April Hutchinson hears the latest from the Tourism Authority of Thailand…
I recently caught up with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to talk about its new focus on local hospitality, highlighted by a new addition to its “Amazing Thailand” tagline: “It Begins With The People.”
Amazing Thailand will stay as the tourist office’s main strapline, but will be complemented by the new addition for a major campaign launch from January 2014.
“Thailand is not only beach, food and culture - community tourism, voluntourism and homestays are a big part of what we want to project,” said Juthaporn Rerngronasa, TAT’s deputy governor for international marketing (Europe, Africa, Middle East and Americas). “Sixty per cent of our visitors are repeaters and they are looking for the next level of experience.”
A focus on getting honeymooners to return for anniversary trips is also high on the agenda - the theme of the Thailand stand at WTM this year was romance. A fully wrapped London bus appeared last month to raise awareness of “Romance Month” in February. For the second year in a row, couples who travel to Thailand in February will receive a free gift from TAT and be given fast-track immigration privileges. The TAT website will carry details of special offers for romantic holidays from a range of operators including Inspired by Asia, which has just launched its first dedicated Thailand honeymoon brochure.
Rerngronasa added that Thailand intended to grow its status as the gateway to the Greater Mekong Subregion, which includes the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Southern China. This will be a key theme at the next Thailand Travel Mart (TTM), taking place June 4-6, 2014, when improvements in roads and infrastructure will be highlighted.
The venue for TTM is the Impact Exhibition & Convention Center in Bangkok, with 1,000 delegates set to attend. There are also opportunities for pre and post-show fams. And for the UK trade who aren’t able to attend, there’s another way to keep in touch, when they become a fan of TAT’s new Facebook page for the UK & Irish trade. The Sawasdee Club is a one-stop shop for photo-sharing, competitions and monthly destination focuses.
The other weekend I joined 190 other delegates at the annual River Cruise Convention in Cologne (pictured).
There were only 15 repeat agents from the two previous years in Amsterdam so it’s a useful event for agents who might not have sold that much river cruise, but are keen to capitalise on the growth market. Day one was devoted to networking and conference sessions, and day two we toured six ships, all moored in the centre of the city.
It’s easy to assume one river cruise vessel is not much different from another - which is why it is important to check out the hardware, as they do vary on price and style.
Affordability is a key sales attribute for Shearings’ charter MPS Rotterdam, where full-board five-day Christmas market cruises lead in at £519 including coach travel. With one million passengers in 2013, Shearings is a popular escorted tours operator. However, their snug twin-bed cabins will not suit clients with expensive tastes.
It’s a similar picture with Serenity, a River Cruise Line charter. On both ships, the space-saving solution is for stewards to fold up the beds in the daytime, and turn them into seats.
And while river cruising appeals to the 50-plus demographic, not all ships are suitable for clients with mobility problems, owing to their narrow, steep staircases. Serenity has lift access for all decks, except the sun deck. There is a small bar at the rear of the ship, however, with outside space. Many of the CroisiEurope ships have a cabin equipped for guests with disabilities.
There is an increasing emphasis on onboard dining on river cruises, though the French set menu of foie gras and blue cheese I sampled onboard Croisi’s Gerard Schmitter would not be to everyone’s tastes.
Designers have transformed the interiors of modern ships - Gerard Schmitter sports a pink and purple theme, while ARosa’s Brava is a vibrant red. Uniworld’s River Duchess is more like a boutique hotel with its textured wallpaper and arty prints. The beds (pictured) are inviting, with white covers and plumped up pillows. But they take up most of the space.
Whether your clients would feel more at home with Shearings or Uniworld, the fact is their time in their cabin would be limited. When the weather allows, it’s a safe bet they would be on the roof deck soaking up the 360-degree views or out exploring. And that’s the best selling point of all.
Last week at WTM, I heard how the party island of Ibiza is aiming to attract more mature holidaymakers by producing a brochure for the over-55s.
Tourism minister Carmen Ferrer claimed older holidaymakers had more time and money to spend than their younger counterparts.
“They tend to visit our island in the spring and autumn, in April-June and September-November,” she said.
The tourist board’s new brochure, available to download at Ibiza.travel, covers the activities on offer.
“This market is interested in our gastronomy, culture and activities. They don’t just want to lie in the sun - they want to enjoy the good weather while being active. They want nightlife, but don’t want clubbing.”
A new walking guide is due for publication early next year, targeted at the more mature demographic. Secret Walks: Ibiza by Rob Smith will be a pocket-sized guide detailing 30 routes across the island, from walks taking less than an hour to full-day rambles for experienced trekkers.
While Ibiza may be relying on the older market to lengthen its season, when it comes to the high season, it’s still a party island.
