November 24, 2008
Ixnay on the PDA in Dubai
You might want to rethink that romantic getaway to Dubai. That’s unless you make a concerted effort to table all lovey-doviness in public.
“Wait. You mean to tell me that a kiss on the lips might land me in the clink? You cannot be serious,” you may say. It's as serious as a heart attack; as certain as day giving way to night; and as sure that the Dow won’t be climbing over 10,000 any time soon. Clear enough for you?
This all came to a head in October when two Britons were sentenced to three months in jail and fined $300 each for engaging in lewd behavior (insert imagination here) on Jumeirah Beach, which runs adjacent to three Jumeirah properties, including the Burj Al Arab, in July.
In response to this, hotels, like the Madinat Jumeirah, are issuing “etiquette guides,” leaving them on restaurant tables and other places in guests’ purview. The guides remind guests that the possibility of arrest for inappropriate public displays is real. The hotel is quoted as saying that anything more than a peck on the cheek could result in detainment. Further, the guide makes it clear that drinking is not part of Muslim culture and that any drunken behavior is a serious offense.
Anyone else see a budding problem here? Not to make light, but this is like someone hosting a barbeque, but frowning upon carnivorism. Dubai has been marketing itself of late as an oasis in the middle of the desert, the place to come for leisure fun. They aren’t marketing to other Emirates or even others in the Arab world. No, they are looking to entice the West, a crowd that is certainly more hedonistic than Muslim nations. Westerners, by nature, like having a good time— even if that means planting a fat one on their significant other (or significant other at that moment) in public. Oh, and drinking alcohol? Westerners, particularly on vacation, like to hit the sauce, which, invariably, can lead to a bit of raucity.
I am the first to respect a country’s code of conduct or behavior. As world travelers, this is important. When I was in London— years back, when I was a young immature lad— I used poor judgment and started in with Sinn Féin over a pint of Guinness at a local pub. The barkeep quickly admonished me, putting me in my place. Point taken: When in London stick to talk about darts and the Queen.
This is different. Dubai has been doing everything it can to make itself, if not a reprint, a beacon for Western lifestyle. If you are looking to entice as many foreigners as possible, it’s going to prove difficult to force your rules on them; particularly a no kissing in public clause. If guests to Dubai are going to feel like every one of their moves is being watched, well, pretty soon it’s going to catch on that Dubai might not be the best place to vacation.
I hope it doesn’t come to that: Dubai has a lot to offer, from impressive hotels/resorts with incomparable amenities, to rich green golf courses, exquisite cuisine and lovely white sand beaches. But, if it’s going to open itself to an influx of foreign visitors, be prepared to deal with a culture that is different. What you see as decorum rooted in years of history and religion, others may see as Draconian.
So, the next time you
find yourself in Dubai, on a moonlit beach, under the stars—think twice
before you move in for a kiss. A hand slap might not be the only thing
that gets slapped on you!
By: David Eisen
November 24, 2008
Touring the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
Travel Agent's editorial director, Ruthanne Terrero, is on Hawaii’s Big Island this week, attending Classic Vacations' annual Marketing Partners event, which recognizes the luxury FIT wholesaler's top agencies. She stole some time today to review a luxury hotel in the area, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Here is her report.
I've just taken a tour of the Four Seasons, Hualalai on Hawaii's Big Island. The architecture of this resort is amazing; its open-air main building is comprised of dark woods and open spaces. It's very understated and relaxing. On this rainy day it was truly tropical and luxurious in its feel, all at once.
The resort, which has 254 rooms, is undergoing upgrades under the direction of Hill Glazier, the original architect for the 12-year-old resort. Currently, there are 20 one- and two-bedrooms suites being added to the inventory. This is being done by building a parlor between two existing rooms to create a suite. These accommodations are being rolled out as they are completed and management expects them to be done by Spring 2009.
The demand for suites comes from customers who are traveling with their families, according to Donna Kimura, director of public relations for the property.
