I very nearly cried in the middle of the street in Lisbon last night but technology, and a bit of personal data sharing, combined with a kind human touch came to my rescue. In a beautiful story of the tech community pulling together, I’m safely here at the world famous Web Summit - one of 70,000 at the so-called ‘Davos for geeks’.
Thanks are owed to Uber, Waze, Google, Citymapper, Slack, WhatsApp, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Tim Bernars Lee (for inventing the internet), and some incredible women in tech.
Waze can map the traffic, but the traffic ain't gonna budge
I had a bad start to the day in that I missed my flight. I summoned my Uber with plenty of time to spare. Minutes into the journey later, Waze, the Israeli traffic mapping startup bought by Google for over $1 billion in 2013, alerted us of gridlock on the way to and through the Blackwall Tunnel and there was simply no way around it to the airport. I hoped the app was wrong. And perhaps my flight would be delayed, despite the Google flight update telling me it very much was on time. The stars were not aligning for me - the tech was accurate. Until we're in smart cities with AI-powered autonomous flying cars, London traffic will continue to be unforgiving.
My departure time drew closer and closer. With my cortisol levels sky high, the very lovely Uber driver gently confirmed I would miss my flight, but that everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes you just need a person to talk to
Using my smartphone to call our lovely corporate travel agency, within minutes I was booked onto another flight. Travel agencies are not (yet?) redundant, especially when you need something bespoke and someone to hold your hand and tell you everythng will be fine. Technology cannot empathise with missing a flight.
A few hours and a browse of the Web Summit app later, I landed in Lisbon. Magic.
Lost (literally) without Citymapper and TripAdvisor
Despite this being my third year at Web Summit, I still rely on Citymapper to tell me how to get around Lisbon. A few taps of the app later, I established my route to the hotel and adventured on the Metro. I was super pleased and smug that I had used TripAdvisor, my trusty go-to travel planning website, to narrow down my options to find a well located hotel right by Rossio station. Earnestly looking forward to sampling mini toiletries and having a bed to myself for the week, I ascended the steps from the metro to the square...
...Except my hotel was on FIRE when I arrived. Aforementioned smugness went up in metaphorical flames. Four people were unfortunately injured. I stood among the crowd listening to the fire trucks and ambulances with sirens blaring trying to figure out what on earth to do, but also thanking my (it turns out) lucky stars that I missed my earlier flight.
Taking a lesson from Elizabeth Warren, nevertheless, I persisted.
I lit up the bat signal and called upon my people - that is the Web Summit Women in Tech Slack and WhatsApp groups I joined last week. Having already supported me through the missed flight debacle, I had four offers of accommodation and an invitation for dinner within minutes. Slack (whose CTO Cal Henderson delivered the opening keynote this morning) may not have yet conquered the non-tech industry, but you were there for a girl from a law firm when I needed you!
I decided to wait it out in a restaurant close by, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, I could stay in the hotel. With hindsight that was mad - I mean the hoping, not the choice of restaurant, although I didn’t check the TripAdvisor rating which was probably very poor. Within a few minutes, I saw my hotel on the evening news.
Gillian Tans, you hire great people
Booking.com are once again sponsoring the Women in Tech lounge and mentor programme at Web Summit. I also happened to use them to book my hotel online. A call to the very sympathetic Claire and then John at customer service resulted in me being presented with several replacement hotel options, matching up to what they already knew (data shared with consent!) were my historical preferences for well-located, well-equipped business traveller-friendly venues with nice mini shampoo. Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com, has nailed it with customer service AND showing commitment to diversity tech. I missed her slot today, but if I see her tomorrow I shall buy that lady a cocktail.
Travellers pay it forward
Back to TripAdvisor I tapped to check the customer reviews in order to settle on the most suitable of Booking.com’s suggested alternatives. Today I heard TripAdvisor’s CEO, Stephen Kaufer, (yes, he’s here too - Web Summit really is Davos for the tech world) explain that their “trust ratings continue to be sky high” and that they are “big believers in helping folk, helping travellers pay it forward”. I absolutely agree - some strangers paying it forward by writing reviews is how I settled on a wonderful replacement hotel where I got upgraded to the suite and blissfully fell asleep after a bath.
All's well that ends well
Thank goodness for the internet and for all the apps and people available to me. I was safe, warm (but not on fire) and supported by a lovely community of strangers who cared.
Today is just day 1 of Web Summit. I’m excited about what the rest of it holds!
The best technology conference on the planet