April 07, 2011
From the ATE Floor: Tours and Luxury Lodges of Australia
It’s been a crazy few days of running around on the ATE trade show floor, and my feet are killing me. (Why do I always wear three-inch heels to these things?)
Here’s a taste of what’s happening in Australian tourism ... much more to come!
Taste of South Australia, based in Adelaide, focuses on the cuisine and wineries of the state, giving visitors an insider’s view of two industries that are invariably linked. New this year is the Taste of Adelaide Hills, which visits smaller towns in the suburbs of the city, including Hahndorf (where, last year, I had one of the best meat pies I’d ever tasted, and sampled some amazing chocolates and cheeses and jams and…Yes, foodies should definitely spend a few hours in Hahndorf). In Adelaide, owner Mary Anne Kennedy is offering walking tours of the city that revolve around the popular Farmer’s Market.
Melbourne Private Tours is just what it sounds like: a private tour company geared towards the high-end market and with a focus on immersion rather than sightseeing. One of the company’s more popular options is the four-hour Melbourne After Dark tour, which focuses on the city’s nightlife, including views of the skyline as it lights up for the evening. A popular addition to the catalogue is the chef-led excursion to the Mornington Peninsula, a popular wine-producing region.
Outlet Shopping Tours may be changing its name for the American market, which associates “outlets” with strip malls. The Melbourne-based company instead focuses on wholesale shopping experiences, driving visitors from store to store (averaging 12 stops per day, not including lunch at a local café). The excursions avoid major brands in favor of unique Melbourne properties, making sure each guest gets items that can’t be purchased anywhere else in the world. Private tours are available, and owner Kirsty Grace says that she is working to bring stylists along to offer advice on the tours.
(And for those who aren’t very interested in shopping, Grace also offers sports tours of the city, focusing on Australia’s unique version of soccer.)
Similarly, Hidden Secrets Tours focuses on the backstreets, alleyways and out-of-the-way cafes in Melbourne, giving visitors insider access that larger groups don’t get. All of the tours are customizable and can focus on whatever your client is looking for.
Last year’s ATE marked the announcement of Luxury Lodges of Australia, and since the association’s debut last year two new resorts have joined the fold. With an eye towards exclusivity, however, Executive Officer Penny Rafferty says that the number of members may hold steady at 17 for a while. As long as those 17 properties measure up, though, staying small is fine by Rafferty.
“Luxury is measured in a guest’s satisfaction in their experience,” she says. “It’s a personal connection with something unique and authentic.” To that end, she adds, the Lodges are not places to stay while exploring the surrounding area, but are an integral part of the overall experience of visiting Australia.
Online, www.luxurylodgesofaustralia.com.au, has numerous tools for planning visits to Australia, including brochures in seven languages and downloadable high-resolution images that can be used to help clients get a better sense of the properties. Perhaps, best of all, the site has a tool that measures the distance between lodges for clients traveling around the country, taking into account flight frequencies and direct versus layover flights.
By: Jena Tesse Fox
March 04, 2009
Central Europe on $100 per Day
Travel Agent attended a breakfast earlier in March at New York’s Bryant Park Hotel sponsored by Central Europe Experience that demonstrated how travelers can enjoy a
Central European city for less than $100 per day, per person. And yes,
that includes hotels and three meals per day. Whether they use the euro
or local currencies, the nine featured cities (Berlin, Bratislava, Budapest, Dresden, Munich, Prague, Salzburg, Vienna and Warsaw) are surprisingly affordable.
Six of the hotels recommended by the reps were three-star, and B&B and pensions also worked their way into the itineraries. Restaurants were touted not for their celebrity chefs, but for the authenticity of the cuisine and the opportunity to talk with the locals who regularly dine there. (No McDonalds or other fast-food joints were on the list, and all of the restaurants were representative of local cuisines.) Walking tours of the cities were promoted as a good way to experience out-of-the-way spots, and numerous free or inexpensive museums or historical sites were mentioned.
