Asian Century? Not Happening!

Recent trends show what a pipe dream it is and always was

When I was a university student in the 1990s, everyone congratulated me on my choices of languages (Chinese and Japanese) and subjects (economics, politics). The 21st century, everyone agreed, was going to be the Asian century. Chinese, my uncle told me, would replace English, because there were more Chinese than English speakers. Apparently he had never heard of India and the many other countries where English is spoken. Neither that Chinese isn’t an easy lingua Franca at all, being, as it were, full of culturally specific terminology and concepts. But, Uncle Karl was not alone.

In the stock market, when everyone agrees a stock will go up, it usually goes down. So it was with the Asian century. Demographics were often cited as a factor. They are working against it. The opening of China was noted. China never opened. Democracy in Indonesia turned into Islamic fundamentalism. Thailand has a new king, but the country under him is, as Thais like to say “same same, but different”. No progress has been made in Vietnam except for stronger economic ties with certain other countries. Then there is India.

Let’s look at these one by one.

1. Demographics

Asia is younger than the rest of the world, and older too. Countries like Japan and Taiwan are showing some of the oldest populations on the globe now. The youth of Hong Kong has been frustrated by a totalitarian superstate next door. Well, it says it’s within it’s rights to reclaim territory ceded in a treaty and legally, Beijing is probably right here. The youth of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, has been frustrated by bad jobs, Islamic tendencies, strict societal norms, a lack of foreign investment, and other factors. So no, pure population economics didn’t usher in the Asian century. In many ways, demographics are doing more harm than good.

2. Opening China

For a while it looked like the Middle Kingdom was really opening to the world. At the beginning of 2021 we find a terrifying balance sheet: re-education, work camps, forced abortions, organ trade; the list of atrocities against Muslims and Uighurs in particular have been terrifying. Dissidents continue to disappear in dismal prisons. During the COVID crisis, China welded millions in their apartments to let them starve. A mass genocide in the best Maoist tradition.

China’s leaders are decrying democracy as a Western evil. They have expelled thousands of foreign journalists. Many of them have resettled in Japan, even more in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, where rents are comparatively affordable, the people friendly, press freedom guaranteed, and the political discourse vibrant.

In fact, Taiwan is the only country in Asia with a true, albeit sometimes chaotic democracy and a free press, and the only country allowing for controlled immigration in large numbers. If you go to Taichung you are surrounded by Vietnamese for example. The is a huge Indonesian community. The indigenous population has found its voice. Scarred by decades of Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship, no country in Asia is now more tolerant.

However, all that does not amount to an Asian century.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative

As early back as 2019 some scholars sang the praise of Chinese value diplomacy.

Paragh at NSU in Singapore writes “The Belt and Road Initiative is the most significant diplomatic project of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of the mid-twentieth-century founding of the United Nations and World Bank plus the Marshall Plan all rolled into one. The crucial difference: BRI was conceived in Asia and launched in Asia and will be led by Asians. This is the story of one entire side of the planet—the Asian side—and its impact on the twenty-first-century world.” He is quoted with that view in a number of WEF publications.

What tosh! The author seems to belong to a dwindling group of scholars who actually believe the propaganda of the CCP.

The BNR turned out not be anything but a shining beacon of the Asian century — rather it is a tool to exert political control over weak countries and lure others with cheap loans to strengthen the influence of China in Central Asia and Africa. But European countries too are falling prey to Beijing. Serbia and Italy in particular have taken large sums of money and allowed the propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party. Somewhat unexpectedly, France is the home of the largest number of Confucius Institutes in Europe. Confucius Institutes are part of the CCP propaganda machine, to make sure the world sees China in a favorable light.

3. Indonesia and Malaysia

With Suharto gone, the most populous country in Asia was supposed to turn into a paradise. Instead it is a haunting nightmare for women, gays, and non-believers. It is well on the way to a government with strong Islamic tendencies. As an economic powerhouse it is a failure. A jungle of regulations, lack of productivity, but also bad infrastructure and unfavorable geography as well as lack of resources make the worlds largest Muslim country a bad choice for manufacturing.

In Malaysia, whilst not quite as bad, a similar trend towards fundamentalism is discernible. What’s more, the country is plagued by corruption in all levels of government and administration. Foreign investors report that it nay impossible to operate without constant payment of bribes.

The policies of the government favor Malays; politics and planning follow very local and narrow considerations without any greater vision. A gerontocracy is keener on looking after its own interests than the greater good.

4. Thailand and Vietnam

Two close countries, two different regimes, same outcome: stagnation. In Thai we call this “same same, but different”. That’s the same as “chabuduo” in Chinese. The monarchy even with its new king has introduced no reforms; no policies at all, when it comes to that.

Vietnam has opened somewhat and the Communist Party isn’t as visible. Thousands of Taiwanese companies produce there. But all the changes are superficial. People still leave in droves.

The other countries of Indochina, Cambodia and Laos, are basically Chinese vassal states anyway.

5. India and Japan

There is hope here. India has recently discovered a new basis of friendship with Taiwan. There is too much competition with China, too many border conflicts, (thankfully) too much indigenous pride in the virtues of democracy.

As poor as India may still be, it is the only country with the population size to match China. There are many problems to solve: manufacturing in China is easier, because a dictatorial regime and the work ethic of the Chinese appeal to exploitative business models.

The second glimmer of hope is Japan. It has such a rapidly aging population and aversion to immigration that it leads the way of innovation in many technological sectors. However, we are talking here about technology, not populace.

6. Singapore

As for Singapore, the model police state seems to see itself more as a conference venue than part of a larger continent. It has its own racial problems, its population and surface area are tiny, and beyond dominance in certain sectors like services and banking, an excellent school system, etc. the city state is arguably a success, but not a pillar of an “Asian century”.

6. Institutions

The cross-border institutions of Asia are almost universally either plagued by the dominance of China, or cronyism and infighting, or all three together. The financial ones are controlled by China to dole out loans, and the political ones like ASEAN haven’t achieved anything for the entire span of their existence.

The rest of the countries, like Pakistan, the Central Asian states, Mongolia, etc. are little more than footnotes. Turkey and Russia see themselves as European more than Asian. The Philippines are to this day an American outpost more than a part of an Asian heritage.

So if there is a Asian century, it’s only pillars will be India and China. And China has lost all respect after the Coronavirus crisis, suppression of dissidents, genocide of the Uighurs and slaughter and silencing of Hong Kong youths fighting for the freedom of their home.

If the world continues to stand idly by as China wreaks havoc on the world economies and our values of freedom and liberty, it may be a Chinese century and a very volatile one. An Asian century it is not.

Then Whose Century is it?

If the 21st Century belongs to anyone, it is America. But the truth, as always is more nuanced.

1. United States

With a young population, the best research institutions and universities, a vibrant, risk-friendly venture capital culture and generous immigration for talent, the U.S. will continue to dominate the world. If one country will set the tone for this century, it is the United States of America.

2. Europe

Despite the fears of Islamization, unfavorable demographics, and focus on conservative, risk-averse values, Europe is leading the way in many other areas, such as technology in certain sectors, research and development, and trade. With or without the idiosyncratic United Kingdom in it, Europe is a good choice when it comes to a focus for this century.

3. Corporations

More than ever it us becoming increasingly obvious that corporations not countries are dominating the world. From Apple so Elon Musk’s SpaceX, from Amazon to Zoom, if you look at the Nasdaq 100 you will find that most of the fuel that powers the world is listed there. Corporations like Google or Microsoft are under scrutiny for their dominance already. This will only get worse, but is too intricate a subject to be sufficiently thoroughly discussed her

4. Technological solutions

If its not corporations per se that dominate this century, it is technology in general. I now have a trading and banking solution that exists only on my phone. I actually closed the traditional brick and mortar bank account I have had since childhood. If you want to wire me money you can use any of 15 methods. There is no need for me to visit my insurance company, my grocer, my publisher, hire a translator, a lawyer, a shrink, and for most things, even a doctor. Most serviced now exist only in the digital realm. That makes them vulnerable to issues of cyber security, yes, but it also makes them a dominant force in the current century. Perhaps medicine is the only real service we need. Perhaps hospitals are the only really local institution that must cater to our physical needs. After all, you can’t undergo surgery on your phone yet. Everything else … reach for that smart phone or whatever gadget comes next.

