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.
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!)
May 31, 2010
On the ATE Trade Show Floor: New Australia Campaigns
Rick Allert, Andrew McEvoy and Nick Baker at ATE
You know a trade show is going to be intense when orientation takes a full day, and when you’re given rolling suitcases to carry all the press kits you’ll be carrying upon arrival.
The Western media orientation day at ATE kicked off with several press conferences. The biggest news was the launch of the second phase of Tourism Australia’s new marketing campaign, including a catchy new jingle to emphasize their tagline that “There’s Nothing like Australia.” (Have a listen where it says "watch our new ad" and then try to get it out of your head. It’s impossible.) Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia, said that the world travels to experience something different—“And we are a different experience,” he said.
The campaign and video involves everyday Aussies—as opposed to celebrities—sharing what they love about their country, and what makes it unique. Nick Baker, the executive general manager marketing, pointed out that the campaign will help visitors—and even Australians on staycations—find hidden gems that they might otherwise have missed.
At the next conference, Ian Darbyshire, CEO of South Australian Tourism Commission, talked about recent trends in travel to South Australia, and some of the features that makes Australia unique as a destination. Visits to South Australia have increased almost 25 percent over last year, and visitor spending has increased more than five percent. Darbyshire pointed out that wine, wildlife and Aboriginal culture were all within Adelaide’s city limits, and that over 200 wineries were within a one-hour drive. But, he added, the new focus for South Australian tourism will be away from wineries and towards Kangaroo Island—“Australia’s answer to the Galapagos,” he called it. He pointed out that there are now 29 direct international flights to South Australia per week (up from 13 in 2003), and that 27 cruise ships arrived in South Australia’s port’s last season.
At the third conference, McEvoy announced a new partnership between Tourism Australia and Qantas. Rob Gurney, Qantas Group executive commercial, said that Qantas is “a living, breathing advertisement for Australia,” and said that the new partnership would launch a new marketing campaign.
Alan Joyce, Qantas’ CEO, acknowledged that the past year has been a rough one for the aviation industry—“We’ve seen everything but a plague of locusts,” he quipped. (Alan, please don’t tempt fate!) Still, he added, Qantas has remained profitable during the downturn thanks to a diverse profile that allows resources to flow to whatever segment is strongest. With both local, international, low-cost, freight and long-haul low-cost flights available, at least one is bound to bring in money even if the others take a hit. During the economic downturn (which seems to have earned the acronym of the GFC: Global Financial Crisis), he acknowledged, premium sales did drop, but they are now returning.
Gurney also said that by this time next year, Qantas would have its tenth A380 plane, with five of them dedicated to the London-Sydney route. Frequent fliers will also benefit from new technology that puts a microchip in their luggage so that it’s synced to their itineraries. Perth will be the first city to try the technology, and it will be in Sydney’s airport before 2011.
After the Qantas conference, I had a chance to ask Stephen Thompson, executive manager international sales, a few questions about the airline’s future. The increase in A380s, he said, will be great for a large airport like LAX, so that more customers can get to a destination at one time. (In Qantas’ current seating arrangement, an A380 can hold 450 passengers.) The ultra-modern planes are necessary, he added, to convince Americans to stay in the air for such a long flight. Ideally, as markets grow and shift, he said he would like to see nonstop service between Sydney and Dallas.
The recent growth of other airlines to and within Australia—especially under the Virgin banner—has encouraged Qantas to adjust their pricing to remain competitive. “It’s never been cheaper” to fly to Australia, he said. Still, he didn’t seem concerned about the other airlines offering service Down Under. “We have the biggest domestic network and the best connections,” he pointed out. He also said that Qantas will be working with the travel trade to reward agents for booking flights with the airline. “We’ll look after agents who look after us.”
May 14, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 10-14
Before we get started this week, I'd like to suggest agents (particularly those with clients who are eager to visit Great Britain) take time this weekend, or sometime soon, to go see the new Robin Hood film by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and William Hurt. I had the privilege of seeing an advance screening this past Wednesday and, in my layman's opinion, not only is the film a subtle and original take on the legendary figure (that is neither hoaky nor driven by a Robin Hood that speaks with an American accent- sorry, Costner), it has some beautiful scenery that could further entice clients to make the journey across the pond. The backdrop of the film can remind clients about the bucolic regions of the country where they can go to truly escape and, perhaps, get in touch with the original sources of thei heritage. Visit www.visitbritain.com/en/campaigns/robinhood for more and you'll see what I mean.
