Tony Hall Blog

Technology, environment and getting some things off my chest…

Swine Flu – A Monumental Over-reaction?

sick personAfter cynically sounding off about the world’s gross over-reaction to Swine Flu (nothing to do with pigs), I was ironically infected by some house guests last weekend. Thanks to the snotty six year old who let it slip the whole family had been infected. The timing could not have been better as I had an intensive three day business trip booked to Canberra and Sydney with some of the most important meetings GreenBizCheck has yet been invited to. Lucky there was not one of those ridiculous cameras at the airport which reportedly can tell if a passenger has a fever. The swine flu does not necessarily result in a fever, so airports around the world have wasted millions of dollars on equipment for a flu that may end up the mildest on record!

Although I did feel terrible for three days, it was actually far milder than last year’s strain which knocked me about for nearly ten days. Luckily I was not quarantined with a mask like early sufferers or treated like a plague victim and confined to my home. Also ironic, is that earlier this year I had my first ever flu vaccination, mainly because we were herded on a cruise ship with thousands of others. Did the vaccination do anything? Of course not – it only allegedly protects against the previous year’s strain at best.

So, can anyone please tell me why:

1. The Australian Government needs 21 million doses of swine flu vac when the flu season is nearly over?
2. Even the Government admits it is a mild flu so why worry at all?
3. Won’t a new strain be out next year anyhow?
4. It is called swine flu but nothing to do with pigs!!!!

This is 2009’s most ridiculous over-reaction.

Just in from China (a little late I think) :

China races to prepare swine flu vaccinations

By Robert Saiget (AFP) – 1 day ago

BEIJING — China is scrambling to put a swine flu vaccination plan in place, with the number of cases more than tripling in just a few weeks and tens of millions of infections feared as flu season sets in.

The country is at the forefront of international efforts to produce an A(H1N1) influenza vaccine, with at least five companies already receiving government approval, but officials have warned demand will exceed supply.

In mid-August, China had recorded 3,103 cases. As of Wednesday, the number had jumped to 10,221, according to the health ministry.

No deaths have yet been reported. (Just to clarify – not ONE death)

The seasonal flu kills over 250,000 people each year. It is only this year we are worried about it because there is not much other news for the media to stir up hysteria.

Please tell me I am not the only one who thinks this is 2009’s most stupid media-driven craziness?

Update Feb 2010 – six months on and of course it was all panic, fear and media-hype. When will learn not to be so fearful and gullible? The whole panic cost millions of dollars and so much angst. Ironically I caught the swine flu and was mildly sick for four days (losing my voice was inconvenient) but as you can see I am still hear to blog about it.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | Leave a comment

A $28 Burger!

Who would believe a simple burger could cost $28?

This weekend we visited Byron Bay – Australia’s Bali equivalent without the pollution. At dinner time we needed something fast and simple. We recoiled in horror when we noticed our hotel menu proudly displayed “The Byron Burger” for the princely sum of $28!

Normally I avoid meat because of the massive carbon footprint and deforestation associated with cattle production, but in the interest of consumer research I was curious as to how good a $28 burger could taste.

The ingredients boasted swiss cheese, roma tomato, beetroot, lettuce, twice cooked fat chips, homemade tomato sauce and aioli (whatever that is, even the spell-checker is confused). Call me cynical but unless all the ingredients are organic, hand-grown, hand-fed and delivered by three nubile dancing girls – how can a burger possibly cost this much?

Well, the big test is in the eating. How good did the burger taste? Was it so good that we would have paid $50? $40? or $15? Sadly you will be disappointed to hear that our expectations we very high and maybe $20 was a fairer price – especially since it wasn’t even organic. Don’t you just love how hotels are still charging boom-time prices even though the world economy has contracted by a good 30%! My home insurance company has actually raised its premiums for absolutely no reason, but that is another story…

August 21, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | Leave a comment

Disloyalty Programs

SquashedPassG_468x455I really don’t know why they are called Loyalty Programs.

Airlines, car rental companies, hotels, supermarkets and a few other usual suspects coddle together complex rewards schemes aimed at securing our loyalty but usually end up making us hate the company we didn’t mind supporting in the first place.

