Hampshire revisited

Lainston House in Sparsholt, Hampshire, was the venue for the launch of Caribtours’ 2007 Caribbean Escape brochure. It is a beautiful 17-century country house set in 63 acres of stunning Hampshire parkland and, if I sound like I know a thing or two about it, that’s because it’s where my son and daughter-in-law got married eight years ago.

I knew then, that we agents were in for a treat; an elegant outing to celebrate a sophisticated product. We were greeted by the Caribtours team headed by managing director Paul Cleary, assisted by Prue, Sarah and Jayne, and offered Pimms on the lawn before we made our way into the converted barn where the launch would take place.

As we walked along the passage, I was reminded of the last time I’d passed this way in 1998. Back then, the way was lit by tea lights – all very enchanting and I enjoyed the memory. Of course, when I entered the barn, other, less enchanting memories hit me, for this was where the reception, including a lively disco, had been held. I pointed to the spot where I did the locomotion and where I rocked the boat before having to be helped to my feet by one of my son’s friends. Ah, yes, it’s always nice to revisit these old places.

Paul’s opening speech reminded us that Caribtours is committed to working with agents and will always go the extra mile to meet agents’ and clients’ requests. I have often complained that the relationship between senior managers of major tour operators and agents can be remote, but this is far from the truth for Paul.

Paul said we can contact him personally by phone day or night, although he’d prefer not to be woken at 3am, as had happened once, unless it was an emergency.

So, what constitutes an emergency and who had phoned at that ungodly hour? Paul told us that in the dead of a cold February night, he’d been snoozing peacefully in his bed, dreaming of the warm climes of Caribbean hideaways, when his phone rang.

Barely awake, he answered it to hear the rantings of an irate client ringing from Strawberry Hill in Jamaica. The client was complaining that there were dogs barking in the valley below him and what was Paul going to do about it?

Paul asked the woman if she’d put her grievance to the hotel manager as he was obviously a good deal closer than Paul 2,000 miles away. However, Paul rang the hotel and spoke to the hotelier. They decided there really wasn’t much that could be done, short of purchasing a gun and shooting the animals. (Paul assures me no animals suffered in the making of this anecdote.) By all accounts, several juicy bones eventually quietened the beasts.

After Paul’s speech, we were allowed 10 minutes to talk to each supplier in a speed dating-style and it was fun to chat to Ruby Haroon of Air Jamaica who told us about the new Lovebird 34in seat pitch in economy class, the 60in pitch in deluxe economy and 84in in executive business class. Meanwhile, her sister Shazia Haroon sat at another table representing the luxurious Half Moon resort in Jamaica, which was offering a prize draw for an educational to the award-winning destination.

Every representative left wishing we could wing our way to the Caribbean immediately. John Petch, sales director of GIA Hotels represented Cotton House in Mustique, a regular haunt of Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood, while Kate sang the praises of the quiet elegance of the Secrets Resort in Capri, Riviera Cancun.

Meanwhile, Cayman Islands sales executive Emma Ford was at pains to explain the gentleness of the stingray, which is used as an icon for its screen promotion.

food, wine and prizes

The stingray has come in for a lot of bad press recently, following the death of TV crocodile hunter and naturalist Steve Irwin, who was attacked by a bull stingray. I wasn’t at the point of signing up to go diving, but Emma convinced me these creatures are placid and Irwin’s death was a freak accident.

It was then left to Jacqui Mason, representing Port of St Charles, to leave me drooling over a unique development of luxury beachfront and marine apartments. Well, a girl can dream…

I’d met lots of agents, including Travelcare Ringwood manger Tanya Fitzpatrick and colleague Katherine Skeates. Together we sat down to a superb buffet with fine wines that were expertly poured by Paul Cleary, leading me to wonder if he’d been a sommelier in a previous life.

Everyone was feeling magnanimous when it came to the prize draw. Davis Travel had all the luck with two staff winning goodie bags donated by the Cayman Islands, while my new pal Katherine Skeates took the grand prize. Katherine was overwhelmed and the excitement of her win spread around our table. And so it was with giant smiles we said our goodbyes and thanks for a wonderfully fun and informative evening.

romance at a price

Back in the office I learn that romance is dead. Witness my client. When I told him how much his wedding in Cape Panwa Hotel, Phuket, would cost with Sunset Faraway Holidays he knew I was offering him a great deal.

“Shall I book it?” I asked.

“Just a minute, I have to make a call,” he replied. Sweet, I thought, he must be ringing his bride for approval. Was he, my eye! The cheeky bloke rang a job he’d got lined up and explained that the price would be slightly higher than he’d originally quoted, to pay for the trip!