1st February 2015
2013 started off pretty quietly for the our office - we weren't going anywhere but mainly because we had our busiest Northern Lights season to date with over 90 guests travelling to Swedish Lapland or Iceland!
Overall, about 85% of guests 'saw the lights' on at least one occasion - not bad considering the weather was a little unpredictable for a change. One or two of the trips gave us a bit of a headache, mainly surrounding the dusting of snow that hit the south-east of England on a couple of dates... 6 feet of snow in Scandinavia, no problem, 1/2 inch at Heathrow = total chaos!
The first BIG travel expedition for the office was a wedding anniversary - 10 nights in Las Vegas, Arizona and Utah. Did we organise this, we hear you ask... errr, no - we made the boss do his own planning (OK, so we all helped). 3 nights at the southern end of the Las Vegas strip in a more 'traditional' LV hotel were followed by a road trip taking in the south rim of the Grand Canyon ("WOW, but seriously, call that an hotel?") and Page (Utah) for the world-famous Horseshoe Bend ("now that's a great little hotel for not a lot of money, and the food at the place that looks like a paddle steamer was excellent, especially at the price!" - trust the boss not to remember the name of the place...).
The trip back was directed by Hertz Neverlost (aka a GPS unit), which was described as "a guide to every piece of National Park possible" - and hence claims that Hertz and the Park Service must be in cahoots - entry to US National Parks is chargeable! The trip ended back in Las Vegas at one of the newest and most impressive hotels on 'The Strip' - The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. With stunning views from most rooms (many with their own terrace), superb food options, large but unobtrusive casino and, we're told, a fabulous pool deck overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard.'LV' was quickly followed by an office outing to look after clients in Monaco - it was time for the Monaco Grand Prix. Guests were in the finest of 4 and 5* hotels, whilst our 'digs' were comfortable, 2* was maybe a little generous and 'walking distance' was a good 1 hour hike... (and when we were route marched back in the evening the hill at the end was nearly a killer!).
But the compensation - the views. Where else can you watch an F1 car at speed from just a few feet away whilst stood on the Garden Terrace of the Hotel de Paris, or the balcony of the Garnier Suite, or enjoying the panoramic views across the Principality from the incredible Winston Churchill Suite - the Hotel de Paris' penthouse suite (accessed via a private lift).
Travel then took a back seat for quite a while, until we were invited to attend the C&IT Magazine Middle East Forum and FAM trip in October. Abu Dhabi here we come! And before you ask, no this wasn't a holiday. 8am starts most days, 10pm finishes, barely time for lunch - a full-on week was had by all, lost count of the number of hotels and other potential venues we saw (and that assumes we didn't hit the bars/clubs and we've declined to answer those questions). Abu Dhabi has to be one of the most impressive places we've ever visited. As a destination, around 70% of the world's population is within a 7 hour flight. It's also a very safe feeling place, crime is reportedly almost non-existent.
Want a drink? An alcoholic drink? OK, no problem - you might be asked to sit in a specific area, but that's all about respecting your hosts - just don't be drunk in public. Everything looks and feels so new - yet it doesn't quite have the dumped-from-space feel of Dubai. There's been plenty of thought gone into planning developments on the various islands where the majority of the population live and play (and equally where most tourists or business travellers would see).
Our highlights of the region? There are many - the catamaran trip to a barrier island was exceptionally relaxing, the food at the Arabian Nights adventure excellent (as was the dune bashing), Yas Viceroy hotel (accommodation, food, views) spoilt us for all that followed, Ferrari World was an experience, the view at the Monte Carlo Beach Club rivals any beach-front property in the world... if we carry on, we'll still be writing come next year!