Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

running on full steam

What with the good weather and it being a generally sociable time – everyone’s dressing up for Ascot or down for Wimbledon or barbequeing to a backdrop of football – it’s not surprising that I didn’t pay much attention to the Queen’s birthday honours list when it was published recently.

Had I applied myself more to the newspapers and less to the Pimms, I’d have noticed that one of our own was among those to receive one of Her Majesty’s gold stars.

Howard Jones was awarded the MBE in recognition of his services to steam railways in Poland and his work in the nurturing of Anglo-Polish relations.

Agents may remember Howard from his days with Stephen Raindle at the London Air Charter Centre and British Island Airways or, in later years, Holiday Options.

Always with an eye for the main chance, Howard would stitch together deals without being able to sew.

I remember when I worked at an agency in the Barbican Centre, Howard would call and say: “I’ve got 50 flight seats into Corsica and out of Sardinia. If I can get three nights’ accommodation in one and four in the other and give the clients a car in between so they can drive through the mountains and cross over on the ferry, could you sell it for me?”

Of course this was before the days of the Internet, and I would write out window cards with all the relevant details and stick them in the window. They sold like hot cakes and everyone slept happier knowing that those flights were full.

It seems that Howard was driven to succeed, spotting niches in markets where no one knew there were markets.

An avid steam railways enthusiast, he soon made his leisure his living by introducing a steam railway package for visitors to Poland where wannabe engine drivers can drive the old fashioned locomotives faster than is possible in the UK.

The venture literally built up a head of steam and Howard now receives bookings from enthusiasts all over the world. It’s true, everybody really is doing the locomotion!

I hear from Stephen, who spoke to him recently, that when Howard received the phone call advising him of his award, he thought someone was pulling his leg and was only convinced when he received a second call from the Ambassador in Warsaw.

Well done, Howard. It’s great to see someone rewarded for his efforts. And, now that you’re so clearly ‘in’ with those in the know, perhaps you might think of nominating someone yourself… I must be about ready for that ‘services to the New World wine industry’ gong, don’t you think?

the launch crasher

What are you supposed to do if you arrive early for a travel function?

The simple answer is to gatecrash another (I did say it was a very sociable time of year). That’s exactly what I did when I arrived at The Dorchester Hotel, London, for the CTO Caribbean Ball, two hours ahead of schedule.

And no, it wasn’t a miscalculation on my part that made me board the early train, just a growing mistrust of public transport services.

Anyway, as I changed into my party frock, I got chatting to a couple of ladies who were obviously dressed for the ball, but who were clearly in a hurry to get somewhere else first.

I was intrigued to know where and, under gentle questioning, they revealed the Fred Olsen brochure launch was also being held at the same hotel but in a different suite.

Once they’d lipsticked and left, I decided that it was almost certain that the staff at Fred Olsen had wanted to invite me, but that perhaps they’d never got round to licking the stamp, so I made my way to the gathering.

Once there, I discovered that it was a launch for journalists who were all expecting the name of the fifth Fred Olsen ship to be revealed. It wasn’t and they seemed disappointed.

I however, was only too happy to spot FO’s Lol Nicholas, who offered me a glass of wine before I had to wing my way to the next event.

your carriage awaits

At the cocktail reception for the ball, I met up with three girls from the Bristol area who all agreed that, in these days when we’re all trying to make smaller ecological footprints, it would be great if the details of other guests could be given so that car sharing would be an option to get to these events.

You see, we are capable of practical thoughts, in spite of the drink!

But back to the ball. I was a guest of the Curacao Tourist Board, and, as the island is noted for its great diving it was natural that there would be dive operators and divers at the table.

Jas Anand, Curacao Tourist Board senior sales manager, had recently learned to dive and had augmented her training by practising in her bath before qualifying.

I had to admit the only diving I did was diving under the table looking for my earrings and bag at the end of the evening.

I mentioned the lift-sharing thing to Jas, who thought it a good idea. We also agreed that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to ask those agents lucky enough to be invited to such evenings to give over their credit card numbers, so that a forfeit payment could be taken in the event of a no-show; this would ensure that hosts spending a lot of money on these occasions could be assured of a good turn-out.

But there’s more to Curacao than diving apparently; Jas told me it is a UNESCO Heritage Site with a national park for walking (“Not in these shoes, Jas!”) and that the language is unique – it’s called Papamiento and is a mix of Spanish, Portugese and Dutch.

I think I was speaking it when I left…

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