June 18, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: June 15-18
I was semi-watching the United States tie Slovenia 2-2 in our team's second match in the 2010 FIFA World Cup today (semi-watching because half of the screen time was spent on my laptop working and, for the record, there were other employees with me— who will remain nameless unless I need to take them down with me), and could not miss the confusion and outrage over the referee's disqualification of a go-ahead goal in the final minutes that would have put our guys up 3-2. Not only was his call vilified by the ESPN commentators (one of which can be considered objective when, in his natural English accent, he said that even as an England fan he felt the U.S. was robbed), but there appeared to be no explanation or citation of what foul was committed.
Fortunately for that referee, the game wasn't taking place in Philadelphia, McAfee Coliseum (where the dreaded Black Hole of Oakland Raiders fans await) or even in Madison Square Garden when Bowe and Golotta are fighting. There are probably hundreds in South Africa right now, and hundreds of thousands across the planet, that want his head. This takes place just after the recent tainting of a perfect game by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga when umpire Jim Joyce made, clearly, an incorrect call at first base (he later admitted his error).
Needless to say, it has not been the best of times for sports referees as of late. Hence, I'm a little on edge this week when it comes to making calls on what readers of TravelAgentCentral.com have been saying as of late. I'd like to think that, over the course of the Weekly Wrap, I've been fair enough and have admitted when incorrect calls have been made. But that could always change. Let's see what happens this week.
Yellow Card of the Week
Mistakes happen and fouls are sometimes committed without any malicious intention. But they still happen. Last week, I had to remind someone that we are not Pet Airways but instead are a media outlet reporting about the airline. A similar instance took place this week when a reader commented on our report about Le Sereno in St. Barts naming a new general manager. Maroussia Nassief Reid apparently believes new GM Javier Vila works with us, writing:
Hello Mr. Vila,
Remember me? Maroussia from the Mayfair......my dad was going to spain so i looked you up and found you close to my caribbean home!!! Please email me so we can keep in touch! My email is email@example.com
Come on, Maroussia. The property's website is right there at the end of the story(here it is again: www.lesereno.com). We enjoy sharing the news with everyone but we can't do all of the following up and networking on our own. Have to call a foul on that one.
Red Card of the Week
As I said, mistakes sometimes happen without any ill will. But then there are those that are not only blatanly malicious, but sloppy as well. Take for instance Jonh London who, when commenting on our new full-timer Meagan Drillinger's report on adrenaline junky travel suggestions, posted:
You call this "for travellers on a budget" ? ($19999 for 1 week)....For that kind of money I can go 2 weeks to New-Zealand, and climb the vulcano's there!
Jonh, or somehow I bet you meant to add your name as "John," there is no package for $19,999. Yes, there is one for $1,999 if you want to go tornado chasing. However, not only are the rest of the packages low-cost (one as low as $96 per night) but the story says the source of the list is one that targets budget-minded. There's no line that deliberately says "these are all highly affordable" or something of the sort. Plus, I am pretty sure New Zealand is not supposed to have a hyphen in it and it's "volcano," not vulcano (Spock plays no role in magma production). You're always welcome to share your two cents, but that doesn't mean your free from penalty if you are not careful.
I enjoy seeing the passion that readers have when it comes to multilevel marketing companies like YTB, but sometimes it's exhausting and could use a break. Such is the case with a recent report by George Dooley analyzing a cheeky column written by Peter Stilphen about whether travel professionals should join an MLM or not. I shared most of the exchanges last week, and there are now more to read. The latest is a call-and-response pattern between denyse and Laura. It began with denyse's initial comment:
I'm a former YTB member and once I learned that there are definitely alternatives for me to sell MORE travel WITHOUT paying $50 per month, I jumped. I needed to sell RCCL and NCL because that's what my clients wanted. I also get much more training and support. My business has increased by 3000% since leaving and I pay $0 per month.
I had talked and talked to various YTB people to get them to see the light. I've come to understand that no matter what I say, unless you see the light for yourself you'll stay there. I don't have the time to keep saying the same things over and over again.
I wish everyone in YTB well who's looking to sell travel. But there ARE better alternatives. Think about your clients. SOME of them HAVE heard about YTB. And your business will not be as successful as it could be while with YTB.
Laura then chimed in:
Just because you WISH that MLMs didn't have a legitimate (and successful) business model doesn't mean they don't. No, YTB is not my host. There are a lot of businesses that sell their products through the MLM model...Avon, Stella and Dot, Discovery Toys, etc. Traditional travel agents have my respect...I was one myself...but they do not OWN the product of travel. It is not their decision who gets to sell travel and who doesn't. Sorry.
To which denyse responded:
Laura, I don't think this article is talking about ANY MLM outside of travel. Yes, Avon, Mary Kay, Discovery Toys, etc are successful MLM business models.
The issue with TRAVEL MLMs is that the profit margin in travel is not large enough to support a MLM business model. Therefore, you HAVE to recruit in order to make money. Those other businesses promote products. Travel MLMs promote travel websites - that's not a product. That's a marketing tool.
There is not one SUCCESSFUL travel MLM. All of them have issues. Even the ones who "claim" success have added additional products to their company so the reps can earn money.
Time out. I'm taking a break from this one on calls. But I'd enjoy to read what others have to say.
There's been some major stories taking place about air travel— only during the past few days, weeks, months and years— from airline mergers to added fees, and they are obviously of concern to agents. Two recent developments that have caught the attention of some readers are the proposed merger between Continental Airlines and United Airlines as well as American Airlines latest unbundling of fees. The former is the larger story, and Bradley is taking it quite seriously, stating:
This merger needs blocked. Ultimately, it will force airlines to keep merging until there are only one or two mega-airlines left. What this is doing is creating a position where domestic flights will cost far more than international flights. This hurts the airlines and the consumer, with us travel agents stuck in the middle.
Sounds like a good point. Does anyone out there disagree? I don't, but perhaps I'm making a bad call here.
Meanwhile, Alex appears to be on the fence regarding the issue with American Airlines, writing:
I'm a bit torn on this issue - specifically on the idea of paying a fee to reduce another fee you may or may not incurr. Also, can we file this as another fee related to baggage? With assigned seats, the only real reason to be first on board is to grab overhead bin space for your luggage - space which has become far more precious since baggage fees have driven passengers to bring more and more baggage as carry-ons. Bin space was never meant to handle the influx of passengers trying to avoid fees - if more of these bags were capable of being checked without a fee, would this kind of pre-boarding even be considered to be a perk?
I think you are on the right track, Alex. Whether it's been for business or leisure, I've tried my hardest to pack carry-on luggage only to save time and money. In the end, it seems travelers will have to decide whether to spend more on convenience or being well-equipped. This doesn't seem like a winning situation for anyone besides the airlines, those bastards.
Note to the Peanut Gallery
I am no stranger to sarcasm and Darrell Turner apparently isn't, either. From the sidelines, he makes an interesting point this week about the UK Culture Secretary's new tourism plan but I can't help but sense some heckling in his tone when he comments:
This is a great strategy, for the UK. But let me think about it a minute. Gee, if the USA did the same, and if Germany and Thailand and Spain and Italy did the same, we could collectively choke off 10 or 15% of international travel. The British can vacation at home. We'll vacation at home. Germans can vacation at home. International Airlines can reduce their routes, and all will be happy. Right??
We can and may. Or, maybe we can hear colorful tales from the Brits and Germans, among others, about some enriching and/or exciting journeys that they've taken within their homeland and become inspired to make that journey ourselves? That seems plausible to me.
Moment of Silence
No matter what's taking place on the playing field, the sidelines or elsewhere, there are some instances when all teams and fans take an appropriate moment to honor something important. This week, the travel industry lost a friend in John Shands, executive vice president of Leisure Alliance, who passed away after a battle with cancer. Christopher Flores of the Airlines Reporting Corporation's (ARC) Verified Travel Consultant (VTC) program immediately took a moment to honor Shands, saying:
You will be missed, John.
I am sure he will be. We here at Travel Agent are keeping Shands' family, friends and colleagues in our prayers.
As always, the conversation never ends here. Keep sharing your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you by posting comments below or one other articles. Write us at our Facebook page or send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag). Of course, you can always discuss topics in real time at AgentNation. We want to hear from you. Until next week...
June 11, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: June 7-11
Apologies for those who have been jonesing for their fix of the TravelAgentCentral.com's Weekly Wrap after there was no appearance last week. I was in Richmond, VA for my cousin's wedding and had the fortunate of staying at The Jefferson Hotel. Check out some of my coverage here, and note I'll be following up next week on the property's Rotunda and Palm Court lobbies as well as its highly-reputable Sunday brunch and daily tea time.
