I met Chris in my first week of Uni (too many years ago now!) when we were both fresh faced, had an innocent zest for life and ready to take on the world. We’re still exactly like that we just have fresh faces with slightly more wrinkles! Keeping in touch now mainly via social media it was Chris’s frequently updated stunning Facebook pics that prompted me to see if he’d be kind enough to share his luxury travel insights, his experiences of Canada and his love for New Zealand with us. And I’m pleased to say he has been kind enough to do just that.
Let me officially introduce Chris. Chris Allison has worked in the travel industry for 12 years and is currently the Sales and Marketing Manager Canada for Air New Zealand. A country renowned for its spectacular and varying landscapes and one that remains under explored by the TLE curators so we were keen to learn more.
What attracted you to a career in the travel sector?
Travel is always something that has been in my genes (quite literally I think!) I come from international parents with my Dad being Scottish and my mum being from New Zealand, so I think there has always been a fascination with other countries and cultures as a result. My childhood ambitions were to become an airline pilot, right from as long as I can remember so I was probabaly destined to be in the industry in some shape or form. Whilst at University I took a part time job in British Airways’ call centre and from that point I was hooked!
Is it as glamorous and as exciting as everyone thinks?
Glamorous I would probably not use to describe, but fun absolutely yes. I am sure anyone you talk to that works in travel will tell you the same. It’s a very diverse industry which is impacted by so many factors which defiantly makes things interesting and challenging. The fun comes from the people, both in the industry that you work with who you deal with. Who doesn’t get excited about their holiday right?
You’ve worked in the sector for over and decade and must have seen some significant changes over the years. What are your predictions for the future of luxury air travel over the next 5 – 10 years?
Wow, so much has happened over the past few years and I think much more is to come. Overall I think there is a huge move towards personalisation. This is happening at quite a rapid pace in the retail sector, for you Amazon shoppers out there just think about how they offer up suggested items every time you log in. The travel sector is a little behind generally, but customers are demanding it and it’s a great way for brands to differentiate, particularly when charging a premium for their services. In terms of Air Travel, I would like to think the next few years would bring about another innovation in product. We have seen many things over the past few years – advent of Premium Economy, Lie Flat Beds in Business Class and more recently, innovations like Economy Skycouch from Air New Zealand and the recently announced ‘Residence’ from Etihad.
How often do you travel for work purposes? And for leisure purposes?
Since moving to Canada my travel patterns have changed rapidly by nature of job and geography. I really didn’t appreciate how big it was. It takes 6-7 hours to fly from one side to the other. Quite mind boggling when 7 hours flight from London can get you across the Atlantic and half way to Asia! I have been on a plane practically every week for the past few months. Most frequently to Los Angles but also across Canada to Toronto and Montreal and down to Head Office in Auckland a couple of times too. I am actually taking my first proper break for holiday as I write this. I have been home in the UK for a few days and am currently at 35,000 feet heading back to Vancouver.
If you had to live out the rest of your days in one town / country where would it be and why?
Whilst it is such a cliché, there really is no place like home. Whilst I was born and raised in Scotland, most of my adult life has been in England and a good chunk of that in London so based on my experiences so far that would be where I would pick. I find it has everything you would want and if you ever say you get bored in London then you simply need to get out more! And being in the doorstep of Europe is such a draw card for me – very easy to escape to the sun during the winter.
Where have you not yet visited that you’d love to and why?
So many places! Top of my list are South Africa and South America – both continents I have not yet been to. South Africa has always interested me particularly from a nature perspective (we all remember the BBC series ‘Africa’ and if you haven’t seen it I would recommend it!) and the history I find fascinating. So many different types of experiences and best of all no jet lag going there. And South America really appeals to the culture vulture in me.
You’re currently based in Vancouver? How are you finding life over there and any luxury gems you’d like to share with potential visitors?
Vancouver – well what can I say? What a fantastic city. I made a brave decision before deciding to move out here as I hadn’t actually stepped foot in the country with the exception of a brief transit through Vancouver on the way back to London from New Zealand last year. Not something I would normally do but all of the places that all of my friends have been to; Vancouver was always reviewed consistently well, in fact I hadn’t heard any negatives. So I knew I was off to a good start. I had a brief trip out here in January before moving out properly and I knew why. I was instantly captured by its vibrancy and energy, but at the same time it also has a very laid back pace. Something I was not expecting. The mountain backdrop is just stunning and the locals are extremely friendly. The city is very outdoors orientated for the summer which I love – the seawall is a magnet for walkers, cyclers, roller bladders and runners (like me!) I would thoroughly recommend a visit to anyone at any time of the year. Winter is great for skiing (Whistler is only couple of hours drive north) and summer just bursts with things to do, particularly for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.
