It’s felt like this moment would never come again, but it has. And it’s as exciting as we thought it would be.
This week just gone has been the most positive for the travel industry in Australia than any other over the last two years—it really feels like things are moving in the direction of ‘normal’ travel again.
With meetings with a whole host of travel providers—from hotels to airlines, resorts to cruise firms, tourism boards to private companies offering unique experiences, and even an hour with media mogul Ita Buttrose—we left the week full of enthusiasm for what’s to come.
Here are some of the highlights from the week – we hope you enjoy this Edition!
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
The week starts very positively with a meeting with the good people from the OG Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
We kick things off with a drink at Bar Topa in the city.
They don’t do a Singapore Sling here, but they do have something else that’s quite amazing: $8 negronis! This must be the cheapest cocktail in the city. And there are plenty of other drinks on the same price list.
Food here also looks pretty good, but we’re in for more than just tapas though.
This is just a selection of the exquisite food at Bar Totti’s next door. Top left is their signature puffy bread, which is perfect for the antipasto of burrata and mortadella than comes out.
Top right is a foursome of beautifully delicate scallops, then bottom left is the veal schnitzel with finely grated parmesan and finally the best of the desserts (though the creme caramel is also delicious) is the chocolate torte. So rich and dense.
It’s great to be catching up with people face to face, especially when it’s an all-star cast like this. Opposite me is the most excellent fellow blogger and travel writer Amanda Woods of Adventures All Around fame and to my right is Raffles‘ very own Jesmine Hall.
Next to her is the eminent Ben Groundwater, who writes incredible pieces for all the best travel publications. He also suffers the terrible affliction of looking a bit like me. So if you ever hear of Ben doing something terrible or embarrassing, it’s probably just me moonlighting.
Ben is next to the truly elegant and lovely fashion director Thelma McQuillan and opposite her is the prolific Kristie Kellahan, who is enjoying the ever-exuberant company of our host Jane Corbett-Jones and closing the loop is the wonderful, talented Dilvin Yasa.
But what about Raffles?
The very pinnacle of old-world luxury, charm and sophistication, Raffles has that ‘un-buyable’ quality that comes from maintaining a standard above all others for such a long time.
I haven’t been to Raffles (yet) but what I imagine it to be like reminds me of the beautiful Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como. It seems to have that same regal deportment and heritage but with a cleverly balanced level of friendliness and familiarity that you only get in the very best hotels around the world.
But this emblem of Singapore hasn’t stood still. It hasn’t rested on its laurels. Yes, it’s has some of the western world’s most famous writers stay. Yes, it has its own cocktail.
But this iconic hotel hasn’t stood still.
In fact, since 2017, renovations have been going on to enhance the Raffles experience still more. And 2022 sees the reopening proper of Raffles Singapore with things like the number of rooms in this all-suite hotel increasing from 103 to 115.
They have created an elevated Singapore Sling, where everything about this iconic cocktail is bespoke. The gin is specifically made for the hotel by Sipsmith, they make their own grenadine from fresh pomegranates and they make their own bitters in-house.
It means the only place you can get a real Singapore Sling is here at Raffles.
All this talk of Raffles and Singapore, which was my first destination when I first travelled solo internationally, has given us the motivation to make this fascinating island nation our first port of call when we travel overseas next.
We can’t wait!
Lunch yesterday was supposed to finish at 3pm. I got home just before six! That’s how much fun everyone was having and how excited we all are about the prospect of travelling again.
The food at 12-Micron is always on the money. And when you’re in a location like this, overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour, it’s tempting not to try. Not with 12-Micron.
To be honest, everyone’s so excited to be together again and to talk travel, the kitchen could have served bowls of sand and we’d be happy. But fresh tomato and burrata?
Christina and I are also so excited to be talking Vanuatu. We travelled here in 2012, way before we’d even thought about starting Mr & Mrs. And this story, which I received permission to republish here, was my first commissioned piece. Reading back on it, I’m amazed I got it printed at all. I think Christina’s amazing photos got it across the line.
If you decide to read this story, please don’t comment on how young I look. I’m profoundly aware of the fact—it was a decade ago after all!
But today, we’re not just talking Vanuatu; we’re talking Vanuatu with the High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellence Samson Vilvil Fare.
His Excellence, which is my favourite title anyway, is fascinating, and brings back so many memories of our time in Vanuatu. His passion for his beautiful country, along with factoids like:
— Vanuatu is the most multicultural country in the world and has over 150 different language that Ni Vanu speak.
— Vanuatu has nine, five of which are still active, volcanos—the most of any country.
— Probably most relevant at the moment, Vanuatu hasn’t had a single case of Covid transmitted in the community.
Even before we get to the end of lunch, Christina and I are talking about going back to Vanuatu. It looks like Singapore has some competition for our attention!