Having returned, I found a plethora of comments in my inbox. Let's check them out.
There's never an instance here at TravelAgentCentral.com when a piece on multilevel marketing or "card" mills doesn't cause a stir. So when George Dooley shared a recent newsletter by Peter Stilphen about whether agents should join one or not, needless to say, we weren't surprised to see the comments pour in to us. As much as I could make a pithy remark on each one, I think they speak for themselves.
shopheresavehere was the first to comment, going right after Stilphen, saying:
Excuse me Mr.Vetran Travel Agent, I beg to differ with you. If you are so successful...how in the world do you have time to bash MLM's and YTB? Seems to me you need to get a life.
Peter Stilphen immediately responded, writing:
You asked me a direct question and this is my response. My host agency is one of the most respected hosts in the country. I take the time to put back into this business that has been so good to me and my wife, Billie. I simply chose to write about the ills in our industry in hopes of making a change. It is agents like yourself that feel anyone putting time and money into projects that may benefit others must have an "angle" are a detriment to the growth of the travel professional. Fortunately agents with your attitude are few and far between.
Stilphen's subjects of conversation were, not surprisingly, YTB, among others. Most readers agree, and one does say citing another company.
Alyse Cori posted:
You forgot to mention the wonderful people who are popping up at all your home, boat car & antique shows. I complained to OSSN about them. They need to not be allowed to sell travel
Tamyra Nash, who apparently works for YTB, wasn't about to take any criticism while standing, writing:
I am a professional Travel Adviser and YTB happens to be my host agency. I recently booked a $100,000.00 group with HAL and another $200,000.00 in numerous honeymoons, Disney vacations, European tours, etc. I receive 75% commission, soon to be 80%. I just returned from Vancouver, BC where I experienced CLIA's Cruise 3Sixty, attended several classes, and did two ship inspections, which completed me requirements for my ACC accreditation. I am too busy helping my clients fulfill their dreams to bash other companies, but I did want to respond to this silly article. There are many successful, professionals in YTB, who only sell travel. I know one lady, who also uses YTB as her host, who has booked two world cruises. I could give you many other examples, but I am too busy with clients who want my assistance. What have you done to promote travel, which is, after all, what our industry is about?
Debbie was quick to respond to Tamyra, writing:
Tamyra, if you are doing that kind of business selling travel then why would you even want to be associated with a host agency let alone YTB?? I have met people that joined ytb that actually sell travel but they are few and far between. I ask them the same question. answer, "I don't know"
Diane D chimed in regarding Tamyra as well, saying:
Seems to me Tamyra, if you are only getting 75% commission, then you shouldn't have to pay any fees. Since you ARE making all that money for YTB, why pay them anything? Isn't that what the 25% is for? I have independent agents that work for me and aside for paying the $15 per month for Client Ease (no profit to me at all), they don't pay anything else and if they are experienced agents, they start out at 80%!!!
Meanwhile, TB, like yours truly, just wants the madness to end, commenting:
Stop fighting! It sounds like the age old battle of religions. Get on with selling Travel. Vendors like YTB clients money just like other companies money. I was at cruise 360 and most everyone had a home based biz with a host agency. Everyone (LOTS of YTBers included) were there to learn more. So storefronts sell to your walkins and Interneters sell to everyone else. Remember the golden rule, and if you don't have something nice to say... rethink your answer.
Virtually Improve Your Business
Michael Browne shared an interesting take, recently, about how travel agents, specifically those working from home, can leverage help from virtual assistants to make their business more efficient. For the most part, it received positive feedback.
Jason Coleman, for instance, believes the practice should be implemented more throughout the industry, writing:
YES, YES, YES!!! This has been a huge key to my success. My business philosophy is "do what I do best, and leave the rest to everyone else." I actually have a number of offshore virtual employees I've never met, never talked to, and it's working out so well! For a fraction of what I can hire a part time office employee, I can hire a number of virtual employees whose shifts run 24-hours a day! I'm so happy to see you reporting on this trend. I think it's an untapped business key for agents!
