Monday, December 7, 2009

Up in the Air: Movie on Travel and being Glocal

I generally go to the movies to experience an hour or two of entertainment and come out forgetting the plot and cast, so much so that I rarely contribute to discussions on movies/actors when it comes up in social settings. Up in the Air that I watched over the weekend will probably join the list of good/great /interesting movies I have seen over-the-years-but-cannot-recollect soon but I thought I’d capture my two cents in the blog.
The story is about a corporate downsizer in his travels and follows his isolated life and philosophies, along with the people that he meets along the way. The plot and theme of the movie hits home to globe-trotting road-warriors, self included: Mileage points, elite status, upgrades, a dose of downsizing, Glocal and the eternal philosophical question: why do we do it? in a sense the movie is about having to travel hopefully than to arrive.

The philosophy of the protagonist, Ryan Bingham espouses is to “Travel Light” physically and metaphorically by not carrying any baggage in live more than needed. Having lived for extended periods around the world, I can relate to the idea of how “liberating” it is to literally throw everything that does not fit into a backpack (or in my case checked in suitcases). I have done this more than a few times in my working life: moving from Bangalore to Welwyn Garden City, Hartfordshire, on to Frankfort, Kentucky and then to Colorado Springs, CO, a stint back in Bangalore to Mississauga, ON, traveling to Anytown USA, Basel, Switzerland and then again traveling between a base and Anytown USA.

The film features heavy product placement, with either American Airlines, Hertz, or Hilton Hotels prominently featured in almost every scene. While Ryan is a big fan of American Airline, going on to get one of the most coveted ultra elite (don’t-remember-name) status, I havent been that lucky. My business travels are eclectic and my employer, like most others doesn’t promote a specific airline. Which means that my miles (and loyalty) is spread across Delta, Continental, United and American Air (with their affiliate international partners). Bottomline: evern after clocking a few international flights and scores of domestic flights, I will not start the new year as an ultra-elite in with one airline.

On the hotel front, I have a bit more control though. While Rayan plugs Hilton, I am Platinum with InterContinental’s Priority Club and stick to their Hotels when possible (Crowne Plaza Resort Hotels, Holiday Inn Hotels, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites …).

I had an experience similar to Ryan Bingham’s Wisconsin hotel episode, though at that time it didn’t feel that much funny being at the receiving end. I had checked in at RExyz (upscale chain) near Philly Airport with colleagues for 3 nights. Our group was promised premium access that includdaccess to their Concierge lounge on the 12th floor: Breakfast in the mornings and sundowners, appetizers in the evenings. I happened to extend my stay by a day after my colleagues left and was surprised when my key-access to Concierge lounge didn’t work. I called the reception and was told politely: I was not an elite member in their program. I tried reasoning that I already had the concierge access during the current stay and that I was an ultra/platinum member at their competitor. The gatekeeper at the reception refused to hear me out.

Moral of my story: I had to travel to Philly about 8-10 times this quarter and my patronage , and money shifted back to the hotel chain where I was recognized and continue to get elite status. Stuff loyalty is made of I guess.

On the tech front too the plot of the movie hits home. I have written extensively about maturing-but-lack-of-adoption of Video Conferencing technologies in my blog and corporate blog entries. This is a point the story also drives home the point when Natalie’s GloCal idea of leveraging Video Conferencing technology to ‘virtually’ fire people backfires.

Other blogs and reviews: