All posts by Pippa Jacks
Tucked away up a lush green hillside on Jamaica’s north coast, Greenwood Great House is an Aladdin’s cave of antiques. The house was built in 1780 by the Barrett family of Wimpole Street in London, from which the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is descended.
The Barretts were some of the richest plantation owners in the Caribbean, amassing 84,000 acres of land and 2,000 slaves in Jamaica. But, as I learned on my visit, they were among the more enlightened “plantocracy” of their time, and treated their slaves more humanely than many others. So, during the slave rebellion of 1831, when many great houses were burned down, Greenwood was left alone.
That’s lucky for Bob Betton, an antiques-enthusiast who bought the house in 1976, and also for visitors to Jamaica today, as Greenwood has become one of the Caribbean’s best antique museums, and an intriguing place to learn about colonial history.
I was shown around by Bob himself, who took pride in describing the furniture, paintings, maps and ceramics. These include an original Tiffany lampshade made of glass, the oldest intact library on the island, and a collection of Wedgewood china made for the Barretts with their family crest. There are also old musical instruments, such as a penny-in-the-slot polyphone from the 1800s, which still hammers out a tune.
Things took a supernatural turn in “duppy” corner (meaning “ghost” in Jamaican patois), where there is an oil painting that seems to depict the ghost of a deceased relative, and also a photograph that includes a servant who died several years earlier. “I did some research, to see if it could be simply a double-exposure, but there was no such thing on a camera from that period,” Bob confided.
Not a house to be alone at night in, then. I barely knew whether to believe Bob when he said he and his wife sleep in the grand old wooden beds at night. I was only convinced when he opened up an antique cupboard to reveal an enormous flatscreen TV.
Greenwood is a smaller great house than nearby Rose Hall, but has more to offer in terms of antiques, and is also much quieter. There’s also a pub onsite and beautiful gardens, making it a pretty wedding venue.
One of the highlights was spending a few minutes on the first-floor veranda, which Bob warned me has a tendency to “make you work less”. With an uninterrupted, 180-degree view out across the ocean, I could even see the curvature of the earth - and why the Barrett family might have chosen this spot. Greenwood Great House is open for tours every day between 9am and 6pm, priced at $20.
*Greenwood Great House website: www.greenwoodgreathouse.com
* Visit Jamaica website: www.visitjamaica.com/attractions/greenwood-great-house.aspx
At precisely 8 o’clock each evening since 1928, the mournful Last Post bugle call has been played at Menin Gate in Ypres, Flanders, to commemorate those that fell in the Great War of 1914-1918.
July 9, 2015 will mark the 30,000th occasion upon which the Last Post has been sounded at the gate - a date which will form one of the highlights of the Great War Centenary, from 2014-2018.
I caught up with Andrew Daines, UK director of Tourism Flanders-Brussels, who outlined the various projects underway. British and German trenches are being reconstructed near the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele 1917, while a new visitor’s centre at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery will focus on the medical context of the war.
In Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum has already been expanded and new technology introduced, with visitors receiving a micro-chipped poppy-bracelet to discover “their fate” in the war.
Tourism Flanders is also a premier partner of World Travel Market for the next two years, and visitors to the London trade show in November will find a pathway of poppies leading them to the Visit Flanders stand, as well as seminars and presentations. “Our partnership with WTM indicates just how high profile the Great War Centenary is,” said Daines. “WTM seemed the perfect fit for us to communicate with the trade about working together,” he added.
Since there will be such massive media coverage in the run up to and during the centenary, agents can expect a surge in interest in the region. “Around 300,000 people come to the Flanders Fields each year, but we predict annual visitor numbers could reach a million during the centenary, so the opportunity for agents is huge,” Daines pointed out.
Agents should look out for online training and fams, and can email trade manager Lisa Thomas on email@example.com for updates.
Daines expects operators such as Leger, Newmarket Holidays, Cresta and Ramblers to ramp up their battle-fields products for the centenary, but military history is not the only reason to visit Flanders. The country also has sandy beaches, canals to cruise on, countryside to walk and cycle through, and Belgium’s famous beers to enjoy on brewery tours. “We also have more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, so your clients can be assured of eating well, at reasonable prices,” Daines claimed.
If you think of hot-dogs as a simple junk-food, you’ve clearly never had them Guatemalan-style. Served in a toasted bun, and piled high with pickled cabbage, avocado, spicy chilli-coriander sauce and mayonnaise, they are nothing like the limp, pale hot-dogs you might buy from a cart in the street.
