Written by Our CEO Hannu Vahokoski – 7 mins read
We signed up for Hotel 360 Expo in London back in 2019. Due to the pandemic, the event was postponed to September 2021. “The world is now opening, and the travel is getting back”, they said. And that is exactly the same as I have been telling as well. Finally a LIVE event!
For some reason, I had a gut feeling, that something will come up and I will not be able to travel. I should have believed my gut.
I finally booked my flight tickets and the hotel week before the event, however. Naturally, I had studied what is needed for safe (Covid) travel and I have had my 2 vaccinations long ago. Everything was ready.
My flight to London (from Helsinki via Stockholm) was supposed to leave on Monday morning. So, on Sunday afternoon I printed my vaccination documents and took my mobile phone out to check in the flight. That’s when it started, the misery.
Since I have not been traveling in 18 months, I read carefully what they said at every step of the check-in process. Halfway through I noticed something I really want to warn people about: Before you book your flights, make sure you know how different routings affect your travel plans! I had no idea, that a layover in Stockholm, Sweden, would mean that I had to stay in quarantine for 3 days – the same time the expo would be happening. No matter how many vaccine shots you have had.
So, I changed the flight tickets, to direct flights from Helsinki. Fine, extra 70€ for canceling and extra 170€ for the more expensive tickets.
Before you can enter the UK, (or even a flight there), you need to have a ‘Locator form’, which is needed for the pandemic risks. It is somewhat similar to the American “are you a terrorist” questionnaire, but more related to where have you been pandemic-wise. I already filled parts of it with my “Swedish flight”, so now I continued. I had put my personal details, passport info, etc there and now it started to change my flight info. To save you from a long story, let’s just say it took about 80 minutes!
By then (and earlier) it was clear to me, that I needed a negative Covid-test before the flight. But what was new, was the fact, that I would need another one, on day 2. My new plan was to fly in on Monday evening – day zero – and then fly back home on Wednesday afternoon. Apparently, nobody stays in the UK for less than 3 days, because there was no option for this. I was forced to book a new Covid-test for Wednesday, knowing, that after that the test I will go straight to the airport and the results will arrive after 24 -36 hours when I have been home for some time. Another 79€ gone! At least I got the codes needed for the Locator form, and I was good to go. Except I needed to book a Covid-test and a document for it for Monday. 75€ + 20€ more.
At this point, I had spent 419€ extra because the world of travel had not opened as much as I had understood. And I spent 6,5 hours checking in my flight.
Except, you cannot do the check-in to a UK flight online. I had to have the negative covid-result first to show at the service desk at the airport. But after I had that in my hand everything worked well. The flight was uneventful, which is good. Even entering the UK was really smooth, despite the Brexit and all.
if anything can go wrong, it will.”
But. When you attend an expo and you have a stand, you have to have some furniture, etc. in it. I ordered it through a portal weeks ago, but there were problems with it and I never got confirmation. I of course sent some emails (because nobody ever answered to me in their chat even though I tried that multiple times!). Finally, somebody called me last Friday and said, that they can provide electricity, but no more furniture. Fine. I noticed, that there was Ikea almost next to the conference center and close to my hotel. So, I took Heathrow Express (at that point I did not pay much attention to the fact, that two trains never showed up and I waited 45 min instead of 15 min) to the city and the Tube (meaning metro) to Ikea. Bought a table and ordered Uber to the hotel. Normally it takes few minutes for the car to arrive, but this time it was closer to 30 min. Murphy’s law: If anything can go wrong, it will.
Brexit caused the oil truck drivers to leave the country, so England has no fuel. Most of the gas stations are now closed and the ones that are open, have mile-long lines. This started a few days ago. So, of course, that affects also Uber. Finally, I made it to the hotel and to my surprise, all went well.
The next morning I walked to the Excel conference center with my Ikea table and assembled it. Other exhibitors with fancy stands grinned at my minimalistic approach, but at least it was a great conversation starter. So, at 10 o’clock when the expo started, I was all ready for the hoteliers.
But they never came.
There were about 300 exhibitors and everybody was fired up for a live event after 18 months.
Hotels – especially in the UK – are short-staffed and struggling how to serve customers (at this point I can give a hint if you are a hotelier: get a chatbot to answer all those inquiries on your behalf and turn those people with questions into buying customers). So, maybe they did not have the time for the event. Also, the fuel crisis scared everybody who was further than 100 miles away, since they were not sure if they had gas to drive back home. Maybe some had symptoms, or Covid, or were just scared to catch one. And if despite all these hardships somebody planned to come to the expo with public transport, the only Tubeline to the conference center – Jubile – was out of service on that day! Murphy.
“I guess everybody is
still practicing travel again”
I heard rumours, that somebody talked to 5 hoteliers that day. I personally engaged with 3, but one of them was just planning to open her hotel in 2023. I am not saying that this trip was worthless. Actually, it gave the opportunity to partner up with other vendors, since everybody had time to talk for once. There are good plans for the future which I hope to materialise.
Day 2 was better. I spoke with 5 hoteliers. Couple of them even potential customers. I also gave a keynote speech. Because of the misfortune, I have had at that point I saved the PowerPoint presentation to a USB-stick just in case. Well, my Mac adapter broke naturally, so the USB stick became handy. At that point, the whole trip had felt like a big joke, so I only laughed when I noticed the settings of the presentation PC were totally different and the slides were barely readable. And there were no hoteliers among those few listeners anyway. No harm done.
To make sure I actually can return home, I left 2h before the event was over, just in case. Not like I was going to miss many hoteliers. And at this point, I was ready to miss them rather than my flight.
I made it to the airport and to the gate quite easily. Surprising enough, there is no passport control when you leave Britain. Then I learned, that if you fly through Latvia, you need a special ‘Latvian Covid-pass’ to enter. No, it is not a negative test result and no, it is not proof of the vaccinations either, it is a separate one. The plane was boarding already. Now some of you may think, that why on earth I did not find out about all this beforehand. Trust me, I tried. It is not that easy to follow up with all rules and regulations of different countries, and I have even studied some commercial law back in ’90s. Luckily I was not the only one with this challenge, so I received good instructions from a lady who had just ordered her pass minutes ago. Thank goodness, it was quite simple to do online after all, but damn it elevated my blood pressure once again! I made it to the flight.
“This trip taught me, that when there are so many things to find out,
even a piece of extra effort just feels miserable.”
I made it to Helsinki too and finally home (although the airport people in Riga had forgotten to put any signs on about Helsinki flight and I was rather nervous if I was at the right gate after all this hassle – I guess everybody is still practising travel again). Those who know me, know, that I am an optimistic person. But once you have misfortune over and over again, you begin to wonder.
I was sure, that the world is opening again, but I guess we are not quite there yet. Domestic travel will continue strong for some time. I am not saying that this is a bad thing. And for us it is quite the opposite. People who travel (domestically or internationally) will have more questions than ever. Hotels and other travel companies must be equipped to provide some answers. People are unsure, insecure even, and all puzzled. They want and need answers, in the most effortless and fastest way possible (whether it is pandemic restrictions, or the best offers of the hotel). This trip taught me, that when there are so many things to find out, even a piece of extra effort just feels miserable. The hotels and other travel companies who want to survive, must come up with a process of providing easy answers for their customers – no matter how short staffed you are at times. And what is a better way than with a chat, chatbot and even live human agents. Which takes us to the next topic. So, contact us. Let’s leave Murphy behind and make the world of travel better.