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A night in a Snoozebox

There aren’t many delegates that would be attracted to the thought of spending a night in a shipping container. But, what if that shipping container had three beds, an en suite and central heating? The Snoozebox concept is only a few years old but already it has sparked the interest of journalists, bloggers, and leisure travellers everywhere and now it is making moves into the world of corporate events.

In a nutshell, Snoozebox offers portable and on-site accommodation for events and festivals throughout the UK and Europe. As well as providing shelter for reluctant campers at Glastonbury and T in the Park, the micro hotel can be found year round at the Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire and at Cornwall’s Eden Project.

Snoozebox’s claim is that it can offer fully operational accommodation on any site, no matter what the terrain, within days of arrival. So, if you’ve found an amazing venue without any suitable accommodation nearby ‘who you gonna call?’

Last weekend, C&I Traveller joined more than 40 agencies to sample the product, which sits adjacent to the historic Grand Prix track and only a short mini bus ride away from the main conference venue, the Silverstone Wing. After checking in, I was given instructions to find my room, one of 76 in total. If the inside of the shipping container had been drastically changed then very little had been done to hide its original occupation, aside from a paint job. It was a cold night in Northamptonshire and my bed for the night was on the other side of a steel wall.

Any hesitance I felt evaporated the moment I stepped into my room and felt the warmth of the central heating. The layout of the room is, to its charm, very basic and no bigger than the back of a transit van. Smaller in fact. Above the foot of the double bed is a single bunk bed, meaning three people can comfortably spend a night although there is very little space for anything other than that. I can only imagine what two or more people trying to get ready at the same time must be like but my guess is that it would be a similar experience to vying for space on the Northern Line at 8am on a weekday. The en suite sits on the other side of a glass sliding door where clean towels can be found folded on a shelf beside the shower. Other amenities included a TV, shampoo and shower gel, a room safe and free wifi via The Cloud.

There isn’t much in the room that you wouldn’t find in any other standard hotel, which means that, as well as being a useful and interesting concept, Snoozebox is an excellent use of space and design. The company is still young and perhaps it is still trying to find its market but if people want simple, easy and affordable (rooms from £35) then this concept certainly has a future.

A room in a Snoozebox isn’t designed to be a nest and to stay more than three or four days would begin to feel slightly claustrophobic but, as a comfortable base with all the basics that can be planted almost anywhere, it ticks all the boxes.

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8 highlights from my first year at C&IT

Dog sledding across the northernmost town in the world

Imagine shouting ‘walkies’ to an army of 150 over-excited huskies and then trusting them to tow you through the towering Svalbard glaciers beside lurking polar bears. Terrifying, freezing and exhilarating.

Watching Chelsea beat Arsenal 6-0

Hospitality at Stamford Bridge’s very own venue Under The Bridge, unlimited bacon sarnies and seeing the mighty Jose Mourinho craft a hammering over their London rivals is a winning combination for any Saturday afternoon.

Scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Usually when you get to see a city from 134m above sea level there’s a thick sheet of glass in the way but surely that’s too boring for the adventurous Aussies. BridgeClimb Sydney has to be one of the coolest ways to take in a view with the Opera House in one direction and the Blue Mountains in the other. A glass of champagne at the summit was the icing on the cake. Well played, Sydney!

Flying over Stockholm in a helicopter

Whether you’re seeing the city by foot, bus or boat, Stockholm will almost instantly become one of the favourite places you’ve ever had the fortune to visit. However, experiencing it from a helicopter is enough to eclipse most city experiences and seeing the rivers weave their way around the metropolis and between the stunning archipelagos from above is kind of mesmerising.

Abseiling off the top of The Orbit

Who says you have to leave the British Isles for a bit of dare-devilish fun? In October, the ArcelorMittal Orbit invited a selection of daring reporters to the Olympic Park to abseil their way down the 80m sculpture.

Lowlight: Maneuvering my way past two enormous red beams with a GoPro strapped to my head. Highlight: Being able to see all four corners of London from one of the best vantage points in the city.