I tried my hand at creating my own at a Guatemala Tourist Board (Inguat) event last week, where renowned chef Humberto Dominguez also showed us how to make fish ceviche, tamarind chicken, fillet steak in coffee sauce and cinnamon-infused rice pudding.
You can expect to see and hear more of Inguat in 2013, as the tourist board embarks upon what the Guatemalan embassy described as a “refocusing” on the UK market. “Three or four years ago we had a taxi campaign but have been quieter in the UK since then,” said Henning Droege of the embassy in the UK. “But with our Spanish market impacted by the economy, the UK is now our most important European market, and we now hope to really re-engage with the UK travel trade,” he added.
The number of British visitors to Guatemala grew by 50% in 2012, rising from 6,327 to 9,913, and the tourist board is hopeful of further growth this year. “Guatemala is at the heart of the Mayan world and since the new solar calendar marks such a special moment in our history, it’s an opportunity for us to show the world the richness of our culture and our natural world,” said Inguat subdirector, Maru Acevedo.
With the country being named from an indigenous Nahuatl word meaning “land of many trees”, it’s no surprise to learn that 30% of lush Guatemala is protected land, and that it’s home to 172 species of mammal and more than 700 bird species. As well as visiting ancient Mayan sites, exploring historic Antigua and enjoying the country’s wildlife, clients can also undertake more unusual activities like speleology (caving), ziplining, volcano-climbing and scuba-diving in both lakes and the ocean.
Acevedo confirmed the importance of UK travel agents in selling Guatemala: “Most UK visitors come on organised trips, and many use an agent, so it’s vital for us to engage with UK agents.” Inguat is planning fam trips and training missions for the UK trade, as well as more events like last week’s cooking demonstration. On March 25, Inguat will help launch a new Guatemalan coffee by Starbucks, at an event at The British Museum.
National Geographic magazine claimed earlier this year that Yasuni National Park in Ecuador may be the most biodiverse place on earth. But it’s not a crown Ecuador will wear for long, if a Peruvian conservation organisation has anything to do with it.
Crees is a charitable foundation based in the Manu region of Peru’s rainforest, where visitors can see conservation research and sustainable community development in action. In May, staff and volunteers at Crees plan to undertake their very own “BioBlitz” study to prove that Manu is even more abundant than Yasuni in plant and animal life.
I met with founder Quinn Meyer who is confident Manu will break the record. “I’ve seen 12 different jaguars in the past 16 months for example,” he reported. “That’s got to be the highest recording ever found.”
British-born Meyer established Crees (Conservation Research and Environmental Education Towards Sustainability) in 2002 after witnessing what he describes as the “circle of poverty”, with local communities extracting the forest’s resources through lack of alternative income. “Far too often, wildlife destinations focus on the nature and not the community, but our view of sustainable development is conservation with people in it,” he explained.
As well as educating on sustainable farming and helping local people launch social enterprises such as jewellery-making, Crees runs two lodges that are open to tourists. And as of last October, Crees also offers four tours of Manu, led by its own guides and biologists. All departing from Cuzco, these range from a short three-night overland trip ($660pp) to a 10-night “Complete Manu Wildlife Experience” ($3,000pp). UK operators selling the tours include Audley, Steppes, and Journey Latin America.
With support from Crees, there will once again be a 45-minute scheduled flight from Cuzco to Manu from March 28, saving two days of driving, which is key for Manu’s higher-end, time-short visitors. It’s this kind of visitor Crees is keen to attract, said Meyers, and not just for the revenue they generate. “Many of our visitors are people who have influence, and if they develop a relationship with this ecosystem, it can impact on decisions they make back in the UK,” he claimed. “Ambassadors for the rainforest - that’s what we hope to create.”
If Carlsberg made ski resorts, I imagine they’d look rather like Val d’Isere. With picturesque stone and wooden chalets, twinkling Christmas lights, giant snow sculptures and open-fronted cafes serving hot chocolate and mulled wine, I felt like I’d walked into a postcard when I visited the resort in early January.
The first hotel opened in this French village in 1932, and its first ski lift in 1936, but it was after the Second World War that it grew to become one of the world’s best and most popular ski resorts.
It now attracts around 35,000 skiers each year, with a good 10% or more being Mark Warner guests, staying at one of its two hotels in the resort. As Mark Warner’s top-selling resort, the advice is to book early, since peak season sells out quickly.
