With the New Year approaching and many people thinking about their travel plans for 2010, Travelport.com asked the company’s three top business executives to write about their favorite destinations. Travelport’s executives offer some interesting, witty and lyrical choices that may provoke an idea and a sale for agents. Booked via a Travelport GDS, (Worldspen or Galilieo), of course..
Jeff Clarke, President and CEO, Travelport
“Few cities in the world can match Paris for its combination of history, art, culture, business, politics, entertainment, food, wine and all-around joie de vivre. You can lose yourself for a day in the Louvre or a sidewalk cafe - or literally get lost (pleasantly) in the winding streets of an ancient city.
I had the great experience of living in Paris for two years from 1996-98, which gave me an appreciation of the city and its people that only time and familiarity can really provide. It’s fascinating to revisit the places I lived, walk the same streets again, and get re-acquainted with the city squares, museums, bookstores and restaurants I knew so well - to see what has changed and what has stayed the same, and how my own perspective has changed after more than a decade away.
Every neighborhood in Paris is unique. I’m partial to the Latin Quarter (where I lived) yet often find myself clear across the city after a day of walking about. I particularly like running in the vast Parc de Sceaux with its soft walkways, classic chateau, reflecting pools, topiaries and horse trails. I enjoy the energy of the city - the smell of the ubiquitous corner bakeries, Sunday markets at Rue Monge - as well as its classic architecture and the beauty of the bridges over the river Seine.
Of course, dining on French cuisine and enjoying French wine is one of the world’s great pleasures - especially in a city where the culinary arts are the equivalent of a highly competitive sport among its many outstanding restaurants.
My other favorite destination - Bali - couldn’t be more different than Paris. It’s one of the few places today where you can truly escape the modern world. Yes, my BlackBerry works there, but it seems out of place in an environment so far removed from the relentless pace of New York or London.
From the white sand beaches of the south to the dense rainforests in the north, Bali is a tropical island of stunning beauty. I highly recommend the inland village of Ubud, which is well known as the center of Balinese art, dance and music. Here you will find bustling markets, ornate temples, and galleries featuring everything from folk art and crafts to fine art. The nearby mountains and rainforest let you experience Bali’s natural beauty.
The Balinese people disarm you with their welcoming smiles and gentle dispositions. The island is a quirky place as well. Statues are often adorned with colorful clothing, and farm animals and pets roam un-tethered and unconcerned with the activity around them.
Gordon Wilson, deputy CEO, Travelport; President and CEO, Travelport GDS
South Africa: Cape Town (which is where the Wilson family will be spending New Year’s) has to be one of the best cities in the world. It has the lot - the ocean (although it is freezing), Table Mountain, the Cape wine country, rich history, jaw dropping beauty and some of the best restaurants in the world. Oh, and sunshine when it is cold, dark and wet in the UK. Furthermore it has some extremely good friends I made for life when I lived and worked in South Africa between 1996 and 1999.
The neighbouring country of Namibia also has the spectacular natural beauty of the Skeleton Coast. This is true Africa, and there is nothing in the world that can compare to sleeping out under an African sky with no electricity or man made distractions for miles around - just the wonderment of the creation that is Earth.
Portugal: I lived and worked in Portugal from 1993 to 1996 and this country in all its aspects (apart from their driving) has a special place in my heart and, to a degree, my stomach. No one eats like the Portuguese. Each year there was a special dinner held in the middle of nowhere for the great and the good of the travel industry in Portugal to which I was privileged to be invited. As I recall, the “lunch” went on for six hours; rabbit slow-cooked in a whole pumpkin was but one of the stand out courses, washed down with some of Portugal’s finest wines. The Portuguese are clever with their wine - they don’t export the really good stuff but save it for themselves, so if you want to try it, you have to go there! Again, some of my best friends are Portuguese and only in May my family and I dined right on the beach in the Algarve with some of them, enjoying some of the freshest, tastiest fish you can imagine.
Other places I have visited which are incredible include Mauritius - one of the few places in the world that actually looks like the picture - soft, white powder sand, clear turquoise ocean, rainbow-coloured fish. I also love Australia as a country of amazing contrasts - red desert with an awesome beauty, the verdant South Australia with the Barossa Valley, penguins waddling ashore at Phillip Island in Victoria, crocodiles lounging in the sun at the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and then the great cities of Melbourne and Sydney. And there is no better place in the world to be than Australia on the day after Scotland has just beaten them for the first time in 27 years at rugby. OK, so it took 27 years but what is a mere quarter of a century between old friends.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention my homeland - Scotland. If you ever get the chance to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world you must. This is the nation whose people invented the telephone, television, golf and whisky. On a fine day in Scotland there is nowhere like it on earth with its dramatic and stunning beauty. The trick is finding those fine days!
Ken Esterow, President and CEO, GTA (Gullivers Travel Associates)
I recall my trip last year to Shanghai for China International Travel Mart as incredibly exciting. Having been away from Shanghai for a few years, the amount of development and construction reinforced the long-term opportunity Travelport and GTA have in China. As a visitor, I was impressed with how rapidly Shanghai has become a top city with world class amenities, incredible culture, great sites and unforgettable cuisine. I had to run extra long on the treadmill to work off the fantastic meals.
At the Travel Mart, four or five airplane hanger -sized exhibition halls were filled choc-a-bloc with travel companies, from the traditional players that everyone knows to entrepreneurs trying to establish a foothold in the Chinese travel industry. At the GTA booth, where we were promoting the GTA USA capabilities, we hired a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like. We happened to be located next to the Las Vegas Convention Bureau, which had hired an Elvis Presley impersonator. Well, “Elvis” took a fancy to “Marilyn” and spent a lot more time at the GTA booth than at the Las Vegas one. We had queues of Chinese travel industry folks lined up to take pictures of Elvis and Marilyn together. This light and fun moment highlights how interconnected the cultures of the world are becoming – just as the Chinese are familiar with American icons of the 1950s, Americans were overwhelmed and impressed by the pageantry of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
For leisure, I’ve been to a number of great places, but I’d have to say that Florence and the surrounding region of Tuscany are among my favorites (and certainly among the most romantic). Memories of Florence’s incredible culture, history, wine and food stay with you long after you leave. Standing before the artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance combined with the warmth of a Tuscan village is an affirmation of what an amazing journey we are all on.”