Entrepreneurs are natural-born travellers and Seat 3A takes you along for the globe-trotting ride, delivering travel tips, insights and candid photos from self-made men and women.
Name: Ann Layton
Occupation: President of Siren Communications, Canada’s leading travel and tourism PR agency
Bio: Ann Layton has always worked in travel and tourism, and always loved it. From her first days as the “kertoffellsalat” girl at Hamilton’s Oktoberfest, to waitressing at Jasper Park Lodge, to being a flight attendant at the now legendary and much beloved Wardair Airlines, Layton is always the liveliest woman on the guest list. After a few years working as an au pair in Europe (but mainly surfing) she came home with French and Spanish under her belt and went back to school – finishing up with a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics. She held court for a decade as Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, where she spearheaded one of the first hotel environmental programs in the world. Layton started Siren Communications in 2002 with a used laptop and a phone. Today, Siren proudly represents luxury tourism clients in over 15 countries around the world.
Q: Most visited destination for business
A: The Caribbean.
Q: Local knowledge tip
A: When working in the Caribbean, it is out of sight, out of mind. Learn to be patient when invoicing, and if you don’t get paid, fly down and ask about it in person. Be respectful of local customs and learn that every island is unique and different. “Island time” is a myth – our clients are very businesslike.
Q: DIY vs. travel agent
A: I book my own flights and hotels for the most part. Don’t always trust the big booking engines, do some research. For example, I was recently in Santo Domingo and wanted to go to Buenos Aires. All the big booking sites suggested I backtrack and overnight in Miami. I went south to Panama instead, and then flew down with Copa Airlines on the night flight. It was cheaper, more direct and I saved money on the hotel.
Q: Most impressive airport
A: Tough question. Delhi and Hong Kong are both spectacular, but I have a special attachment to Charles de Gaulle because of the smells of cheese and espresso, the elegant female voice that does the announcements and the fact that those crazy tubes remind me of the cover of I Robot.
Q: Preferred luggage
A: I am addicted to my Benetton carry-on with matching handbag that rests on top. Think about this: since you are not carrying a purse, you always have a hand free to grab your passport, or show your boarding pass without ever fumbling in some overstuffed bag. The suitcase itself fits elegantly under any seat. My flight attendant teacher Charlene used to say, “Ladies it is not as glamorous as you think, except for walking through the airport.” With that in mind, I stand up straight with my one wheelie behind me, with nary an unwieldy shoulder bag in sight.
Q: Preferred airline
A: I just flew Jet Airways to India and loved it. Cathay Pacific Business Class is also wonderful. I recently flew Copa to Argentina and it was a surprise – great little airline. Air Canada has fantastic in-flight programming.
Q: Aisle or window
Q: What three things are on your must-pack-or-will-suffer-a-meltdown list?
A: Swimming goggles, bathing suit, New York Times crossword book.
Q: Jet lag strategy
A: To Europe I have one word for you: Dayliner. To Asia two words: Business Class. But if you are spending the money, be careful to always check with Seatguru.com that your seats are fully lie-flat. I also always travel with melatonin.
Q: Staying in shape on the road
A: I swim 50 laps a day wherever I am in the world. It is not only a great jet lag buster, but it also creates great memories. I can never forget the multicoloured underwater lights that illuminate the rooftop pool at the St. Regis in Bangkok after dark, or the champagne-like bubbles that reflect in the shimmering opalescent tiles in the ozone pool at La Mamounia, Marrakech.
Q: Preferred in-flight activity – i.e. sleep, work, read, watch movies/TV
A: I actually love the in-flight entertainment, especially foreign films and documentaries. I try to get caught up on a long flight with films I would not see elsewhere. Recently I saw the documentary about Ayrton Senna on Iberia, and one about Bobby Fischer on Air Canada. Both were great.
Q: Best hotel bar for networking with other entrepreneurs
A: Right here in Toronto, I use the Shangri-La as my base.
Q: Best hotel for makeshift office options
A: The lobby at the Chateau Lake Louise has these wonderful desks right in front of the windows with sweeping views of the lake and the mountains. In Havana, the lobby of Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a great place to do business. At the Copacabana in Rio, set up shop by their expansive pool, and dive in between emails.
Q: Time & money saving tips
A: Fly direct. All that money you think you are saving by connecting is invariably spent in airport bars waiting around or in hotels when your connection is delayed.