Next June, the first Hard Rock Hotel in Europe is due to open on Ibiza, with 489 rooms and regular concerts.
Juan Jose Calvo Quiroga, vice-president for sales and marketing, Palladium Hotel Group, said: “The Ibiza hotel will open when all the parties start for the summer. We own the land next door to the hotel and every week we will have a band playing in that space, which can accommodate up to 40,000 people.”
For the opening party, Quiroga says a “world-famous rock band” has already been booked, and the line-up will be revealed next March.
With this new rock and pop venue alongside sister property the Ushuaia Beach Hotel, Quiroga said the Palladium Hotel Group will dominate the island’s music scene: “Hard Rock Hotel will have the best rock and pop, and Ushuaia has the best electro pop.”
He said this summer’s opening of The Tower at Ushuaia Beach Hotel had been a success, attracting a number of VIPs to it roof top parties. “The Tower has run at 75-80% occupancy since opening in May, with guests paying €800pn on average.”
Until a week ago, I have to confess I knew just two things about Zimbabwe: it has one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls on its border with Zambia and a controversial president in Robert Mugabe.
So a chat with Felicia Munjaidi, head of tourism for Zimbabwe in the UK, proved illuminating. Turns out Victoria Falls is just one of seven wonders for the southern African country, along with its welcoming people; its heritage; its wildlife; Great Zimbabwe ruined city; Eastern Highlands; and Kariba, the largest man-made lake in Zimbabwe. These attractions are summed up by the new strapline: “Zimbabwe - a world of wonders”.
Big five enthusiasts will not be disappointed by Zimbabwe, Munjaidi assured me. The south-eastern corner of the country lies within in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, the world’s largest peace park, where borders between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are deliberately left open so animals can roam freely. There are plans to work collaboratively with Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia on further peace parks, and to adapt the concept for humans too, with the introduction of a “uni-visa”. It’s still early days, but should a pilot scheme involving Zambia and Zimbabwe prove successful, the initiative could be rolled out, meaning travellers would only have to make one embassy or consulate visit to obtain a visa to enter multiple southern African countries. “If we want more tourists, we have to address these issues and make it easier for them to come,” Munjaidi said.
This week Zimbabwe has been exhibiting at WTM, with the minister of tourism in attendance. At other times of the year, there are training opportunities for the UK trade and an annual Tourism Exchange, held over three days in June at the embassy in London. Munjaidi has also been working in partnership in VisitScotland: “There is a lot we can learn from them, especially on the service side, about how to meet client expectations.”
She assured me safety was not an issue: “Zimbabwe is safe to travel, day and night. In case of emergency, the British Embassy is there - and it would not operate in Zimbabwe if it was not a safe destination.”
But travellers’ concerns may be more ethically than safety-driven, thanks to the Mugabe regime. Munjaidi wants to separate tourism from politics: “Let’s be positive and enjoy what we have. Come on holiday to Zimbabwe… you will not meet any politicians!”
Last week Bernard de Villele, general manager of The St Regis Mauritius Resort, was in London to spread the word about next month’s opening of The St Regis Residence, billed as the largest and most exclusive private villa on the island of Mauritius.
The hotel invited key trade partners to a cooking masterclass with twice Michelin-starred chef, Atul Kochhar, at his Berkeley Square restaurant, Benares. Kochhar also runs a restaurant, Simply India, in the exclusive Indian Ocean resort. While Kochhar showed off his modern Indian cuisine with a contemporary British twist, I chatted with de Villele and Ramon von Schukkmann, Starwood Hotels and Resorts area director of sales and marketing for Mauritius.
They told me about the palatial Residence, which can accommodate up to eight adults and four children, plus an entourage of four, who have their own quarters on the basement level. “It’s likely the guests would bring their own staff, such as nannies and bodyguards, in addition to the staff we provide,” said de Villele. These include a villa manager, and a team of butlers, valets and chefs. “The word ‘no’ does not exist for our guests”, he said, explaining that all menus and activities are arranged according to guests’ wishes.
Von Schukkmann told me about the typical client for the Residence: “We have five bookings from wealthy businessmen, two are from the UK. They all have their own Wikipedia pages!”
Guests do not have to leave the confines of the Residence, but the main resort’s amenities are on tap, should they want to make use of them. The resort’s location adjacent to One Eye, a renowned kite-surfing spot, draws in kitesurfers, looking to indulge their hobby. It’s also popular with families “wanting to reconnect”, said de Villele. The attention to detail is just as important for younger guests, through the sourcing of their favourite treats and a personalised amenity kit for their teddy.
For inspiration on how to deliver service with “zero defects”, de Villele told me he has been watching a certain hit television show: “When guests arrive, it’ll be like Downton Abbey, when the car pulls up and all the staff are waiting. I have watched every episode.”
