Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Massive investment as Auckland gears up for major events

Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, is gearing up to host a series of major events - including the America's Cup yachting regatta - in 2020 and 2021.
A number of large-scale conferences have already been secured to be held in the new New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) when it opens in 2019 or 2020.

The following year all eyes will be on Auckland, and New Zealand, with the America's Cup defence and a number of events associated with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) including the penultimate Leaders' Week in November, 2021.
Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED) general manager Steve Armitage says Auckland is no stranger to hosting world-class major events, and maximising the opportunities they present to create a lasting legacy.
“We know how hosting major events can be catalysts for change and how to leverage the power of them to transform a city," he says. "This does not just extend to the public and social amenities of a city but we've also seen the same impact for the business events sector.
“A significant transformation of Auckland is already underway and a lot of development is in the pipeline including the infrastructure which will be needed to support the growth of the business events sector and the America's Cup regatta.”
Between now and 2023 more than $23 billion of new strategic investment across the region is planned, funded and underway.
This includes the world class NZICC on track for completion in 2019, a number of new hotel developments such as the new SkyCity Hotel, Sofitel SO, Four Points by Sheraton, Park Hyatt, and the recently announced expansion of Cordis, which once completed will have the largest number of rooms in New Zealand.
NZICC general manager operations, Callum Mallett, says: “We are seeing a growing appetite globally for bringing events to New Zealand.
“Auckland's increasing infrastructure, more frequent flight paths, and now the 4,000 pax capacity of NZICC means that the perceived barriers for the larger scale business events coming to New Zealand are now gone. Our teams are in market and winning some really exciting business.”
There is also a number of other significant transport, commercial and urban projects which will compliment or support Auckland's business events offering, that are underway.

Monday, 19 February 2018

"Hospitality" industry gets it horribly wrong again

Hard on the heels on the bruise cruise PR disaster comes news of another hospitality industry faux pas

News aggregator Travel Mole reports that Travelodge in the UK has apologised to a father who was mistakenly accused of being a paedophile after he checked into a room with his teenage daughter.

Karl Pollard, 46, was travelling with his 14-year-old daughter Stephanie, to visit his mother in hospital, when they checked into the Travelodge in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

They took the four-hour journey from South Wales to Cheshire so his daughter could see her grandmother before she started treatment for cancer.

He told the Daily Star the receptionist gave him a "weird look" when he said he'd take the double bedroom, which he was told was the only room left.

Shortly after he went to the room to unpack, police knocked on his door saying staff had dialled 999 believing he was a paedophile.

"One minute I was brushing my teeth, the next I was being told I was a paedophile," he said, explaining he chose the hotel because it was within walking distance of the hospital. 

He alleged the policewoman said: "We've had a call from Travelodge, they believe you are a paedophile grooming underage girls."

He added his daughter was 'distraught' after being interviewed by police and was terrified her dad was going to be taken away.

A Cheshire Police spokesman said: "Staff at the Travelodge did the right thing by reporting what they believed to be suspicious activity to officers, although thankfully there was nothing untoward and it turned out to be a misunderstanding."

A Travelodge spokesman said: "We are sorry for any distress caused to Mr Pollard. We take our responsibilities towards protecting children and vulnerable young people extremely seriously."

What was not explained was why the Travelodge did not ask for ID from the young girl when she checked in (which would have saved all the kerfuffle), or why the policewoman behaved like a complete plod rather than using some tact.

The hotel did, however, apologise and refund their "guest" for his stay. 

Qantas shines at international wine awards

Seb Crowther and Neil Perry
Australian national airline Qantas was one of the stars at the annual Cellars in the Sky wine awards in London overnight.

Qantas' policy of listing only Australian table wines paid dividends with the Qantas Group winning a total of nine medals, including four golds.

Qantas won golds for best first class cellar, best first class white, shared gold for best first class sparkling wine, and for best business class fortified.

The airline also received three bronze medals and Jetstar received two silver medals.

The Qantas wine lists are curated by Neil Perry and his Rockpool Group team.

“We are immensely proud to be recognised for our wine," Perry said." The awards are a testament to the dedication and hard work of the Rockpool sommeliers and the Qantas beverage team who
select the best wines from across Australia and the finest Champagnes for our customers.