The point of the meeting was not to focus on Europe’s financial woes, but to encourage travelers to check out cities that they might have believed were too expensive for them to visit. With airlines offering great deals on flights to Europe, you can put together an itinerary for your clients that gives them a week in a capital city for less than $1,000 total. And, as a representative from Hungary pointed out, $100 per day is merely one (rather extreme) example, and numerous tours and activities didn’t make the list because they pushed the total all the way up to $120 or $130.
By: Jena Tesse Fox
February 12, 2009
Lunch with the Tourism Authority of Thailand
Tourism Authority of Thailand's Srisuda Wanapinyosak and Bangornrat Shinaprayoon
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) held a lunch at the new Pranna restaurant here in New York this afternoon as it bid farewell to outgoing director Bangornrat Shinaprayoon and welcomed Srisuda Wanapinyosak as its new director for the next four years. Bangornrat Shinaprayoon will return to Bangkok after her four-year stint here to continue her work in the tourism sector.
During the lunch, we were shown a video that
highlighted many of Thailand's cultural and scenic attractions. In
2008, there were 14.3 million visitor arrivals to Thailand; the TAT
acknowledged that they expect that number to remain flat for 2009, but
on a promising note, it projects 2 million visitors for medical
services this year, a growing niche for the destination.
Srisuda Wanapinyosak will now lead the Authority's efforts in promoting Thailand to U.S. travelers. "We're looking forward to a very successful year in 2009," she said, "in which Americans will return with renewed confidence to Thailand to explore all it has to offer."
Along those lines, the TAT's initiatives are going to focus on three areas:
• "Amazing Thailand, Amazing Value": Promoting Thailand as a destination of great cultural assets, as well as strong value against the U.S. dollar.
• "7 Wonders of Thailand": Ongoing tourism initiative focusing on the concept of "Thainess," with an emphasis on experiential travel.
• New Hotels: The TAT will be heavily promoting Thailand's newest properties, among them the Banyan Tree Koh Samui, the Shangri-La Phuket, the Jumeirah Phuket Private Island and the Anantara Phang Na.
By: Michael Browne
February 11, 2009
Report On The Allegria Hotel & Spa
Left to Right, Tonny Sadha, Designer; Allen Rosenberg, Owner; Mackenzie Allison; Todd Jacobs, Executive Chef
Ok, I just got back from the Allegria Hotel & Spa event held in the penthouse of Lou Hammond and Associates. I know I mentioned I was obviously running late--one of my biggest pet peeves whenever I venture out of the office for a function. However, to my surprise and delight, other New York journalists were still arriving. In the travel industry, you start to see the same faces over and over again. I caught up with a few aquaintences, one of which just had a baby, while another is planning her wedding this spring. More importantly, I was able to get the scoop on Allegria Hotel & Spa, a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World slated to open in Long Beach, NY this April.
Touted as the first hotel in the area in years, the 143-room property--a freshman project by real estate developer turned hotelier Allen Rosenberg--was most recently a nursing home. Although the doors haven't officially opened, the hotel still gets calls--for the nursing home. An obvious solution would be to just change the number, but Rosenberg believes it is good luck, saying every person he's met who had relatives in the nursing home thought it was a great facility.
Following positive signs might just work for this optimistic newcomer. A labor of love, the hotel is actually named after his mother--an Italian word meaning joy or happiness. Also keeping it in the family, Allegria's three suites are named after his children.
On the south shore of Long Island, less than an hour from Manhattan, the oceanfront property will cater to couples (I've been told it will be a prime location for weddings), as well as New Yorkers looking for solace from the fast pace of the city.
Judging from the food at the luncheon (salad with duck to start, followed by tender short ribs and finished with an apple tart), I think Allegria's Atlantica restaurant will be a huge draw. Led by Chef Todd Jacobs, Atlantica will offer cuisine that consists of local and organic ingredients.
The property will also have a rooftop spa, which will debut in July. For more information, visit
February 11, 2009
Stay Tuned: Report on the Allegria Hotel & SpaI am literally writing this on the edge of my seat right now. It is 11:58 a.m. and I have a lunch meeting at noon for the new Allegria Hotel & Spa, a new beachfront property in Long Beach, NY. I can't wait to check out the food, which will be provided by the property's executive chef, Todd Jacobs. More when I return!
