Dollar, Doubts, and Dumb Luck

Argentina

Dollar
With the USD worth almost 37 pesos, the Argentine economy is taking a blow just as the president took away the free lunches that had been given out over the years. During my time here last year, it was about 15 pesos to the dollar. While utility prices and transportation fees, among others, were being raised to put some money back in the coffers that the previous president left empty, world market forces pummeled their currency.

Doubts
Having secured a loan from the highly unpopular IMF for $57 billion, the bad news raised some real doubts whether the internationally liked president can get reelected with a 40% domestic approval rating. He did get some good news with a huge scandal breaking which ensnared his likely opponent next year. However, a new and more moderate Peronist opponent could prove more challenging.

Dumb Luck
The emerging market crisis that occurred this year after the US raised their own interest rates, and thereby made the US a safer investment than say, risky Turkey, or Argentina, forced Argentina to raise interest rates to 60% to try to keep the money from running out of the country. Pessimism is only increasing.

Tet, Transportation, and Tic, Tic, Tic

Tet, Transportation, and Tic, Tic, Tic

Tet is over and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is back to work. Depending on the employer, you are given a week or two off for the lunar new year. It is the most sacred time of year for the Vietnamese where one spends days with generations of family and friends and great food. On a sadder note, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam war, or what they call here the American war. Quick recap; Until the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese Regulars and the Viet Cong, Tet was usually a peaceful time, even during war. In 1968, that was not the case, as the South was hammered with 100 separate attacks by 80,000 troops which were eventually repulsed.  In Hue alone, over 200 US Marines were killed. The message was sent. The North would not rest.  Today, there is nothing official here to commemorate the pivotal offensive. Tuns out, many Southern Vietnamese were taken by men with “Northern accents” never to be seen again. The current government does not want to scratch that wound.

So Saigon, once the capital of the South was renamed Ho Chi Minh city after the North won the war, but is still called Saigon by many. I wish the airport kiosks understood that the airport code is still SGN, when they ask me where I am going. Answer: you have to enter Ho Chi Minh to get your boarding pass, which says SGN. Confusion before you even arrive.

Saigon is big with about 8.5 million people and a whole lot of scooters. When you cross a street, do it slowly and do not stop or make any sudden moves. The scooters will go around you like you are a river rock and are watching your pace and adjusting to it. YouTube has some great examples. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Jkzj7WyzE

So public transportation is needed. The Japanese led metro construction is going a lot better than the Chinese led one in Hanoi. It is to be mostly above ground given Saigon’s location with the first leg coming one line this year. However, tic, tic, tic. By that I mean climate change. The city of Saigon also works with the Dutch, the leading experts in holding back water. They need their help since they are located in the Mekong Delta, and the country as a whole has 2,000 miles of coastline. It (climate change and construction) is happening now, so only a small part of the Metro is underground. Much like the cities of New York and Miami, strategies are being formed with the certainty that things will be wetter in the near future. In my six years in Vietnam, I have never met a climate change denier.

BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

Elections and then some in Argentina

Elections and then some in Argentina

I never knew midterm elections could be so important. In the US, the ruling party usually takes a shellacking, but that didn’t happen here. The President’s party won the majority of the provinces.

The elections were important both internally and externally. Inside, the win allowed the president to start meeting just a few days later with the Governors and others to go after some real changes. The big reforms are, cutting government spending, making hiring and firing easier, and jailing the crooked fat cats.

From the outside, investors were waiting for a clearer validation of the president’s pro business orientation. Now you read names like George Soros (via Reuters) investing in mobile banking startups. That idea, while still shocking to me for three reasons (Soros, mobile banking, startup) would have been much harder if they had lost.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-argentina-economy-startups/soros-cohen-among-big-name-investors-betting-on-argentine-startups-idUSKBN1DG32R

Speaking of losers, remember the last president who robbed the country blind? She came in second place for Senate in the province of Buenos Aires, but still gets a place in the legislature since there were a couple of seats to be awarded. The rub is now she has legislative immunity which is much like diplomatic immunity. She is facing three ongoing investigations into her “what happened to all the money?” past administration. While she may be found guilty of one or all (all!), she won’t serve any time. However, the spotlight is on her and her cronies (who are being scooped up every other day).

The resulting division among the former ruling Peronists helps President Macri and it looks like this country has the best chance it has seen in generations.

 

BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

 

Bitcoin, Bolivia, and Barbeque

Bitcoin, Bolivia, and Barbecue

Bye, bye Bitcoin?

