On behalf of the Marriott Corporation, The Marist Poll conducted a study to assess perceptions of business travel among frequent jet setters in the U.S., China, Germany, and the UK. And who knew – I’m more like the Chinese than I realized! In fact, they are most likely to view business travel as glamorous, as relaxing, as their vacations, and want to extend their ventures for pleasure and exploration.
Last month, I attended the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona. And, unlike the majority of Americans (53%) who reported they prefer not to take along a spouse or family member on business, my husband and I relish these opportunities to pack in as much exploration in as little time possible. So, we crafted a mini-vacation around the conference.
We flew to Las Vegas on a Saturday; Monday morning we rented a car and headed to the Grand Canyon; Tuesday night we continued south to Sedona; Wednesday night arrived in Phoenix; Thursday commenced the conference. Of course, between intense methodological discussions of cell phone surveying, address based sampling, and cross-cultural research, there was time for hiking, great Southwestern food, and little relaxation. Perfection!
Here are a few tips, from many lessons learned, for having some play with business travel:
– Take clients, colleagues, or other people with whom you’re looking to network to local restaurants (outside of the conference/meeting location), museums, or scenic drives. It’s a great way to talk business while exploring something new together.
– Extend the trip even 1 or 2 days before or after your meeting/conference. It’s amazing how much you can see in a day or two!
– Connect with locals prior to your trip. It’s the best way to find off the beaten path activities and the best restaurants.
– Plan ahead! Given you’re likely to have so little time for excursions, it’s probably not the best idea to “wing it.” While I’m an advocate of spontaneity, you don’t want to lose time searching the Internet or missing the sites while your head is buried in a travel book.
– Rest another time. Meeting and work responsibilities are likely to take up the vast majority of your business trips. So, if you want time to “play” you’ll probably have to forgo some R&R and soak up all of the sites and local offerings of your destination…and you’d be surprised…every place has something unique to offer.
There has been a growing interest among our U.S. clients to compare the opinions and perceptions of Americans to residents in other countries. This prompted me to recount some methodological issues discussed at a workshop I attended last spring in Switzerland.
The Workshop on Comparative Survey Design and Implementation (CSDI) was a small, international conference of survey methodologists who share a strong interest in cross-cultural, multi-national, and multi-regional research. Gathering at the University of Lausanne, the attendees were as diverse as the populations we study. Yet as we discussed the current literature and measurement issues of our global research, the cultural differences blurred while we convened to answer the same question: What are the best methods, tools, strategies, and protocols that help maximize comparability across countries, languages, and cultures?
Like nearly all fields, survey research certainly has its fair share of challenges…only to be exacerbated when conducted globally since much can be “lost in translation.” One presenter reminded us of the Chevy Nova story: a lovely car of the 60’s and 70’s that, reportedly, lacked sales in Spanish-speaking countries. Well, ‘no va’ in Spanish translates to ‘no go’ – not exactly a good marketing campaign for a car. And then, there was NASA’s $125 million orbiter that crashed into Mars when one engineering team used metric units while another used English units to estimate the distance from Earth.
No, we’re not launching rockets, but survey methodologists struggle with similar issues in international research. How do we design a question that precisely translates into multiple languages while adhering to various social norms? For example, does the term “strongly agree” elicit the same interpretation and emotion for the Chinese as it does to Americans? Well, research shows it doesn’t. How do we construct a representative sample when the accessibility, availability, and cultural expectations vary drastically across regions? A telephone survey in the United States is quite easy but definitely not as straightforward in many African…or even European countries. Given the mode of data collection affects survey data, how do we ensure that everything is comparable? And, how do we conduct sound research within reasonable costs and timeframes?
During the three day workshop, we discussed ways to test equivalence across multi-national survey instruments. In other words, methods to ensure that questions and response options, once translated, are understood and interpreted in the same way by all global survey respondents. Since quality control is challenged by the de-centralized nature of global data collection, we investigated innovative ways to implement quality assurance steps through interviewer management and monitoring, as well as strategic review of respondent data. Workshop participants also sought to better understand differential non-response across countries – that is, why survey participation and response rates may be higher in one country than in another and what can be done to increase cooperation without compromising data. We certainly didn’t solve all of the cross-cultural methodological challenges but strides were made…as were global connections and friendships.
