Friday, December 22, 2006

Beware of your privacy when using online booking systems!

I am in the middle of an infuriating and entirely unsatisfactory experience with Malaysian based booking agency This company is operated by Orient Travel and Tours, which also operates

My father and I had plotted for months to meet in Singapore over new year, and surprise my mother for her 60th birthday. Mum knew she was going to Singapore, but had no idea I was flying in from the UK to meet them for 4 days. Bring on the chilli crab!

Dad (who's surname is also Surplice) booked his and Mum's accommodation at the Raffles The Plaza hotel through In a second and unrelated booking, and with slightly different dates, I booked into the same hotel through MariMari's site.

Marimari confirmed my parent's booking via email, and then in a second email to my parents the same day, mentioned that they were also happy to confirm the booking for a Ms Melanie Surplice. That email had the gall to ask if we were related! Do they ask all the Mr Smith's or Mr Lee's who put bookings through their system, if they are related?? Mum happened to read the email and instantly put two and two together. Thank you MariMari for stuffing up the surprise!

When it came to my attention that MariMari had compromised my privacy by disclosing my name in another unrelated booking, I sent an email to the marimari staff member who I had been dealing with. I was subsequently told that she had resigned. How convenient for MariMari...

The new reservations manager then emailed me to say that they had read all the email correspondence and couldn't understand what the problem was. ARGH!!!

I wrote another long email and pointed out exactly what the problem, that YOU DON'T DISCLOSE OTHER PEOPLE'S NAMES IN BOOKINGS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. This is just entirely unacceptable business conduct. In many countries, it is also an illegal breach of privacy. Not so in Malaysia, I'm told. But more about that later.

I wanted MariMari to fix their gross error, and compensate me in some way for stuffing up the surprise.

I also said that if they didn't resolve the situation satisfactorily, that I would, amongst other things, blog about it, contact key travel and IT journalists about it, and notify the various tourism authorities about this unacceptable conduct.

MariMari came back and offered me what they suggested was a "token gesture" for the "inconvenience" they had caused their "valued" customer. They offered my parents and I each a refund of one night's accommodation. Pathetic I say! The surprise cost a whole lot more than the SING180 worth of accommodation they offered us, and frankly, I was insulted.

I stay in hotels all over the world and have never experienced anything like this. Were it not peak season, I'd have cancelled the booking straight away, but at the risk of not finding accommodation in Singapore over new year, it's just not worth it at this point. I will certainly never book any accommodation through again.

I'm still in dispute with this company.

Stay tuned for the next installment...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Vinopolis - a wine-taster's delight

Wine tasting at Vinopolis is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon - just make sure you don't have to function responsibly after you leave.

We did the Vintage Wine Tasting tour and got to sample some awesome wines from all over the world. The benefit of wine-tasting at this place, is that you can try wines you may not do otherwise (I'm biased, so I tend to favour Australian wines). This particular day, we tried everything from Argentinian wines to authentic portuguese ports and some great reserve wines.

Set beneath the arches of an old Victorian viaduct, just behind Borough Markets at London Bridge, Vinopolis is a great venue for wine-tasting and corporate venues alike - Factiva held a customer event here a couple of years ago, and the unique nature of the venue makes it an unforgettable experience. Check it out!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christmas markets in Vienna

Anne, Kelly and I decided earlier in the year that we'd like to go to some Christmas markets (Christkindlmärkte), and chose Vienna.

It was my first time in Vienna, and the stunning architecture jumped out at me as soon as we started our first day's sightseeing.

It was cold and overcast, but a cheeky early morning gluwein helped to warm us up. A festive atmosphere wafted through each of the markets we visited, amidst smells of mulled wine, hearty fried foods and various versions of boiled frankfurts.

I loved the handicrafts and hand-made Christmas decorations, which came in just about every colour and festive theme imaginable. If I ever have a white Christmas (which is still on the wish list), I'd love to be sitting around a tree decorated with Austrian decorations.

One of the most frequented Christmas markets is the "Christkindlmarkt" on the square in front of the City Hall. I loved how the old City Hall building and vivid blue sky provided such a dramatic backdrop to the already colourful markets.

The Christmas markets and our weekend in Vienna was fab, as was the schnitzel!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A weekend in the Big Apple

"I want to be a part of it, in old New York"...

Ahh - the Big Apple never fails to dazzle. I was in the US for a work trip in early November and got to spend the weekend in Manhattan before heading down to Factiva's head office in Princeton, New Jersey.

