Meet the Boss: Sam Clark, Experience Travel Group

April 8th, 2014

Sam Clark family photo

In our latest Meet the Boss interview, we talk to Sam Clark, co-founder of Experience Travel Group, a tour operator specialising in authentic travel experiences in Asia. We recommend the company’s holidays to Sri Lanka.

Q. Please tell us about a great holiday memory from your childhood.

My strongest holiday memory from childhood was a visit to the Orkney Islands. We stayed with some friends of my parents. They lived in a crumbling mansion with only a small part of one wing still (just) habitable. The journey to get there, the catacombs and the general otherworldly atmosphere really must have blown my mind as I remember it so vividly. I must go back.

Q. What three items are always found in your hand luggage?

The Economist magazine is essential reading for waiting around and take-off, a fleece keeps me warm and a book for when I get through the magazine.

Q. If you could spend next weekend anywhere in the world, where would you go, and why?

It’s got to be Hanoi. It’s my favourite city I think because it’s what I imagined an Asian city would be like, before I had ever been to Asia – if that makes any sense! The winding alleys, the ad hoc upwards development, the constant stream of bikes – life generally going on all around you. On top of that more recently it has become a hub for some very interesting Vietnamese artistic projects and also has one of the best museums in Asia – the Museum of Ethnology. Most importantly though, we have an unbelievably great street food tour, run by a couple of food bloggers – and Hanoi street food is the best in the world.

Q. Please tell us about a particularly challenging booking your company has handled.

We had a Brazilian chap who insisted on seeing six main sites in Sri Lanka within five days as part of a round the world trip. Money was no object, but even so the logistics were a nightmare. The laid back “it will be alright in the end” attitude in Sri Lanka made the kind of military logistics necessary tricky to pin down. However, it worked out in the end…

We had a lot of fun recently putting together a holiday in Cambodia for a guest who has travelled with us three times already and is a very keen railway enthusiast. Apart from wanting to enjoy the holiday, see the famous sites and enjoy the experiences we would do as a matter of course: he had a specific set of obscure train engines and works he was determined to see. Our local partners had to wade through a fair amount of bureaucracy.

Q. What has been your most enjoyable holiday in recent years?

This year I took the family to Sri Lanka for a wedding and we had a brilliantly relaxing holiday – the kids particularly enjoyed living in the jungle for a few days in The Mudhouse and then we stayed in a lovely tea estate near Kandy called Rosyth.

Q. And what has been your all-time worst holiday experience?

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad holiday experience! I doubt I’d be in this industry if I had – I love going to different places too much. I guess my wife might point to a few times I’ve turned a supposed holiday into a work trip…

Q. What luxury would you take to your desert island?

I’d take a book such as Middlemarch or War and Peace which bears a lot of re-reading.

Q. What one thing would most improve people’s overall holiday experience?

I think that an element of doing something you wouldn’t normally do is essential to any really good holiday experience. There is a liberation in travel which generally comes from that I think. I took my father in law from New Zealand on a food tour in Bangkok and it was something he would never have done on his own. He didn’t even really like spicy food beforehand. However, he absolutely loved it and I watched him become increasingly exhilarated by the thrill of discovery.

It is very personal what that might be – for some it might be an overnight sleeping on a rock (to keep safe from elephants) in the middle of nowhere in rural Lanka as one of our clients did recently, for others it might be exploring Saigon on the bike of a Vespa motorbike or getting up early to see the birds at sunrise or a particularly luxurious hotel. I think it’s this kind of experience, different from the norm that you’ll take away from a holiday as lasting memories.

Q. Tell us your favourite hotel – one for business, one for pleasure.

My favourite hotel for business is a bit of a guilty pleasure: the Intercontinental Saigon. At Experience Travel Group we generally prefer small characterful hotels to chains such as the Intercontinental. However, on business, I appreciate the fact that everything is ultra-comfortable and works exactly as it should do, the wifi is fast and free, the breakfasts are amazing (particularly the Japanese food) and it’s right in the centre of town.

For pleasure, it would depend on the moment – but if I have to choose one, I’d probably go for Horathapola Coconut Estate in Sri Lanka. It’s a gorgeous hotel: luxurious, comfortable and understated.

Q. What is the most exciting project your company is working on right now?

We’ve just appointed a ‘Local Experience Manager’ in Sri Lanka who will be responsible for strengthening our local experiences. We think we already offer some of the most unique experiences available in Sri Lanka – but we want to tighten up the more general experiences. For example, once the ‘low season’ starts, we will embark on a project to train local guides in Jaffna to work alongside our more generalist chauffeur guides. Employing these guides will enable our guests to enjoy a fuller experience at these incredible sites and allow our guests to get a better feel for the local story. To my knowledge, this is the first time this has been attempted in Sri Lanka and I think the results could be really exciting.

Thanks, Sam.

Deal of the Day: save over £300 on ten day Galapagos adventure

April 8th, 2014

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Holiday details: travel for ten days to the Galapagos with Intrepid Travel. Snorkel amongst quirky creatures including white-tipped reef sharks, sea lions and rays, learn about the history and conservation of the archipelago at the Chares Darwin Research Station and chill out on Espumilla Beach.

Price: from £2,104 per person (a saving of £359 pp) including seven nights aboard a motorised yacht and two nights’ hotel accommodation, all breakfasts, seven lunches and seven dinners (trip kitty of US$110 payable locally for national park fees), a naturalist guide in the Galapagos and local representative in Quito, most activities and transport including domestic flights. Intrepid can also arrange international flights.

