May 16, 2011
On Site: New York to Izmir on Turkish Airlines
IZMIR, TURKEY—En route to Izmir, Turkey, for the weeklong "Living Izmir" press trip, Travel Agent had a chance to experience Business Class firsthand onboard Turkish Airlines, flying out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on Turkish Airlines’ Flight No. 2, connecting onward to Adnan Menderes International Airport in Izmir.
At JFK’s Terminal 1, business class passengers with Turkish Airlines have access to the airline’s shared CIP lounge with Korean Air. It has plenty of plush seats and armchairs, a telephone room, a fairly expansive work area and a rest area and a spread of small snacks and refreshments to keep jetsetters happy.
While flying on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, Business Class clients will immediately notice the herringbone design layout, which gives each passenger his or her own space to stretch out and unwind for the nine- or so –hours-long flight from New York to Istanbul. During the flight, business class passengers are treated to gourmet snacks, from fresh salmon canapés and a sampling of fruits and cheeses to filling entrees and an array of fine wines and spirits. The flight includes a dinner meal service, as well as a breakfast service just prior to landing in Istanbul. For breakfast service, passengers must fill out a menu request before turning down for the night following dinner.
Onboard bathroom facilities are spacious and included L’Occitane verbena-scented toiletries, and Turkish Airlines also offers a wide-range of movies, music, games and television shows from which to choose through its on-demand entertainment system.
When your clients arrive in Istanbul, be sure to advise them to obtain a visa first, which costs approximately $20, and then to pass through Passport Control. Business-class passengers with Turkish Airlines have the advantage of going through a fast-track line (look for window 30) to get through more quickly. This turned out to be a blessing for me, since my flight from JFK was delayed and I needed to make sure I got onto my flight to Izmir.
Lucky for me, I made it on time and to the domestic terminal. The flight to Izmir from Istanbul, which took place onboard a Boeing 737, was very short (a little more than an hour) and Business-Class passengers are also served a light lunch during the flight. Arriving in Izmir, clients will find a modern airport facility, perfectly suited for sending them on their way to explore the region.
Be sure to visit TravelAgentCentral.com often for more updates from Turkey throughout the week.
By: Deanna Ting
May 15, 2011
On Site: Travel Agent Arrives in Turkey
|A guestroom at the Moevenpick Hotel Izmir // (c) Moevenpick Hotels and Resorts 2011|
IZMIR, TURKEY—Travel Agent just arrived in Izmir, Turkey, for our press trip to explore Izmir, Turkey’s third most popular city, which is home to a history of more than 8,000 years, as well as a modern port city. Today, in fact, the city is an official candidate to host the 2020 World Expo.
While in Izmir, we are staying at the Moevenpick Hotel Izmir, a prime property located just steps away from the heart of Izmir’s Kemeralti beachside zone. We’re staying in room 507, which has a view of the water--I can even hear the sounds of the ship horns as they pass by. The room offers a king-size bed with plush linens and a nice array of amenities, from complimentary water bottles to Molton Brown toiletries and Wi-Fi accessibility. The room also features a flat-screen TV and a comfortable leather armchair for relaxing. I’m looking forward to later using the hotel gym (Coral Health Club) and the on-site restaurant, Margaux Restaurant, later in my trip.
This property seems ideal for leisure travelers who want to make the most of its ideal location—just steps from the water—and, of course, for fans of Moevenpick’s world-famous Swiss ice cream, too. More to come later from Izmir, Turkey, so please check in with TravelAgentCentral.com throughout the week for more posts.
By: Deanna Ting
May 10, 2011
On Site: Wrapping Up at INDABA 2011
INDABA 2011 has wrapped up, and my feet are still aching from running all over the trade show floor. (Memo to self: Wear sneakers next time.)
May 08, 2011
On Site: Fair Trade Travel in South Africa
Fair Trade is nothing new in terms of food, textiles and other products, but it’s a relatively new concept for the travel industry. FTTSA (Fair Trade Travel South Africa) is looking to change that, and is implementing a system by which hotels, tours, activities and other businesses can be certified as a Fair Trade company.
Katarina Mancama, FTTSA Project Manager, spoke at Indaba about how the company operates and what it guarantees. When a business wants to be certified as Fair Trade, they apply to the company and an assessor spends two to five days at the business to confirm that everything is…well, fair. A total of 14 operational areas are covered (including employment equity, community benefits, health and safety issues, workplace culture and even HIV/AIDS Awareness) before certification is granted, and the business is re-assessed every two years. (A paper audit takes place in alternating years.)