But some readers weren't so enthused. JESS Kalinowsky, for instance, sees virtual assistants as a suckling tap on the U.S. job market, stating:
"Offshore" virtual assistants? With millions of people out of work in the good old USA, why are we employing "Offshore" people? Delta airlines, and others, received so many complaints about their Res Centers in foreign countries they are slowly bringing re s centers back to the USA, allowing people to work at home as few or many hours as they need. JETBLUE is almost 100% virtual agents. Instead of putting people in other countries to work, how about putting people in the USA to work? Just wondering? I know there is rampant unemployment in travel and tourism, and all that talent could be used, right here in America! Just saying!
I understand Jess' concerns, particularly in this economy. However, I don't think Michael suggests hiring virtual assistants from outside the country. They can work from anywhere, even right here in the United States. So, if you ask me, this practice may not only improve your travel business but may bring some extra clash flow to an American worker's home.
Fear of Facebook?
If you are reading this, then I'm guessing there's a 50/50 chance you are currently logged in to your Facebook account. The web monster has practically overtaken Internet porn in its popularity and is considered by some agents to be an effective tool while others appear to feel threatened by it. We learned about these feelings when writing about a new feature in the social community in which users can become "travel experts."
Steve appears unmoved by the option, writing:
Just my opinion...but seems most people on FB don't have much of a life.....posting stupid comments everytime they move. Ridiculous.
But some are a little concerned, like chuff0153, who shared thoughts at a discussion thread on AgentNation, stating:
Everyone talks about us evolving....well I think if we are not careful we are going to evolve ourselves right out of business. It is true facebook people may not be "experts" but many will put all kinds of roadblocks and hurdles in your path. We may not consider them experts...they THEY will and they will express themselves as so. Its just one more nail in the coffin..wait and see. One thing for sure if we aid in this process it WILL be used against us. Bet on it.
Meanwhile, there are those like Denyse, who see an opportunity. She wrote:
I think professionals should look at facebook in another light. It's not all people sitting around all day chatting. I use FB for my travel business and literally 97% of my business comes from FB! I also have some very professional people who are my clients. My very first client from FB is an attorney. Not too shabby. So, its not all stupid comments every time you move but a valuable resource to build your business and to FIND what you want. I have a very busy life (with my business) but I've found methods to market on FB without spending 12 hours there.
I love my friends and contacts in my Facebook network. But, seriously, there's no way their comments on travel (which usually begin and/or end with an "OMG" or "LOL") or pictures of someone acting like a jackass are going to influence my travel planning. I wouldn't be too concerned if I were a travel agent. But I'm not. So maybe I'm missing something? If so, let me know. Let's discuss.
Change in the Cruise Society
In addition to her detailed reporting on cruise3sixty 2010, Susan J. Young has been all over the cruise beat, including a recent report on Royal Caribbean's changes for its Crown & Anchor Society. The changes appear to benefit the consumer, but some agents have questions about the update.
Dale Borske of Cruise Planners, for starters, is not leaping out of the chair just yet, writing:
It is ridiculous to not have automatic registration for a guest in the Crown and Anchor. C'mon Vicky lets get RCCL up to date!
Darlene is skeptical as well, asking:
Should we be excited that they are returning a few benefits to members that were taken away just ast year? RCI has proven that they no longer value their best return customers, so I am not sure what Betsy is talking about.
From a consumer's perspective, these changes aren't so worthy. Robert Gellatly shared:
My wife and i have taken 7 trips with royal Caribbean, It;s apearent that the bigger the ship the worse the service, The Soverine had them all beat with service and hospitality. Crown and Anchor society members used to be treated special .Chocolate in the room, Robes, Coupon books given on the first day of travel, Now we have to ask for them only to get them on our last day at sea.Take lessons from the smaller ships.
So here we have readers on both the agent and consumer side saying this doesn't seem like such a big deal. Anyone want to weigh in on way this program change is worth noting?
Reminder: We are NOT Pet Airways
People LOVE their pets, obviously, and they clearly love to explore options for bringing them on vacation. That's why our initial report on Pet Airways pets-only flights receive so much attention on the site. Yet almost every comment seems to ask us to make changes to the airline, when we are simply reporting the news.
The latest reader that apparently feels we here at TravelAgentCentral.com are powerful enough to change operations of an airline with which we have no relationshipis Jane, who wrote:
I love this service. However, I have not been able to use it as there are no options for Boston (Logan) or RI (Greene) airports. There are many dog/cat lovers that would jump at your services instead of placing them in the "lower" quarters. You may need to rethink the areas you service. Thanks.
