Mark Rogers, senior editor, traveled to Bali this fall to attend PATA Travel Mart 2007. "It was my first trip to Bali and I was really impressed by the friendliness of the people," says Rogers. "They've been welcoming Australians for decades, so many Balinese speak English, which is a rarity when visiting Asian destinations." Rogers is convinced that if Bali wasn't such a long haul it would be on most U.S. travelers' short list of places to visit. Below is Rogers' blog from the trip.ONSITE En Route to PATA Travel Mart 2007Sept. 22, 2007There are probably hotel rooms in Tokyo with less space and amenities than the Business Class cabins on Singapore Airlines' B777-300ER. En route to attend PATA Travel Mart 2007 in Bali, I had the pleasure of experiencing the carrier's enhanced Business Class cabins on the flight from LAX to Taipei. Right off the bat I was impressed by the fact that they are stand-alone cabins with all having direct access to the aisle. You won't have to juggle that perennial conundrum: "Should I sit by the window so I can sleep? Or should I take the aisle so I won't have to disturb my neighbor when I get up to go the lavatory?"
According to Singapore Airlines, the Business Class cabins are almost 50 percent wider than most in this class. The fully-flat seats are 30-inches and feature an innovative design making it the largest fully-flat Business Class bed in the sky for both sleeping and lounging.
We departed LAX at one a.m. so I declined the dinner. If I'd chosen to dine I would have had a choice of sautéed prawns, Chinese-style roast chicken, or pan-seared lamb loin. I was content to have a nightcap of an excellent Geyser Park Winery Chardonnay 2005 Alexander Valley. A flight attendant helped me set up the bed, which allowed me to stretch out completely in a horizontal position. A sound sleep made eight hours pass in oblivion. Waking up, I plugged my laptop into the cabin's AC power system and fired up my synapses with a cup of Brazilian Santos Bourbon espresso and got to work without having to worry about my laptop's battery punking out on me.
Besides all the entertainment bells-and-whistles, there are thoughtful touches like a stowage shelf perfect for storing items you'll want easy access to during the flight.
Before touching down, breakfast was served, offering a choice of Asian favorites like dim sum, and Western fare ? a parsley omelette with sun dried tomato.
The new service, which debuted in North America in San Francisco last January, heralds innovations and improvements in all three classes, represents an investment of $360 million. All three classes have the KrisWorld In-flight entertainment system, providing entertainment, connectivity ? with office tools such as spreadsheet and word processing on each system - and education, including instruction in 22 languages utilizing Berlitz World Traveller.
The B777-300ER service from Los Angeles operates every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday to Singapore, expanding to daily service next April.ONSITE PATA Travel Mart 2007Sept. 22, 2007On arriving in Bali over the weekend, in advance of the opening of PATA Travel Mart 2007, I chose to stay in the seaside vacation city of Kuta, the sight of the terrorist bomb blast of 2002 that killed over 200 people, many of them vacationing Australians.
Visitors to Bali from the U.S. will have to buy a Visa on Arrival, either a seven-day visa for $10, or a 30-day visa for $25. This has to be paid in cash at immigration on arrival at Ngurah Rai Airport. I anticipated a mass of long lines and red tape and was surprised that the whole process took only minutes.
The drive from the airport to my hotel, the Mercure Kuta Bali [http://www.accorhotels-asia.com], took ten minutes. The four-star Mercure is one of the better hotels in Kuta and a bargain at $115 a night for a deluxe ocean view room. The 129-room Mercure is right next to the 400-room Hard Rock Hotel Bali, a property with a little more flash. Both hotels are directly across form Kuta's main beach, popular with surfers and a lively scene of food vendors, massage therapists and Kuta's ubiquitous dog population.
Kuta wouldn't suit everyone ? it's a little grubby and maybe a little too real. Several miles up the strand is the seaside resort area of Seminyak, which caters to a more upscale traveler. In Seminyak you'll find posh nightclubs and resort hotels such as the Oberoi and the Sofitel Seminyak Bali.
