Dean Wicks has travel firmly entrenched within his heart and soul, having worked within the travel industry for 20 years. As Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager Australia/New Zealand for one of Asia Pacific’s leading travel metasearch engines; Wego.com, Dean has more travel stories than a guide book and is very familiar with almost every airport and airline in the world. With a home base in Sydney, he spends much of his time in Singapore at Wego’s headquarters, and has extended periods in Europe, North America and other South East Asian cities. He Skype’s his Kelpie Cross regularly when he’s away, and loves good chilled vodka. To say he is well travelled is like saying the sea is wet. Who better to ask for travel tips?
What are the most important factors to keep in mind when selecting a destination for a holiday?
DW: Definitely seasonal factors should be considered, always a better trip when you beat the crowds. Security has to be considered I guess, unfortunately though it’s difficult to see past a lot of what is sometimes propaganda and over cautiousness. The length of a flight is also something I keep in mind; I want to spend my time on the ground, exploring, not spending hours in transit. It’s not always about price, time is money and it’s important to remember that when selecting what appears a cheap airfare.
I love to go where there are no crowds, somewhere up and coming and off the beaten track. I went to Burma (now Myanmar) ten years ago and it’s now opening up and becoming one of the hottest destinations in South East Asia. Indonesia has become extremely well connected by airlines now and there’s far more to the country than just Bali. Java is just fascinating.
I’m about to head off to Europe, one night in Milan to see Madonna, then Paris, Morocco, the UK and Finland. Australian’s are travelling further now though. At Wego, while Bali and Singapore beat flight searches for even Melbourne and Sydney, more travellers are heading to the Middle East and South America.
What has been the most exotic or unusual holiday you’ve ever taken?
DW: Three months exploring Central America. I began in Cancun, headed down to La Ruta Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula into the Chiapas, across into Guatemala and on to Honduras then up into Belize. It was amazing. I got held up at gunpoint, these men came onto the bus as were driving to an active volcano wanting money from the “imperialist Americans”. They asked where I was from and I told them I was Australian. They said “ah, kangaroos” and to my friend from the UK “ah soccer hooligans”, which seemed to please them, so all went without incident.
How do you ensure you get the best value for money from a hotel with so many to choose from?
DW: That’s easy, use a good online price comparison tool like Wego!
What’s the best method of getting an upgrade?
DW: Dressing well and smiling sweetly always helps. If you are on a frequent flyer program, choose alliance airlines that will be more inclined to try and poach you for their own alliance program. Research your loyalty programs as well, they’re not all created equally. I’d encourage doing some research on sites like FlyerTalk.com before committing to a program. For hotels, send an email prior to your arrival and let them know you are on your way, and always, smile sweetly.
Is there a right and wrong way to pack your luggage?
DW: Yes, there’s a wrong way. Don’t put your wine bottles near the edge of the bag. Make sure they are well-padded with your clothes.
How do you ensure you select flights without all the hidden add-ons, extras and nasty surprises?
DW: It’s worth checking full-service carriers against low cost or budget airlines, because by the time you add on your pre-board, luggage, meal, blanket, your in-flight entertainment and anything else they can try to charge you for, you are probably better off on a full service carrier and collecting miles.
Street food or restaurant food? What are some of your more daring dining adventures?
DW: Waking up from a late and very long night in Bangkok and looking across the street to see where I ate the previous night. It was just a tiny stand in the middle of a dump, but wow it was tasty at the time. My favourite though is Vietnamese street food, I love it.
DW: The Great Singapore Sale is on now; I bought five pairs of shoes in the last three days. Hong Kong is always good too. But in the Indonesian city of Bandung, there’s some amazing shopping. There’s a factory outlet zone and you can find some of the cheapest brand clothing, bags and accessories that you’ll find anywhere in Asia. These aren’t copies either; they’re basically seconds or discontinued stock, good quality. It’s also a great city to explore.
Australia or overseas?
DW: As much as I travel internationally I always ensure I take at least one domestic Australian holiday per year. So many Australians go elsewhere before experiencing the magic of our own country first. I like to do a road trip with my mates, although Uluru is still on my bucket list.
According to our data Australians are still travelling on the most part to Sydney, and the Swissotel Sydney is very popular. Likewise the Hotel Grand Chancellor on the Gold Coast which is good for families. On Wego we now have a ’popularity’ indicator so you can see what properties and destinations are most visited by other Australians.
In New Zealand, Christchurch receives the most interest from those out of Sydney, who are also travelling to Queenstown. Half that number flies from Melbourne with Perth connecting with Wellington. The two most popular hotels in New Zealand right now are the Mercure Auckland Windsor and in Queenstown the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside.
The Marina Bay Sands in Singapore is very popular with Australian travellers, and in Bali the W Bali Seminyak Retreat & Spa is receiving a lot of interest from Perth. The Novotel in Hong Kong is hot with Australians, possibly because of its great shopping being located in Kowloon, and in Phuket, The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa is doing very well.
What’s the best way to search online for travel planning?
DW ”“ Don’t make a pre-determined choice of airline, and be prepared to be flexible on dates. Book as early as you can, there’s a common misconception that prices reduce as a departure date approaches, but it’s actually the opposite. Look at business class on certain shorter sectors, you may find not much of a difference. For instance if you fly Qatar late at night you get a bed and great Business Class service ”“ it’s worth it.
This article appeared in Vacations & Travel, The Last Word, June 2012