So here was the task: Fresh from what I felt was a phenomenal first ever Connections Luxury at the Four Seasons in Hampshire, the challenge was to produce the second event. Or, as it’s known in the music industry, the rather difficult Second Album.

And so the Conrad Algarve arrived. Myself and the team were onsite from Thursday morning ahead of the formal start on Monday morning. We had already made three different visits to the Conrad to organise things. As you might expect, the energetic pace of the last week in the office swiftly ratchets up a few notches to way past critical as we sit around one of the tables in the Conrad meeting rooms dealing with last minute issues.

The moment delegates are on site it’s time for us to switch into ‘event mode’ and that’s truly when things get totally exciting. It becomes absolutely immersive for me.

We were dealing with the weather constantly. The Algarvian sunshine was simply divine – when it wasn’t being interrupted by ominous clouds. To make things perfectly comfortable, we relocated our welcoming Cocktails (sponsored by Insight) to the delightful indoor pool area. That was a great suggestion from the Conrad team as everyone was able to mingle and sample great food, wine and innovative cocktails!

I kicked things off with the opening keynote on Monday morning. The room was packed with a Who’s Who of international luxury travel. A back-of-a-napkin calculation by one of our buyers put the total luxury travel spend represented in the room into the billions. I’ll defer to their industry knowledge!

I introduced the event and then the Conrad’s General Manager, Joachim Hartl spoke for a few moments. He added his own welcome and was very generous in his support for Connections. Then Rob Sinclair-Barnes of our global technology sponsor, Amadeus, took to the stage for his welcome. He was followed by SpaFinder Wellness 365’s John Bevan who introduced our event topic (wellness) and then we were off!

Our meetings began! Or, I should say, our Connections Experiences began. I was delighted to find the Ballroom almost half empty from the start – because half of the delegates had decided to sample the 15 different experiences we’d laid on thanks to the team from Portugal No Limits. I had to smile when I walked out of the ballroom that Monday morning and found two of the industry’s leading players busy spray-painting their hearts on to a massive freeze, supervised by one of Algarve’s top graffiti artists.

As I watched, I saw one of our classic cars – I think it was the Rolls Royce – arrive back from a jaunt around Quinta do Lago. Two of our delegates had opted to hold their meeting in the back! And then I had to burst out laughing as I saw 6 of our top buyers and suppliers whooshing past on their Segways led by our guide. One of them waved at me with a bright smile and a shriek of delight and they were gone — exploring the coast line at 25mph!

This is what it’s all about for Connections. We work so hard to try to foster an environment where our delegates can relax – away from the stresses of the day job – and where they can feel comfortable – and open enough – to begin forming new (or deeper!) relationships with each other.

We can’t forget the day job though. Which is why we integrated business breaks into the schedule on a regular basis. These were 15-30 minutes to allow everyone to take time out to review emails and make any necessary calls.

Which, by the way, reminds me to say the blanket super-fast WiFi at the Conrad was just brilliant. Exactly what our delegates needed.

Our Connections Keynote Debate raised the roof as delegates were assigned into teams to argue for – or against – the future of Wellness. This was especially exciting to witness as we’d just been treated to some inspiring insights from Alfredo of SHA Wellness and Anna of Six Senses. Watching some of the Wellness industry experts having to debate the opposing view was fascinating – it was all in jest, of course, but an excellent manner in which to appreciate different points of perspective. I must nod my head at our colleague David Benitez who did a super job corralling the crowd for the debates! Congratulations to Richard from Rocco Forte: Backed by an enthusiastically cheering team of buyers and suppliers, he won the 20-second Wellness debate challenge. The winner was judged by our entirely impartial audio visual crew (thank you Mike and Dan!).

On the first evening we surprised everyone by taking them to the Conrad’s car park, supported by Turismo do Portugal. How many of you, I asked during my speech, have had a three course meal in a car park? The Conrad’s car park is arrayed with dozens of spectacular graffiti art works. We’d also placed our classic cars – lit up beautifully – around the dozen or so tables as well as a stage. One of Algarve’s top local bands entertained us with fantastic tunes and we surprised the delegates with a rather energetic street dance crew!

Ewan MacLeod, our technology expert, had the delegates on their feet minutes into his keynote as he led everyone to the front reception of the Conrad where we all watched Greg from travel film experts, Travizeo, give a drone masterclass. We managed to get everyone out at the front of the Conrad and Greg took a ‘Drone Selfie’ of us all.

Back seated, Ewan then wowed us with some wearable discussion, before taking things to another level by going into detail about something we’d never come across before: Injectables! You heard it hear first! We heard all about the Apple Watch, we had a brief debate and then it was straight into the Group Experience.

Ewan came off stage and woosh, up walked Andrew McGie, Executive Chef of the Conrad Algarve. Equipped with a camera strapped to his chest, Andrew demonstrated how to make a local Cataplana dish.

“Pay attention,” instructed Andrew, “As you’ll be doing this shortly!”

That’s right – we put our delegates into groups and they all made their own lunch! Delicious!
There was time to pack in a few more meetings before we finished proceedings in style at with a farewell dinner at nearby Quinta do Lago in what turned out to be a lovely calm evening.

What a super, super time it was. I didn’t want it to end!

Onwards and upwards though. We now have quite a challenge on our hands: We need to trump this event! We’re off to Abu Dhabi next (followed by Beijing) although we have got a few months to prepare.

Thank you to everyone: Thank you to Joachim and his magnificent team on site at the Conrad Algarve. Thank you to our sponsors, our partners and the Connections team. Finally thank you to our buyers and suppliers – you made it such a special event!

If you’d like to be at either – or both events – please make sure you reserve your spot early as we’re getting booked up already!

The Connections team are ready to welcome you!