Also in the works is an expansion of the spa, which will include a couples hall with a plunge pool and soaking tub. In the meantime, a working spa with five treatment rooms is available to guests. The new spa, as well as the remodeling of the Beach Tree Bar & Grill, will reopen this December (2008), mid-month.
The room I toured, which is not under construction, is room #1102. This is considered an Oceanview Room. I liked the layout very much. When you walk in, you face a large walk-in closet. To your left is a bathroom with a picture window looking out to your own outdoor shower, which, of course, has walls for privacy.
To the right is the bedroom, which also includes a sitting area. The ground-floor, outdoor area seemed private enough with lovely views of the ocean which, at this property, is very active with lots of waves and rugged terrain around it. Note: It’s currently whale-sighting season on The Big Island. It runs from November through April, although you may see the occasional whale for a few weeks after that.
This room is priced in the $885-$935 per night range throughout the year, depending on season. The room above it, considered an Ocean View Prime, runs between $935 and $1,035 per night. These are 2008 rates; 2009 rates will be released soon.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is offering a deal for a fourth free night through December 15.
November 22, 2008
Classic Launches Aggressive Programs to Assist Agents
Classic's Million-Dollar Club
Travel Agent's editorial director, Ruthanne Terrero, is on Hawaii's Big Island this week where she's covering Classic Marketing Partners Weekend and touring such properties as the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
Classic Vacations is taking the challenges in the marketplace very seriously and, as a result, has put a number of strategies into play. The luxury FIT wholesaler, which is currently hosting its top-producing travel agencies at its annual Classic Marketing Partners Weekend on the Big Island of Hawaii, said that one of its newest programs allows travel agents to call Classic if they find a competitor with better pricing on a comparable product. Classic will then turn around a competitive analysis within two hours for the agent.
Additionally, Classic— which sells Hawaii and the South Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico, Australia and New Zealand— will continue to place aggressive deals into the marketplace that combine hotel deals, airfare credits and travel agent bonus programs. For example, a current program for Hawaii offers generous value-adds from the local hotel market, up to $500 in airfare credits and an offer to travel agents to earn a $100 American Express gift card after five bookings. Greg Bernd, vice president of sales for Classic, said that that program has become the most successful in the company’s history. A similar offer for Europe was just launched and includes a $500 airfare credit for every five nights; meaning if the client travels for 10 nights, they’ll receive a $1,000 airfare credit. A program is also in the works for the Caribbean.
Tim MacDonald, president of Classic, said that the company will launch a booking engine for travel agents on its website in the first quarter of 2009. This is a capability that Classic’s top producers have been demanding for some time, said MacDonald. Right now, the only way for a travel agent to make a booking through Classic is by phone, he noted.
“This is something we've been behind the times on and we're so excited to have this new capability,” said MacDonald.
This major initiative for the company, which will streamline the booking process dramatically and save a great deal of time for both the supplier and its travel agent customers, has MacDonald optimistic for 2009. In fact, he is confident that the increased efficiency in the booking process will counter the tough times the entire travel industry is likely to face next year.
Classic's $5 Million Club
Times are indeed challenging. In Hawaii, overall visitation for the islands is down 25 percent. MacDonald noted that some of that downturn was spurred by the fact that Hawaii had become an extremely expensive value proposition and that, in some cases, consumers began going to Mexico instead. He noted that Hawaii room pricing had reached new record high rates and that airfares earlier this year were in the $1,000 range. Pricing on both hotels and air to Hawaii have come down recently and, for that reason, the destination will now become more of a value play for clients. MacDonald did warn though that it may take time for the perception of Hawaii as an expensive destination to change.
Other news that may help Hawaii tourism is the fact that the Mauna Kea on the Big Island is set to reopen in December; that property, which has been closed to undergo a $150 million refurbishment, is a long-time favorite of affluent consumers. The Princeville Resort on Kauai, meanwhile, is being rebranded as a St. Regis and will reopen early next year. The Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki is set to open shortly after being closed for a $110 million refurbishment.
In the meantime, Classic Vacations will continue to enhance its customer service levels, said MacDonald. The company, which is already known for its top-level service, is focusing on continuously training its reservationists during this downturn.