I'll see what I can do but, let's be honest, what can I really do besides contact them? I suggest you do so instead so I can spend more time scouring the site for zany and insightful comments, thank you.
And on that note, it's back to the inbox I go to see what you're talking about leading into next week. Keep posting your comments. You can also write us at our Facebook page, send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) and join discussions in real time at AgentNation. Until next week...
June 11, 2010
2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: Play Ball!
True confessions time: I'm probably the least-knowledgable person on the Travel Agent staff when it comes to football or soccer, or any sport other than baseball. (And even then, I sometimes find myself asking my friends, "Did Derek Jeter just score a touchdown?")
But after two weeks in South Africa last month, and after touring the brand-new Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, it's impossible not to get caught up in World Cup fever now. Even I'm paying attention and getting excited about the games, and about what they mean to South Africa as a nation. For the next month, the whole world will be watching the country's major cities and towns and getting a taste of this gorgeous country— some of them, possibly, for the first time. With luck, the games will spark more interest in tourism and bring a whole new generation to a place they never thought they'd visit.
So, who is this decidedly un-soccer-savvy traveler cheering for in the games? Well, the U.S., naturally, but having just come back from Australia, I wouldn't be too sad if the Socceroos took home the trophy. But how wonderful would it be if an African nation won the World Cup at the very first games to be played on African soil?
Here are some pictures of Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, where Germany will play Australia on Sunday; and—from a distance—of the new Cape Town Stadium, where Uruguay will play France today.
Cape Town Stadium
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Inside the Moses Mabhida Stadium
June 09, 2010
New on the Block: New York City's Eventi
Travel Agent spent the morning of June 9, rubbing elbows with some of entertainment's greatest characters— think Richard Simmons and Joan Crawford— at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for New York's new Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel.
Okay...so maybe they weren't the real Richard Simmons and Joan Crawford, but as part of the opening ceremony the hotel had actors dress up to play these great characters as a fun way to welcome us to the new hotel. Well, it certainly was fun.
After speeches made by General Manager Thomas Mathes, Kimpton President and CEO Mike Depatie, Kimpton Chief Operating Officer Niki Leondakis, New York City's Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber and real Broadway celebrity, Bebe Neuwirth, we were treated to a special performance of a traditional hour glass dance done by the children of the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association (a tribute to the hotel's neighboring Korea Town). We sipped our champagne infused with lavender and hibiscus and toasted the execs as they snipped a vibrantly colored ribbon made entirely out of flowers.
We took a brief tour of the hotel, starting with the ballroom, which was decked out to look like a New Year's Eve celebration, complete with balloons, champagne flutes and a giant flat-screen TV that played music videos.
From there, we moved on to the hotel's guest rooms. No doubt the highlight was room #503, the Eventi Suite, measuring 1392 square feet. Think grand living room, dining room, two bathrooms, master bedroom and terrace. The fifth floor is also home to the fitness center and spa, as well as the Verandah Suite, which is approximately 954 square feet.
We were told that the hotel officially opened on May 14 and was sold out for the entire weekend. Since then, occupancy rates have remained in the 80 to 90 percent range. There are a total of 292 guest rooms and 53 suites.
Nice touch: The staff at Eventi is more than willing to go above and beyond to make your stay as home-like as possible. Want to bring Fido? Sure! Need a path of rose petals leading to your bedroom for a romantic evening? Of course!
We were very pleased with the outcome of Eventi. If the opening ceremony was any indication of the type of service and extra touches that the hotel will provide, we can only assume it will become one of New York City's top dogs.
Dining Note: As of now the hotel has a limited dining service open. It's full restaurant and outdoor dining venue will be up and running in October.
June 08, 2010
A Flight on Qantas' A380
A few quick words about Melbourne’s airport: It has a Hilton attached to the international terminal via an enclosed walkway (wonderfully convenient, especially for early-morning flights or overnight connections), and the first-class Qantas lounge is just lovely. Rather than go over-the-top in opulence, they focus on service, offering a full restaurant (rather than a buffet, as in the business class lounges where I’ve spent time in recently) with cuisine from Neil Perry (my eggs florentine were delicious), a complimentary spa and even a library. (The showers were wonderfully spacious and had silk-padded hangers for clothes—I was almost sorry I didn’t need to use them!) Naturally, drinks are available throughout the lounge, and I honestly think I’ve never had a better Bloody Mary.