I stayed at Mark Warner’s Chalet Hotel le Val d’Isere for a week of ski school, and chatted to hotel manager Emma Knights about the resort’s appeal. “Val really does have everything,” she told me. “In addition to great shops, great bars, and great restaurants, it has a huge range of runs for different level-skiers, and when you add in nearby Tigne as well, the ski area is gigantic.”
In fact, Espace Killy (the two resorts combined) likes to describe itself as “the most beautiful skiing area in the world”, and skiers often agree. Val d’Isere is particularly popular with families - a market to which Mark Warner caters well, with its extensive childcare provision.
“Val has lots of other things for families to do apart from skiing too such as husky sleigh rides and ice-skating, and every Thursday they close the street for music and ice-sculpting and stilt-walkers,” Knights pointed out. “So it’s extremely family-friendly.”
Brits make up about 40% of Val d’Isere’s visitors, with the French making up another 40%, though French skiers are turning away from the resort on account of its price-tag. It’s true that Val d’Isere does not come cheap, with only nearby Courchevel and Meribel resorts being more expensive in France.
“Dining out does cost more than you’d ever pay in the UK,” Knights admits. But when guests eat out on Thursday night (the night all hotel staff have off), her top tip is Le Bistrot, “which is good value but also has some of the best food”.
There aren’t many places left in the world where you can still buy a beer for just 70p. As a non-euro country, Bulgaria’s affordability is a certainly a major selling point, but it can mean travellers underestimate the quality of the product, according to specialist operator Balkan Holidays.
I recently caught up with sales and marketing director Rupert Diggins, who explained that the popularity of family-friendly and party-hard resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands belies Bulgaria’s more refined attractions.
“Agents might not have heard of the country’s Unesco-protected towns, such as Nessebar and Sozopol, but these resorts are perfect for clients who want a smaller, quaint resort - but on a budget,” he claimed.
I was only nine when the Yugoslav wars began in 1992, so I don’t recall the boom-time in the Balkans, when Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia were some of the UK’s most popular tourism destinations.
Fighting was over by the end of the 90s, but tourism in the region has never fully recovered. Extra airlift and new tour operator programmes have helped Croatia forge ahead in the past couple of years, but Diggins said Bulgaria has just as much to offer.
“Croatia has become fashionable now, but the beaches, nightlife and cultural sites of Bulgaria are just as good, and cheaper,” he said.
Golf is also on the up in Bulgaria, with three top-class courses recently added on the north coast, and the International Association of Golf Tour Operators voting Bulgaria “undiscovered golf destination of the year” in 2012. Balkan Holidays has recently added golf packages to its website to cater to the interest.
Coming top for value for money in the Post Office’s recent Ski Resort Report has also thrown the ski resort of Bansko into the spotlight, and Balkan Holidays’ winter 2012-13 programme is currently selling 10% up on last season. “Hire of skis, ski passes and ski tuition might cost
£400 in Switzerland, but more like £110-£160 in Bulgaria,” Diggins pointed out. And at 70p a pint, you can bet the apres-ski is a damn sight more affordable, too.
Did you know that the tiny island of St Barthelemy in the Caribbean was once a Swedish colony? Its capital Gustavia is named after Swedish King Gustav III, and they ruled it for a few years at the end of the Napoleonic wars. St Barth wasn’t much of a catch back then, by all accounts, since it had no natural water sources and the Swedes almost starved to death. Thankfully, the island is much more hospitable to visitors nowadays, and welcomes 300,000 tourists each year.
This was just some of the history I learned at a St Barth dinner last week, held to celebrate the launch of a new Antigua-St Barth service.
St Barth Commuter already operates charter flights into St Barth from nearby islands, but as of December 1, it now flies scheduled services on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, timed to connect with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights to Antigua.
At £485 return, even the scheduled flights have a hefty price-tag, but the typical St Barth clientele is unlikely to be deterred. With only around 2,000 hotel rooms and villas combined, it is one of the smallest and most exclusive islands in the Caribbean. Its two highest profile hotels, Eden Rock and Isle de France, are frequently voted some of the best hotels in the Americas, and the French-speaking island is a popular haunt for the likes of tycoon Roman Abramovich.