So, China and Jamie Dimon say no to Bitcoin while Argentina is adding 200 Bitcoin ATMs:

https://cointelegraph.com/news/argentina-jumps-on-bitcoin-atm-bandwagon-with-200-expected-in-october

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/22/bitcoin-jpmorgans-jamie-dimon-lays-into-bitcoin-again.html

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/stocks/news/chinese-bitcoin-exchange-btcchina-stops-accepting-deposits/articleshow/60853179.cms

As I write this, and after a 20% dip, the electronic currency is rebounding nicely over the key $4000 (USD) level seen as crucial. Now South Korea and Japan are giving the cryptocurrency a thumbs down as well. In Asia, many seem to be scared of scams or things run amok. It will be interesting to see what Vietnam has planned in a couple months. In other places such as Argentina where cattle are still trusted more than banks as a long term savings mechanism, a new digital currency may seem safer. Some are even saying that it could prove to be White Knightish* for the almost failed state of Venezuela where I worked for a year in the 90’s when most parts were safe. Good luck finding one now in Caracas, or for that matter, milk. They deserve so much better.

I have no claims to cryptocurrency mastery (nor to quantum computing, and fear those who claim expertise!) and subconsciously am still partial to the gold standard. But who do you trust? We are all still scarred from the last financial crisis. Maybe a little digital competition could be a  good thing for the financial houses who brought down all of ours? Or maybe Bitcoin is just another tulip. For now, new Bitcoin ATMs are planned in Argentina. Planned.

Bolivia. Where have you been all my life?

Apologies to Bolivia for not visiting sooner and for being manipulated by the western press. Over a decade of growth, many say due to the natural gas, and mineral reserves, has led to some great new infrastructure. Imagine a highway you would expect in Stuttgart, but through the Andes. A socialist president who mostly nationalized the natural gas reserves, noticeably plowed a pile of money into infrastructure. Couple this with small business entrepreneurialism throughout the country and you have year after year of growth. Fossil fuel smugglers to Argentina have been thwarted (others thrive however) due to the fact that foreigners pay a higher international fuel price to even fill up their cars. Huh? Why hasn’t Venezuela thought of this? Oh yeah, the government are the smugglers, and the drug dealers, and the (insert pejorative here).  The mix of socialism and capitalism was fascinating to see as a strategy, conscious or not. Hats off to you Bolivia.

Barbeque.

The famous Argentine beef has slipped a notch. Not to worry, it is still good. Rumor has it that the best meat is exported. Remember the no competition thing? The beef industry is sitting pretty to the disadvantage of many an asado (bbq). So now you are forced to buy what is offered domestically. Slowly it seems more competition is coming. Like the rest it will take time. Congressional elections are coming in a couple weeks. If the president’s party does well enough, international investors will feel more at ease. Stay tuned.


*It can maybe help a little, but that is one big hole of a mess

BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

 

 

Project fi in tourism technology

Project fi in tourism technology

Wherever I go, people always ask me about my phone, or rather my plan. I have been using Project fi from Google for about six months and it has been generally good.

How it works
Google did a deal mostly with Sprint and T-Mobile and many international carriers in 2015. It tries wifi first and then switches to a carrier if the signal strength is not strong enough. At last count, it was available in 135 countries for about $20 dollars a month plus $10 a gig for data with unused data carried over to the next month. Scared Verizon?

Porting my number from Verizon took a day or two and the Project fi website was user friendly. I ordered the Nexus 5x through Project fi. One of the major criticisms of Project fi deals with the limited phone options. Currently only Pixel and Nexus phones can use it. To their credit, they have announced that a deal is in the works for more options later this year. My phone came a couple days later with the Project fi SIMM card. Later, I bought a backup phone with another SIMM, just in case.

I was up and running pretty quickly and after about two weeks, my withdrawal symptoms from iOS started to subside. I still have a tablet and MacBook Air. What I missed most were Apple notes for quick thoughts shared across all devices. Now it is a Google doc.

Wifi please!
So fi is available just about everywhere. Well, not in Vietnam. Wifi only here. Turns out the country right now is one of the few where fi is not available using a carrier. There is still a 15 minute delay in television signals, imposed by the government for censorship purposes, so it is not too surprising. Wifi is readily available, but I do remember trying to tell a cab to wait while I went back into a restaurant to get a signal to show him an address. He left due to my offline nonexistent Vietnamese language capabilities. Translate is not the best either. I got another cab, but still.