“As Australia’s national carrier, we play an important role in showcasing the best of Australian wine to the world. We pride ourselves on offering a selection of wine that celebrates both boutique and classic wine styles, grape varieties and regions.

“Australians today are incredibly wine savvy. They love exploring food and wine regions around Australia and overseas and they expect to see great food and wine made by passionate locals in-flight and in our lounges.”

The individual gold medals went to Best First Class White - Penfolds Reserve Bin 15A Chardonnay 2015; Best First Class Sparkling (joint): Qantas, Air France, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne blanc de blanc 2006 and Best Business Class Fortified for Baileys of Glenrowan Founder Series Classic Muscat.

Qantas received bronze medals for best overall wine cellar (won by Singapore Airlines), Best First Class White for Flametree SRS Wallcliffe Chardonnay 2016 and Best First Class Fortified for Seppeltsfield Paramount Rare Tokay.

Investing over $25 million dollars in the Australian wine industry every year, Qantas is the third-largest purchaser of wine in Australia.

Qantas customers drink their way through five million bottles of wine and Champagne every year, selected by Perry, Master Sommelier Seb Crowther and their team.

Every year over four days, the sommeliers blind taste and review 1,300 Australian wines and Champagne that go on-board domestic and international flights and in the lounges.

Around 250 different wines are chosen from more than 150 different producers.

Participating airlines were: Aegean, Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Air Canada, Air France, Alitalia, American Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Finnair, Iberia, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, JetBlue, Jetstar, KLM, Korean Air, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Sri Lankan, Tarom, United and Virgin Atlantic.

Cellars in the Sky is in its 32nd year, having been running since 1985.

Why art lovers will be flocking to Hong Kong in March

Hong Kong will be the "go to" destination for art lovers in March with Hong Kong Arts Month running from March 1-30.
The event will feature internationally acclaimed artists, as well as neighbourhood exhibitions and community performances from traditional styles through to the more modern and contemporary.
Here's just a taste of what's in store: 
The Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF) runs from February 23-March 24 and will feature over 1,700 international and local artists across 130 performances. Highlights include: the American Ballet Theatre's Whipped Cream; National Theatre of Great Britain's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; and the Welsh National Opera's performance of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.
Art Central Hong Kong will be held in the Central Harbourfront Event Space from March 27-April 1, introducing 30 new galleries and more than 100 international galleries, many of which are from the Asia-Pacific region. 
Art Basel Hong Kong (below), now in its sixth year, will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from March 29-31. The globally renowned art fair will feature works from 248 leading galleries from 32 countries and territories.
In addition, authentic and inspiring events in local neighbourhoods will feature a range of exhibitions and performances.
Hong Kong's first international sculpture park, Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, will feature sculptures by 18 emerging and renowned local and international contemporary artists while ArtisTree of Taikoo Place will host a musical exhibition, Notating Beauty That Moves, from March 3-29.
For general information on Hong Kong visit www.discoverhongkong.com/au

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Return of the prodigal son. Star chef returns to Tasmania

Standout chef Massimo Mele has returned to his home state of Tasmania after several years pleasing palates in Sydney.

"Given the last 18 months I've been flying back and forth from the island state - and the opportunities that have arisen - it's time," he says.
“My little boy is growing up so fast and I am getting married in the last week of February and there is so much happening in Tassie at the moment.”
Mele has spent the last decade building his reputation in Sydney, with his ‘no fuss’ and simple approach to cooking. That included a stint as head chef at La Scala on Jersey.
He has dived straight into a project in the north of the state, consulting on the new The Silos hotel development in Launceston. That, too, is something of a return as his first head chef job was in Launceston at Mud Bar and Restaurant in 2004.
"It has been a nostalgic trip down memory lane,” he says.

Over the last two years Mele has been collaborating with local businesses and wineries, creating events in Tasmania.
The events were to not only to rediscover Tassie’s quality local products but to show that he is serious about being back home.
Tutti a Tavola at Stefano Lubiana was the first event in August 2015, followed by a pop-up at Wiling Brothers, Lunch in the Vines at Home Hill winery, a Cradle Coast Tasting trail dinner in Smithton and featured at Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast grilling cheese over fire and more recently collaborating with Matt Adams from Timbre for the Farmgate Festival dinner celebrating the Tamar region.
Next on the horizon is touring around the Apple Isle to seek the best produce for the launch of The Silos in May.  
Cooking experiences are also a possibility in his new home later next year. He says: “I love food, I love cooking and connecting with people through these experiences.”
Mele and his wife-to-be have recently purchased a new property in Hobart, where they plan to create a destination foodie experience.
Stay tuned.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Why a cruise ship company should reconsider its compensation offer

If I was on a "relaxing" cruise that was punctuated by punch-ups and scuffles I would be wanting a complete refund on my ruined holiday. 

