Archive of ‘Travelling’ category

Respect Yourself


A recent Los Angeles Times business column looked at a new company called ReviewerCard that issues IDs to “prolific online reviewers” to presumably help them get better service from hotels and restaurants.

According to the snake-oil salesman “entrepreneur” behind this venture, people who “post lots of reviews on websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor don’t get enough respect from the businesses they write about.”

Um, what?

A legitimate reviewer does not ask for respect. They assume it will be given to them because they are a customer. And if it isn’t, that will be reflected in the review they write.

A legitimate reviewer will not demand good service – they will expect it. And if it is lacking, this too will be captured in their review.

And a legitimate reviewer will not announce their presence by waving a card and demand outstanding service or free upgrades. That’s not what reviewers do. It’s what assholes do.

I always thought that the point of a good review is to remain anonymous so you DON’T get preferential treatment. That way, you can write a review that accurately reflects the experience that every customer will get.

What the ReviewCard offers, in my opinion, is the opportunity for subtle blackmail. By waiving this card in a staff member’s face, you’re implicitly saying “Give me preferential service or I will write a nasty review.” That is not how this review thing works.



Three Days in Ottawa (or Things I Learned at the IABC 2012 Communicators Summit)


Disclosure: I was invited to be part of the planning group for the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit by Yasmin Ranade, its Chair and lead organizer. I had the pleasure of working with Yasmin in the Professional Development portfolio for the IABC Toronto chapter in 2010/11. We work well together and I was honoured to be asked to be part of her team. My role involved marketing and social media promotion.

The Summit took place over three days in November, in Ottawa, ON. I registered and attended as an regular conference attendee. Here are my observations.

It used to be that if you wanted to share your organization’s news, you put out a press release and made calls to a few journalists. Now, the arena has grown larger and your potential audiences have not only increased, they’ve changed the way they want to get information. Mobile technology, social media – the opportunities to communicate with your audience have exploded in ways undreamed of twenty years ago.

Working in the communications field requires continuous education if you want to be on top of your game. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a neophyte (I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum) there are always going to be things you don’t know, new tools and emerging trends you haven’t heard of.

This was, more or less, the theme of the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit – Trends 2013. Held in Ottawa on November 1 to 3, 2012, the Summit focused on where communication is heading and what we should be prepared for on the horizon – mobile computing, changing demographics and new challenges to privacy, transparency and access.

I’ve been to several conferences in the past few years, and I would see the same names pop up on the speaker roster time and time again. The line-up for the Summit was unique and a great change from the usual. Canadian speakers, discussing Canadian content for Canadian communicators! Any challenges communicators have in Canada may be similar to those in the U.S. or Europe, but we’re playing in a different ballpark, with a different set of rules.  For example, having Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, talk to us about privacy laws made more of an impact than having a speaker come in from outside the country to speak on the same topic.

The keynote speakers were not only highly esteemed in their fields, their talks were tailored to the overall theme of the conference.

  • The Honourable Tony Clement on “Politicking in the Age of Social Media”: I follow Mr. Clement on Twitter, and even though I may not agree with his politics, I find his tweets interesting and funny (he makes jokes about zombies!). Having a politician speak about using Twitter as a very public platform was insightful, especially the way to blend the political and the personal (it’s challenging but possible).
  • Jennifer Stoddart on “Privacy and Communications in Changing Times”: A highly informative presentation on privacy laws in Canada, the challenges of following them in an online world and what we, as communicators, should keep front-of-mind when crafting strategies.
  • Dr. Michael Geist on “The Year the Internet Fought Back”: Great background on the Stop Online Privacy Act and how Internet users are mobilizing and speaking out against the encroachment on online privacy, free speech and access to information.
  • Darrell Bricker, CEO, Ipsos Global Public Affairs, on “The Big Shift – Understanding Communications in the New Canada”: A fun and informative way to look at the changing demographics of Canada. (Read some of my tweets for interesting tidbits from this and other moments from the conference.)

The sessions I attended were, for the most part, strong. These are the ones that stood out for me. (Keep in mind that I only attended a few of the many that were offered – go here for the full listing of sessions and speakers.)

