19th June 2011
I arrived early Thursday morning in Vilnius the capital of Lithuania for the annual AITO conference. AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) events like this provide me with the opportunity for networking so I can meet our competitors, other UK tour operators, journalists and our industry suppliers such as our Travel and General who provide our bespoke Travel Insurance for our customers.
Being a member of AITO means we must comply with the highest standards of consumer protection. Quite simply, if an AITO operator goes out of business for any reason, you will either receive a full refund or will be able to complete your holiday as planned, with repatriation arranged at the end of your holiday. You will not be required to pay anything else and all arrangements will be made on your behalf. This is the security offered by financial protection. So when you book with us you know your money is safe.
Also, every year we must show AITO our holiday satisfaction questionnaires which have been completed by clients after their holiday. AITO can then check the quality of our client feedback and make sure its members are delivering quality holidays. AITO is also very active in responsible tourism and we have been awarded their 5 star responsible tourism award.
The old town of Vilnius where I was staying was only a 15 minute drive from the airport and I was pleasantly surprised as my journey took me through charming streets and tree lined avenues rather than Russian built tower blocks as I had naively expected. Then we arrived in the picturesque old town, where my hotel was located. This again was full of delightful cobbled narrow streets and lovely old buildings and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
I stayed at the elegant five star Relais and Chateaux Stikliai hotel, which is a converted house with a grand wooden door you walk through to enter the hotel. It is surrounded by gothic features, iconic paintings and a wonderful courtyard which is also the restaurant.
I spent the next two days meeting existing and potential AITO specialist Travel Agents, talking business with other travel directors, attending seminars and listening to various industry experts discussing how they run their companies. I then spent some time considering what is relevant to Wild Frontiers and how I can utilise some of this information in the day to day running our business.
In the evening we were introduced to the local delicacies of Vilnius such as Vedarai (potato sausage) and Wild Boar which was surprisingly good, and then visited a few bars in to the early hours with my fellow delegates.
Would Lithuania work as a holiday destination for Wild Frontiers – well it would be hard to say as I only visited Vilnius very briefly, and from the country itineraries I have looked at it doesn’t inspire me enough to feature this as a destination for Wild Frontiers. However, the people were so friendly, and considering the perfectly adequate infrastructure, such as hotels, transport, direct flights etc, it definitely makes a great destination for a city break.
You can spend your time visiting the cathedrals, museums, taking guided tours through the old town, drinking coffee in the main square and you can even take a balloon flight with its launch site in the city centre. This is apparently the only place in the world where it can be done.
Time flew by. The longer I stayed the more I liked the feel of Vilnius and its people. Before I knew it after three hours sleep I was getting up for the 6am Wizz Air flight to Luton. Then the train home to Putney, just in time for Father’s Day!