That's why passengers on the Carnival Legend cruise ship this week have every right to feel aggrieved not only at the way the violence was handled but by Carnival Cruise Lines derisory offer of 25% off their next cruise with the company as a "goodwill gesture" refund. 

That's an insult and very poor PR indeed. 

The 10-day cruise through the South Pacific went haywire soured as multiple members of a large family threatened and assaulted other passengers and clashed with security staff, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. 

At least 26 members of the family were kicked off the ship on Friday after a "vicious brawl" forced the vessel to make an unscheduled stop in Eden on the New South Wales South Coast. 

Passengers disembarking from the Carnival Legend in Melbourne told the ABC they had to lock themselves in their cabins to avoid the violence. The carnival turned into a circus.

An internal investigation into the incident has been launched, said Carnival president Sture Myrmell. He knows that is nowhere near good enough.

I received a response from Carnival Cruises: "We offered everyone on the cruise a general 25 per cent future cruise credit as a goodwill gesture. However, we are addressing on a case-by-case basis issues involving those guests who were directly impacted and where there were extenuating circumstances."

So unless you were actually punched or kicked there go your chances of compensation.

Discover one of the newest wine labels in Tasmania

Boutique wineries are booming in Tasmania right now - and one to keep an eye on is Bell & Gong - with a cellar door and boutique vineyard at the historic property of Valleyfield, outside Longford.

The vineyard is family owned and operated and guests are welcomed for an intimate wine tasting experience with complimentary tasting plates. There are also facilities for visitors to bring a picnic or have a barbecue in the rose garden or vineyard.

The on-site vineyard produces pinot noir while riesling and sauvignon blanc are currently brought in - with plans to plant them soon.

The wines are limited to small quantities of individually numbered bottles available at the cellar door or online.

Owners Simon and Frances Stewart and their family purchased the storied Valleyfield property in 2005 and the name Bell & Gong is a nod to Simon's Merchant Navy background.

The wines are extremely well made by consultants Winemaking Tasmania, making Bell & Gong well worth a visit.

Bell & Gong, 878 Illawarra Road, Longford, Tasmania, 7301. 0417 423 889. 
www.bellandgong.com. Wine tastings and sales Thursday-Momday 10am-3pm. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

A different take on delightful Paris

Ernest Hemingway described Paris as a "Moveable Feast"- a city in which gourmet delights await around every corner. 

But even he would have found Paris a tad sleepy on a Sunday. Many of the best bakeries, bars and restaurants are firmly shuttered on the Sabbath.

Today, more of Paris is open on a Sunday than ever before, but it can still be hard to track down a funky place for a glass of wine or a great pastry if you don't know where to look. 

Born from a love of laid back Sundays, author Yasmin Zeinab's new book Sundays in Paris is the culmination of the popular blog by the same name. It is a comprehensive city guide featuring the best places to eat, drink and explore in the City of Light.

With chapters including Coffee, Brunch, Dinner + Drinks, Cultural Attractions, Gardens + Outdoor Spots, Markets + Foodie Stops, Shopping and The Essentials, Sundays in Paris offers a lot of useful insider information. Take it from me, a long-time Paris resident.

My only complaint is the size of the book - it's a bit big for your pocket, but not big enough for for the coffee table.

All 20 of the arrondissements that spiral outwards in a clockwise direction are featured in this book.

Sundays in Paris also includes suggested full-day and half-day itineraries skewed towards the young and hip. 

Sundays In Paris by Yasmin Zeinab, was published this month. Paperback | RRP $29.99/NZD $32.99.

Discover one of Melbourne's best-value places to stay

I've stayed at Metro Apartments on Bank Place a couple of times - and was extremely impressed on both occasions. 

For those occasions when you need somewhere clean, chic and central to stay but don't want to splash out hundreds of dollars a night, these furnished apartments absolutely fit the bill.

