May 15, 2011
On Site: Travel Agent Arrives in Turkey
|A guestroom at the Moevenpick Hotel Izmir // (c) Moevenpick Hotels and Resorts 2011|
IZMIR, TURKEY—Travel Agent just arrived in Izmir, Turkey, for our press trip to explore Izmir, Turkey’s third most popular city, which is home to a history of more than 8,000 years, as well as a modern port city. Today, in fact, the city is an official candidate to host the 2020 World Expo.
While in Izmir, we are staying at the Moevenpick Hotel Izmir, a prime property located just steps away from the heart of Izmir’s Kemeralti beachside zone. We’re staying in room 507, which has a view of the water--I can even hear the sounds of the ship horns as they pass by. The room offers a king-size bed with plush linens and a nice array of amenities, from complimentary water bottles to Molton Brown toiletries and Wi-Fi accessibility. The room also features a flat-screen TV and a comfortable leather armchair for relaxing. I’m looking forward to later using the hotel gym (Coral Health Club) and the on-site restaurant, Margaux Restaurant, later in my trip.
This property seems ideal for leisure travelers who want to make the most of its ideal location—just steps from the water—and, of course, for fans of Moevenpick’s world-famous Swiss ice cream, too. More to come later from Izmir, Turkey, so please check in with TravelAgentCentral.com throughout the week for more posts.
By: Deanna Ting
July 20, 2009
A Glimmer of Hope for Britain's Tourism Industry?
There was some bright news today for Britons and visitors to the UK today: The terror threat was lowered to levels not seen since the terrorist bombings of 2005, indicating a renewed sense of safety and security in Britain.
It’s welcome news, and not a moment too soon: London is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics, and will have all the eyes of the world upon it in just a few years. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the attacks that elevated the terror threat level occurred mere days after London was chosen as the Olympic host city.)
With luck, this lowered threat level will encourage more people to travel across the pond. Britain’s beleaguered tourism industry could certainly use the boost after a rough news week: Both inbound and outbound tourism numbers have plummeted (as they have for airlines throughout Europe— Lufthansa AG, Europe's biggest airline, posted a 6.6 percent drop in passenger numbers from a year ago). A proposed tax increase on air passengers leaving the UK was met with an angry response from Virgin Atlantic, claiming that the tax would not only keep people from coming to the UK, but would keep them from visiting other nations that depend on tourism. Meanwhile, Britain's flag carrier British Airways, which has also been struggling with the loss of passengers, got a multi-million bailout from the trustees of its pension fund, but is still struggling to raise the funds it needs to stay airborne.
But perhaps most promising of all is the news that the largest hotel to open in London in a generation is still in the works. When the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge opens, it may well attract a whole new generation of luxury travelers to the UK, and by 2012, it could be the hot place to stay for the Olympics.
By: Jena Tesse Fox
March 23, 2009
Green Hotels Need Win-Win Situation With Guests
This week, Senior Editor Mark Rogers is attending the two-day Green Travel Summit at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach, CA. The event is the first fully dedicated forum focused on exploring green travel strategies and their impact on business travel and corporate meetings.
David Jerome of InterContinental Hotels speaks at the Green Travel Summit
“During the Olympics in Beijing, the capital went green by pre-setting the thermostats in the hotel rooms,” said David Jerome, senior vice president, corporate social responsibility, InterContinental Hotels. "It didn’t matter if you were comfortable or not. That’s not our way. As a hotelier, we want to make sure we meet our guest’s needs. The best practices are win-win. Instead of asking guests to put heir towel back on the rack, we prefer to use biodegradable cleaning material, carpet from recycled materials."
Jerome informed the audience that 38 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings. “ As a hotelier, how do we respond to this?” posited Jerome. “What if Apple built a hotel? What would it look like? What if Toyota built a hotel like a Prius? These are the kinds of things we’re thinking about at InterContinental.”
When asked if it was possible for InterContinental to go green across its hotel portfolio, Jerome responded that in addition to Green Globe and LEEDS there were 130 different competing green standards for hotels – that’s why the company created its own internal standard.
“There’s a huge demand for green hotels,” said Jerome. “I see us pushing against an open door.”