Last week, I met the new UK sales manager for China Links Travel, Charlie Cooper. He has been in the role since July and his appointment signals a new direction for the tailor-made Asia specialist, which was started in 2009 by Helen Li.
“All business up until now has been direct,” Cooper said. “But I am now working to raise the profile of the business with the trade. We joined Aito on October 1 - the product lends itself to independent agents.”
Cooper stressed that the company’s trade relations would be founded on a steady, strategic growth plan: “We want to be sure we can service travel agents as our business grows,” he said. Both online training and fam trips are in the pipeline for 2014.
The operator features tours to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Myanmar and South Korea - escorted and tailor-made. It has offices in Beijing, which it says guarantees control over quality of service.
Cooper explained: “We offer small group tours with a maximum of 20 people and a number of guaranteed departures. We are a small team with enthusiastic, experienced staff - if you call the office, there’s a chance Helen Li herself could answer the phone.”
Although there are similarities with Wendy Wu, where Cooper previously worked, he says there is room for another niche operator. “We’re not competing like for like,” he said. “We have similar itineraries, but different hotels and routes. It’s a huge market and the best way to see China is with a specialist who can sort the internal flights, overcome the language barrier and provide you with local, expert guides.”
With first-time visitors generally focusing on Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, China Links is also targeting second- and third-time visitors with its in-depth knowledge of lesser known regions such as Sichuan province (above). He said that British Airways’ new service to Chengdu had opened up Yunnan province: “Yunnan is more accessible from Chengdu, as an add-on. It’s beautiful and will become more popular.”
The operator is also keen to draw a younger audience to China with its “backpacker tours”, from £998, featuring a Shanghai pub crawl, a visit to the Panda Breeding Research Centre in Chengdu, a bike tour around the Ancient Wall of China, rafting down the Li River on bamboo rafts and jumping off the world’s highest bungee jump in Macau. Cooper said: “Escorted tours are not just for the over-50s. Younger people do go to China.”
By Matt Parsons
A series of short films about the destination delivered alluring images throughout the night and a “tourism souk” of suppliers, haggling for business cards from agents, provided a useful snapshot of the country’s current tourism scene.
Tourism is growing - most companies said sales were up 5-15% this year, with the UK remaining a key source market, alongside Germany, Italy and India.
Yet the country is still wary of growing too fast. Oman, unlike neighbouring Dubai, is playing the long game - developing its reports “organically”, one hotelier told me. Right now, there is just a handful of five-star properties (few for a country the size of Germany), and local law forbids buildings to exceed five storeys.
Its key message is still one of authenticity. Garinder Diu, from Thomas Cook in Birmingham, said: “They’re basically taking their time. It’s authentic, not artificial, and it’s the real Arabia.”
Yet over the next couple of years, things are likely to pick up pace.
Oman Air’s Jennifer Liu told me how the airline was looking to fly double daily from London to Muscat - pending slot availability. A new airport also opens in Muscat in 2015. She added there was a new general manger for the UK coming onboard too - Jamal al Azki, who is being promoted this week.
On the hotel front, plans are also afoot. A Kempinski is due to open in Muscat’s The Wave development; Rotana is opening a hotel later this year in the coastal town of Salalah; and Alila expects its Jabal Akhdar property to open in spring 2014.
However, Salim Al-Harthy, sales manager for InterContinental Muscat, admitted he believed people in the UK just didn’t know much about Oman. “But what makes me happy is when people take a chance - and I see them return again and again.”
He needn’t too be too worried, as agents left the “souk” armed with a wealth of knowledge, ready to barter with their clients.
Caribbean islands such as Barbados and St Barths are well known for their plentiful supply of villas, but St Lucia hopes to steal some of that market in the coming years.
I met the island’s minister of tourism, Lorne Theophilus, at a recent St Lucia Showcase event (pictured top) for tour operators and hoteliers.
“We have significant room stock in villas and condos, but while Barbados has exposed its villa aspect very well, there is much more we could do to bring our own to the fore,” he said.
He revealed that 200 additional villa units were in the pipeline in St Lucia, including privately owned villas, villa complexes and timeshare properties.
The government is to create investment packages to attract new villa development, and is currently mapping the island’s villa inventory, with the information to be available by late November.
Theophilus is confident there will be demand from the UK market: “We’ll be approaching it aggressively this year and have already heard from UK travel partners that they are keen to include it in their marketing strategies for 2014,” he reported.
Caribtours’ Caribbean product manager Katherine Hobbs said that while the operator’s 2013-14 brochure had already been printed, St Lucia’s villa product was of interest for next year.
“We’ve added four pages of villas in our latest brochure and have played it fairly conservatively because of limited time, focusing on Barbados and Mustique, but our long-term aim is to expand it out. We’ll now get enquiries for villas in other destinations, so we need to be prepared,” she said.