Lots of things happen every ten years…
- Your passport expires
- Tibet’s average annual temperature rises 0.3 degrees
- You ‘re supposed to get a tetanus booster
- The world loses 7% of its topsoil due to human impact
- You have to convince yourself 40 is the new 30, 50 is the new 40, or 60 is the new 50.
- And most excitingly (for me, at least), the United States Census Bureau undertakes the DECENNIAL CENSUS!
Mandated by the Constitution and conducted every ten years since 1790, The Decennial Census is a formal count, or enumeration, of the entire United States population. The vital data is collected by mailing survey forms to all known residential units…and then eagerly awaiting your response…a response that will take less time than needed to make a cup of coffee since the 10 simple questions (such as the number, age, and gender of people living in your home) make this the shortest form in Census history.
My guess is that the 4% of Americans who, in a recent Marist Poll, described their feelings as excited when the census form arrives in their mailbox were survey methodologists, pollsters, and Census employees. We must have (randomly, of course) called them all! While eager, enthused, and even energized all capture my emotions, the vast majority of Americans – normal people, in fact – feel obligated, interested, or patriotic…not exactly excited. But, hey, I’ll take it – at least nearly nine out of ten Americans report they are likely to complete this year’s form.
So, why do I think this is exciting, you might ask? Why do I think it’s critical that, in the wake of an economic crisis, our government spends close to $15 billion dollars on the decennial Census…and over $2 million dollars pumping up Americans for this count with a Super Bowl commercial? For me, the answer is two-fold: (1) I love all things ‘survey’…their design, purpose, and utility; and (2) the accuracy of my job relies, to some degree, on the accuracy of the Census. But, the two major reasons noted by the Census Bureau are:
1. Census counts are used by Congress to determine how many seats your state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
2. Federal, state, and local government use census information to allocate over $400 billion in federal funds for community programs, services, and infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, roads, and job preparation services).
The 2000 Census undercounted the actual population of the United States by over 6 million people. While some of that undercount is due to difficulty in locating some housing units, a significant proportion is due to Americans simply not completing the form. Many are concerned and suspicious about disclosing information to the bureau but rest assured, the government goes to great lengths to protect our confidentiality and privacy. Personal data is not shared with anyone – including other federal agencies.
And think about it…6 million people is a lot of people…and a lot of time, resources, and money that your own community may have been short-changed because our government had no way of knowing its needs based on the population. In fact, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers after the 2000 Census, thirty-one states potentially lost a total of over $4 billion (for programs and services meeting the needs of the poor, children, and minorities) due to the undercount.
So, when your census form arrives in your mailbox in just about a week, you may want to think twice before tossing it aside. Forget that the census is required by law and that it could cost you a $250 fine if you don’t complete it. Not filling it out could, ultimately, hit you and your community where it hurts – in your wallet. Just remember what we tell our Marist Poll interviewers: “Everyone’s participation is truly important!”
To put it simply, my husband and I have been bitten by the travel bug. We just love exploring new places, immersing ourselves in unique cultures, and meeting new people around the world. So, as we try to do once a year, we went to our favorite bookstore where we sat for hours surrounded by travel books trying to decide where to take our next trip. The criteria were: (1) warmth — which ruled out most of the Northern Hemisphere, (2) international, (3) somewhere neither of us had been, (4) offered both relaxation and adventure, and (5) most importantly — affordability.
We left the book store with two guides — one for Thailand and one for South Africa — and planned to make the tough choice by the end of the week. Little did we know that our decision would be made pretty easily. Thailand’s political unrest would resurface deeming it unsafe to travel and The NY Times would publish an article about South Africa as the new, budget-friendly hot spot with their currency drastically weakened. Done — decision made — Cape Town, South Africa it was! Planning for early March meant we could avoid the worst of the SA sweltering summer and peak tourist season. We could let our toes thaw out from the frigid New York air and still get home just as the cherry blossoms were blooming.
We boarded the plane in Albany, NY…and nearly 40 hours later (including a 12-hour stopover in London) we wearily stumbled off. Immediately, the warm Cape Town wind whirled around us and the surrounding unspoiled beauty of Africa made us forget just how cranky, tired, hungry, and dirty we were. Instantly energized, we were anxious to take on our overly-ambitious agenda of must-sees.
