Smorgasbord

Sorry about the lack of posting: I’ve been busy.

Last week I was on a short business trip to Pori in the west of Finland to visit a testing facility and kick off a project I’m managing. Three of us went, flying into Helsinki and then boarding a 30-seater twin prop between Helsinki and Pori operated by Budapest Air Service. Yeah, I couldn’t work that one out. Apparently the flight is subsidised by the Pori municipality, who might worry nobody would come and visit otherwise. When we went to the desk to check in twenty minutes before our flight we found it deserted. We asked someone from the Luftwaffe Lufthansa desk next door and she said it was a bit early. Sure enough, 10 mins before departure a lady showed up, asked us our names, and ticked us off a list. There were only about 6 or 7 people on the flight including us. We were aboard and airborne on time. When we landed they dropped the stairs and we just sort of got off and wandered across the apron towards what we guessed must be the terminal building. This is how flying should be done.

We got a taxi from Pori airport to our destination, about a 10 minute drive. The driver grunted at me once when I gave him the address, again when I paid him, and once more when I thanked him. I initially thought he didn’t like me for some reason, but then I remembered in Finland this is what passes for a warm welcome. Our hosts were rather more chatty, and we spent a day wandering through laboratories and industrial units, stopping for lunch to eat salmon, lamb, and a dessert made with sea buckthorn. Last time I was in Finland I found the food so bad I started missing even German food. This time was a lot better. It’s amazing what effect not being a tourist has. That evening we went for a short walk along the river. Some early snow had fallen leaving a dusting over everything, and there were an awful lot of birch trees. It brought back a lot of memories of Russia, a country I’ve not been to since 2012, and made me miss the cold and snow. It beat the miserable wet of Cambridge hands down. Afterwards our hosts took us to a very nice restaurant and we drank lingonberry vodka and ate reindeer steak, which I ordered rare so it was red as Rudolph’s nose. It was excellent.

We were dropped off at Pori airport at 8pm and we were the only ones in the entire building except one other passenger. About 20 minutes before takeoff a bloke showed up who checked us in without even giving us boarding passes, a couple of pilots who looked as though they ought to be tucked up in bed somewhere, and two security personnel who didn’t yell at us. I rather enjoyed my trip to Finland – they’re nice, competent people – and I’ll be going back on monthly visits either to Helsinki or Pori between now and March or April. So if anyone is around up there, let me know.

When I got back from Finland I quit my serviced apartment in Cambridge and moved to London, lodging with my Dad for a few days while I look for a temporary apartment. I found myself rather isolated up there: I didn’t know anyone, the traffic on the drive to work was awful in one direction and abominable in the other, and the weather was miserable. One of the things which has changed since I left the UK in 2003 is the introduction of flexible working in offices. I arrived in my new job to find I didn’t have a desk assigned to me. Instead I had to hot desk, and carry all my stuff home at the end of each day like a sherpa. It seems nobody is provided with desk phones any more, instead you get given a Skype number which routes straight to your laptop. Most people work 3-4 days in the office and the rest either from home or somewhere else. Attending meetings over Skype is the norm, and I realised that the oil industry is still operating somewhere in the early 1990s. The expense system, travel booking system and HR benefits and admin system are all third-party and online. In my last place of work they were, respectively: 1) paper-based requiring multiple signatures, 2) a confusing chain of emails to umpteen managers and departmental secretaries who often appeared to have brain damage, and 3) non-existent. In short, I don’t really need to be physically in the office as much as I thought. I then discovered I can get a the Brighton to Cambridge train from London Bridge pretty easily, what with it being empty going north once it’s passed St. Pancras and most empty coming south until you reach Farringdon. So I can get a good 40 minutes work done on the train each way.

My intention was to find an AirBnB in London for a month while I sorted myself out. So I found one near London Bridge and booked it, and my credit card was charged accordingly. Next thing I know I get this message:

However looking again at the price it seems to be incorrect I can’t accommodate next to tower bridge in effect a 4 star hotel 2ned suite with lots of storage at £100 a night . Hotels next door are £200 a night tiny double room or £1500 plus for a 2bed suit .

