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Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Changing rooms

After all these years of socialising at travel industry functions, I’ve finally worked out how best to enjoy them. In the first instance, one has to invest in a pair of those gel-filled insoles that claim to take the pain out of partying, and second, one must always book a room if at all possible. At my age, I’m too old to be playing Cinderella outside the panto season and, frankly, I can’t be doing with losing any more shoes.

I managed to put both these strategies into operation this week when I attended a travel awards ceremony at the Millennium Hotel in London. I was very happy when Gabbi at Rendezvous Travel offered to share her room and only too happy to accept.

I arrived early and checked in. The clerk at reception was helpful, asking if I’d like to take both keys. I declined, thinking it likely that Gabbi would arrive when I was in the shower perhaps, or filing my corns; at least if she collected the key she could let herself into the room.

As it happened, she didn’t arrive when I was in the shower, which was hot and efficient and under which I spent more time than I should have. By the time I’d got out and wrapped myself in a towel, my face was as red as a radish.

Perhaps the heat had got to my brain, but when I heard the card swipe through the door heralding Gabbi’s arrival, a childish wave of mischief overcame me and I decided to hide behind the door.

The door opened. “Boo!” I shouted, to the evident alarm of the two American gentlemen who stood at the threshold.

“Gee, sorry,” said the slightly less bewildered one, “we must have the wrong room.”

If I looked like a radish before, I now looked like a radish that had been doused in red hot chillies and marinated in beetroot.

The two men turned tail and fled back to reception. There was no sign whatsoever of Gabbi…

I rang her mobile. “Where are you?” she asked before I had time to speak.

“More to the point, where are you?” I countered.

“I’m in the room!” We both said in unison.

It transpired we’d been given separate rooms.

It was fun to meet up with travel agents, tour operators and other industry personnel, all of whom were enjoying the ambience and the alcohol.

I greeted Cadogan’s Danny Joel with a kiss on the cheek but Gabbi, who was behind me, moved her head at the crucial moment and actually bumped lips with him. Nothing remarkable about that, you’d have thought, except that only moments later, his mouth was red and swelling visibly.

Gabbi asked if he was alright, to which Danny replied that he had a tingling, burning sensation in his lips. Gabbi laughed, explaining that he must have reacted to the lip gloss she was wearing, which was one of those lip plumping ones containing an irritant. (True enough, Danny did look irritated.)

My hosts for the evening were Holiday Autos and I joined Anne Maria Stacey and Liz Loukes on our table, at which we were served a super meal and some very drinkable wines.

When it came time for the awards themselves, Holiday Autos’ sister company Med Hotels was selected as winner in its category, but, with no personnel present, it was left to Holiday Autos’ Ed Fanning to collect the award on Med Hotels’ behalf.

After dinner, the dancing started. I’m not sure whether what Ali Haque, general manager of Western and Oriental does strictly passes for dancing, but he cut a fine figure on the floor.

The gel insoles helped, but I didn’t have it in me to slope off to the casino, so Gabbi and I opted to call it a night. Swiping the card through the lock of my room, I was unable to open the door and was obliged to fetch another from reception. Bidding goodnight to Gabbi, I hopped into bed.

I had reached the borders of sleep when someone knocked on my door. Not more Americans, surely? It was Gabbi. She’d found a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the door of her room and an ear to it suggested there were people inside.

A call to reception established that Gabbi’s effects had been deposited in my room (I hadn’t noticed. Don’t expect me to be any good on Crimewatch) and she’d be sharing with me after all.

A rail taste of the Orient

At the other end of the week, I found myself enjoying the pleasures of the Orient Express. Joining other ‘preferential partners’ for coffee hosted by the Crown Plaza Hotel, I had the chance to meet hoteliers and Orient Express personnel for an informal chat before the launch of the Journeys of Distinction brochure.

David Hester, director of sales and marketing for the UK and Europe, welcomed us and introduced representatives of Orient Express Partner Hotels and told us of the new and exciting destinations for the world’s most beautiful travel experience. I was particularly taken by the new journey to Laos, and can see myself selling lots of the new routes to Warsaw and Prague.

On board, I sat beside Debbie Vinton of Last Stop Travel with whom I enjoyed a champagne lunch and meal of beetroot-cured halibut, followed by Angus beef with a wild mushroom butter and a chocolate teardrop with cherry compote and white chocolate mousse. Honestly, you’d have thought they were holding Gordon Ramsay hostage in the kitchen, the food was that good!

Our ‘journey of distinction’ took us around the Surrey countryside and I was very sorry when suddenly I found myself back at our London terminal, swapping the Orient Express for the South West Trains service to Dorset. It was like swapping lives, but I guess that’s the magic of that very special train.

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