In short, the 21st century doesn’t belong to any one country or continent. It belongs to people who lead the way to a truly digital age.

Martin Hiesboeck

Unstructured data provides equal risk and opportunities for businesses

This article is originally posted on Nightfall.ai

Unstructured data is projected to account for approximately 80% of the data that enterprises will process on a daily basis by 2025. Data breaches and other security issues get a lot of attention in the media, but all businesses working with data, especially data in the cloud, are at risk of data loss. Preventing data loss can be difficult for a number of reasons.

IDG projects that by 2026, there will be 163 zettabytes of data in the world. To put that in context, one zettabyte is equal to a thousand exabytes, a billion terabytes, or a trillion gigabytes. The astronomical amount of data transmitting, living, and working in the cloud is just one of the complications that make securing data a tough task for businesses to manage. Of all the unstructured data in the world, most of it goes completely unused. According to industry analysts IDC, more than 90% of unstructured data is never examined. This means large portions of data float around unsecured and underutilized for many businesses.

That’s why it’s important to understand where unstructured data comes from, why it’s so hard to pin down, the risks of not securing unstructured data, and the rewards of bringing that data into a structured environment.

Hiding in plain sight

Unstructured data can come from almost any source. Nearly every asset or piece of content created or shared by a device in the cloud carries unstructured data. This can include:

  • Product demo videos on your website
  • QR codes for discounts and deals on an e-commerce app
  • Podcasts and other audio blogging files hosted on your website’s blog page
  • Social media messages on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Internal communications and collaboration platforms are major sources of unstructured data. Think Slack, Confluence, and other SaaS applications where many people do their daily work and communicate with colleagues. Most cloud-based applications like these allow unstructured data to pass through massive networks to be shared, copied, accessed and stored unprotected.

IDG Communications published an article written by then-Pitney Bowes Software Vice President Andy Berry in 2018. Berry commented on how the modern workplace approaches data and why these norms contribute to the data loss problem, citing one study that found enterprises using almost 500 unique business applications. SaaS applications generate data that can quickly become obsolete, unusable, and eventually inaccessible.

Data powers everything we do in our professional and personal lives, but with little to no oversight on data hygiene, we often miss out on key opportunities to improve security blindspots and maximize data performance.

A complex problem

The various sources of unstructured data show how complex data loss can be. Many problems with DLP start with the three V’s of data — volume, velocity, and variety. It’s hard for humans and manual review to keep up with the staggering amount of data, speed of data proliferation, and the many different sources of data.

Adding to the problem is the fact that unstructured data is very difficult to organize. It’s impossible to dump every piece of unstructured information into a database or spreadsheet, because that data comes from myriad different sources and likely doesn’t follow similar formatting rules. On top of that, finding unstructured data through manual processes would take more time than there are hours in the day. It’s not a job for humans.

Other roadblocks to unstructured data collection include increasingly stringent privacy regimes, laws that protect intellectual property (IP) and other confidential or proprietary information like trade secrets, and businesses communicating across different security domains between the cloud and traditional hard-drive based storage systems. Information security is evolving at lightning speeds, but some schools of thought are still based on older priorities that focus on preventing outsider threats. It’s important to protect an organization from malicious actors, but what about good-natured, everyday workers who don’t know what they don’t know? That can still hurt an organization in tremendous ways.

Unstructured data isn’t all bad news. It can also be an opportunity for organizations that can recognize two main ideas. First, that this data must be gathered, protected, and understood. Second, that there’s value in all the data that is currently going unused. Computer Weekly cited sources that estimate modern businesses are utilizing as little as 1% of their unstructured data.

Our world runs on data, and each person interacting with apps, platforms, and devices contributes to the growing data reserves. When organizations think about gathering data to help with marketing, business intelligence, and other key functions, they must also factor in the impact of unstructured data. Unstructured data presents equal risk and opportunity for business leaders. When that data lives in the darkness, its only impacts are negative. But when data is brought into the light, we can use that data to be smarter and better at work. 

Solving the unstructured data problem

Unstructured data is a major concern for organizations using cloud-based collaboration and communications platforms. Productivity relies on environments where co-workers can share ideas and messages quickly, without fear of exposing sensitive data. Nightfall, a data loss prevention (DLP) solution, provides much-needed security for today’s most used communications and collaboration platforms like Slack, Confluence, and many other popular SaaS & data infrastructure products.

Since these applications lack an internal DLP function, and each allows for the lightning-fast transmission of massive amounts of data, Nightfall’s machine learning based platform is an essential partner for many organizations handling sensitive information like PII (personally identifiable information), PHI (protected health information), and other business-critical secrets. Nightfall’s three step approach allows businesses to discover, classify, and protect unstructured data through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Our solution makes sense of unstructured data, while traditional security solutions solely rely on users to help categorize data through methods like regular expressions (regex), which have limited accuracy in unstructured environments.

Each step of Nightfall’s ML solution is critical to the process of DLP. Discover means a continuous monitor of sensitive data that is flowing into and out of all the services you use. Classify means ML classifies your sensitive data & PII automatically, so nothing gets missed. Protect means businesses can set up automated workflows for quarantines, deletions, alerts, and more. These three arms of DLP save you time and keep your business safe — all with minimal manual process or review oversight from you or your staff.

Helping businesses identify and access unstructured data

Data is a part of life, especially as remote work becomes an essential function for productivity and collaboration. Business leaders must understand the risk of ignoring unstructured data and the value of making that data work for the business. It’s a tall order to identify and bring in a mass of unknown data to the cloud, but the rewards come with a better understanding of your organization, your industry, and your customers. Good things can come from unstructured data — as long as you’re ready to approach the issue with a solid data strategy and a knowledgeable DLP partner like Nightfall.

Corona vs. Corona

When a disaster threatens your brand value

It’s almost an unimaginable coincidence: A crown — corona — is a rather well chosen name for a premium beer, coincides with the name of a devastating agent of disease in reference to the shape of the bugger. How is the brand affected?

From a marketing perspective this is a nightmare. Think of search engines: over a year ago people searching for Corona were looking fire a liquor store; today they want the latest death toll.

It’s not the first time this has happened. The American brand Ayds Chocolate was caught off guard by the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. But at least the spelling was different.

How do you cope with that? What instructions do you give your marketing department?

The most radical and impractical way is to change your name. This is feasible for a product, but not for a brand like Corona.

Another way is a suffix. Impress it in your clients. Corona for example has started to refer to “Corona beer”. Ayds chocolate changed its name to Diet Ayds but that didn’t work either and the company went out of business.

Introduce a slogan. Corona has been trying out a few already including “the wonder with the lemon”

Localise. The conflict may not exist in certain languages.

Embrace the disaster. This is not feasible with Corona because the situation is too dire. But when over a decade ago red bull was denounced of containing cocaine the company made sure the world knew about it and sales rose.

Consistently watch your trademark for potential threats to its integrity stemming from both other businesses and cultural conflicts. Act quickly to change your brand name if need be!

Double check your brand name candidates for alternative meanings in other languages and cultures!

The African Pee Cola sounded great in the local language, where pee means very good. In English, not so much.

The best-case scenario: Choosing an unfortunate brand name may cause a few laughs.

The worst-case scenario: Choosing an unfortunate brand name may annihilate your company.

Of course a situation like Corona is very rare. The most amazing coincidence is that the last time it also affected a drink ( from “sarsaparilla”, a root beer and a coronavirus from China.

Curiously enough, the wonder with the lemon survived the first years of the worst pandemic for a hundred years with little more than a dip in the stock price of owner Grupo Modelo.

Corona still world’s most valuable beer brand despite namesake virus outbreak

17-Aug-2020 By Stuart Stone

Despite £112m dropping off its brand value in the past year and a name clash with a global pandemic, Corona remains the world’s most valuable beer brand according to Brand Finance. 


Horrifying honorifics

Thai and Japanese are just two languages that have countless ways of saying the same thing depending on who you are, who the other person is, their age, provence, job title or social standing. While those two are especially cumbersome, similar systems exist in Vietnamese, Korean, Malay/Indonesian, and to a lesser extent in Chinese.

These levels of speech are codified and identified by district verb forms, endings, and even choice of words and the languages are called difficult. It is often said that Asian languages are especially prone to this form of honorific speech due to societal norms, but that is not correct.