Detailing the entire trip seems an impossible task, but hopefully I’ve captured a few of the highlights.
Exploring Table Mountain — an appropriately named flat-peaked mountain which presides over Cape Town — was one of our first adventures. Having initially planned to hike this Wonder of the World-nominated geological marvel, we used jet lag as the perfect excuse to enjoy the relaxing and scenic cable car that launched us to the summit in minutes. Usually preferring the off-the-beaten-path adventures, Table Mountain is packed with tourists, but we realized it’s iconic for a reason. Known for its tumultuous weather which can shift into a shroud of clouds almost instantaneously, we were treated with a clear day and took in the jaw-dropping views. Rolling, green hills and vast countryside to the North, the Indian and Atlantic oceans meeting in the South created an endless horizon. The stunning view of Africa’s sandy coastline below overwhelmed us. This, coupled with the opportunity to see South-Africa’s celebrity-status professional rugby team filming a commercial, led to quite an exciting afternoon.
Cape Town offered incredible hiking, exploration, beaches, luxurious comfort, safety, and amazing food! But best of all, it’s home to the most friendly and welcoming people I’ve ever met. We could have stayed for years but knowing how much more there was to see, we left the city on a driving adventure along the Southeast coast. Our first stop: the winelands of South Africa. Not being wine connoisseurs, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. But our quick visit to the South Africa wine country was the perfect start to our road trip. It was an afternoon spent drinking good wine and eating scrumptious food (except for the funky cheeses that accompanied each glass) while enjoying the beautiful landscape of rolling vines and Dutch architecture.
En route to Cape Point we made several stops, including The Boulders, to see the colony of African Penguins (aka Jackass Penguins — not due to their behavior but rather due to the similarity in the sound of their call). Thousands of these small but endearing flightless birds flock to this shore. We learned they are quite protective of their young if you get too close!
About an hour later, the rugged, beautiful cliff-side road brought us into the Cape of Good Hope National Park (Cape Point). It was like entering another world as the geography drastically changed and the wildlife became more exotic. We took in the absolutely stunning views, gawked at the enormous ostriches, and enjoyed the hike along the treacherous cliffs of Africa’s southern point that has shipwrecked countless boats. The sites are breathtaking. But, even more indescribable was our “adventure” leaving the park. Greg was adamant about seeing the much talked about baboons that inhabit the park. We drove (for hours) till dusk when they are rumored to emerge. Let me just tell you emerge is an understatement. Before we knew it, the baboons lined the road and our car was covered in claw prints as they tried to get at the food in our backseat.
We continued driving East along the coast which took us onto The Garden Route — a coastal corridor where forests, rivers, wetlands, dunes, stretches of beach, lakes, and tropical mountain scenery form a landscape of spectacular beauty. This is a strip of land like no other I’ve seen in terms of beauty, natural attractions and unique flora and fauna. It truly lives up to its name. The Route took us through countless small beach communities — all offering their unique, local hospitality. In fact, we spent one night lodging in a luxury “tree house” deep in the jungle (monkeys surrounding the exterior). We ended our driving expedition with a visit to a wildlife game reserve where we viewed zebras, lions, giraffes, hippos, buffalo, and much more.
After returning to Cape Town, we experienced the most profound and moving part of our trip — a tour of the townships. These communities were developed for non-whites under the old political system of Apartheid. Still home to a large percentage of Cape Town’s working population today, the walking tour was a life-changing opportunity to see just how little life has changed for many since the demise of Apartheid and how a large proportion of the African population lives.
In the community we visited, families lived in small, unstable shacks that they built from wood, sheet metal and plastic — basically anything that could be found along the road. I worried that bumping into a wall would level someone’s home. Most had no plumbing inside and a shared tap in the road provided a water supply; community outhouses lining the street were their only toilets. Litter was everywhere and children ran through the glass-covered streets without shoes. Yet the beauty was in the happiness of the people that crowded the streets. Laughter, song, and dance seemed to wash away the grit of the living conditions and residents were eager to talk about life in the townships. We were honored to meet such beautiful, inspiring people. It was the perfect end to an incredible trip.