The price should be £175 a night I can do for a compromised £149 a night .

Still very reasonable for that price .

If I can send you a price amendment pls can you accept failing that can u please ask you politely to cancel the reservation.

This was rather odd: I thought we’d agreed the price and I’d paid, and now he wanted more – 50% more, to be precise. So I told him to sod off. Then I got this:

Hi Tim

I hope your okay . I’m new to airbb (my property is on One Fine Stay at £250 a night).
I’ve called airbb to rectify the pricing if it was just a couple of nights stay I wouldn’t mind . But for a months stay I simply can’t make commercial sense flats in the area rent out on normal market at £3000 plus a month .

So if you can’t pay the extra can I pls ask you to cancel I hope your decide to stay as I can’t imagine your find better in this locality .

This chap makes Theresa May look like a master of negotiation. Anyway, I told him to sod off again. Which resulted in this:

Hi Tim

I hope your well.

I’ve just been on the phone to airbb customer service they have advised me to increase the to a commercial viable amount I do hope we can compromise and meet half way. Once you see the apartment it’s great home and you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for your empathy and storage is no problem .

Assuring you of my personal attention at ALL Times .

The next thing I know I have someone who sounded Filipina calling me from AirBnB trying to persuade me to pay the extra money, adopting the role of negotiator with his interests at heart. I explained to her as far as I was concerned the deal was done and I’d paid an she said “Yes, you make a good point, I’ll go back and tell him that.” Whether she did or not I don’t know, but within 5 minutes my booking had been cancelled and I received this message from my would-be host:

Best of luck best price £135 a night very responsible to be opposite Tower Bridge in Luxury apartment same as a five star hotel suite .

I fired off a complaint to AirBnB and they said “they were sorry I had to cancel my booking” but I’ve been refunded, although the money could take up to 15 days to reappear in my account. I told them I didn’t cancel it and they went quiet until I started having some fun telling the story on Twitter while tagging in @Airbnb. Eventually someone emailed me and said they’d investigated but due to privacy reasons they couldn’t tell me what the outcome was. The email, like all their correspondence on this case, was littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. I’m wondering how long AirBnB are going to be in business before someone is killed in an unsafe property and they respond by sending the grieving relatives a list of alternative properties and wishing them a pleasant stay. In the end I got 10% off my next booking, but I’d have preferred my would-be host’s head mounted on a spike at the Tower of London.

Anyway, the good news is I’ve met someone in London who is neither Russian nor a lunatic and therefore is unlikely to be providing much blogging fodder as others have done. I’ve checked and she’s not into polyamory, which must be a disappointment to my readers. In fact, she’s rather wonderful. And that’s the main reason behind my move to London and, if I’m being honest, my lack of blogging.

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26 thoughts on “Smorgasbord

  1. Let me guess, the owner of the AirBnB property wasn’t called Bill Smith or Pete Jones……………

  2. You can sue for the dishonoured contract. Jjust stay in a real 5 star hotel suite in the same location and bill them the difference to what you agreed.

    I have pulled that stunt with airlines before, they always pay up before you get to court. Airbnb will do the same once the story gets high enough up the food chain.

  3. ” This is how flying should be done.”

    One of the really nice things about being back in NZ is domestic flying is a case of simply rocking up 10 mins before boarding and passing through a couple of doors to board the plane, then take off.

    That will change shortly sadly. I’ve foolishly accepted a new contract and am moving to Melbourne to grow dope.

  4. If I book for a month rather than a few days I expect a discount not a price rise. Did this place really exist?

  5. If it’s in London then chances are that the photos are of another place entirely, and the real place you would have been staying in was a complete sh*thole. That’s happened to me with London hotels.

