Posts Tagged ‘travel’

What’s new for luxury Las Vegas?

March 25, 2010

(Original version of a feature for TTG Luxury spring 2010 edition)

A spotlight shines on Frank Sinatra’s Oscar guarding the entrance to the eponymous restaurant in Encore. It sits alongside nostalgic sepia photos of Ol’ Blue Eyes with Vegas hotel king Steve Wynn opening the Golden Nugget in the 60s. It’s one of the few traces of that bygone era: in a town that lives for the thrill of the new, tearing down rather than preserving the past, there’s little left from those heady days of gangsters, gamblers and good time girls.

Sinatra's Oscar, Encore

That’s not to say Sin City has gone all sedate. On my visit it was Superbowl weekend, and an estimated 200,000 football fans hit town to party hard – even though the match itself was being played in Miami.

The focus is shifting away from the traditional gloriously tacky casino resort towards a more discerning experience. Emblematic of this is the just-opened $8.4 billion CityCenter, its gleaming glass towers dominating the Strip. With its green credentials, chic non-gaming Vdara and Mandarin Oriental hotels and $40 million of public art installations, the development points the way to a new concept in Vegas.

LVCVA vice-president John Bischoff says: “In recent years non-gaming revenue has exceeded gaming revenue for the first time in Vegas’s history. We don’t incorporate gaming into any part of our marketing strategy because we don’t need to tell people what they already know.”

Insiders point to the opening of Steve Wynn’s Bellagio in 1998 as a “turning point” for the luxury scene, setting new standards for cuisine, design and service. Two years later he sold his Mirage group of properties to MGM, which formed the giant MGM Mirage group that dominates the Strip.

Wynn’s next move was to buy the old Desert Inn and tear it down, laying the foundations for his triumphant return – the Wynn, which opened in 2005. Sister property Encore, opened in 2008 refines further his concept of a purely luxury resort with no theme and a lesser focus on gaming. Luxuriant flora and bucolic motifs abound, and natural Nevada sunshine floods through skylights and French windows even into the relatively small casino floor – breaking a 50-year taboo that neither daylight nor clocks should distract the gamblers from pumping cash into the town’s arteries.

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly in the Bellagio lobby

The UK is important to Las Vegas. After US neighbours Canada and Mexico, it’s the biggest overseas market. Key as usual is direct airlift. British Airways has given the destination a boost by launching a daily direct service from Heathrow in October last year. Virgin Atlantic, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary of a direct flight from Gatwick, then upped its game by completing a major revamp on its Gatwick Clubhouse at the end of last year, with Cowshed spa salon offering free express treatments, a la carte champagne brunch menu and youngsters’ area with Wii-Fit and Guitar Hero.

UK luxury agents are seeing a shift in demand. “When in the past it was gambling, I’ve noticed lately more clients are asking me to book shows, Grand Canyon trips and VIP entrance to the various night clubs,” says Select World Travel chairman Kent Milne. “A big plus is the BA flight departing from Heathrow. It will help build business to this area especially when combining a two-centre to Phoenix, Denver and the likes.”

Skyloft at MGM Grand

Jeff Eisenhart, MGM Mirage’s vice-president of leisure sales, says 2010 has seen an increase in advance international bookings. “It’s the shift in the non-gaming attractions that has been so significant,” he says. “World travellers coming to Las Vegas are seeking a well-rounded luxury experience that features great chefs, exhilarating nightlife, varied and wonderful entertainment, spas, shopping and more. They will find the casino if that’s what appeals, but they are making decisions based on far more than the gaming itself.”

There’s no denying Vegas is going through hard times. Its massive MICE sector is struggling, room rates can be low and major development projects are stalled. But the destination exudes a characteristic brassy optimism. The stars still flock in their private jets, mega shows are still opening, the limos are a block long and the champagne flows. Ol’ Blue Eyes might not recognise the place, but he’d certainly feel right at home.

For where to stay, eat, drink, shop, party, meet and more, see the feature in TTG Luxury

See my Flickr gallery of the Las Vegas trip here

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Travel reports – your call

March 19, 2010

Oh blimey, what a disgrace this blog page is. I haven’t written anything on it for an awfully long while. I was writing after almost every trip, but since my last entry there’s been rather too many to write them all up.

Anyway, there’s no point unless someones going to read them. So, how about I list everywhere I’ve been since last June, and if anyone wants to know about a destination, ask and I’ll write about it?

Paris Las Vegas and Bellagio's fountains

Cape Town, Lisbon, Oman (Muscat), Macau, Valencia/Alicante region, Las Vegas

Here’s pics and a feature from the TTG-hosted Macau fam trip: ttglive.com/macaufam

Here’s some pics of my ttgluxury trip/holiday to Cape Town

Where to do business in Budapest?