Pick up, pick up, pick up...
I may have a cheap plan, but that doesn’t mean others do. I tried to call a dry cleaners in Vietnam and they did not pick up since there would be a charge for accepting an international call. I friended them on Facebook and used Messenger. All went well.

Welcome to…
is always a nice greeting. When I landed in Seoul for example, and turned on my phone, Project fi greeted me with “Welcome to Korea,” Project fi has coverage here… with all the applicable rates. I also remember flying over countries and my phone lighting up, “Welcome to Brazil” (never been, yet) on my way to the Southern Cone. With that in mind, don’t forget to update your contacts with the country codes.

Anytime now fi…
In Argentina, fi originally thought I was in Uruguay and not Buenos Aires. It took a day and some empanadas later before they caught on and I could get a signal “outside.”

Battery life, ugh...
By far the weakest link is the battery. The new Oreo operating system, (which to me, sounds like a pejorative) is said to help. It is available in beta, but I’ll wait for Google to push it to my phone when they are ready. In the meantime, a charge for 30 minutes during the day typically gets me through.

Google has a whole host of technology strategies. Remember Google Fiber? It looks like they got burned there which could explain the lack of push behind Project fi. Can a primarily software dedicated company succeed and scale in the customer service centric phone business? They seem to be moving very slowly.

So...
For now, I use the phone to call at (20 cents a minute) and text back to the states and Messenger (Vietnam) and WhatsApp (Argentina) internationally. It is nice having a signal in the streets for quick things though. Go figure, my two communication worlds are Google and Facebook. Future utilities?

Digital trends does a good job breaking it down. The pricing strategy must scare the incumbent carriers.
https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/google-project-fi-plans-pricing-explained/


BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

Technology hurdles and beer in Argentina

 

Technology hurdles and beer in Argentina

Protectionism.

I could end this story there. Anytime anyone comes to Argentina, they come with electronics in tow, hopefully undetected by customs. I happened to be traveling with beer making equipment and English language translation books. A friend- in a burst of mashup strategy- is both adding beer and English classes to his hotel. While the US craft beer market may have reached maturity, it is in the early stages here. I had no problem getting my handles, taps, and screws from JFK to Buenos Aires since I prepped TSA before I put my bag through. However on my domestic connection here, I could not carry them on board and had to scramble to box and check them. Victoria at the ticket counter saved the day.

There is no way I could have shipped the goods. They would have been confiscated. Lawyers, connections, time, and money may help others get some stuff through. But for the most part, one would be forced to see what they can buy here to make beer. Nothing. You have to have the equipment made. My crass capitalistic mind has trouble with the fact that one has to start at such a disadvantage in getting things going. That could change. Remember the new president?

Ok so with beer, you have to make your own tools. Crazy. With electronics, the price point is often too high, say 2-3 times as American prices. Taxes (a whole host of them) are mostly to blame. Needless to say the black market is thriving while honest brokers are closing their stores. The demand for electronics and good beer is there in this highly educated country. Imagine what could happen if they could actually get stuff (anything!) and at world market prices.


BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

Argentina elections, Kinda

Argentina - Elections, kinda

No wine with those empanadas today Mister!; unless you are creative. More on that later. There is an antiquated law that prohibits alcohol sales on election days. In the way, way past I have been told that the gauchos would get too drunk to vote; and in Argentina, they vote on Sundays. Luckily, I have been coming here for some time and was provided a glass of Malbec, sorry two, ensconced in a teapot and cup.

President Macri, a reform minded president, was elected almost two years ago, which drew the visits of Obama, and today, Pence (with great live translation). The country used to be blacklisted on the world capital markets. Not anymore. And after yesterday’s better than expected results for the kinda elections, expat investors are mapping out where to plant their investments. By kinda, I mean Sunday was one big non binding poll for the real midterm elections in October; but they mean a lot here and provide more clarity and momentum, and sadly more ads. Like all elections, digital marketing and search engine optimization played an even bigger role in some cases replacing past campaign strategies of big rallies. Less spoken words and more online photos were the orders of some campaign advisors. We are still unpacking its effectiveness, since the Senate race in Buenos Aires is still to close to call.

Some of the major areas that the President is trying to reform and facing resistance is in competition. For example, in the area of technology strategies, there is only one main company in the nation that provides a network for credit card transactions. Hmm. So while many want to protect the workers of native industries, such as textiles, as another example, the other side wants consumers to have more choices and as a result lower prices and, wait for it, less inflation.

In this context, bitcoin is playing a bigger role than in many other places, with a lot of startups located in Buenos Aires (where the Governor lives on a military base, for her protection, but more on that next time) are focused on digital currency. I wish them better luck than Uber. More to come..

