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October 2010

Big events = bad

It amazes me that cities are still so keen to stage events such as the Olympics.  Far from increasing the number of visitors it actually drives them away.  Hotels put up their prices and most people assume that flights will be either unavailable or very expensive, so they go somewhere else.  Locally we had this nonsense for the handover – hotels started out offering rooms at ridiculous prices, then cut prices and finally found out that they couldn’t fill their rooms whatever they did. 

Here’s a warning about the likely effect on London of the Olympics in 2012. 

'Toxic' Olympics effect may hit UK visitor numbers, warns tourist body

The trade body representing tour operators has warned that expectations of a boost in tourism from the London Olympics may not be met, after unveiling research that suggested previous games had a "toxic" effect on visitor numbers. The European Tour Operators Association, which held a seminar on the subject today, released research that showed previous hosts had invariably overestimated the number of foreign visitors and the duration of their stay.

The Sydney games in 2000 anticipated 132,000 visitors and received 97,000 for the games period, while Athens hoped for 105,000 per night in 2004 and received fewer than 14,000. In 2008, Beijing anticipated more than 400,000 foreign guests and received 235,000 for the whole month of August.

The average number of hotel beds occupied in Beijing during the Olympics was 39% down on the previous year, the ETOA report showed. It said that while the Beijing Games may have been a "triumph of planning and showmanship", for the tourism industry they were a "toxic event that crushed normal demand, both business and leisure". The report said that while tourism chiefs and organisers had recognised that the Olympics would create some displacement, with visitors arriving for the games replacing those put off by the fact it was taking place, they still tended to talk in terms of a large overall boost.

Will people ever learn?


Love the Kindle 3, hate paying $2 extra for nothing

The combination of the lower price and improved contrast won me over.  After thinking about buying one of the earlier Kindles but never quite being convinced that it  was a good idea, I really couldn’t resist the new Wi-Fi only model at US$139 (plus US$21 for delivery to Hong Kong).

However, there is a problem.  When Amazon started selling the Kindle internationally they added a flat charge of US$2 per book to cover the cost of using the mobile phone network wherever you happen to be.  Which seems somewhat unfair considering that Hong Kong has probably the lowest cost of voice and data anywhere.  But, OK, maybe Amazon were never going to set different prices for each country.

What is much more ridiculous is that even for the Kindle 3 model with Wi-Fi but not 3G, Amazon still insist on adding $2 to the price of most titles.  For no service at all.

The pricing is strange in other ways, with plenty of Kindle books priced virtually the same as - or even higher than - the physical book.  How can that be?  How can it possibly cost more to make a digital copy than to print a book and ship it first to the Amazon warehouse and then to your home? 

Yes, of course, it is almost always cheaper to buy a Kindle book (even with the $2 international surcharge) than to pay for delivery to Hong Kong, but that’s not really the point.  I understand that international couriers charge to ship books, but it costs virtually nothing to create a Kindle book and send it to me through the Internet, so what justification can there be for some of the ridiculously high prices they charge?

There are still a lot of titles available for US$9.99 US$11.99, though some only get to that price after an initial period at a higher price. Tony Blair’s autobiography was priced at $17 (+ $2.00, of course) before they dropped it to $9.99/11.99 (when it made it on to the New York Times bestseller list).  Who is going to pay the higher price, and how would you feel if you paid that and then saw it reduced a few days later?  Madness. 

image Then there’s the fact that international customers can only buy from the US store.  I can buy physical books from either the UK or the US stores, so why can’t I buy Kindle books from both?  Actually, it’s worse than that because some titles are in the US store but are not available internationally, and at times this seems totally random - with one book from a series unavailable whilst the rest are available.

There are some free books available, and some very low cost editions of out-of-copyright titles, though when you have to pay $2.00 for most of the “free” books it obviously makes them less attractive.  If I have to pay, then I’d rather pay a bit more and get a better quality edition without typographical errors and with proper navigation. 

There are also some limited-time offers, but I don’t know how to find them.  Searching for free books produces hundreds of old titles and a lot of rubbish, and I can’t be bothered to search through all of that for something worthwhile.

But what about the Kindle itself?  I have read a few very negative reviews (of the previous versions), but the Kindle 3 reproduces pictures fairly well, and the only real problem is with big charts or diagrams that either don’t fit on the page or which get separated from the text.  Apart from that, it’s fine.  On balance I think I’d still prefer to read a physical book, but the convenience of being able to carry dozens of books in one really small unit more than makes up for that.

Now, Amazon, about that $2 charge for nothing at all…