The location is awesome. Bank Place is a laneway running between Collins Street and LittleCollins Street in the central business district.

It's home to several bars, cafes and eateries and many of the taller heritage buildings have been converted into loft-style apartments. The lane also includes several ornate heritage lamp posts and bluestone alleys.

Metro Apartments on Bank Place is ideal for anyone on a budget,with laid-back studios and 1- to 2-bedroom apartments come with free wifi and satellite TV, plus kitchens or kitchenettes; most have living areas.

Price start from $100 a night on wotif.com and hotels.com - excellent value for such a great location.

Among the destinations either a short walk or tram ride are the MCG and Etihad stadiums, Chinatown, Bourke Street Mall, South Bank Promenade and the Eureka Sky Deck – the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere.

Southern Cross Station and Flinders Street Stations are just 10 minutes away.

There is a 24-hour reception and and business services (I like the handy computer and printer in the lobby), and the choice of several room styles. 

The laid-back studios and 1- to 2-bedroom apartments come with free Wi-Fi and satellite TV, plus kitchens or kitchenettes; most have living areas.

Room amenities include queen-size beds with en suite bathroom and separate living/dining/kitchen areas, kitchens include hotplates, a convection microwave oven, a fridge, dishwasher, cutlery, crockery, cookware utensils, and toaster and a combination washer/dryer. 

Also check out the flat-screen LCD television, reverse cycle air conditioning and complimentary tea and coffee-making facilities, as well a work desk. 

To book directly contact Metro Apartments on Bank Place Melbourne, 18-20 Bank Place, Melbourne 3000. 03 9604 4321 www.metrohotels.com.au

# The writer was a guest of Metro Apartments on Bank Place.

Cruise the Mekong in style - and learn from an acclaimed chef

Guests booking Aqua Mekong cruises in 2018 being hosted by acclaimed Australian chef David Thompson are being offered 30% savings on normal cruise prices for special June and August departures.

The four-night cruises from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh from June 22-26 and August 3-7 include exclusive hosted components with Thompson, the acclaimed Thai chef, who has been consulting chef with Aqua Mekong since its inaugural cruise in October 2014. 

Highlights will include travelling with Thompson to local markets to learn about locally grown and harvested ingredients; cooking classes or kitchen tours hosted by Thompson and and interactive Q&A with the chef. 

The lead-in rate for the cruises is US$3780 representing a 30% saving on normal Aqua Mekong cruises of this duration.

Guests will experience the green season and vibrant culture, history and cuisine of south-east Asia aboard the sustainably crafted Aqua Mekong, a five-star floating hotel with 20 designer suites, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Mekong River, a 1:1 staff to guest ratio and twice daily shore excursions by high-powered skiff.
Aqua Mekong is the only ship on this stretch of the Mekong River to offer a fully-equipped gym, screening room, outdoor cinema, observation deck and an upper-deck pool.
Guests will dine on dishes created by Thompson and board the Mekong’s only private tenders for guided short excursions to serene Buddhist temples and stilted villages or exploration by bicycle and kayak.
For information and bookings, contact your travel agent or Aqua Expeditions Australia on 1300 124 204 or reservations@aquaexpeditions.com.au

Thompson's restaurants regularly earn Michelin stars and rank on ‘The World’s Best 50’ list.

Snake in Tasmanian vineyard becomes a global sensation

Images of a rather cheeky snake in a Tasmanian vineyard have become a global sensation. 
Bangor Vineyard Shed owner Matt Dunbabin recorded footage of a tiger snake using a wire fence on his Tasman Peninsula vineyard as a tightrope.
Dunbabin said that tiger snakes were quite a common site on the estate, but he had never seen one climbing before.
“We see them quite often on the farm, and it is wonderful to have them around. It was definitely a fascinating thing to see – what great poise and balance," he said.
“After I took the video he continued on his merry way, and I guess he climbed back down to the ground when he’d had enough up there.
“Oh, and for those a bit concerned about having to share their next glass of wine, or wedding, with him – don’t worry, this is right down the other end of the farm.”

The story has been reported in media across Europe and North America.  

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Voyager Estate takes the organic route

Voyager Estate, one of the leading lights in the Margaret River wine industry, has announced plans to transition to organic accreditation. 

Steve James, manager of wine-making and viticulture, announced the switch in the year Voyager is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first plantings. 