I flew out of Melbourne because I wanted a chance to try out the A380, the newest model of plane to take to the skies. (Only a few airlines have the planes so far—Qantas among them.) The planes are enormous, with four classes (First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy) spread out over two stories for a total load capacity of 450 passengers. (Qantas actually carries the fewest number of passengers on its A380 planes of all the airlines that have them, meaning each guest has more room. Nice.) Most flights begin boarding about 30 minutes prior to takeoff. With so many people, this flight started boarding 40 minutes in advance, and divided passengers onto two different gangways to get to each level on time.
In business class, the seats stretch out to a flat bed (at a much better angle than on the 747), and the storage options for carry-on luggage are much improved. (Finally, an airline has realized that if we’re going to use laptops at our seats, we need a convenient place to put them for takeoff and landing!) Each seat has a small wide-screen TV that pops out of the armrest—and the entertainment options are very impressive. (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a really good movie, by the way. Brutal, very violent, but really good.) Even better, the plane is quiet enough to actually enjoy the films, and the noise-canceling headphones certainly help.
The food and wine options are also quite good—the red curry chicken paired beautifully with a dry Riesling, and I heard good things about the cream of broccoli soup. Nice Qantas touch: For overnight flights, they set out a breakfast menu before takeoff so that passengers can choose what they want in advance. When they wake up, their breakfast is ready for them.
The one negative about this flight: Once again, no small pajamas. Adding insult to injury, all they had left was extra-large. And, if you’ll recall, I’m not even five feet tall. I can use these PJs as a tent, they’re so huge. Maybe if I wash them in hot water, they’ll shrink enough for me to wear them on the next flight…
June 05, 2010
First Impressions of Richmond's The Jefferson Hotel
I am not on a press trip, nor am I traveling on assignment. I am in Richmond, VA for my cousin's wedding and it just so happens she and her husband made the wise decision to book rooms at The Jefferson Hotel for their guests. My wife and I are currently staying in Room #248, an Executive Suite, and are having a hard time leaving the room to check out the historical elements of Richmond because the suite is too cozy and elegant. See for yourself in the video below:
I'll share more about the property later, including some footage of the Rotunda, the entrance, the Palm Court, and Lamaire Restaurant, but had to take note of the client service the hotel provides. Unaware that I'm a journalist who will be reviewing the property, the staff has been as cordial as you would expect a southern gentleman or lady to act. From the concierge to the turn-down service, all interaction with employees has been nothing but high class.
A nice touch: the hotel wants to spoil you as much as possible with its car service. Last night, instead of leaving my wife and I to find our way to a local club for the rehearsal dinner, the concierge insisted the hotel's driver take us to where we were going before picking us up later. We already took advantage of this free service this morning when getting breakfast and taking a brief tour of some of Richmond's sites. We knew to bring the umbrella provided by the room when taking a walk thanks to the direct weather report we received under our door last night.
Cool aspect: The U.S. Supercar Tour selected the property as one spot for a stop to provide guests the opportunity to drive a Ferrari, Audi, Cobra, Porsche, Lamborghini and other sports cars for 30 minutes each (for about $1,000 and change). The tour is making stops across the country, and it says something that they picked The Jefferson Hotel.
I'll be sharing more about the property later. Until then, check out these summer and autumn deals below that may interest your clients:
June 04, 2010
Out and About in Adelaide
Today was the last day of ATE, but rather than stay through the end, my little group took off to explore the city of Adelaide—one of the first major cities in Australia that was not founded by or for convicts, but by and for free immigrants. (And, for the record, fear not—I’ll have plenty more from ATE for you soon, but it’s nice to take a break from the trade show floor, don’t you think?)
We met up with Chris Smyth of Tourabout Adelaide for a whirlwind tour of the city. Our first stop, bright and early, was Haigh’s Chocolates, one of Australia’s most popular high-end chocolatiers for nearly a century. (The founder’s son, who helped make the company the success it is, was educated at the Lindt factory in Switzerland.) We watched workers making truffles, learned about the entire process of creating the confection, and sampled some of the merchandise. (The last part was probably the best.)
From there, we toured the Jam Factory, which is not, as the name might suggest, a jam factory, but rather a studio for designing and creating visual art—from ceramics to glass to jewelry. We watched one artist create a bowl from a lump of clay, and another turn some delicate glass into a gorgeous crystal swan. The Factory doubles as a school, and the artwork created by its residents is available for purchase.