Take the airlines as a prime example. Even if you fly every week on the one airline, spending days on end away from your family, it takes about two years to generate enough points for anything more than a half hour flight to some place you do not want to go at a time that is completely inconvenient. It is so thoughtful of the airlines to only offer reward seats on the 6am and 1130pm flights. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess why the worst times are the only options on option. One airline offers reward seats on most of its flights but it would take a lifetime of flying every day of the week to accumulate enough points to ever afford those flights. How does 590,000 points from Sydney to Los Angeles sound to you? I assumed it must have been in their new space ship but no, just their regular flights that are now mostly half full at best. There is nothing more upsetting to a loyal frequent flier who tries to book ahead and is told their are no FF seats on a flight, only to find the plane is empty.

The only reason that a few of us can ever afford a FF flight is that our credit card points can be transferred to a selection of frequent accounts. Maybe that is why the number of points to fly anywhere has doubled over the past few years. It is really the credit card providers that benefit now, not the airlines.

Instead of treating us like valued and loyal customers, the airline reward programs like to charge us as many points as they can, on the the most inconvenient flights and often with partner airlines desperate for customers rather the airline we are allegedly loyal to. How often have you searched for a FF seat six months ahead of time only to find absolutely nothing available or at best a flight via Fiji on one of the world’s oldest aircraft.

If by some miracle you do have enough points to purchase a FF ticket don’t forget to budget for the hundreds of dollars of additional taxes that are not included.

What ever you do don’t try and make a change. This week I had to make a simple date change and was slugged $200 plus a $50 service fee (not specified anywhere in the terms) – $250 for one minute’s worth of button pushing at a cramped call centre in Malaysia. The change fee was almost a quarter of the original airfare and the terms of change are nowhere to be found on the airline’s outsourced rewards program website. Great move – outsource the job of looking after your best customers to another company in another country. That will work. Clearly the airlines only care about cost and not the very customers that fund the airlines ongoing success, or more likely failure. Loyal customers are treated like lepers as airlines clearly don’t want to make it convenient or cheap for their frequent fliers to redeem points.

Rewards programs are such a joke, my best advice it to keep your points on your credit card account until you are ready to fly, then pick the airline that offers the best deal at a the time your want to travel. Surely this defeats the purpose of a loyalty program. One airline got it right in the nineties – buy ten flights and get one free. Simple and motivating. Unfortunately the big guys temporarily dropped their prices to quickly put this well-meaning new comer out of business in a matter of months, then jacked their prices back up soon after.

What a surprise to read that airlines are the number one source of consumer complaints – canceled flights, misleading terms, lost luggage, running late, surly service, bad food and the list goes on. The people running airlines should take a good hard look at themselves and start behaving like a business that actually cares for the people they are trying to attract in the first place. Am I missing something in this business model?

August 8, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | , , | Leave a comment

Indian Call Centers

Indian call centreIt really agitates me when I call a local company with a problem, I enter ten menu options and I finally end up talking to a lippy call center operator in India. How stupid do companies think we are? We all know they outsource customer service to India because it is cheaper! Great for the company’s bottom line, or is it?
I can’t tell you how many times my blood pressure has dramatically spiked from arguments from rude call centre operatives who have limited product knowledge and absolute know authority to fix my problem. I bet you have many stories as well.

Finally, I have a positive story to report. A very nice chap in Mumbai working for Mobile carrier 3, quickly fixed my problem, issued a credit and made my day.

It is not hard is it? Do companies realize how easy it is to lose customers they spent so much time and money acquiring? Do they realize how many other people disgruntled customers complain to?

If there is one secret to a successful business, it is fast and friendly customer service that lives and breathes the old adage that the customer is always right. Regardless. No questions asked!