That being said, let's take a look at what readers have been saying at TravelAgentCentral this week. I'm glad to report that most of the comments this week have been focused on helping agents through advice or warning.
More on Vacation Rentals
We've been discussing the potential impact that vacation rentals can have on an agent's business for almost a month now, and the conversation is not going away just yet. In fact, two readers shared some information on the topic just this week.
First up this week was michael chisholm, of Wimco Villas. He wrote:
As a sales agent working for a villa reservation company, we help Travel Agents all the time as we apprciate the need to further the villa vacation market. The company I work for, www.wimco.com represents villas in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe and Nantucket and ALL our destinations have on island support for vactioners. In the ever expanding vacation rental marketplace, specialising in specfic destinations is important as this provides better accuracy overall.
Perhaps you are weary of potentially subjective information coming from a supplier, which is understandable. Therefore, I suggest you listen to Amanda, who posted:
Staying in hotels on vacation is a thing of the past! So many more people love the option of getting a vacation rental and having more privacy and more space. Not to mention how affordable they can be. I believe that vacation rentals are a great market for travel agents. I myself book vacation rentals and get nothing but great reviews.
Lisa is another non-supplier who is a strong supporter of this niche market, stating:
When in Hawaii, staying in a vacation rental whether it is in a villa or a home, it is the only way to go. I had the opportunity to work with the friendly staff at Tropical Villa Vacations, who showed a genuine concern for all of my travel needs. The location that we chose was perfect!
The fact that so many comments have been coming in on this topic over the course of a month (which is like years in Internet timing) is more than encouraging, to say the least. I hope agents take the opportunity to keep sharing more on the topic both here and at a discussion thread on AgentNation.
Speaking of AgentNation
Last week, we reported on Expedia's new Travel Agent Affiliate program and, although there have been no comments posted (yet) directly on the story, we've received feedback at our discussion thread on the matter at AgentNation. If you haven't signed up and/or logged in yet, here's what some agents had to share on the matter.
Angie was the first to respond, writing:
I am excited about this because now clients can't say "we booked it on Expedia". They will know we can get them the best price available no questions asked. I do have one question. I am trying to sign up online for the free sign up before June promo. It wants my bank info. Is that so they can bill us the 50dollars?
Meanwhile, user macaw_mom does not appear as enthused as Angie, posting:
I am not that excited. I see the online agencies like this worried they are losing to the True Travel Agent. Commission levels for TAAP are: 10% for Expedia Special Rate hotels $6 per booking for Agency Hotels 5% on vacation packages (flight+hotel, flight+car rental, flight+hotel+car rental). Note Minimum 3 night/3day Land Content 3% on vacation packages (flight+hotel, flight+car rental, flight+hotel+car rental). Note Less than 3 night/3day Land Content 10% for activities I just booked a 7 day vacation - Hotel/Air - my commission is $347.00 If I did it through Expedia - at 5% - my commission would have been $160.00 I work hard for my money - to build my business not theirs If people want to book from Orbitz or Expedia, I say okay... In 2010 I have seen an increase in customers, who say they are tired of spending so much time on the internet finding the best price. I will remain "true" to my agency & my customers, without affiliating with these online booking companies.
What's your take? Is the Expedia program an opportunity for agents as online travel agencies (OTAs) seek new relationships or is it, perhaps, a waste of time too late in the game? Agents chimed in on the subject at our Facebook page as well. Here is what some of them had to say.
Dedra Shahan wrote:
While it's wonderful to be recognized as valuable, I can't help but think these giant companies will market direct to our clients thus becoming Their clients. My prefered tour operators will price match. I work with companies that have always valued my expertise.
Laure Poffenberger shared:
They are chasing their tails now & realize what a great asset using a travel agent is. So much of travel just cannot be planned over the Internet & when there is a problem our clients want help from someone the know & trust. I in turn want to use a tour operator that I know & trust. I think OTA's are in trouble & are grasping at straws.
What are your thoughts? Hit us up by posting a comment below or at the original posting. You can also join the conversation at our Facebook page, send a tweet to us at our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) and join the discussion in real time at AgentNation.
Readers Request Answers
Sometimes, we write a report about a new business or supplier and some readers, apparently, believe that means we are that same business. That's flattering, in some regard, as they consider us the ultimate source of information on the matter. But as an organization that does its best to cover all aspects of the travel trade, it can be hard to answer specific questions.
For instance, we've received a lot of attention to our initial report on the introduction of Pet Airways to the industry. Most recently, one reader inquired about potential flights to Europe on the carrier.
