Running with the press. Travelstart newsworthy stories 21/30

We have had
our fair share of press over the years. And most of it has been good. Its been
about where the industry is going how consumer behaviour is changing, how we
think Internet is going to affect the aviation industry, prices and awards we
have won, new launches and other things.

There were also
times when the press misquoted us to create some sensations. A Swedish
journalist wanted to talk about how it is to be a foreigner setting up shop in
South Africa. She wrote an article instead about the fact that Travelstart had
received a SIDA loan of 50.000 €. And here I was living in paradise spending
taxpayers cash. I used my blog to tell the truth and the story died.

A defining
moment for our company with the press was in January of 2000 when we sold the
company. We were still perhaps  6-7
people. We had hardly any sales, definitely no profits, no technology, no USP,
no patents and hardly no clue. And here’s what happened.

We had been
in talks with a German firm and we agreed to do a deal. We signed the papers
just before Christmas 1999 and I told my staff. We celebrated over a Christmas
party and all was well. Coming back to work after New Year I thought there
might be an angle and perhaps we should tell the press.

I hired a
PR firm to quietly leak the news to the largest financial newspaper in Sweden. They
loved the story and while I was on a business trip to New York and Los Angeles,
with the new owners, the newspaper called me. It was New York morning and I was
having breakfast in my room at The Holiday Inn Times Square.  The journalist asked about the deal, the
structure, the money involved etc. She was lovely to speak with and very
engaging. I didn’t think much about it afterwards.

The next morning
I landed for some meetings in Frankfurt. When I switched on the cell phone my
voice mail said something like: “you have 25 new messages.” I normally had one
or two if it was a hectic day. Most messages were from different journalists
from all kind of papers and TV. I didn’t know how to deal with these matters so
I deleted all the messages and thought they would call back. What I didn’t know
was that the financial paper had put me on their first page, and we were all
over the place in Sweden.

I spent
most of the Frankfurt day in a whirlwind with jet lag, answering calls from
newspapers asking me all kind of questions like how to become successful and other
impossible questions. The traffic on our website jumped 20 times and business
was good. I was overpowered by the whole thing and remember thinking that this
is great, but we haven’t done anything different.

As I got
back home in the evening the press waited for me to take pi.jpgctures and ask more
questions. The next day the second wave came.  Now we were in the tabloids sharing experiences in business
and telling others how to make millions. It was bizarre. Even the local
newspapers had got hold of the story and put us on first page plus they plastered
my pi.jpgcture on the news bills all over town. One newspaper called and asked if I
thought it was an advantage to be a Christian to become successful. I said no,
and he had no story. Our bank that in those days thought we had leprosy send me

As I came
back to our office staff came up to congratulate me. And I told them that
nothing has changed we were still talking about the same deal we did 4 weeks
earlier, only difference now was that the world knew about it. But to them it
was suddenly real.

I spend a
large part of the morning answering phone calls regarding everything from my
role models to asking for donations to transport Jews out of Russia. There were
some really absurd ones I can tell. SAS agent service previous arrogant
behaviour was exchanged with royal treatment so my staff were happy.

In the
afternoon I went to Stockholm for some meetings and a national TV appearance. I
had a meeting with a person from the management team of American Express. He told
me the shock I had caused in the team. Who was this guy, what was this company?
How could they have missed this Internet thing? We laughed and he later joined

At 6 PM it
was time for the TV interview and I was wasted from the last three days
happenings. They interviewed me at Arlanda Airport just before flying back
home. When asking what we were going to do with the money I said, “ Ill buy
some ice-cream for my kids” referring to some years before when we never could
afford to even buy our kids ice cream. That’s about the only thing I remember
from the interview. By the time I got back home the interview was just going to
go live on prime time news. I didn’t want to see it, and I still haven’t to
this day. But everyone else in the country did. I just wanted to sleep.

15 minutes of fame was really fun and I wouldn’t want to be without it. When
the press starts to run everything changes. It opened up doors for Travelstart
that are still very valuable. It also thought us valuable lessons, like there’s
a new edition of the paper coming out tomorrow, meaning news today forgotten
tomorrow. And it taught us that yes there are people that actually do believe what’s
in the news. It also taught us that when people think you have money everything
become exponentially more expensive, which is probably one of the reasons IKEA
fosters a culture of stinginess.


Amex 10
years later is still suffering from not taking Internet seriously enough in the
early days. The retrenchments and shut down of offices in Sweden has been like
nothing else in the history of travel. Even though they are doing a lot of
things right today, they are still trying to catch up.

Our Readers Comments

  1. Stephan,
    There are more that suffer!
    Heard you will be in Stockholm in late Oct for SKÅL lunch. See you

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