Walking around London during Covid
The Biz Dev Trip from Hell, by Cameron McKean
Times were good. My company, HowToPay, had just posted a record year, we decided to purchase a Swiss financial institution and to put extra efforts into expanding our e-wallet business. We were mainly an Australian company, but with the purchase of the licensed Swiss financial company, Called Confidia AG, we had become quite European, on paper at least. Our unofficial headquarters was, and is, in Bangkok. We have special government incentives through their Board of Investment (BOI) program, so we were also quite Asian.
Thus, I felt it made good sense to take an extended business development trip, first to the US and then to Europe, so that these two massive markets could complement our established Asian and Australian business. We also underwent a re-branding, changing our name to Confidia.
Early March 2020 and I landed in Florida. I had several meetings on the books, but my schedule wasn’t packed. I hoped to take in some sights and not to rush into things. My Uber driver picked me up at the Fort Lauderdale airport and I was headed to the B Ocean Resort, white sand beaches, big American steaks, and a raucous night scene. Things had started off well!
After a great first day, consisting of a few business calls, a wonderful lunch at a local Greek restaurant, and visiting my first Walmart, one can imagine my dismay when I received a message telling me that my Uber driver tested positive for Covid and that I needed to get checked immediately.
Luck was not on my side and I was found to be positive. A strict 14-day quarantine began at the B Ocean Resort hotel. I’m a very gregarious person and being alone for all this time was definitely NOT to my liking. I’m a techie and have lots of IT toys in my home, but all I had with me in the US was a laptop, I ordered a external screen from Amazon, but let me tell you, this was no good.
It took me 9 days alone in my hotel room to recover from Covid. Unable to get to see any local hospitals my insurance company called me regularly to check up on me and give me advice.
Things ticked up a bit when I was finally freed from my confinement. What should have been at most a 2 week trip had become 3 months. My next stop was London!
Alas, Covid was upon us in the UK and I was unable to do much as everything was in lockdown. But I took the opportunity to walk around London and see it without the tourists and I must say it was stunning to see for the first time in my life. I did learn quite a lot, but because things had become so strict, I was unable to continue into Switzerland to see my colleagues there and to explore several key opportunities in Europe. I decided to get back to Thailand only to experience another significant Fail.
Guess what? There were no flights from England to Thailand. In fact, it was nearly impossible to fly ANYWHERE. The best I could manage was a flight on Qatar Airlines to Cambodia. At least I was getting closer! … But no on boarding for my flight I was refused as changing airlines was not permitted to reach my destination. Thankfully the team at Cathey Pacific Airlines sold me a ticket to Amsterdam that then connected with a flight on Korean Airlines (Via Korea) to Cambodia.
In Cambodia, I experienced my second forced quarantine, this time for 14 days. They weren’t quite so strict as the Americans and after 14 days I was ready to fly into Thailand, but again, there were no flights. After considering an overland crossing into Thailand via car, I dismissed that, as the trip from Phnom Penh to the Thai border would take 8 hours through unknown terrain and I just wanted to get HOME!
The only answer seemed to be a private jet. Yes, I was going to charter a super-fancy jet with the team in Thailand call MJETS and to be the sole passenger. This may have been the most uneconomic decision of my trip, but was the only solution. And I wanted to get home more than I wanted to worry about money.
Alas, the arrival in Bangkok was NOT enjoyable, as I was whisked out of the airport and kept isolated from everyone, even though I had already had Covid. My next stop was the Apsara Hotel, my third 14 day quarantine experience and the most bittersweet, as my friends were only a stone’s throw away, yet I was trapped within four walls. No, I couldn’t even use my balcony and certainly not the hotel restaurants, pool, etc.
Finally emancipation came on the 16th day (Thailand did not count the day of arrival) at 12:01 AM as the biz dev trip from hell ended and my friends, about 25 of them, took me to our favorite local bar, where we persuaded the owner to stay open quite a bit later than usual. It was so great to be back in Thailand, though it has now been 5 months and I am dying to visit our Zug, Switzerland and Georgia, US offices, but there’s no way I’m going to risk the Biz Dev Trip from Hell Part II.