Archive for April, 2010

Social media in being useful shock


A common theme when discussing Twitter is ‘how can it be useful for business’?

Various companies have tried or are trying to use it to interact with their customers, but I’ve never really seen anyone using Twitter as anything more than a way to make general announcements in a manner that’s little different to normal advertising.

Starwood – the collection of hotels that includes the Sheraton and Le Meridien chains – seem to be using Twitter in a really useful way.

During my last two stays in Starwood hotels I have tweeted about something that wasn’t really up to standard. (I try not to whinge on Twitter, or at least to make any whinging vaguely interesting or amusing. Not sure if I succeed or not, but it does help get things off my chest).

On each occasion the Starwood Twitter team have picked up on my tweets and responded almost immediately, asking for more details and offering to contact the hotel to see what could be done to improve things. I was very impressed with this on two levels. Firstly, a company being very pro-active in terms of trying to assist their customers. Secondly, working out how to use Twitter as a business tool, sifting through the billions of lines of nonsense tweeted every day, including my contributions, to help improve their customer service. Well done Starwood!

Whether this will mean that the rusty, derelict vans that I always see from my balcony at the Sheraton Tunis will be removed, or whether the AC in the Le Meridien Douala will get fixed remains to be seen. They’ve certainly impressed this customer though.

The ultimate hiding place


This has to be the best picture the Gulf News have ever printed.

Flag’em down


This is excellent news.

It’s a bit odd that, if I understand the article correctly, many officers used not to be allowed to flag down errant motorists and issue fines, but at least that will change.

The number one criticism from most Dubai drivers is that the police don’t seem to, erm, police bad driving pro-actively. It’s a common site to see police cars being tailgated and flashed out of the way, or for a patrol car to happily drive along, apparently oblivious to the appalling driving around it.

Speed cameras might stop people speeding, but they don’t stop the endless idiocy that occurs at, or below, the speed limit.

Funnily enough, I was flagged down during my first week or so in Dubai. I was stopped by an unmarked police car that had spotted that my rental car’s registration had expired. I was pootling along in my VW Polo, courtesy of Avis, when a large Mercedes saloon behind me suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree. I pulled over, feeling rather frightened. The officers were very pleasant and let me go when they realised it was a rental car and we had all had a good laugh over my enormous paper UK driving licence and its lack of photo.   

New Patrol – Yuck


Saw a new 2010 Patrol drive past me today, in fresh Gulf White lineage.


It looks awful – a big blobby thing that manages to make the new Land Cruiser look stylish. The (in my opinion) good looking, utilitarian design of the older model has been ditched completely. Despite this, I expect the Gulf to be full of the things in no time at all.

Qatar clarification study


Well, that didn’t take long.

I urge you to read the comments in Arabian Business on the subject. The general themes are –

– The West do it to us, so it’s only fair that we do it to them.

– Hang on, the situation’s not quite as simple as that, Qatar will suffer as a result.

– Hurrah for Qatar, I hope all the Arab state implement same ruling immediate.

– Hang on, Qataris get VoA in lots of Arab countries, but don’t reciprocate, so what’s fair about this announcement?

Personally, I am very pleased that there will be a ‘delay’. I don’t think scrapping VoA for the 33 countries benefits anyone. And, yes, I sympathise with everyone who is not part of those 33 countries and has to get a visa, but there you go.

Meet the locals


I went to circuit training yesterday evening, which was mild torture after a week’s holiday in Malaysia (photos soon!).

I realised that the class I go to, which usually has two or three local chaps attending, is the only informal place where I get to meet Emiratis.

The various groups in Dubai tend to keep themselves to themselves. This sounds like something terrible to many ‘outsiders’, but I don’t think it’s much of an issue. We’re not citizens who ought to integrate fully, we’re here because we have a job and that means putting up with certain things we don’t like and thoroughly enjoying other aspects. Local people have their own distinct culture, are used to having lots of expats around, but it’s their country. Noone is obliged to mix with other cultures in the slightest. Things just rub along. Broadly speaking, you tend to socialise most closely with people of a similar background and nationality, but have lots of friends and colleagues from all over the world. Despite a degree of separation, I feel, there is far more ‘diversity’ here than there is in the forced sense of the word, currently a favourite in the UK when discussing multiculturalism.

