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Business and pleasure

27 Mar 08

If travelling for work had nothing to offer but airports and international offices, we wouldn't do it. Gary Atkinson looks at the leisure attractions that can make the difference to a trip overseas

by Gary Atkinson

Best for bringing your other half: Cosmopolitanism, shopping, a 24-hour city

New York>

One of the most metropolitan of the metropolises, New York offers the quintessential backdrop to activities inspired by the big and small screen. After some cocktails in cosmopolitan Greenwich Village, squint and you and your partner could almost be in Sex and the City. Or, bring your breakfast for some window-shopping at Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue.

Try a tour through Central Park on that most romantic mode of transport – a horse-drawn carriage – for about $34 (£17) for a 20-minute ride.

The Statue of Liberty offers an awesome perspective. You can climb it or see it from the Staten Island ferry. During the warmer months, you can watch a classic movie outdoors with a meal at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. Alternatively, reduced-price tickets for Broadway can be bought at a booth in Times Square, itself a must-see for the crowds, the buzz and the lights.

Stay there: The Bryant Park Hotel (www.bryantparkhotel.com), near Times Square. Prices start from £150 a night. Dream New York Hotel close to Madison Avenue costs from around £215 a night. (www.dreamny.com)

Fly with: Aer Lingus direct from Edinburgh to New York’s JFK Airport from about £200 return.

Dubai>

The attractions of Dubai include beaches, shopping and the mix of high glamour and desert culture. Make no mistake, this city is hot, and it offers a range of beaches – oh, and a dry ski slope at the Mall of the Emirates to give your sweat-glands a rest. The mall, and the other indoor air-conditioned shopping centres make shopping such an important pastime in the city that there is a Dubai Shopping Festival every year.

Half the fun of the shopping experience in the city is the souks where you can hone your bartering skills. Appropriately for a place that sprang from a desert, there is camel-racing at the edge of the city. Or there are desert safaris, which could culminate in an Arab barbecue under the stars, accompanied by music and belly dancing.

Stay there: At the very top of the scale is the Burj al-Arab Hotel, the palatial sail-shaped structure that is one of the city’s main landmarks. A night there could set you back more than £900. Alternatively, try the boutique hotel Fusion – prices start from £75 a night. (www.fusionhotels.com)

Fly with: Emirates direct from Heathrow from about £380 return, or from Glasgow from around £500 return.

Hong Kong>

The beauty of Hong Kong is its variety – things to do, places to see and what to take home. Just walking the streets, at any time of day or night, you can feel the pulse of a city that doesn’t sleep. The nightlife is good, but there is plenty to tire you during the day. You can shop in districts dedicated to certain inexpensive goods, such as electronics, and at malls.

Or visit attractions that are the opposite of a modern bustling city. For example, the Tai O fishing village is a stilt house community not too far west of Hong Kong Island. You can hire traditional junk boats to visit other outlying islands. On land, you are close to some great countryside for an inspiring hike.

You’re never far from a tasty morsel, from street vendors to classy restaurants. And the food markets are almost a theatre in their own right.

Stay there: Prices at Kowloon Island’s colonial-style Peninsula (www.peninsula.com) start from around £250 a night.

Or, go to the Shangri-La (www.shangri-la.com), towering in the heart of the city for around £220 a night.

Fly with: Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow from around £510 return.


Best for culture: Mona Lisa, Smetana and Dvorak, Shakespeare

Paris>

If you are ever to tap into the romantic, the poet, the artist or the philosopher within you, then Paris is surely the place to do it. And where plenty have trodden with such aspirations, there is a rich vein of culture – best collected in museums and the city is certainly very well served with them.

Of course, the most famous is the Louvre, where you need some pretty comfy shoes to pad through the vast collections, from Egyptian antiquities to that most renowned of paintings, Mona Lisa. The Louvre, like many of the city’s museums, is an architectural attraction in its own right. The Musée d’Orsay was a railway station until 1939, and boasts a cavernous glass-covered space, with collections spanning 1848 to 1914. And, not to forget the Centre Georges Pompidou, with colourful industrial pipes snaking across its façade, marking this as the home of modern and contemporary culture.