FTTSA has begun certifying whole packages, with financial support from the Swiss government. Every single aspect of the package has to be certified, Mancama said, from transportation to tour operators to the hotels. Some tour operators had to lower their commissions in order to earn their certification (for example, taking less money from a bed & breakfast than from a major chain hotel), and arranging reasonable cancellation fees. “We’re not saying tour operators shouldn’t make a profit,” Mancama said, “but everyone needs to get their fair share along the chain.” The first two packages were launched in Zurich last year, and a Germany-based package was announced at ITB in Berlin. Mancama said that the company is hoping to certify packages from the UK, France, Sweden and the Netherlands soon.
The cost for certifying a package is currently around €3,000, though larger companies will pay more to subsidize smaller ones. (The smallest certified company pays 500 rand per year—approximately $65.) Even better: Five percent of each fee collected goes into a central fund for social development in communities.
And in case your clients think that a Fair Trade vacation means sleeping in hemp sheets, you can tell them that luxury properties like Sabi Sabi are FTTSA-certified.
May 08, 2011
South African Tourism's Thandiwe January-McLean Opens Indaba
We’ve been running from press conference to meeting to press conference here at Indaba, but among the speeches was last night’s statement by South African Tourism CEO Thandiwe January-McLean. I’ll let the lady speak for herself, but her speech is very inspiring and well worth a listen (please forgive the shaky camerawork), and the video that followed is equally moving.
May 06, 2011
On Site: Arriving in South Africa
When I came to Indaba last year, South Africa was gearing up for the World Cup, and getting ready to have the world’s eyes on its major cities for the better part of a month.
It’s safe to say that South Africa came out of the World Cup looking just fine, but now the vuvuzelas have quieted and only time will tell where the country will go from here. The infrastructure enhancements are still there, the new hotels are still standing, and significant improvements to airlift have been put in place recently—chief among them, South African Airways’ new direct nonstop flights from Johannesburg to New York, without a stop in Dakar, Senegal.
Speaking of SAA, my flight from New York to Joburg (and from there to Durban) was much the same this year as last year’s (comfy flat beds; very nice food and wine—try the cheese pancakes!) with the major difference being a quick visit to the domestic business class lounge in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. It’s quiet and calming, and even has a smoking lounge. Important: Tell your clients transferring from a business class flight to Joburg that they can use an arrival lounge in the international terminal, but unless they have a business class ticket for their domestic transfer, they cannot use the domestic lounge.
Once in Durban, I transferred to the Southern Sun Elengeni Hotel, where I could see how the construction projects I saw underway last year ended up. The first picture below is from last year, and the second is from today. The pit to the left (with a crane nearby) is now a skating rink, and there are several other structures that I don't remember from last year. (The view from the hotel, of course, remains as lovely as ever.)
The trade show starts tomorrow, so I’ll let you know what’s new and what’s happening throughout South Africa. From what I’ve seen so far, things look very nice indeed.
May 04, 2011
On Site: Travel Agent Arrives at Cotton Tree Resort
GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands -- Travel Agent just arrived in Grand Cayman for our property review of the new luxury boutique Cotton Tree resort and, within 10 minutes of my stay, I am already highly impressed with this remote cottage resort located in a quiet part of the city.
I am staying in Almond, one of four cottages located throughout the property, which officially opend just a little more than a year a ago. The room is extremely cozy, tucked away in the back of the resort just five feet from the resort's main swimming pool. The room has a living room, a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, a guest room with twin beds and of course a master bed room with a king-size bed, flat-screen TV and a bathroom with a tub and open-wall shower. The guest room also comes with a bathroom, but it just has a shower and toilet.
Don't be fooled by the classic cottage look as this place is extremely high tech and modern. There are speakers located all throughout the room, including two in the ceiling of the living area, two in the bedroom ceiling and two in the guest room ceiling. The entertainment system located under the living room television includes an iPod docking station and a Nintendo Wii. Note: the iPod docking station is for the older, smaller models.
The property's surroundings are very lush and well maintained with gardens and trees everywhere. There is a beach just 10 feet away but it is only good for sunbathing since the water is full of rocks, making it a little unsafe for swimming. There is also an outdoor area for massages or clients can requests massages in the room.
During a short tour, we learned that the property attracts mostly Americans with the rest of the market dominated by both Canadians and U.K. clients.