James said that 40 hectares of vineyards, or nearly one-third of the winery’s Stevens Valley vineyards, are now in conversion as certified by Australian Certified Organic (ACO), a move that will see all of Voyager Estate’s vineyards transition to organic certification within the next three years.

The move underpins Voyager Estate’s long-term commitment to sustainable farming as well as its holistic approach across all undertakings in the vineyard and at the winery, namely carbon footprint reduction, use of renewable energy, recycling, land rehabilitation and re-vegetation activities, plus its 100% carbon neutral stance.

Just last month, James hosted Claude Bourguignon from LAMS (Laboratoire Analyses Microbiologiques Sols), a unique French laboratory that specialises in analysing vineyard soils to understand its physical, chemical and biological properties and how this relates to wine quality and style.

James said Bourguignon was particularly impressed with Voyager Estate soils and attributes their extremely high quality to organic practices, lack of herbicides and use of natural products, such as compost, over many years.

James commented: “It was great to hear an internationally renowned expert endorse our commitment and shift to organics and identify our soils as among the best he has seen during his visit to Australia. I know the hard work is going to pay off in terms of the potential for our wines to get better and better.”

Owner Alexandra Burt said: “We’ve come a long way since my father, Michael Wright, settled on our special site in Stevens Valley. The transition from patches of bare dirt to established vineyards of beauty and quality has given us the opportunity to craft wines of uncompromising precision and elegance that tell the story of this place. He would be proud to see us taking this next step to organic certification, having come so far along the path already.”

Voyager Estate is a second generation, family-owned estate. It was established in 1978, and has been under the full ownership of current custodians, the Wright family, since 1991. It has a focus on world-class chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Hotel room bargains on offer to the quick and the canny

You don't get much nowadays when you pay $99 for a hotel room. Even at double that price there can be plenty of disappointments.
Mantra Group, one of Australia's leading accommodation providers, has just launched a sale, however, with quality rooms starting from $99 for bookings made between now and February 21. 
The sale covers more than 130 Mantra, Peppers, BreakFree and Art Series Hotels across Australia, New Zealand, Bali and Hawaii.
Here is a sneak peek at some of the deals on offer during the sale, featuring a selection of beach getaways, city breaks and country escapes. 
To book visit www.mantrahotels.com or call 1300 987 603. 

Port Douglas: The Mantra PortSea (above) offers accommodation, a swim-up pool bar and a range of leisure facilities. Stay from $99 per night including 2-for-1 continental breakfast (minimum two-night stay). Valid for travel until June 22, 2018.
Gold Coast: Mantra Legends Hotel in the heart of Surfers Paradise starts from $109 per night (Sunday to Thursday with a minimum two-night stay). Valid for travel until September 27, 2018, including food and beverage discounts.

Sydney: The new Mantra Hotel at Sydney Airport (above) offers travellers contemporary and stylish accommodation within a short stroll of their Sydney Airport domestic departure gate. Studio king rooms for $149 per night (Friday to Sunday) including 1GB of Wi-Fi daily and a noon late check-out. Valid for travel from April 1 until  September 27, 2018.
Canberra: Mantra MacArthur Hotel was the only hotel to have opened in Canberra in 2017 and is a modern, contemporary hotel centrally located in the heart of the city. Stay in a studio room from $119 per night (Thursday to Monday). Valid for travel until September 14, 2018.
Melbourne: Enjoy a city escape at Mantra on Jolimont located in the heart of Melbourne's sport and entertainment precinct. Stay in a one-bedroom apartment from $109 per night (Sunday to Thursday). Valid for travel until September 30, 2018.
Tamar Valley: Enjoy the seaside views and the Tamar Valley at Peppers York Cove. Deluxe hotel rooms start from $149 per night including a welcome bottle of house wine and a midday checkout. Valid for travel from until September 30, 2018.
Adelaide: Centrally-located BreakFree Adelaide has studio rooms from $99 per night including wifi and a noon check-out between March 23 and May 31, 2018. 
Christchurch: BreakFree on Cashel, in the city centre, offers an urban double room for NZ$99 per night, including wifi, between May 1 and August 31, 2018. 
Honolulu: Ala Moana Hotel offers mountain view room for US$149 per night (minimum two-night stay) until September 30, 2018. 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Get down and party to celebrate the Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog will be celebrated at Accor Hotels across Australia this month, with special menus and Chinese New Year decorations planned.