By: Mark Rogers
December 15, 2008
Luxury Comes to Western Belize
Belize has built a great reputation for itself as an affordable and easily accessed eco-paradise for divers and backpackers. Belize’s tourism players, one in particular, are intent on kicking it up a notch and broadening the country's appeal for luxury travelers seeking diverse experiences. I sat down with Ian Lizarraga, director of resorts for the 15-villa Ka'ana Boutique Resort, to learn about this fairly new five-star property in the jungle, and Belize's intriguing western region.
About a year ago, two young brothers from Ireland, Colin and Ronan Hannan, bought a run down and abandoned resort in the interior of Belize on the lowlands of the Mayan ruins called Xunatunich. They completely renovated what was standing of the property and created Ka'ana Boutique Resort, adding a wine cellar, small spa, pool, organic garden and restaurant. They hired Ian, who formerly worked with Coppola's Resorts in Belize, to run the operation.
“You don’t go high-end unless you know what you’re doing,” says Ian. “You can fake it on the low-end, but when you go five-star you have to know what you’re doing.”
When asked why Belize wasn’t perceived as a luxury market, Ian admitted that, “We’ve done a poor job marketing ourselves.” He explained that, in the past, there was opposition to tourism as being a path to creating a nation of servants. There’s been a complete 180 on this point-of-view and the new prime minister is quoted as saying, “Tourism is the star to which we’ll hang our wagons.”
“We’re the only five-star resort in western Belize,” says Ian. “We currently have 15 villas, but we are working to expand to 30 villas by July. The new accommodations will include our first two-bedroom villa as well as the potentiality for a three-bedroom villa.”
The resort’s King Villas feature butler service, and the Queen Villas overlook the pool— making them a good choice for families. The views from the villas are of the property’s lush landscaping. The front porches of Villas 7 and 8 look out upon the cascade of the Infinity pool, while the back porches have views of the resort’s fruit trees. Posted rates range from $250 to $450 a night depending on the season. Lucrecia "Luky" Bol is the reservations manager and travel agent liaison at Ka'ana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 501-824-0430. The resort also has a toll-free number: 877-522-6221.
Dining is taken seriously at the resort and is an important part of the philosophy of exploring the natural attractions of the region by day and coming home to an excellent meal and luxury accommodations and service. “We’re introducing new concepts to Belize, such as an executive chef,” says Ian. “Traditionally, this is not where Belize resorts spent their money. Keeping 3,000 bottles of wine in your wine cellar is unheard of. Our restaurant La Ceiba is actively defining Belize cuisine and we use the freshest ingredients that grow around us. If other Belizea hoteliers knew what I paid on my organic farm they wouldn’t believe it.”
The resort will also soon see the introduction of a star-gazing patio with telescope.
“We’re working on branding the Ka’ana Resort name in Belize,” says Ian. “We’re currently making plans for a 120-room resort in Placencia. We are also looking beyond Belize, to such countries as Nicaragua. We think we’ll be the premier resort company in the region.”
Ian notes that in Placencia the company had to go through an extensive Environmental Impact Assessment. “Protection of the environment is taken very seriously,” he says. “If you intend to do anything that impacts the environment negatively, you’ll be blown out of the water.”
Exploring the Region
Ian notes that Ka'ana Boutique Resort shouldn’t be considered a destination— instead it should be thought of as home base to explore Western Belize. The town of San Ignacio is a seven-minute drive by complimentary van from the resort. Adventure seekers will be enticed by nearby options, which include Mayan ruins, the Belize Zoo, cave exploration, nature trails, jungle tours, canoeing, tubing, zip-lining and horseback riding.
The Belize Zoo is about an hour from Ka’ana. It is set around 29 acres of tropical savanna and provides a natural setting for the wildlife. At no extra charge, the resort offers guests the chance to don khakis and play zookeeper for a day and interact with the animals. “We donate the proceeds of a guest’s last day of their stay to the zoo,” says Ian. “We also invite guests to plant a tree to reduce their carbon footprint.”
During the lunch with Ian, I learned a surprising fact about Belize. For instance, it has second-largest Mennonite community in the world. Chances are that visitors will have a chance to see Mennonites going about their daily life, utilizing horse-drawn wagons and embracing a simpler life.
Ian suggests visitors spend eight days in Belize, which he calls a "user-friendly destination" because its residents speak English. He recommends they divide their time equally between four days at the coast and four days on the mainland. Ka’ana Boutique Resort is about a 90-minute ride from Belize’s international airport.
