The Gilted Edges Of Murray Gardiner

If you have long since fallen under the seductive spell of Travel By Terry (and if not, I know a great African witch doctor I can recommend), you will know that I have a category on my blog called Backroom Banter in which I offer up the insights of leading travel industry luminaries.  Check the list of previous posts in that category and you will discover just how high the bar is set for admission.   I myself have been rejected . . . twice!

I mention this to say that although you may not have heard of Murray Gardner, don’t let his modesty and low profile mislead you.  When it comes to the dark continent, there is no brighter beacon than Murray Gardiner.  As you read his thoughtful answers to my marginally intelligent questions, you will realize that Murray has a sterling pedigree, a first-rate education, an enviable record of accomplishment, an insightful view of the Africa market and a strikingly beautiful family as you can clearly see for yourself.   Add to that, day by day he is building a lasting legacy of accomplishment.

Murray Gardiner family1)  What was it like growing up as an offspring of Adrian Gardiner, one of the true pioneers of African conservation and game reserve development?

It was exciting.  It was great to be part of something special and I am very proud of what my Dad has achieved.  It is also tough at times as my brother and I have big shoes to fill.  My Dad has been very supportive of what I have done with Giltedge and equally proud of my achievements.

Giltedge Africa 2)  With your father’s enterprise, The Mantis Collection, so broadly involved  in boutique hotels, game reserves, ski lodges and chalets, and much more, what made you decide to focus on building a premier destination management company?

I think it was a natural fit.  My Dad knew a lot of people in the industry, which helped open doors in the early days.  Mantis Collection also needed a vehicle to get bums in beds, so Giltedge certainly helped with this.  However, it is important to understand that we do not send business to Mantis to make sure their beds are filled.  We always create an itinerary that fits our clients’ needs and that often includes non-Mantis properties.  I also wanted to create my own legacy.

3)  How did your stint working for an internet company in London and as a publisher of Murray GardnerGiltedge magazine prepare you for the work that you are known so widely for today?

I think it certainly helped me understand how international companies operate.  It also gave me the opportunity to travel and understand the challenges one faces when travelling on a long haul route.  Through publishing a travel magazine, I was able to meet some key people in the industry who were instrumental in helping Giltedge grow into the company it is today.

4)  Giltedge Africa is unique in that it has both inbound and outbound divisions and has a significant focus on incentive and golf travel as well.  Would you give our readers a quick overview of the various markets Giltedge Africa serves in Southern and Eastern Africa?

Our core markets for clients travelling to Africa are USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavian Countries, Australia, China and New Zealand.  We have full presentation in both the USA and Sweden.  The countries we send clients to include: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius.  With us having an office in South Africa, we contract directly with most properties, which allows us to offer very competitive pricing.

Giraffe5)  Where geographically do you spend the bulk of your time these days and what facet of your business demands most of your personal attention?

After a 3 year stint living in the US, I am now spending 70% of my time back in Cape Town.  If I am not there, then I am in Austin, TX, which is Giltedge’s US hub.  As our business covers all aspects of travel – FIT, group, incentives, corporate travel, golf, etc. I am very involved in the business development of all these divisions within our company.

6)   What is your vision for tourism in Africa for the coming decade and what are the greatest challenges you see to realizing those goals?

The current challenge is most definitely Ebola.  One does not know how this is going to affect our tourism business over the coming year.  Communication with clients is key at this stage and we all need to be marketing our destination more than ever.  With the South African Rand at its weakest against the US dollar in several years, it is an attractive cost effective destination.  With some of the best hotels and game lodges in the world, we would like to see Southern and East Africa become one of the tourist hot spots worldwide.

lions7)   I have saved what may prove the most difficult question for last.  What is the best personal travel experience you have every had and why?

I think every travelling experience within Africa is unique and life changing.  Certain things appeal to each individual, family or group.  We pride ourselves in creating trips of a lifetime, so we listen and get to know our clients before creating an itinerary.  With me spending more time in South Africa, I am excited to be able to go out and experience more amazing properties.