St Barth’s attractions are its beaches, boutique hotels, restaurants, yacht facilities and sailing regattas. James Daltrey, of local luxury concierge Premium IV, explained that this made the island different from other Caribbean destinations. “Our strapline is, ‘if you think you know the Caribbean, forget everything’. If you want reggae bars and ziplining and 4x4 adventure, you won’t find it here,” he said.
The new scheduled service from St Barth Commuter joins another scheduled Antigua-St Barth flight launched by Tradewind Aviation in October, meaning St Barth is now far more accessible for the UK market. “The St Barth Commuter flight is scheduled for three times a week, but there is an opportunity to increase the market,” said Ines Bouchant-Choisy, director of St Barth Tourism Committee. “We hope it might eventually become a flight per day.”
While some promotional bodies seek to change consumer perception about a destination, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation wants to cash in on precisely the qualities for which it is known best.
“The South Pacific conjures up ideas of paradise and romance - and that is how we want to lure the consumer in,” explained marketing manager Petero Manufolau at WTM last week.
“Travellers in Europe or America might never have heard of Tuvalu or Vanuatu, but we can lure them with the idea of the South Pacific itself,” he added.
The SPTO was formed in 1986 and represents 14 different countries. WTM 2012 was significant for the organisation as it brought five of the countries together for the first time, under the SPTO umbrella. It’s also an exciting time for the region, with projected growth in tourism of 19% by 2015.
Extra airlift from Los Angeles, and the strong Australian dollar, are helping the South Pacific’s American and Australian markets, while recent visits from both Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge generated lots of press here.
With limited budget, we should not expect a major consumer campaign in Britain, he warned. The emphasis will instead be on training agents via an online training course, the South Pacific Specialist Programme.
There are few things more likely to drag me out on a rainy Monday evening than chocolate – and Grenadian chocolate in particular.
I joined the tourist board last week for a screening of a new documentary that challenges the unethical production and trade of cocoa, especially in west Africa, where as many as 20,000 children are forced to farm the beans as slaves.
The film describes how the Grenada Chocolate Company does things differently, using a cooperative to produce the chocolate “from bean to bar”, eliminating exploitation.
You can find out more about the film at nothinglikechocolate.com, and your clients can (like I did), visit the tiny factory (below) in Grenada to see the cocoa beans being turned into rich, unadulterated dark chocolate.
Make sure they leave space in their suitcase; I could only squeeze in a dozen bars which was simply not enough!
When a passenger on a flight to the UK asked Glen Beache if St Vincent and the Grenadines was in the Middle East, the boss of the SVG Tourism Authority took this as a sign his awareness campaign is working.
“A few years ago, four or five people on the flight would have asked me that, so to have only one ask means we’re getting the message out‚” the chief executive of the tourist board joked when I met him in London last week.
With SVG’s profile now higher, and as construction of the new Argyle International airport nears completion, the government must now focus on attracting carriers to the destination.
At the Routes aviation conference this week, Beache will continue talks with airlines, with the hope they will fly to SVG from March 2014. “We’d like to confirm at least one carrier flying twice per week from America, Britain and Canada, and we should know for sure by the end of March,” he explained.
He described the new airport, being built at a cost of $240 million, as a “game-changer‚” for SVG, making it easier for tourists to reach the islands.
Two new hotels have already been confirmed on Bequia, and a $100 million investment in Canouan Island Resort and the Grenadine Estate Villas by the team behind Sandy Lane in Barbados, will help the destination prepare for the influx of visitors.
“But we aren’t interested in mass tourism,” the tourism boss insisted. “We offer the Caribbean you are looking for, like it used to be 40 years ago,” he added.
SVG is shortly to launch “The Liming Appreciation Society” to generate a social media buzz around SVG’s culture of relaxing and partying. Consumers will be able to learn what the locals eat and drink when they lime, and asked to share their own experiences of liming in SVG.
It certainly seems that SVG locals love to party: Beache described a “crisis” three years ago when St Vincent’s rum factory ran out of molasses. The cost per bottle tripled within days because of the shortage, and when fresh molasses finally arrived, a street party followed the truck all the way to the factory!
Grenadian Kirani James was one of the real heroes of the Olympics, winning the country’s first ever gold medal, for his victory in the men’s 400 metres.
The runner, who was born in Gouyave, joined dignitaries and other notable guests like Grenadian footballer Jason Roberts for a celebratory reception at Grenada Olympic House in London following his win (see photos).