What’s more, many languages without these codifications do the same thing, as I found out moving back to Europe after 30 years in Asia.

In Chinese the more intimate you are, the more you can dispense with polite phrases. In German, if you do that with family it is considered uneducated. We too have different verb forms and choose different sentence patterns. If codified, “I have no clue” and “I am not familiar with” could be considered structural levels of politeness.

I was greatly surprised when I was addressed as Du (tu in French) vs Sie (vous) by strangers — a change that has happened long ago in post-Franco Spain (tu/usted) but it’s now common in more formal German. (It was always a feature of working class milieus and rural settings.)

Americans have greatly simplified their language but even there you express things differently when talking to your mates vs your boss.

In truth, it is not the honorifics that are different but the codification behind them, which in turn has to do more with language than with societal norms and politics.

Now that horrific part about is that these levels of speech don’t such propagate traditions, but enshrine power structures and class affinities. Despite Chinese Communists insisting that they have abolished class, these dividing honorifics are now making a comeback in the one-party state.

That they persist in monarchies, like Japan and Thailand, in emulation of court etiquette is understandable. That they are resourcing in Xi Jinping’s China is a threat to any glimmer of democratic reform, inasmuch such a glimmer has not long ago be extinguished.

Why Europe loves China

Liberals, Americans in general, people informed about the dismal human rights situation in China, historians – many groups and thinkers keep being amazed at how generously Europe treats China. Merkel and her ilk are called “lefties”, French politicians accused for selling out to the “fellow communists” in Beijing, and Italian politicians of ruining centuries of craftsmanship and tradition in the pursuit of profits.

Many of these accusations are true. The propaganda arm of the Chinese government, in the guise of the Confucius Institutes, is indeed operating freely and without much scrutiny on the continent. Compared to America, European China-policy is much more accommodating, and a socialist tradition in many European countries doesn’t make it look any better. But the real reason is much more pragmatic.

I used to be a diplomat for a EU country. A not very important country in the scheme of things. But even so, my movements and public statements always had to take into consideration what Beijing would say, how the CCP would react. Not because my government loves China, but because Europe is an aging continent, with many fewer young people spending, and many middle-aged technical experts invested in small and medium sized enterprises relying entirely on exports.

From 2000 to 2020, China quickly became the most important export market for these firms. European companies were not self-reliant. Their profits, from cars to machinery, came from China business. So when European politicians criticize China, they are imperiling their businesses, their constituents, and their own political futures. This is true especially for those countries where “export economy” is the dominant thinking, like in Germany.

The EU-China agreement to be ratified these days offers a lot more perks to Chinese companies than to Europeans, for a reason. An estimated 30% of profits of European industry is depending directly on China, another 15% indirectly. This doesn’t measure services and the financial sector.

For example, the agreement allows Chinese staff to work in the EU for three years while EU governments will not be allowed to impose quotas, other limits on the number of specialised workers that come into their country.

So if Europe seems spineless compared to a much younger, much more self-reliant America, that is true, not because of ideological reasons, but practical ones. It is because of Europe’s misguided policies that China could thrive and steal technology for decades. It is Europe’s conservative attitude to immigration that forces it to do business with states that ignore human rights.

As Europeans, we keep being “outraged” about what is happening in Hong Kong, and “concerned” about human rights in China. But we do not have the internal demand, the economic policies, and the political luxury to do otherwise. Europe has painted itself into a corner from which it will be hard to emerge.

The Loneliness of the Virus

One of the biggest problems created by the pandemic and lockdowns is hardly ever discussed at this stage.

We know about the economic impact: finding a job has become near impossible, going for a job interview even legally prohibited in some countries. The long-term medical effects of the disease are as yet unknown and even short-time treatment changes with every mutation we encounter.

Whole professions are under threat, from the beauty industry to hospitality and travel, from sex workers to even unexpected sectors like dentistry. The industry of much cheaper dentists for example that has sprung up across the border where I live, has come to a standstill. A former football player turned gay prostitute with whom I went to school is now working as a builder. Temporarily, for once the current project is finished, there is no new one on the horizon.

I myself am looking for a job. I quit mine just before the epidemic began to relocate to take care of my aging parents, now it turns out I cannot get a new one in the current climate. Unless I knew a programming language – a job easily done from home it turns out. Most of the jobs in my region and industry require onsite teamwork and all the job offers are from last year and currently on hold.

What we don’t discuss is the human toll of loneliness. My parents led a pretty isolated life in retirement but it turns out it was filled with lots of interactions that have since become impossible or even dangerous, from their card games at the seniors’ club to doctors visits, the friendly chat with the neighbors to weekend outings with the church. The three of us are now stuck – and have been for months – in a small apartment, and although not in financial difficulty yet, our days have become filled with isolation and frustration.

I am not the only one of course, and many are worse off. My mate in Zurich lives alone too and is getting worried about his job at the airport; my lover and friend in Malaysia, still a student in his final PhD year cannot find an internship due to corona.

There are, as of this writing, few places left where things are better, and it looks like much worse is likely to come. Life is screeching to a halt. Loneliness is encroaching. The realization is setting in that a pandemic kills not only medically, physically, but also psychologically, emotionally.

Gay men and young people in generally have relied on dating apps to meet up. That has become impossible. Chatting is nice but it’s no substitute for human contact.

It is also hard on the old and particularly hard on children, who, kept from attending school, are losing contact to their mates and the social circles that help form their personalities. Already threatened by social media and technical isolation, they are now physically isolated too. Not an easy lot to bear.

The crisis will take years to resolve itself, medically, economically, and personally. The actual scars may last much longer.

China continues to suck at PR

The new year started out as a victory for the PR, except it was a total disaster.

Three separate incidents occurred to show how bad the communists in Beijing still are at public relations.

Number one, a tweet surfaced by the Chinese embassy to the United States equating the genocide of the Uighurs and forced sterilization of Uighur women as progress and “emancipation”.

Second, the storming of the Capitol was celebrated in Chinese media and equated with the Legco unrest in Hong Kong. The former was a domestic insurrection against a democratically elected government. The latter was a protest against a tyrannical dictatorship.

Finally, China called out the United States for sending the UN ambassador for a visit to Taiwan, arguably a questionable move but one that makes Beijing once again like truculent fools who keep repeating the same protests over and over again as if they had some kind of diplomatic weight.

No doubt these were not all the blunders commuted. Calling the immuring and isolation of 11 million people around Shijiazhuang a necessary control of the epidemic when it is just the same callous disregard for human life as last year is in poor taste.

On Jan 9 China on issued a new order to prohibit firms from complying with foreign laws banning transactions with Chinese companies and individuals, effective immediately. Although within its rights to do so it is another misguided and petulant move.

The reason is China’s distorted self-image. The CCP genuinely believes the no sense it spouts. After so many decades of party control, generation after generation of apparatchiks has been indoctrinated to the level that the party can do no wrong and everything it says must be right. With a brutal dictator like Xi in power, this image has been amplified. Whatever he says is the final word and must not be questioned.

We can expect more for China, but one thing we cannot expect: meaningful change.

Hong Kong 2021

The year started on a shocking note. Distracted by Corona and US Senate elections, the world stood idly by as China continued her assault on democracy in Hong Kong.

The current political crackdown is not only limited to the winners of the 2020 Pro-Democracy Primary Elections, nor to the Resistance Camp formed after the Primaries. This is a large-scale liquidation involving 52 democrats across different political spectrums

This crackdown unmasked the regime’s intention to uproot the democracy of Hong Kong once and for all, restricting their rights to enter or leave Hong Kong, as well as their potential expression of opinions in the future.

According to Police, they believed the Primary Elections is to paralyse the LegCo. This further hints that every citizen who has organised, participated, and 600K citizens voted in the primary elections can be accused of “subverting state power”.

Every LegCo member enjoys the right to veto the budget as it is a right conferred by law, it is definitely not “subversive” by nature. The CCP is asserting that any future actions in the LegCo showing resistance and not complete compliance will be regarded as subversion of gov.

The CCP hopes to stifle all traces of democracy in the city. Hong Kong would only be left with “dissidents” who are loyal to the CCP.

There is no doubt that today’s crackdown is equivalent to the Formosa Incident. 2021 is the start of a decade, and this decade would only bring further crackdown from the CCP. Free World should support us and stop the CCP from encroaching our rights and liberal values.

At the end of the day (January 6) the police announced that there would be hundreds more arrests. Hong Kong has changed beyond recognition.

List of the #Hongkong lawmakers arrested and released today on bail

Day 2

Impressive flow chart from #hkpoliceforce briefing today involves both time travel from July to April and an infinite loop. It is a direct assault on democracy. Distracted by the events in Washington, the #CCP is moving in Hong Kong with shocking speed.

Chart also misses step of CE dissolving LegCo after first veto (BL 50). After that, CE can pass her own budget (BL51) or invoke Emergency Regulations Ord. Also, candidates in the 2nd LegCo election (if not delayed by ERO) could be DQ’d by Returning Officers.

Finally, if 2nd LegCo vetoes another budget, forcing CE to resign under BL52(3) and new CE election, then that’s how the Basic Law was supposed to work. It’s a feature, not a bug, unlike the flow chart’s infinite loop.

Sources HKPF and others
Full text: https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_4.html #democracy #hongkong

Universal Basic Income Now or Never

The real cost of the pandemic may change the world

Like many others in 2020, I lost my job due to the economic upheaval caused by a global pandemic unleashed by an irresponsible hegemonic superpower which as early as 2013 experimented with bat viruses in its biochemical warfare labels.

I was a witness to some of these invents and at the end of it the ostracism of Taiwan which warned first about the Chinese experiments but was ignored by the WHO.

Thankfully, COVID-19 has a low mortality rate, although it is not the flu and the long-term health effect effects on the respiratory system, nervous system, heart and even musculature may take decades to become apparent.

The real costs of the virus, however, will be economic. Already, the hospitality industry, hotel and travel business around the globe are suffering. Even in countries with low infection rates, businesses are closing down due to lack of vIsitors.

Already pummeled by technological changes, many industries are automating no longer need the armies of workers that made the middle class rich in the second half of the 20th century. The skills needed today can increasingly be complemented or replaced by computers. Unemployment is not rising because we are creating low-pay jobs and those catering to the rich, not meaningful careers that guarantee a livelihood.

A pandemic ruins the travel industry but also the arts. Those dependent on live performances, real spectators rather than the written word or remote endeavors, are going extinct. In most countries museums and theaters are now entirely financed by states, something that cannot last forever. Medication is either unobtainable or prohibitively expensive an countries that have produced generics for e.g. cancer and HIV cannot be visited atm and are even shutting down medical tourism to keep their own citizens alive.

In this situation, the calls for a Universal Basic Income are becoming louder and its implementation inevitable. We can no longer rely on an arbitrary, complicated system of social benefits dependent on antiquated rules. We need to reform tax systems that have impoverished the middle class, diminished the chances of the poor, and is universally exploited by the rich.

A universal basic income is now more necessary than ever because millions will never get back on their feet. Especially for those over 50, finding a job has become near impossible. And if they do, it is a low paid meaningless work far removed from the skills they acquired over the course of a lifetime.

In order to save a generation, we must improve everyone’s life, not just those of the rich. Global decrease in poverty as measured by the UN or WEF is meaningless if millions of middle class citizens fall back into relative poverty. Poverty is measured by a certain amount of dollars per day someone needs to survive. That is nonsense. For worker in a low level income country, driving for Uber Eats may be a godsend; for a flight attendant who lost their job due to COVID, it is a brutal step down – in incoming, quality of life, and self esteem.

Let’s not forget the ailing population. Not ailing from any particular sickness, but ailing from that most trying of old conditions: old age, frailty, and simply the loss of ability to do what a 20-year old could do. Their skills and knowledge no longer have the same value as before. For every person retiring in security and safety, these is another one who lost everything, usually between 50 and 60, to unscrupulous banks, investment advice, loss of income opportunities, or the financial burden of taking care of one’s parents.

We can continue to muddle on, or we can make permanent changes to the way society is organized. Winner takes all capitalism is not the way forward.

Versatility in Creme

The French brought the millefeuille dough to Eastern Europe and from there is took on a life of its own.

It became the basis of countless variations in every European country, usually with a vanilla creme or pudding filling.

It is known by many names, most of which have stemmed from the German cremeschnitte, and literally translate to either cream slice or, in some cases, cream pie. According to Historical Sociolinguistics, it is believed that the origins of the cremeschnitte date back to the blend of two cuisines in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

However, its Polish name Napoleonka indicates that this dessert might have possibly originated from the French mille-feuille, which is also known as the Napoleon – another pastry whose exact origin is unknown, even though its modern form was said to be influenced by improvements of Marie-Antoine Carême, the famous French chef-extraordinaire.
Still, while the Napoleon is made up of three layers of puff pastry alternating with two layers of pastry cream, the typical cremeschnitte is made with only two layers of puff pastry held together by a hefty amount of vanilla-flavored pastry cream, which is sometimes topped with a thin layer of whipped cream.

Cremeschnitte is most often simply sprinkled with icing sugar, but it can also be topped with a glossy and smooth glacé icing, and nicely decorated with a traditional chevron design. Two of the most popular cremeschnitte varieties include the aforesaid Polish Napoleonka or kremówka.

Kremna rezina is a specialty of the Slovenian Lake Bled area. It is a luscious cream cake with a golden, crispy, buttery pastry acting as its base. The base is topped with flavorful vanilla custard, whipped cream, and a layer of thin, buttery dough.
The whole cake is traditionally dusted with icing sugar and served sliced in cubes. The story of kremna rezina (or Bled cream cake) began with the arrival of chef Ištvan Lukačević to Bled’s Park Hotel, where he modified the Hungarian cream cake by adding the right proportions of whipped cream into it, and in 1953, the hotel presented Lukačević’s invention to the public.
The new dessert was a huge success.

Tompouce is a traditional Dutch pastry consisting of a thin puff pastry that is filled with cream and topped with a layer of smooth, pink icing.

It’s almost identical to the Hungarian #cremeschnitte #kremes

The dessert is usually prepared in a rectangular shape. Around King’s Day in Amsterdam, the icing is traditionally colored bright orange in order to represent true Dutch colors.
It is believed that the dessert is named after a performing dwarf with the stage name of Tom Pouce. Tompouce is often served with afternoon tea or coffee, especially at festive events such as birthdays

christmas #desserts #holidays #recipe #rezepte #weihnachten ⁣#bakingfromscratch #bakingisfun #instabaking #baking #backvergnügen #ilovebaking #bakinglove #bakingfun #cakes #holidaybaking #homemade #bakinglife #homebaking #bakery #bakken #kerstmas #natale #navidad #noel #jul #dutchcake

Deceiving names

In the culinary arts very many dishes incorporate place names. Those names ase frequently random inventions (cf French Fries) or an attempt to differentiate a foodstuff from local traditions. (A Vienna sausage doesn’t come from Vienna). Rarely do they indicate a place where the dish is actually from and has a clear connection to a locale.

One of those is the inimitable a Salzburger nockerl, invented there and representing the mountains around the city.

Salzburger nockerl are light and delicate vanilla-flavored dumplings which are, due to the method of preparation, often labeled as a soufflé. As the name implies, the dish was invented in Salzburg in the 17th century, and as an ode to its place of origin, when preparing these sweet treats, the airy mass is arranged on a baking tray in three mounds, representing the three hills that surround the city.

The dish is always served warm, either as a dessert or a main dish, and it is traditionally dusted with powdered sugar and paired with various fruit sauces.

Heat the milk with the cut-open vanilla pod and lemon juice. Remove from the stove and leave to sit. Remove the pod. Smear an oval-shaped, ovenproof form with butter and pour in enough vanilla milk to cover the bottom.

With a hand mixer, mix the cooled egg whites with a pinch of salt and a third of the sugar until very stiff. Slowly add the rest of the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and creamy.

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 428°F. Add the egg yolks, lemon rind, vanilla sugar, flour, and cornstarch to the egg white mixture and fold three or four times with a whisk (the mass mustn’t become homogenous). Make 4 pyramid-shaped nockerl, placing them next to each other in the baking tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown..