  6. And that’s the main reason behind my move to London and, if I’m being honest, my lack of blogging.

    Hate to say I told you so. But hey, I told you so:

    “Fay on September 24, 2019 at 2:19 am said:
    Lawd, next you’ll be finding yourself a gal pal and we’ll never hear from you again.”

  7. a 30-seater twin prop between Helsinki and Pori operated by Budapest Air Service. Yeah, I couldn’t work that one out.

    It’s Magyar solidarity.

  8. Hi Tim, I may be able to explain the strangeness of the AirBNB scenario in more detail.

    Having recently setup an AirBNB myself- and setting up various prices, discounts, etc – the first few bookings that came through were at the rate AirBNB’s mystery smart pricing algorithm had determined….which was half the daily rate I had entered as the minimum rate to charge. The price offered to the guest was not displayed to me in advance.

    It took sometime to sort out as the AirBNB dashboard has numerous mysterious and conflicting settings as befits all large online companies these days. You would expect that setting a minimum possible price would be some protection whilst working out the vagaries of the system as well as weathering some unusual price variations. AirBNB’s system will sometimes ignore minimum rate – they want lots of bookings and commissions and are not as concerned with fair pricing per say.

    Also, owners who cancel on guests get penalized by AirBNB in terms of ratings, search results, etc and their own help system encourages the owner to request the cancellation be done by the tenant (to avoid penalización).

    Big tech strikes again and annoys everyone involved with a simple transaction!

  9. On outsourced HR, I have been investing in firms that do it of late and plan to increase my exposure as I think if the firm is set up right, and has an international outlook, then the sky’s the limit. Most of them boil down to a decent software system which is capital light and very scalable to a global market place and all of the extreme low-cost growth that it brings along with it.

    One of these firms is called Serko, a small cap NZ firm that caught my eye because the directors must invest a portion of their directors’ fees in the company’s stock. They have a neat corporate travel and expense app that is getting a lot of traction internationally. So, you can imagine how chuffed I was when Bookings.com took a cornerstone investor position in them as well and their shares jumped 40% in a day! Plus, they offer an existing shareholder purchase plan with a heavily discounted price, which I have applied for, fingers crossed I get my fully applied for amount.

    There is another little outsourced HR firm that I am into called CV Check Ltd, that’s what they do and they are getting a lot of traction with business to business (B2B) type arrangements as opposed to business to customer (B2C).

    I am also into another mob called People Infrastructure Ltd that supply bodies, systems and compliance and are increasing their exposure to the supply of medical staff to hospitals and old folks homes and they are also looking very promising.

    So outsourced HR is definitely a goer for me.

    My way of thinking has changed of late, rather than criticize millennials, to doing the proper boomer thing and selling to them exactly what they need.

    Incidentally, I am in discussion with an oil and gas contractor regards coming out of semi-retirement and doing some consultancy work with them. I have a meeting with them next week and if there is a value proposition on the table, then I will be off the dole and will be able to get my family a Christmas present this year.

    …………………………………………………………………………………

    Serko share price bolts 38% on successful placement

    https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/serko-share-price-bolts-38-025007587.html

  10. AirBnB is riddled with scammers. The house next door is on AirBnB, but under the names of five different ‘Hosts’ – to get round the 90 Day rule – all with completely different photos, only a few of which show the actual property.

    Still, you should expect scammers when the company itself is one giant scam; like the majority of these new, gig economy tech companies. They are all just in the regulatory arbitrage business, undercutting established businesses that have to abide by the regulations.

    Pleased to hear that your romantic life is on the up, merely sad that we might not hear from you so much, but, hopefully, our loss is your gain.

  11. A couple of years ago I flew on a flight from Tallinn to Oslo on Adria – which was then the national airline of Slovenia (but which has since gone bust).

    I think Nordic labour costs are so high that it is just easier to pay an airline from somewhere they are cheaper to fly important routes rather than do it yourself.

  12. “””…..Nordic labour costs are so high….”””

    No. Over regulation and cultmarx in general. I´m enriching UK with my diversity almost 10 years and know this system well.