Zip-lining across the Atlas Mountains

By now you might be able to tell that I’m a bit of a fan of heights. So, when Rakesh of Pearl Representation revealed to the Marrakech fam trippers that we would be zip-lining across chasms of almost 300m in North Africa’s Atlas Mountains I was the first one on with the harness! The terrifying drops were made all the better with the unforgettable views.

Racing around the Grand Prix track in Abu Dhabi

Wearing a thick jumpsuit, balaclava and helmet in 40-degree weather isn’t all that fun, but, being raced round the Yas Marina Grand Prix Circuit in Abu Dhabi in a FormulaYAS 3000 is, in fact, a ‘helluva’ lot of fun!

Singing into John Lennon’s microphone at Abbey Road Studios

When the email came through from Perception PR on only my second day in the job I couldn’t quite believe the opportunity had arisen and why I, one of hundreds of millions Beatles fanatics, was going to get the chance to record a song at the historic Abbey Road Studios. On the night, I was part of a 50-strong choir – predominantly made up of event planners – to record our own rendition of The Beatles classic, ‘Help!’

With the aid of a professional voice coach, the group recorded the verses, the choruses and a range of harmonies that even McCartney would have been proud of. It was all going well until we realised that two lines from the third, and final, verse were left vacant for a brave soloist. Volunteers were called upon and a few hands rose but the room that was filled with song moments earlier fell understandably quiet. It wasn’t until I was told that the microphone had once been sung into by John Lennon that I felt my arm bolt high into the air.

Four people, including myself, were summoned into an X-Factor style audition at the front of the room and were instructed to belt out the solo the best we could. What followed was undoubtedly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done but when opportunity knocks make sure you’re the one who answers the door! Miraculously I made it through the mini audition and there I was staring down at the microphone that John Lennon had sung some of the most famous melodies on the planet into. With the headphones clasped around my ears and my colleague Alison Ledger taking pictures like a proud mum I went for it and, as they say, the rest was history. Not a bad start to the job!

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A morning on the Great Barrier Reef

We woke early and met in the reception of the One&Only Hayman Island resort and made our way down to the dock, where the hotel’s yachts sat moored in the sun. Another tremendous surprise from Ovation DMC was awaiting us when we arrived as two helicopters were stationed ready to roar into life. Where they were taking us we didn’t know but the excitement of seeing the views of the islands from 500m high was already enough to make this an unforgettable experience.

We stepped on board with life jackets strapped at our hips and giant headphones clasped to our ears and, after a thumbs up from the pilot, we rose from the ground and made way across the Great Barrier Reef.           

As we rose higher and higher the reef could be seen in great splodges across the blue water. The view could have been on the front of a postcard. We saw turtles floating on the surface, bobbing along with the tide and the famous heart-shaped coral, shaped only slightly larger than the helicopter we were in. We forgot that our destination was still unknown; the enthralling views from inside the helicopter had our full attention.

Approaching on the horizon were two pontoons stationed beside one of the larger green and blue splodges. The helicopter descended quickly onto the floating platforms and we exited the chopper. As we bobbed up and down on the waves, we marvelled at the tranquil ocean surrounding us and relished the isolation of our pontoon perched in the middle of it all. A raft took us from our landing spot to the second, larger pontoon where we were greeted with flipper-clad instructors wielding snorkels and goggles. Beneath our feet, thousands of exotic subterranean wildlife of all shapes, sizes and colours swam amidst the reef and, after a short safety demonstration, we joined them.

Striped, spotted and dotted fish that belonged in Disney and Pixar movies scurried after one another whilst the larger ones roamed slowly, disappearing then re-emerging from the dark blue depths of the water. I surrendered my float and let the waves move over me whilst I explored every dimension I could of the sea bed beneath me.

The space that we were able to explore was vast yet we seemed able to cover every inch of it in a 45-minute session. The tide took us safely back to the pontoon where we climbed out of the water and shook the salt water out of our hair. The group reconvened by the raft, which took us back to the helicopters as they readied for our next adventure. Our morning spent on the Great Barrier Reef was a morning to remember.