Bizenglish

Danang, Boom to be Trumped?

Danang: There is a Boom going on here… But will it be Trumped?

Work brings me to Vietnam twice a year. It takes a bunch of planes to reach the city, but the trip is worth it. If spicy seafood and the beach are to your liking, Danang has it. There are also the mountains, the river, and the historic countryside. From a business standpoint, it is always surprising to see all the new construction in the city and along the beach. The city is using Singapore as a city to model, which to me means air-conditioning everywhere! Looks like down the road, we may need sweaters here. Crazy. In the five years that I have been working here, the hotel construction (and construction in general) has only sped up. I do miss some of my old little spots along the beach and river though, which are now being replaced by large chains.

While Danang is very much playing the tourism card, it will be interesting to see what happens to their manufacturing sector. Will Trump’s “America First” impact their (Danang and the country’s as a whole) textile exports to the US? Clearly they are worried.

Again, tourism in Danang is a different matter. First domestically, Danang is a beach spot for the Vietnamese. Weekend packages are big for those from Hanoi and Saigon (it’s ok you can still call it that). Second, the once numerous Chinese tourists have been Trumped, sorry, replaced by the South Koreans. Some Naval engagements in the East Sea (don’t call it The South China Sea!) between Vietnam and China a few years back cooled relations and led to new marketing efforts in Seoul. With sprinkles of Australian, Russian (still their main military connection) and European guests, the tourism industry has a well diversified portfolio. Americans do go there (and English is the default language for all foreign guests at the upscale hotels), but fewer compared to the rest. Must be the plane ride.

I would love to make this a food blog. Allow me one quick one: Spring Rolls! Thank you.

Now onto the Technology. While WhatsApp (pronounced WhatsUp) in many parts of Latin America is the communication app of choice, Danang is all about facebook messenger. And yes you are right, facebook bought WhatsApp. So their technology strategy wins. But if you are communicating locally, its messenger. Unlike other places I have traveled, I never thought my phone was going to get stolen here since everyone had a better phone than me. I am rocking the Nexus 5 with Google fi as my international phone. I bought two and got another SIM from google, just in case...But not here; this could be the safest tourist spot I have ever been. Although Vietnam is one of the few countries where project fi is not available on the cell network, there is a city wifi, and fi defaults to wifi if available. Again, this country is all about facebook which is free compared to accepting a call from my international number which costs them. Finally Google translate is improving, so they could play a bigger role aside from search and digital marketing. I imagine their AI will change things on the language front in the not too distant future.

Singapore also shows its influence in Grab, their Uber. I used it a couple times. You can get a cab or car and maybe even get a text from your driver.

Finally hearts and minds and soft power. The US Navy’s 7th Fleet continues to win over the affections of the country. They build schools, give free surgeries, and have a killer band which gives free concerts. They are LOVED here and seem to provide some counterbalance to the surreal old US Marine locations from the war. Check them out, on facebook of course:

https://www.facebook.com/7thFleetBand/


BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.

Big Buildings and small paintings. Differences in culture and technology.

Welcome to the blog on tourism technology by a tourism techie. I will be traveling and describing both the big and small uses of technology in the industry that I come across, and other related topics. My hope is that the different examples and stories might enable you to look at the technology you are using or encountering from a different angle.

Big buildings and small paintings

Last year, I had some business in Ecuador. Specifically, my travels brought me to Quito and Cuenca. Remember, Ecuador has many ecosystems. I was in the mountainous regions. Like many major Latin American cities, Quito missed much of the previous “wired” versions of technology, and moved right to mobile, resulting in less clutter to block those great views.

Quito was big-tech in the form of new construction outside the old city. Upon arrival, I walked through the new airport and wondered when the United States would start taking its infrastructure and tourism technology more seriously. While I still encountered old legacy systems for air travel (as we still have in the USA by the way) it was refreshing to see an up to date airport. This arrival point and new road to town were designed with tourism in mind. So far so good, as far as marketing Quito was concerned.

Cuenca, the cultural capital of the country, also had its own infrastructure happenings, in the form of a controversial tram going right through the old part of city. While the government went big and long on building technology, the younger social media consumers were using technology in a different way; they were sharing photos of traditional media art created by their friend's hands. No photoshop here. They started with brushes and pencils. Original paintings and graffiti art were widespread in both the on and offline realms.

Big Government projects and hand-made shared content would be my elevator speech for these fantastic regions. More to come...


BizEnglish
Peter Nyheim, Ph.D.