Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Game for a laugh

Unable to attend the Triton conference in Tenerife, I phoned my old pal Gabbi Birbeck from Rendezvous Travel to get the lowdown on the event.

It’s always so entertaining to listen to Gabbi relate her experiences as invariably, she is beset by misadventure.

And it seemed the conference was no different. For a start, she told me that on the outbound flight, she had a moment of panic when the pilot announced they would soon be touching down in Faro.

“I suddenly wondered if I’d boarded the wrong flight,” she told me. “And it was only when I spotted Advantage managing director John McEwan that I could breathe easily again.”

Having arrived safely herself, it wasn’t long before those around her were jinxed. Alan Armstrong, from Brunlea Travel in Burnley, took a tumble down some steps at the hotel.

Gabbi doesn’t have any qualifications in first aid, but she has watched a lot of episodes of Casualty and Holby City and managed to communicate effectively enough with the Spanish security staff to obtain some tissues and antiseptic. A defibrillator would not be required, she explained, as she’d managed to detect a pulse.

Alas, when she asked for smelling salts, the language barrier defeated them all, but the security staff had a good laugh thinking the best treatment she could come up with amounted to smelly socks.

Brunlea Travel had another casualty later on at the beach party thrown to welcome the guests when Jan fell into the sea. No accident report form was filled out to the best of Gabbi’s knowledge, and her medical skills not called upon.

She told me a brilliant gala dinner followed, with national dancers, synchronised swimmers and a whistler. Yes, a whistler. Don’t ask me, but they may find a spot for him at this year’s Royal Variety performance.

Gabbi was impressed with the Dine Around evening which had teams of agents dressed up in costumes supplied by the operator sponsoring them. She ended up on Gold Medal’s table wearing a fabulous sari to represent India.

She assures me she was the epitome of good behaviour throughout the evening. I said she was just trying to curry favour.

During dinner the Kuoni table was presented with a chocolate cake to mark the operator’s 100 years in travel.

End of dinner entertainment was provided by Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, during which apparently knickers were thrown on stage – although Gabbi assures me that hers were not included…

Going batty in guyana

We’ve been welcoming visitors to our shop, and among them was Stephen Hyde. No longer at Wildlife Worldwide, Stephen is now managing director of Distinctive Americas.

Based in Gloucestershire, the company offers holidays to North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Antarctica and the Arctic. Something for everyone, I think you’ll agree.

He explained the brochure has no prices in it as every trip is tailor-made and therefore quoted on an individual basis.

I’m pleased to report the company works closely with the trade and, the best bit, Stephen believes in educationals for agents selling the destinations. (Do I sound shallow if I say I’m more interested in selling the hot spots than the icy ones?)

Stephen’s last educational with agents was to Guyana. Accommodation is basic but the experience of working with Diane McTurk and her orphaned giant river otters makes up for that.

Apparently, she does her best to brief guests on what to look out for, warning them that things really do go bump in the night. The party of agents discovered she was right when they found a collection of bats had gatecrashed their lodge in the middle of the night. Someone screamed but nobody admitted it.

Beds in the rainforest amount to hammocks, Stephen informed me, with six females on one side, six males on the other. All very cosy but you have to hope no-one snores.

According to Stephen, the agents had an unforgettable time and were positively batty about it.

A hairy moment

Sometimes, it’s possible to go over the top when you’re trying to sell a hotel to a client whose original choice has been switched at the last minute. Rick thinks he may be guilty.

In extolling the facilities of the alternative hotel, he mentioned all the extras from the trouser press to the quality of the sanitary gear but the client was still unhappy.

“If I’d stayed at the other place, I’d have the benefit of the Edinburgh Tattoo night fireworks,” he complained.

Rick tried to put him off, fearing a cancellation.

“Some of those fireworks can be dangerous,” he said, knowingly. “Those bangers can blow your hair off.”

The client was silent and said he’d ring back. It was left to a colleague to remind Rick that the gentleman in question wears a hairpiece.

When the chips are down

This week I received flowers and wine from clients but the most unusual gift came from an elderly lady who thrust a bulging paper napkin at me and said: “I’ve just had lunch at The Phoenix and I thought of you”.

I thanked her and unwrapped the napkin, to find it contained a half-dozen cold chips. She continued: “They always give you too many chips there… so enjoy.”

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