UK arrival figures to St Lucia are 5% down on last year, but the tourist board reports that visitor spend is up and that forward bookings are strong.
Tour operators agree that hotel upgrades have been key to St Lucia’s success in the past two years, and the government is looking to extend tax-break incentives to enable more hotels to invest in refurbishment.
Ladera has added suites, Coconut Bay is expanding, over-the-water villas are under construction at Sandals Grande St Lucian, and conversion of the former Jalousie Plantation into Viceroy’s Sugar Beach (pictured left) is now complete.
Two international hotel brands have also committed to the island, with ground having been broken on Six Senses Freedom Bay, and Capella Resorts taking over Discovery at Marigot Bay.
Following the birth of Prince George of Cambridge in July, British pride and interest in our monarchy is riding high.
Germany hopes to capitalise on George-fever by attracting British tourists to explore Germany’s own links to the British Royal Family.
Next year marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession to the thrones of the UK and Ireland, when King George I, then ruler of Hanover, became the King of England because Queen Anne had no non-Roman Catholic relatives to pass it on to.
The German National Tourist Office has launched the British German Royal Heritage Route to commemorate the 123 years during which the House of Hanover was linked to Britain.
The route focuses on Lower Saxony, and suggests visits to Hanover, Brunswick, Celle, Hamelin and Norderney - the Fresian island that was the summer residence for the Royal Family.
Highlights of the route include Marienberg Castle (pictured), which the last King of Hanover, George V, built for his wife Marie, and several palaces, gardens and castles.
His Royal Highness Prince Ernst August of Hanover - George V’s great, great, great, grandson - officially launched the new route in London earlier this month.
“Marienberg remains one of Germany’s most impressive monuments, and next year visitors can see the Kingdom of Hanover jewels and bridal crowns displayed for the first time,” he said.
Tour operators including Great Rail Journeys/Treyn have created tours around the heritage route. “We’ve gone the whole hog with the Hanoverian connections in our new eight-day Britain’s Royal Heritage Tour,” said GRJ’s product manager Rob Carroll. “Seeing the crown jewels in Hanover and seeing the Princely School of Riding Art at Buckeburg Castle will be really special.” The operator has departures in June, August and September next year.
Other significant anniversaries and events next year and beyond, include the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Bach and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin The UK director of the GNTO, Klaus Lohmann, said there was a record 4.5 million overnight stays by UK visitors in Germany in 2012, up 5.7% on 2011, with an ambitious target of 5.4 million overnight stays by 2020.
The week before last, Chilean financiers visited London to promote joint UK-Chilean business interests. I met Daniel Pardo Lopez, under-secretary of tourism, in the National Geographic Store, who explained the mission’s purpose. “Every year, representatives from the Chilean financial world come to London en masse for business meetings. Last year, UK investment in Chile grew nearly 100%. We want our trade to become an ambassador for our tourism industry.”
Pardo also used the visit to unveil a new digital platform (chile.travel). “It’s more than a website,” he said. “It personalises Chile’s offering for the user - it can be used to build itineraries and links to social media.”
In 2012, Chile saw a 13% rise in inbound tourism, but the UK market has been static at 44,000 annual visitors. That is only a 2% share of the market but, being high spenders, the British are seen as priority visitors.
And there are signs of growth, with a 30% rise in the UK’s promotional budget in final approval stages and a direct flight from the UK under discussion. Pardo said: “We are working closely with British Airways on a direct flight. It would be great to get that service back for Chile.”
The National Geographic Store hosted dancing demonstrations, wine tasting and agent training sessions. “It’s been interesting to experiment with the store - the concept fits with our values and our focus on nature,” Pardo said.
There is much in Chile to appeal to nature lovers and adventurers. The north has the driest desert on earth and the south has glaciers. Among the iconic sights are the granite towers in Torres del Paine national park, the mysterious stone heads on Easter Island and the brightly coloured hillside houses in Valparaiso.
And keep an eye on Chiloe, Chile’s largest island, which is seeing hotel investment, and Ruta de las Missiones in the Arica y Parinacota region. Pardo said: “This is a tourist circuit in the mountains linking 30 small churches. You can hike or cycle from place to place, discovering the Aymara Indian culture, which needs to live off tourism to last for future generations.”
Last week, everything I thought I knew about rum punch was blown out of the water — or the ice-bucket, at least.
Rum mixologists Mark Woods and Bruce Govia took part in a Trinidad and Tobago Tourism culinary evening, where I learned exactly
what a traditional rum punch should consist of.
Far from the fruit-laden, syrupy-sweet concoctions I’ve been glugging in the Caribbean for years, a true rum punch contains only lemons, sugar and dark rum, Govia told me.
