one cannot argue with the fact that he is a most certainly a culinary artists wearing a neat chef's hat. There must be something special about the cookery of a chef who's food makes grown men giggle with glee. Indeed, food has always been a form of art, and both need an immense amount of creativity- the only difference being that Chef Wong has to do it many times over, with speed and accuracy. That in itself is just amazing. The end result? Priceless tasting food.
Indeed, the iconic London 'Hackney' black cab is now built in China. It is not uncommon to come across the London style black cabs in some Chinese cities, including in Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai (pictured). My wife and I were on our way to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Located in the heart of Shanghai's French Concession on the fine Hengshan Road (known during the early concession period as the “Champs Elysees of Shanghai”), the Gallery Suites is boutique hotel housed in a 1933 heritage building. Once the home to a Russian princess (Olga Gregorievna Ogneff), the sophisticated accommodation was opened to the public in 2009 and offers 39 spectacular and generously spacious suites, which are all over 50sqm.
The oversized bathroom has a deep bath tub and two-person shower-oh and, in case you need them, there are authentic period oil paintings on the walls.
After The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong, the Gallery Suites is my favourite hotel in this beautiful city. You can buy the art and other room amenities, including the bone china cutlery and rich dove feather duvets.
How do you end up missing three flights on one evening? Can it really happen? The simple answer to that is, yes it can, and it happened to me. So, if you suffer a similar unfortunate issue, you have my upmost support and sympathy.
In May this year, I was supposed to fly on Air India’s brand new Dreamliner Boeing 787 aircraft to promote their Business Class (and the aircraft itself). The flight was booked to go from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to New Delhi IGI Airport. From Delhi, I had a connecting flight to London with Oman Air (via a short stopover in Muscat). This was my first time to try out Air India, and the airline had specifically invited me. Since I have a British passport (Sadly, I am not Indian), so therefore I was to the understanding that I had to get a visa if I was to even transit through New Delhi, even if I had a connecting flight with a different airline. Not only I double checked, but in fact I triple checked with the senior management and even went to the board level at the airline to make sure whether I did or did not require a visa. The senior management, namely Air India’s China Managing Director at that time (whom I am not going to name in this article), told me that as a British citizen, I did not require visa if I was just transiting via New Delhi - even if my onwards journey was with a different airline.
Being the fact that she was the country Managing Director, I respected and trusted her words. In any case, I showed her the proof from the Indian Consulate General’s website, which at that time, clearly stated that British Citizens required a visa for India if they were transiting to catch another flight, even with a different airline. Effectively, I would have had to collect my luggage upon arrival at Delhi, leave the building and then check-in again for Oman Air. However, despite I showing her the request from the Indian Consulate General in Shanghai, the Air India Manager was adamant that I did not require a visa at all. Before the actual day of the flight, the Air India MD told me that the airline’s station manager would be at the check-in desk to personally greet me and take me through to the aircraft before boarding (this is normal security procedure for media every time I carry out an airline review).
Come the day of the flight, as you can imagine that I was super excited. It was a Friday evening, and my scheduled flight was at 10pm. I got to the dedicated Air India check-in counter at Shanghai Pudong Airport around two hours before departure. The first thing I noticed was that all the check-in staff were local Chinese and were wearing Chinese Eastern Airlines uniforms. Where were the Air India staff? Well, to my surprise, Air India have no native Indian check-in staff at the airport because of financial cuts, they have outsourced their check-in and ground handling to China Eastern Airlines. The airline’s duty manager (who was Indian), was nowhere to be seen either. Apparently, he was on the ground next to the aircraft and his mobile was switched off, when he should have been at the check-in counter as that’s the job of the duty-manager.
When I checked-in, I showed them my media documents, passport, flight ticket, and the necessary permission letters that I had got from the Air India management. The gentleman at the check-in counter initially gave me my boarding pass, but then he noticed that I had no transit visa for India, and therefore I was denied boarding. Both the check-in staff and I tried to get hold of the senior management at Air India, and the duty manager; however to my surprise and disappointment, nobody picked up the phone. After waiting for around a further 20 minutes, the check-in staff came back to me and told me something I did not want to hear: “The duty manager does not know who you are, and nobody briefed him that you will be on this flight. You need a transit visa for India, otherwise we cannot allow you on this flight” he said.
“Where is the duty manager? I want to talk to him” I said in my response.