Before Stendhal syndrome could get us (we could have watched the artists at work for hours), we headed to the Holdfast Shores Marina for a quick ride with Temptation Sailing, which guarantees dolphin views in the harbor. We didn’t have the normal multiple-hour trip most passengers would get, but we did, indeed, see a dolphin swimming in front of the boat, and another playing closer to the marina on the way back.
After a tasty lunch of dim sum at Ding Hao Restaurant in Adelaide’s Chinatown, we met up with Mark Gleeson for a tour of Adelaide Central Markets, an indoor three-acre farmers market that has become a local institution. The stands offer an amazing variety of food (a Khazakstani meat-filled donut? Why not?) and plenty of organic options (the proprietors can—and will—tell you all about the farms where the food for sale comes from). Mark organized tastings at several of the stands, and we got to sample local brie (amazingly creamy), chocolates (decadent), salamis (too spicy even for me) and oysters (I heard they were great; not a big fan of mollusks, myself). Mark also got us a tour of the back of a butcher shop, which was very educational but probably not something squeamish people would really enjoy.
For the evening, we’re staying at the Rendezvous Allegra in the city’s business district—it’s a cool, modern kind of place, with windows in the bottom of the pool that look down onto the entranceway. (I’m really sad I won’t have a chance to try that pool.) Tomorrow: More touring of Adelaide, and then off to Melbourne to start the long journey home!
June 03, 2010
From the ATE Floor: More States, and Some Hotels
A few years back, several cities commissioned several artists to create statues of cows that would be placed around said cities in strategic spots. As pedestrians wandered around, they could see the differently designed plaster bovines and marvel at the varying artistic accomplishments. As pop art goes, it was pretty cool, and certainly great for conversation.
Taking their cue from that endeavor, Tourism Australia commissioned Australian artists to decorate plaster kangaroos, and the statues were placed throughout the ATE trade show floor. (They're automatically cooler than cows, because they're kangaroos.) Here's hoping they make their way onto the streets of the cities so pedestrians can enjoy them as well.
So! As promised, here is the state-of-the-States of Victoria and Tasmania... and some updates from a few Australian hotels.
Victoria & Tasmania
Melbourne is, understandably, the hub of Victoria’s tourism scene, but there is plenty to do beyond the city. Emma Miller of Tourism Victoria pointed out that sports travel is big in Melbourne, especially for golf. Wildlife fans can watch the penguins on Phillip Island (they can even take night-vision goggles to see them run around at night), visit a koala sanctuary or see fur seals on a beach. And after all that wildlife, the Yarra Valley wine region has some good vintages, Miller added.
A full forty percent of Tasmania (www.discovertasmania.com) is World Heritage protected, making it an ideal destination for nature fanatics. It’s also the one place in the world where animal lovers can see the Tasmanian devil in its natural environment (and, for the record, the Devil is becoming increasingly endangered due to a contagious cancer). A new golf course is due to open on the Barnboogle Dunes, a new museum dedicated to both classic and contemporary art (aptly named MONA—the Museum of Old and New Art) will open in January with a $200 million collection, and several new hotels and spas are in the works.
The Hotels: Part One
One of those new hotels opened just as ATE got started. Saffire is a high-end new property on Tasmania’s east coast. The main building looks either like a stingray or a gentle wave on a lake, depending on one’s perspective. The property has 20 suites that face Great Oyster Bay and the Hazards Mountains. Cool touch: The three-room spa mixes sapphire dust into its products.
The Windsor is the last five-star Victorian hotel in Melbourne, says General Manager David Perry. (It was built in 1883.) In those years, it has managed to remain unique and hold on to its old-fashioned style. “Major brands are in danger of becoming homogeneous,” Perry said. “A buffet is nice, but you’re not supposed to serve yourself. You’re supposed to have everything you want brought before you ask.” The orange juice at the hotel, he adds, is genuinely fresh-squeezed, and the tea they serve is their own unique blend. A renovation will launch in April 2012, and though details are mum at the moment, Perry did say that they will be adding a new tower and removing a wing that was added in the 1960s.
Kate Fowler, director of sales at The Langham, Melbourne, says that travelers have affairs with Sydney, but want to marry Melbourne. The hotel is on the north side of the city, close to the main shopping and nightlife hubs. (Fowler recommends Fiona Sweetman for shopping tours.) The hotel, she says, was designed to be a Victorian mansion, and today eschews modernity in favor of classic elegance and plenty of outdoor space. (The one concession to modern styles is the hotel’s Melba Restaurant, which focuses on local seafood.)