Gisela Gonzalez Flores-Clarke wrote:
Your service looks fantastic!! When are you opening flights to Europe? I need to travel to England twice a year and need to bring my 5 kilo Yorkie. Sending him in the hold is definately not a option for me!!! I do hope you start service to Europe asap!!!!!!!!
I wish I had an answer for you, Gisela. With the company now just more than a year old, I kind of doubt they will be doing flights outside of the United States just yet. However, perhaps if you take a gander at the Help section Pet Airways web site you can find the answers you need, be it a timetable on potential flights or a straight up answer if it is going to happen, ever.
James Collier recently commented on a story in a similar manner. After learning about Tourism Ireland's new Golden Trekker for seniors riding Irish Rail, he commented:
This development is very welcome, my sister was born in UK of Irish parentd and they returned to Ireland when she was 2, she went to nurse in UKwhen she was 18 and has lived there since. She comes to stay with us each year and this will be very useful. I write for the Senior Times and I would appreciate an e-mail of this information and any other useful information for seniors travelling, including reserving seats, etc.
116 Sea Park, Malahide
James, I'd be delighted to help you by sharing any information I can find. However, you did not provide an e-mail for me to contact you. Can you post it in a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll see what I can do? Until then, if any agents and readers out there can share additional information on this program, that would be a great help. It runs through the end of the year. Here's the Tourism Ireland web site, which may provide answers: www.tourismireland.com.
America('s Vacation Center) is Under Attack!
Two months ago, there was a lot of attention on the temporary demise of Travelport and it transitioned to discussions on how an agent's leads may be affected. But as much as the conversation was based around Travelport, one reader brough America's Vacation Center (AVC) into the fray.
Mary brought it up, writing:
Beware of AVC They will take 70% of your commission and all referrals generated from that one lead will be their's, again taking 70% commision. I was promised the referrals as my own, which I thought would be worth giving up that initial commission,but boy was I wrong. I was hounded on every extra person that booked their trip and asked if they came from their live lead. They took that customer as their own because they were referred.. Also, all of my customer base that I put into their system at the time so I could market to them, are still being marketed to by AVC after I quit them as my host agency. That is so wrong. Just my 2cents worth.
Note that this is Mary's opinion and not that of the staff her at Travel Agent. Regardless, that's disappointing to read. Anyone out there able to support or rebuff Mary's take on AVC? I'd like to learn more (and I doubt I'm alone).
Advice for an Editor
Normally, an exchange between readers and writers/editors on the site involves our staff responding with some information to help our audience. But this week, we was a bit of the reverse happen as our own Jena Tesse Fox journeyed to Durban, South Africa for the 2010 Indaba trade show (the largest in Africa). Read her most recent report here.
But before Jen hit the trade show floor to share reports, she took a seemingly endless journey across the Atlantic Ocean, most of it pleasant thanks to South African Airlines. On the topic of drinking too much or not enough coffee before a flight, reader Alfredo Tor-Paz made a suggestion to Jena, stating:
In spite of the strong coffee, never drink so much caffeine after 6pm, it is a very good airline, SAA, my comment, would be over the transfer to domestic, there is no place to complain much....have you tried to fly via the USA??? Horror, thanks for reminding that, I still prefer transferring thru JNB...my grain of sand or salt.
I am currently in the midst of what has been numerous attempts to cut back on coffeed, and it is indeed hard. Still, Afredo's comments are spot on regarding drinking it at night. Hopefully Jena takes his advice before flying back next week.
Speaking of next week... we'll catch up again on what's causing buzz around the industry and at TravelAgentCentral. Keep the comments coming (below or elsewhere) and don't forget to extend to conversation to other outlets such as our Facebook page, our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) and in real time at AgentNation
By: Kirk Cassels
May 12, 2010
South Africa, Day Four: South African Airways & More Indaba
Today began with a breakfast hosted by South African Airways (and with speeches by representatives of same), followed by a media panel with several members of the SAA team.
Siza Mzimela, CEO of SAA, was excited about the airline’s growth, and mentioned two new routes that the airline will be flying (she wouldn’t say where, however, until the deal s were inked), the new planes they would be getting, and the new partnership with JetBlue. (This partnership means travelers can check their luggage in Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Seattle and pick it up when they arrive in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. Pretty cool.) Staff and crew are being increased (especially in preparation for the World Cup—had you forgotten about that yet?), security is being improved across the board (especially in the baggage departments, we heard), and plans are in place to expand into South America.
