I’m writing this feeling jet-lagged and tired, yet refreshed. We got back on Friday from a two and a half week holiday, and I thought I’d share some reflections with you. It sort of has become a tradition. To see some of my musings from my last summer holiday two years ago, click here and here. We vacationed in Malaysia and Phuket… ready? Here goes:
The World’s Worst Airline?
I don’t know what’s happening to Gulf Air, but what ever it is, it’s not good. The way the cabin crew treat people is just atrocious. We took the night flight from Bahrain to Kuala Lumpur, and it was not enjoyable. I don’t know if they’re understaffed or what, but they always seem to be rushed and too busy to treat people decently. To be honest, the plane was full, but still, the poor service seems to be the same regardless of the level of capacity. Besides, a busy flight should not be an excuse for poor service. They want full flights, so they should be able to handle them.
And don’t get me started on the Sky Nanny! The one on the flight to KL was an ultra-bitch! Whoa, did I just say that? I guess she really left an impression. Not only did she not help us (a family with a baby and two children), she was positively rude. There was a time when Sky Nannies were specially trained in the UK, and were very helpful to people with young children. But I doubt this is still the case today, and I guess the concept has just become a gimmick. In my opinion, better not have a Sky Nanny than a really bad one.
I think it’s a shame that this is our national airline. Because they are embarrassingly bad. I was so annoyed by the poor service that I called the cabin supervisor and complained. “The Sky Nanny is really rude” I complained. The guy was the very image of a demotivated and uninterested employee. “Hmm…” he said, looking like a businessman might look when about to strike a deal. “Look, if you are willing to help me I’ll help you.”
What?? I thought. Is this guy for real? “Go on,” I said. “You know you can complain, but you have to do it via email through the website, which they won’t take seriously. But if you help me, I’ll help you.” “I am willing to help you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. “They would take it more seriously if you wrote a letter praising someone as well, not just complaining about someone. I’m not saying you should praise me, but if you were to write a letter saying that you received good service from me, while mentioning the Sky Nanny, that would be much better.” Wow, how sad have things gotten around here?
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll do that.” But I didn’t, I was not interested in this cabin supervisor’s selfish plans. I guess customer service is low on GF’s priorities. They are losing in the region of $500 million a year, so their biggest priority is cost cutting, which always affects morale. And I’m guessing a lot of the cuts are coming from staff layoffs and benefit reductions. But I’m only guessing here.
I hope Mr. Samer Majali, the CEO, sorts out this airline soon, because in my humble opinion, it’s becoming an embarrassment to Bahrain, and a very poor representative of this nation’s warmth and hospitality.
On Traveling with Young Children
Let me tell you, it’s not easy. As usual, we travelled without a nanny, partly due to our strong dedication as parents, and partly due to some strange desire for self-torture. My wife and I prefer to go without domestic staff. It’s harder work but also very rewarding. We love seeing them have such a good time, they’re only this age once, and we want to get the most out of it as we can. They had such a good time, and I feel so happy that I was able to provide them with such a holiday.
We stayed in Kuala Lumpur for three days. I’m reminded of a sentence my brother Faris used to describe Mumbai: it looks like someone built a city in the middle of the jungle. There is so much greenery! The ride from the airport was about an hour long, and throughout the ride you can see mountains of forest all around you. It felt so good! I loved all the greenery.
Kuala Lumpur is your typical cosmopolitan city; vibrant, colourful and very crowded. But the people are warm and friendly. Walking down the street you see Malays, Chinese, Indians, Western expatriates and Arabs – lots and lots of Arabs! This took us a bit by surprise, I did not realise that KL was such a popular vacation spot for Arabs, and specifically Saudis. The hotel we stayed at was almost exclusively occupied by Saudis.
It looked like many of the couples we saw there were on honeymoon. It felt like we travelled to Riyadh, but in a good way (if such a thing is possible). No offence to my readers from Rio, I’m originally a Riyadhite myself.
We stayed in KL for three days, which is how long it took us to get over the jet lag. The city seems to be very mall and shopping oriented, but there is lots to do otherwise. We visited the Bird Park, butterfly garden and a few other places. Overall, a wonderful city with great people. I highly recommend it and would definitely go again.
It was the first time I’ve ever been to Thailand. Phuket is absolutely gorgeous. We flew on Malaysian Airways, which had nice decent service. We stayed at the JW Marriott Phuket, which was just stunning. We spent an amazing two weeks there.
Originally, we had planned to stay mostly in the resort, and just take a few trips out for some activities. By sheer coincidence, we met my cousin “S” there, who was nearly at the end of his stay there. He told me that he rented a car and went out of the resort a lot. He gave me a long list of things to do and places to visit.
So, with his encouragement, we rented a car too, and had a lot of excursions out of the resort. We went to the zoo, visited other towns, had an elephant safari, saw Thai boxing matches (more on that in a bit) and other fun stuff. The roads were good and well signed, and the driving there is not crazy like you might expect in other developing countries. There was however, the phenomenon you see in many developing countries, where the whole family would ride on a single motorcycle, including the baby. Fascinating.
They drive on the other side of the road (like the UK), which was no problem for me, as I used to live in the UK in the 1990’s. We had a GPS device which took us everywhere we needed to go.
I have to admit I did not get as much rest as I would have liked, but just the break in the routine and scenery did wonders for me – all of us actually. I cannot tell you how beautiful Phuket was, the greenery just overwhelms you.
God may not have given them much wealth, but they have so much natural beauty it makes you want to cry. Also, they have water, and lots of it. It was the monsoon season when we went, and boy did it rain. I’m talking about, real, hardcore tropical rain. It looks like someone opened a faucet in the heavens, the rain just pours and pours down on you. I estimate that they get in one day as much rain as we get in a year. so during the monsoon, they must get thirty or forty years equivalent of our rainfall. Amazing.
On Thai Hospitality
I found the Thais an amazingly warm and hospitable people. More than any other place I’ve seen. And in the resort, they were especially warm and friendly. I think when you take a naturally friendly Thai person, and give him the Marriott training, you get one hell of a service-oriented person. The staff in the resort were just so friendly. Also, they love kids and will go out of their way to be nice to them. It was really touching.
On The Marriott
I’ve had the privilege in staying in some pretty good hotels and resorts around the world, among them a Four Seasons and a Grand Hyatt, but the JW Marriott resort offered the best service I’ve ever experienced. Of course I did experience one or two instances of bad service or incompetence, but when you think about it, with a staff of over 800, that is forgivable. A 97% service success rate is still excellent. If you’re ever planning to go to Phuket, then you should seriously consider this resort.
On The Marriott Vacation Club
The Marriott Vacation Club is Marriott’s Time Share programme. Where you can buy a week or more in one of their resorts around the world. I bought my first time share with them in 2004 I think, and I’m quite satisfied. I find owning a week or more in a place a lot more convenient that owning a property abroad outright. I don’t like the idea of having a property somewhere that is empty 10 months out of the year. But of course a time share has a lot of restrictions and small print a mile long, but still I find the Marriott Vacation Club a good concept and value for money.
What I really admire about them is the sales training. As an entrepreneur, I consider sales a very important skill to have, and have trained a lot in it myself, and have read a lot about it too. I consider myself a pretty sharp salesman. And what I admire about The Marriott Vacation Club is their sales training. They are master sales presenters, and know how to simplify the complex Marriott time share system. They’re also great at overcoming objections and answering questions. I really enjoy seeing them in action.
Of course when we were there, they tried to sell us more time share. I had a conversation with an Italian sales guy. I asked him what his closing rate was, and he told me about 24% to 27%. I asked what the closing rate of the sales stars was on his team and he told me it was in the region of 60%, 70% and above. He also told me that the top guys earn half a million dollars or more per year, and they wear $30,000 watches! Good for them, I thought.
He told me that they receive 8 weeks of basic training (8 weeks!), followed by another 8 weeks. And that’s 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. They have a very low basic salary, but very high commission. I could have stayed the whole day asking him questions about the Marriott Vacation Club sales process, suffice to say, it’s probably some of the best sales training in the world. If you’re an entrepreneur or sales person, it might be worth going to a sales presentation just to see how good they are at what they do, and to learn.
One of the activities offered in the resort was Thai Boxing (also known as Muay Thai, the national martial art and sport of Thailand) I was really excited about joining the class. I registered for a class that was going to be held a few days later. When the day of the class came I had a chat with the instructor, and asked him how long he had been practicing Muay Thai. He told me for 2 or 3 years, as part of his university degree.
It turns out the guy is a fitness instructor who’s done a little Muay Thai. I’ve seen this many times in gyms all over the world. a fitness instructor teaches “boxing”, “kickboxing” or even yoga and Pilates without any real qualification or experience. Oh well I thought, I’m sure I’ll still benefit. I was keen on learning the Thai roundhouse kick. I have a fairly good idea on how it’s done, but I’ve never been properly taught. I also wanted to keep a low profile martial arts wise, and not mention anything about my experience.
Anyway, when I arrived at the training hall there were three other guests there. Three American Chinese brothers. I introduced myself. I must have said hello with a certain air of confidence, maybe like I do in my own dojo, because they asked me if I was going to teach the class, and I said “No no! He is!” pointing to the instructor. He asked if anyone had done any martial arts, and two of the brothers had done a couple of classes of Muay Thai. When he asked me I told him I have 15 years Western kickboxing experience (I didn’t say anything about being an instructor). He replied with “Wow! Maybe you can teach me!”
Well, it turns out I could have taught him. The class was overly basic and I didn’t really learn anything, not even the Thai roundhouse kick. It must be said, the guy was really nice and encouraging, but I could have taught 10 times more students with my eyes closed and one arm tied behind my back.
He did a padding session with us (using the larger-than-focus-mitts Thai pads) and that wasn’t impressive either. When I threw a left hook he said “Ah! Uppercut!” Okay…
I still enjoyed the workout though, and the brothers were really nice. One of them is interested in becoming an entrepreneur, so I subsequently had a meeting with him and gave hims some advice, which he really valued. I might even become an angel investor with him, we’ll see.
Thai Boxing Match
Some days later my wife and I went to a real-life Thai Boxing stadium. Just like the ones you see on TV. It was lots of fun. There were about 8 matches in total, with the first match between two boys just 10 years old! Muay Thai fights last 5, 3-minute rounds and boy did these boys go for it! Full contact for the whole 5 rounds. I was so impressed!
I think Muay Thai is an amazing martial art, but I maintain my view that what makes it so powerful is not so much the techniques, but rather the conditioning of the fighters. See a blog post I wrote about the topic here.
Well my friend, I could probably go on and on about my holiday, but I think this post is long enough. I’ll end it with some photos.
Thanks for reading and talk to you soon.