Dust with icing sugar and serve quickly so that the Nockerl don’t collapse.

christmas #desserts #holidays #sweets #nachspeise #postre #pudding #süssspeise #süßes #rezeptideen #rezepte #noel #weihnachtsbäckerei

Why Human Translators Have a Future

Around fifteen years ago I sold my last batch of share in my translation company. I sincerely believed that machine translation was around the corner and my company had limited earnings potential.

While I was right on some ways I was wrong in others. The standard documents, business correspondence, and software manuals dried up for sure. But other things came along. Prices for translation actua lly went up in some areas.

Literary translation was always the exception. It requires years; of skills and writing talent, familiarity with the author and his genre, not to mention the ability to tread a fine line to make a book commercially viable. It also pays very little.

Other areas that will never be replaced are scientific or medical documents and most certainly political content. As a translator for some very important figures in politics I was sometimes old that “ the minister doesn’t like that word “. A machine will never catch those nuances.

But it is in my food blog I started http://instagram.com/worldfooduniquethat I found a much more mundane reason not to rely on Google translate and other systems.

Take pepper for example. In German or French, Pfeffer; or poivre are always black pepper corns, which are Scotch bonnet in the Caribbean, where peppers and chilis, like in English (the plural) and bell peppers are dried paprika in German or Hungarian, and so on.

Some meat products have entirely different names in different regions. A tortilla in Mexico is a different food than in Spain. How would an artificial intelligence ever know what you mean, given the fact that most people are not aware of denominations outside their local traditions?

We have a long way to go before machines will replace humans in most areas. Some are obvious, others less so.

How To Name The World

I am writing a blog about global food marketing http://www.instagram.com/worldfoodunique and find myself troubled how to refer to regions of the world. Almost any terminology is biased, racist, egocentric and just plain wrong.

We speak of a first world but Europe was hardly the first. What’s first then? The economy? Research? Technology? Hardly.

We talk about East Asia but when you are in “The East” everything important is westwards. Towards east is but a huge ocean and a few forlorn islands.

Asians in the UK are Indians. Asians in California are people from East Asia. Inhabitants of “East Asia” hardly think of Indians when they use the term “Asian”. In Latin America, we have a similar situation with “Asiaticos”.

Ah, Latin America. What’s Latin about it? Because their official languages are related to Latin? So are English, German, and many others. Aztec and Mayan are definitely. What’s a “Latino” then?

When the inhabitants of the southern American continent say “America” they mean everything from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. When Americans say “America” they mean the home of the free, the United States.

We think of “Chinese” as one cultural and racial entity. It is most certainly not. The Han Chinese are the most populous but China has more than 100 other tribes, languages, races and ancestries, from Mongol, Yi, to Manchuria and Viet.

So yes, I have difficulties describing regions in my blogs, not to mention races. If find this problem more pressng than gender issues like He/She/They Cis/Trans etc. Those arejust personal issues. The country and race terminology affects journalism world-wide, disenfranchises minorities, perpetuates stereotype and Euro-American centrism.

I believe we need a new terminology and I a^m trying to come up with one that is less harmful than what we are using now. It’ll be along way.

How a world-class airline missed the bus

Amidst the Coronavirus crisis, when huge airlines like Lufthansa are struggling and others are already close to bankruptcy. Airline and airport rankings are reshuffling.

The local competition for Eva Air are weak; Cathay Pacific whose survival is also in question is struggling. At least with Hong Kong’s identity destroyed by the Chinese Communists, it has lost its former shine.

China Airlines suffers from association with Taiwan’s neighbor and is often confused with Air China. Thai and Singapore Airlines operate from expensive and touristy hubs.

As of the time of this writing, the only hub carriers active are Turkish and Emirates, both Islamic and with ridiculous transit times in Dubai and Istanbul.

Eva Air had an excellent safety record, first class onboard cuisine — see my food blog Instagram.com/worldfoodunique — and locked in cheap oil prices. New planes offer great flexibility short and long haul and it has a neutral name not associated with any country or religion.

And yet, the airline as axing flights and seemingly retreating from profitable routes as well as loss making ones.

Eva Air would be a fantastic hub carrier for East Asia with great connections to US, Europe and Australia. It serves all major cities in Southeast Asia, Japan and China. Due to the time zone, connecting times are short. Cross Pacific routes are profitable due to the big Taiwanese diaspora in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

The tech industry employs thousands of Taiwanese and Taiwanese companies like TSMC or Foxconn are setting up new production sites.

Eva has a profitable cargo network in high demand, integrated maritime connection and a new and partly refurbished airport at its disposal.

So, why is it not expanding like mad and dominating the market like the Middle East carriers do?

The reasons are not entirely obvious but they have to do with Taiwanese risk-avoidance, a conservative management style, lack of government guarantees and most of all a certain lack of confidence in cones own abilities — a core element of Taiwanese business culture and not surprising in a country that has lived under the shadow of its huge neighbor and internal political strive for decades.

Tacos everywhere

Seldom has a food item conquered the world like #tacos. Most food makes it around the world due to the efforts of marketers, emigrants, multinationals, specific products, and more than often it is altered gravely.

The meatballs in Azerbaijan are different from Swedish ones which taste differently than American meatballs or Chinese lion heads.

Sushi have been adopted to local tastes. In California you find avocados in them, in Central Asia lamb and yoghurt, and in Europe sausages.

The taco however remained largely unchanged and apart form a choice of meat or fish and the preferred sauce exists in its country of origin exactly the same as in the rest of the world.

Every effort to industrialize it had failed. Taco sauce from the supermarket is disgusting, taco shells and tortillas easy to make at home, guacamole is fun to make and so most of the associated products and their marketing remain American.

For more visit Instagram.com/worldfoodunique

Changing Habits

Our eating habits are all different. From country to country, region to region, city to city, but also person to person and from decade to decade it seems.

Much of the advice and recipes given on the internet are unsuitable for a large portion of readers. Many ingredients are only available in certain places. Young people can eat much spicer than older folks. Caucasians moving to Asia often have trouble digesting the round corn rice, and Asians moving to Europe tend to miss it. Bread in Germany is dark and hard; in Asia its soft and sweet, and so on.

Then there is age. My habits certainly have changed. I used to wake up hungry and have massive breakfasts. Now at 50+ I need a few hours before I feel well enough to eat. Simple breakfasts or just coffee will do.

Oddly enough my selection of foods changed too. I used to travel the world and enjoy local cuisine, as you can see on http://www.instagram.com/worldfoodunique

Now I tend to take much greater care in selecting ingredients, I have gone vegetarian almost and tend to make the same dishes all over again.

How have your habits changed over time?

Simple Pleasures

In the times of a pandemic I am daily discovering the simple pleasures of life. Many come from my garden.

Ever since I studied in England, I’ve developed a taste for the simplest sandwiches 🥪 in the world. When returning to Austria 🇦🇹 I showed my mom and she was amazed. Although we grow red #radishes #radieschen #onions 🧅 and #cucumber 🥒 in the garden and use them in various recipes, my family never thought of putting them on toast. So here is how I make them.

A) Radish sandwich

Use toast or rye bread #ryebread #pumpernickelbread #vollkornbrot and smother it in #ricottacheese #frischkäse

Salt one side of the radish slices and lay them. Garnish with any herb 🌿 you like.

B) Cucumber sandwich

I use soft toast here in handy strips and put #mango 🥭 #chutney followed by cucumber thinly sliced.

C) Onion Sandwich

This one is the loveliest

Try to find an onion 🧅 the size of the glass will use to #stencil the #toastbread. Cut out a round shape and smother in home-made mayo.

Slice the onion, salt lightly, and top with a second round toast also brushed generously with #mayonnaise. Cover the sides like a cake with mayo and roll in herbs 🌿- or cayenne pepper 🌶: paprika powder or beetroot powder for visual effect

#sandwiches #easyrecipes #homemade #healthyfood #healthyeating #vegetarian

Purple Carrots

The SARS-Cov virus with all its mutations is wreaking havoc on planet Earth. The economic impact for some countries and industries is enormous. Italy spends billions of Euros a month on help for all industries, other countries are helping airlines and hotels. The travel industry is of course most affected with all the lockdowns. Some smaller nations might never fully recover.

I lost my job twice in 2020 and most teaching engagements were cancelled. The I had major surgery from which I won’t fully recover for another 6-8 months. I spend a lost of time in bed resting and writing.

I am writing a book about the effects of colonialism on Asian languages and one on marketing in the food industry which allows me to do a lot of research not just into products but also recipes, traditions and the history of food.