“You have to macerate the lemon rind with the sugar first,” he said. “Really bang it for an hour so the lemon juice and oil from the rind come together in wonderful ecstasy.”
Next, he added the rum — Angostura 1919, aged for eight years — and ice. The result was a delicious balance of sweet and sour, much more refreshing than the overly sweet, brightly coloured versions I’ve often had.
I also learned some tricks from Trinidadian chef Shivi Ramoutar, who was a quarter-finalist on MasterChef 2013. She demonstrated how Trinidadian flavours can be achieved with supermarket produce, creating an indulgent tamarind aioli from tamarind paste, mayonnaise, coriander, garlic, salt and pepper.
Finally, chef Hasan Defour (pictured right), who accompanied Gary Rhodes on Rhodes Across the Caribbean and has also worked alongside the Hairy Bikers at Notting Hill Carnival, showed me how to make a simple Paradise Salsa. He combined macadamia-infused cane sugar with lime juice and Scotch bonnet pepper before adding “the sunshine” (mango) and “the love” (watermelon). I enjoyed it piled on to “bake and shark” — breaded fried fish inside a fried bread roll, a popular street food in Trinidad and Tobago.
Food and drink is just one aspect of the destination that the tourist board is currently promoting. “It can be hard to compete with other Caribbean destinations in terms of simple sun and beach, so we’re focusing on our experiential products, away from the beach, which actually carry more value,” said Darrin des Vignes, UK manager for Trinidad and Tobago Tourism.
These include scuba diving, wildlife watching and sports tourism, with the country recently in the spotlight after a Trinidadian athlete won the 400m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. Soft adventure is also an increasing attraction, with a new zipline having opened earlier this year.
Agents who are yet to visit the destination should look out for a forthcoming incentive to win a place on a 2014 megafam, he added.
The incentive is expected to launch at WTM in November — where there’ll be plenty more rum.
Source: Yukon Government
Last week I met the premier for Yukon, Darrell Pasloski. His visit to London, the first premier-led tourism trade mission to the UK from any Canadian province or territory, was intended to raise awareness of Yukon as a travel destination.
Pasloski admitted that Yukon had not paid much attention to the UK market but that was changing, and the aim now was to build relationships with tour operators. “Yukon offers a real opportunity for those who want to get away. We have vast open spaces. We are twice the size of the UK but our population is 37,000, and most of those live in White Horse and Dawson City.”
Summer outdoor pursuits are the main draw, with camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing and wildlife viewing on offer. From late May until early August, the sun does not set, prompting tourism and culture minister Mike Nixon to say: “You can do a day’s work, have dinner and still get in a six-hour canoe ride, in shorts and sunglasses.”
In winter the focus switches to cross-country skiing and the Northern Lights - among the best sightings in the world, owing to Yukon’s proximity to the Arctic Circle.
Source: Yukon Government
The goal is to secure a direct summer service from the UK, but for now, German-speaking Europe is the number one overseas market, with Condor offering direct flights from Frankfurt to White Horse in the summer. It’s also possible to fly in with Yukon carrier, Air North, via Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The delegation also included Rich Thompson, chief executive of Northern Vision Development, which owns four hotels in Yukon: The Best Western Gold Rush Inn, the Coast High Country Inn and the Edgewater, all in White Horse, and the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City.
When Thompson’s company bought the Downtown Hotel, it acquired the rights to the Sourtoe Cocktail - a shot of Yukon Jack whisky, into which a pickled and preserved amputated toe has been dropped. Thompson explains: “To become a card-carrying member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, the toe has to touch your lips.”
But swallow the toe, and you’ll face a $500 fine. This happened recently, which sparked an appeal for more toes. Thompson says it’s not that hard to find volunteers willing to part with their severed toes. So for clients who like adventures, or have a preserved toe, remember Yukon.
After three hours, I’d almost given up hope. Then, in the final half hour, it happened: an adult female leopard strolled out of the bush and padded down to the watering hole. She sat lapping leisurely from the pool for several minutes, right across from our jeep.
In Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, seeing a wild leopard is the highlight for most visitors, including me. This park lays claim to having the highest concentration of leopards in the world - up to 17.6 per 100 square kilometres, at the last count.
But not everyone is as thrilled to see a leopard as the tourists are.
For the growing number of cattle farmers on the perimeter of the park, these big cats spell big trouble.
Chitral Jayatilake, head of eco-tourism for the company which owns the Cinnamon and Chaaya hotel brands, told me several leopards are poisoned by farmers every year. “If a calf is killed, the mother’s milk will dry up too, so it’s a double hit for the farmer, and then the revenge starts,” he explained.