When the airlines meetings were finished, we headed back to the trade show floors for one last spin. A few highlights:
* Namibia recently received an impressive grant to boost their infrastructure, and several million of that has been earmarked for tourism. A comprehensive Namibia Tourism web site (www.mcanamibia.org.na) is in the works, and should be complete in a year. A new Hilton is scheduled to open around September in the capital city of Windhoek, and a new Kempinski will start construction later this year. Beyond that, Shareen Thude of the Namibia Tourism Board (www.namibiatourism.com.na) said, existing hotels are upgrading and renovating their rooms in hopes of becoming the hot new destination.
* The word “safari” apparently means “journey” in Swahili (my hotel has awful internet access, otherwise I’d look it up and confirm, so I’ll just take Kenya Tourism Board rep Anne Kanini’s word for it). In Kenya, there are lots of different kinds of safaris, and—from the pictures Kanini showed me—some pretty impressive sights to see while on them. The country sits on the equator, and certain species—like giraffes--are divided by the line. Visitors can see the “Big Five” within a four hundred-meter drive, she added, especially at the Maasi Mara. She also mentioned the “Obama Effect,” with tourists coming to the village where President Obama’s Kenyan family still lives. Serena Hotels are popular throughout the country, and there is a Fairmont in Nairobi. (www.magicalkenya.com)
* Cullinan Diamonds offer tours of their diamond mines as well as completely unique and exclusive jewelry designs. (And when they say exclusive, they mean copyrighted. You’ll never have to worry about someone else showing up to the party wearing the same necklace!)
* Here’s a unique option for animal-lovers who want a different kind of safari: Dr. Peter Brothers runs African Vet Safaris, which brings visitors out into the wild to help tag and care for endangered species. There are different kinds of trips available for different people, from casual interest to veterinary students looking for hands-on experience. The guests’ funding of the trips, Brothers said, helps the company’s conservation efforts, and the excursions offer a new perception on the issues facing the environment and the animal kingdom.
Tomorrow, we head off to George, Knysna, and the Views Hotel.
May 11, 2010
South Africa, Day Three: More World Cup, and Big Reptiles
After hitting the trade show floor at Indaba in Durban, South Africa, Jena Tesse Fox visits one of the FIFA World Cup stadiums and has close encounters with snakes and crocodiles.
People of the ancient world built magnificent temples to their gods. Today, we spend small fortunes to build skyscrapers—or stadiums. Durban’s new Moses Mabida Stadium is a gorgeous feat of architecture; spacious and airy from every angle, with a truly cool bridge over the top that serves as a cable-car track on one side (for great views of the city) and a bungee platform on the other. (I’m not making this up. We watched a man swing down from a wall! For real!)
After a quick walk through the new stadium, we were seated in the prime seats as a group of tourism and FIFA professionals took to the field (well, a raised platform off the field) to argue about how South Africa has handled the World Cup so far, what they expect to happen when the games begin, and what will happen when the final whistle blows. Monhla Hlahla, CEO of Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), pointed out the renovations of South Africa’s airports (including the brand-new King Shaka International Airport in Durban, which can handle the biggest planes) as a sign of long-term investment. “When the economy grows, traffic will increase,” she said, adding that landing fees are in South Africa’s currency—the Rand—rather than in dollars or euros, which keeps prices low. She did acknowledge, however, that the World Cup would not cure all of the country’s economic problems. “The world is challenging our economy,” she said.
Security was also a major concern (after several riots broke out at other World Cup games in the past), and Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of Police, said that he had traveled to several countries to learn how to handle those nations’ more— shall we say— excitable fans when they get too excitable. By understanding how each country has cooled hot heads in the past, Cele hopes to keep the games— and post-game events— from getting out of hand.
For the afternoon, we got away from the city for a few hours and drove to PheZulu Safari Park, a tourist attraction with a re-created Zulu village, performers and local guides to explain what daily life was like for the Zulu people in the area. Even better, the park is situated at the top of a large hill with breathtaking views over the surrounding hills and valleys. (And I mean that literally. Watching the sun set over miles and miles of hills made me stop breathing for a few seconds. It’s amazing. No photograph can do it justice.)
The Crocodile and Snake Parks make up another notable section of PheZulu. We walked around large enclosed ponds filled with crocodiles sunning themselves in the afternoon heat. (We were told that the staff always counts how many crocs are in each section, just in case one is hiding in an inconvenient spot…) One croc, 105-year-old Junior, was kind enough to jump out at us with his teeth bared…and, yes, I shrieked like a little girl. (C’mon, if a massive reptile jumped out at you, you’d shriek, too.) Best of all, I got it all on video…including my very embarrassing screams and nervous giggles.