James also met Margaret Noel, a Grenadian ex-pat who lives in Queen’s Park and was an Olympic torch-bearer for Ealing, in recognition of her charity work.
The tourist board hopes that James’ achievement has put Grenada in the spotlight and will encourage people to visit the island.
“Grenada’s performance, including Kirani James winning the island’s first Olympic Gold Medal in the four hundred metres, has boosted our profile in the UK, encouraging tourism interest,” said Sharon Bernstein, Grenada Board of Tourism general manager UK & Ireland.
Grenadians have another reason to be grateful to the 19-year-old medal winner: August 7, the day after James’ victory, has been declared a half-day national holiday!
Source: Photo: Alex Minton
Imagine an enchanted garden filled with a blizzard of hummingbirds. A tiny monkey with a shock of white hair that must surely have been the inspiration for Spielberg’s Gremlins (pictured below). A rare blue lizard the colour of a cloudless sky, and a colossal tarantula that grows up to 24 centimetres across.
This was the Colombia that I heard wildlife film producer Nigel Marven describe at a tourist board-organised event last week, just weeks after he returned from filming a four-part series on the country, to be aired in November.
In a sneak preview of the series, we saw Marven enjoy Colombia’s vibrant Barranquilla Carnival (pictured right), which is second in size only to Rio Carnival, let a tarantula crawl over his hand and be bitten by a tree boa.
Marven, who has worked on wildlife documentaries like The Life of Birds, said what makes Colombia so appealing for nature-lovers is the accessibility of the wildlife.
“What I love about my job is showing people things they’ve never seen before, and in Colombia there are just so many spectacles,” he explained.
Marven gave a presentation about his experience as part of Colombia Tourist Board’s month-long residency at the National Geographic Store in London.
Juan Perez, UK director of Proexport Colombia, said 2012 has seen the tourist board’s first major investment in consumer promotion, with a month of events at the National Geographic Store and Harrods, as well as adverts on the London Underground.
Source: Photo: Alex Minton
“For the first five years, our strategy was to make sure we had a good network of UK operators featuring Colombia, but now it is time for a consumer push, so that consumers are asking for Colombia,” he explained. Colombia’s stand at WTM this year is to be twice the size of last year, and the country’s colonial towns are being promoted as a particular product of interest.
Perez reported that UK arrivals to Colombia were 40% up in 2011, compared to the previous year, which he attributed to the British traveller’s desire to try new places.
But visitors needn’t go to the lengths of letting a tarantula crawl up their arm or have a snake bite their face on order to experience Colombia, Marven was quick to point out. Not unless they want to.
Type “Falkland Islands” into Google, and stories about conflict with Argentina tend to dominate the search results. But the islands’ new tourism chief hopes to change that, by educating agents, attracting more visitors, and putting out “a positive message” about just what the islands can offer.
I quizzed Tony Mason, who flies out to the British Overseas Territory next month to take up his post as managing director of the tourist board, on what he hopes to achieve.
“The Falkland Islands have such incredible wildlife – 220 species of bird, 50% of the world’s albatrosses, countless seals, dolphins and whales. There’s been all this focus on the tension with Argentina but I want to get it back to travel and to the fantastic things the destination has to offer,” he explained.
The tourist board has targetted growth of 12% by the end of 2012, taking total arrivals to 57,000, and growth of 30-40% in 2013.
Cruise ships will account for more than 60% of this year’s arrivals, and Mason hopes to attract greater cruise capacity as well as boosting land-tourism.
Encouraging agents to sell the Falkland Islands will be key to growing this, Mason confirmed, with a new website, an online training programme and a trade fam trip all in the pipeline.
Most accommodation is concentrated in the capital city of Stanley, with homestays and camping on some of the other 740-plus islands that make up the archipelago. “We’re working on new lodges that are higher-end compared to the existing accommodation,” he said. “And in addition to our existing operators such as Cox & Kings and G Adventures, I’m looking to approach the likes of Expedia and Hotelbeds to get our hotels listed, so that people know we’re here,” he added. A lack of choice in land-packages is also to be remedied. “We hope to have a nice meaty range of offerings, like eight-day wildlife tours and battlefields-themed tours, ready by the end of the year,” he claimed.
If clients are hoping to bump into Prince William, who was stationed on the Falklands for a few weeks earlier this year, they will be disappointed, as he has since returned to the UK. But they can go one better than a “prince” if they do visit, by spotting one of the 1,000 pairs of beautiful King penguins (right) that call the Falklands home.