Date: departing 4 May 2014.

Book with: Intrepid Travel or call 0844 4998 487.

Deal of the Day: save 19% on a week in Mediterranean

April 7th, 2014

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Holiday details: stay for seven nights at the four-star Hotel Costa dei Fiori, Sardinia. Relax overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from the hotel’s pool, or take advantage of one of the many activities on offer, ranging from horse riding and mountain biking, to the nearby scuba diving school.

Price: from £969 per person (a saving of £220 pp) based on two adults sharing a Bouganvillea Classic Twin/Double room for seven nights, on a bed and breakfast basis including private transfers and return flights from London Gatwick.

Date: departing 17 July 2014.

Book with: Classic Collection or call 0800 294 9315.

Deal of the Day: three nights for the price of two in Paris

April 4th, 2014

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Holiday details: stay for three nights for the price of two at the three-star La Ville Bohème in Paris. Decorated in a contemporary and bohemian style, with only 23 rooms, this quiet hotel is within walking distance of Le Moulin Rouge, Le Sacré Coeur and the Montmartre area.

Price: three nights from £224 per person (third night free) based on two sharing a standard room with breakfast and return travel by Eurostar.

Date: valid for stays completed between 16 July and 31 August (arrival any day).

Book with: Great Escapes or call 0845 330 2089.

Deal of the Day: stay in Suffolk for a Wentworth Spring Break

April 3rd, 2014

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Holiday details: take a break to the beautiful Suffolk coast and stay at The Wentworth in Aldeburgh. This independent hotel has recently been refurbished and has all the charm of a ‘country house hotel by the sea.’

Price: from £165 per room including a full english and an evening meal for two sharing a double room including complimentary tea and walking map.

Date: 5 April – 29 May 2014.

Book with: The Wentworth, Aldeburgh or call 01728 452 312 and quote ‘Wentworth Spring Break’

Deal of the Day: save £300 on a week skiing in Austria

April 2nd, 2014

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Holiday details: stay for 7 nights at the Chalet Alpenheim, in the ski resort of St Anton, Austria. Ski to and from the door of the chalet, which is located just three minutes walk from the centre of town.

Price: from £499 per person (a saving of £300 pp) on an all inclusive bases, including return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Flights are also available from Manchester (+£39).

Date: 12 April 2014.

Book with: Inghams or call 01483 791 114



Best travel blog posts in March 2014

April 1st, 2014

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Ben GreenBy Ben Green

Have you ever wanted to wash an elephant? You may do once you’ve read Audrey Bergner’s post A day spent feeding, bathing, and marvelling at Elephants from her blog That Backpacker. “With buckets in hand, we stepped into the shallow water, where we splashed around while the elephants gingerly munched on watermelons,” she writers about her experience in Thailand (pictured above). However, though tourists may visit, Audrey’s blog explains that whilst you get to spend time in close proximity to the elephants, this is primarily a rescue centre and a sanctuary where the majority of animals housed here have tragic pasts. You can follow Audrey @thatbackpacker.

Bhutan (pictured below) is not a regular destination for many travellers, so the post Bhutan: The Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery from the Traveling Solemates blog stood out. As the post explains: “Tiger’s Nest Monastery is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, making it the most sacred monastery in the country. Precariously perched high up on a sheer cliff a dizzying 10,000 feet above sea level … it has the most stunning and fascinating location.” You can follow Marisol and Keith @tsolemates.

Route 66 is one of the road trips I plan to take one day, so I was interested to come across the post Getting our kicks, on Route 66 from photographer James Tarry on his travel blog, that sits within his photography site. As you might expect, it is the photographs of the well-worn route that are of particular interest, as are the shots from Death Valley: Ghost Town, a post that comes later in the blog. As James says of the journey, “it’s historical, beautiful, sometimes sad but still one of the greatest drives ever.”  You can follow James @JT__photography.

You may not want to read the final recommendation this month unless you have eaten recently. The post A Tapas Tour of Barcelona by Katie Collins from her blog An Unfamiliar Sky is a visual feast and Katie’s plan of “nibbling my way around the city on a self-guided tapas tour” is a good suggestion for any visitor to the city. The post covers five locations around Barcelona, notable for the fact that they are not venues catering to tourists, so you’ll need some Spanish (or Catalan) and a very good appetite. You can follow Katie @katieecollins.


About our writer

Ben Green is a frustrated traveller, who has been to some beautiful places but only seen 20% of the world so far. Based in the Cotswolds with his wife and children, Ben recently started blogging at Hand Baggage Only and is also a freelance photographer, marketing and communications consultant. Through work and pleasure Ben has stayed at several hotels and since September 2009 has reviewed more than 120 of them on TripAdvisor.

Deal of the Day: save £220 on 10 nights in Cuba

April 1st, 2014

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Holiday details: stay for 10 nights in Havana, Cuban on the Malecon seafront.

Price: £1,199 per person (a saving of £223 pp) a three night stay at the four star Melia Cohiba in Havana on a bed and breakfast basis, followed by a week at the four star Melia Varadero in Varadero on an all inclusive basis. Transfers and return international flights from London Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic are also included.

Date: 5 May 2014.

Book with: Hayes and Jarvis or call 01293 735 831


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