The check-in staff member went on to say: “The duty manager is busy near the aircraft and he has checked all his emails, and documents, and he does not have any information about you or any other journalist to be on this flight. I’m sorry, sir, but I have no choice but to deny you boarding on this flight. Your baggage will be back with you shortly”
The sad part of all of this episode was that there was nobody who could help me - not from Air India or from China Eastern Airlines. The check-in staff were helpless. The blame goes directly on serious incompetence and lack of effective communication from the airline’s senior management and board members. I have never experienced anything like it with any other airline - ever, and trust me, I have reviewed many airlines, and all the experiences have been positive. This was not a good first for sure.
I have friends who are working as pilots and cabin crew for Air India, and they all do a great job. But the root cause of all the ills of any company come from the top to the bottom. The fact that the senior management of a national flag carrier of one of the largest democracies in the world can easily get away with this is a complete shambles. Surely an embarrassment as well. The fact that no one from the airline apologised is also a serious disappointed. It is just diabolical. I understand that such incidents can and do happen with other airlines. But when you are trying your best to help to improve and sell the brand image of an airline that is already suffering from financial problems and countless number of embarrassing incidents that have let the company down in the public limelight, it does no justice whatsoever for them to make mistakes like these. They simply cannot afford to do this. Does it let the image of the airline down? Yes, it does. Air India used to be one of the best airlines in the world when the Tata group owned in back in the 1960s/70s, and it was one of the first in the world to operate a jet aircraft. Those glory days are long gone. The airline’s brand mascot is a Maharajah, and their brand motto is “Your Palace in the Sky”. Well, I’m not sure whether it is still a palace in the sky or not because I’ve never tried their service, but they have definitely let the maharajah down. Either that or he’s cursed.
At this point it must have been around an 8.50pm, about an hour after I initially arrived to check in. Exceedingly frustrated, hot, humid, dejected and somewhat panicked, I collected my baggage and thought of plan B. The only thoughts I had in mind were that I had to make it to London no matter what. The sad thing was that not only did I miss the Air India flight, but in the process, I also missed the connecting Oman Air flight from Delhi to London.
It was nearly 9pm by now. My only hope was to purchase another flight. But, to make matters worse, most of the airline ticketing desks were closed, my laptop was operating on only around 2% battery (and the charger was in the baggage somewhere, which I didn’t have time to find), my mobile phone’s battery was low, too, and there was VPN available (Google, YouTube, Gmail, Hotmail are all blocked in China and so you need a VPN).
My only hope left was to run to the Business Centre (which closed at 9.30pm) and pray that I could catch one of the last remaining flights of the night to London - Aeroflot, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Turkish all had flights going to London via their respective hubs. The Air India desks were at aisle G, and the Business Centre was at A, and being the large airport it is, Pudong Airport’s Terminal 2 departures all is HUGE to say the least…you can imagine a helpless chap with three pieces of baggage, laptop and cameras, running –sweat pouring all over – at breakneck speed from one part of the terminal to the other!
While making full use of the exceeding slow internet at the Business Centre, I used my Barclaycard Visa to purchase a one-way economy class ticket with an Etihad Airways flight the same evening for US$750. By the time I bought the ticket, it was 9.20pm and the Etihad flight check-in closed an hour before the flight at 10.30pm. Great! I would get home on time and enjoy a nice bubbly on the plane after all what I went through! What a relief…so I had thought!
When I checked-in to the Etihad Airways flight, to my shock the staff there could not find my ticket reference number. I was gobsmacked. Even with my passport and date of birth they could not locate any information on their computers. Even worse was that I couldn’t access the Gmail address which I gave when I booked the ticket (as pointed earlier that Gmail is blocked in China and I had no VPN either). In the heat of the moment, I forgot to take a note of the reference number. Therefore, I was denied boarding on the Etihad Airways flight, too. Utterly dejected, angry, dazed and just exhausted, I literally begged the Etihad Airways staff to look for the flight ticket reference, but at no avail.
For the next ten minutes, I just sat on the floor on the airport terminal, and pondered over plan C and tried to keep positive. The only option left now was to book into a hotel and book another flight early the following morning, as well as apply for the refunds from Oman Air and Etihad Airways. I had no choice but to spend more money and stay the night at the Shanghai Airport Hotel (located between Terminals 1 and 2…that cost me around US$70 for one night). When I got to the hotel, I finally manage to charge the batteries of all my devices, and was able to access the VPN to book another flight. When I accessed the Gmail account, I saw that I had indeed received an email from Etihad Airways confirming my flight ticket – it may have been too close to the flight for the system to send the data to the check-in counter.
