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June 2017 Newsletter


Controlled by technology

Are each and everyone of us becoming too dependent on technology? That same question has been heard now for several years but when asked five or ten years ago, any such dependence we thought we had on technology at that time is nothing compared to the position we are in five years or ten years later. This thought can be directed as much towards our individual lives as it can towards the environment in which we work. In our personal lives have you tried asking a person what time it is recently? There’s a fair chance that the answer given to you will arrive via a glance at the screen of a telephone. How many people still use alarm clocks?  The telephone alarm has, for many, become the sole source of that early morning call. The sign of old age might be asking for your local telephone operator to give you an early morning call – on a landline!

As far as our work environment is concerned, all of us – I struggle to think of many occupations that don’t need direct or indirect use of a computer –  are not driven by technology: we are controlled by it. In the travel industry nowadays, just about all facets of the industry are edging towards technological control and away from human control. Is that always a positive move however?

Two facts from last month: a serious hacking attempt was made globally and particularly in the UK where large organisations including the mammoth government controlled National Health Service were attacked and secondly, British Airways had a complete IT meltdown, shutting down almost all of its technology systems which apparently cost it 80 million GBP or almost 100 million Euro in damages. No-one has pieced these two ‘” happenings’” together and its only here in the Balkans that the conspiracy theory prevails, yet very often black is never black and white is indeed never white. BA to their credit were quick to scream that there had been a massive power surge in the electrical supply that had caused the outage; except the utility provider said ‘” sorry there was no power surge!” So that excuse disappeared and was replaced   by the explanation that a cleaner…… sorry let’s make that a contract engineer (note that’s not a directly employed person…!), had unplugged the ‘system’’ which then blew up when the plug was put back in the socket.

Now you will realize that we are being slightly facetious but the excuses provided by BA really do take some believing in this era of technology-  but do they?  We should point out that this is not an attack on British Airways as this scenario could have affected any airline, but it’s the whole   issue of who controls who or what that is raised. Did the hackers – sorry there wasn’t any – but would the hackers have taken control of BA if this was an attack like the other scenarios last month? Or, as even Willie Walsh the boss of the IAG, the BA parent company saying he can understand the (unnamed) Cleaner, sorry (unnamed) engineer, unplugging something by error and damaging the power supply but how can the serious damage be done when the power is turned on again?

So let’s think about this at home, when we unplug the toaster to clean it and then plug it back in to the power supply, do we duck for cover in case it explodes? When we unplug the fridge to give it its annual defrost do we risk activating a Tardis that goes out of control into another time warp? The answer is no to both of these so therefore how can the sockless bearded ones who carry the badge of software experts, design something that is simply not fit for the purpose it was designed for? Actually they can because very often such designers and engineers are not front end users of a system and have no first-hand experience of what it is the user wants and needs. In this case the need was for an airline operating system that doesn’t implode when its plugged in again. Quite simple really one would think.

There is a serious side to this however and here BA need to look at (like other service providers) how they handle themselves in such a situation. Mr. Walsh again admitted that the communication from his organization simply wasn’t up to scratch. Top marks the for the frank admission. The media were quick to relay news clips from stranded passengers who each had a similar issue; namely there was no-one giving them information. Now of course such information can be gleaned from the website of BA or from its call centres, except that is that they had evaporated also. So what does one do when technology shuts down, you get out the pen and paper and do the things manually, except that is this notion has two flaws; 1) there is no procedure for manual operations unlike say 20-30 years ago (think paper tickets for example) and 2) there are actually no humans left in employment! Actually there are one or two humans still around but they apparently were a bit like the dodo bird. So no human contact procedure to handle such a scenario and no humans around to help when things go wrong – as invariably they do.

All of us should learn that we can live with technology but whether it’s in our business or in our private lives we should equally learn to cope without it. Just be careful the next time you plus in the toaster by the way and if it explodes, blame the North Koreans.


Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

A job with a future

Anyone with their eyes on finding a job with long term prospects can do far worse than look at obtaining a job in the manufacture of airplanes. The predicted number of aircraft needed to cope with the explosion in air travel over the next twenty years is around 40,000 machines. Alternatively, if working in the field of manufacturing aircraft is not sexy enough then these planes will require over 1 million pilots and maintenance engineers to keep them flying.

This growth is expected to be driven from the Asia- Pacific region where 40% of the growth will originate followed by Europe with a 20% growth. 70% of the new aircraft will be the single aisle model a la like the current Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 series.

Superjumbos change home in Germany

It’s a bit of a conversation for anorak aviation watchers but there is a lot happening in Germany that not so long ago would have been unthinkable. Our past Newsletters have mentioned the fact that Ryanair are moving in on the home turf of Lufthansa at Frankfurt Main airport. Firstly, this will massively impact the thought process longer term of how the German national carrier operates its short haul flights. Secondly the scenario panning out will be being watched carefully at London Heathrow where like Lufthansa, BA has been able to keep Low Cost Carrie away from its home base so far that is. Heathrow though is massively constrained by a lack of landing slots and runway limitations i.e. There are only two whereas Frankfurt now has four runways and therefore a need by the airport operators to generate new traffic to use the ‘” new’” extra runway and this means attracting new airlines rather than impeding them in the interests of the national carrier; which is where Ryanair and Wizz enter the game. In response to having its nose blooded at Frankfurt, Lufthansa has now decided to move five A380 Superjumbos out of the total fleet of 14 away from Frankfurt to its second hub at Munich.

What this may then mean is that more people will transfer through Munich which means Frankfurt loses more Lufthansa passengers which in turn means they operate less flights which then leads to the Low Cost Carriers filling the gaps (cheaply) that Lufthansa vacate.