“The culture of customer satisfaction is a number-one priority at Classic,” MacDonald told the luxury travel advisors at the Marketing Partners event. “Repeat business and referrals are the key to success for luxury travel agents. Delivery customer satisfaction is vital and Classic is dedicated to helping you with that.”
Classic will also launch a series of webinars for travel agents in 2009, to be presented by MacDonald and Bernd. “We will help you get through this time,” said MacDonald.
In other news, Classic announced that it is once again taking group bookings from travel agents. It had moved away from that practice but found that its agent customers were going to other suppliers who did provide the service; that discovery prompted the reinstatement of the program, said Bernd.
MacDonald pointed out to the audience that Classic now only works with hotels in the luxury segment, forgoing anything below the four-star level. He said that that decision was made because, historically, he has found that the vast majority of customer complaints are generated from hotels that are on the two- and three-star level. When working with such properties, “70 percent of the time is spent fixing those problems even though that level of hotels generates only 30 percent of the business,” he said.
Travel agents will also find that Classic has modified the appearance of its brochures. The new look, which features an elegant cover and larger photos inside, was designed to create and aspirational feel to travel to the places it is promoting. “Our hope is that travel agents will be inspired to place these on their coffee tables and look at it as a ‘wish book’ for travel,” said MacDonald.
November 21, 2008
The PhocusWright Conference in Hollywood has a feeling to it which can only be described as hopeful nervousness. Clearly the crowd is thrilled by the falling oil prices’ possible effect on airline prices, but not what’s brought it on— the plunging economy. Still, many point out how many opportunities abound for travel agents to get in on non-traditional items.
At the vacation rental panel, several speakers noted that there was hardly an awareness of their sector even though rentals can easily run into five figures and, therefore, put extra money in travel agents' pockets on any decent commission. Douglas Quinby, senior analyst for PhocusWright, reflected this by stating that rentals represented only 8 percent of the total U.S. travel market. Quinby also noted that agents also have to open themselves up more to the money-conscious traveler. “Americans still love to travel but they’re waiting to find out what’s going to happen with the economy,” he said. “They’ll still go on a vacation, but instead of the trip to Mexico it may be a destination they can drive to. Agents need to see that there are many products they can sell them for those kind of trips, too.”
Chatting with Rod Cuthbert, CEO of Viator, a travel activities booking company, he couldn’t help but express his continued disappointment at agents not promoting activities as much as air and hotel. “Nobody says they had an amazing seat on Delta and that made the trip,” he jokes. “They talk about the exciting helicopter trip they took over a scenic view. We’re handing out commissions through ARC on items costing thousands and agents aren’t being aggressive enough to suggest them to their clients. That has nothing to do with a bad economy— that’s just failing to take advantage.”
Sam Gilliland, CEO of Sabre, showed concern at the rise of flight costs in his speech, noting a National Business Travel Association study found that domestic business trips cost $175 more than it did a year prior. But, at the same time, he thought there was still room for investment by the Southlake, TX-based GDS, albeit conservatively.
Joe Romans, vice president of sales for Relevex, a travel technology
company, felt very little optimism, however, believing the drop in
travel revenue would be double what most projections are. “It’s up to
the agent to educate themselves on every aspect of their business or
they’re not going to survive,” he says. “They have to utilize CRM like
never before, going to their customers with trips instead of waiting
for them to always initiate it. Customers are putting out clues about
what they’ll buy. It may be they always go somewhere for their birthday
or some other trend—the agent needs to send them ideas months before so
it shows they’re working for them.” He let his eyes dart around the
exhibitor room for a moment before they came squarely back on a last
thought for the conversation. “People are putting on a brave face but
the next year’s not going to be pretty.”
By: Eric Butterman
November 21, 2008
Property Analysis: Beach Palace, Cancun
CANCUN, Mexico— After a tour of some notable family and couple–oriented luxury products in the Riviera Maya, Travel Agent decided to complete our recent week in Mexico by inspecting some notable Cancun and Cancun-area hotels as well.
