Posts Tagged ‘ttglive’

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

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.

02 Greenwich: from white elephant to regeneration hub

January 25, 2009

The 02, formerly known, loved and hated as the Millenium Dome: it was a Tory white elephant inherited by Labour who waded in with similar hubris and incompetence to get it sorted by December 31, 1999.  Nine years later and it seems to be the epicentre and symbol of regeneration and development in south-east London.

By the way this is just an excuse to feature the rather appalling video below, which is an experiment: I am reviewing a Flip Ultra camcorder for ttgbusiness, and wanted to see how easy it is to shoot something, upload it and  add it to my blog.

Anway, it worked pretty well, although I don’t think Danny Boyle will be losing any sleep.

The Dome was born on a toxic wasteland next to the southside of the Blackwall Tunnel, and grew up to be the first billion-pound tent, a monstrous joke at the taxpayers’ expense (though actually it was mainly Lottery money). One of New Labour’s first major embarassements, who can forget a boot-faced Queen enduring a ghastly new year’s eve, dragooned into singing Auld Lang Syne with Tony Blair?

Since being removed from the clutches of blundering politicians, it’s become a highly credible major entertainment venue.

There’s been some headline-grabbing shows here, from the Rolling Stones to Prince, as well as art exhibitions such as Tutenkhamun, and it’s one of the main Olympics venues. It should also be high on the radar for the MICE industry.

And there’s so much construction going on around the 02 it could soon be blocked from the east London skyline.

Heathrow expansion: Tories throw spanner in the works

January 15, 2009

Heathrow: First it was celebrities buying plots of land on the third runway site (see below).

But  the Tories are throwing a bigger spanner in the works: they vow to pull the plug on the project if they get into government – this was said categorically by shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. heathrow-silhouette

Surely this must be a bigger threat than the likes of Emma Thomson and Zac Goldsmith buying parcels of land in fields near the Sipson – the village earmarked for bulldozing to make way for the runway.

I expect most political pundits would say all bets are off at the moment as to who would win the next election and when that will be. But they’d probably say the Tories have a fair chance of winning.

This raises a whole bunch of interesting questions for the project. What will happen to the massive amount of commercial contracts signed off by then if the projects already underway?

Participating companies would presumably already invested millions. Is this going to put firms off bidding?

What if compulsory purchase orders for the site have already been completed?

And does this mean they will give stronger support to a new estuary airport? – as proposed by London Mayor Boris Johnson

Answers below please. UK Plc needs to know!

Heathrow: how cunning is Operation Baldrick?

January 13, 2009

The press are busy today adding a showbiz splash of celebrity names to the Heathrow airport expansion furore – a much-needed dash of colour to the Hounslow concrete grey of this story.

Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson and comedian Alistair McGowan are among those buying up land which will be needed by BAA for the third runway. They’re adding their clout to a plan of action by Greenpeace.

The idea is that completing compulsory purchase orders on all these tiny plots of land, with their disparate owners around the world will be a Herculean task for the government. airport3

It’s kind of cunning I suppose, but also rather depressing – rather than changing the path of global CO2 emissions and climate change, it just means the Heathrow expansion will take longer and be more expensive.

Meanwhile, in the fraught intervening years, Heathrow and its surrounding environs will just carry on being increasingly polluted, congested, dysfunctional and miserable. Great.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why not just build another bloody airport!? Instead of tinkering around with this 70-year-old edifice that was originally conceived in the Jurassic era of air travel. Like those many other countries, which have a more creative, forward thinking, can-do attitude towards air travel.