Archive for September, 2012

The Easy Life With Easyjet

Posted in Travel with tags , on September 27, 2012 by richardhowle

When things go wrong or we are unhappy about something we shout it from the rooftops, tweet, post on Facebook, write angry letters etc etc – we want everybody to know. It feel like our own little piece of retribution for whatever perceived ill that we have been a victim of. But we don’t always make such a fuss when things go well or when we are pleased about something.

With that in mind I want to shout out about Easyjet, the oft maligned airline who revolutionised the aviation industry. I think they are really good and I am very satisfied customer.

I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling – a few years ago when I was lying all over the place for work I calculated that I had been in the air for a total of two whole weeks one year, so it is fair to say I know my way round a plane and have a fairly wide range of experience of the qualities or otherwise of different airlines.

And I would put Easyjet up there with the best of them. Paul and I went down to Southern Spain last week to catch a bit of sun before the long, grey autumn and winter ahead of us and we travelled there and back on Easyjet and once again I was hugely impressed by them.

We all know that they are good value, that’s how they made their name (although prices aren’t always rock bottom -our fares on the busy route to Malaga were good value, but not cheap), but the range of destinations and the frequency of flights also make them stand out. The booking process is easy (particularly for me as Paul did it!) and when you get to the airport the bag drop process is straightforward and usually without too much queuing.

At this point I would like to also shout out about Gatwick Airport, which always used to be a package holiday hellhole, but now, since it is under new management, has become a really pleasant and efficient airport – particularly the new North Terminal.

Although it does involve a fair bit of queuing, boarding is done pretty smoothly and if you consider how quickly they turn round their flights, pretty efficiently (although they are now about to start allocating seats – which may cut down the queues, but may slow down the boarding process) and it is at this point that you begin to notice the airline’s best quality, it’s staff.

In my opinion the cabin crew at Easyjet are some of the best in the business. I would put them alongside Virgin (who are brilliant) always friendly and courteous, cheerful, energetic with seemingly endless patience and who are also extremely hard working. Speedy boarding afforded me a front row seat where I was able to watch the cabin manager greet every single passenger by name, engage with them and make them feel welcome and at ease.

Easyjet is a no frills airline, they make no pretence to be anything else and for travelling short haul that is fine. In fact it is better than travelling with a “regular” airline – because if you want something to eat or drink at least you can buy it. Throughout the flight the cabin crew are visible and available to serve you and seem happy to do so (unlike some other airlines I could mention)

Finally, and I recognise that others may have different experiences, I find them reliable and punctual. I can only recall one significant delay and that was when a passenger had suffered a heart attack on the preceding service.

My only wish is that they would fly from London City as well!

So in a world of complaints and moans I am happy to give a big thumbs up with a thank you and well done to Easyjet.

Olympic Ticketing a success

Posted in Ticketing with tags , , , on September 16, 2012 by richardhowle

I fear that many won’t agree with me when I herald the Olympic ticketing operation a success. As I have stated before, ticketing is never popular – it is a necessary evil, a process that people have to undergo to gain access to events, but would never choose to, one that can be frustrating and expensive.  Even when someone is successful in getting the ticket that they want for the price that they are happy with, they often won’t think positively about the whole process of booking them in the first place. Of course the unpopularity of ticketing is heightened the more high profile or desirable the event.

The problem that ticketing has is that, in an environment of high demand and low availability , there are always going to be people who are disappointed who then think that the process is unfair. Add into the mix that one of ticketing’s primary purposes is (usually) raising revenue and the result is an emotional cocktail of complaints and recrimination.

So it is in this environment that I stick my head above the parapet and say that I think that LOCOG did a good job of ticketing the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. I recognise that many won’t agree – and I understand why. But this is why I think it has been a success.

The challenge was enormous, to sell over 11.5 million Olympic and Paralympic tickets for events, including some that many in this country hadn’t heard of, and at the same time meeting ambitious £600 million revenue targets.

The results 8.7 million Olympic tickets, and 2.7 million Paralympic tickets sold. It is well documented that the Paralympic’s were the best ever attended, exceeding revenue targets  but more tickets than ever before were sold for the Olympic Games. Who can forget the sell out crowds for the morning sessions in the Olympic Stadium? Unprecedented,  even for a popular event like athletics.

We should consider the numbers:

2000 Sydney – 6.7 million tickets

2004 Athens – 3.5 million tickets

2008 Beijing -7.5 million tickets

2012 London 8.7 million tickets

This is why I say the Olympic ticketing operation was a success. Their primary goal was to shift tickets and meet revenue targets .They certainly achieved that and, whilst revenues for the Olympic Games haven’t been released, I would be amazed if they hadn’t met their targets after achieving these numbers.