If roasted guinea pig is the only Peruvian cuisine you’ve heard much about, you’re in for a big surprise. The country, and its capital Lima in particular, is fast being recognised as one of the world’s top culinary destinations. To celebrate the launch of its daily Lima flight from the UK, Air Europa hosted an event at London’s hottest new Peruvian restaurant, Ceviche.
There I met Ceviche’s founder Martin Morales, a Lima-born chef and entrepreneur who is on a mission to bring the flavours, sounds and culture of Peru to the world’s attention. Morales explained that influences from Peru’s indigenous Inca people, blended with migrants from China, Africa, Italy and Japan, have created a varied and unique cuisine. “It is as sophisticated as French, as spicy as Indian and as aromatic as Thai,” he claimed.
The star attraction on his menu is a variety of ceviches - the freshest fish and seafood cured by marinading in freshly-squeezed lime juice and Peruvian chilli, and no visit to his restaurant is complete without enjoying at least one pisco sour - Peru’s national drink mixed with egg white, lime juice, sugar and bitters.
It was interesting to hear how much Morales has seen Lima change in the last decade, gaining new restaurants and shopping centres, and with many of its historic areas being restored. “Lima has gone through a tough transition - for so many years it was like a closed flower, but now it has opened its petals and is full of colour and brightness,” he said.
The buzz about the city has also seen it grow to become Air Europa’s top-selling long-haul route from the UK (via Madrid), up from fourth place. The carrier launched Gatwick-Lima flights back in 2010, but the connections at Madrid only allowed for three flights per week.
“We’ve now changed the schedule so that there’s a connection time of less than three and a half hours at Madrid every evening, for the evening flight to Lima,” explained Air Europa’s UK general manager Colin Stewart. “And with a lead-in fare of £563 in the off-peak season, it’s proving incredibly popular.” A tasty fare indeed!
South Africa began to pioneer responsible tourism 18 years ago, when the concept was still unfamiliar to many in the industry. In 1996, it became the first country in the world to build responsible tourism into governmental policy, and the country played host to the very first Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD) conference in 2002. Last year, I was excited to report on the launch of the UK’s first fully fair trade certified holiday package, created by Kuoni in conjunction with Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
So it was great to hear at the sixth RTD conference, titled Taking Responsibility for Tourism, in London last month that South Africa’s commitment to responsible tourism is as strong as ever. The deputy minister for tourism, Tokozile Xasa, outlined a new National Tourism Sector Strategy, which she hopes will grow the country’s tourism sector to become one of the top 20 in the world by 2020, while still safeguarding the nation’s people and environment.
She also described a new National Strategy for Responsible Tourism, which aims to ensure tourism brings even more benefit to local communities. I was interested to learn about some of the country’s best examples of responsible tourism in action, such as Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, where local people are trained in landscape-gardening and supported in growing fresh produce that the reserve can buy back, and where guests can go on flower safaris, join responsible whale-watching and shark-diving excursions, or even work as a volunteer on one of the reserve’s community or conservation projects.
Marine Dynamics, meanwhile, is one of only 12 operators with a permit to run cage-diving excursions with great white sharks in South Africa. The company has been applauded for its emphasis on conservation education, and for its commitment to employing local, disadvantaged people. Of course, the fact that responsible principles now underpin so many of South Africa’s tourism products is not just good news for the country’s people. It also adds authenticity, uniqueness and quality to the visitor experience - ensuring that your clients have the best holiday possible and come back to book with you again.
I finally felt like summer is on its way on Tuesday evening, as I drank Pimms in the sunshine and nosed around the wonderful garden displays at Chelsea Flower Show.
As a guest of Grenada Tourism, I had chance to chat to Suzanne Gaywood MBE, the Grenadian who this year won her tenth gold medal at Chelsea for her Grenada-inspired garden, named Tropical Paradise.
The garden’s focal point this year was a bamboo gazebo like those found on the island, surrounded by a collection of the heliconias, orchids and spices that make Grenada look and smell so attractive.
This year, her display included a rare euphorbia ‘brain cactus’ which was highlighted as one of the show’s ‘plants of interest’. “They’re all so excited about it here,” she said. “I saw it in my friend’s garden in Grenada and asked her to cut me some - it grows like fury over there and we didn’t even know it was a plant of interest!”
