The naked truth

Another year over, a new one just begun… 2006 is upon us and I’ve barely had time to think up a list of resolutions. I’ll have to recycle last year’s which were of the self improving variety. You know the ones – only drink on days with an ‘s’ in them, walk more, talk less…

Of course, as agents, we also need to be thinking of ways of improving professionally and, I’m told, diversification is key. Many agents have already begun branching out, offering a wide range of additional services and products from luggage to spray tans, but one that interests me and seems an obvious extension of what we do is the selling of property abroad.

It makes sense. We’ve always been in the business of selling dreams that last a week or a fortnight, why not sell the last-a-lifetime variety as well? With this in mind, I went along to the launch of Amathus Vacations Club.

At the invitation of managing director Andreas Vasiliou I attended the presentation and dinner at the Hilton Hotel, London, where senior marketing manager Huw Jones introduced us to the benefits of selling or renting accommodation at Aphrodite Hills, Cyprus. A golfers’ paradise, it also offers outstanding tennis facilities and a spa for those who want to take things at a less frenetic pace. All visitors are catered for in private villas with sunny pools making it an all round resort for families as well as sports enthusiasts.

With visions of myself in plus fours and a bathing suit improving myself in the sunshine in line with my new year’s resolutions, I was seduced by the resort. Also impressed was Gabbi of Rendezvous Travel, Little Chalfont, and the two of us discussed how the units could be sold and to whom (apart from me, obviously.)

Gabbi had recently returned from Jamaica where she’d been lucky enough to participate in an educational hosted by the Jamaican Tourist Board. She tells me nothing in her life is straightforward and this trip proved no exception.

“Honestly, at one point I thought I was in an episode of Fawlty Towers,” she laughed, as she recalled day one at the hotel.

Apparently, she’d checked in to the new Rio Hotel in Ochos Rios with Lucy McAdam Freud of Caribtours and, clutching the room key, they made their way to the allocated room.

As Gabbi put the key in the door she thought she heard a noise but dismissed it and continued turning the key in the lock. The door swung open to reveal a scene the likes of which you might otherwise expect to find on the top shelf of the newsagents. And you’d best make that a German newsagents as the couple involved were indeed German.

The naked man in the starring role swore and shouted something unrepeatable (in English or German for that matter) and Gabbi froze in horror. Lucy, on the other hand, experienced the other classic response, and slid out of the room laughing hysterically. Which can have done little to restore the gentleman’s pride or dignity.

The hapless duo beat a hasty retreat to the reception where it transpired that Gabbi had been given the wrong key.

You’d have thought that the story would end there, but you’d be wrong.

Happily installed in her new room, free of naked couples in compromising positions, Gabbi opened the door to the bell boy who’d arrived with her luggage. Sporting a bloody nose, the poor chap gestured towards the suitcase. A concerned Gabbi asked how’d he’d been injured to which he replied that he just couldn’t understand it; he’d only been doing his job delivering her luggage to the room he’d been told she was staying in, only to be greeted by an irate naked German man who punched him on the nose.

A rum punch indeed.

Take responsibility

I have deviated somewhat from my theme of improving ourselves and our business. How like a new year’s resolution – barely made before it’s broken. An area in which we all need to try harder over the coming months is in Responsible Tourism.

Many agents are clued up on issues of the global impact of tourism, especially after the devastating tsunami, earthquakes and floods of last year and are starting to educate their clients. However, a study by Mintel for the First Choice annual trends report suggests we all have a long way to go.

As a traveller I have an impact wherever I lay my hat, and I believe those of us who enjoy the pleasure of travel have a responsibility to ensure that impact is positive for the host communities.

The First Choice, Responsible Tourism – Who Cares? report found that only a quarter of respondents said they were concerned about the impact of tourism on the environment of the countries they visited, while 17% said they actively didn’t want to think about the environmental consequences of their holidays.

This is disappointing but understandable. People work hard for their two weeks off and nobody wants necessarily to think about recycling or endemic poverty while on holiday. The point is, we as an industry have to push for small changes to make sure that our clients can continue to enjoy carefree holidays that reduce waste, energy and damage while contributing positively to the local economies; we have to do the thinking for them until new standards become the cultural norm.

This might mean clients facing fewer changes of bedlinen or towels, with more changes incurring additional charges, or accepting a smaller range of food in hotels to minimise waste, or choosing locally produced drinks and other goods to avoid imports.

By encouraging holidaymakers to use local services – taxis, restaurants and the like – we can help clients see past the British operator to the faces of their foreign hosts. That has to be a worthwhile target for a new year, doesn’t it?