Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Not Johnson's alleppey kerala, "Romance" is where its at

I acquired this picturesque lakeside guesthouse - 'VJ's Rice Garden- a backwater resort, a few months back.. I took it keeping in mind the requirements for my eco houseboat. It's a nice quiet spot and i can draw power for the boat from the guesthouse there, as well as other advantages. It has 5 rooms and as the reason tourists come to Alleppey is for the backwaters, what better than a budget guesthouse right on the lake front as the perfect antidote for those tourists who are on a budget and cannot afford a houseboat overnight cruise? But, the more time I spend over there, the more I realize that it was a brilliant acquisition. Just sitting by the edge of the lake, looking out on to the water, or watching the sunset over the paddy fields, or watching the birds, insects, butterflies passing over the property- it's magic fairy land countryside. Walking over the narrow pathways adjacent to the resort is refreshing. And I have bought a goat (which has delivered two cute playful lambs) exotic hens, ducks, quails, turkeys, geese, etc.It's almost like a farmhouse now. It's a great spot for fishing, for walks, or simply to sit there looking at the lake, it's all good. Go for canoeing,and the sunsets over the paddy fields are amazing. This place is much better than most of the lakeside guesthouses by the finishing point or Punnamada lake, as it's less busy here, and there's a much more wider lake to gaze out to. Less houseboats passing by also, unlike the busier Finishing point side guesthouses- it's almost completely noise free. An island maybe, as you have to take a canoe to get there, (5 minutes crossing). The only debate I have with myself is should I go in for Internet or wi fi here. Right now, it's techno free. But i am not sure how long i can keep it that way, as all tourists now want access to the net. I have named it 'Romance', and the rooms have been painted in romantic hues. The whole woody feel to the place is great- lots of plants and trees, the river in front and the paddy fields behind, a little paradise, really!. And I have just released fish and prawn hatchlings into my pond on the resort. In a couple of months time, there will be fresh fish and prawns for my guests there also. And i am planning to put some lotus and lily plants into my pond as well. Can it get any better? :-) I never realized the value of this place till I started spending time there. Now, I try to spend as much time as possible there, whenever my busy schedule permits. Can't understand why tourists come to Alleppey and stay in beach resorts. Folks, the backwaters is where the magic is!! In alleppey, go to the lake, cruise on a houseboat, stay in a lakeside resort. Do not stay at Johnson's,Alleppey,Kerala or the Secret beach:-). "Romance" is where it's at. Johnson Gilbert 18/10/2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

The greatest salesman ever vs the worst

The greatest salesman ever must surely be Barack Obama. Black man with roots in Africa -unlikeliest person to become President of the most powerful country on Earth. Yet he did. He sold the American dream (second one, the first was Capitalism and we know what happened to that)to the Americans, and to the rest of the world, and didn't we buy it. Rememeber those "Yes we can" and "Change" slogans? Them speeches-"This is the time the planet is going to heal" and the soap opera like elections? I was one of those billions who thought this guy was really going to do some good for the world and for America. A few years down the road, and we know that all those promises he made was just words that he never intended to fulfill. It was just the right words at the right time (one could argue that anyone would have been better after Bush).The planet did not heal. Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are still occupied. Oops, forgot Tibet. Now, there's Syria, Lybia, and i guess they will not be satisfied until they have all the world's oil under their control. Regime change for the good of democracty? Hah, as if.

The greatest man who ever lived in quite a few polls would be, should be "Mahatma" Gandhi. He introduced the top most weapon of mass destruction known to mankind - "Ahimsa" or Non violence. And demonstrated it's use by winning India independence from a 'great' nation -England. And how did we Indians thank him. We killed him. With a conventional weapon - the gun. And how did the world honour him? By never using his incredible weapon again- ever. oh, he did inspire a couple of honorable copycat exceptions. Like Martin Luther King. Who Americans say was the greatest man who ever lived. Well, he met Gandhi's fate as well. Then there's Nelson Mandela, who Africans say was the greatest man who ever lived. Though he couldn't resist resorting to violence when he realized Gandhism found no takers in white racist South Africa. Or maybe he realized he wasn't as good or did not have the determination or skill of Gandhi. At least Mandela survived to die of natural causes. Of course, they did lock him away for a couple of decades. Bit of torture too. All forgiven now and maybe even forgotten keeping in mind that the blacks are in power in South Africa. I wonder why the 'World Community ' does not have any problems with black supremacists in South Africa and especially Zimbabwe, where they are throwing out the white boy farmers. Is it because, as the Zimbabweans claim publicly, 'that they do not have oil'. Am I getting off track here. Save that for my next blog.

