Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Athens had been chosen as the 2006 venue, but in April ABTA announced the Convention was returning to Marbella, where it had previously been held in 1998.
ABTA spokesman Keith Betton, responsible for organising the conference, said: “By April, everyone in Athens responsible for organising the convention, from the tourism minister down, had gone in a government reshuffle.
“We knew that wouldn’t work. You need continuity for a Convention this size. Marbella was going to pitch for 2008, it had the money ready and in two weeks it was all planned.”
There have been a few changes since ABTA was last in town. The exhibition hall has been turned into a convention centre and there are new hotels close by. As there are fewer delegates this year, most will be within walking distance of the centre, or just 15 minutes away by coach.
By the end of October, 1,300 were registered for the convention. Betton said this could creep up to 1,400, but is still down on last year’s 1,600. “Operators’ relations with agents have changed and many have had a bad year so there is either no desire or no spare money to host the trade. There will be more non-members, reflecting changes in the industry.”
If you’ve never been to Marbella, or, like ABTA, are returning after a few years’ absence, prepare to be surprised – here are a few of the highlights.
La Axarquia, Nerja and Frigiliana: three favourite places to visit for a day away from the beach. La Axarquia is a popular mountain retreat for walkers and hikers, Nerja is famous for its caves and Frigliliana is the place to browse through cobbled streets and catch up on some local shopping. Free for conference delegates.
Ronda: visit one of the prettiest towns in Andalucia, split in two by a 100-metre deep gorge that is crossed by the Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge, which is actually 200 years old and links the medieval and 18th-century parts of town.
The excursion will include visits to the Moorish palace of Mondragón, the 16th-century Carmelite Convent, and the oldest and largest bullring in Spain, still used for fights, but also a museum. Free for conference delegates.
Mijas and Benalmadena: visit the mountainside village of Mijas before lunch in Benalmadena and a dolphin, penguin and seal show at the marina. Free for conference delegates.
Estepona and Casares: visit the Equestrian Art Centre in Estepona then it’s off to the mountain village of Casares. Free for conference delegates.
Shopping: escape the conference and splash the cash in Marbella town centre and nearby Puerto Banús, the traditional draw for Brits wanting to splash some cash. Top designer names including Dior, La Perla, Versace, Bulgari and Armani are ready to welcome British credit cards.
Welcome party: put the glad rags on and get on the transfer coach to Finca la Concepcion. The party starts at 6.30pm. Expect music and fireworks, and if you haven’t got to rush off to another event, supper will be served from 8.30pm.
Cheers dinner: if you’re not busy on day two, say Salud! to colleagues at the Salon los Arcos, La Pesquera de la Barbacoa. Food will be traditional Spanish fare of tapas and paella. Price is £35 per person, which includes dinner, wine, entertainment and transfers. Book by November 27.
Dreamers Disco: Dreamers is the most popular club in Puerto Banús and ABTA has taken it over for all three nights of the Convention, from 11pm.
Farewell party: say goodbye at the Palacio de Congresos in Estepona. It starts at 10pm and there’ll be food and entertainment – and you might just win a car in the Avis/Travel Weekly prize draw.
Santiago, Paseo Maritimo 5: if the work becomes too much, book a table at Marbella’s top restaurant, a favourite with celebs. It’s the place to go if you like shellfish and good wine.
Where to stay
Gran Meliá Don Pepe: one of the Costa del Sol’s top five-star resort hotels, with just over 200 rooms and suites including two garden villas. It is set on the beach, in tropical gardens and has an outdoor and heated indoor pool, plus numerous restaurants and meeting rooms.
Gran Hotel Guadalpin Banús: five-star designer sea-front hotel a 15-minute walk from the centre of Puerto Banús. There are 181 rooms, an outdoor heated pool, a spa and fitness centre, a choice of restaurants and bars, and free wireless internet service.
Gran Hotel Guadalpin Marbella and Spa: five-star sister to the Guadalpin Banús, close to the big-name boutiques, this 127-room hotel opened in 2001 and promises a spa you won’t want to leave. But if you do want a break from being pampered, there’s an outdoor pool, and various restaurants and bars.
NH Alanda: a new five-star with 199 guest rooms and good views of the Sierra Blanca mountains. There’s an outdoor pool, three restaurants, including one on the beach, and a spa.
El Fuerte: recently-renovated four-star property in the centre of Marbella, two minutes’ walk from the shops and restaurants in the old town. It has two swimming pools – one heated in winter – two restaurants and a gym.
H-10 Andalucia Plaza: minutes from Puerto Banús, this is a popular four-star resort-style hotel (below) with pools for adults and kids, a wellness plaza with Jacuzzi, sauna, Turkish bath and treatment rooms and a free-to-enter casino.
Who: there are charter and scheduled flights from 12 regional UK airports to Malaga. Operators include Monarch, Thomsonfly, British Airways, bmibaby, Iberia and Flybe. Clients can also fly in through Jerez or Seville.
Via: flights go direct from the UK.
Flight Time: about two and a half hours.
Transfers: about 45 minutes from Malaga to Marbella, traffic-willing.
Time difference: GMT+1 hour.
Weather:the hottest months are July and August and the coldest are December and February, when the average temperatures vary between 13C and 23C. November is mild so take a jacket for the evening.