This is the perfect place for both younger and older couples looking for a true Caribbean boutique. It is also a great pitch for small families. There are not too many weddings here since it doesn't have the space for large receptions. Weddings of less than 30 people, however, can be arranged.
By: Joe Pike
April 17, 2011
April in Paris
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.
Spring is in the air in Paris, and nothing says spring more than the flowers blooming in the beautiful gardens of the city. Here are some of our favorite gardens boasting their buds this month.
|The Bagatelle Gardens|
The glorious Bagatelle Gardens, located inside the Bois de Boulogne Park on the border of Paris, has a most interesting history. It started as a hunting lodge built in 1720 for Maréchal d’Estrées, a marquise. Purchased in 1775 by Comet d’ Artois, Louis XVI’s brother, d’Artois tore it down and his sister-in-law Marie Antoinette wagered that he would not have the new chateau built in less than three months. She lost the bet, and d’Artois completed the stunning chateau and grounds in 63 days. The chateau and gardens were purchased by the city in 1905 and Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier created the new gardens.
The 59-acre park is most famous for its variety of more than 1,100 rosebushes with a special award given every year for the most outstanding rose. The park also features an iris garden and a pond that inspired Monet’s Water Lillies series of paintings. A festival celebrating the music of Chopin is another much-loved annual event that takes place in June.
42 Route de Sevres, 16th Arrondissement
Bois de Boulogne
Open from 10a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
|Albert Kahn Museum & Gardens|
Albert Kahn Museum & Gardens
Albert Kahn was a wealthy French banker and philanthropist living in Paris the early 1900s. He was a passionate collector and acquired a sizeable plot of land in the Paris suburb of Boulougne-Billancourt. Here, he created a special Japanese garden, which includes an authentic Japanese house and tearoom and also a traditional English garden along with a rose garden. Kahn was also an avid photography collector and sent photographers to more than 50 countries to enhance his collection to amass more than 72,000 photographs. Unfortunately, Kahn’s fortune was wiped out during the Great Depression in 1929, but the city turned his plot of land into a museum with his photos and the gardens.
10-14 Rue du Port
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
|The Luxembourg Gardens|
The most beloved park in Paris, the Luxembourg Gardens has some of the most beautiful flowerbeds in the city. Located on the Left Bank, it’s the second largest park in Paris, sitting on 55 acres. It was once the private garden of Maria de Medici and the magnificent Florentine palace that was built for her in 1615 at the foot of the park now houses the Senat, a branch of the French government. The park has many activities for adults and children including tennis courts, playground, donkey rides, puppet shows, and pond on which to sail toy boats. The secluded Medici Fountain, flanked by plane trees, resembles an Italian grotto and is a delightful spot to bask in.
Rue Vaugirard, 6th Arrondissement
Open daily from sunrise to sunset
By: Richard Nahem
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.
April 05, 2011
Wining and Dining in Australia’s Hunter Valley
Australia’s Hunter Valley, which is located about a two hours’ drive north of Sydney, is the country’s most popular wine region, with more than two million visitors each year. The valley has approximately 140 vineyards, most of which do not sell in wine or liquor stores. For the most part, these wineries are family-owned properties, and their bottles are only available at the cellar door or through wine clubs, guaranteeing a unique experience for visitors and vintages that can’t be purchased anywhere else. The valley is also the oldest continually producing wine region in Australia, and its history, from convict days to modern times, mirrors the country at large.
After our first night in Sydney, our group met up with Steve Thomas of Boutique Tours Australia and set off to spend a few days in the valley. Steve pointed out local sights along the way (a small bridge across a river was built by a construction team from New York, so they named the area Brooklyn. Turns out, there are two Brooklyn Bridges in the world. Who knew?), and gave a very informative (and often, very funny) running commentary on local history and culture.
Our first stop in the valley was Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, which dates back to 1866 and has terrific views of the countryside. Peter Woods, operations manager of the winery, let us sample several bottles while we enjoyed an al fresco lunch from the nearby Smelly Cheese Shop. If you can get some real honeycomb, try it on a cracker with a tangy blue cheese. It’s bliss.
Also good to know: The Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillon wines, so encourage your clients to try some vertical tastings of different vintages, or, for example, to compare a Semillon, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris. Also, warn your clients in advance that most wines in Australia are now bottled with a screwcap top rather than cork. It looks decidedly less elegant, but the winemakers insist that it preserves the wine much better than the natural option.