World needs a hero. So there's hope that the next Gandhi (if or whenever there is such a person again) might not be killed. We could even make him out to be the next pop star icon- - kinda like MJ or Che. Imagine Lennon singing Gandhi's lyrics. A Lennon/M.Gandhi duo?:-) Back to Gandhi. The past dead poor simple Gandhi. Who would probably turn in his grave with the thought of his new incarnation being a pop star/icon version.Technically, Gandhi could claim to be the top arms manufacturer of all time. He demonstrated to the world how brilliantly his weapon could be used. But no one bought his invention. Though it's probably the only way a nation can win a war with no casualties to either side. Hope the people who gloat about how drones & modern warfare by rich industrialized nations can win wars with minimum or no casualties- to their side, are reading this. On second thought, nah, they'll be too busy plotting how to bring down the next dictator (oil rich only). And developing the next 'how to kill from distance' toy.

The world needs a new Gandhi coming from the rich developed nations. Who's going to listen to someone from the less privileged countries? Did anyone follow the ideals or legacy of Gandhi- the original?! Johnson Gilbert htttp://

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tripadvisor scam/ Tripadvisor blog/Tripadvisor alleppey kerala India

It's been only a few years that Tripadvisor picked up in India, but they have eaten into the Indian tourism market. The likes of Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Guide du Routard et al have been caught with their pants down as Tripadvisor is being used extensively now by International tourists.

But, not a lot of tourists realize that Tripadvisor asks hotels to pay a yearly amount of 300 or more dollars (just heard the rate has gone upto $1000/- dollars per year) for their listing. In India. Those who do not pay are punished. How. Read on!

Tripadvisor supports those who pay. And they have clever, subtle ways of promoting places that are not listed in the guide books. So these guesthouses (ones not in Lonely planet) pay tripadvisor as it's a great source for getting customers. The guide books- fierce competitors with Tripadvisor do not put in guesthouses that have top listings in tripadvisor. And vice versa. With exceptions, of course. I do not think it's good for the tourism business. Either for the guesthouses or for the tourists themselves.In Alleppey, if you google Allepey, Kerala, Tripadvisor, you will find that invariabily the number one to three ranked Tripadvisor listings are not listed in the guide books. It also pays for Tripadvisor not to have one particular guesthouse on top of rankings for too long. They need competetion amongst hotels, and capitilize on it. Hence, every year, they increase their annual fees. Hotels already caught in their web, have no option but to cough up, or else get punished. How? - contact details taken off site, suddenly no new reviews, or worse, no good reviews. Owners can't give replies to reviews( good or bad ). Those who do pay have all these facilities plus perks. I've done my research. Problem is, nobody wants to put their head out and speak the truth. The whole system is designed such that, however genuinely good the guesthouse or hotel is, or however good they pretend to be,sooner or later a guest is going to put in a bad review- for whatever reason. That's human nature. Tripadvisor cannot protect an establishment from one of their "senior contributors" (hard core tripadvisor types who contribute more bad reivews than good ones). So these people do their job for them. It's brilliant but also criminal. There are some out there, who actually seem to travel just for this.(putting out bad reviews just to trash some establishment 'cause of percieved faults)

It's common knowledgethat a lot of hotels have started pampering tourists so that they give good reviews on TA. I had a conversation with an award winning Tripadvisor hotel owner in Kochi who was all for TA. Of course he was. He's not in the guide books. I do not think he ever will be. So TA is his only source of income. I asked him what happens when a guest becomes over demanding or nasty for no reason. He answered that the customer is always right. That sometimes "we have to act". I do not think so. I do not act. Here, there are some guests who arrive after a long ride and are a little irittable after being harassed by tuk tuk drivers or are simply tired. And India does take a toll on some tourists. So when some guests arrive and are not very pleasant on arrival, I tend to be patient and try to pacify them. But, if the same guest wake up the next day and is still rude or unpleasant then they are quickly put in place.

And this has been happening more and more recently. As soon as I get a row of good reviews then hard core tripadvisor type guests come in and act as if they own the place. They get told off and a couple of bad reviews turn up soon enough.