Of all the nationalities here, it is Emiratis that I speak to and interact with the least, which is a shame. In my line of work many of the IT managers at government organisations are Emiratis. In the past, when Sun actually had customer events, there would be the odd chance to chat to someone in a vaguely social situation. Mrs Saul might see the odd Emirati as part of a school inspection team.

Aside from this, we, as with many other expats, often only see Emiratis in situations that can be rather negative. Being flashed out of the way by a Land Cruiser or Patrol with tinted windows is, sadly, one common interaction. Others tend to be when dealing with government entities – getting your power connected or visiting a customer service centre to get your phone sorted out. All of these situations are irritating in any part of the world – it’s just a shame that for so many people here, it is precisely during these annoying procedures that you will ‘meet’ local people. One exception is getting your e-gate card renewed, a process so efficient and generally pleasant, I almost look forward to it.

So, back to my circuits class. The whole thing is a rather British affair in terms of the instructor’s banter and the changing room chatter, although the people attending are from all over the place, including, usually, three or four locals. The local guys are full gym members, so usually use a different changing room to me, but at least we get to do something all together and share the common experience of running around and jumping about till we can hardly move any more.

I would welcome other opportunities to spend a bit of time with the Emiratis who are, let’s be frank, my hosts.

Qatar stops visa on arrival


This is interesting. I strongly suspect that a clarification will be issued shortly.

I can understand Qataris may feel it unfair that a British passport holder, for example, can get a visa on arrival, whilst a Qatari has to fill in a large form and (I believe) go for an interview when trying to get into the UK.

That said, once these steps have been gone through, it is my understanding that a four year multiple entry visa is typically issued. This effectively amounts to a situation that is almost as relaxed as Qatar’s present visa on arrival system.

I hope that, if Qatar do continue with this system, they have some kind of multiple entry visa that means the thousands of visiting business people who go through Doha every week, coming from Dubai, other nearby countries, or from Europe, have a visa option that doesn’t put Qatar straight to the bottom of their list of favourite places to visit.

Qatar, up till now, has been as efficient as Bahrain when it comes to getting into the country for a work trip. You pay the immigration official and get your stamp. Qatar goes one step further and lets you pay by credit card, whereas Bahrain is cash only. Oman comes next, with a queue to buy your visa before going through immigration, with the UAE topping the table with a free stamp from one of the many immigration officials in the airport. Kuwait has a chaotic and slightly confusing system that lets you get a visa on arrival after lots of faffing around and being elbowed out of the way by poeple more familiar with what you’re supposed to be doing. Saudi, as I’ve mentioned here before, tends to issue three month visas as part of a process that means your passport spends a week in the Saudi consulate and you spend a week not being able to travel. This can be a positive or negative situation, depending on your situation.

As partners and vendors in Doha know, people sitting in the UAE with one of the previously allowed 33 passports were always more than happy to pop over to Doha for a day or two and develop business. Partners and vendors in Saudi know that getting people over can be a little more difficult – complex visa systems make it hard to progress work that requires outside expertise.

Although I haven’t been to Qatar for a while, I always enjoy it when I am there. Call me selfish, but I sincerely hope that a clarification is issued and Chris can pop over to meet customers without the frustrations involved when visiting other nearby countries.

Free MBA


For some reason, I have started receiving letters from Oxford University’s Business School. The letters address me as an alumni – does this mean I’ve accidentally been given an MBA, without having to do any work? The ultimate lazy student’s dream!

It’s made me think about whether I should do an MBA… Let’s see how things go with Oracle. Maybe something part time would be a good idea, at this stage in my life.

Espace fumeur


Tunis airport has a blanket smoking ban – no smoking rooms or areas anywhere.

The result is that the whole airport seems to be one big smoking room as everyone ignores the draconian rule and smokes wherever they like, particularly, it seems, airport employees. I can’t help but think that some kind of compromise would provide smokers with somewhere to go and clean air for the rest of us…

Police in luxury


I bet the officers fight to be the one to get the Range Rover instead of the boring Ford Focus.

Pic here.

I have to say that I’m surprised the police have Range Rovers – I would love to see their repair bills.