  • Donna Papacosta, “Quick and Painless Ways to Add Multimedia to Your Communications”: The best session, by far, in terms of both content and context. Donna went through the latest in social media tools and provided examples of how they can be used. Highly informative, with many examples.
  • Anick Losier, “Communicating During Times of Crisis”: Ms. Losier is the Director of Media Relations for Canada Post. I loved her presentation for its forthrightness, transparency and case studies. She has a wonderful attitude and sense of humour, despite holding what must be one of the most challenging jobs in the field.
  • Peter Vaz (M2 Universal Digital) and Kunal Gupta (Polar Mobile), “The Impact of the Third Screen on Communications”: Interesting presentation on mobile communications from . With almost every person on the  planet carrying a smartphone, every organization will eventually have to include the “third screen” in their marketing and communication plans.
  • Panel, “Content in Context and the Content Marketing Revolution”: This session stood out for me, but not for the reasons I expected. There was too much content, and not enough context (i.e. case studies). And, disappointingly, the session felt like a not-so-subtle pitch for a social media company (which shall remain nameless), which is anathema to me – I came to learn, not to buy.

The Silver Leaf Awards recognize the outstanding achievements of IABC members in communications. The Awards Gala, typically held on an evening during the conference, felt like an inside joke that the rest of us weren’t privy to. What made it more uncomfortable was the technically illegal use of copyrighted material in the video which instead could’ve been used to highlight the winners of the Silver Leaf. As a communicator, I wanted to know: what was it about their entries that raised them above the others? I could do without the Mad Men parody.

A large and important part of attending a conference is the networking. I met many people and shared many thoughts and ideas.  The conference had great social activities, including a Haunted Walk – which is a fantastic way to see a city and get a taste of its history – and a Dine-Around, where you have dinner with other attendees and a local restaurant. (I opted for Vittoria Trattoria,where the food and atmosphere were wonderful.)

More observations on the conference from other attendees can be found here.

As for Ottawa, I wish I had more time to explore the city, but I did manage to take in a few sights. I don’t think I have enough information to write a comprehensive post. Instead, enjoy my photos.


A Moveable Feast


If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. – Ernest Hemingway

Ah, Paris.

I’ve waited 42 years to finally see the City of Lights. And I fell in love, with its buildings, its bridges and its cafés.

Paris, je t'aime

Being in Paris in unlike traveling in other cities. It’s not just the history – the United Kingdom has that in droves, as does Greece, Italy and other parts of the world. It’s the feeling you get as you walk down the street. It’s imagining the history that happened right where you’re standing. It’s the respect the city has for its architecture and history. (I live in Toronto, where the oldest structure is less than 200 years old.) It’s hard to explain, really. All I know is when I mention Paris to those who have been there, a certain look comes over their face: the eyes light up, their heads nod slowly, a sigh escapes their mouths.


One thing about Paris is that you will want to see everything in the time you are there. Unless you plan on staying there for six months, you will not see everything. You won’t even get to see the places and things on your list. And if you do, you won’t be able to spend much time seeing them. Because if you dawdle at one place too long, you won’t be able to see THIS or THAT, and oh! I never knew THAT was there, and why is there a line-up at THIS place? and those people at the next table are raving about THAT, so I’ll just have to go THERE…

Okay, take a deep breath. Relax. Accept the fact that you won’t see all of Paris. Instead, experience Paris – walk her streets, take in her beauty and prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you’re planning to visit Paris for the first time, read these tips. You’ll thank me later.

1. Buy a good guide book (with lots of photos) and read it all. It will give you a sense of each neighbourhood, or arrondissement, in Paris, which is important to know when booking a hotel or apartment. Heavily into art and culture? The Marais is a good district for that, with its galleries and artisans. Want to be in the middle of everything? Les Invalides is a ritzy and central neighbourhood. Shopping? Try the Opera district. Also do your research. There is no excuse for not knowing how to ask for your bill, or what to tip your server (nothing – the tip is built into cost, but leaving a Euro or two won’t hurt if the service is good).