I try to pre-empt these sort of guests by A) Putting out blogs like these, and I am now on Twitter as well where I can post my opinions. B) Welcome sheet that is shown to all guests on arrival which clearly states,to check the room and take it only if they are satisfied.

I am sure Tripadvisor is not in it for the long run. Sooner or later, someone is going to sue the owners and that will be the end of it. It's already happened in the States where a lot of hotels clubbed together to fight tripadvisor. Not sure what happened to that particular case. It seems that tripadvisor is hiding around some antiquated right to information American law. Not too sure how that can protect them in India if someone decides to sue. And a Uk watchdog government agency has asked them to take off "Reviews you can trust" logo from their site. And they have. Had to.

The good side of it is that Tripadvisor does keep guesthouses on it's toes. There are, of course, a lot of bad reivews that are genuine, and some of it includes mine. So, it's like a kick on the backside, when I happen to start slacking off or my staff becomes complacent. But, honestly, I think a lot of complaints about us on tripadvisor are simply out of spite. If a guesthouse that's in the guide books has a percentage of 75% or thereabouts, it's probably as good as the tripadvisor number one listing which will probably not be in the guide books. And the 75% guide book listed hotel will defenitley offer more genuine hospitality than the number one TP listed one. That's guaranteed.

I know that over 99.9 % of my guests leave happy enough. So while I get a lot of tourists here through word of mouth publicity, the same people do not put in good reviews on TP. Maybe they write to the guide books. Probably why I am still in the guide books after 10 years in the tourism business. And hopefully, it will stay that way. Fortunately there's so many guests coming in on 'word of mouth publicity' that the likes of Tripadvisor do not have any effect on my business, except the sour taste it leaves in my mouth when I read a bad review. I assure all my good genuine guests, when tripadvisor finally comest to rest, as they surely will, Johnson's will still be rocking.

And finally I hope the guide books or someone with a little more integrity and understanding of the market start thinking about a worthwhile site to compete with Tripadvisor which is fair to both the hotel owner and the guest. At the moment, Tripadvisor is growing and it's the guide books that are suffering the most. Their main attraction, is that tourists think they can trust other tourists. Also, it's a chance for the average Joe or Judy to play God. And that's powerful human psycholgy that Tripadvisor has tapped into. Of course, to Tripadvisor, it does not matter if your average Joe or Judy the tourist are going to be putting out truthful reviews or not. The guide books could start their own version of tripadvisor and let the guesthouse owner reply to bad or good reviews on a new site that they have the resources and financial clout to start. Unlike Tripadvisor which started off by letting me write my replies, but quickly obstructed me once their presence on my business was established. Now, I have to pay if I want to reply. The hell I will. And even if you reply or not, it still will not change your status on the rankings. The bad review stays and so does the star rating. Meaning that the whole process is loaded in favor of the reviewer. So a tourist who does not get a discount at a particular hotel can put a bad review of that place and even if the owner of that particular establishment replies and proves that the review was not justified, the review and the ranking stays! And the trend of guests giving subtle hints about putting reviews for discounts is also increasing. Sometimes, as I have experienced- they just downright ask for it. No hint here, "do us a favor and we will put a good review, if not..." Tripadvisor needs reviews. Although a hotel can pay and get favors from them ( and they do), their main income is on ads on the site. It's just a scam business that promotes itself as a fair broker. It's anything but.

Let me conclude by stating that no establishment in the hospitality business can claim 100% customer satisfaction- human nature being what it is.

Johnson Gilbert
19/02/2012 8/6/2012 And I just got another mail from Tripadvisor yesterday saying they are going to take away my contact details off Tripadvisor site unless I pay their annual subscription fee of $1000/-. Sure I will :-) Good thing is, it looks like tourists are slowly but surely catching on. However, it's not going to stop them for some time to come. And the owners have already made their fortunes. Johnson Gilbert 9/10/2012 I was just browsing and happened to see quite a few of what I have blogged here on Visit, go to their travel site and search for Tripadvisor. JOhnson Gilbert 16/12/2012 Lot of court cases happening round the world, against Tripadvisor, class action lawsuits in U.S.A., latest being this Scottish gentleman who has won a judgement allowing him to sue for libel and for damages in his country. TA cannot hide under the American laws anymore. And this is definitely going to open the floodgates as far as legal court cases against Tripadvisor is concerned. This is the begining of the end of Tripadvisor. They will go down in history as one of the biggest fraud businesses that happened in the modern world. Johnson's, alleppey,kerala.