April 22, 2009
View of Parliament from Castle Hill on the Buda side

View of Parliament from Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube

I’m just back from a trip to Hungary‘s capital Budapest, checking out hotels for ttgluxury. I visited several fine hotels in the city, different in style but they all had things in common: they’re all finding the current climate a challenge, and consequently offering excellent rates and deals. And, they all to varying degrees have business traffic as a significant part of revenue.

Budapest is a 2.5 hour flight from the UK. We flew with national carrier Malev from Gatwick (from £87.70 inc taxes, business class £341.70 ). Business class gets you the Aviance lounge at Gatwick and the comfortable Malev lounge at Budapest airport, with bar, nice snacks and free Wifi − plus friendly, attentive service onboard and rather palatable Hungarian bubbly.

The city is actually two – Buda and Pest, joined by name but split by the mighty river Danube, on its 2,850km route from Germany to the Black Sea.

Budapest is a dazzling showcase of architectural styles, from Baroque to Bauhaus via Arts Nouveau and Deco. Some buildings are meticulously restored, others crumbling and pocked with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising.

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

There’s plenty to keep delegates entertained when not working: river cruises, traditional thermal spas, countless world-class museums, a busy year-round cultural programme, great walks and cycle rides and buzzing night life. Find out more here

InterContinental

InterContinental

With its brand-new executive Club lounge facilities and vast conference floor with multiple layout options, the 400-room InterContinental is the obvious choice for corporates. The 1960s block is no architectural gem but is in a beautiful spot right on the banks of the Danube in the heart of the city with wonderful views.

Another modern five-star option is the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, with state-of-the art conference facilities and separate reception for 450 delegates. When I visited, a gleaming S-class Mercedes stood centre-stage in the lobby, to demonstrate how the hotel can incorporate promotional events such as car launches.

There’s also the stunningly palatial Boscolo New York Palace, and for smaller events (80 capacity theatre-style) the Bauhaus-style boutique Andrassy Hotel. The Andrassy’s location among most of the city’s embassies and close to several corporate headquarters ensures a steady flow of business traffic.

For exclusive and memorable events, the landmark, exquisitely restored Art Nouveau Four Seasons Gresham Palace says business traffic makes a small but significant portion of its revenue.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace

Four Seasons Gresham Palace

Counting the costs of G20

April 1, 2009

What is the carbon footprint of the G20 summit? Of this, a fascinating factor is what the CO2 levels of president Obama’s London visit are: that 747 (Airforce One), his 500-strong retinue, all the preceding support flights bringing battalions of SUVs, helicopters and of course ‘the Beast’ – the 3.5 tonne bomb-proof Cadillac limo.

Surprisingly none of the eco-warriors seem to be publishing calculations on this – anyone know?

Please share this info with us!

And another factor – how much is G20 costing? Figures being tossed around are in the region of £20 million. Ironic that at a time when the business travel and meetings and events sectors are thoroughly debating cutting down and video conferencing options, the big daddy of all meetings is being staged. I guess budgeting considerations are different when the global taxpayer is footing the bill…

Two nights in Bangkok: Weerasak and the wine angels

March 10, 2009

OK, let me explain the title: Weerasak refers to Weerasak Kowsurat, chairman of Tourism Authority of Thailand board of directors. I met him during a recent press trip to Bangkok. We were on the 55th floor of the Centara Grand hotel, where the Red Sky bar and restaurant boast stunning views over the multi-hued neon cityscape. redskybar

Weerasak told me he’s optimistic about visitors to Thailand in 2009, despite the setbacks of global recession and last year’s airport protests. He says he expects 14 million visitors during 2009 – including plenty of Brits.

“We understand British visitors, and we know they value the genuine friendliness and care that is the core of Thai hospitality. And a key factor is the value for money Thailand offers – we know how important this is during these times.”

He also pointed out that the Skytrain extension to the airport would be open on August 12.

This should be a welcome improvement to travelling into the city, as traffic is appalling.

wineangel21The Centara adjoins the Bangkok Convention Centre and on the 22nd floor you can walk straight from hotel to the vast multi-space auditoria which can merge to host a maximum of 6,000 delegates theatre style.

Also impressive is Lifestyle on the 26th floor, with spa, decent sized gym, panoramic pool with bar and gardens, plus two tennis courts.

Which brings us to the wine angels – abseiling up and down the spectacular glass two-story wine cellar at The Red Sky bar and restaurant on Fifty Five, to pluck fine vintages from the upper shelves.

Check out luxury travel news & views at ttgluxury.com

Make your meeting a gastronomic event

February 1, 2009

A good spot to meet up for business and pleasure: Le Pont de la Tour, in the lively Shad Thames area, with views of Tower Bridge and over the river to the City. pont-de-la-tour

 

Just visited for lunch and to meet up with head chef  Lee Bennett – a Yorkshire lad with a stellar CV, which includes lengthly stints in Paris and at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in London and Dubai.