You can find the results for now on Instagram. http://www.Instagram.com/worldfoodunique.

I try to answer questions such as why are carrots orange (The Dutch!), who really invented Pan de Jamón, where do doughnuts come from, but also how industrial processes and products have changed the way we cook (cue Heinz ketchup).

You are welcome to follow me on my journey on all my channels.

How experience trumps brand

The illusion of brand value in hospitality

In the old days, when travelling to foreign lands, with languages one did not speak and food one could not eat, transportation systems one could not navigate and people one could not trust, it was generally safer to stay at a hotel chain property. A name one knew and a brand one could trust.

Unsurprisingly, it was the Americans who invented the concept. Their salespeople and executives now could go anywhere in the vast United States, even the world, and trust the hotel they stayed in would offer the same facilities and quality they already knew.

How times have changed.

Staying at a hotel is no longer about minimum standards and basic expectations, but about one word: experience.

The Internet in particular has changed what is possible. We now have hundreds of pictures and opinions available to guide us. In a world of increasingly differentiated hotel concepts and the tyranny of customer reviews, we can safely select a different property and take the risk of being disappointed. Because we now have a voice: one review on Tripadvisor and the property may be tarnished, even ruined.

Why I Never Use TripAdvisor – Or: The Curse of Reviews

It was the cursed millennials who have created these new rules, booking.com and ubiquitous smartphones which enabled them, Instagram and Tripadvisor which enforced them

Influencers are now more important than brand value. A good brand must be able to influence, inspire, innovate, and tell a story; it should be charismatic and absolutely unique.

Hotel chains began to snap up iconic properties and integrate them into their offering while fully preserving their unique character. All which, as a designer of luxury hotels and designation F&B suits us just fine.

The erosion of brand value also means a redefinition of what a brand is. A motley collection of luxury properties can now be a “brand”. A bar, a restaurant, a spa can now be the reason why someone chooses a particular property.

That is why unique luxurious interiors are now more important than ever. Customers crave novelty, and overall, uniqueness, and only good architecture and design can offer that.

Read more: My Journey Into Interior Design

The author is director of global business development for luxury interior design house AB Concept in Hong Kong, Milan and Taipei. Follow the author on LinkedIn


Silent Earthquakes in Hospitality

This is a guest blog written by Richard Adam, Chief Executive OPTIMIST, NED Board Member, Strategist, Developer, High-End Experience Incubator and Digital Advocate. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Since I can remember, there exist these “The future of …..” type of thing conferences, publications and panel discussions. What is the future of hospitality? I don´t know. I am sure there is one, although the commercial forms may be very different. Predictions are generally difficult, especially the ones concerning the future :). I am certain, however, the landscape of hospitality as a business will be different and we will see this happening in big blows. I am bold enough to say, the changes in the next 10 years will be more radical as they were in the last 30 years. This is in regards to the fragmented forms and offerings, we will see on the horizon, and this is regarding the players in the market, some of them sticking to their habits and business as usual for far too long already.

In the history of business and economics, as we know, nothing is for granted and nothing works forever the same way, not even the simple idea of providing shelter for people away from home. Imagine, you were given potatoes to eat all your life and your parents told you, there is not much alternative.

Grown-up, out of the house, when living in the privileged parts of the world, you suddenly discover the markets full of food, you have never seen or tasted. Will you still go for potatoes? That´s what we have in the world of travel and hospitality: more and more people are not happy with just potatoes anymore. We call them mature travelers. Research, reviews, comparisons and options at their fingertips, eyes wide open, an explorer by heart, even questioning where the profits of their purchase might go to or which booking decision rewards the lower carbon footprint.

Read also: My Journey Into Interior Design

Over recent years we have seen a big appetite of some global hotel system providers (HSPs – originally known as hotel chains) dumping their real estate and their own hotel operations for the sake of growth of their brands and services to hotel owners and operators, also swallowing similar competitors to clean the market, the Starwood takeover by Marriott being one of the bigger transactions, but Hilton, IHC, Accor and others also have significant appetite for growth. It is astonishing to see these companies persuading real estate owners, their services are the best that could happen to a hotel property while they have sold most of their own. Today the hotel system providers´ stock price depends on growth rates. Increasing individual expectations and fragmented markets have led to more segmented hotel brands with specific brand promises, run by the same big hotel system giants who see their business model in providing labels called brands, booking technology, loyalty programs and management services.

Yet, I wonder whether any long-standing Ritz-Carlton guest has seen this as a progress in his or her guest experience, whether any Westin guest has seen benefits during the stay since it is under the Marriott umbrella and whether any Waldorf-Astoria or St. Regis is coming close to the original, just to name a few examples. Paste and copy of legendary originals is nothing else than selling an illusion. It is to find out, whether the illusion is meant to be sold to guests, to the hotel owners and investors or to all of them. Now, let´s explore that further.

1. The illusion of brand value

In the old days, when traveling to unknown territory with a less experimental mindset, it seemed to be safer to book a hotel from a known hotel chain. Especially frequent travelers are more concerned about minimum standards than getting the kick out of an overwhelmingly surprising hotel experience. Booking hotel brands are a reasonably safe bet and hotel chains were positioning their respective brands in the relevant segments from 1 to 5 stars and sold these concepts to hotel operators, owners and investors because it was safer for them not to deal with property investment or operational risks and gives more opportunity for growth. This was working well for all stakeholders for many years.

When big heritage brands were first established, they set themselves apart by capitalizing on an area of expertise, like a uniquely refined production method or an unparalleled sense of design. In the global world of multiplying hotel concepts according to standards, these competitive advantages got lost. Social currency is what rules brand choices today. The millennials have created their own rules and preferences. A real brand must be able to influence, inspire, innovate, tell a story, often linked to charismatic and visionary leadership.

I do not know a “sexy” brand with opportunistic streamlined technocratic executives in the lead and most companies hire CVs and “buzz words” instead of personality. A label concept is not an alive brand. A brand is a spirit.

When brands are too stuck in their past heritage, they often lose their influencing role. Tradition also means to keep the fire burning and not protecting the ash. Some iconic hotel legacies became a part of hotel group brands: The Erawan in Bangkok, The Mount Nelson in South Africa, The Carlton in Cannes, The Georges V in Paris, which was already a legend before Four Seasons existed, or The Raffles in Singapore now being part of Accor.

In the automotive sector, the Daimler-Benz corporation merged with Chrysler for a while and Mercedes-Benz cars suddenly had Chrysler parts built-in. The worst decline in sales for Mercedes-Benz cars was the consequence. These traditional legends may hope to have more distribution power in the market, but from a brand perception perspective, it lifts the HSPs brand more than it does for these traditional iconic properties. Some of them, like The Palace in St. Moritz, pulled out again after a few years not materializing the expected benefits. If I would be the owner of these famous properties, I would ask for royalties instead of paying them. Although hotel companies hire from the same source markets everyone else does, there can be some hypothetical benefits for these hotels, in management know-how, yield optimization, and digitalization, etc., but not when it comes to the glory of brands. The market leaders of the future will not necessarily be the bigger brands — they’ll be the ones that have the cultural sensitivity to understand what consumers want at any moment and what they can well do without. They need to center themselves around the customer, provide them with value, and redefine themselves as providers of experiences (not just products).

As I consider my background in strategy and marketing, I am a supporter of brand building. There is a promise, there is value, there are trust and delivery, in a perfect scenario there is even some magic and inspiration to it. It is certainly more than a label and corporate design standards.

Some hotel groups are good brands, they have a soul, a common spirit of doing things and serving their guests. The fame of The Mandarin Hong Kong and The Oriental Bangkok was blended and leveraged well for the Mandarin Oriental Group maintaining credibility. Other companies, mutated to selling trademark labels in the sense of commodity as their core business model with an emphasis on growth, have ceased being a brand in the true sense. Whoever believes money can buy everything also admits to being prepared to do anything for money.

The hotel owners and investors have paid their dues for what we now call the consolidation in hotel system providers, which has led to an inflation of hotel labels with a focus on growth but it seems, these concepts have increasingly overlooked to entertain or positively surprise their end-consumer, named hotel guests. Not surprisingly, Minor Inc. in Thailand has recently launched a court case against Marriott for getting too little in return for their royalties.