The next goal was to sell these tickets securely and to prevent the kinds of fraud and ticket touting that have been experienced in other Olympic cities. With the help from the Met Police’s Operation Podium and some beefed up legislation, this was largely achieved.  Yes there were some high profile exposes and there will be probably more unveiled in years to come, but on the face of it the Games have passed without any ticketing scandals. Operation Podium arrested 92 people for touting during the Olympics and in the years building up to the Games have helped clean up the whole of the whole of the ticketing industry.

Open seats. Well this is the area where it could be argued that the Olympic Ticketing operation wasn’t successful. With so many people who wanted to, unable to get tickets many think it was unforgivable that there were sometimes swathes of open seats. There are a number of issues here. First of all, as people who work in ticketing will identify, you can sell the ticket but you cant force people to come. We have all looked at seating plans satisfied with a sold out house, only to walk into the auditorium to see rows of empty seats. There are always reasons, the coach party that broke down, the people who got the wrong date etc etc.

For the Olympic organisers so much of the inventory was out of their control, when Olympic officials, National associations or sponsors say that they are going to use their tickets, when they pay for them , those in charge of ticketing have to take them at their word. If those people don’t turn up, what can be done? This is a problem not caused by LOCOG but by the rules and regulations, agreements and policies as laid out by the IOC. These issues have occurred at games after games and will happen again at Rio unless the IOC changes its policies. In the 21st Century, is it really necessary for tickets to be sub allocated to individual National Associations? In this internet age surely there can be one global portal so that ticket sales can be managed centrally, ensuring that tickets are available where and when there is demand?

The other cause of open seats was what we, in the entertainment ticketing industry, know as House Seats. House Seats are seats that are always held back until the last moment for a variety of reasons ranging from dealing with problems/mistakes to accommodating  that last minute VIP. In my experience it always takes a few performances to get house seats right, how many should be held and when they should be released – but eventually the demands even out and everyone gets into a pattern. Unfortunately LOCOG didn’t have the luxury of a few performances to get it right, the spotlight fell on them immediately. From what I understand there were a couple of significant reasons why this was a problem for LOCOG. Firstly many of the seats were taken by coaches / officials who over a morning might be visiting three of four different events, requiring a seat at all of them, but only using it for part of the time. Secondly many of the areas that these seats were located were in accredited areas which, from a security point of view, made it problematic to sell to members of the public. It is to their credit that LOCOG sorted out these issues quickly and that after the Wednesday of the first week there was very little talk of open seats.

But it was disappointing. Experience from previous Olympics showed that this would happen and it is a shame that LOCOG appeared to be caught on the hop by this and that they didn’t have procedures in place from the start to deal with this. I had imagined that they would have had some sort of returns scheme whereby members of the public could purchase tickets if they hadn’t been occupied within, say, 20 minutes of the start time. But it is easy to judge from afar without knowing the full logistics of such a scheme.

So with only that one negative, I am going to award LOCOG 9 out of 10 for the Olympic Ticketing Operation. I think that Paul Williamson (Head of Ticketing)  and the team did a terrific job and have set a very high standard for Rio to follow. Hopefully, Rio will get better support from the IOC, who do need to look at and bring up to date the whole global distribution of Olympic tickets and help make the next olympics another Olympic triumph.

The reality of pricing theatre tickets

Posted in Theatre, Ticketing with tags , , , on September 4, 2012 by richardhowle

Making the headlines yesterday was the announcement of the new season at the Donmar Warehouse and the introduction of a new ticketing initiative.

Concerned that the Donmar’s reputation for being always sold out meant that people wouldn’t even try to book tickets and the effect that that was having on audience development, they have devised a scheme whereby tickets will be made available at £10 for every performance.

Not a new concept, the upcoming Grandage season at the Noel Coward theatre made headlines recently with a similar pricing initiative. The difference at the Donmar is that those tickets will only be made available for sale two weeks before the performance, thus helping to quell the myth that it is impossible to get a ticket at the Donmar without booking months in advance.

It is a great initiative that helps kill two birds with one stone, (of course it is much easier for the subsidised and small Donmar to do this than it is for other venues) and they should be applauded for making the hard decisions and being innovative.

This does, however, cause a problem for the commercial sector, because by offering tickets at £10 it establishes a market price that it is completely unsustainable. For the theatre going public that don’t distinguish between the subsidised and commercial sectors it misleads them into thinking that all venues / productions should be priced similarly and that those that aren’t are profiteering. But look at the Grandage season, I hear you cry, that is a commercial venture offering £10 tickets – but that was a classic case of smoke and mirrors. The cheap price that stole all the headlines allowed them to post some of the highest ticket prices for plays in the West End virtually unnoticed.

