Monday, December 01, 2008

The war on Mumbai, the rescue of my family and the re-writing of the media rules care of Twitter

I have been quiet for the last week on the blog. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a come down from the activity of PhoCusWright in LA the week before. But actually it has been because my family has been directly caught up in the Mumbai horror that dominated last week. My wife’s cousin and her family (husband and six month old daughter) were long term residents of the Trident Oberoi hotel in Mumbai. The husband was the head chef at the Italian restaurant that was part of this five star property. He was evacuated immediately after the terrorists stormed the hotel but my cousin (in-law) and her infant daughter were trapped in the hotel for more than thirty-six hours as they hid from the terrorists with little to no food or fresh water. The husband managed to sneak back into the hotel at around the thirty hour mark with food and water but it was not until late Friday afternoon Sydney time (around midday local time) that the whole family was liberated. Not surprisingly photos of a young a family escaping the horror dominated a lot of the online and offline pressparticularly in their native Italy (click on links for photo).

I share this with you for a few reasons. Terror attacks of this kind will impact all of us in the travel business – particularly in Asia. As an industry we have lost colleagues and friends. Additionally this was a very personal experience for me as I a was filled with worry for nearly two days culminating in the incredible feeling of joy at their survival – held in check by the sadness of the loss of so many others.

It was also a very powerful experience to live this moment in real time with the changing media tools at our disposal. The second I heard they were trapped (early morning Sydney time), I fell into an old habit, immediately switched on BBC world and sat on the couch alternating between that and CNN. Then new world instincts took over. I started by having multiple tabs focused on different online news sites –, CNN, Nytimes. But they did not time stamp their updates very effectively. It was hard to know how old (read out of date) a particular story was.

By the end of the second day I had my eyes glued to Twitter under the search tag #mumbai and more generally searching Twitter for any mention on the word Oberoi. Towards the end of the siege these twitter feeds updated themselves with nearly a tweet a second. People from all around the world were tweeting with the important ("am watching pictures of commandos storming the hotel"), the emotional ("thoughts are with all those in Mumbai"), the practical ("here is the direct line to the Oberoi Mumbai staff"), the wishful ("heard a rumour that it was all over, is that true?") and of course the useless ("here is a link to [an unrelated] video"). Meanwhile my other screen was alternating between live web streaming of NDTV (local news) and CNN-IBN (CNN’s partnership in India). Live professional feeds on one screen and live citizens on the other.

This kept me so up to date that I actually saw the live footage (as it happened) of my cousin and her family stepping out of the hotel and towards the buses. My cheers of glee brought work colleagues rushing into my office as I jabbed at the screen screaming “That’s them!!! That’s them!!!”.

This combination kept me as close as possible to the action. Almost certainly closer than if I had actually been there on the ground as I could see, hear and track the events from multiple angles. There was also an amazing human side to the Twitter feed experience. As I posted more and more questions, thoughts and updates to Twitter in the search for “and Italian national and her infant”, more and more people tweeted back with support, tips, thoughts and just plain human to human contact. Some I knew, very many I did not. It was an amazing experience but not a perfect one. At the height of things the Twitter feed was completely unmanageable. Too much information steaming too fast and none of it verifiable. People would state any rumour as fact, which would then we re-tweeted at the speed of light and build up a momentum of its own. One person Tweeted “Indian government to shut down Twitter feed because of security concerns”. Within moments this had become “Twitter law” and reappeared every 15-20 mins without fail. At no point was it supported by a source or any basis for confirmation. Real time Twitter reporting of an event like this is clearly flawed and over-whelming but it is a view into a dramatic change in how events will be reported.

Without a doubt the Mumbai horrors have shown us a real time information world unlike any before it. We will now see and watch the world unfold from multiple angles and the lines between professional media and the people on the street are not just blurred they are eliminated.

[photo is of the Vetro restaurant at the Oberoi Mumbai where my relative was head chef]


Anonymous said...

Great news that the family is safe... And great post on the power and overwhelming nature of Twitter in such circumstances.
Quite relevantly, but less dramatically, I came through to this post via Twitter ;)

Anonymous said...

i am glad that your family is safe. I was infact jumping with joy esp. when i saw the kiddo safe.
and it is via twitter that i got here :)
stay safe.
take care.

WildBron said...

Thanks God, Tim. And thanks to the people who helped them to escape.

I understood how the world is small very long time ago: regardless how far the trouble happens it inevitably touch you or someone in your rim of friends and relatives.

When terrorist captured the theater in Moscow, mother of my cousin's best friend were killed.

My 17 storey living building was evacuated bcause of bomb tread.

I passed the metro station 15 minutes before it was bombed.

TV told that the avalanche destroyed building somehere in Caucasus. What's the deal? - My friends son was there and he is dead.

Tv mentioned in 10 second line that 5 Russian officers were shoot in Algeria. What's the deal? Our family best friend was one of them (we even head no idea that he is in Algeria).

When Tsunami stroke South East Asia, my friend just by miracle was not there as in the last moment (by nobody knows whose invisible hands) changed her plans and went to Egypt instead of Thailand just 2 days before the tragedy.

My best closest friends just baught an appartment in Thailand (Pattaya) and now they have no idea what will be the result of current riots in BKK.

Now Mumbai and your relatives.

Nothing happens far from us. Regardless how carefull or mad you are - your are always under thread.

Trivial (for someone, not for me): That's why we should live like every minute, every second is the last.

Non-trivial: Thinking about that once, I understood that there is nothing to justify any conflicts especially with those who you love most of all in your life. You exchange couple bad words in the morning and run away to your job knowing that earlier or later all will be fine and you will make a peace in the evening. But what if...

And the last words which your wife, son or mother heard from you are:...

Anonymous said...

Tim - I'm glad that the family is safe.
Thank you for your post, and also for the comment from WildBron. It does put things in perspective.

I've spent most of this past Thanksgiving weekend on the Internet -- following the news on Mumbai, and on Bangkok, with very heavy heart.

To my surprise (despite having lived in the States for the last ten years), many of my friends, acquaintances, and even colleagues here didn't really see these beyond just "another news". They seem to remain oblivious to the impact of these situations -- both short-term and long-term.

There is a downside to having too many local/national TV channels spending most of their time on the best Thanksgiving deals in your suburban malls, leaving only a few minutes for World News.

--- BTW, on the Twitter subject, I saw a TV interview this morning where the survivors said that someone texted that they were hiding safely in the chamber at the Oberoi. And the terrorist got wind of it... may be through Twitter?

Anonymous said...

Am with u

Today my daughter no1 just arrived safely back from India...although she stayed miles and miles away from the incident.... her first comment was: The whole kitchen brigade of the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal were wiped out and there is nothing written about it thoughts are there.....

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,
get your feed daily and like you my happiness to hear your family is safe is tempered by the knowledge of the many who have not been so lucky.

My experience has been many of these things hit much closer than many of us expect as we are now more connected than ever.

Does it seem much of the worlds advancements are a double edged blade we see>experience>know more which is a good thing and see>experience>more which is also not so good? Overall I'd say it's a good thing.

As humans don't we attempt to find a lesson in things that happen to (i've done the same) and around us? Mostly it seems there is no lesson other than live life like you love it. In the end it (life/circumstances) just is, as it is.

I'm not yet a big twitterer I'm not sure I want any more information than i currently a day.

Tim Hughes said...

Thanks to all for feedback and comments.

@Wildbron - thanks for sharing so much of your experiences. I have now come across four people I am connected to by two degrees or less that were caught up in the Mumbai events. It touches everyone.

@noc - there were plenty of times during the event that the search word/tag "Happy Thanksgiving" ranked higher than #mumbai on Twitter. Amazing.

@HappyH - great news. You must have been wracked with worry. The losses among the staff at both hotels have bee horrific. All of these people are our industry colleagues and therefore part of our professional family.

@CarlMaxx- I agree that we are overwhelmed with information. There were times during the crisis when I wanted to shout a people on Twitter "shut up unless you have something useful" but it became addictive. I could not turn away just in case...

Eugene said...

Hi Tim.
We have been shocked by the information on your family. We heard it from Vladimir a little, but have just read about it in all details. It's awful when innocent people, including the little baby of 6 months, suffer from hands of mad terrorists. We can image what you and all your family have gone through these terrible days. We are glad to join and say "Thanks God" once again, that all has ended and they were successfully rescueed.

Best wishes for you and your family.
Eugene & your Moscow Team.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing me how Twitter and its connections can shape communication and provide solace through timely, shared information. Very happy your family is safe.

Anonymous said...


Glad to hear your family is safe. Thank you for sharing these intimate and incredibly insightful thoughts with us.



Tim Hughes said...

@Eugene - thank you. My best to all in Moscow

@Adam - thanks for your thoughts and great to meet you in LA

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