Thanks Murray for stopping by Travel By Terry and sharing your wisdom.  (Dear reader, despite what you might assume, Murray agreed without the involvement of any incantations, spells or potions by my trusted African medical consultant referenced above.)

Just so you know, you haven’t heard the last from Giltedge and The Mantis Collection or from me, for that matter.  I have already written a post on the Zambezi Queen which I invite you to peruse at your leisure.   It is my full intention to introduce you to many more masterpieces in this coveted collection in the days ahead.

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

Michael Batt Talks Travel

If there is anyone I’ve met across the years who seemed destined to fulfill a successful career in “bidness”, as we like to mangle the term here in Texas, it is truly Michael Batt.  Mike is founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group and is the latest travel industry expert to visit us here on Backroom Banter.

Mike is the business equivalent of Roy Hobbs, i.e. The Natural, without all the sub-plots.  If you want a quick overview of his immensely successful corporate career click here.  But honestly, that is just part of the story.  At heart, he is a bold entrepreneur with investments in restaurants, publishing, internet marketing, and only he, God and his tax attorney know what else.

Mike possesses that rare package of gifts the rest of us only pine for.  He has a keen analytical mind that enables him to quickly diagnose the financial health of a potential acquisition.  As you will see when you watch the video below, he is an effective communicator whether chatting one-on-one or captivating a large audience on stage.

Without a doubt, however, the single trait I most admire in Mike is his commitment to integrity.  One of the major reasons he has been able to broker the amazing deals he has with other industry giants is the transparent honesty he exudes in business dealings.  People quickly realize when negotiating with Mike that he has zero tolerance for sharp corners or shady deals.   There is a lesson here for all of us.  The word integrity is related to the word integer, meaning whole, as in whole numbers.  When you are just one thing, both without and within, it spares you loads of game playing.  This is the essence of being real.

You would think a guy with Mike’s immense gifts would at least have the decency to be an arrogant jerk so the rest of us could rationalize our jealousy.  But no, on top of everything, Mike has to go and be a genuinely warm, gracious and kindhearted person as well.  It has been my genuine privilege to count Mike a valued friend over more than a dozen years.

I will share one quick anecdote and on to the video interview.

Mike once told me that he was the son of a Welsh coal miner and was the first in his family to have the privilege of attending university.  Fresh out of school, his first job was with M & M Mars candy company.  As Mike tells it, he drove home flush with his new position and immediately dragged his father from his easy chair and out to his car.  He popped open the boot (trunk for you non-Anglophiles) to reveal hundreds of assorted candy bars.  His dad took one look, glanced over at Mike, coughed out a little mine dust and said, “Let me get this straight, I worked thirty years in a coal mine so you could sell candy bars out of the boot of your car?”  From candy merchant to capitalist mogul,  it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Now enjoy a few minutes with one of our industry’s leading lights as he shares his insights on the remarkable growth of Travel Leaders, the overall state of the travel industry and the merger between two New York powerhouse agencies, Tzell Travel Group and Protravel International. You will even get a glimpse into  how Mike likes to spend his own leisure time.  Just click on the image below to view the interview.

Thanks, Mike, for stopping by.  By the way, do you still have any connections over at Mars?  I really like those Twix bars.

Mr. Insider’s Insights Into Mexico City

Welcome back to another edition of Backroom Banter.  In recent posts, I have written about my visit to Mexico City to attend F.I.T.A., the International Tourism Fair of the Americas.  It was my privilege on that trip to meet Carlos Mackinlay (aka Mr. Insider), the Minister of Tourism for Mexico City.  He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

English: Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of th...

English: Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of the Fine Arts), downtown Mexico City. Español: Palacio de Bellas Artes, downtown Mexico City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q.  What are some of the greatest challenges your tourism department faces in increasing traffic to Mexico City from the United States?

A. The challenges can be summarized in one word:  promotion, promotion and more promotion. Long ago Mexico City stepped away from promotion and public relations campaigns to major destinations sending tourists to this great nation and, specifically, Mexico City.