We then headed up to the Snake Park, where we learned about the various vipers indigenous to South Africa, and how deadly they actually are. (Turns out, it takes some snake venom hours, sometimes days, to become lethal. If that’s true, why did Cleopatra choose an asp to dispatch her? One of those mysteries we’ll probably never solve…) I got to play with a very friendly boa constrictor named Fluffy who, I was told, would probably not hurt me if I put him (her? Who can tell?) around my shoulders. Probably.
May 10, 2010
South Africa, Day Two: World Cup, Durban & Indaba
President Jacob Zuma of South Africa addresses the audience at Indaba
In the United States, we have "casual Fridays." In South Africa, they have "football Fridays," when everyone wears soccer jerseys. It makes for a pretty great visual.(And for the benefit of our North American readers, I’ll use the word “soccer” from here on in, unless I’m quoting someone directly. Seriously, though, why do we use the word “football” for a game where players barely touch the ball with their feet? But I digress…)
With the FIFA World Cup just over a month away, all of South Africa is caught up in soccer fever, and this Indaba conference could practically be called World Cup Indaba. Everyone is excited about not only the World Cup, but about the attention the world will be paying to South Africa as a nation, and Africa itself as a continent.
It only makes sense: The audience for the World Cup, both live and on worldwide TV, “gives brand awareness, and is an opportunity you can’t pay for,” said Roshene Singh, CMO of the conference, on its first day. The exhibits at Indaba cover a range of industries, covering accommodations, tour operators, car rentals, airlines, other products and nine provinces as destinations, as well as other Southern African countries and Kenya. By the end of the show, she expects over 13,000 attendees, between visitors and exhibitors, and they had to turn exhibitors away due to space constraints. (For the record, the entire campus stretches out over 60,000 square meters.)
But, she added, “the real legacy of the World Cup will be how much tourism continues afterwards.” Many new hotels have been built across the host cities; the roads and public transportation services have been improved; and employees have undergone training to accommodate the influx of guests that is expected in the next two months. “We are on a path where we can only improve where we are,” Singh said. And the influx they are getting for Indaba is a great dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
On The Trade Show Floor
While the main buzz from the officials in Durban may be about soccer, there was a greater variety of conversation on the floor. Among the 2,000 exhibitors, I spoke to:
* Jewel Africa, a small chain of high-end jewelry stores (and by “small” I mean the company only has two outlets) in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The goldsmiths will create bespoke pieces, marketing manager Kim Miller told me, and they offer private shopping events.
* For those not satisfied with just shopping for gold, the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town celebrates the history of gold in South Africa, and (so I was told) inspires modern gold design. (Check out their late-night tours, which include a glass of wine sprinkled with gold dust.)
* For a more sobering museum experience, the Apartheid Museum recognizes South Africa’s more painful history, but also celebrates how a political prisoner became president.
* South Africa’s wines have become increasingly popular, and some wineries are now doubling as chic getaways with luxe hotels. Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards is a boutique property in the Franschhoek valley with 22 rooms (six of them suites) named for different varietals of grapes grown on the property (Shiraz, Merlot, etc. The Reserve Suite looks particularly nice, with a private Zen garden and Jacuzzi.) Cool touch: To guarantee that every room has a view of the valley, some of the rooms are built into the hillside, reachable by underground hallways. Since the rooms below blend into the landscape, guests in the upper rooms have unobstructed views. With 17 hectacres of vineyards, guests can go picnicking or even enjoy a wine-tasting on horseback. Agents should contact Marika Kok (011-27-21-876-2770, email@example.com).
* Drifters Adventours offers custom-built tour busses and several game lodges in Kruger National Park and Uganda. For a more active experience, guests take part in setting up and breaking camps, cooking, and other aspects of a tour.
* Wilderness Safaris are game lodges in seven Southern African countries (and the Seychelles) that focus on sustainability and responsibility in the wild. The brand’s Premiere Camps and Classic Camps are the most luxe, Carli Saxby told me, but all of their properties are three-star or above. The property in the Seychelles, for example, is the only hotel on North Island, and was recently renovated, while the Little Ongava has just three rooms that Saxby calls “palatial.” (It also overlooks a water hole where animals come to drink, and includes a blind in the brush where guests can watch the animals up close.) And each camp is unique: One camp, Abu, rehabilitates former circus elephants to help return them to the wild. The camp at Kafue offers a deal in which guests staying three nights are treated to a hot-air balloon ride—which, being largely silent, doesn’t scare away the animals below, offering a perfect chance to see wildlife at its peak.