Q: What hotel has truly lived up to the hype?
A: Raffles in Singapore. I stayed in a historic room, and loved just walking around the public spaces. Little things – like the wooden slats in the doors from before the age of air conditioning – reminded me of its long history. Some hotels – and there are only a handful in the world – are truly iconic and Raffles is one.
Q: On the flip side, a hotel that has been a crashing disappointment?
A: Recently I have been really lucky. Or maybe I am just so careful (some would say obsessive) when booking.
Q: Your most amusing or regrettable holiday souvenir
A: I brought back a quite ugly green papier mâché snake – aka the “Goddess of Protection” from New Orleans Mardi Gras a few years ago. Now I am very superstitious about her protecting my house and have to keep her around.
Q: What do you enjoy finding most in a mini-bar?
A: Snickers bars. Feels so wrong it’s right.
Q: Describe your guilty pleasure when traveling
A: Recently in the Four Seasons Denver, I took advantage of their “Burger and a Movie” package which included a milkshake full of Maker’s Mark Bourbon. It was so good I thought I would faint.
Q: What foreign phrase do you most enjoy tossing about?
A: Bonjour chérie!
Q: Brushes with greatness: Most famous or interesting person you have spotted or bantered with on your travels . . .
A: Sitting in India recently at the TAJ Rambagh Palace, my fiancé and I were sipping cocktails, watching the peacocks walk by and feeling all last days of the Raj, when who should sit down beside us but Dame Judi Dench. I now refer to this as my Best Exotic Marigold moment.
Q: Tell us about a great little place you recommend to friends
A: Visit the Silver Point Hotel in Barbados for breakfast, have Caribbean French Toast while you watch the kite surfers!
Q: "I would do almost anything to relive every minute of this hotel stay . . ."
A: For a few years in the 1990’s, I used to stay so much in the Hotel de Crillon that I called it Camp Crillon. The concierges all knew me by name, and the bellhops used to bring me my phone messages on sterling silver trays – it was right out of a Wes Anderson movie (How did they always know where to find me?). I met my French boyfriend in the bar there, had countless croissants there, and drank far too many glasses of champagne in the sunny interior courtyard there. I love that hotel.
Q: Confess to one thing you’ve nicked from your hotel room
A: I keep all the soaps, and store them in a big glass jar in my bathroom at home. It’s amazing how just the smell of the soap can transport you back to the time and place.
Q: Favourite island
A: Barbados is my second home. I did my first ever flight as a Flight Attendant there, and kind of bonded like a baby duck. I have friends there that are like family to me. I have been staying at The Crane Hotel and on the scenic south east coast of Barbados from when it had just 18 rooms. It is the oldest continually operating hotel in the entire Caribbean, and the beach has the softest icing sugar sand and the bluest “can’t believe that’s the real colour” waves in the world. Period.
Q: UNESCO World Heritage Site that blows your mind
A: The Colonial City of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, is such an incredible place. The Cathedral de Santa Maria la Menor was started in 1512 and completed in 1540. Think about this: they had no electricity and no running water, and yet they used limited resources to build a Cathedral as the first order of business! It’s also quite amazing to me that the home of both Cortez and Pizarro are located there. I stay in the Nicolas de Ovando hotel, originally built in 1502 as the home of the first Governor of New Spain. The sense of history in this hotel is extraordinary.
Q: The coolest hotel you’ve ever stayed in
A: Rancho Platon in the Dominican Republic is located a 45-minute jeep ride straight up into the rainforest to a working coffee plantation. All the rooms are totally eco-friendly and some are literally tree houses. My room was built beside a waterfall. Walk out the door; dive into a fresh waterfall. Amazing.
Q: The best spa experience of your life
A: Ananda spa has Ayurvedic treatments that actually make you feel so much better than you can imagine possible, given that you are essentially being beaten by bags of herbs soaked in oil! But it’s the setting that sets Ananda apart – the mountain views, the majestic main house and the sense of history.
Q: A travel themed film that has really moved you
A: I love the train scenes in Some Like it Hot. That movie made train travel seem so sexy.
Q: A beloved travel book, fiction or non-fiction
A: Leo the African, by Amin Maalouf. It tells the story of the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, and manages to bring alive both Spain and Morocco. And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Coffee Tea or Me, the book I read under the covers at our cottage with a flashlight as a kid. That book made me want to be a flight attendant, and the rest is history.