This morning, we feel very important: we’re getting a police escort!
In truth, we’re just following (in a non-creepy way I promise) these impressive police horses and their burdens as we make our way to the next level in our increasingly intense week of travel meetings.
Created by TravMedia—a company that is the glue between travel providers and the media—this is the TavMedia Summit, where the best in the travel business speak on a range of different topics.
But before we even get past the foyer of the Sofitel Darling Harbour, we see a friend we’ve been missing since 2020.
This is Mosilo from South Africa Tourism. We met her on our trip to SA and became firm friends immediately, but because she was back home when the lockdown started, we’ve had to rely on WhatsApp.
It’s so good to see her.
The Summit begins with (imho) the best panel of the day. Led by the inimitable Rob McFarland, who spreads himself as thin as a falling cat between professional freelance travel journalism, PR, digital and educating everyone about all of it, this panel is all about crafting the perfect pitch to editors of publications.
First cab off the rank at any forum is a tough job, but these guys—Kelli Armstrong, Natasha Dragun and Michael Turtle—do an amazing job.
Being a fellow travel blogger (and lots of other things besides), Michael really gets our ‘sub-industry’. He deciphers and explains things so clearly, there can’t be anyone in the room now with the excuse of not understanding it.
Haven’t nodded so much at a speaker since Nirvana released Bleach. Now that’s dating me.
But Michael really captures everything that’s so important in our industry that many don’t understand. I wish I’d recorded his speech so I could understand it better myself. Nice work, mate.
The high point of any Summit (see what I did there) is, of course, the keynote. But this year’s is clearly the pinnacle of that.
We have Ita Buttrose speaking for a whole hour on her life and how everything went down, and it’s nothing short of extraordinary.
No one is captivating when they’re on a Zoom call, are they.
She’s also promised to come back next year—this time in person—and I can’t wait.
Regardless of the caliber of the speakers, it’s always surprising how tiring it is sitting and listening to people all day.
Thankfully, just down the road is Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour, and this lovely boutique hotel is happy to have a bunch of tired journos and reps come and drink at their bar for free (for a while).
We reviewed the 1888 before it became an Ovolo hotel, and it’s fascinating the changes that have been made.
The spritz the bar has created is quite something too. We can’t wait to come back and see how other things have been improved since our last stay here.
Today is another early start, but certainly the most important day of the whole week.
We’re heading to the IMM—the International Media Marketplace for the uninitiated. Created by the excellent people at TravMedia, IMM is somewhere between a trade fare and speed dating for the travel industry.
Before us is a spread of 100 different travel providers—hotels, airlines, cruise companies, PR, operators, tourism boards… pretty much every facet of the travel industry.
We get just 15 minutes with the 22 travel entities we’ve chosen or who’ve chosen us. It’s a lot of quick-speaking, energised networking that always brings positive results for all parties.
It’s fun, but knackering.
Thankfully, there are lots of things to break it up. One of these is the oyster bar that Destination NSW has laid on. Freshly shucked delicious sweet Sydney Rock Oysters for all!
And when you think you’ve had enough, this lovely lady comes round and gives you more!
DNSW is also running an Instagram competition for their favourite shot of this bath tub surrounded by lush greenery.
The prize is a stay at Gaia, the incredible retreat just outside Byron Bay that Olivia Newton-John owns. Hope this one wins. I shaved my legs and everything!
In the middle of our networking, we’re treated to lunch at the ICC. It’s amazing to see so many people in the same place. We’re talking 100 travel providers—many of whom have more than one person running their desks—and over 150 people from the media.
It really shows how eager everyone is about kickstarting travel again.
Food at the ICC this year is much better. Last time we were here, it really wasn’t good, but this ceviche really hits the spot.
It’s a shame this is a ‘dry’ lunch, but it’s also understandable. We’re only halfway through the day and we’ve been at IMMs before where wine and beer have been served at lunch. The afternoon session was… less productive.
However, once everyone’s day of formal networking has finished, it’s time for the real fun stuff.
We’ve moved over to the Hyatt Regency, where they’re generously hosting us for wine and nibbles. The views are unparalleled, but in reality everyone’s more interested in catching up. It’s so good to be back socialising in a near-normal way.
We convene in an orderly manner for one last time for a few final encouraging words from Nick Wayland, founder of TravMedia. We’re all feeling so upbeat about the future—and not just because of the free-pour wine!
All too soon, the tab runs out in the function room, so Christina, Amanda Woods and I move upstairs and sneak a spot at the balcony of Hyatt Regency’s Zephyr Bar. The negroni is much more expensive than the first one in this story, but then look at that view.
It’s been a travel-packed week without a doubt, but also a week full of positivity and progress.
We can’t wait to get moving and bring you more stories from around this beautiful world.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx