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!