After lunch and innumerable wine samples (the more samples we tried, the harder it was to remember how many we’d sipped), we toured the inner parts of the winery, learning how wine goes from grapes on the vine to a vintage in the bottle. (It’s a very long and complicated process that involves temperature control, yeast monitoring and lots of time.) Your serious oenophile clients will definitely want to see how wine gets made, and smaller vineyards such as Audrey Wilkinson are a perfect place to get one-on-one instruction.
From Audrey Wilkinson, we drove down the road to Tyrrell’s Wines, another historic vineyard in the valley where we tasted a 1999 Semillon that they have recently age-released. It was delicious, although by this point, I was hitting my limit in terms of wine. Some nice details at the winery include the original buildings from the 1860s that make a powerful, if silent, statement about how rough early life in the valley was, and how strong those early developers had to be.
For pre-dinner drinks (by which point, I was sipping diet Coke), we stopped by Tempus Two, a decidedly post-modern strip-mall-esque collection of high-end dining and drinking options. The Goldfish Bar has a lot of funky cocktails and, naturally, a great wine selection, and there is also plenty of outdoor seating for al fresco dining. For dinner, we went to Bistro Molines, a hilltop restaurant with killer views of the valley—and an amazing wine selection. A cool touch: The labels on the bottles are made of pewter or copper, and make for wonderful objects d’art in their own right.
Our accommodations for the evening were in the Cypress Lakes Resort, a large property that includes several golf courses and swimming pools. The hotel is apparently very popular with families, and the two-bedroom villas are a good pick for groups of up to four.
|Beer tasting at the Hunter Resort|
The next morning, we started out at Hunter Resort, a winery that doubles as a brewery and offers classes as well as wine and beer tastings. The ginger beer is really delicious. If your clients are getting wined-out, the resort offers a very different experience, and is a great option for a break.
The Wyndham Estate is the Valley’s oldest-working winery, dating back to 1831. It offers several notable vintages as well as some nice historic aspects. While the ruins of George Wyndham’s old house are at once beautiful and heartbreaking, operations manager Stephen Guilbaud-Oulton said that they are raising funds for a restoration. The estate is also working to repair the Hunter River, which has been severely damaged by deforestation and other environmental problems. The hillside leading down to the mostly dry river is dotted with new saplings that, with luck, will bring the water back to its former state…in about 100 years or so. The estate is a popular choice for outdoor weddings—we saw chairs all set up overlooking the valley, and it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot for tying the knot.
We stayed at the estate for lunch, and sampled chef Andy Wright’s cuisine at Olive Tree Restaurant. The menu is deceptively simple, with no more than three ingredients per dish, but the food is fresh, locally sourced where possible and absolutely delicious. (The steak, served rare with an herbed butter, was especially rich, but the chicken and chorizo is also a wonderful option.)
|Hunter Valley Gardens|
Taking a break from wine, we spent a nice hour wandering around the Hunter Valley Gardens, a collection of themed gardens that are ideal for weddings or for family outings. While the elaborate Victorian Rose Garden was gorgeous and the Formal Garden was very impressive, we were utterly charmed by the Storybook Garden, which has sculptures of fairy tale characters for children to examine.
For dinner, we went for tapas at Verandah Restaurant, where groups can pick out several options and sample small bites of lots of dishes. (Lots of seafood options, and my companions raved about the pork belly.) Tell your clients to save room for desert: The chocolate-and-chili soufflé was divine.
After checking out of Cypress Lakes the next morning, we toured Tower Lodge, a 12-room Relais & Chateaux property in the Valley that must be seen to be believed. General manager Andreas Breitfuss took us down to the hotel’s subterranean restaurant, Nine, which is only open on weekends for a dedicated degustation menu. Nice touch: While the restaurant is available for locals, several seats are left open for last-minute guest dining. Breitfuss mentioned that the hotel will be doubling in size in the next few years, but will stop at 24 rooms (guaranteeing that there are never more than 50 guests who need his attention.)
|A deluxe room at the Tower Lodge|
We stopped by Brokenwood Wines for a tour of their bottling operations and a private wine tasting with operations manager Grant Radford. If your clients are real oenophiles, encourage them to shell get the 2007 Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz—it’s not light on the wallet, but it was one of the best wines we tried all weekend.
To wrap up the tour, we explored Tuscany Wine Estate Resort, a newer property with great views over the neighboring vineyards and a casual pet policy. The rolling hills and fields are great for dog-walking. We had lunch at the hotel’s Mill Restaurant, with some wonderful seafood creations and a delicious Sangiovese. It was a marathon of wining and dining but, for oenophiles and gourmands, the Hunter Valley is a real must-visit.