By: Mark Rogers
August 27, 2008
MS Europa: Day 2 at Sea
Travel Agent’s Dave Eisen is sailing aboard the MS Europa this week. This is his second report.
Forgive me if you have logged on hoping to read all about Tallinn, Estonia. In my haste, I forgot that day two of the itinerary is at sea, followed by Tallinn on Wednesday. Perfect: It allows me the opportunity to give you my first impressions of MS Europa, the luxury cruise ship, recognized as one of the most elegant and luxurious ships plying the seas today. That is without question. What is debatable is whether it’s the right ship for affluent American cruisers. Let’s debate.
First the pros, of which there are many. The ship itself is a study of superior class and luxury: flawless service, five-star cuisine, spacious and luxurious accommodations and top-of-the-line design with amenities to match. I can’t think that any other luxury ship does it better.
First, service. From the time you step aboard, personnel are there to cater to your every whim, whether it is your favorite drink served in a proper glass, a warm blanket while passing time by the pool or anticipating your want of an afternoon snack (waffles, yes waffles, are served poolside). The service is seamless from the chambermaids to the dining room staff.
And dining is where MS Europa really shines. On Deck 4, three restaurants are positioned next to one another: the larger main dining room and two smaller specialty restaurants, one serving Asian cuisine, the other Italian. Interestingly, unlike some other ships, the specialty restaurants do not carry an extra charge. If they charged $50 a head, I’d still recommend them, at least the Asian restaurant, where I dined Tuesday night.
A small menu sample: spring roll with Siberian caviar, swordfish sashimi, spiny lobster medallions, chili-marinated beef Paillard. It being our first evening, we were also allowed to choose items off the main dining room menu. Yes, please! How about the Siberian caviar served in a silver bowl with all the traditional garnishes? The kicker: a chilled glass of Russian vodka to complete the dish. And on it went: veal carpaccio and crispy chantarelles ravioli, fried foie gras on polenta and (my favorite) grilled lobster. When I say I’ve never had better food on a cruise or otherwise, it’s no exaggeration.
After dinner, the action moves updeck to the lovely Sansibar, which overlooks the water. What a watering hole. Its elegance is simple, with a lovely center bar and red leather booths. Again the service there is impeccable and drinks are always poured into the correct glass with (go figure?) actual ice chunks. We’re not talking about the shoddy ice most regular bars adhere to. This is the high life we are talking about.
Our accommodations are, of course, in line with the rest of the ship. I’ve never seen a bathroom in a regular stateroom that is so large and well appointed. There is a deep soaking tub along with a stand-up shower that is enclosed by a glass shower door (plastic shower curtains and shower rods need not apply).
The room itself is also well put together, with a spacious veranda and comfortable beds. It would be nice if the entertainment system included a DVD player, but the TV does offer CNN, pre-loaded movies and the ability to send and receive e-mails at no cost.
Here’s my only concern. Is this a ship for North Americans? Understand that close to 100 percent of the guests are German. Lovely as they are, it makes it difficult for an American, such as myself, to feel truly comfortable. Much of the staff does know English, but there still is that disconnect. Most, if not all, of the announcements are in German, though daily literature is also in English.
It really boils down to a different vibe. It’s a cruise, yes, but a German cruise. My masseuse, Doris, who gives the best deep-tissue massages this side of the ocean, said I was the first American she had ever plied her trade on. Fine, but it goes to show you that MS Europa has yet to tap the English-speaking market. It is too bad because avid cruisers are missing one of the best luxury ships around.
If your clients enjoy surrounding themselves in a foreign environment, I would recommend they try MS Europa. As I have stated, the ship’s presentation is flawless. Note: This is not a ship for young couples, though I did see a couple of families onboard.
However, if after you qualify your clients and they remark that they’d rather cruise where they aren’t the minority, MS Europa could be a tough sell. Hapag-Lloyd is trying to market a bit more to North Americans and I hope they succeed, as this is not a ship to miss out on.
It’s small (about 400 passengers) and is very serene and peaceful. If clients are looking for loads of entertainment and activities, MS Europa is not the ship. Remember, there is no casino. That said, luxury doesn’t get any better than this. Now excuse me while I polish off this Belgian waffle.
Tomorrow, Tallinn. I promise!
Read about Dave Eisen's visit to Copenhagen on Day 1 of his trip.
By: David Eisen