Three of the best ways to see Sydney

Sydney by Harley Davidson

Sydney by Harley Davidson

It has been three days of surprises and luxury so far in Sydney, Australia and the itinerary, which has been expertly organised by international DMC Ovation, has allowed us to see the city from a multitude of perspectives.

C&I Traveller gives a snapshot of three very different ways to take in Sydney’s sights whilst instilling that all-important ‘wow’-factor…

On the back of a Harley Davidson

Some say that the best way to see a city is on foot. However, experiencing the sights, the smells and the culture on the back of a Harley Davidson is certainly the cooler option. When the group left the InterContinental Sydney hotel to embark on the second day of the itinerary, we were greeted by a convoy of classic motorbikes and, with zero hesitance, we donned leather jackets, slammed helmets on our heads and hopped on. The tour, which was provided by Wild Ride Australia, took us over Sydney Harbour Bridge and back along Hyde Park where the city’s largest cathedral is situated. The bikes then turned away from the centre, which gave us the opportunity to see the older and more secluded parts of Sydney before heading east to our final stop, Bondi Beach.

The power of the motorbikes coupled with the breeze blowing in from the Pacific gave us an exhilarating tour that was truly unforgettable. For the thrill seekers out there who are looking for that ‘bucket list’ experience, a Harley Davidson city tour is the perfect way to deliver the ‘wow-factor’ they’re craving.

From the 134m summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

From one extreme to another, the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb might not be as up close as Wild Ride Australia’s Harley Davidson city tours, but it is equally as adrenaline fuelled. The group scaled the steel bridge to the mesmerising 134m high summit with one of the world’s greatest picture opportunities awaiting us at the top. On clear days, the views can reach almost 100 miles each way with the Sydney Opera House and the Tasman Sea out to the east and the Blue Mountains out to the west. Groups of up to 12 can make the climb with trips taking place frequently throughout the day.

Sailing on the shores of Sydney Harbour

For groups more favourable to excursions at sea-level, Sydney Harbour offers a unique sailing experience that made captains out of the sailing novices in the group. The boat set sail nearby the building site that will become the new International Convention Centre Sydney before making its way along the city’s famous harbour. Landmarks including the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were seen from incredible vantage points amidst the back drop of the city skyline. Wanting a little bit more than the views and the tranquillity of the harbour waters, we each tried our hands at steering the ship and working together to raise the 35ft mast.

Flying down to Rio Part 2

The next part of our itinerary gave us the chance to work off some of the many calories consumed previously (there are around 300 in every caipirinha, must be all that sugar), with a leisurely cycle ride along Copacabana Beach, alongside Rio’s hundreds of joggers. We certainly admired the views – jogging outfits in the 29-degree sweltering heat were mostly swimwear, and not much of it.

After a brief rehydration stop with fresh coconut water, we took the cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain for some stunning views and a chance encounter with some very friendly monkeys, before visiting the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort for lunch and a site inspection, where we were joined by the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Sheraton is the city’s only beachfront resort and completed the first phase of a multi-million dollar renovation in June this year.

Later that evening, we headed to the Fasano hotel to enjoy the sunset with several – you guessed it – caipirinhas on hand. Our attempts to try a passion fruit flavour didn’t quite pay off so back we went to the trusted classic version. Our celeb spotting efforts did pay off, however, as we were joined on the hotel’s rooftop (an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of Rio) by Four Weddings and a Funeral director Richard Curtis.

It turned out to be a night with the (mention of ) stars, with dinner at the beautiful Hotel Santa Teresa, a boutique property built on a historial colonial farm in the Santa Teresa district of Rio, with the bar housed in a former slave quarter. We were shown the room where Amy Winehouse stayed in 2011 and went past the bar that was Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs’ local watering hole for many years. In the early hours of the morning, we headed to Rio Scenarium, often voted the city’s best live music venue. The atmospheric samba club decorated with kitsch ornaments is housed in a converted old depository. Even on a Tuesday night the place was busy and despite several threats to try out our samba skills (admittedly after several caipirinhas) , we decided to stay put and people watch instead.

