Interview with Philip Hamilton-Grierson, Marketing Director at Cox & Kings

Philip has worked at Cox & Kings since 1993. Having travelled extensively in South America, Africa and Europe, both before and after University (Edinburgh), he had caught a severe case of the travel bug and he joined the company as a Latin America tour consultant. He was only supposed to be there as a two-week cover for someone on leave, but something must have clicked, because he’s still here over 17 years on. Three years later he moved into the in-house PR role at the company, before getting involved in wider marketing activities such as brochure production etc. He eventually became the Marketing Director in 2003.

What is it that you do exactly?

Essentially, I oversee all of Cox & Kings’ marketing. This includes a wide variety of promotional activities, from traditional brochures and press advertising, to direct marketing, including the Cox & Kings travel magazine, “Compass”; public relations; sponsorships; third-party affiliations; sales through travel agents; and, ever-increasingly, the online promotion through the website, search engine optimisation, paid search, blogging, emails, social media et al. There are twelve of us in the team, and we have specialists working on all these activities, so my role is to keep an eye on the whole lot. Inevitably, this involves a lot of meetings and discussions with the various members of the team, other Cox & Kings departments, outside agencies who support us and organisations we are running joint promotions with. Just to add to the variety, as a director I also get involved in many aspects of the business that are nothing to do with marketing. I am actually married to another of the directors at Cox & Kings, and we live within 20 minutes’ walk of the office, so the day starts with a pleasant stroll, during which we often chat about what’s going on at work. At the end of the working day, on the way home we tend to be pretty good at leaving work behind and looking forward to the evening ahead.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Having worked so long and exclusively for one company my work is far more than just a job for me. I feel part of the fabric of Cox & Kings and the company is part of my fabric. This means that I feel the ups and downs of the company’s fortune quite profoundly. When things go well the satisfaction is great – equally, when things go less well I really feel it. I particularly enjoy it when a new marketing initiative is well received or, more importantly, generates new business. We employ some really good (in all senses) and mutually supportive people at Cox & Kings, and the relaxed-but-professional working culture we have developed is also a source of great pleasure

What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?

Devi Garh, nr Udaipur: The north west Indian state of Rajasthan is choc-a-block with fantasy hotels, converted from old forts and palaces, or created from scratch in a pastiche of regal glory. Devi Garh is the ultimate heritage property. Arriving through the grandest of gates into a manicured formal garden, the hotel, perched on a hill in countryside near Udaipur, looms large above you with its glorious exterior of cupolas, terraces and balconies. Its interiors are far less intricate – here, marble clad minimalism combines clean-cut modernity with old Indian motifs. The whole is very stylish. The views are stunning, the food exquisite and the service faultless.

Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka: Ceylon Tea Trails is a collection of four former planters’ bungalows dotted about a steep-sided valley that leads up from the loch-like Castlereagh Reservoir in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. All around is swathed in rows of bright green waist-high tea bushes. Our bungalow had just five beautifully furnished rooms, all with a distinctly 1920s feel. The same spirit is carried onto the verandah, where meals are served by the friendliest staff while one overlooks the neatly kept garden, croquet lawn and beyond to the lake. The meals are delicious, with a mix of traditional Sri Lankan curries and traditional English dishes, and a proper tea is served in the afternoon, including cakes and scones. Why did I love Tea Trails so much? It’s hard to my finger on it, but I do know that it was perfectly relaxing and its simple pleasures and majestic surroundings chimed with me and I’d go back like a shot.

The Observatory, Sydney: The Observatory is my favourite city hotel. The first thing it gets right is its location on a quiet road within walking distance of the Rocks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the main harbour attractions. The rooms offer views out onto the harbour. It’s not a stuffy or pompous hotel, nor is it particularly buzzy, but it is run with great attention to detail and created with a lovely eye for design.

What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?

L’Eau Vive in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: Travelling through the semi-desert Sahel region of West Africa, gastronomic delights are few and far between. Indeed the night before this meal, I was chewing on some species of squirrel on a stick caught for us by some young goat herds and charred over a camp fire in the middle of nowhere. It maybe as a result of this that the dinner I had at L’Eau Vive in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, lives on in my memory almost twenty years later. The restaurant, which is still going today, is run by Catholic nuns. Sitting under the stars in a peaceful courtyard, tucked away from the fumes and noise outside, the food was very and wonderfully French. I still remember that I started with a delicious cervelle de veau (calf’s brain) and followed it with a beautifully cooked steak. Then, to accompany dessert, one of the beautiful young nun started strumming a guitar and the other nuns broke into an exquisite rendition of Ave Maria. The diners were all given word sheets and encouraged to join in. A quite unexpected and truly magical end to a surprisingly delicious dinner, in the kind of city you don’t find yourself in very often.

Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?

I was doing the PR for Cox & Kings at a time when holiday programmes were still a mainstay of prime-time telly, with shows such as BBC’s Holiday and ITV’s Wish you Were Here? So, I accompanied a few filming trips, with the likes of Caroline Quentin in Belize, Les Dennis & Amanda Holden when they were a couple in Argentina, and the late Paula Yates in Sri Lanka. On another trip, whilst dining in Devi Garh (see favourite hotels above) my wife and I encountered Eric Cantona at the neighbouring table over dinner and years ago I was introduced (excruciatingly as a ‘fellow VIP’) to Henry Kissinger at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. Cox & Kings has arranged holidays for many well-known personalities, but we’re much too discreet to say who and where I’m afraid.

What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

Having had the wonderful experience of encountering mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild in central Africa, I would love to explore Borneo or Sumatra in search of orang utans. In terms of kit, I have never found a sunhat that packs up small, keeps its shape and that doesn’t either make me look like the village idiot or the archetypal British colonialist abroad.

Thank you for taking part in our interview series, Philip, and good luck in your quest to get to Borneo or Sumatra.

If you would like to be interviewed on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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