I remember when I once checked into a hotel in Orlando, belonging to the brand with the claim “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” at that time. It was late, I had been traveling for over 20 hours due to some delays, I was also jetlagged and tired. But the receptionist took some time for his scripted greeting formula, he had to get across according to the procedure standards. It just wasn’t what I needed or wanted to hear at that time. Good intentions, unreasonably applied.

Several years ago, I was booked into an Aloft Hotel in South East Asia, still under the Starwood umbrella at that time. I am not a “high maintenance” hotel guest but I was very disappointed when I could not link my smartphone to the sound system in the room because the room’s connection device was outdated. Considering the brand promise of Aloft is to cater to the digital natives, that was an embarrassing delivery. For fairness sake, I grew up in a hotel and later have worked in hotels many years myself. There is no such thing as the perfect world. But these were experiences I still remember, completely contrary to the brand promise.

As a matter of fact, some hotel properties change their branding so swiftly, regular guests don’t even notice, which is not surprising: apart from labeling there is not much difference anyway. I dare to raise the question of whether brand promise in hospitality has become a big soap bubble and whether this brand inflation will come to the same saturation and decline like McDonald’s.

Why? Their marketing power is able to raise brand promise stronger than actual delivery. But when your customers are no longer hotel guests but hotel operators, owners and investors, consequently, your focus and competencies make a shift. You pamper your cash cows but feed hotel guests with potatoes. In good independent boutique hotels with passionate hoteliers, it is the other way around and people still get this special surprise and individual touch which makes the difference, assuming they are decently operated.

Global uniformed hotel branding systems tend to lose the focus on guest experience, especially when facing growth ambitions or fear of takeover or whatever is relating to the stock exchange rate, while traditional hoteliers have that by heart. Frequent travelers are finding this out increasingly.

What was once called “brand loyalty” may still work with running shoes, cars, and smartphones, seeing the immediate value of stringent product definition. In hospitality it has become a synonym for boredom.

All the loyalty programs and CRM technology are trying to compensate for this. I am a member of some of these programs. Not the big spender, but I do have my frequencies and none of these programs ever got me excited. It also becomes obvious, many hands involved squeeze room rates for little in exchange and fair-trade expectations will also play a role. Therefore, the global asset-light hotel system business model might become a dated dinosaur business model soon. Even when getting more and more segmented in their branding concepts, it is most likely rolled out with little substance for individual expectations and hospitality experience. Marriott currently holds 30 labels they call brands in the portfolio, Accor even 32. Can they really reinvent the wheel of hospitality in 30 different areas and roll it out globally as a profiled experience? The big players seem to have spotted this trend against them and are increasingly trying to offer independent boutique hotels a place under their portfolio of brands, not to mention it is another sort of income in terms of royalties for loyalty programs and distribution platforms etc.

Again, they are missing the point in guest expectations and experience. As Albert Einstein once said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.

Smaller, innovative, more individual guest-centric and disruptive hospitality concepts are taking over the word of mouth “must-see” awareness. It is always about the destination experience, the special property and hardly ever about a label. Due to social networks and the power of advocacy, no marketing budget or paid (faked) influencer campaign can compensate when the word-of-mouth isn’t working for you.

2. The illusion of distribution power

In the year 2000, I learned from a McKinsey study, which stated that in about 15 years on from 2000, the majority of booking or shopping transactions in retail and travel will happen online. At that time, I was at the helm of a tourism development authority for a destination with 45 million registered annual visitors creating 50 billion USD in annual revenue and 8% of GDP. So, this was a statement of great relevance calling for action.

Ever since, I kept embracing digital technology and have my track record of success and failure, endless learning and continuous experience, which has helped me sharpening my senses to distinguish between what is technically doable, what is the “flavor of the months”, and what will generate real sustainable value of future relevance.

Today, in retail we have Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba etc. and in travel, we have Priceline (incl. their subbrands Booking, Agoda), Expedia, Trip Advisor, CTrip and so on. Hotel Groups may have their armadas of sales representatives for B2B and they invest in technology as well, but in terms of volume, they rely on the so-called OTAs (Online Travel Agencies).

Their contracting conditions forcing hoteliers to offer the best price options via OTAs played a big role in their growth. In many countries, this practice or contract terms are no longer allowed, but OTAs have their ways of bypassing that.

Booking.com pays 850 million USD per annum to secure a top ranking in Google searches and within the offers for a particular destination, it is about price or tangible added value, less about brands. Apart from making efforts in improving conversion rates, revenue and channel management, HSPs don’t have many competitive advantages in these systems. That’s why they run massive advertising campaigns to book directly to save commission or create some sticky alliance at the cost of the end consumer. In times of intelligent digital marketing automatization, these brand advertising campaigns are needed to keep glossy travel and general interest magazines alive and to boost executives’ egos, less and less for leveraging business. In OTA search listings, individual independent hotels stand next to hotel group branches, with the advantage of not having to pay additional royalties to the hotel system provider. That increases price flexibility or the opportunity to add value and service. Basically, any hotel can build competencies and set up self-sufficient revenue and channel management. It is not rocket science but requires commitment and the alignment of resources.

For the hoteliers of independent hotels, who are interested in improving their online distribution strategy, take advantage of OTAs without getting fatally dependent, you may check out my SlideShare contribution on that issue.

Read also: Salone, Instagram, and AR – the future of hospitality marketing

When companies of all industries (including their executives) start to think they are the best there is, then they become most vulnerable. If you stop improving, you have stopped being good. History shows, every time companies get too much control and dominate markets, some people think of solutions to outsmart them. OTAs also have become dinosaurs to a certain extent and are feeling the heat. New technologies may make them obsolete again or at least make their business model less aggressively dominant. Blockchain technology concepts on flat fee connection may become a better alternative for the hotelier. Companies working on this, like Winding Tree, are not short of investors.

Read also: How Blockchain Will Save the World

In the “old economy”, companies controlling supply (e. g. oil, steel etc.) were called “Aggregators” and made people like Carnegie or Rockefeller very rich. In the “new economy”, aggregators are called Amazon or Alibaba in retail and Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor or CTrip in travel. The difference is, they do not control supply, they control demand. Hotel chains or in particular HSPs may have significant market share, but they do control neither demand nor supply, not even their “own” product delivery when the hotel guest is seen as the customer. As we know, their customers are hotel owners, so the focus may be accordingly. In a business model based on economies of scale, that is not an endlessly stable position. All they have is the promise, their brands and services are worth the royalty fees, in a business environment with relatively small margins for hotel operators, increasingly massive fragmented diversification and saturation of their labels as their excitement factor wears out. It may be applicable, that in certain circumstances, a prestigious hotel brand may increase the real estate value. Fair enough, but the owner has paid for that as well.

3. The illusion of economy of scale

Since Adam Smith intellectually introduced the concept of economy of scale, it has changed the world of production, supply chain and doing business. Needless to mention the series of products, which would not exist or would not be affordable. HSPs also benefit from this thinking and adopted the strategy in focussing on selling standardized labels, concepts, distribution technology, and management service to hotel owners and investors. That has led to tremendous global growth and worked well and comfortable for decades. The limits of a sustainable strategy based on an economy of scale are new developments, alternative offerings or change in customer behavior. In the hospitality industry, the assumption of segmented yet standardized target groups of hotel guests expecting standardized hotel experiences all over the world becomes obsolete.

Read also: How the Internet of Things will change the Supply Chain

From a strategy perspective, except the traditional thinking in either focus on price or value-added, there are two directions: a feasible, “safe” strategy aiming for sustainable growth or a disruptive strategy attacking gaps of common business models and doing things with a new approach. As we know from Uber or WeWork, disruptors shake up the market in creating demand or solutions, nobody has seen or tackled before. But it is risky, and immediate profits or ROI better not be the first thing on the agenda. Then again, disruptive strategies can be a promise for the future. Should the vision of shared driverless cars ever become reality, the digital infrastructure of Uber is the plug-and-play operational backbone globally.

The former President and CEO of Starwood, Frits van Paasschen, wrote the book “The Disruptors’ Feast” after his tenure with Starwood. Whether this was coincidence or foresight, the business model of the HSP might become obsolete or needed a strategic shift, is answered in the book only subliminally. I assume he might agree to some of the thesis laid out here.