Our last day in Rio started in style, with a 44 jeep transport and a tram ride to Corcovado (which translates as ‘hunchback’), the foothold of the Christ the Redeemer statue, one of the seven wonders of the world. Nothing quite prepares you for the views, the best by far in the city. It’s also a popular place for marriage proposals and we took advantage of the inevitable photobombing opportunities. An electrical fault meant the tram was out of action on the way down but our trusted guide Carla got us down at record speed with the help of a local mini bus, with enough time for a quick lunch at the Sofitel before heading onwards, bidding a fond farewell to our excellent host for the Rio leg, Abreu DMC’s Nuno Pires.

With ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ playing on a loop in our heads, we headed to the airport for our two-hour flight to Salvador de Bahia, the first colonial capital of Brazil and the country’s Afro-Brazilian jewel. Our home for the next two nights was the Pestana Convento do Carmo, housed in a 16th century building and which couldn’t have been more different from our Sofitel experience in Rio. All of the 79 rooms are individually styled and there are plans to use the chapel – being renovated while we were there, for meetings. That evening, we had the chance to savour local Bahia delicacies – much of which has a strong West African influence, at the atmospheric Casa de Tereza restaurant. We feasted on moqueca, a seafood stew served in clay bowls and and tried the caipirivodka with cashew fruit, lime and clove. Bahia’s version of fast food – deep fried bread, known as acaraje, became addictive all too quickly. Weighed down with all this food and with nightlife in Salvador at a much slower pace than in Rio, it was early to bed that night.

Our sightseeing tour the next day through the historical area of Pelourinho included an impromptu drumming session with Professor Macambira, who teaches in his studio at the top of the Largo do Pelourinho. Having come across him drumming in the local square, we were all hooked from the start and the session in his studio – which is available as an activity for groups – was a real highlight. We had lunch at the Sheraton Bahia hotel, one of the other properties that caters for groups before indulging in some serious ice cream therapy at the Sorveteria da Ribeira, which boasts more than 50 fruit flavours, some of which we had never even heard of. They tasted great, which was the main thing.

We were treated that evening to a stunning folk show performance at the Miguel Santana Theater – an hour of  high-energy dance and storytelling that proved mesmerising from start to finish and ended the evening with dinner at the charming Villa Bahia.

All great things come to an end and fam trips are no exception but our last day still had surprises in store. We visited a circus project that aims to help disadvantaged children learn circus skills – Imagination’s Esther Wyatt gave it a go too, climbing up some ropes with ease. Our next stop was the upmarket beach resort of Praia do Forte,  around an hour from the airport, and home to the Tamar Sea Turtle Project, the national headquarters of the project for the protection of sea turtles in Brazil. We enjoyed a tour of the area before a final lunch and the briefest of swims at the Tivolo Praia do Forte hotel.

Flying down to Rio: Part 1

Brazil has been one destination I have wanted to visit for quite some time – my sister worked at a detective agency in Sao Paulo for several years but time and circumstance conspired against me visiting whilst she was there.

Other participants on this trip were equally looking forward to our trip to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, known as the first colonial capital of Brazil. While some had visited Brazil previously, this had been a while ago – and with the 2014 World Cup a not too distant memory and the 2016 Olympics in Rio looming, a visit could not have been more timely.

So even with a horrendously early start – meeting at 4.30am at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 for our flight on TAP Portugal to Rio de Janeiro via Lisbon – myself and the other event planners on the trip, including representatives from Imagination, One Two Four and River Marketing, were in a buoyant mood. We were joined by our hosts Andrew Harvey from Uniqueworld and Carlos Pinto de Oliveira from TAP.

The purpose of the trip was not only to see how Rio has transformed in the last few years but also to discover Salvador’s potential as a C&I destination. We touched down later than planned in Lisbon – and with the expected 55-minute transfer time (tight at the best of times) reduced, our first thoughts were are we even going to make the connecting flight to Rio on time. We need not have feared as we were met straight off the flight from London by a transfer bus that shuttled us to the terminal to catch the plane to Rio.