November 17, 2008
Celebrity Solstice Christened: Post-Panamax Ship Wows Agents
The preservation of Mother Earth and the importance of women’s health issues took center stage as the 122,000-ton passenger Celebrity Solstice was christened at Port Everglades, FL, on November 14. Professor Sharon L. Smith, a biological oceanographer whose scientific specialty is ocean physics and investigating the effects of global warming on the planet’s food supplies, christened the 2,850-passenger ship.
For decades, Smith has traveled the world on scientific research expeditions from the polar regions to the Arabian Sea. The godmother quipped that, after spending much of her life on research vessels, she greatly appreciated the many creature comforts onboard Celebrity Solstice. Smith is currently dean of the undergraduate program of the University of Miami’s Rosenthiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She also co-directs the university’s Oceans and Human Health Center.
In one emotional moment during the Solstice Theater naming ceremony, Smith— a survivor of both breast and uterine cancer— briefly teared up while applauding Celebrity and the United Way for partnering to raise at least $100,000 to fund breast cancer screenings for low-income women.
Assisted by Richard D. Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s (RCCL) chairman and CEO, Smith then snipped a red ribbon, which had been partially pulled into position by an aerial acrobat. The ribbon itself ran throughout the ship to the top deck Lawn Club, where it held a champagne bottle. When cut, the ribbon slacked, causing the bottle to crash into the ship’s structure— thus christening the ship. Seated in the theater, agents, media and industry VIPs watched the top deck bottle smashing “live” via the theater’s huge screen. The christening bottle was produced by the Corning Museum of Glass, which operates the industry’s first glass blowing kilns at sea on Celebrity Solstice.
Themed around the music of U2’s “A Beautiful Day,” the naming ceremony also featured Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO of both Celebrity and Azamara Cruises; Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, Celebrity Solstice’s master; and Arne and Gjert Wilhelmsen, RCCL founders. The St. Andrews Pipe Band of Miami marched into the theater with pomp, pipes and spectacle. World-class violinist Lucia Micarelli; the Solstice Orchestra; vocalist Antonio Sol, and other performers entertained. A local rabbi and a seaman’s pastor offered blessings. Both the American and Greek national anthems were played; the Celebrity Solstice’s officers are Greek.
Smith’s role as godmother was an astute match given Celebrity Solstice’s new Deck 7 “Team Earth” area, created in cooperation with Conservation International. Designed to raise environmental awareness, Team Earth boasts large touch-screen monitors that outline environmental issues. It’s also home to comfortable couches, Wi-Fi access, and a massive illuminated globe. Suspended just feet away in the midst of the open atrium is a live tree planted in a massive artistic pot in the shape of an inverted pyramid.
As the first in the Solstice-class, Celebrity Solstice is an environmental ground-breaker. It’s the cruise industry’s first ship to use solar energy; 216 solar panels divided into five areas on the ship feed into the ship’s power grid. Solstice’s silicon hull coating will reduce frictional resistance and trim fuel consumption. Fleetwide, Celebrity is installing advanced wastewater purification (AWP) systems, which are already on Celebrity Solstice.
The new ship also has new guest features including new AquaClass staterooms that boast such perks as Blu, a dedicated specialty restaurant, and complimentary use of the Persian Garden and AquaSpa relaxation room. The ship offers a Lawn Club at sea allowing guests to enjoy “real grass” for picnics, bocci ball and golf putting; the first Hot Glass Show at sea; multiple new venues including Crush, Cellar Masters, Ensemble Lounge, Passport Bar, Quasar, Galleria Tastings, the Sky Observation Lounge and Celebrity Center; an expanded retail area; three new production shows; and staterooms 15 percent larger than on other Celebrity ships.
During the naming ceremony, Fain commended Port Everglades for continuing to enhance the cruise experience for guests. On November 14, Port Everglades cut the ribbon to open Phase I of Passenger Terminal 18. This two-part expansion project will transform Terminal 18 into the largest cruise terminal in the world, dedicated to servicing a single ship. Once the expansion project is complete in fall 2009, the terminal will be home to the largest cruise ships in the world, Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
More than 8,000 travel partners plus media representatives have toured or will tour Celebrity Solstice at Port Everglades this month. The trade response seemed far more robust than the norm. Throughout the preview cruise, every agent Travel Agent encountered simply gushed about every facet of the ship’s creative design and stylish, contemporary, elegant feel.
