Last updated: 01:20 PM ET, Mon April 27 2015

Dispatch: Touring Edinburgh with Travel Leaders

Destination & Tourism | Barry Kaufman | April 27, 2015

Dispatch: Touring Edinburgh with Travel Leaders

PHOTO: A piper performs before the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. (Photos by Barry Kaufman)

I write this from a suite at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. From my window, I can see the Scott Memorial, whose weather-blackened rocket ship design houses sculptures created by one William Brodie. The man who made those sculptures was part of a family that would one day see some of its members move to America, settle down and squire a series of progeny that would one day result in me.

My line traces back to this city, going back more generations than we’ve been able to unearth so far. This is my fourth trip here. I’ve come as a child, brought along on a family vacation. I’ve come here as a college student with pretensions of world-weariness, and it was on this trip that I realized how much a destination can change as you see it at different points in your life.  I’ve come as a young man, sharing a pub crawl, a ghost tour and a night at a youth hostel that all live in equal parts infamy. But I’ve yet to see this wonderful city as an adult.

And furthermore, I’ve yet to see it as someone who works in travel. All those previous visits I was, for lack of a better term, an amateur traveler. So when Travel Leaders announced their annual conference in Edinburgh, I leaped at the chance to come along.

The official business of meeting with Travel Leaders commenced last night, during a lavish opening reception and dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Caledonian. I was able to get a quick peek around the property before dinner – the famed “Peacock Alley” just off the main entrance has been beautifully converted from an old train platform. The platform clock still stands on one wall.

Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in my favorite cities in the world. To parrot ASTA president Roger Block’s deadpan opening quip during dinner that night, “You know, we work in a terrible profession.”

The opening reception was in line with the spirit of Travel Leaders’ International Summit. This annual event is heavy on discovering a destination, and light on official business. That’s not to say nothing gets done.

PHOTO: A piper marches Travel Leaders agency owners into The Castle Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Edinburgh.

Dan Parker owns TravelTours in Maryland, and he’s been attending the International Summit since 2009. For him, it’s not only a great chance to check out a destination, it’s a perfect opportunity to network with fellow agents.

“Everyone’s so specialized, and it’s a nice opportunity to see what everyone does, so if I have a client who needs something really specific, I know exactly who to talk to,” he told me.

For some agents, it’s not just the networking opportunities but the destination that drew them. Angela Hedges Hendricks has owned Bentley Hedges Travel in Oklahoma for 45 years, and this was her first Travel Leaders International Summit.

“I send so much business to Scotland, I really wanted to see it for myself. And Edinburgh is such a close drive to so many destinations around the country,” she told me, noting that her first taste of Scottish culture came from a local Scot who attends several events in kilts. “People tell him, ‘That’s such a cute outfit,’ and he always has to say, ‘It’s not cute and it’s not an outfit. It’s a kilt.’”

Thanks to Travel Leaders, I was able to see this gorgeous city with new eyes. A far cry from the hostel of my previous stay, the Balmoral showed just how far Scottish hospitality can drive the luxury experience. My room was exquisite, the entire vibe of the hotel is first class all the way, and the helpful concierges were invaluable in everything from locating a Bureau de Change to tracking down a sport coat for anyone who, theoretically, forgot to pack one.

PHOTO: Beautiful and ancient Edinburgh Castle. 

And a far cry from the pub crawls of my previous youthful visit, I was fortunate enough to join Rabbie Tours for a for a two-day journey through everything Scotland.

From Sterling Castle and Glengoyne Distillery to an enlightening trip through the Kenloch-Anderson kilt factory, Travel Leaders agents were able to see the best that Scotland has to offer. And I was lucky enough to come along.

Over my next few dispatches, I’ll share everything we saw and even impart a few helpful tips on the correct wearing of a rented kilt. (HINT: Yes, you need underwear).

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