4. The illusion of guest experience

There is the old William E. Deming formula.

Quality is when delivery is equal to expectancy.

I guess that is still the philosophy of HSPs policy and procedure standards. But isn’t it the “wow” factor that makes guests share their experience in social networks or back home? Isn’t it the repeat customer or the advocate which every hotel needs to have a sustainable business? When delivery equals expectancy you do not create the “wow” factor. People don’t take pillows or stationary back home from a hotel stay (oh well, some do), they take away an experience and that’s what is left to rate the hotel for advocacy or potential return. Experience has to do with individual profile, character, and uniqueness. This requires intellectual property in design and conception, not copy and paste. It is an economy of scope rather than an economy of scale.

I am not talking about the frequent business traveler, who checks in late and leaves early with the only expectation of smooth-running processes and no negative surprises. For them hospitality is a commodity. I talk about the target groups who select hotels or hospitality for having a pleasant experience, those who are tired of “déjà vu”. Customers who compare and make a choice of preference. In a digital world, comparison has never been as effective.

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In less mature countries in terms of tourism, without the learnings of life cycle pattern history and effects, there is still misperception about the business model of HSPs. For ambitious Saudi Arabia, Accor has just announced to have “11.000 rooms” in the pipeline. One of the few remaining gold rush spots on earth for HSPs.

No doubt, Accor is a provider of valuable hospitality concepts and will help for further establishing the industry in the country to have more capacity of the usual and commonly known standards, but it is interesting to see in the feeds, that people think Accor is investing and taking the financial or operational risk. They are just selling their standardized services to Saudi investors. Investors better critically reflect whether today’s inflated concepts will be past glory in a decade, or even not be around any longer. Maybe, the entrepreneurial Saudi or international community (including the mindset of investors) with an ability, drive and dedication to set up hospitality in the country with a real innovative profile and character as a real driving force to visit, still needs time, education, investment and experience to emerge and to mature by learning instead of falling for copycats..

Global market research clearly indicates, authentic yet contemporary hospitality experience are key drivers to visit a country. People go to the supermarket because they know what to get, not because they wanted this specific experience in their shopping, not because they always wanted to be there. The driving force for selecting a destination among other options is a completely different case. Even young people, more often than not, have already traveled the world.

I remember when my kids were little, they often wanted the “same” as their friends, now they are grown and matured, they look for “different” things and experience. Similar to the matured traveler, they “grow up” and change preferences, documented in consumer behavioral shifts and consequences regarding millennials. Doing and having “the same” isn´t the explorer´s mindset of desire. In the world’s biggest and extremely competitive industry, HSPs can help to build trust and establish fundamental structures in the early development stage. However, for gaining international competitive edge beyond the mainstream, beyond satisfying common needs in “me too” fashion, beyond being and having “the same”, you have to think and create ahead. In consumer behavior, people go for the cheapest or for the best, little space for the mainstream.

Currently, Marriott is producing continuous press releases about growth and new properties in Japan. At the same time, an investor has initiated to bring the Ryokan concept, the traditional Japanese guest house experience, to other places internationally. Also, Muji, the Japanese retail and design company, is launching hotels. I leave it to the readers, which seems to be more interesting to explore from an experience perspective.

Apart from the revival of personally operated, individual boutique hotel concepts with charming storytelling, we see plenty of new attempts and concepts interpreting hospitality in a new way. My capacity for reading, observing or traveling is too little, to provide a complete listing of the most international initiatives. There are plenty and there are new competitors coming to the market every week. Although not everyone will survive, they are there because the demand for true out of the box hospitality experience is growing and the approach of HSPs is increasingly saturated. The “standard” is dead, no risk no fun.

I do not have the ultimate proof for that, but the rise of AirBnB and the increasingly different forms of products they offer is a strong indicator. The search for an individual alternative experience was a driving force for the rapid growth of AirBnB or emerging similar platforms, maybe not the intended strategy, but look how they are gaining profile by increasingly providing fancy individual, out of the box hospitality experiences. It is simply because there is demand. There are people not looking for potatoes only. A premium potato is still a potato. While HSPs are fighting to roll out, implement and control their standards, AirBnB (with all the critical issues of quality control) has outsourced creativity and provides the platform for disruptors.

Luxury consumer goods specialist and therefore well-tuned in luxury experience provision, the French LVMH Group has moved into the hospitality market as well. After establishing a small number of Maison Cheval Blanc, they have recently acquired Belmond. One of the few remaining true hotelier companies that still own and operate hotels and other upscale services, real rare iconic beauties among them, instead of another mutated vendor of labels. Belmond’s reputation for providing high-end hospitality experience is one of the best in the market. However, their business model encapsulates capital, is cumbersome and their pipeline of new properties in the making is close to empty. It will be interesting to see, whether they move ahead of the crowd in terms of providing superior experience under the LVMH umbrella and therefore become the luxury provider of choice or they move in the same direction of consolidated asset-light copy and paste for the sake of pure growth and become a “mee too” hotel system provider.

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For the younger, budget-minded and activity-oriented community of digital nomads, Selina is pushing into the market with their own promising version of experiencing the Latin American lifestyle or what will be left of it once “standardized” and exported.

For twenty years by now, different professional assignments in development missions bring me to China on a regular base. I have stayed in numerous hotels, most of so-called international standard. Since I found the Eclat Hotel in Beijing, this is the place for me (of course, people have different tastes, that´s why this article exists). No mainstream developer thinking in terms and standards of the established HSPs could have come up with a property like this. The place is so individual that no hotel brand standard would be adequate. It´s an art and design place equipped with beds and excellent service.

There is a big difference in development between city hotels, which is pure property development, or recreational hotels in remote areas, where the surroundings and environment play a more important role and the experience value is based on other criteria. This is more to be addressed as destination development as it is far more complex. Every contemporary hospitality development is “themed” as they say, more or less successfully. A destination development strategy aims to leverage a carefully curated story to generate a sharp and (almost) unique profile with a competitive edge. It is not about assembling branches and copycats. In my professional assignments in destination development in recreational or vacation areas, I am frequently confronted with the thinking in properties only. You come across satellite properties or “development zones”, but when guests want to leave hotels to get an experience of the place in general, they stand in the middle of nowhere in a dull atmosphere, confronted with views and impressions definitely not suitable for making them advocates or repeat visitors.

Even looking out of the guest room’s window needs to be curated. In recreational destinations thinking, planning and operating in ghettos is a brittle and susceptible approach. Visitors will always assess their entire experience of a geographic place and do not differentiate between the property of their stay and a neglected area when they go in front of the house. Both need care, attention and eventually action keeping the “visitor journey” in mind. Scientific research and findings in destination development are established a little more than 50 years looking into destinations with a long tradition, while science, know-how, and experience in building infrastructure and construction goes back much longer. That’s why in destination development, thinking in bricks and mortar is still dominant, creating so-called “white elephants” still today, leaving even attractive properties empty and investors, planners, architects wondering why?

Experience design requires either talented passionate hoteliers (and I like to point out, they can be found at branded hotels just as well, but might not have the opportunity to live up to the full potential). It can be the one lucky moment to have the idea that turns around your business or it can be systematic structured experience design along the visitor journey and its three dimensions: hardware, social and service, digital. For readers interested in more details, please check out this SlideShare.

It is the investor’s or hotel owner’s decision, whether they want to become a provider of a commodity for a good night’s sleep or an experience provider, which depends on various issues (location, business model, potential, market, investment, operational capabilities etc.).

But it will be the individual unique experience that separates the competitive edge from the commodity.

Finally, it all comes down to return on capital investment and EBIDTA. It is about business. However, the ability and desire of creating outstanding customer experience are restricted, when the pressure of shareholder value generation is haunting you. Consequently, so is the leading edge and trendsetter potential. The visionary creative counterpart of the accountant has to be in the strategic lead to successfully surf with the market and to avoid drowning.

Individual High-End Experience requires intellectual property first of all, service quality and other costly ingredients second, but can leverage sharp profile, competitive advantage, positioning and sustainability with an adequate price tag to it. Someone —  hopefully a regular flow of visitors —  has to pay for that in a price-sensitive environment. But talking about experience, as Benjamin Franklin once said,

"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."

© Richard Adam

email: contact@trendtransfer.asia

website: www.trendtransfer.asia

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