She also told us how she chickened out of showing the Queen another unusual plant, known locally as ‘old man’s balls’. “I couldn’t tell her about that, so I showed her some orchids instead,” Suzanne confessed.
The display took three days to assemble the garden - it has taken four days in previous years, but British Airways’ new flight schedule means she couldn’t get her plants to London until the Friday instead, she joked.
Though horticulture was in her blood - with her mother a keen flower-arranger - Suzanne came to it rather later in life. “When you grow up somewhere, you take things for granted, but then I moved to London and realised just how beautiful the island is,” she told us.
Suzanne has recently begun guiding tours of the island’s diverse tropical flora, to showcase its rainforest gardens, landscaped gardens and famous spices to visitors. “I hope that by exhibiting at Chelsea, that might also entice people to come to the island - it really is the best kept secret in the Caribbean.”
When I said I was going to Guyana, most people thought it was in Africa. But this sizeable South American country, bordering Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname, is in fact the continent’s only English-speaking country and, thanks to its Afro-Caribbean heritage, is a member of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.
It’s a special place, home to one of the world’s last remaining pristine rainforests, and also one of the world’s forward-thinkers on climate change.
It was therefore a fitting destination to host the CTO’s 13th Sustainable Tourism Conference last week, which attracted 300 delegates to discuss how and why the Caribbean must make tourism more sustainable.
The need to preserve and protect the Caribbean’s natural resources was a hot topic, and I was interested to learn how the Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action programme (CHENACT) is helping hotels to measure and reduce use of energy and water.
Study tours to Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls National Park and Iwokrama rainforest research centre reminded us of the incredibly rich biodiversity within the region, which can offer visitors far more than simply sand and sea.
But it was the conference’s emphasis on the need for tourism revenue to be more successfully transferred to local communities that really struck a chord with me. Workshops on “experiential travel” and “adventure travel” highlighted the fact that these emerging forms of tourism have far more potential to improve the lives of local people, and we visited one of Guyana’s award-winning projects, Surama Village, to see an impressive example of community-led tourism in action.
The message for travel agents from the CTO’s UK director of marketing Carol Hay, was to encourage clients to change their behaviour gradually. “We’re not asking people to change their lifestyle drastically. Start with one new experience, like going on a community excursion or going to a local craft market, then next time do two new things. It’s about learning more about the destination and experiencing something new,” she explained.
With Caribbean suppliers talking excitedly about the scope for new products like a region-wide culinary trail and music-themed tours, I’d love to see a new range of community-led and uniquely Caribbean experiences launched to the market soon.
It’s not very often I’m defeated by dessert. But a Death By Chocolate platter at L’Etranger restaurant proved a pud too far for even me….
L’Etranger on London’s Gloucester Road serves an intriguing fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, with a wine list that features gourmet sakes alongside more than 1,000 wines from France and beyond.
Now, I may have skipped a few classes as a literature student, but I did remember that L’Etranger is a novel written by French author Albert Camus. Armed with this literary factoid, I was not as alarmed as I might otherwise have been to hear a Frenchman reading the novel aloud in the ladies’ loo.
But if the restaurant’s cultural allusions are a little highbrow, there’s nothing stuffy about its service and minimalist décor. General manager Dorian and the sommelier took a cheery delight in explaining the menu and making recommendations, and the stout leather chairs were so comfortable I couldn’t help but feel relaxed.
Two hours prior to my decadent dessert, we began our culinary adventure by sharing expertly-cooked scallops with parmesan puree, hidden inside a wafer-thin arch of usuita wood, and a mound of crunchy squid with a tangy chilli dipping sauce, washed down with a glass of champagne.
Super-soft Charolais beef tartar served in a wooden tray with a quail’s egg on top and an array of green herbs alongside to be mixed in was presented so beautifully we didn’t like to disturb it.
My friend’s main course of duck breast on a cepe-mushroom ravioli was brought to the table under a glass cover which, when removed, released such a mouth-watering waft of smoky flavour that I had a sudden twinge of food envy – until I peeled back the leaves of my own Chilean sea bass parcel to reveal two glistening, meaty fillets: one blackened, and the other roasted simply, with tiny, sweet rakyo shallots on the side.
The foot-long platter of chocolatey treats was placed before me soon after, and I made a strong start on the gooey chocolate fondant, the moist, layered opera cake and a gleaming dome of praline parfait. I slowed down a little once I’d tried the chocolate truffle mousse and the bitter chocolate ice-cream.