Our first stop placed us at Palace Resorts’ Beach Palace, Cancun. This all-inclusive property, which was, like most Cancun properties, devastated by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, reopened in 2007 and is practically 100 percent new. There were only two room categories here (Superior and Presidential suites), which made for an easy tour.
Our favorite feature, however, was the rooftop bar which is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Considering most hotels only have the indoor lobby bar or outdoor swim-up bars open during the day, we thought it was unique touch to have a bar where guests can stay dry and enjoy a cocktail outside during peak sun hours.
The best room we saw, and perhaps the best room in the resort, was room #1000, which was one of the property’s 24 Presidential Suites. There is a Jacuzzi in every room, a living area and dining area, and a King bed in the bedroom, but our favorite aspect—again—involved being outside. There is a spacious balcony with views of the ocean and of the main pool. Just in front of the main pool is a 500-foot-high projection screen where movies are played at night. But the best part of the screen is that the resort airs the National Football League’s Super Bowl on it every year and it is completely visible from the balcony. So, your clients can book the Presidential Suite and essentially their own private Super Bowl party. This, along with some very chic sports bars with more than 20 flat-screen TVs, makes this the perfect guys getaway property.
Then again, the 10-treatment room spa and shopping area make this a great haven for a girls' getaway too. Couples, of course, will feel comfortable here as well but we got the impression that this resort is a great spot for a vacation with friends. Agents should call Luis Miguel Ojeda Arsuaga, general manager, at 011-52-998-891-4110, ext. 4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, view www.palaceresorts.com
By: Joe Pike
November 21, 2008
The Algonquin Hotel
The Neighborhood: I took the 7 train to The Algonquin, which is located at 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Ave. I am going to totally digress for a moment, so try and stick with me. I wouldn't exactly call myself a nature girl, but one of my favorite places in New York City is Bryant Park. I got a chance to walk by the area, which is being set up with shops for the holiday season, while on my way to the hotel. Ok, I kind of lied— there is a point to my story: If you have clients who love to sit in parks or people watch, a short walk from the Algonquin to Bryant Park is the place for them.
First Impressions: When I entered the hotel, I was a little taken aback by the lighting. The entire floor is awash in dim lighting. If you wear glasses, this might be the time to pull them out of your pocket or purse. Fast-paced jazz was playing in the background and I felt as if I had stepped from modern, chaotic NYC into the world of Dorthy Parker and old-time New York. It seems that this is the place to go for anonymity. Although my presence was somewhat acknowledged, it seems as though people are encouraged to chat with their friends without interruption. The reception desk is only a small part of the main room. Once you enter the lobby, there is a lounge to the left where people are sitting in comfortable chairs and speaking with friends. New Yorkers mainly keep to themselves, but if you go to The Algonquin in jeans or sweats, I am almost positive that people will stare.
I wasn't trying to be clever with the Dorothy Parker reference earlier, the property is actually one of her old haunts. Parker, along with other notable writers, formed the famous Algonquin Roundtable here.
I can't forget Matilda— no, not that children's book character. Matilda is a cat— in fact, the resident cat at The Algonqin. If you are allergic to cats, I'm sorry.
A Room With a View?: Not so much. I did get to take a look at one of the rooms and it faced construction going on next door. The room itself, however was a decent size and suitable for a couple traveling together.
Is It Worth It?: Pitch this hotel to clients who are not looking for the modern take on New York. As earlier mentioned, jazz blasted from the lobby— most contemporary hotels have down tempo or "chill" music playing in the background. I was in the lobby for quite a while and figured the selection would vary, it didn't. Also, if your clients are fans of cabaret, this is the place to go. I was lucky enough to see Andrea Marcovicci perform while I was at the hotel. However, I will leave our resident cabaret fan Jena Tesse Fox to describe her performance. Check out Jena's next blog for more.
November 19, 2008
Parisian Gourmet Double Header
Richard Nahem, an ex-New Yorker living in Paris, leads private insider tours showing visitors the Paris most of them never see on their own (www.eyepreferparistours.com), and also writes a popular insider's blog www.eyepreferparis.com.