    Budapest Air and Slovenian fly cheap because they do not have 200 head HR hydra to feed , diversity department, ,expensive virtue signaling, irrationality department, dysfunctional management unit and so on.

    Soviet Union collapsed because everybody managed and redistributed but nobody worked. Now you have the communism. Enjoy…:D

  13. @Recusant

    Still, you should expect scammers when the company itself is one giant scam; like the majority of these new, gig economy tech companies. They are all just in the regulatory arbitrage business, undercutting established businesses that have to abide by the regulations.

    Well quite. How many flats and houses meet the safety, access and other regulations (fire escapes, disability-friendly, working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and perhaps most of all, the planning/zoning restrictions) that hotels have to do in many jurisdictions?

    There are quite a few AirBnB millionaires out there who realised that (at least in certain places, some US states for example) it was legal to rent places then sublet them onto AirBnB at higher rates without telling their landlord. And I’m sure plenty do that even in places where it isn’t legal.

  14. Let me guess, the owner of the AirBnB property wasn’t called Bill Smith or Pete Jones

    Alas, he was a paleface with a very western name. But he was likely European judging by the grammatical errors.

  15. If it’s in London then chances are that the photos are of another place entirely

    In this case I happened to know the area well and what he presented as views from the apartment were actually scenes within a 500m radius.

  16. Having recently setup an AirBNB myself- and setting up various prices, discounts, etc – the first few bookings that came through were at the rate AirBNB’s mystery smart pricing algorithm had determined….which was half the daily rate I had entered as the minimum rate to charge. The price offered to the guest was not displayed to me in advance.

    I’m sure it’s a minefield for hosts, but this chap seemed annoyed that he’d 1) be receiving less than what a hotel would charge and 2) that a guest paying for 30 nights would pay less per night than the going rate for a single night. He might be new to AirBnB but surely even an idiot knows room rates get discounted for long-term stays.

  17. The thing I could see as a benefit of AirBnB was short-term rents. The owner of a property who isn’t using it for a short time, gets to rent it out, flexibly. Maybe you’re going to work in the USA for 3 months. You put it on AirBnB. And what you get is a bonus.

    It’s like me selling my broken dSLR on eBay. It went on sale for £10 and I made £40, which is nice, but I’d have gladly taken a tenner as it’s better than £0.

    When people start trying to run it as a business, probably as a sideline to their main job, it’s going to go wrong. It’s not just making use of every part of the buffalo, it’s doing just what a hotel is. At which point, why bother? Just get a professional letting agency to run it.

    And AirBnB’s problem is that they aren’t a real business. They’re an unprofitable VC funded, build-to-flip company. The people funding it don’t really care if it’s good, as long as it looks good for long enough for it to hit the stock market for billions (next year). And like Snap and Slack, it’ll probably work.

  18. @BoM4

    Pretty sure there’s a market for what they do, even if they aren’t serving it with profitability at the moment. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure that the market they’ve put themselves into isn’t the “have a fellow traveller over in my spare room for a weekend” niche but the far larger one in regulatory arbitrage (there’s probably a better name for it). Basically, you want to run a hotel? (Or in practice, subcontract the running bit out to one of the many agencies that specialise in the dark arts of Airbnb.) But you don’t want to actually register as a hotel, get the required planning permission for change of use, safety inspections, disability access requirements and so on? Then list it on Airbnb and claim you’re in the “short term rental” business, not the “hospitality” business.

    That only lasts as long as the world’s main tourist cities are willing to put up with it. If they wanted to clamp down, it isn’t hard to. For now, many of them like the tourist dollar too much and are perhaps aware their tight regulation of the sector has pushed up prices so a grey market for budget-conscious travellers has some advantages in terms of providing extra capacity and drawing more footfall. But if you’re quite a mature market and you’d rather focus on higher-end travellers, and don’t want your main attractions to be overcrowded with low-end tourists who don’t have much cash to splash anyway, the benefit of clamping down becomes stronger.

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