I managed to purchase a one-way Virgin Atlantic flight for US$650. Altogether, I managed to lose over US$2,000 that night (two flight purchases, hotel for one night and the cost of my connecting missed flights with Oman Air). Imagine if I had a family with two kids, for example…no doubt it would have been a VERY expensive and exhausting evening (thanks to the blunders from Air India and Etihad Airways).
After this traumatic experience, I was even prepared to fly cargo if I had to. The following morning, I arrived at the airport with plenty of time in hand, grabbed a hot Starbucks cappuccino and was prepared for the worst. Thankfully, I managed to check-in without any issues and enjoy a lovely flight from seat 44 at the back of an ageing Airbus A340 belonging to Virgin Atlantic. Interestingly, our Virgin Atlantic flight arrived an hour before the Oman Air flight that I was due to arrive on originally. I hope I never get to experience anything like this again. As for flying with Air India? Well…this was supposed to be my first time and I hope that the next time I try to fly with them, I really feel as if I am in a palace in the sky! I can understand the mistake made by Etihad Airways as that is more than likely to be a technical error, but there is no excuse for Air India, where human errors from the senior management have resulted in a complete failure of communication.
Back to a very different world in Shanghai-- only a 90 minute flight from Seoul. To say that Hongqiao Railway Station (pictured) is huge would be an understatement. Not only do you need to book your tickets at least 2 hours in advance but to get to the boarding gate from the ticket office can take at least 30 minutes at busy periods...and if you need a coffee, the shops are located on the 2nd floor ( that may require another 30 minutes)...who designed this horrible station?! Not user friendly at all...
The Gallery Suites is a wonderful boutique hotel neatly hidden away on Hengshan Road in the fabulous Xuhui District of Shanghai. If you want to experience what life must have been like in 1930s Shanghai then have a go at staying at the Gallery Suites.
All the generously spacious rooms come with antique mahogany furniture, ultra-comfortable beds, complimentary Chinese or Western breakfast, free wi-fi, a mini-bar and tons of space...you'll feel like royalty. There are tons of cafes, restaurants and the main shopping area of Xuhui is within a 5-minute walk. Each bedroom contains an expensive antique artwork, which is available for purchase. Worth a stay.
On the 14th of September at the M on the Bund in Shanghai, prolific Chinese author and photojournalist Hong Mei, accompanied with her husband, photojournalist Tom Carter, gave an exciting talk about her debut travelogue, The Farther I Walk, the Closer I Get to Me (title translated from Chinese), to an audience of around 100 people. The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session.
Hong Mei became the first Chinese woman to backpack across the entire Indian subcontinent. Along with Tom, the couple deliberately selected off-the-beaten path regions and survived on a limited budget as they travelled for over a year across the length and breadth of India - a country that still comes across as a mysterious land for many Chinese people.
As a British man of Indian heritage who has never lived or worked in India, I found the talk to be very insightful and highly inspiring. I have not been to India since 1999, and I suppose because I've had a very English upbringing, so, sadly, I would be somewhat of a misfit in Indian society/culture if I ever go. Of course, it goes without saying that India is a beautiful country with a rich and vibrant history.
Having listened to the India that Hong Mei and Tom described, as well as seeing the photos they shared, it didn't seem much different from what I had experienced in 1999 (!). Things, such as for example, the lack of proper infrastructure and the lack of hygiene in public places in India, makes China look like a developed country. This type of external observation is exactly what the Indian government needs, because if they don't know what and how foreign guests feel about their country, then how can they make improvements?
I thought it was courageous and brave of the remarkable Hong Mei to have travelled to some of the remotest parts of India by herself—I'm sure that even some native Indians would not be tempted to do that!
A young European lady in the audience asked Hong Mei how she was received by the Indians, not only as a Chinese but also as a foreign woman. Her response did surprise a few in the audience. "Despite what we have seen and heard about India recently in the news, I actually felt very welcomed and relatively safe." said Hong Mei.
She went on: "At first contact and glance, most Indians thought that I was a Japanese or Korean, but when I told them that I was a Chinese, they were very friendly and welcoming. India is a country with stunning scenes." She revealed that in some parts of India, local people had never met a Chinese person before, so the people in those parts were very nice and welcoming.
The talk did touch on a key point: even though China’s new middle class are travelling abroad more than ever before, yet it is still uncommon for Chinese people to travel independently – either as backpackers or on a luxury tour. Chinese people usually travel in groups and try to see as many countries as possible and in as little time as possible. For someone to backpack around one country on their own for a long time is seldom heard of; though, it is not to say that this trend may pick up in the future.
Hong Mei's book, written in Chinese, is available here.
My latest feature article for the Shanghai Daily is a travel report on how to spend 72 hours in London.
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