Macarons at Gerard Mulot
My Marais tours are my specialty, and one of the things I like most is showing people the wonderful gourmet and food shops in the area. Two of my favorites are a creative chocolate shop with the most unusual chocolate sculptures and one of the top patisseries in Paris.
I call it my double sugar whammy part of the tour and, after walking around the neighborhood seeing the splendid historical buildings and beautiful parks and gardens, I ask the client if they are thirsty or hungry and would they like to stop for refreshments. I take them to Gerard Mulot off the Place des Vosges, one of the master pastry chefs of Paris emporium, and the clients' eyes bulge and their mouths salivate over the glistening, mouthwatering pastries. One of their specialties is their famous macarons in over 15 flavors including classic fillings of raspberry, lemon, almond, caramel, and chocolate, and more exotic ones like passion fruit, cassis, and rose caramel. After the client finally narrows down the tough choice of picking one pastry or a few flavors of macarons, we sit and inhale our treats and wash it down with their strong coffee, which energizes us to continue the tour.
An array of treats at Josephine Vannier
As if we didn't indulge enough with the pastries, the next stop is Josephine Vannier, a delectable chocolate shop a few doors down. We marvel at the incredible chocolate sculptures in the window and the latest theme is a collection of chocolate boxes with varying yellow happy and sad faces painted on each one. Once inside, we are assailed with an intense scent of chocolate and amused by the other sculptures of musical instruments, cell phones, Eiffel Towers, and globes. As wonderful as the sculptures are, they are not the most transportable, so the client usually opts for something they can munch on right away. I suggest the exotic flavored chocolate bars with combinations of salt and pepper, dried raspberry, spice bread, curry and pimento spice, and dried apple and pear.
After the clients complain that I made them break their diet, they profusely thank me for tantalizing their taste buds, expressing that the treats were well worth every calorie.
By: Richard Nahem
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 17, 2008
Leading Hotels Focuses on Luxury in a Down Economy
Travel Agent was on location in Boston last week for The Leading Hotels of the World’s (LHW) Annual Convention, which brought together top-level representatives of member hotels from all over the world. The conference’s general session on Thursday touched on a number of hot topics, particularly how the failing economy is impacting the luxury side of the business.
Jean-Jacques Gauer, LHW chairman, didn’t mince words after welcoming guests. “The luxury business-traveler segment is going away with great speed,” he noted. “The current troubles are twice as marked for luxury.” Fueling this downturn, he said, is the fact that the number of luxury rooms throughout the world have doubled to 80,000 over the past 10 years.
For that reason, LHW, after years of record growth, ended the month of September 10 percent lower than the same period in 2007. That trend continued into October and November, according to Gauer.
Taking an overview of the entire luxury segment, Gauer noted that the super rich are spending regardless of the economy. Of note, he said, is the fact that the number of Asian billionnaires on the Forbes list jumped by one-third this year.
“As for the more traditional customers who provide the bulk of LHW’s business, they will expect good service and there will be a flight to quality,” said Gauer. As a result, luxury brands will be more important than ever, he said. “There is also a flight to authenticity so hotels should train their staffs to provide authentic service. This is a time to redouble our efforts.”
Paul McManus, who is retiring in his role as president and CEO of LHW, but who will take on the new title of vice chairman of Leading Ventures, provided a personal retrospective of his 10 years of leading the organization (he's been with the company for 16 years overall).
McManus said that one of his proudest accomplishments was founding The Leading Hotel Schools program, which has placed 450 students in 200 hotels around the world. "This industry is facing a human resources crisis,” he said, adding that fostering young talent will continue to be a focus of his.
Ted Teng, Leading's new president and CEO, pledged that he would continue to make it feasible for the hotels in the Leading system to run independently so that they can provide their guests with unique experiences without trying to imitate what the chain hotels are doing.
"We are the 'indies,'” said Teng. "We are not going to try to out-Four Season the Four Seasons. Having an intimate and engaging relationship with our hotels and our customers is our goal."
Teng also said that growing the LHW system is not the most important strategy for the organization right now but that "leading more and better revenue to [its hotels] is."