I was humbled and somewhat embarrassed that my expectations of South Africa (at least the Southern portion) did not even remotely capture the reality of the landscape. I was stunned to see lush, green rolling hills — similar to those that I saw in Ireland (minus the roaming zebra); the dense evergreen forests that resembled the NY Adirondacks (again, sans the monkeys); the farmlands that I’ve driven through in Wisconsin; the terrifying cliffs overlooking the turquoise ocean that line Brazil’s coast, and the pristine beaches of Australia. South Africa seemed to encompass the best of many worlds we had previously explored yet transcended them all with its exotic wildlife and vibrant culture. We cannot wait to return!
I’ll just come clean with it: I’m addicted to shopping. My weakness isn’t stuff for the house, shoes, or even clothes. For me, the obsession is accessories — jewelry, belts, headbands, makeup — anything new and affordable that can make an old shirt, pants, or dress look new, fresh, or trendy. Since I tend to agree with the plurality of Americans (48% in a recent Marist Poll) who favor neutral and traditional colors for Spring, now is the perfect time to liven up those muted colors with accessories. And, the best part is that it’s affordable. Let’s face it, in today’s economic climate, going on a mass shopping spree might be tough. Not to worry though, you don’t have to, and I’m going to tell you how, but first, a personal note.
My accessory addiction is really not my fault (addicts always look for someone to blame, right?). In fact, I’m convinced I have a genetic predisposition to this as evidenced by the Home Shopping Network, QVC receptionists and FedEx deliverers who know my grandmother on a first name basis. Always looking fabulous and perfectly accessorized, my grandmother is my style icon. So, inspired by Grandma Loretta’s timeless look, here are a few of my basic tips for accessorizing.
1. Look in unexpected places. Accessories can be pricey but, if you’re patient and open-minded, you can find a great deal if you look off the beaten path. In fact, I’ve found some of my favorite accessories at drug stores, flea markets, or stores that didn’t even plan to carry “accessories.” What I mean by the latter point is that I’ve found pieces that were intended for one use that also work great for others. Think of a scarf — from the waist, the neck, to your head — they can accessorize an outfit in countless ways.
2. Don’t overdo it. I’m always so grateful that Grandma isn’t one of those women who wear huge earrings and the matching bracelet and the cocktail ring and the even more enormous necklace all together. Instead, choose one prominent, focal piece (or two pieces, such as earrings and a cocktail ring, which are farther away on the body) that complements the style of your clothes. Just remember the saying that sometimes more is less, and you don’t have to spend a fortune!
3. Introduce splashes of color. Since I tend to wear a lot of black — often in a monochromatic outfit — a large, brightly-colored accessory (perhaps a belt, scarf, or jewelry) can make a boring and simple outfit look different every time. If you’re wearing a few colors, pick the one, least-prominent color from your clothes to highlight in your accessory. And, don’t be afraid to use make-up in the same way. Sometimes just a bold, red lipstick can add that pop of color a plain color palette needs.
4. Use your head. This is probably my favorite place to accessorize — especially on weekends or for evening looks. It’s amazing how much the addition of a jeweled headband, hair clip, or hat can do for an outfit. (It can also take a look from day to night quickly!) Or, just change your hairstyle if head accessories aren’t for you.
5. Don’t compete with the clothes. Your accessories shouldn’t take away from the interest of your clothes. For example, say you’re wearing a top with an elaborate neckline, don’t wear a large necklace that will compete and create “clutter” all in one place. Instead, go for earrings and a bracelet or skip the jewelry all together and throw something in your hair.
6. Forget some of the old rules. Somewhere along the way, I remember hearing that you should never wear silver and gold together, that you can’t wear white pants after Labor Day, and that red and pink don’t match. Done tastefully and in the right shades, you should feel free to forgo these dated conventions.
7. Accessorize appropriately, please. I recently bought a thick, metallic gold, glitter belt. Tacky sounding, I know. But trust me, it really looks great with an off-white or black outfit for a fun night out. That said, I think my colleagues would, rightfully so, question if I got dressed in the dark if I wore it to work. Although many accessories, when worn with the right clothes, can be non-discriminating between day and evening, others simply won’t work for all occasions. So, just give some extra thought to whether that fun, leather headband with the enormous pink flower on it will be client-friendly.
8. Have fun! With few exceptions, you really can’t go wrong with the use of accessories. Try new things and, hey, the worst case is after a few funny looks, you can just take it off!
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