Monday, September 22, 2008

Dealing with the Credit Crunch

From the minute I first heard the term "credit crunch" I was concerned that it would come to irritate more than depress me. Because there is nothing that anyone of us mere mortals can do about it other than carrying on as we did before. We must not lose faith in the markets and we must not scrimp and save. If this is a recession that we are facing then we need to spend our way out of it. And if we are unable to have confidence in the money men and MPs that govern our economy then we must at least have confidence in ourselves and our collective ability to survive what a credit crunch may throw at us.

So it all comes down to confidence and spending for the ordinary British and global citizen. We need to keep up both and we shall be alright in time. But what about during the interim, in the meantime? Should we need to cut down on the odd luxury what is it likely to be? After all the great British public have a penchant for luxury goods. We like to spoil and pamper ourselves and, when recently asked, a fair percentage of the population responded that the last luxury that they would be prepared to sacrifice during hard times would be holidaying and travel abroad.

And looking at the economics of it all, I can see no reason why this should not continue to be the case. Finally, after months of increases in fuel prices (that has ensured the fate of XL and Eos) it looks like the balance is being redressed. Fuel prices are beginning to drop again, meaning that airlines are able to operate at an affordable rate again. And I'm not just talking about the likes of Easy Jet and Ryan Air, I'm also referring to airlines such as British Airways. I recently booked a return flight to Istanbul with BA and it cost me no more than £200. I happen to think that this is exceptional value. Now couple that with 4 nights in a decent hotel in the centre of the Historic Quarter and I was required to pay a measly £286 in total.

With dropping fuel prices, an innate desire to holiday and a government keen for us to spend it would appear that the city break lives on. Certainly it is a quick and easy way to escape all the hype and negative publicity at home and, as long as the likes of Lastminte can afford to give away extended weekends to exotic European outposts such as Istanbul for under £300, we should all be looking to take advantage of the current situation. I can't help but feel that my early concerns were ill founded; that this credit crunch needn't be such a bad thing.

It is only when you get to your destination that you may have to slightly alter your holiday spending habits, and this is where StrollOn will be soon be able to help in more ways than you may think... the meantime, StrollOn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Paris, rain and compliments

Although England's weather is the butt of many a foreign joke - along with our food, teeth and football team - what few realise or care to acknowledge is the fact that there is, in fact, less annual rainfall in London than there is in Paris. No wonder this is the capital of romance: as it pours outside for the 38th day on the trot what else is there to do other than try your luck with the ladies, trawling from cafe to cafe with a gauloises cigarette clinging desperately on to your lower lip, shrugging this way and grunting that.

And so it was with little surprise that, when I woke up on Friday morning, having arrived late on Thursday night, I opened the curtain to a rain splattered window, framing a grey sky. But being one of a group of 8 englishmen, we wrapped up warm and headed outside to be greeted by the mad dogs. We set off from the seizieme arrondissement and soon arrived near our destination of the Eiffel Tower - one of our number had never visited it before(?). A short stroll along the river from the metro station and there we were, staring up at this giant A-Frame.

Since the rest of us had been up to the top before, when the world was a better place and the price of a lift to the top was considerably less, there was no way that we were going to repeat the experience, even with an Eiffel virgin present. There was, therefore, a lot of foot shuffling and light social interaction as we all looked up at the top thinking (almost all of us) why are we here AGAIN?

Then it hit me. I have some of the most cynical friends on God's earth. Few, if any of them, have ever supported the idea of an audio city guide, smiling with a glazed condescension as I attempt to sell them the concept in time for their next visit to Amsterdam. But here we were, cynical or not, looking up at the Eiffel Tower feeling nothing but resentment, resentment that we were seeing something for the 3rd or 4th time and that we would leave this time with nothing.

But it did not have to be this way. We could leave with something: knowledge, understanding and appreciation as well as a random fact or two. Recently we (at StrollOn) have been developing our "Hotspots". The thinking behind them is that you download them (between 10 and 15 per city) onto your ipod before you head for a city and then listen to the content as and when you encounter each individual sight and attraction - we do not set you a prescribed route or walk. So I brought out my ipod, extricated myself from the group and started to listen to the track about the Eiffel Tower.

Within a minute or so I was sharing an ear piece with the virgin. Five minutes later and my ipod was in the hands of two new listeners. This was just the beginning. We passed a few more of the sights and, as people became familiar with the routine, they would shout out the name and we would see whether it was covered. If it was, 15 minutes later, after everyone had had a listen, we would move on, out of the rain. Now, bearing in mind that honesty is the best policy, I must confess that I was pushing the product. A lot. And all day. As a went to bed that night I wondered whether this was a one off. Tomorrow it would be forgotten about unless I pushed it equally if not more forcibly...

On Sunday we headed off to Notre Dame, not for mass I must confess (but not in confession) but to climb to the top. The queue for the climb was long so we decided to have a snoop around inside, to see whether this had anything on Canterbury, Yorkminster or Durham (and no is the answer). After 10 minutes upsetting the apple cart as I shuffled around the apse contra-flow I headed outside. To perhaps the most life affirming moment of recent months: a dour yorkshireman sitting in the middle of the square looking up at the two towers and taking in the building's many sculptures and wall reliefs, ipod in hand, ear plugs in ears. Rumbled, he defended himself saying, "this is the best idea ever".

The Hotspot had caught on...


Thursday, September 4, 2008

StrollOn to Paris

Why am I so upset? No, it's not because I am about to head off to the Capital of Romance armed with a beret and baguette, but it is because I am about to spend a weekend in Paris without being able to trial our new Sixty Minute City.

Whilst we have now finished producing this new audio guide for London, Prague and Amsterdam, at StrollOn we have had a few issues with the timing of Paris. So I will have to satisfy myself with our free Hotpots and Sixty Minute Stroll.

Being the only one of the team to have only ever tried our products in London this represents a big moment for me. Not only am I going to use an audio guide abroad, but it will be a StrollOn one and it will, perhaps most importantly, be the first time in my life that I will have been able to mix business with pleasure.

So the pressure is on, my expectations are high and I do not expect to be left disappointed. We have not heard from any disenchanted customers to date, but I have nonetheless formulated a back up plan, which includes a bicycle helmet, a tour guide and great balance: it's time to meet monsieur et madame segway...

Until I return, StrollOn...

A World of Audio guides, Walks and iPods

About StrollOn

Hello and welcome to StrollOn, where we produce audio guides and audio tours of London, Paris and an ever-expanding list of major european cities. We have also developed our free city overviews and "Hot spots" (individual audio commentaries for individual sights and attractions). Whichever product interests you we simply ask that you select the relevant audio guide or audio tour on our website and download the mp3 files onto your iPod or other mp3 player, thereby turning your iPod into your "GuidePod".

As you will see from the this blog, we are a new company, providing recently developed products on our website. We've set up this blog so that we can tell you all about us as you join us from our infancy. And we are actively looking for feedback, both on the website and the blog. We don't want you to help us simply to become the biggest, but we do want you to help us become the best walking audio tours company.