I arrived late on a Friday night and stayed at the centrally located Hotel 31 for a couple of nights. As is typical of New York hotels, you get tiny little rooms unless you're prepared to spend BIG bucks! In any case, Hotel 31 was clean and comfortable and most importantly, reasonably close to the big sights like the Empire State Building and 5th Avenue.

With the US dollar losing ground against Sterling, New York is a shopper's paradise, and my mission seemed to be to single-handedly fuel the American economy for two days.

The country was a few days out from its mid-term elections, so campaign-mania pretty much dominated media coverage of every one of the 10,000 cable channels (ok, so that's an exaggeration, but there is nothing subtle about US election campaign advertising). That was mildly amusing for about an hour then simply got tedious...

With a five hour difference between my body and NY time, I got up really early to a perfect autumn day. The sky was cloudless, and it was a perfect opportunity to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. The queues were minimal, and instead of taking a couple of hours to get up to the observation deck as it did last time, I got up the top in 15 minutes. It's definitely worth going as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The view was stunning, and it was also worth paying for the self-paced audio tour to get a commentary of what I was actually looking at. The view from the top really puts the island into perspective. other than Hong Kong, I have never seen so many skyscrapers! I think it's the sheer scale of the city - the towering building and the interetsing shadows they cast, that amaze me the most about New York.

Shopping was next on my agenda, and I was desperate to get to Century 21 - a huge department store that many people had recommened. I've tried to get to Century 21 on two seperate previous visits to NY, and as a result of two unfortunate unscheduled shop closures, have never actually set foot in the place.

I jumped on the Metro and headed down to the Century 21 shop located just near Ground Zero. I never saw the twin towers when they were standing, but I've been to the Ground Zero site a couple of times, and I still feel physically sick when I walk around it. It's eerie - just to imagine what it would have been like to have seen the buildings, let alone the horror of seeing them go down, and all the carnage it caused. Ugh....makes me shudder.

Fortunately, Century 21 was open, and was packed with tourists and locals. As soon as I walked in the doors, I knew that it was worth seeing this place. There were floors and floors of clothes, accessories, bags, shoes and homewares that really demanded several weeks inspection as opposed to the few hours I could spare.

Ok - it was just a department store, but everything seemed so cheap, and there was just so much choice. The queues to the change rooms were truly horrific, so it was worth getting a good solid trolley full of clothes before investing the 25 minutes in the queue to try them on.

I left with several ahem...bags, and decided to dump it all back at the hotel before heading out for the next spree. Judging by the inquisitive looks I got on the Metro, I wondered if I had gone any way to my mission of supporting the US economy for a day. It felt like it.

The fabulous 5th avenue is always worth a stroll. I would love to know how much money is spent on that strip in a single day or year, given that some of the smaller pieces in Bvulgari or Tiffany & Co. would probably buy me a couple of flats in London. *sigh*.

Drooling aside, I passed the stunning Trump Tower and had a peak inside. I reckon the Starbucks on the mezzanine level of that building has it made. What a nice little earner. Much Donald Trump merchandise was available in the foyer - DT branded pens and cufflinks, shirts and books etc. It was an impressive building, but I don't know if I'd want Trump Tower branded all over myself....

Every shop I went into the rest of the day was packed, and the change rooms queues were infinitely long. It seems like everyone in the city was there to fuel the US econony as enthusiastically as I was.

I'd arranged to have dinner with a couple of friends, and we had a yummy meal uptown, at BlueChili, an Asian fusion place. The cocktails and food were particularly good, although it took a while to realise that one of the funky cascading water features was actually splashing off onto one of the nearby funky white seats, to form a funky shiny puddle that changed hues as the mood lights transitioned from red to green and blue. Noice!

The next day was packed with more shopping and a very long walk from the hotel up to Central Park. It was also the day of the famous New York marathon, so the helicopters and crowds were out in force.

It was a fab weekend! You've gotta love the vibrancy of New York - the brashness of the people, and their passion for bagels, bling and all things big!

The joys of security checks!

Ugh! The new security arrangements at British airports are somewhat of a nightmare. With the additional time you now need to add to get through security checks (complete with limited toiletries in a see-though sealable plastic bag, it makes a one hour flight to Ireland a 4-5 hour deal by the time you leave your house.

In any case, it seems that the new rules afre here to stay for a while, so worth getting familiar with!