Ten hours later, we arrived in Brazil’s capital in the late afternoon. On our transfer from the airport, we all craned our heads to get a glimpse of Christ the Redeemer before our arrival at Sofitel Rio de Janeiro Copacabana. We were given a show around of the 338-room property and then headed for pre-dinner drinks – caipirinhas all round – with Nuno Pires from Abreu DMC, at the hotel’s Club Lounge. It has a veranda with stunning views, giving us yet another opportunity to spot Christ the Redeemer.

We were up early the following morning, greeted by some glorious views of Copacabana beach. Following breakfast in the Club Lounge, we were taken on a tour of historical Rio with sights including the Municipal Theatre, Candelaria, Square XV, the Travessa do Mercado, Imperial Court, Gonçalves Dias Street and the bar where ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was composed. One of the most fascinating sights was the amount of shops selling Havaianas, understandably at a third of the price you can buy them in the UK. We all made a mental note to purchase several pairs later.

The iconic Confeitaria Colombo provided respite from the heat and a welcome stop for lunch. Housed in a stunning Belle Epoque building, the venue is famed as a centre of political intrigue and gossip and has a mouth-watering array of sweet and savoury snacks on show on the ground floor, including caipirinha pastries.

No visit to Brazil would be complete without a mention of football and in the afternoon, we were treated to an entertaining tour of the Maracana Stadium, with guides dressed as referees and the chance to see where Germany sealed its World Cup win against Argentina.  We also made a brief stop at the Sambódromo area, the main stage of Rio’s Carnival festivities.

That evening, we headed to the Copacabana Palace hotel, featured in the movie Flying Down to Rio. It’s a haven for celebrities, with a guest list that has included Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and The Rolling Stones. We didn’t spot any celebs that evening but dinner by the poolside came a close second.

The last stop before the North Pole: Part 2

The sun rose on Longyearbyen as quickly as my head had hit the pillow the night before. The dogs had definitely worn me out. I opened my curtains to a blinding welcome as the sun reflected off the snow and through my window.

After checking my itinerary, it was time to layer-up. A six-hour snowmobile expedition into the colossus Sassen Valley awaited us. The group met down in the hotel entrance where the shoes were kept; it is impolite to wear shoes indoors in Norway, a rule that I would more than welcome in the UK. In anticipation for a day of driving snowmobiles, the group proceeded to show off their driver’s licenses revealing glimpses of their younger selves. As I still remain parked on a provisional license I was unable to get into the hot seat. However, Paul Levien, of BCD M&I, very kindly agreed to be my chauffeur for the day meaning I would not miss out on this incredible experience. In no time at all the mini bus arrived and day two in the northernmost town in the world began.

We were dropped off outside a building very much like a car dealership, only for snowmobiles, which sat on the edge of the town’s limits. As we clambered out of the mini bus we were instructed to make the most of what warmth we could because when we reached the glaciers the temperature would plummet to an excruciating -20 degrees. Inside the building where the gear was kept were pictures on the walls of polar bears with chests puffed out and black eyes that stared through the lens at you as you walked around the room reminding us whose territory we were trespassing into. Beside them were pictures of groups, similar to ours, huddled together as a team in their thick blue, arctic-proof overalls. As I stared back and forth between the polar bears and the explorers I began to wonder whether they were promotional images or missing posters.

But you don’t travel to almost the North Pole to worry about things like that so we grabbed our gear and suited up. Just to give you an idea of how incredibly prepared/terrified of freezing to death I was I equipped myself with three pairs of knee length socks, a pair of long johns, the £80 Ralph Lauren jogging bottoms I won’t care to mention again, and a pair of windproof trousers. Two t-shirts, a jumper, a thermal hoody, and a waterproof coat hugged my torso. With two pairs of gloves, three neck warmers wrapped around my face, and a full-headed helmet, I was ready to begin.

In single file and led by our bearded and adept instructors we moved out from within Longyearbyen’s town limits and headed toward the wilderness. Hitting speeds of 40 and 50kmh we passed between the mountains; the only people for miles around. Each of our helmets had the option of a visor but I happily risked getting frostbite on my cheeks to take in the view. We carried on through the valley, stopping only to catch a glimpse of the Svalbard reindeer perched in the snow.

Our first stop was Villa Fredheim, a cabin built by Hilmar Nois. Nois famously spent 38 winters on Svalbard hunting polar bears and anything else he could find for food and warmth. The cabin amazingly still stands beside the ocean, which draws nearer and nearer each year. It was here that we were most likely to spot a polar bear we were told however, due to the unusually warm winter Svalbard had, by its standards anyway, there wasn’t a lot of ice forming on the shore, which meant there weren’t many seals, which meant the polar bears were hunting elsewhere.

After several star jumps beside our snow mobiles to get the blood running back to our toes we turned round and headed to one of Hilmar Nois original bear traps, which like his frosty abode, still stands today. Inspecting the wooden structure perched against a boulder we decided it was time for lunch. An arctic fox had been caught in the trap so we took the opportunity to sample some of the fresh, local cuisine. Of course this isn’t true. The guides passed around packets of hearty meals to which we added boiling water to like a Svalbard-style Pot Noodle. I don’t why but wolfing down a chicken curry in the middle of the arctic tundra was one of the most bizarre yet wonderful experiences of my life; two things which regularly intertwined throughout my stay in Longyearbyen.

As the sun sunk behind the highest mountain we hopped back onto the skidoos and headed back. It was on this final leg of the trip when Paul Levien decided to test out the true power in our snowmobile routinely slowing down only to jerk the throttle and make up the lost distance in a nano-second. I live to tell the tale so no complaints from me.

Within 30 minutes of parking the skidoos and returning our gear we were back at the Spitsbergen Hotel, sat beside the fire, slurping hot chocolate and waiting for our bones to thaw. Once they had we were back on the bus and transported to Camp Barentz for our ‘wilderness evening’. Gathered round a cauldron of bubbling reindeer stew we toasted a fine day of exploration with chilled stubbies and a warming shot of brown liquor. The reindeer stew was immense and I unashamedly helped myself to three servings whilst the group’s alcohol intake kept up impressively. Whispers circled the fire that we were heading to the local bars and we were ready to see what Longyearbyen’s nightlife was made of.

The Radisson seemed to be the common starting point and wasn’t too dissimilar from the average après-ski style bar. The next establishment was something a little bit more special, however. As it turned out, hidden away in the northernmost town in the world is an establishment possessing the 6th largest collection of spirits of any bar, pub or club known to man. What a gem we had unearthed! We stamped our feet back into our boots and marched down the street towards the bar. Kicking them off again we entered and scoped out the room in amazement. Two sides of the building wallpapered in vodkas, rums, whiskies, tequilas, gins and god-knows-what-else. The place was rammed and the atmosphere was jubilant. Imagine living in a town with some of the best scenery on the planet, incredible wildlife, almost no tax laws and a bar with the 6th largest collection of spirits in the world. Who would want to leave this place?!

A band made up of three men who looked like they’d sampled the bar’s alcohol collection three times over churned out bluesy rock n’ roll in the corner, soundtracking the evening perfectly as we sampled the bar’s arsenal. What a perfect way to mark my last night in Svalbard.

Like most things, all good fam trips must come to an end and over the course of my three connections back to London Heathrow, I looked back on my time on an island I can only hope to visit again.

Abu Dhabi Doo!

Was this going to be a good fam?

It was 6.20am, it was early and I was a little tired after only four hours sleep as I arrived at the Etihad desk at Manchester airport, looking out for Julie from Ashfield and Louise from Incentivise. It was at that point I thought to myself th

at perhaps red carnations all round would have been a good idea. I had also been secretly hoping that they would be nice people, not too loud but not too shy either. Was this going to be a good fam trip?

The Yas Viceroy

abu_yas_viceroy

The fam trip was hosted by Etihad, Viceroy Hotels and local DMC Gulf Dunes. The trip then ran into GIBTM itself. After this one trip I definitely feel like I know Abu Dhabi well and can now promote it as a conference destination. Staying at the Yas Viceroy was excellent. I had a large bedroom, with a slightly funky design leading on to a balcony with a view of Yas Marina. The Yas Viceroy is an iconic building in Abu Dhabi and synonymous with Formula 1, as the hotel actually straddles the track. Other stand-outs are the two rooftop pools, the rooftop bar where we sampled some of the local beverages as well as an on property nightclub, Rush.

Hectic but worth it!

Our schedule was hectic, but worth it. It was an early-ish start on the Saturday morning with Hot Laps booked on the F1 circuit. This involved being driven round half the F1 circuit in a two-seater modified Formula 3000 car at speeds up to 160 miles an hour and reaching 60 miles an hour in under three seconds.

After one lap my driver gave me the thumbs up sign, I responded with the same, and he seemed to speed up. I was glad I’d heeded Peter from Viceroy’s advice to have a light breakfast.

Next on the itinerary was a Sea Plane trip, which gave us aerial views of the F1 track, Ferrari World, The Mangroves, the coastline, the Port, downtown, Saadiyat Island and Emirates Palace. Another real wow and it was only just lunchtime.

Hotel show round and presentation from the DMC ensued followed by our Desert Safari. Dune bashing, sand boarding, champagne sunset, shisha, camels, local music, belly dancers and randomly a guy dressed as a doctor and fish fingers on the buffet all contributed to an amazing afternoon.

It was back to the hotel then for some additional networking as everyone sampled Rush, the on-site club back at Yas Viceroy.

Sunday morning included a trip to the Monte Carlo beach Club – which is stunning – on Saadiyat Island where I sampled both the sea and pool.

During the afternoon we took in some culture including the amazing Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque followed by drinks hosted by St Regis Hotel. Wow! And GIBTM hadn’t even started. The itinerary really did show off the best of the world’s wealthiest city and I am sold on it as a fantastic meeting destination.

11 new friends

Abu Dhabi fam

The most amazing thing about this fam trip though has to be the people I met. Twelve completely different individuals, of all ages, who just got on from the word go like a big happy family. Northern soul dancing, fabulous suits, catchphrases, piano playing, jiving and non-stop laughter made this the most fun fam trip ever, from which I am leaving with eleven new true friends.

Ian Taylor is managing director of events agency Team Spirit

The last stop before the North Pole: Part 1

Having never been further north than Scotland in my life, I felt slightly unprepared before my first ever trip abroad with C&IT to Longyearbyen, Norway – the northernmost town on the planet.

The first question I asked myself was: ‘How cold is -20 really?’ When I found out, my next question was obvious: Where can I find a good pair of long-johns?

The purpose of my trip was to get a first-hand experience of all that the town of Longyearbyen has to offer as a C&I destination. Longyearbyen is located in Svalbard, a series of islands that although are considered Norwegian, sit beside Greenland and 1,300km South of the North Pole. With a school, a church, a university and the world’s largest post box built specifically to send wish lists to Father Christmas, Longyearbyen is the northernmost town in the world and is populated 365 days a year.

I left for Heathrow airport from the C&IT HQ on 27 February where I met the group for the first time. Representatives from The Black Tomato Agency, Noble Events and Chambers Travel were among the eight event planners that were making the trip with me, all of which had suitcases far bigger than mine.

“Is that all you’ve brought with you?” I was asked. The naïve traveller in me burst into action and I panic bought an £80 pair of Ralph Lauren jogging bottoms. Needless to say that was money I’d never see again.