I’m usually pretty cynical about ceremonies and speeches, but even I was quite impressed by the production put on to officially open Indaba (this was after several hours of conferences, meetings and the trade show being open, of course). Naturally, there was a soccer theme, but it all fit in quite nicely. Dr. Zweli Mkhize, premiere of KwaZulu-Natal, pointed out that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, and that this year is a celebration of “the efforts of the African people to free themselves.” Dr. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, earned cheers when he declared simply, “Yes, we are ready. Yes, this World Cup will happen.”
Even remarkable performances by a drumming group and the Drakensburg Mountain Boys Choir couldn’t top the cheers for the President of South Africa himself, Jacob Zuma. “The stadiums are ready. The host cities are ready. South Africa is ready. The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place,” he said. He called the five new stadiums that have been built for the World Cup the “crown jewels” of the country, but warned that a soccer game is only 90 minutes, and that the games were only the beginning of a new era for South Africa. All South Africans, he added, “would deliver a memorable event by being good hosts.”
March 18, 2010
Report from Best of Britain & Ireland Exhibition
The floor of the Best of Britain & Ireland exhibition
After two days of constantly running around the city, it was almost a relief to stay in one place for a whole day. The Best of Britain & Ireland exhibition brought dozens of specialists and tour operators from all over the British Isles together to celebrate all the things to see and do here. A much longer recap will follow, but here are a few attractions and destinations to bear in mind.
* Kent is hyping up its tourism campaign, reminding people that Canterbury has been a popular tourist destination ever since Thomas Becket was murdered (some would say martyred) in its cathedral almost 1,000 years ago. Two somewhat more modern attractions around Kent are the neighboring properties of Hever Castle and Penshurst Place, where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn. (Like I said, only somewhat more modern.) Naturally, the two estates celebrate their Tudor history with tours and events, and we heard tell that there is a package visiting sites used in the film The Other Boleyn Girl.
* In Devon, geology buffs can rent a car and drive along the Jurassic Coast line, where exposed rocks show off the layers of the earth. For those less inclined towards geology, there are cycling routes, walking tours and intimate bed-and-breakfasts for a genuine escape from the outside world. At The Globe Hotel, a small inn in the town of Topsham, General Manager Liz Hodges hosts unique events—like a community-wide pot-luck dinner that brought 1,500 people together for a locally-sourced meal. (She hopes to repeat the dinner this year.)
* Last year’s Homecoming Scotland campaign worked very well, said Linda McAllister, trade marketing manager with Visit Scotland. While the recession kept many people home, North American numbers to Scotland remained steady, and are “way up” for this year already. “Value-for-money is the most important message,” she said. “Events and festivals give clients a chance to really experience cultures.” She said some new fam trips were in the works, and that Scotland would begin promoting itself as a destination for adventure travel, including sea kayaking and mountain climbing.
December 04, 2009
Luxury Travel Expo Proves Industry is Bouncing Back
The floor was filled with agents at Luxury Travel Expo
The best part of Luxury Travel Expo 2009 for me was not the suite I stayed at in The Signature at MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas nor the filet mignon and lobster I was treated to at the second annual Awards of Excellence on Tuesday. Instead, it was seeing thousands of industry representatives flooding the trade show floor on Wednesday and hearing something from exhibitors that we haven’t heard from tourism representatives pretty much all year – complete confidence.
In fact, there were destinations making strong luxury pushes at the show for the first time in the form of Croatia and Tanzania, there were cruise companies like Variety Cruises adding new destinations for 2010, there were reports from operators proclaiming Mexico was back in business and there were other companies claiming booking periods were getting back to normal.
We found one such example when chatting with Phil Cappelli, director of national sales, for Tauck World Discovery, and learned that the tour operator is bouncing back from a rough start to 2009. Cappelli told us that clients are going back to their old booking patterns of up to six to seven months in advance, something that hardly any supplier has seen in an economy-stricken 2009.
There was not a single empty seat for either of the show’s general sessions, the seminar’s were packed and the show was as populated as a midtown street in Manhattan. It may have taken close to a year, but the luxury industry is back because it never panicked by slashing rates and waited patiently while weathering the storm. Hopefully, luxury hoteliers and cruise companies take this momentum and ride with it through next year.
By: Joe Pike