A destination that is not promoted properly  is susceptible to disappear in the minds of travelers. Therefore we have taken on the task of launching a major public relations campaign which fortunately is proving to be very successful.

Q.  What are three or four things most Americans don’t know about Mexico City but would find intriguing if they did know?

A.  First it is important for American tourists to renew their confidence in Mexico City and to consider it again as a premier destination. Our neighbors to the north should know that our city is safe and that they can be confident that their visit to Mexico City provides all the conditions for a pleasant stay.

Paseo de la Reforma Mexico City

Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Perhaps the second thing that must be considered is that the last Government Administration of the city has completely remodeled traditional tourist areas, the historic center, the Paseo de la Reforma, the southern area of the city and many other important sites.

Many people might be surprised to learn that Mexico City is the only city with four world heritage sites, six archaeological sites, 1400 colonial buildings, 7000 classified monuments and the incredible number of 174 museums. Some have called it the “cultural capitol of the world”.

Finally, we are about to launch a most ambitious program of tourism aimed especially to the American public, that is, the upcoming platform of medical tourism. The city will provide American visitors the possibility to have highly specialized surgeries performed in the best private hospitals in our city at a cost substantially lower than they might find in their own country.

Q.  What impact do you expect the new AeroMexico flights from Dallas / Fort Worth to Mexico City will have on traffic?

A.  It is obvious that the new flights from Dallas to Mexico City will offer greater access to Mexico for American tourists.  Dallas / Fort Worth is a huge hub as well as a region that is home to many Mexican Americans.   Also, iy is a very convenient gateway for those living in cities without direct flights to Mexico.

Aeromexico  Aeromexico

Q.  Recently you held a series of road shows with travel agents in several key US markets.  Does this indicate a new initiative on the part of your department?

A.  It does.  We are absolutely convinced that the traditional ways of promoting tourism such as road shows have a big impact on our strategic partners, the U.S. travel agent community. These travel agents have a fundamental responsibility towards their customers: to provide vibrant, interesting and safe travel destinations as well as excellent levels of service. We know that they are committed to their customers.  We trust them as our ambassadors in the U.S. and, in turn, we want them to grow to trust us to deliver a quality destination.

Q.  Finally, what would you like to see travel agents do to better promote Mexico City as a destination?

A.  Travel agents in the United States and the Ministry of Tourism of Mexico City must mutually strengthen our relationships. We have made available to them our web site www.mexicocityexperience.com as a way to keep updated about the city and its events.  As strategic partners, we encourage travel agents to be very proactive in offering Mexico City as a viable destination and we are quite happy to give them the tools to do so.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Carlos, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your unique insights on Mexico City.  My own recent visit only reinforced Mexico City’s status as a world class destination.

Let me know, dear reader, if you would like to know more.

More John Heald: Carnival’s Wayfaring Wag (2)

You will recall last post I promised . . . or was it threatened . . that John and I would be back with more stimulating questions and scintillating answers.  Since I would rather ride bareback on a porcupine in my skivvies than mislead my esteemed readers, here we both are in all our fulgent glory.  John’s glory , at least, is fulgent.  I fear mine, if I ever had any, is starting to fray around the edges.

If you haven’t yet checked out John’s blog, you really need to stop by.  The great thing John Heald Carnival Cruise Senior Cruise Directorabout John’s role with Carnival is that his interaction with all manner of guests provides pretty much a non-stop stream of amusing and sometimes head-scratching anecdotes.  One of his recent posts “We won . . . You Didn’t ….NAR NAR NA NAR NAR”  is a prime example.  Some guests are simply a little obtuse.  Then there are this pair.

John, welcome back to Backroom Banter.

Q.  Is it true that Carnival is hosting a “Bloggers Cruise” next January and can you think of a great travel agency to recommend to book it?   Let me know if you need a hint!

