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Postcard from Sydney

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I’ve been to Sydney three times in my life, but this past week was my first experience in Australia with a sprinkling of Chilean volcanic ash.  The cloud disrupted air travel resulting in the cancellation of ANZPHIC where I was scheduled to speak.  However, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and Siew-Hoon kept the first-ever local market Web-in-Travel Conference on schedule with over 100 people, most of them Australian hoteliers, in attendance.  It was just great seeing friends like Roland Jegge from WORLDHOTELS, Alvin Ch’ng from TripAdvisor, Craig Hewett from Wego, Grahame Tate from iDEAs, Bernadette Dennis from HSMAI, Paul Southey from TravelClick, and Timothy Hughes – who now is the new CEO of a new media company called Getaway Lounge, all attending.

I had the pleasure of opening WIT with Siew-Hoon.  She fired away a bunch of questions that set the framework for the day – are Asian travelers really that different and if so, how should Australian brands attract and serve them?  Thank goodness that Siew-Hoon sent the questions over beforehand so I had time to prepare (she’s always great like that – I think that’s why she runs such great conferences!).  I won’t reiterate my answers now as you can probably get the gist of it via the Cover It Live transcript.  I will say that during my preparation for the event I noticed more similarities than differences between Australia and Taiwan (gratuitous plug, that’s where the next local market WIT is):

  • Both countries have about 22M+ in population
  • Both countries have extensive domestic travelers
  • Both countries have a lot of rich natural resources
  • Both countries have aboriginal roots and current populations
  • The majority of people in both countries are not of aboriginal descent
  • Both countries’ currencies have risen against the USD in the last year
  • Both countries have extensive coastlines with more populous cities than the interior areas
  • Neither country considers the other a large in-bound market

Despite these similarities, my experiences in Sydney and in Taipei, the most populous city in each country, could not have been more different.  Sydney’s air was clean; a blue sky everyday with just the right winter nip – reminiscent of a nicely chilled sauvignon blanc.  Taipei’s air?  Cloggy and humid with temperatures increasing towards record breaking levels.  Even with the opposing seasons, Sydney’s weather was remarkably more pleasant than Taipei’s.  The last time Taiwanese weather was as nice as Sydney’s was during my childhood, and that was a long time ago when a lot of Taipei was still rice paddies.

On the other hand, the service in Sydney was awful – ignored many times in some of the (not even busy) restaurants – my “thank yous” for the long-awaited water and menu were usually met with silence and averted eyes.  I checked to see if I had a pimple on my forehead and the answer was no.  In Taipei, the service staffs smile and politely ask if they can be of help – and you don’t even have to tip them!  They will sometime even attempt to speak English.  So despite the excellence of Sydney’s cuisine when I got served, specifically the seafood, I really missed having meals in Taipei – whether in a restaurant or at a street stall.  There, at least people are willing to make eye contact and bring over the menu.

Things weren’t like that everywhere: at the Sydney airport on my way out I was not ignored when I announced I was going to buy a 64G white iPad2 (an item perpetually out of stock in Taiwan).  I walked out of the store with my new toy in 5 minutes, and almost $1000 USD short because the Australian currency is so high right now.  Oh well.  At least I can play Angry Birds now.

I talked to my dad about the Australian service when I came back and he said, “Oh! That’s already so much better than 40 years ago!  They used to just outright refuse service!”

I thought this was interesting.  We have a few ex-pats in the Taiwan office, and I’ve heard that some of them sometimes are refused things like laundry service or a fork.    In one instance, one of my guys had to buy twice the massage time because the masseuse gestured that he was “too big.”  At least he thinks that’s what she conveyed.

Anyway, this isn’t about who is more hospitable or more rude.  You can choose to infer whatever you want from people’s behaviors.  What I experienced was a reminder that travelers to any country will require some kindness – and for that – I don’t think Asian travelers are any different than travelers from anywhere else.

I hope it won’t take another 40 years for things to advance; by then, like my father, I won’t want to take the long flight to Down Under.

The need for positive social interactions is part of being human.  So for the hosts, extend your kindness – karma will get you back for that “Can I help you?” accompanied with a smile.


Written by Morris

June 26, 2011 at 11:01 pm