As for the economic downturn, Teng said the decision to discount room rates is a decision that is up to the individual hotels but that, in his experience, "discounting to existing customers brings negative rewards." Having said that, he admitted that if existing, lucrative group accounts are demanding discounts, “hotels may have a difficult time."
Additionally, he noted that, in a downturn, top accounts tend to narrow down the list of suppliers with whom they do business. As a result, Teng advised, “if you're not already on their list, this is not a good time to try to get on it." Instead he suggested that hotels should focus on existing business. "During tough times, good relationships are founded," he said.
Keynote speaker Oscar de la Renta, who is one of the world's most famous fashion designers as well as the owner of a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic, gave his take on what luxury— an oft-overused word— means to him. "Luxury is very simple," he said. "It's not about riches. It's a place where you feel an inner peace about yourself.”
De la Renta, who is an owner, along with Julio Iglesias, Frank Ranieri and Theodore Kheel of the Punta Cana Resort & Club, said the group will begin building an additional boutique hotel next year and that it is looking to expand to other locals in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.
De la Renta, who designs for the wealthiest people in the world, also gave his take on the current economy."There is a lot of money out there but people are holding onto it,” he said with confidence. "Once we build a sense of confidence, we will be over this phase. [The recovery] will happen very quickly in the United States.”
Robert Frank, senior writer for The Wall Street Journal and the author of “Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich,” concurred in his presentation to the audience that “there is a lot of money out there. There are now 9 million households in the United States that are worth more than $1 million.” Having said that, Frank pointed out that “we are seeing the fastest wealth destruction in history, it’s worse than the dot-com decline.” Along those lines, Soethby’s and Christie’s just had their worst auctions ever, with some blockbuster-level of art receiving no bids at all, said Frank. “The wealthy are holding onto their money,” he said, again agreeing with de la Renta.
Frank also pointed out the fact that many of today’s wealthy individuals have less savings than one might imagine. Starting out as members of the middle class, they obtained their affluence by selling off their companies or going public. The lifestyles they subsequently adapted require a tremendous amount of upkeep, with butlers, housekeepers, grounds keepers, etc., not to mention the yachts, Ferraris and wine cellars they must upkeep. Frank predicted those who once owned jets will now charter them instead, he said, to avoid the cost of maintaining their own plane. He did not expect them to return to commercial airlines, however.
This year, the wealthy are changing the way they operate, Frank said, going from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption; from “stuff and status” to “memories and moments;” from indulgence to health and wellness and from Hummers to Priuses.
“Philanthropy and self-improvement are saturating everything the wealthy do,” he added. “We are moving from a ‘wants’ to a ‘needs’ society. People want education and experience; they want something that reflects their values.”
Because simply being wealthy tends to isolate an individual, the affluent will be seeking to reconnect more in the future, he said.
In closing, Frank predicted that 2009 “will be a wash,” in terms of the economy “because there are still a lot of bad assets out there,” but that “2010 may be better. Service matters now more than ever,” he advised. “That is what people value now.”
November 17, 2008
RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico— The last property we saw during Travel Agent's recent tour of Riviera Maya properties was certainly worth the wait. Located just next door from the Mandarin Oriental, Riviera Maya, was Fairmont Mayakoba.
This 401-room resort felt a lot smaller than it actually was because it utilizes every inch of its space. This is the perfect spot for big groups or families. But don’t discourage your honeymooners or married couples from coming here as well. The family areas are completely separate from the adults area, so you can hear children splashing in the pool in one spot and hear absolutely nothing in another.
The best rooms here are the two Presidential Villas, both of which can be made into three-bedroom villas. They have an ocean view as well as views of hole #15 of the property’s professional golf course where the PGA toured in the past and is planning to tour again in February.
Agents should e-mail Kevin Hilton, director of leisure sales, at email@example.com. Stay tuned as Travel Agent reports on the second leg of our one week trip to Mexico. Next time, we’ll tell you about the Cancun area resorts we had the opportunity to tour.
By: Joe Pike