Thanks to the lovely chap in Mumbai, you made my day.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | Leave a comment

Goodbye Marriott and Hello Sofitel

After fours years of spending every second week staying at the Marriott Sydney Harbour, I got fed up. Not once in four years did I ever spot the General Manager (Walter Imoos spent at least four hours everyday greeting guests at the Menzies Hotel) and after all that time, only one staff member remembers my name. Despite my gold guest status I am treated like any once-off guest and only upgraded if the hotel is empty. Once I asked if I could lock in a rate to make bookings easy and fast. I was offered a rate that was 20% higher than the average one-time person off the street could secure on The hotel is badly in need of an upgrade with the old style TV sets taking up half the room and towels that are often worn and thin. On a recent stay my wake up call never arrived and my towel had a hole in it which I politely pointed out in a note to the rooms director but heard nothing back. Three times I filled in the guest comment card, but again no response. The staff are don’t seem very happy – usually not their fault, but a result of poor leadership and motivation. Sorry Marriott but my loyalty has its limits and your hotel should take a good hard look at itself.

Imagine my surprise when I received a very nice note on my post from the Sofitel Hotel. The extremely friendly and polite Jakki Temple, Director Of Sales and Marketing, who offered to personally introduce me to their hotel, upgrade me to their executive benefits and set me a fair rate for each of my visits. This is the most impressive, personalised marketing I have seen for some time. What a great way to secure new customers during tough times. I cant wait to try the Sofitel – lets hope their towels are in good order!

Update 17 June – received an apology letter from the GM and was offered a free entry to the Executive Lounge – so generous considering I get that free anyway as a Gold member. Unbelievable.
Update 12 July – responded that I was overwhelmed by their generosity but they will need to do better than that and actually know what their loyalty programs actually offer.
Update 19 July – heard nothing so called up looking for the name of the regional director so I could vent my disgust. Wow – the GM emailed me immediately!! Eventually we agreed on a reasonably rate for my regular stays. Let’s hope things change and someone actually recognizes me.
Update 21 July – nice note and cheap bottle of wine in my room when I checked in – it is the thought that counts.
Update 11 August – everything back to normal, not one staff member recognizes acknowledges my visit at all.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | | Leave a comment

Swine Flu – You Must Be Joking

I cannot help myself commenting on the ridiculous hysteria surrounding the so-called Swine flu which many weeks ago was proven to have no connection with pigs at all.

Please can someone tell me why flights are cancelled, cruise ship quarantined, kids prevented from going to school, sporting teams abandoning their travel and morons wearing masks around the world when this is just another strain of flu that has only killed 100 people when the non-swine variety of flu kills tens of thousands of people every year??????

Here is what we should really worry about per year –

CO2 emissions – 11,000,000,000 tons
Deforestation – 5,000,000 ha
Heart disease deaths- 7,000,000
Cancer deaths – 3,000,000
Respiratory diseases – 1,500,000
Aids – 1,300,000
Traffic accidents – 500,000
Falls 169,000
Leprosy – 2,500
And…Swine Flu – 100

Imagine a world where we were too scared to get out of bed because we were afraid of falling over and dying – yet 169,000 die of falls ever year!!

I really cant believe the human race is so paranoid and fearful. Someone save us if a real epidemic hits the planet.


May 27, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | | Leave a comment

Paying a surcharge to use my American Express card

Why is it in Australia that so many retailers charge up to 3% extra for us to pay with an American Express card? Obviously American Express charges them a high merchant fee. This does not happen in America or indeed Asia where retailers welcome me with open arms and even give me discounts if I pay with American Express. I would really like to know why Amex Australia doesn’t match the merchant fee that Visa and Mastercard charge and watch their market share grow!

May 22, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | Leave a comment

Not Good Enough Dell Australia – avoid

To Dell Australia – I Just wanted to let you know I am so frustrated with tech support that I will never buy Dell again and tell everyone I know not to also. I am constantly transferred from one dept to another and keep having to repeat my service tag number and nobody has any idea how to fix simple problems without checking the knowledge base – something I can do myself. Over the past year the level of service at Dell has sunk to a new low. Very unhappy to have wasted so much time. Even when trying to send this email under the tech category a server error occurred. A disgrace.

Update: 2 weeks later – not a word back from Dell.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | What irks me | | Leave a comment



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