Producing commercial theatre is an expensive business, the hiring of the theatre, the cost of cast, production staff, equipment hire, licensing, royalties, advertising and marketing all add up. The amount of money it costs just to open the doors each week can be staggering – before you even begin to recoup the cost of mounting the production, let alone making a profit .

Let’s think about the maths.

A top musical in the West End can have weekly running costs of around £250,000 (yes a quarter of a million pounds a week, just to break even). Let’s imagine it is playing in a 1,500 seat theatre at 70% capacity (this is the average across all SOLT theatres over a year). That means the production is selling 8,400 seats per week. Divide the running costs by the number of tickets sold and you can see that, in order to break even, the production has to sell each ticket at an average net ticket price of £29.76 each. And remember that is a net price. Adding in VAT and the various ticketing and credit card charges produces a gross average price to the public of nearly £40. Just to break even.

It is disingenuous when commentators deride theatre producers for being greedy, for cynically squeezing out future audiences by expensive pricing, because all the producers I know and work with spend a lot of time agonising over ticket prices and ensuring that they are affordable. Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that they are all altruistic (although many are), they are working in a commercial world and want to price their product to sell.

Which is why for an average musical you will find 30-40% of tickets priced at below a break even price. There is a real recognition of the expense of theatre tickets, the need to make their product attractive and the need to not price themselves out of the market.

In addition there are group rates, school rates, senior rates, day seats etc – many of which are priced at below break even price – but are done so to make the show more accessible to a wider audience.

The flip side to this is that in order to subsidise these lower rates the top prices are expensive and unfortunately it is these prices that grab the headlines.

Top class commercial theatre is expensive to produce, but it doesn’t have to be expensive to watch, the discerning theatre goer can sit in great seats at reasonable prices for any production
if they can be flexible about when they go or if they can gather a few friends to make up a group.

It is brilliant that the Donmar have done what they have done, I think that producing high quality drama and presenting it at accessible pricing is exactly what subsidised theatre should be doing. But let’s remember that in the commercial world, theatre producers have to play by a totally different set of rules.

Sensibly correct, not politically

Posted in Society with tags on September 3, 2012 by richardhowle

This weekend, staying at hotel in the countryside, I came across one of my bug bears – a low shower. In the way of the modern age, I took to Twitter to protest “another hotel and another shower installed by a midget” I communicated to the world (or at least those few that pay me any attention).

“You can’t say ‘midget'”, I was told by one of my good friends, “should I say ‘dwarf’?” I responded.
No, I was told, in this day and age – despite Dwarfism being a recognised medical condition (or is it a syndrome?) – the word “Dwarf” is also unacceptable.

Two things struck me about this conversation – first of all the phrase “you can’t say that”. Of course I can say that – I had just done so and wasn’t struck down by lightening or thrown into prison. Whether I SHOULD have said that is different matter.

The second thing, is who is it that decides what should or shouldn’t be said. I was told that SCOPE issues guidelines about this kind of the thing. An unelected, unrepresentative private charitable organisation, campaigning on behalf of a section of society with no statutory power is determining how we should communicate with each other.

And this is the key point, this is a communication issue. Words. Words are simple things, communication tools. How they are used is the important factor. Depending on how they are used words can make you laugh, cry, be inspired, teach, comfort, love, abuse, shock and offend. If my tweet was offensive, it wasn’t because of the word “midget”. If I had said “another hotel and another shower installed by a vertically challenged person” would the tweet being any less offensive?

Of course it wouldn’t, I just wouldn’t have been able to fit it into140 characters!

Last week I had a meeting with an education charity who, in the course of the meeting, got themselves tied into a terrible tangle trying to describe people with hearing difficulties. It seems, that the term “deaf” is unacceptable.

This is surely ridiculous. There is nothing offensive or derogatory about the word “deaf”. I understand that it be used in offensive way – but any word can be used in an offensive way. I could find a way to make “kitten” be offensive if I wanted – but that shouldn’t mean that we need to find an alternative way to describe a feline infant.

Of course there are words in our language that are offensive and are meant as such and I am not defending those – what I am asking for is a little common sense. Let’s change our attitudes not our words. If someone wants to be abusive or offensive they’ll find a way of doing it with whatever words are in use, we cannot keep running away and changing the words.

Because, as I said, this is about communication. And in a world that could be so much better with improved communication, let’s not put up barriers to communication. I am of course not advocating free reign to use any term, there are terms that are designed to be, or have become, derogatory and offensive. But I am calling for some common sense, a recognition of the difference between when people are intending to be offensive or when they are describing the great work that they are doing with deaf children. Let us not be subjected to the diktats of single issue pressure groups, but just be respectful of all of our fellow human beings.