Recognising that without leopards, there’ll be no tourists, Cinnamon Wild Yala resort is working to provide steel cages for farmers to put their young cattle in at night, protecting them from leopard attack. “Project leopard” has seen 35 pens issued, at a cost of $650 each, with help from donors including Exodus. “It’s been an amazingly effective project - helping the villagers and the leopards,” said Jayatilake.
Irresponsible behaviour such as feeding the elephants is another big problem at Yala.
The Cinnamon group is trying to address this too, having raised money to buy and maintain a patrol vehicle for the park. Jonathan and Angela Scott of the TV series Big Cat Diary helped out by giving a fundraising talk at London’s Royal Geographical Society last September.
Guests at Cinnamon and Chaaya hotels across the island have the chance to get first-hand experience of other wildlife initiatives. Guests at Chaaya Blu on the east coast, for example, can take a snorkelling trip to Pigeon Island where the hotel is working to protect the reef. Cinnamon Lodge Habarana has employed a primatologist to create a primate-watching excursion. And all visitors to Sri Lanka are asked to assist in a blue whale identification project by uploading photographs of their tails to a gallery, at flickr.com/people/sri_lanka_blue_whale_id/
This week I’ve been hearing about a hotel in Morocco, which opens at the end of this month. The Fellah Hotel is the result of owner Redha Moali’s vision to create a sustainable hotel, giving guests authentic Moroccan experiences, without sacrificing five-star comforts.
Within the boundaries of the hotel there’s a Unesco-Aschberg-recognised arts and cultural centre. Dar al-Ma’mun provides support to emerging artists, who also receive free food and lodging for a year in the Fellah. The centre incorporates artists’ studios, a research centre in literary translation and a library. Guests contribute to the existence of Dar al-Ma’mun just by being there, and they can meet the artists.
Jonathan White, director of Workham Hotels, the UK sales representative for the Fellah, described the ethos to me: “Moroccans believe if you’re born poor, you die poor, but Redha Moali believes that anyone can make a go of it, given the right opportunities.”
One of the hotel’s restaurants extends the benefits to the local community. Housewives take it in turns to prepare lunches, and profits are returned to the workers. The other restaurant serves contemporary Moroccan cuisine.
The Fellah is also home to Morocco’s only Wat Po Massage Centre, with therapists trained at Bangkok’s Wat Po temple. White explained: “Moali wanted to introduce something unique. The Thais lead the way when it comes to spas and traditional medicine.”
The hotel has 69 rooms and suites, across 10 villas. They are furnished with antiques from flea markets and more modern pieces commissioned from local craftsmen. Four of the villas can be hired exclusively, giving residents their own kitchen, pool, hammam and garden.
Another selling point is the children’s programme, available in school holidays, which White says is ahead of the curve for Morocco: “More families are travelling to Morocco, but not many hotels are set up for them. The Fellah has lots of children’s activities, like an on-site small animal farm and DJ courses.”
White is still working on deals with several tour operators, with The Azure Collection confirmed. He concluded: “If you’ve been to Morocco before, and want to see a different side to it, this is the hotel for you.”
Have you ever wished, when cycling up a long hill, that your bike would suddenly display magic powers and propel you to the top without the burn in your thighs?
On a recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales, I tried out the next generation of pedal bike - an electric bike. It could have been a prop from the Harry Potter film set.
On a regular bike when climbing uphill, I grit my teeth and curse my way through the pain. But with the help of battery-operated power, I was sailing up hills.
My Peak and Ride bike from Hero, a mid-range model costing £999, had a regular mode without power, standard assist, high assist and a throttle for extra turbo charge. It has a range of 30 miles and takes four hours to fully charge - which only costs 7p.
I tested the bike on a 16-mile round-trip from Grassington to Bolton Abbey along the scenic lanes of the Yorkshire Dales national park (self-hire from £24 per half day, guided tours from £48, with e-bikehire.com).
My tour guide was co-owner Lee Robinson. His typical customers are couples and friends in their 50s and 60s, who would not normally have the confidence or fitness levels to tackle the hilly terrain of the Dales.
I had a quick practice in the Grassington National Park Centre car park and then we were out on the roads. We did encounter traffic, but some roads were quieter than others and the drivers generally respectful. For insurance reasons, e-bikehire.com can only hire to those aged 14 and above, and they require clients to sign a disclaimer.
Robinson and business partner Ian Morton started e-bikehire.com in May 2013. They have identified a niche - they are the only company in the north of England to offer both e-bike tours and rentals - but their success depends on electric bikes becoming a more popular leisure pursuit. They are going about it the right way, working with hotels to create packages and install charging hubs, and they are keen to talk to the trade.
Unless you’re a purist, determined to conquer hills on your own, I can’t see why an electric bike wouldn’t appeal. Anything that makes me feel like I have supernatural powers when cycling uphill is a winner in my book.