In the Blue Mountains, the Lilianfels Resort and Spa is an 85-room property 90 minutes from Sydney by car or train. The resort has a day spa with outdoor treatments, and just completed a soft refurbishment. Next door is its sister property, Echoes, a 14-room contemporary property aimed at families and couples. Guests of one property can cross-dine at the other, just to keep things fresh.
June 02, 2010
On the ATE Trade Show Floor: The States and Territories
The trade show floor at ATE
The sheer size and scope of ATE is really overwhelming, and covering the entire event in less than a solid week is pretty much impossible. But never fear; I’m making a good go of it.
One of the biggest announcements was the debut of the new Luxury Lodges of Australia, a new association of luxury experiential lodges throughout the country. Andrew McEvoy, Managing Director of Tourism Australia, said that these properties are “the tip of the iceberg” for Australia’s luxury market. “It’s not just about a marble bathroom or a good restaurant,” he added. “It’s about the whole environment…Every one of these properties celebrates Australia.”
The Latest from the States and Territories
South Australia is presenting itself as a “microcosm of what people can expect Australia to be,” according to Tess Fisher of the South Australian Tourism Commission. To that end, they are changing their focus from wine to Kangaroo Island and the Eyre Peninsula, where visitors can stay in five-star hotels, go camping, swim with tuna or shuck oysters in the water. (Qantas links flights to the Eyre Peninsula have already begun.)
Kate Ryan of Tourism NT hopes that the new Virgin Blue flights will open up the Northern Territory to new visitors. The Wildman Wilderness Lodge is due to open in March of 2011, along with a new resort at the Mary River National Park.
Two of the Luxury Lodges are in New South Wales --Wolgan Valley (an Emirates property that opened in October) and the Chateau Elan (a five-month-old property in the Hunter Valley). Beyond that, Sydney’s dining scene has taken off in recent years, as has the Hunter Valley Wine Region.
Queensland is still basking in the attention the Best Job in the World campaign brought the state, and is continuing to promote its exotic attractions (like Heart Reef, which is shaped like, well, a heart, and is popular for marriage proposals). With lots of islands (many of them private) offering different options, Tourism Queensland suggests guests tell them their interests, and the company will find an island that suits them.
Western Australia takes up a full third of the entire continent, and is reinventing itself as a luxury destination. (Sara Monahan hinted that several Hollywood heavyweights have vacationed there...Of course, we'd never namedrop!) In Exmeath, visitors can swim with whale sharks, and Kalgoorlie is “like Vegas without the neon.” Monahan did acknowledge that it takes a good amount of time to get to Western Australia from the U.S., especially the East Coast. (The trek from New York to Los Angeles, LA to Sydney, Sydney to Perth can take well over 30 hours.) She recommends flying to Dubai, and from there to Perth for an easier trip.
(I’ll be meeting with Tourism Victoria and Tasmania tomorrow, and will report back on what they have to say!)
June 01, 2010
A Short Stay at Nashville's Union Station
I just got back from a road trip down to Memphis, Tennessee and, on my way, I was fortunate enough to stay at Nashville's Union Station Hotel, A Wyndham Historic Hotel. And believe me, after days on the road this hotel was beyond paradise for a weary traveler.
The hotel was constructed out of a restored 19th-century railroad station and, while walking into the lobby, I truly felt like I had stepped back in time. Picture wood paneling, two massive clocks and the nice touch of an old-time railroad schedule behind the reception desk. No doubt the most outstanding feature is the 65-foot, vaulted ceiling which is made out of gold-leaf medallions and stained glass.
I stayed in room #620, a Station Master's Suite, which has an enormous bedroom (bigger than my apartment in New York) and a living room just as large. Nothing like ordering a glass of wine from room service and flipping on one of two flat-screen TVs before heading to the bars and restaurants Downtown, which is literally five blocks away. (Just walk down Broadway toward the river.)
The rooms are equipped with Wi-Fi, but for a fee. The business center, however, is free to all guests. There is also a fitness center and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Before I hit the road again, the next morning I made sure to stop at Prime 108, the hotel's restaurant. I recommend the omelette, which is plumped up with your choice of fillings. A side of white cheddar grits adds that necessary Southern touch.