2. Download the Time Out Paris app. It’s free and works even if you have your data roaming off. Leave the guide book in the hotel room – you won’t want to lug it around with you. The app has great maps and a GPS system, which lets you know not only where you are at the moment, but also how far you are from your destination. Besides, do you want to look like a lost tourist pouring through your maps and books? Or would you rather look like some local who is simply checking their emails, while you’re really figuring out where the closest Metro stop is.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. I cannot stress this enough. You will be walking a lot because you will want to walk a lot. No matter where you want to go to, the journey is as enjoyable as the destination. Paris is like a gigantic museum; you turn a corner and BAM! there’s some beautiful statue/building/bridge that takes your breath away. And you can still look chic while rocking some clean, cool sneakers and nice jeans.

4. Navigate the Metro. Paris’ transit system is great, once you get the hang of it. A word of warning: as my friend Andrew put it, you can’t get there from here. There will be times when you have to make a connection that seems to take you in the direction you just came from. There will also be times when it’ll be faster to walk. Play it by ear. It may save you time and sore feet.

5. Buy a museum pass. Paris has many great museums. Most of them are included in the price of a pass. You can buy a one-, three- or six-day pass. Do it. Not only does it cost less than paying admission to each museum, it sometimes lets you skip any long line-ups. You can buy a pass at any museum. (Tip: If you are pressed for time, skip the Louvre and go to the Musée d’Orsay. It’s not as large and easier to navigate.)

6. Skip the McDonald’s and Starbucks and frequent the gazillion cafes and brasseries that seem to be on every corner. Some patisseries offer coffee to go, if you don’t want to stop your sightseeing. You’re in France, stupid – enjoy the incredible cuisine. Don’t eat anything you could get at home.

7. Eat a croissant. Eat a lot of croissants. I defer to Andrew again in describing how goddamn good they are: “It’s like they found a magical way to cram as much butter into a croissant and have it still feel light and airy.” Seriously – go nuts.

8. Drink lots of wine. Even the house wines at restaurants taste infinitely better than anything you get at your local liquor store. Have it for lunch and dinner, or grab a small bottle and head to a local park.

9. LIVE. Don’t count calories, don’t wonder how much fat is in a croissant (a LOT, if you really want to know). Don’t think – just eat. And enjoy yourself. I maybe had one salad in all the time I was there. I lived off carbs and meat, wine and caffeine. And I didn’t gain a pound because I walked a lot. If you pack your exercise gear or deny yourself a macaron, you have no business being in Paris. Or on a vacation, for that matter. (Tip: Avoid the long line-ups for the elevator at the Eiffel Tower and take the stairs. It’s a workout with great views.)

10. Avoid the cheap, tacky souvenirs. If you really love your friends, bring them back chocolate or little jars of jam or mustard from Vauchon or Hediard. Or print and frame your photos as gifts. You will take a lot of photos and they will all be lovely (see mine below). (Tip: The second level of the Eiffel Tower, the top of the Arc de Triomphe and the ninth floor of Printemps provide breathtaking views of Paris. It’s also worth the wait to go up the towers of Notre-Dame if you want some gargoyles-looking-down-at-Paris shots.)

You won’t get to see everything. But don’t worry – you’ll be back. Paris is a city that you will return to. Because you will want to go back. You’ll be planning your next trip to Paris on the plane ride home. Paris lives with you, in your heart and in your head. Hemingway was absolutely right – it is a moveable feast.


Stay Classy, San Diego


Ah, San Diego.

Prior to visiting the city, the only things I associated with San Diego were the zoo and Anchorman. But after my (too short) vacation there, I would not hesitate to recommend it as a Nice Place to Visit.

I was pleasantly surprised by the clean streets – Toronto’s a pig sty compared to San Diego – although there was a distinctive lack of waste/recycling receptacles. You wouldn’t even know there’s a jail in the centre of the city (although that explains the plethora of bail bonds services).

I  won’t list everything I saw and did while I was there, but will highlight some of my favourite places and activities.

The San Diego Zoo
During the golden age of Johnny Carson, Joan Embery, the ambassador for the Zoo, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. She would always bring a couple of the animals from the zoo with her when she was on the show. As a kid, those made for my favourite episodes.

I loved watching Carson’s reactions to the cute (baby monkeys!), the scary (tarantulas!) and the unpredictable (watch his reaction when a Burmese python gets a little too intimate).

So the Zoo was a must-see for the kid in me. The place is enormous and the exhibits are well-organized, and even with the aid of a map, I got lost twice. The admission price wasn’t cheap ($40) but it was definitely worth it!