Forget Miracle Gro: Luiz Magana, activities supervisor at El Dorado Royale, plays reggaeton music to encourage plants in the hotel’s sustainable greenhouse to grow.
The greenhouse is no back garden project, as I discovered on a recent visit to Mexico’s Playa del Carmen.
At 70,000 square feet it produces 10,000 tonnes of food every month. Magana organises tours for guests interested in discovering more about the facility’s sustainable practices.
He explained that the food produced is used in the hotel’s restaurants and those of its five local sister properties. It is all organic and Green Globe certified.
“We grow tomatoes, peppers, habanero chillies, papayas, sour mangoes, tangerines and European cucumbers that grow up to 15mm per day - and that’s just the start of it,” he told me.
Magana detailed some of the ways in which the 12-strong greenhouse team upholds its sustainable ethos. Rainwater and any water that comes out of the greenhouse is collected, recycled by osmosis and then reused to water the plants.
All food waste from the hotel, along with anything that falls from the plants in the greenhouse, is added to a compost heap in the hotel grounds used for fertilising the plants. Finally, plants such as nimb and cinnamon are used as natural pesticides.
The greenhouse is just one of the initiatives that the hotel and its sister properties have implemented in an effort to increase sustainability. The hotels permit local vendors to come in and set up stands selling local handicrafts such as ceramics and silver jewellery to guests. They also host sustainability workshops as part of staff inductions - educating locals on how to grow their own produce and recycle at home.
Guests can get involved too, Magana explained. El Dorado Royale, bookable through Thomson in the UK, organises a weekly 5k run around the resort; guests pay $15 to take part and proceeds are donated to a local animal shelter.
And on the subject of animals, three hotels in the group were awarded the Turtle Friendly certificate last November by Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico and The Travel Foundation. Guests can adopt a turtle with proceeds going towards turtle conservation. All I’m left wondering is whether the turtles like reggaeton too.
You’d expect a private chef cooking for you in the comfort of your own suite to set you back a fair few bob, but in Bougainvillea Beach Resort, Barbados, a couple can enjoy exactly that for just $65 plus the cost of ingredients.
For that sum, a local lady will do the shopping, come to your suite, cook a feast of local delicacies and do all the clearing up, Sharon Hugh-White, the resort’s general manager, told me on my recent visit to the island.
It’s this kind of offering that has allowed Bougainvillea to keep up with the changing tides of tourism that Barbados has experienced over the past few years.
Hugh-White told me that that Bougainvillea was born 15 years ago out of a perceived opportunity to bring the class and quality of the west coast to the south coast, at an affordable price.
“We cater well for couples and families with different sections of the resort tailored to each client type; a more peaceful area for couples looking to get away from it all and a more lively environment for families,’ she explained.
And the resort’s success is evident through the high level of repeat custom it enjoys. “It’s almost generational,” explains Hugh-White. “We are seeing the children of past customers returning with their own children now.”
But with the arrival of all-inclusive Couples resort just down the beach and nearby Seabreeze undergoing a $2 million refurbishment, Bougainvillea can’t afford to rest on its laurels; it is adding a boardwalk and a new wedding area, as well as opening a dessert and coffee shop.
Up until now the resort has foregone the idea of an all-inclusive concept while maintaining an excellent reputation for its food. However, with APD hitting holidaymakers, the resort may trial an all-inclusive option, though Hugh-White wants to ensure guests explore all that Barbados has to offer.
“We hope this option will allow our customers to relax without worrying about the purse strings.
“First-time visitors want to know exactly how much their holiday will cost. All-inclusive will allow them to see everything and, hopefully, they’ll return without that security blanket, knowing they can still have a great holiday without fear of overspending.”
Matthew Parsons joins tops chefs and Celebrity Cruises at the Taste of London Festival
Top chefs from Celebrity Cruises rubbed shoulders with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux Jr last weekend, as the line showcased its restaurants, and dishes, at the Taste of London festival last week.
I was invited to take part in its sushi demonstration, with corporate executive chef Rufino Rengifo first running us through his sushi lollipops.
Sushi on a stick? Rengifo explained that he believes in creating meals that involve “dimensions” - in this case a dish that soars upwards.
My stand-out flavour was salmon encrusted in Doritos, topped with a cucumber gel. “It sounds a little funky, a little out there, but that’s the intention of it,” the chef told me. “The saltiness and the crunchiness will give you the texture, then the cucumber will give you a refreshing flavour”.
Celebrity also used the food festival to promote its “immersive wine cruises” this autumn, onboard Celebrity Infinity. Voyages will take in France, Spain and Portugal, with Oz Clarke appearing on the October 12 sailing.