A.  Yes indeed, this is Bloggers Cruise 6 and will be held on the Carnival Breeze on January 19. We will visit great ports like Antigua and St. Thomas plus there will be private shows, events and prizes for all as we get together to enjoy our love of Carnival cruising and fun. I hope many can join me.  Last bloggers cruise I was joined by 450 guests and there is one agency that guests should book with if they want to join us and that of course is Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel.  They are the best and they also give free lollipops and a photo of me in the above mentioned underpants. I really hope to see you there.

Q.  What are some of the dumbest questions you have been asked on your blog or otherwise, not counting these little gems of course.   

A.  The list of these questions is endless and ranges from “How will I know which photos are mine? to “Can you recommend a good brothel in Rome?” The rest will appear in my book.

Q.  If someone wants to cruise with you, how would they go about that?  Or conversely, if someone wants to be sure not to cruise with you (a huge mistake, we would both agree), is that an option?

A.  Well I publish the cruise director schedule on-line on my blog. We are the only cruise line to do this I think and it is interesting to see how many guests want to know who their cruise director will be. I hope people will come and see me on the Carnival Breeze for Bloggers Cruise 6 and then next year I will be on Carnival Legend as we do some of my favourite cruising around the Baltic, British Islands and Norwegian fjords. Check with a good TA and they will tell you more …………… I have one particular travel agent in mind.

Q.  John, you have been an incredibly good sport.  For this last question, I want a straightforward answer (assuming either one of us is constitutionally capable of that).   What should consumers know about the Carnival Magic when choosing their next vacation?

A.  Carnival Magic is one of my favourite ships and was from the moment I helped deliver her last year. This is for many reasons and includes the vibrant décor, the brilliant spaces,Carnival Cruise Lines Magic including the RedFrog Pub (one of my favourites) and the shows, food and the ports. The crew is magnificent and these reasons are why she has been constantly rated in the top three ships in the fleet. If you have not sailed her you have missed out, she truly is Magic. Thanks so much for allowing me some time here with you, mate, and my best to you and all your clients and if there is anything I can do for them or you please let me know. Cheers!

John, thanks so much for a fantastic interview.  A special thanks is due for your kind words about our travel agency.  I must say you delivered those particular lines precisely the way I wrote them!  (Just a little blog humor, dear reader.)   I hope you have enjoyed this first installment of Backroom Banter.  I have several other fascinating luminaries clamoring to be next . . . if you can call arm-twisting acquiescence clamoring.

Take our little poll below!

John Heald: Carnival’s Wayfaring Wag (1)

A wag, according to dictionary.com is a person given to droll, roguish or mischievous humor; a wit.  What better way to inaugurate the first installment of Backroom BanterInterview than to introduce you to someone, if you haven’t stumbled across him already, whose occasionally ribald and frequently irreverent sense of humor has caused me more than one audible chuckle in inappropriate settings?  I strongly suggest you never read his blog in a library, during your sentencing hearing or in a church pew!

His name is John Heald and this brief self-introduction from the “Meet John” page on his wildly popular blog www.JohnHealdsBlog.com should suffice to acquaint you with the gravitas and solemnity which permeates his entire blog.

He writes, “I started this blog when a lady called Stephanie said “Oh John, please write a blog, it will only be for a week and won’t take up much of your time.” That was back in 1492 and here I am still writing in the same pair of underpants. I am Carnival’s Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador, and I am here to share my life with you in all its boring and sometimes toilet-based glory.”

If you think my “Fool Disclosure” page is a little weird (and that does seem to be the general consensus among my readers), you should check out John’s “Disclaimer Thingy”.   John’s 15,000,000 views and counting make my page views look like a rounding error.   When you consider he began blogging, by his own admission, in 1492 and my humble blog is still swaddled in a preemie blanket, it is probably juvenile of me to be gripped by this insane blog envy I’m feeling.   I ask you, dear reader, would it be too much to ask for John to loan me, say, half-a-million page views until I get on my feet?   He would never miss them.  Heck, that’s just a couple of good weeks for John.

But enough about my own fragile psyche.  Let’s catch up with John and see what he the heck he is up to these days.

Q.  John, tell us a little about your upbringing.   Have you managed to squelch that ugly rumor knocking about (no pun intended) that you are the illegitimate love child of John Cleese and Margaret Thatcher?