In his naming ceremony remarks, Fain equated first seeing the new Celebrity Solstice ready to welcome guests as a somewhat similar experience to seeing his daughter dressed for her prom. He knew she was beautiful but she still took his breath away.
Celebrity Solstice— which Hanrahan said is garnering cruise fares approximately 20 percent higher than those on other Celebrity ships, based on high customer demand— will operate seven-night roundtrip eastern Caribbean voyages from Port Everglades this winter. The ship will reposition to the Mediterranean for summer 2009, operating roundtrip voyages from Rome.
By: Susan Young
November 07, 2008
Onboard the Ruby Princess
Travel Agent Senior Contributing Editor Susan J. Young was onboard Princess Cruises' newest ship, the 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess, at Port Everglades, FL, on Thursday amid a sea of travel agents and VIPs outfitted in red attire as Trista and Ryan Sutter of "The Bachelorette" named the ship in honor of their fifth wedding anniversary.
As part of the romance-themed event, red roses floated in the top deck pool; waiters served red and pink drinks; Love Boat Captain Gavin MacLeod gave away a couple who were married on the new ship; and red confetti rained down on guests at the completion of the naming ceremony.
During Friday morning's travel agency briefing, Jan Swartz, Princess' senior vice president of sales and customer service, talked with several hundred travel agents about selling in a tough economy. She stressed that, within Princess' target market (upper middle class to affluent travelers), clients generally still have their jobs, their homes and their credit. "Your customers haven't decided against a vacation," stressed Swartz. "They're trying to convince themselves." She acknowledged that every customer is assessing their personal situation every day but said agents shouldn't assume they have to wait to start selling. She suggested adapting the sales pitch and avoid focusing on indulgence, stating, "Play off the need, not the splurge."
Swartz also outlined a side-by-side comparison of a 12-day Princess European cruise ($3,755 per person double) versus a 12-day land tour visiting four cities ($6,139 per person double). The Princess vacation included balcony cabin accommodations and was 39 percent less expensive. To help agents make this type of value comparison, and thus the sale, Swartz said Princess will introduce a new short Princess Academy trade training course in the week or so.
Rai Caluori, Princess' executive vice president of fleet operations, said Ruby Princess' delivery completes the existing new build program. The average age of the fleet is now 5.6 years. While the line has a next-generation ship on the drawing board, there are no orders on the books at this time. Moving forward, Caluori said Princess will focus on product consistency and the continuation of its internal "Consummate Host" approach for training employees, as it strives for superior customer service.
Describing the Princess brand appeal as comfortable elegance, Caluori stressed that "we're not about forced fun. You choose what to do and when to do it." As it works on fine-tuning, Princess is rolling out new menus and, in some cases, simplifying the language that describes certain dishes; that was suggested by customers in feedback to the line. Currently, the line is piloting a new Entertainment e-mail; before your client sails on Ruby Princess, the line will send a personalized email from the ship's cruise director outlining all the entertainment available on that cruise.
Princess is also introducing a new Ultimate Ship's Tour on Ruby Princess; this is a $150 per person tour to behind-the-scenes areas of the ship, including the engine control room, the print shop, the galley, the ship's laundry and the bridge. Along the way, 10-12 participants max will interact with employees and receive such gifts as personalized stationery, a cookbook, a photograph on the bridge, and a fluffy robe. Reservations will be made onboard on a first come, first served basis. Caluori said the price point is designed to manage what is expected to be high guest demand on a very labor intensive tour.
What else is new? The line has also just rolled out a new Wheelhouse Pub Lunch on Ruby Princess, Crown Princess and Emerald Princess. Every sea day the line will serve a complimentary lunch that consists of a choice of Cottage Pie, Bangers & Mash, or Fish & Chips. In addition, the line is introducing a new breakfast in Sabatini's for suite guests. If it proves successful, it may be expanded to lunch or brunch.
See more images from the event in the slide show below.
Stay tuned for another update from Ruby Princess on Tuesday.