It's possible to use Kuta as a base for exploring the island, but iconic Bali ? the land of rice paddies and a heightened Indonesian aesthetic ? awaits outside Kuta.It's impossible for me to say for certain ? having arrived in Kuta only hours ago ? but it appears Kuta has turned the corner from the downturn it suffered after the 2002 bombing. The Australians are back in number, and although security is evident, it's not ratcheted up to crisis level.ONSITE Visiting Ubud.Sept. 23, 2007As the minutes tick by towards the opening of PATA Travel Mart 2007, I continued to explore the island of Bali. I'd made friends with the woman behind the currency exchange store next to my hotel. I asked her if Kuta had recovered from the tourist bombings of 2002 and she shook her head: "Business is down 30 to 40 percent." I continued this unofficial survey on the street, asking taxi drivers, restaurant owners and vendors if the city had recovered. To a person the 30 to 40 percent figure was repeated. It appears my positive assessment on arrival wasn't being supported where it counts ? on the ground.
Today I was planning to visit Ubud, the cultural and artistic capital of Bali, which lies 33 miles inland from Kuta, about an hour drive. I arranged for a driver and was amazed at the rate I was quoted. My English-speaking driver would take me to Ubud and sites along the way, in an air-conditioned vehicle, wait as long as I wanted, and then drive me back to Kuta ? all for $27. If Bali wasn't such a long-haul journey for Americans, they would be flocking here in huge numbers.
On the drive to Ubud, we passed through Denpasar, the capital city of Bali; past brilliant green rice paddies, and numerous family temples adorned with offerings. My first stop was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which combines ancient temples in deep, cool forest, with 400 macaques monkeys. Admission was $1 dollar, and a bunch of dwarf bananas cost $2. Then it was a stroll along stone walkways as dozens of monkeys watched warily for a glimpse of yellow banana peel. All you had to do was up hold a banana and a monkey would instantly climb your leg and take it from you. Some guidebooks warn against feeding the monkeys by hand, citing their aggressiveness. I found that as long as I held the banana loosely everyone was happy. I was warned to put my glasses in my pocket ? the monkeys are attracted to bright objects.
Continuing to Ubud, I noticed numerous open-air art galleries along the road selling hideous paintings. Luckily, once in Ubud the quality of the art and antiques surged upward. Ubud has similarities to other destinations which have tourist-focused neighborhoods with numerous galleries, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. What sets it apart is the unique Balinese aesthetic, which combines the discipline of Japanese art with a sensuousness all its own. You'd also be hard-pressed to find a friendlier people.
To get my bearings I visited the main art museum, Museum Puri Lukisan and learned about the influence various European artists had on young Balinese artists during the 1930s.
Back on JL Raya Ubud, the main drag, I dropped into Toko Antiques and was impressed by the quality of the items for sale; I passed Ary's Warung, a restaurant having a lounge chic that wouldn't be out of place in South Beach; and explored the market. I then stopped into the fascinating artist's home of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, who lived an astounding 114 years. I was the only visitor. I strolled along the flower-filled courtyard examining the artwork as roosters in high bird cages crowed, laundry dried on bushes, and a young Balinese man in sari and head scarf lounged on the verandah watching satellite TV.
Ubud is worthy of a longer visit than mine. There are some truly upscale resort hotels in the surrounding countryside, including Four Seasons Resort Bali and COMO Shambhala Estate, where I'll be staying the last night of my visit.
PATA Travel Mart 2007 off to a Brisk StartSept. 26, 2007PATA Travel Mart 2007 officially opened today at the Bali International Convention Centre in Nusa Dua.
During a Garuda Indonesia press conference, the first of the show, Travel Agent asked Emirsyah Satar, president & CEO, Garuda Indonesia, if the carrier had any plans to increase its presence in the U.S. market. "At present we're focusing more on the European market," said Satar. "We are looking at future possibilities on the west coast in the U.S. ? most likely Los Angeles or San Francisco, but we haven't set a date as yet." The carrier is also examining the possibility of joining one of the global alliances, but was similarly mum on details.
During lunch with Rainata Tjoa, director of marketing communications with the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali, we talked about a range of topics, including Bali's recovery from the 2002 and 2005 bombings. "We can see that there is recovery after the tragedy," said Tjoa. "When it comes to group business, companies don't want to send their employees someplace where they won't be safe. We're seeing a lot of group bookings ? and not just from Indonesian companies."
