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This is an old revision of ESF08TravelReport made by YanB on 2008-10-27 10:42:04.



Last edited by YanB
Mon, 27 Oct 2008 10:42 CET [diff]

Report on Travelling, Registration and Reimbursement


This reports explains how the travel confirmation, registration and reimbursement process were initially planned, and the several problems encountered. It suggests a number of improvements for future forums.


Report drafted by Lina, with input from other Malmö coordinators.

As agreed in May at Babels meeting in Malmö, Lina would coordinate the travel arrangements. After having to wait about three months for her prepaid ticket to go to Malmö... she finally got there in the middle of August, 6 weeks prior to the Forum.

1. What was planned

Already in the middle of August, and almost one month before the 5th ESF nothing had been done for travelling. Lina was supposed to start contacting people for their travel arrangements as soon as possible. We set up a gmail account, from which Lina (the travel "group") would contact the selected interpreters sending them the travel message we had composed (, with information about the procedure:
  1. Find the cheapest solution;
  2. Ask for approval;
  3. Receive a confirmation email and proceed with booking the ticket *immediately*.
Information about visa issues and prepaid tickets were also included in this message.

The idea was to keep separate files for each interpreters, to make it as easier and as fair as possible for everyone. A reimbursement form would be alreay filled in with the details each interpreter would have given to us before arriving in Malmö. During the registration we would add the invoices, tickets, etc. in the personal file. Then we would double-check with each interpreter his/her file. We would create separate folders for people reimbursed on Saturday and for people reimbursed on Sunday (depending on their date of departure), in alphabetical order.
Each interpreter would receive an 'info pack' during registartion. The pack, envelope or ESF bag, would include maps for Malmö and ESF venues, local transportation tickets, the ESF program, the cultural program, the personal schedule, vouchers for food or anything equivalent, a notebook and a pen/ pencil, snacks, one bottle of water (to be refilled during the forum).

A "reimbursement group" would be created. After having contacted interpreters and arranged their travel, each interpreter would receive a message from the reimbursement group asking them to send all their invoices, e-tickets, etc. in advance. We would print all the information to have everything ready before registration. One person from the NOC or the finance committee would need to attend to check by himself/herself and take full responsibility for the reimbursement itself. Since we were not entrusted with the budget, the NOC would have to deal with the money.

2. What was done

Instead of starting directly to contact people for their travel arrangements, we started selecting people for several booths. In mid-August, we started contacting people asking them to find the cheapest way to come to Malmö. Although it was already very late, we managed to find and agree upon the cheapest solution. Some agreements were also made for those who delayed the purchase of a confirmed ticket.
A decision was made, between Lina and Francisco Contreras, that Lina *should* confirm someone to come up to 2 days before the ideal date of arrival, if that meant we could find a cheaper flight. Lina asked Francisco whether this would create problems with accommodation, but Francisco replied that if the ESF could save about 100 Euros from one ticket, then it would be worth it and that it wouldn't be such a big problem with accommodation.
Francisco Contreras and the treasurer, Anders Palmqvist, wanted to follow-up on the money spent on tickets, so we immediately created a googledoc which we shared with him and with the accommodation group (a spreadsheet file with name, surname, e-mail, total travel costs, and need of accommodation). In that way, the NOC had access at all times to an up-to-date list of who had been confirmed, and what the travel arrangements cost for each volunteer, in all transparency.
After confirming each interpreter, Lina added information in the Babels database: total travel costs, agreement made on travel costs, date of arrival and departure, time of arrival if it was very late, need for accommodation, any allergies or diseases. Then each interpreter would be put on the next stage, "stage-3 travel paid or confirmed by lina/ sophie". We agreed with the accommodation group that they had to check from the database which people were already in stage-3, in order to fill in the details of accommodation and then put them in "stage-4 accommodation and planning".
Regarding prepaid tickets (about 25-30 volunteers), we created a separate googledoc which we shared again with Francisco Contreras and the treasurer, Anders Palmqvist. We added all the information of the person in need of a prepaid ticket and then the treasurer was supposed to buy it with his credit card. The travel group would then send the e-ticket to each interpreter. After we realised that the tickets the treasurer had already "bought" were actually only booked, because of technical problems with the treasurer's Swedish bank, and after we were informed that the credit card (one of the two that were used for the whole ESF) not only had a weekly limit of 50.000 SEK, but that it also had some problems when trying to buy tickets online, the travel group proposed to the treasurer to go to a travel agency to do the job properly. This was done in Athens for prepaid tickets. Of course all this delay cost us time and money, as it was already two weeks before the Forum and the prices went up every day.

