Resist the Kingdom of the Bland.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Sunday, 30th May 2010
Spend your gold wisely, says Yeoh Siew Hoon, if you wish to resist being led on the path to sameness and blandness.

"When Apple figures out the push mail feature on the iPhone, you can throw away your Blackberry," he said, as he dismissed the device I was holding in my hand.

We were doing the usual gadget courtship dance as one does these days at cocktail parties where there is not much interesting to talk about in the world other than our devices.

I looked at the glass of champagne in front of me, thought about it and instead said, "Wouldn't it be bad for any one brand to dominate any one space?"

"But they're the best," he said. "I can watch a movie in bed on my iPhone with this new app."

I looked at the glass of champagne in front of me, thought about it and instead said, "Why would you want to do that in bed?"

I don't want to get into a battle between the Blackberry and iPhone in this column – but I do want to make a point about competition and the role we have as consumers to ensure that there is competition in the marketplace.

See, I am a believer in the old adage that competition keeps everyone honest. Apple needs competition as much as Blackberry or Nokia do. Look at what's happened to the smart phone because Apple decided to compete in this space.

As consumers, we have a choice – to encourage competition or not. Everyone says the customer is getting smarter, but smarter does not only mean knowing where to get the best price and where to find the best place to stay, it also means making smart choices based on our interests and values.

Google allows us to search and our desires are then computed by algorithms. Travel suppliers want to be found and so work on search engine marketing and optimization and they buy key words or they fill their content with relevant words to be found by machines.

Content that is written not for the customer, but for Google.

Facebook teaches us to get social and our interests and activities are used to make up our social profile. Who owns that profile? Facebook. What will they do with it? Funny, have you been receiving a lot of invites lately from people you don't know. I got invited to a "Felix Da Housecat" club party this week.

Increasingly, these two have become the biggest players on the Internet and many of us, including businesses, have become so reliant on them it's become an addiction.

That's not only unhealthy but dangerous.

What happens when they change their rules, which they have and will continue to?

As consumers, we are increasingly being led through this funnel of search and social into a sea of sameness – the kingdom of the bland.

Google "Bangkok hotels" and you are led down a similar path as millions of others. Read reviews on Trip Advisor and you could end up having the same experience as millions of others.

Low cost carriers lure us with zero fares and we get sucked into their trap, wasting time (which is money) trying to access their site and in the end, spending more money buying this-and-that from them. Haven't you heard, cheap is the new trap?

If we as consumers think we are as smart as we say we are, then we have to buy wisely. It is our money and as someone once said, he who owns the gold rules.

Okay, like me, you may not have a lot of gold but intent followed by action is worth its weight in gold.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

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