Two flights later the nine of us, along with Britt Gorniok of Innovation Norway and Birgitte Nestande of the Norway Convention Bureau, arrived in Longyearbyen, the last stop before the North Pole. It was midnight by the time we made it to the Spitsbergen Hotel and although the group was visibly shattered we stayed up to hear the story behind the bizarre and wonderful town we were staying in – as told brilliantly and enthusiastically by Anika Paust from Spitsbergen Travel, a former Aussie turned Arctic habitant

Did you know there are more polar bears than humans in Svalbard? What is more astounding is that of the 2,040 people living in Longyearbyen, give or take, there are 38 nationalities of which a large proportion are Thai and Russian. It is also illegal to die in Svalbard, as the ground is too cold to let anything decompose. Just a heads up.

We awoke the Friday morning ready to tackle the day ahead when we were truly amazed to see Longyearbyen in the daylight. As we gazed out the windows we were greeted by towering, white mountains that stretched far into the distance.

To the west of the hotel was the bay, which would eventually break out into the Arctic Ocean. Just looking at it made your lips turn blue.With breakfast scoffed and failed homemade waffles abandoned the team headed to the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen where we were given a presentation on the island’s C&I packages, which includes expeditions out into the arctic and summer hikes up the mountains. This was swiftly followed by lunch. We ate a lot on this trip. We then took a cold stroll through the centre of the town and I was amazed by how successfully 38 different nationalities had conjured such a rich community spirit in such an isolated place. London, take note.

Next up was the dog sledding. Now, I must confess-I am not a ‘dog person’ (I grew up with cats what can I say?) However, the sight of 150 blue-eyed, bushy-tailed huskies losing their minds in anticipation for being released into the arctic tundra is something I will likely never forget.

It was two to a sled with one driver and one passenger, which meant we had to partner up. I went with Paul Levien (head of group travel at BCD M&I) who took his seat and trusted me to manoeuvre both the sled and our six dogs safely.

With the boys of the pack heading up the rear, we were off. It was a surreal moment as we surfed on top of the snow between the valleys. The scenery was immense and seemed to look prettier with every glance. As our exuberant dogs circled the course and brought us home, darkness rose and we warmed ourselves beside a fire with coffee and custard creams. Day one in the arctic complete.

Is the Dominican Republic ready for incentives?

Whether a Caribbean conference can produce an engaged, focused audience that isn’t clock-watching until its pool time is up for debate, but if you’re looking for an incentive with sunshine and cocktails on tap, then the Dominican Republic’s appeal isn’t only limited to public school teenage runaways.

To escape their boarding school, the British teenagers could have booked flights to anywhere on the credit cards of mummy and daddy last month, so why the Dom Rep?

After visiting for the Site Executive Summit last weekend, it was obvious that what was once known as the ‘poor man’s Caribbean’, now has high-end all-inclusives that are a far cry from the sickness bug-inducing buffets of a decade ago. Since then, Punta Cana has been transformed by major investment and developments.

The Paradisus Palma Real, which hosted the Site conference, is a flagship Melia resort. Think tropical gardens, flamingos, and Balinese-style beds scattered across what is one of the best beaches I’ve seen in the Caribbean. The resort added 18,000 sqm of meetings space in December, too, and the transfer time from the airport is only a 15-minute drive. The month-old Breathless property feels a little like a W hotel-on-sea with rooms that have hot tubs on the balcony.

Not only does the country have the hotel side wrapped up, but it’s also serious about business. For Site, each delegate was personally greeted on the runway as they stepped off their flight. Instead of boarding a bus to the terminal with hundreds of other passengers, we each rode off in a cart buggy, bypassing lengthy immigration queues. Personal, memorable touches like this continued throughout the stay, signalling that the Dominican Republic is ready for business.

With CSR being one of the most important elements of incentives today, groups can tour Punta Cana’s countryside, visit a sugar plantation, learn the art of cigar-making and visit a traditional Dominican home.

Of course, the Dom Rep and its all-inclusive resorts are not going to suit all groups, but properties such as Casa de Campo and the new Westin Punta Cana offer an alternative to an all-inclusive package. The destination also has adventure and culture and history, but its real strength lies in providing an incentive with sun, sea and a little CSR.

For the Dominican Republic, now is the time to stand out from its competitors in the Caribbean and make its mark on the incentive map. We shall wait and see.