In an afternoon press conference, Thamrin B. Bachri, director general, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Indonesia, outlined marketing plans for the coming year, which includes road shows and fam trips. When Travel Agent asked if the U.S. was included in these plans, Bachri regretfully noted that the major efforts would be targeted at the six top markets for Indonesia: Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Korea and Taiwan. Bachri invited Travel Agent to consult with the Ministry to develop a U.S. travel agent fam trip. Contact details for U.S. travel agents couldn't immediately be confirmed, so check this space tomorrow, when we'll hopefully have more details. Bachri did say that there would be possible Indonesia road shows coordinated with the upcoming Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention to be held in Miami, March 10-13 2008; and DEMA Show 2007 in Orlando, Oct. 31 ? Nov. 3. Indonesia plans to participate in both events. Bachri noted that Indonesia's strongest markets in the U.S. are the dive and surfing markets.
The PATA Annual Statistical Report 2006 was launched today at the mart. The report shows there were close to 356 million international trips to Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) member destinations in 2006, representing region-wide year-on-year growth of 5.3 percent over 2005. This has set a new year-to-date record for arrivals, which is on track to be broken once again in 2007. So far this year the region is showing an expansion of 7.1 percent increases over 2006.
Floor space for PATA Travel Mart 2007 is officially sold out, with more than 360 organizations from 38 countries buying booth space. 138 of these are first-time seller delegates. PATA has also registered 411 buyer delegates from 346 organizations in 51 countries.
It was also announced that PATA Travel Mart 2008 will be held in Hyderabad, India Sept. 16-17.
ONSITE: PATA Travel Mart 2007Sept. 27, 2007EXCLUSIVE Pruet Boobphakam, director, Southeast Asia and Australasia Region, Thai Airways International Public Company Limited, told Travel Agent that Thai Airways would add a second daily flight out of New York. "But it won't be an additional flight to Bangkok," says Boobphakam. "Instead we'll be adding a New York/Beijing daily flight." Expect the new flight to come on schedule after the completion of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, held next August.
During a Tourism Authority of Thailand press conference, Auggaphol Brickshawana, deputy governor for policy and planning, outlined Thailand's new European marketing initiative, which will eventually trickle down to the U.S. This includes a heavy Internet and E-marketing push, with the establishment of an online Thailand Fan Club, which encourages photo sharing and web blogs; and a program of inviting select seasoned Thailand travelers to come to Thailand free of charge to experience new products and presumably spark viral marketing.
Staci Fialkoff, president of Source International Travel in Laguna Niguel, CA, was one of the buyers attending the mart. I asked her which Asian country appeared to be the next hot destination. "Vietnam, definitely," she says. "But it has to be done right ? I tell my clients they have to see the whole country ? the south, middle and north." She cites the cities of Hoi An and Hue as being overlooked by tourists intent on Saigon and Hanoi, although they're an important part of a complete Vietnam itinerary "I have clients who have money but not time ? I discourage then from trying to see Vietnam in six days," says Fialkoff. "You really need ten days on the ground." Fialkoff takes frequent trips to Vietnam to keep up on new hotels. She recommends booking a minimum of six months in advance to secure the desired rooms. "Business is booming in Vietnam right now, and business travelers ? especially those out of China ? are snapping up the available five-star rooms."
On the trade floor, I asked Anthony Syrowatka, general manager of The Viceroy Bali, a five-star villa resort in Ubud, which of Bali's selling points could be promoted to inspire Americans to take the long-haul journey to the destination. "You have to start with the people ? their genuine friendliness," says Syrowatka. "I've traveled to the U.S. and frankly it's a tip-based culture. Everyone is perfectly polite ? but it doesn't ring true. In Bali, it comes from the heart." Syrowatka notes that many of his guests at The Viceroy Bali, a comparatively new resort at only two years old, are repeat guests. But they're returning after an absence of 8-10 years, but this time with a new partner. "We had a recent guest from California who helicoptered in and stayed a full month, says Syrowatka."
The problem for Bali is that every destination promotes the friendliness of its people. Whether justified or not, it still smacks of hype. The best communicator of an intangible such as this is still word of mouth. But it's a chicken or the egg dilemma ? to get word-of-mouth, Bali has to first attract substantial amounts of visitors from the U.S.