 

The food was memorable and delicious – more of that later. First the business: meetings can be hosted in the atmospheric brick-vaulted wine cellar – private in the evenings when it’s not serving as the wine shop; and the Salon Prive, which can hold up to 22 and features a laptop-compatible wide plasma screen. They can arrange menus from simpler table d’hote lunches to multi-course tasting menu feasts.

 

We sampled a mouth-watering range from the a la carte: we started with a quirky seafood platter − frothy lobster bisque with a hint of Pernod served in an espresso cup, fresh raw scallop briefly marinated in tangy citrus juice, a three-layer chilli prawn cocktail topped with watercress mousse, oyster en gelee, native potted crab with dill butter…

 

Then a mid-course of John Dory in a rich saffron squid broth, followed by some meltingly tender lamb shoulder with haricot beans in a rich jus, creamy risotto topped with oxtail… there were two of us sharing this by the way − before accusations of ‘fat bastard’ start flying…

 

Well OK, there was pudding as well: forced rhubarb with bavarois cream topped with strawberry ‘cloud’ and fragrant Rosemary shortbread,  an aromatic basil and mint ice cream… Yes we were pretty stuffed.

 

The restaurant has had a clean, crisp revamp and shed some of its pompous old-school Parisienne image, with less eye-watering prices – though as it’s still an iconic London venue and couldn’t be described as cheap.  

 

Definitely worth considering as a distinctive place to do business, just a river crossing away from the tumult of the City.

MPI gets into the Christmas spirit at the Mermaid

December 8, 2008

Just attended the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Christmas dinner at the Mermaid conference centre overlooking the Thames.

From there I could see our offices (Ludgate House) on the southside of the river, bathed in winter sunlight – which was nice for me because I could almost see colleagues slaving away at their desks while we enjoyed Prosecco, psychic magicians and wonderful Indian food (a great alternative to turkey and trimmings).

Sponsored by Reval Hotels and Downs Racecourse, it was a gathering of M&E buyers, planners and suppliers from around the world.

If this sounds serious – it wasn’t! Good food, crap jokes (mainly from the crackers), ESPA goodies and lots of laughs. The party is still going strong as I totter over Blackfriars bridge to write this…

Pictures and more to follow, watch this space…

Shangri La refugees

December 1, 2008

Ok, so here’s how we escaped from Thailand. Our wonderful hosts at the Pakasai resort in Krabi, arranged a minibus to take us to the town of Hat Yai. We left at 6.30am, driving like the clappers in the pouring rain.

Arrived at Hat Yai with 10 minutes to spare, and board our coach for the long journey south. The border was horrendous – both chaotic and slow – queuing for the best part of three hours to exit Thailand. Then all over again to enter Malaysia (this time quicker).

Foreigners swapped war stories about the Escape from Bangkok, out doing each other with convoluted journeys.

Then the long journey through the rainy night to KL. But several hours in, comes good news via Blackberry – we’re being hosted at the utterly gorgeous Shangri La.

So after about 18hrs of gruelling travel, we shed our skins and swap our grime for five-star bliss!

Escape to Malaysia

November 29, 2008

Bangkok airport siege day 4: We’ve now hatched a plan to travel down to Malaysia by road and catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

The situation is as deadlocked as ever with both sides deeply entrenched, and the army seemingly unwilling to do the PM’s bidding and get heavy with the protestors.

The staff and management here at the Pakasai resort in Krabi have been incredible, helping in every way, including booking our flights from KL and tomorrow driving us the four hours to the border to meet our coach – everything done with friendliness and good humour. All those clichés about Thai hospitality are true.

The tourist trade is being hit heavily, to the tune of millions of dollars a day. Visiting the Maritime Park & Spa Resort today, the owner, Khun Pimrapee (who owns four resorts including this place) told me occupancy at the Maritime is booked for around 80% – but it’s currently under 30%.

There are an estimated 100,000 people stranded in Bangkok.

Bangkok blues

November 27, 2008
Krabi, Thailand: We’re meant to be flying to Bangkok tomorrow (Friday) to connect with an Eva Air flight to London.
Everyone’s watching and waiting as the stalemate at Bangkok airport drags on: prime minister, protesters and army holding their positions.
Saw it first on the news on Wednesday morning – then nothing this morning: the hotel’s only English-language news station CNN has not mentioned Thailand since the ghastly events in Mumbai unfolded.

The news websites are highlighting how PAD’s airport blockade is damaging Thailand’s “vital” tourist industry.

The resorts here are working round the clock to keep on top of events: incoming guests are cancelling because their flights haven’t arrived, outgoers are staying longer because they can’t get home.

Apart from this, it’s hard to imagine anything’s wrong with the world – in the Pakasai resort set in lush rainforest gardens, its rooftop pool overlooking the Andaman sea, life goes goes on its languid pleasurable way.

But the people working here are saying that for the tourism industry, on the long hard-working road to recovery after the tsunami, this is the last thing they need.