Rengifo later outlined the thinking behind Celebrity’s Qsine restaurant, which he claimed was the first to offer a menu entirely on an iPad.
Guests can pick from a menu, or for a bit more fun, tap on a series of pictures on the iPad with animations bringing the food to life.
Clicking on “Taco Royale” we were treated to an animated video of a taco visiting England: “We’ve elevated it - we’ve brought it to the UK. We use Black Angus sirloin steak.”
In a Qsine restaurant, guests would then have the chance to make their own guacamole, with a “culinary guide” on hand to help. Educational too, then, but all designed around the line’s motto of “uniquely unordinary”.
But the highlight of the festival (for me), was Celebrity’s woman in white wearing a “strawberry fields” dress - a garment made from grass, with strawberries covered in chocolate (again, on sticks) protruding from it.
That’s one way to get people’s attention, and after four days exhibiting - in front of 50,000 attendees - Michael English, head of sales at Celebrity Cruises, said one agent who had been there has already booked a cruise after seeing the “brand come to life” at the show. “Considerable leads” were also generated.
It’s food for thought for any other travel companies thinking of taking a stand at gastronomical festivals.
Last week I took time out from International Pow Wow in Las Vegas to ride a Harley-Davidson with EagleRider, a US company specialising in motorcycle rental and tours. EagleRider Las Vegas is the second-largest franchise and one of the oldest, its business a mix of day hires and longer rentals. Bikes are serviced after every rental and after 5,000 miles. Currently tours are for licence holders only, but a pillion experience should be available for booking by next year. UK operators selling Eagle Rider include North America Travel Service and Virgin Holidays.
I rode pillion on a gleaming white 2012 Harley-Davidson FLHTCV. I freely admit to knowing nothing about bikes, but I could see it was a machine worth drooling over. My guide and driver was Mike Maioli, who has been riding for 16 years. He looked every inch the classic biker - a big hulk of a man with a bushy beard.
My legs had to straddle his back so it felt a little intimate (and sweaty in the 100+ degree heat), but he was very good-natured and quickly put me at ease. “Grab my waist if you want to, but try to avoid my shoulders… unless you really have to,” he counseled.
At first I felt a bit exposed - like I was on a rollercoaster, but the safety bar wasn’t tight enough. But this initial apprehension quickly passed as we rode out of the city and left the traffic behind. We did a circuit of Red Rock Canyon, less than 20 miles from The Strip, making frequent stops for water and photo calls.
On the ride Mike explained the enduring appeal of the Harley-Davidson. “Harleys were used in the Second World War and Vietnam, when strong bonds were formed through adversity. When the men returned from military service, they wanted to enjoy the freedom of the open road on a familiar bike, and still belong to a brotherhood.”
When you’re cruising the open road, you need the right soundtrack, and the sound system was my favourite feature of the bike. You can plug in your iPod and choose your own music - the volume goes up as the engine gets louder so the sound is never drowned out.
Mike also told me about the Iron Butt Association, whose members have covered 1,000 miles in 24 hours or less. I’m not signing up for that, but just for one afternoon, with rock classics in my ear and a view of red rocks to savour, it felt great to be a Hells Angel.
A wake-up call from great green ogre Shrek followed by breakfast with Po, the calamitous Kung-Fu Panda, will be on the cards for kids visiting the Sands Cotai Central in Macau from July.
Having associated the Special Administrative Region of China with blackjack tables and roulette wheels, I was intrigued to hear about its efforts to appeal to the family market at a breakfast last week.
Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, the new Macau Government Tourist Office director, explained how they have been accused of not having much to offer children in the past.
“Now we are encouraging student groups to visit, with financial incentives if they stay two or more nights, and the opportunity to watch parades and eat breakfast with Dreamworks characters will appeal to kids,” she said.
This is just one of the developments the former Portuguese colony is working on over the next few years. Fernandes mentioned that Macau currently has 28,000 rooms with the majority falling into three, four or five-star categories.
It is now looking towards late 2015-early 2016 for the next major expansion with at least six large properties due to open including a Ritz- Carlton and a Marriott. “However, we have also seen an increase in licence applications for lower-end accommodation so we anticipate an influx of more affordable rooms,” she explained.
And travel to the peninsula is being simplified to help facilitate entry for more visitors. A bridge from Hong Kong to Macau is under construction meaning UK visitors can fly direct to Hong Kong then drive over to Macau rather than taking a ferry connection as is currently the case.
There are also plans to extend the 144-hour visa to allow visitors to Macau access to the entire Guangdong province of China with faster management systems so a multi-destination trip is easier to organise and a wider variety of activities are easily accessible.
China’s latest Five-Year Plan stated that it would support Macau’s development as a world centre of tourism and leisure. “We are working with partners in China to get more interesting options for tour operators to package,” Fernandes said.