For an unrivalled vantage point across the city, or some spiritual nourishment, it is worth visiting the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

Stay there: L’Hotel where Oscar Wilde famously expired (www.l-hotel.com). Rooms in the stylish boutique hotel cost from about £260 a night. Hotel Saint Thomas D’Aquin (www.aquin-paris-hotel.com), a short stroll from the Musée d’Orsay, has rooms from around £90 a night.

Fly with: EasyJet direct from Edinburgh to Charles De Gaulle Airport from around £70 return.

Prague>

Prague was once described as a “symphony in stone” for its architecture – but it also draws the crowds for other reasons. When it comes to music, classical and jazz dominate.

There are numerous internationally renowned classical festivals dedicated to the works of Smetana, Dvorak and Janacek among others – and there is always a steady stream of inexpensive concerts daily. Municipal House and Rudolfinum are the two main venues – both great examples of the city’s historic architecture, untouched by past conflicts, unlike many others in Europe. There is a range of jazz festivals using venues such as the AghaRTA and Ungelt Jazz and Blues Clubs, which also host talent outside the festivals, seven days a week.

A speciality of Prague is the Black Light Theatre at the Theatre Metro, which uses dance, mime and acrobatics, rather than language to communicate. Performances rely on visual illusions against a black background with fluorescent costumes and props bathed in black UV light. Opera that won’t drain the wallet is also a big attraction, as are theatres, concert halls, galleries, museums and exhibition spaces.

Stay there: Hotel Josef near the old Jewish Quarter. The pink and orange houses of the hotel have very modern rooms from around £110 a night. Or enjoy some belle epoch architecture at Hotel Le Palais from around £270 a night. (www.hoteljosef.com) Fly with: Jet2 from Edinburgh from around £100 return.

London>

Given that London is a melting pot of ethnicities, it is no wonder that culture in the capital is a rich tapestry. You could live there for years without scratching the surface, such is the diversity on offer.

For history buffs there is a great range of museums, including the British Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum. Then there is the design museum that puts much of what we live in, wear and use daily into context. Contemporary art has a warm home, particularly at the huge Tate Modern, a former power station, and an awesome sight. There are also the White Cube, the Saatchi Gallery and the ICA.

The Notting Hill Carnival in August perhaps best reflects the capital’s multiculturalism. When it comes to the performing arts, there is much to offer, and not just in the West End’s big shows. Exhibitions and performances at Shakepeare’s Globe theatre give a glimpse into life in the bard’s day. The Hackney Empire, for example, provides not only theatre, but also concerts, opera and ballet. The options are overwhelming in London – but at least it can exercise your decision-making skills.

Stay there: Base2Stay for some stripped down, but comfortable accommodation in Kensington with rooms from £89 a night.

Or, the boutique Covent Garden Hotel from £225 a night. (www.base2stay.com)

Fly with: EasyJet from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London from as little as £50 return.


Best for golf: Multiple attractions, Costa courses, history of the game

US>

To spend time in the US just golfing, even if you are there for a golfing holiday, misses the point of travelling to the country. Of course, the weather in many places is good, but the vast country gives travellers the chance to “go large” when packing in as many experiences as possible.

Take Florida, one of the country’s more popular states for golf tourists. Not only does it have great courses that have hosted many PGA Tour competitions, it has attractions beyond the fairway. You can’t take a shot without hitting a theme park or organised trip – Orlando has Walt Disney World, if the kids are in tow, try the Universal Studios park; Tampa has Busch Gardens and Palm Beach has tours of the Everglades.

Other destinations of note include Tucson in Arizona, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and Pebble Beach and Pacific Palisades in California. Then there is the hotbed of the brash, unashamed spectacle, and gambling – Las Vegas. There happen to be more than 30 courses in the vicinity of the desert city.

Stay there: The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach California for £290 a night. On the other coast there is the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, endorsed by Arnold Palmer, for as little as £110 a night.

Fly with: United Airlines from London Heathrow to Monterey, close to Pebble Beach, or to Orlando from around £500 return.

Spain>

Spain has a major benefit as a golfing destination, especially to Brits – the weather is fantastic. The only problem is avoiding sunburn on the fairway, and there are plenty of them in the Costas, from Almeria to Dorada.

