June 21, 2012
I was excited to visit Madeira in Portugal last weekend (14-17 June) – the chosen destination for this year’s AITO and AITO Agents’ overseas conference, which offers independent travel operators and agents the chance to gather and debate the sector’s current biggest issues.
And I felt rather smug leaving rainy England for this breathtakingly beautiful garden island, complete with heavenly blue skies, towering mountains, levadas (walking trails using ancient irrigation channels) and the finest cakes (yes – the cakes were unbelievable!).
However, many conference delegates were initially disappointed about one thing – that we would miss the England vs Sweden football match at Euro 2012 on the Friday evening. Of course, our disappointment was completely unjustified – the plan for the night was for delegates to split into groups and choose to dine at one of a selection of fantastic restaurants.
At my seafood restaurant of choice, Villa de Peixe – offering a fabulous view of the fishing village Camara De Lobos (so gorgeous that Winston Churchill used to stay there) – delegates were first overjoyed to see a flatscreen TV above our line of tables. This soon turned to ecstasy when our Portuguese hosts agreed to switch to the football game. Indeed, Portuguese kindness was an ongoing theme throughout the trip, with the Madeira Promotion Bureau, the Portuguese National Tourist Office and locals all treating conference delegates like royalty.
AITO conferences allow for vital networking time between operators, agents and business partners, and what better way to further cement relations than by sharing the excitement of a football game?! I hope nobody outside of the delegate group had intended to visit the restaurant for a quiet, romantic meal that evening… because we destroyed the peace with our excitement (sorry!).
The football game was a true emotional rollercoaster but, as delegates, we were in it together – enjoying every minute as we tucked into the freshest seafood and sipped wine from the local vineyards, the sun setting scenically over the ocean in the distance. With England equalising and then going on to dramatically win 3-2, it became one of the conference’s many highlights…