As for my luxury gems – lots for me yet to discover but a couple of picks for me right now: Rooftop bar at the Hotel Vancouver. This is only open until November whilst they refurbish the main bar area but cocktail and great city view await on the 15th floor. Also – dinner on Grouse Mountain. There is a restaurant open in the evenings which offers stunning city views from its peak location.
So to the nitty gritty; please tell us more about your experience of New Zealand?
You know I have been extremely fortunate to have spent a lot of time on New Zealand over the years and have got to see most of the country as far South as Dunedin and as far north as the Bay of Islands. It’s not hard to see why Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as the location for Middle-earth. The country has so much diversity in its landscape; it’s quite breath-taking really. But New Zealand has way more to offer than it’s stunning and diverse scenery.
The Kiwis I find have a really refreshing outlook (prob born from being a small country almost literally at the end of the earth) and this really adds the experience you want and choose to have. The country really does have it all. One of the things I enjoy most about New Zealand is being out on the water. The Bay of Islands in the north is an amazing location and one of my favourite spots up there is a little village called Russel. Great little cafes and bars there – very easy to watch the world pass you buy whilst watching the sun glistening on the water and listening to the waves quietly lap the shoreline.
Back down the country is a must, if you are spending any time in Auckland, is to spend some time on Waiheke Island. Very easy to get round by bicycle and is only about a 50 min ferry ride from central Auckland. What’s great about it is its microclimate – usually 2-3 degrees warmer than Auckland. There are some great secluded beaches there and also has some fantastic vineyards. Mudbrick is my favourite; the restaurant there is amazing and offers spectacular views back across the harbour to Auckland city.
Despite being the largest city by far in New Zealand my favourite city is actually the capital Wellington. Its intimacy gives it’s a nice vibrancy and energy which I really like. The South Island provides quite a different contrast. One of my favourite areas is Nelson and the Abel Tasman. And for those of you that are thinking of a visit, you must drive out to Kaiteriteri Beach. Probably one of the nicest beaches that I have been to. The drive down the east coast to Christchurch is well worth the time. Whale watching at Kaikora is a great way to break the journey or if for a more leisurely pace, I can recommend a stay at Hanmer Springs – some amazing spa’s there to help re-charge the batteries.
My absolute favourite place in New Zealand though has to be Queenstown. The drive or flight from Christchurch are both equally beautiful, but if you can afford the time then you must drive across. It takes a good few hours but amongst a lot of other things the crystal blue glacial lakes are very much worth seeing. I have had the great fortune to visit Queenstown in both Summer and Winter. In the winter it’s a winter sports haven and in the summer an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. The lake side setting is stunning and there is so much to see and do – you can go as hard or a relaxing as you like. It’s a great place to do some skydiving or take a flight up over a glacier to pick out a couple of things. And although I haven’t yet taken the leap of faith it’s the perfect place to do a Bungee Jump – after all Queenstown is its home!
Final Recommendations: These are the absolute must do’s!
Must go: (place / town / city)
Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the North Island. It’s often a forgotten corner as it’s not on the usual tourist trail. The main centre, Napier is renowned for its collection of Art Deco buildings which gives it quite a quirky feel. On top of that the region has the most hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country and has some of the best Vineyards in New Zealand (in my opinion!)
Any of the lodges dotted around the country. Huka Lodge in Taupo is probably the most well known but I also love the Hawkes Bay which also has come great lodges and amazing Golf Courses too – not to mention some pretty fantastic Vineyards.
Must try: (activity or experience)
New Zealand has a strong sailing tradition so a must is any type of sailing experience. My top pick is the Americas Cup Yacht experience on Auckland Harbour. My other top pic for activity is the Trans Alpine express from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west.
Wine – and lots of it! New Zealand has a world reputation for its Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noir but there are other varieties coming out of the country that are very much growing on my palette – Syrah and Pinot Gris get my pick but there are lots of blends out there that are worth a drop too.
Not very luxury but you can’t beat Fish and Chips on the beach!
A big thank you to Chris Allison, Sales and Marketing Manager Canada at Air New Zealand