The real star, however, is the Costa Del Sol. The coastline that stretches 70 miles from Malaga to Gibraltar features more than 30 courses, including the world renowned Valderrama, which played host to the 1997 Ryder Cup. Resorts such as San Roque, Almenara and La Cala are considered by many to be among the best in Europe. The granddaddy of courses in the region, however, is Sotogrande, which opened in 1964. The cosmopolitan centre of this Andalusian golfing paradise also happens to be a playground for the rich and richer – Marbella, which is good for yacht watching at the Puerto Banús marina.

Beyond the costas, there are numerous courses in Cadiz, Fuertaventura, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Murcia and Majorca to suit all handicaps.

Stay there: The La Cala Hotel for as little as £75 a night (in the quiet season). Or, a stay at the Almenara on the Sotogrande estate, close to Valderrama, for as little as £100 a night.

Fly with: Globespan from Edinburgh to Malaga from around £125 return.

Scotland>

When it comes to golf, Scotland is the last word, and the first – the fair sport did originate from the town of St Andrews in about 1400.

The town is still home to one of the greatest and the oldest set of holes – the Old Course – as well as five others.

The Old Course is regularly the home of the Open Championship, and proves to be not just a test for golfers the world over, but also a yardstick against which other courses are judged.

There are more than 550 golf courses in the country. Of those, there is a range of famous links (coastal) courses that sit alongside the Old Course in the hearts of golf enthusiasts – Carnoustie, Turnberry and Royal Dornoch, to name but a few.

There also happens to be stunning countryside in the vicinity of these and most other courses, where you can go for a hike, or spot some wildlife.

Such is the quality of the landscape for the game, that US property tycoon Donald Trump is determined to bring a super golf resort to Aberdeenshire in years to come if planning permission goes his way.

Stay there: The Old Course Golf Resort and Spa in St Andrews for as little as £195 a night. Or, the Westin Turnberry Resort from around £215 a night.

Fly with: CityJet from London City Airport to Dundee Airport, for a visit to St Andrews, from around £150 return. For Turnberry, flights with Ryanair from London Stansted to Prestwick Airport cost from around £45 return.

Bibles and boobs Bogus expenses claims, some for quite outlandish items, are costing UK businesses an estimated £1 billion-plus a year

For the employee who claimed the cost of a batch of Bibles as entertainment expenses, it must have meant a complicated ethical decision about fraud for the greater good. For the one who had been to a strip club, the thought process will have been less complex.

GlobalExpense, the employee expenses service provider, believes workers hoodwink their employers out of up to £1.02 billion a year, with about £350m in fraudulent expense claims plus £671m for ones that fall outside company policy.

The 2008 GlobalExpense Employee Expense Benchmark Report draws on over 4.8m individual expenses claims by more than 100,000 UK employees in the past three years from 140 organisations in the private and public sectors.

According to the report, about 12 per cent of employee expense claims are outside their organisation’s corporate policy, yet only 0.5 per cent are rejected.

Examples of bogus client entertainment claims include a visit to infamous/racy US Restaurant chain, Hooters, in the US and the purchase of 20 Bibles. One chancer submitted his betting slip as a receipt.

Hair-cuts and, curiously, aircraft fuel have also been claimed.

“Companies and organisations are throwing away money,” said David Vine, managing director of GlobalExpense. “Only last month I overheard a group of management consultants at a London hotel discuss how to fiddle their expenses to pay for a round of drinks. It was decided that one would submit a bogus mileage claim.”

The report breaks down expense claims by gender, size of company, industry sector and company department.

The average employee who claims expenses received £1555.28 in 2007, it shows the highest individual claim was £24,000 for eight colleagues to attend a training week.

Women are thriftier than men, making fewer, smaller claims, the report says. Employees in medium sized companies (50-250 employees) are the most frugal, submitting lots of small claims and claiming less overall on average.

Financial services employees are the biggest spenders – nearly a quarter of their claims in 2007 were for hospitality and entertainment, with an average claim of £128.

The second biggest entertainers are from the media and publishing, though the average claim is only about £66.

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