The registration worked more or less as planned without particular problems. Compared with previous forums, it was far better organised!
But there were also serious problems: no interpreter's pack was given, no programs were delivered to us from the NOC, no notebooks, no pens/pencils/snacks/water. Local transportation tickets were obtained only very late, on the last day of registration; we didn't have the food tickets ready from the first day of the registration; many volunteers had no accommodation, etc.
Although Babels suggested to the NOC that the interpreters should use their Forum passes to eat, instead of tickets - which three Babels volunteers had first to stamp and then cut out, a procedure that lasted several hours, until late at night since the tickets were brought to us shortly before midnight. Ironically, these tickets weren't enough for all interpreters for all meals, so in the end, we were asked to use our Forum pass!
The snacks were bought one day before the forum started, with Gregoire having to accompany Francisco and the treasurer around the city for six hours, having to wait for them to do the last-minute shopping for the whole forum (among other things to buy the cheapest radios they could find). Francisco and the Treasurer did not trust Babels with any cash, not even to buy the snacks for the interpreters!

Babels sent an automatic message through the databse to each interpreter in "stage-3 travel paid or confirmed by lina/ sophie", with the information added on the total travel costs. Volunteers were requested to send their invoices to the reimbursement group. Among other problems we had with Francisco, is the fact we had to print these invoices, e-tickets, etc, but we had no printer!
Unfortunately, most of the work we did the last weeks turned out to be totally useless due to the problems with the NOC and the lack of cash. Instead, we had to create a new list giving priority to people coming from Eastern Europe and Turkey to get reimbursed. All the others would be reimbursed via transfer. Already a month after the Forum and a great number of interpreters have yet to be reimbursed.

What could I have done better/ problems faced?

I could have started contacting people earlier in order not having to exceed the budget in case we managed to find all the interpreters needed, according to the linguistic needs. The fact that we had less interpreters, also due to many cancellations, made us not spend a lot of money, although all the procedure had started very late.
It would also have helped a lot, if people, especially coordinators, read all the messages and protocolls carefully. In that case we would have avoided misunderstandings and double-booked tickets (just one case).
After having coordinated travel arrangements for second time, I propose that there are at least two persons dealing with that, because we're talking about 120-150 e-mails per day to be answered, otherwise the prices get higher! And be prepared of sleepless nights!
I also own an apology to people if I was a bit brusque sometimes or if they were afraid to contact Babels because of the 'harshness of my replies'. In order to avoid misunderstandings, I would suggest that commited coordinators should be the first ones to read very carefully the protocolls and messages they receive in order to inform interpreters very clearly about what they should do and make it easier for everyone. And we must not forget that we are all working as volunteers and that we are not a travel agency.

In general, it was a very well organised registration, thanks to many people! Regarding the interpreters kit we should have been more demanding and exigent with the NOC.

We shouldn't have been involved with issues like that. I insisted many times that, at least, someone from the NOC or the finance committee should be there guarding the envelopes filled with money.
If they don't trust us from the beginning, we should not get involved in this.
If we manage to find another way to deal with this, we will be left with a lot of time to do other, more important things during the forum and actually help.


Travel and Visa Problems (Ali Ottoman)
One of the most frustrating and stress causing processes however was that of obtaining Visas. It is tempting to say that the Swedish Consulate treated interpreters from the TR/KR booths pretty much like the organising committee has been accused of doing, i. e., like slaves, with this difference that volunteers were at one point asked to produce working permits under the pretext that their travel costs were being paid.

It was a process of psychological torture, with Consulate employees playing cat & mouse with the interpreters, telling them to bring a long list of documents in the morning, and another but just as long list of documents in the afternoon (the previous list having turned out to be obsolete). Most interpreters did not know whether they would obtain their visa until the last minute, some almost having to cancel and renew their tickets, because they couldn’t confirm their reservation within deadlines.

Some volunteers were also not happy about the way they were given little choice by Babels travels volunteers who seemed to be saying take that flight on such dates or leave it. Many found themselves having to take early return flights on Sunday, so that there were few interpreters left for interpretation that day.

Despite all the frustrations, Malmö will probably remain a memorable experience for many of the interpreters of the TR/KR booth. Some have made new acquaintances; some have seen their limits, while others may have discovered a vocation. We will hopefully have a clearer view on these matters, within the mail group Barish created quite early in the selection process. In the mean time, we now have a base on which to develop our network for 2010, if Babels is chosen for the 2010 ESF.

Ali Ottoman

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