Sunday, 22 February 2009

Money, money, money

I've been thinking about money a lot this week. The reason? Firstly because a certain magazine publisher still hasn't managed to issue a cheque for £350 after numerous calls and emails because - wait for it - "the man who signs the cheques is out the country for three weeks." And, evidently, nobody else in a certain Bristol accounts department can handle both pen and chequebook simultaneously. 'Course not.
Secondly because, in the interests of savings funds in these cash-strapped times, I've recently found myself querying the kind of incidental costs that I'm expected to swallow in the process of actually completing commissioned assignments.
Let me give you an example. Checking into a fairly bland business-style hotel in York recently I found that the cost of accessing the in-room wifi was £14 for a 24-hour period. £14! That was even worse than the £3 in the bar for the pint of piss-weak corporate lager. I had work to finish that day but decided I'd rather flush the cash down the toilet than hand it over to the hotel for a service that costs them virtually nothing to install and maintain. I got by with my BlackBerry and vowed to avoid this particular hotel chain in future. 
In fact, I now avoid any hotel that charges for wifi. See ya Park Inn. Hasta la vista Jurys Inn. I always opt for the Malmaison, where the internet comes free. And will look more favourably now on Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts after its decision to offer free internet access to guests in an effort to boost business.
A recent report from Expedia indicates big hotel chains are loosing customers by charging excessive rates for wifi access. The author recommends calling ahead to negotiate a deal with hotels still charging to get online. I recommend you boycott them completely. Only then will hotels wake up to the fact that charging for wifi is the kind of rip off that ultimately will loose them valuable business.
Speaking of rip offs, I was concerned but not surprised by a report from watchdog Passenger Focus that says British rail fares are on average 50% more expensive than European fares. British fares are typically three times more expensive than the cheapest surveyed fares - those in the Netherlands.
I use the train a lot for work. In fact, I'd far rather prepare for an interview at my laptop on a train than fight my way through traffic to arrive flustered and unprepared. But the price of the train fare is so high, not to mention the service at times so unreliable, that the cost to me increasingly makes it unfeasible to accept the work in the first place. Compared to the excellent record of the Swiss train system, British rail just isn't getting there.
Sure I sometimes can squeeze some meagre expenses, but increasingly no. And, yes, I know I have to book to advance. I always do. But finding those elusive cheap deals on my regular commute down to London on the West Coast Mainline is harder than locating a strong story angle on a group press trip.
This is supposed to be the golden summer of UK tourism. But the intransigence of rail companies could be the fly in the seaside ice-cream as Travel Weekly warns.
I want to support domestic tourism - to take trains, to use our hotels and highlight the great places around the UK for tourists. But unless UK rail companies and hotels curb their money-grabbing antics, I may be increasingly unable to complete those UK tourism assignments. Or maybe not accept them at all.

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