A.  I was a cesarean baby which is why every time I get out of the car I go through the sun roof. OK, after that stupid joke I should say that I have been very lucky. I worked as a commodities broker and for Lloyd’s of London in England. Then In 1987 and much to the distress of my parents I answered a magazine (remember magazines?) article for cruise ship staff and began working for Carnival Cruise Lines as a bar waiter. I did not know the difference between a Pina Colada and a Slippery Nipple so the beards gave me a microphone instead and told me to be a social host. From there I became a cruise director in 1991 and senior cruise director in 2004. I was recently given the title of Brand Ambassador, as well. I am one lucky sod! I was a huge Thatcher supporter and Cleese is my idol so that is actually a compliment.

Q.  What was your first job with Carnival and in which century was that exactly?

A. I flew from Heathrow to Miami in 1987 to take up the position of bar waiter on the cruiseJohn Heald of Carnival Cruise Lines' Facebook Page ship Holiday. When I landed I had to find my own way to a hotel which was called the Colonial Hotel. It made a Turkish prison look like the Ritz. I was there three nights waiting for the ship to arrive in Miami and it took every bit of my will power not to leave. But that Saturday the MS Holiday arrived and on I went. My training as a bar waiter was intense. The bar manager gave me a tray, a pair of white gloves for formal night and said “go and serve drinks.” That was it. How things have changed today and I am proud to think that I am still probably the worst bar waiter Carnival ever had.

Q.  Would you describe a typical day in the life of John Heald?  Reader alert:  If references to a grown man working in his underwear are apt to make you queasy, skip to the next question.

A.  It sounds like a cliché but there really isn’t a typical day. With 4,000 different guests on board the Carnival Breeze each cruise there are new challenges each day. However I do mix my day between managing 70 staff, 4,000 guests, writing a blog, answering an average of 50 Facebook questions a day and most importantly being on stage and out with the guests which is still my favourite thing to do by far. One of the reasons I keep going is that no day is really the same and you never know what is round the corner……..and yes…..I blog best when I am dressed only in my XXL Marks And Spencers underpants.

To Be Continued . . .

As a shameless ploy to lure you back to this highbrow discussion, I am postponing the rest of my Q&A for John until my next post.  Now don’t go all mopey on me!   I promise John and I will be back before you can say “Honestly, there’s no rush!”

Backroom Banter

This brief post introduces a new category I am calling “Backroom Banter”.

In the days ahead, if the Lord tarries and I keep the creditors at bay, I will be conducting one-on-one interviews with notable luminaries in the travel industry, and perhaps a few outside, who meet two criteria: something worthwhile to say and an engaging flair for saying it.

I think it is safe to assume that most of my readers, if not actually ardent travelers, are at the least furtively frittering away obscene blocks of time at work surfing the net andInterview with travel industry leaders daydreaming about travel.  Not to worry, it is our little secret . . . unless your boss reads this blog in which case you may soon have, if not the funds, at least unlimited time for travel.

I thought you might find it interesting to garner insights from travel industry influentials about  emerging trends, timely topics and insider tips.  If I am mistaken, this may well go down as one of the shortest blogging careers in cyber history.  However, if I do a proper job in the guest interviewee selection process, even if the questions are a bit lame, their insightful answers should be able to carry the day.

You will be excited to know I have already drawn a bead on my very first guest which, incidentally, proved quite a challenge since I don’t draw very well and he would not hold still.   While it would be premature to reveal his identity I have already reduced the possibilities by 50 percent or so merely by revealing his gender.  If I now add that he currently resides in North America and, as far as I know, has no felony criminal record, I am practically giving his identity away.

By my reckoning, at this point I have you drooling in anticipation of the first installment.  Either that or you have dozed off and are doing that disgusting thing people do when sleeping on airplanes.   If you want to read the first installment of “Backroom Banter” you will just have to mosey on back, as we practically never say here in Texas.

Who would you like to see take the “Backroom Banter” hot seat?