I managed only one of the almond and chocolate ‘pocky’ sticks, which I dipped in the creamy pot au chocolat like a very posh Choc Dip. And by the time I took a sip from a test-tube of rich chocolate ‘soup’, I was ready to slip into a blissful cocoa-induced coma and never wake up.
The L’Etranger team has just opened a new, more contemporary sister bar and restaurant downstairs, serving molecular cocktails, gourmet mini-burgers and sashimi.
They’ve chosen to name it Meursault after the main character in Camus’ novel - a complicated character that seemingly kills a man for no reason. I shouldn’t be surprised if it was Death By Chocolate.
* L’Etranger and Meursault are on London’s Gloucester Road, making it a perfect choice for those staying close to the Royal Albert Hall, Harrods and Kensington Gardens.
I joined the Spanish Tourist Office at Tate Britain art gallery last week to see the new Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition. We had a tour with a slightly eccentric curator, who pointed out lots of hidden meanings and rude bits that would have passed my innocent mind by entirely.
Rather than a chronological display of Picasso’s work, the exhibition divides his paintings according to the other artists he influenced, so there are rooms with titles such as Picasso and Henry Moore; Picasso and David Hockney; and Picasso and Francis Bacon. This means you get to see several of the works of these other illustrious artists alongside that of Picasso.
It was fascinating to hear about Picasso’s relationship with Britain. He spent a summer designing sets and costumes for a West End play in 1919. And the famously disturbing Guernica, which embodies the terror of the Spanish Civil War, came on tour here in 1938, including being displayed in a Whitechapel gallery where people paid their entrance fee in army boots instead of money.
The Spanish ambassador Carles Casajuana, welcomed us to the exhibition and reminded us that “without three names – Velázquez, Goya and Picasso – it would be difficult to conceive art”, and, that with the UK still Spain’s number one market, he was thrilled to see that, for the period of this exhibition, it is “not only Tate Britain, but also Tate Spain.”
I bumped into Kirker’s director Ted Wake at The Three Dancers, and picked his brains on which places in Spain a Picasso-lover ought to head to. He said a visit to the Picasso Museum in Malaga – the artist’s birthplace - is an absolute must, and it is included on Kirker’s six-night Andalucian Discovery tour. He also recommended short breaks to Madrid and Barcelona to see some of Picasso’s most famous works, including Guernica itself (the full-sized original is not in the Tate exhibition, sadly) at the Reina Sofia Gallery in Madrid.
Picasso and Modern British Art runs until July 15 www.tate.org.uk
See Kirker’s full Spain programme at www.kirkerholidays.com
Spanish Tourist Office: www.tourspain.es
Despite a formidable teamwork ethic here among the Featurettes, we are not adverse to some friendly competition either, so we’re excited to be able to battle it out in an exciting cross-Channel challenge next week.
Superbreak recently launched online bookability of Eurostar packages - including regional rail travel to London St Pancras - and
to find out whether trains can beat planes for speed, we are sending one team to Paris by rail while the other makes the journey from a regional airport.
Everyone will start from the Superbreak office in York at 8.30am on February 22. Pippa will then travel to St Pancras station to take the Eurostar to Paris Gard du Nord with Superbreak’s national sales manager Graham Balmforth and top agent Steve Allinson of Holiday Travel in Bridlington. Meanwhile, Katherine will make a dash from York to a northern airport with Superbreak’s head of overseas product Chris Hagan and Tui regional manager Gail Smithson, to fly to Paris Charles De Gaulle.
The first team to reach a designated bar in the centre of the city and photograph themselves with a drink (possibly even a celebratory glass of champers) will win the challenge. “The race will be a bit of fun, but we also hope it will showcase how easy it is to get on the train in one UK city and get off another in Paris,” said Balmforth. “We’ve been very please
d with the interest there’s been from agents since we made Eurostar and the corresponding UK rail travel bookable online,” he added. “People tend to think the Eurostar is just for those in the south-east, but we’ve had bookings from all across the country.”
Prices for Eurostar-inclusive packages start from £132pp for one night’s stay at the Timhotel Gard du Nord hotel. Visit facebook.com/superbreak and guess which team you think will win the Great Race to Paris and their time, down to the exact second, for a chance to win your own mini-break for two in Paris, including Eurostar travel. We’ll tweet throughout the race so follow us at @philippajacks, @katherine_TTG and @superbreak, and look out for a race report in our March 15 issue.