By: Susan Young
November 03, 2008
Sthu Zungu, President of South Africa Tourism, North America
Although ASTA’s 2009 International Destination Expo in Sun City, South Africa is a little ways down the road—well, March, actually—I recently took the opportunity to chat with Sthu Zungu, president of South Africa Tourism, North America, about U.S. travel to South Africa, what hosting this event means for the country, and the destination’s long-term goals.
An American in South Africa
Zungu says The United States has become a very important market for South Africa tourism, second only to the United Kingdom, which currently holds the number-one spot.
Why? According to Zungu, Americans are big spenders and there are a lot of them. In fact, the current state of the U.S. economy doesn’t even appear to be an unnerving factor. “Although the current economic climate is a bit jittery,” Zungu says, “it is more about the volume than the spending.” That volume weighed in at about 276,000 visitors last year, so “you can take the sheer volume times the average spent from tourism overall, and it is still a good thing.”
Although Americans might not be spending as much, they can still get more bang for their buck when opting for a vacation to South Africa over, say, a European holiday. Last month, the exchange rate was $1 to 11 South African rand—a favorable number and one Zungu says agents and consumers should take advantage of ASAP.
What to Expect at IDE
“Hosting this event is a unique opportunity to showcase the warm and welcoming hospitality of the South African people and the wide variety of product,” Zungu says, adding that she wants agents to “get” the destination. She projects that approximately 700 agents will have that chance at the event next year— the largest number of agents in South Africa at one time. These agents will walk away not only “getting” what South Africa has to offer but specializing in selling the country. “Those who attend IDE will take part in a Fundi, or specialist, program,” Zungu says. It is a program she expects 600 to 700 agents to complete within a three-day span.
Not just a training boot camp, the event also serves as the opportunity for agents to meet with South African suppliers. “They will come away with real people, real names and real products,” Zungu says. Tangible example: A trade show is part of the International Destination Expo and South African Airways, along with several other suppliers, will be present at the show. Tour operators are also offering pre- and post-tours of the nine provinces, which start at $150 per person.
As one could imagine, making sure IDE is a success is the most important thing on South Africa’s agenda at the moment. But, after the dust settles, the country will turn its attention to hosting the World Cup in 2010. And, to mark the event, the destination has set a goal of having 2010 South Africa specialists by that year. Well on its way, 840 agents have enrolled in the program and there have been 140 graduates. “If we do a good job at training, we have longevity in the market,” Zungu says, adding that the destination plans to continue engagement and conversation with agents because they hear what consumers are saying.
As far as advertising ventures are concerned, the country currently has campaigns running to promote the aspects of South Africa that would appeal to the adventure travelers as well as the wide variety of food and wine offerings in the country.
With trade marketing, key players South Africa is involved with are Virtuoso, Luxury Travel Expo (together with South African Airways), American Express, and of course it will continue to nurture its relationship with ASTA.
October 16, 2008
Cancun Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008 Wraps Up
CANCUN, MEXICO– Travel Agent has concluded its coverage of the Cancún Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008 with news and notes from the suppliers and buyers who attended this year’s successful event (check our blogs section for more). According to the final numbers presented by the Cancun Hotel Association on Thursday, the event attracted 102 supplier companies and 273 supplier delegates as well as 124 buyer companies and 225 buyer delegates.
By: Joe Pike
October 03, 2008
Travel Agent Sits with Rosecita Jeffers
We profiled St. Kitt’s new CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority Rosecita Jeffers earlier this year, and now we had the privilege to meet her at the CHTA Small Hotels Retreat. We asked her about the timing of the conference and, like St. Kitts Minister of State for Tourism, Sports and Culture Ricky Skerritt, she thought the economy shouldn’t swallow the attention of the conference. “I think this conference is important because hotels are the background of this industry,” she says, “and we can’t lose focus of that.”
The government of St. Kitts has provided some relief for small hotels of the country. Afterall, of all the hotels that need to worry about a decrease in business from the struggling U.S, it’s the small ones. Jeffers said the government, in fact, has allocated a fund for marketing and incentives to be split among the small hotels of St. Kitts. No figure was given on the fund. Jeffers says the fund with be contingent on whether the hotels agree to certain standards with training staff among the highest on that list.
By: Joe Pike