As principal of Sydney's Intelligent.Travel Consulting Kurt Knackstedt spends around 100 days each year in the air and on the road, ranging from Melbourne to the Asian travel hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore. And if anyone's got some great real-world tips on travel you can bet it's a frequent flying travel consultant!
What city do you most often visit for business?
Domestically, it’s Melbourne: I sometimes go there each week, it’s like my commute from Sydney. Internationally my most frequent stops are Hong Kong and Singapore, as they’re the main hubs for the travel industry in Asia.
What are your best tips for Hong Kong and Singapore?
My favourite activity in Hong Kong, when I find myself with an unexpected free day, is sitting in the front seat of the upper deck on the bus to Stanley. The trip over to the other side of Hong Kong Island is on a twisting, winding road through some beautiful scenery, and being right up front against the glass is a great way to see it all.
In Singapore there's a brilliant Indian/Sri Lankan curry house on Boat Quay which I know as “Our House” (although it’s also called “Columbo”). It’s five floors up a rickety lift to the rooftop which features the best views of the Singapore River and it serves up great sub-continental cuisine. Not easy to find the front door but worth the effort!
What's the one thing you do (or try to do) on every trip?
Even if late at night, I generally try to go for a walk around the area near my hotel right after check in, to get a feel for what’s going on in the area. I also love to pore over city maps to see where I am, where I might like to go, and how I might possibly get there.
On any business trip, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I always challenge myself to try local cuisine whenever possible, followed up by grabbing a drink in a local pub or bar to get a feel for what it’s like to live there. During the day I’ll try to take in a local museum followed by several hours at an outdoor café, just watching the world go by.
What’s your favourite city to travel to?
Rome: perhaps it’s not a city you’d want to be there for work, however, as there’s just too much to do, see and eat outside the office!
You’ve got a spare day in Rome: what do you do?
I’d start the morning with a cornetto and cappuccino at a café in Trastevere, which is a taste of real Rome given it’s a bit off the tourist paths (although that’s changing unfortunately).
After that, I’d grin and bear the tourist throngs at the Roman Forum, as the ruins there never cease to amaze me. For lunch, there is a fantastic pizza café just to the left of the Pantheon which also serves amazing arancini (deep fried risotto balls) where I would carb-up for an afternoon wandering the streets around Piazza Navona and the Campo de Fiori.
Dinner would have to be at the brilliantly quirky Bramante near Piazza Navona, owned by a flamboyant but charming fellow who makes you feel right at home with fantastic wines and outstanding food.
When you’ve overseas, what are your favourite stores to shop in?
I like cooking and gadgets, so I really enjoy shops which sell kitchen or home furnishings which locals would buy. I like to see what people use to cook, have fun or furnish their homes with – unfortunately many of those items are a bit too large to fit into my luggage!
What’s your favourite hotel?
Langham Place in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, epitomizes what I think a great business hotel should be. The rooms are spacious, well thought-out and extremely comfortable, with great views of the area. Also, the technology is apparent without being overbearing and most of all, it is user-friendly. Combine that with excellent dining and leisure choices, a wonderful pool and gym, and near direct access to the MTR and you have a great base for work in Hong Kong.
Tell us about your best overseas dining experience.
Several years ago, and just after it had opened, I hosted a sales conference dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The traditional Thai banquet was outdoors within the hotel’s stunning grounds, and was capped off by a traditional Thai ceremony complete with hundreds of paper lanterns set off into the sky. Magic!
What are some essential carry-on items you’d never leave home without?
I always make sure that the book I am reading is long enough to last me the entire journey (including bedtime reading) otherwise I’ll bring a second one along. I also carry with me my own set of eyeshades and earplugs just in case they don’t have them on board the airplane.
How do you typically spend your in-flight time?
As I’ve done a fair share of long-haul flying, my pattern is pretty well established. I start the flight off watching a movie as that generally gets me through the first meal service. That way I’m fed and ready to roll to do whatever work I need to get done as I always save my busy work for long flights. Nothing beats multiple hours of uninterrupted time to get paperwork, presentations or reports finished. Once the work is done, it’s pretty much catching up on movies and TV that I don’t get to see at home.
How do you beat jetlag?
You can’t beat jetlag — you just have to find a way to power through it! My approach is to mentally prepare myself to adjust to the arrival time as soon as possible.
On flights to the US from Australia, this means having to try and get a decent amount of sleep on the trans-Pacific leg, knowing since your body clock is still saying its mid-day you’ll likely only get a couple of hours.
On European trips, this means getting a cat-nap in on the Australia-Asia stopover sector, then pushing as long as you can on the Asia-Europe sector so when you do finally pass out you can get a solid 8-9 hours of sleep to arrive “morning ready.”
Once on the ground, a Berocca does wonders to give me a boost to get through the day, and then the first night I take a sleeping pill to ensure I get a full night’s sleep. Jetlag gone!
What are the first things you do on a business trip after settling into your hotel?
Upon arrival I generally try to get a recon trip on foot around the hotel, to seek out potential dining, shopping or drinking spots while I am in town. If I’m arriving into Europe from Australia and if I have time, I like to try and get some exercise in as that trip especially is a killer on you physically so its good to get the blood pumping as soon as you can.
What do you like most about travelling, even though it’s for work?
I’m not ashamed to say I’m addicted to travel, as I like to get outside my comfort zone and experience new things, places, people and cultures. I’ve never been a creature of habit, so the idea of a job which doesn’t require travel is an anathema to me. When I’m in the same place for more than a couple of weeks at a time I’m itching to get back out on the road.
What advice would give airlines to improve the experience of the business traveller?
For me the actual experience and process of flying has been well executed by most airlines, especially in the Asia Pacific region.
As a frequent traveller to the US as well as Asia, I experience both the highs and lows of air travel as the Asia Pacific carriers are world-class while travelling by air in the US is often akin to legal torture.
However, airlines need to seriously think through their distribution and auxiliary fee strategies, as there is a growing malaise amongst business travelers and buyers who are sick to death of extra fees for everything, as well as constant battles between airlines and distributors of their products (ie, travel agencies and global distribution systems) over who should pay for what. This must change as the industry’s future depends on a harmonious relationship along the entire travel chain.
What are your biggest travel gripes?
Inconsistent service or product is what really affects my experience with travel suppliers. This is especially true with airline alliances as well as for hotel brands. On the airline front, I find it frustrating as a top-tier flyer that partner carriers often don’t consistently extend their courtesies even though I’m travelling on their metal. From a hotel perspective, if you’re going to hang a particular sign over your door, you better make sure you are embracing the full extent of what that brand offers.
What’s your best travel advice?
Travel is all about experiencing new, different and often times uncomfortable situations. How you deal with and react to those experiences is what truly can change your life and the way you look at things. My advice is to embrace the opportunities that travel offers you and really get into the place that you are visiting. Eat the local food, do business like the locals do, and take the advice of your hosts. You’ll come back home with a greater appreciation of what you have and likely a hunger to go back out and find more great experiences.