It’s a slippery downward spiral at the end of the day.

Biting off the hand that feeds you

Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister has promised to bring an end to what he describes as ‘” alcohol tourism”, or put another way, the trips or excursions to consume large amounts of alcohol that are aimed primarily at youngsters. What the Deputy PM should be aware of is that this phenomenon is hardly new although it may be new to Bulgaria. Going back over the years what is now taking place on the Black Sea in Bulgaria is that same that was once the domain of Benidorm in Spain, Kavos in Corfu and Ayia Napa in Cyprus.

These resorts evolved successfully from this era and if anything, the booze and youngsters market acted as a marketing tool for the resorts advancement. The Deputy PM should also be aware that currently the success of the Black Sea is not based on its culinary offerings, its culture or the quality of its service; people come because it’s cheap. Indeed, a recent EU study showed that the costs of alcohol and tobacco were the cheapest out of all Eu countries at 56% of the EU average. This compares with Ireland and the UK who sit at 175% and 162% of that average.

There is nothing wrong with being a cheap destination and it’s a space in the market that Bulgaria successfully fills, trying to un-naturally change the make-up of the market be it to a more family environment or to make it more attractive to higher spenders is not a recipe for guaranteed success no matter how well the intent is. A lot of people are employed on the Black Sea and the income from tourism is a massive chunk of the country’s GDP. The policy to best adopt for the future might, to some extent be to leave it alone to market forces and it will find its own market.

Nice to Wizz

Wizz Air are to expand its service offering from Sofia with flights to Nice and Lisbon from March 2018. The flights will operate twice weekly. In addition, the airline plans to expand its existing services to destinations its already serves including London Luton, Barcelona and Brussels.

The flights to Lisbon fill a gap in the market as travel for business or pleasure to Portugal from Sofia has never been easy. The choice of Nice is an interesting one as Nice and the south of France generally are at the opposite end of the price spectrum to Bulgaria and certainly Nice is not the choice for a quick cheap weekend away. France generally is under served by Low Cost airlines from this part of the world so it will be interesting how this route performs for Wizz.

All looking good for Varna

UK based EasyJet has started summer services to Varna from London Gatwick Airport. The route is the airlines 138th destination on its flight plan and the flight will operate three times weekly. Some 18,000 passengers are expected on this new route which will add nicely to the tourist numbers on the Black Sea. At the end of June EasyJet will also add flights twice weekly to Berlin.

Just for the record Varna is already served by Wizz Air flights to London Luton and from the end of July, Dortmund, Larnaca, Memmingen, Eindhoven and Bergamo will be added.

Stay in a war office

We don’t usually note the opening or planned opening of too many hotels as there are so many of them opening each week but if you have the cash and fancy something with history attached to it then the plans for a new Raffles Hotel in London are noteworthy. They plan to turn the iconic War Office in Whitehall into a mixed use i.e. part hotel part residence facility.

The location is in the heart of London close to Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and other government buildings and the building itself was the office to many influential political figures including Winston Churchill during World War 2 as well as being the home of the Secret Services.

Change to confusion

The latest idea in the never ending world of new airline pricing offerings that quite frankly leave just about every travel professional totally confused, comes from Air France who now have an option that allows flights to be taken later than originally scheduled. The option is called ‘After Show’ and is different to its’ Go Show”” offer which allows an earlier flight to be taken than the one scheduled. Confused yet?

Silly suggestion but why not just have one flexible ticket that allows changes to it? Might be that the French Trade Unions would complain and strike because of it. Sic.

Don’t ask for compensation

Bulgaria Air discovered the world of bad PR this month when they were identified as the third worst airline in the world! This is perhaps an unkind tag as the prime issue for the national carrier was their almost total inability in handling passengers’ compensation claims. As a part of the measurement criteria, the on time performance was also measured but here Bulgaria Air’s performance was outstanding.

As regards to handling compensation claims goes, it might just be that the concept of ‘” ignore it and it will go away’’ is the unofficial line taken or it might simply be that there are no staff designated to this task. Then again, if the flights are hardly ever delayed then why would you need such staff in the first place?

EU to scrutinize airlines

The European Union transport commissioner has been asked by various European Trade bodies to investigate the non-competitive practices by certain Eu airlines. The target of the move are Lufthansa and British Airways who are accused, perhaps justifiably so, of reducing transparency   in the booking process and forcing travellers to book solely with them and not via intermediaries.

Looking at this objectively it’s hard to fathom out how the consumer focused EU will view this valid claim; the supplier of a product can choose how he/she sells and distributes their products. However, the aviation industry is not a consumer product and restricting people’s ability to purchase travel is not in the wider interest of the EU consumer and especially in the EU interests if financial penalties are charged via selective booking models.

The Eu will, at the same time, investigate airline alliances and codesharing agreements to see whether this cozy alignment is also anti-consumer.

Amsterdam win direct

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport has over taken London Heathrow as Europe’s busiest airport for direct flights. The reason for Schiphol’s rise from 6th place 10 years ago is the number of Low Cost Airlines that operate to Amsterdam which now makes up 21% of all flights. Heathrow meanwhile has been constrained by a lack of runway capacity.

Another interesting fact is that 99% of the growth in Europe’s top 20 airports has been delivered by Low Cost Carriers.


Bordeaux is closer than ever

Thinking of travelling around Europe by train this summer? Then think quickly as stacks of rail tickets and passes have discounts of up to 80 Euro available on them but need to be bought before the end of June. Contact HRG Bulgaria for more details.

Also on the subject of rail, the South West region of France and particularly Bordeaux has never been the easiest place to reach from Paris but from July 2nd the journey time will be reduced to just two hours, reducing the current journey time by one hour.

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