AccorHotels Chinese New Year celebrations are an extension of the Optimum Service Standards program which help hotels better cater for the growing Chinese inbound travel market. 

The Optimum Service Standards program includes training for AccorHotels staff in cultural differences, Mandarin-speaking staff, translated welcome kits, Chinese dishes included on menus and mini-bar products, Chinese location maps, newspapers and television channels. 

UnionPay is also accepted at a number of AccorHotels to enable guests to conveniently settle their room account with their domestic debit banking card.

Among the highlights: 
New South Wales
Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour
Executive chef Joshua Davidson has created a menu inspired by the flavours of China. It will be available from February 16 at Q Dining and Hacienda. Dishes on offer include prawn har gow, pork and prawn siu mai and roast duck spring rolls. Guests who dine on February 16 will also have unbeatable views of fireworks and light displays on Sydney Harbour to mark the celebrations.
Mercure Sydney
Mercure Sydney is inviting guests to celebrate the New Year with an Asian-influenced buffet at the hotel's Four Elements Restaurant. The buffet will include appetizers, seafood, Chinese specialties, salads, a noodle station and a dessert station. Available on February 15 from 6pm until 11pm, the buffet is priced from $69 per person, or $59 for Accor Plus Members. 
Novotel Sydney Parramatta
Parramatta's New Year festival is set to include a range of interactive activities including a Lantern Garden, delicious food stalls, calligraphy workshops, lantern building and cooking classes. There will also be traditional and contemporary performances, firecracker displays, lion dances and a fireworks finale. 

Pullman Sydney Hyde Park
To celebrate Chinese New Year the hotel is offering a Taste of Asia at Bar Rendezvous from February 16-28. The special tasting plate includes classics like duck spring rolls, pork bao, chicken dim sum, and a prawn and sesame roll served with red wine vinegar, shallot and ginger puree. It wouldn't be a celebration without a cocktail, and the tasting plate is served with a Singaporean favourite, the Singapore Sling, which combines gin, cherry brandy and pineapple juice. The Taste of Asia tasting plate and cocktail is priced at $25 and is available from Bar Rendezvous. 
ibis Styles Hobart
ibis Styles Hobart will be hosting a number of events at Mr Good Guy in celebration of the Year of the Dog. The program kicks off on February 16,with a banquet priced from just $75 per person which will showcase both traditional and contemporary Chinese cuisine, combined with the best Tasmanian produce. 

Novotel Surfers Paradise
In conjunction with the Chinese Culture Association, Novotel Surfers Paradise will have two performers, the Face Mask and Wealth God, direct from China, performing at the hotel daily from February 15-18. Plus, all guests arriving on the 15th and 16th will be receive red envelopes with gold chocolate coins inside. Hanlan's restaurant will have Chinese food items available. 
For more information about AccorHotels Chinese Optimum Service Standards and special offers visit www.accorhotels.com 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

When hotel penny pinching ruins the the hospitality vibe

It's late at night at Melbourne Airport. All flights for Hobart have departed. I need somewhere to stay. The cheaper airport hotels are sold out; the others want $350 a night. 

So off to wotif.com I go and find the Four Points by Sheraton at the Docklands for $199 a night when most of the other big name hotels are wanting $400 and upwards. 

That should have rung alarm bells. In the hotel industry you usually get what you pay for. But this was a Sheraton, albeit a four-star Four Points version; surely excellence was assured. 

And all I needed was a comfortable bed and a few glasses of wine after two long flights. 

First bad sign. No doorman and no one to help with baggage. Not unusual in these days of cost cutting. 

Check-in was good and I was told the bar was open until midnight. All fine. It's a nice-looking modern hotel with a pool (which of course is useless, as its raining the next morning).

I came down to the bar to find empty glasses and detritus on most of the tables - and it wasn't moved for a good 45 minutes. The one barman on duty was engaged in conversation with a guest and clearly wasn't a designated cleaner-upper.  

I ordered a glass of wine (from an underwhelming list designed by someone with an overwhelming "big is best" mentality). 

I was then surprised, at 11.20pm, to be told when ordering my second drink that the bar was now closing. 

This despite a dozen or so guests drinking and it being a Saturday night in the big city. 

I asked for an explanation from a scruffy duty manager, who said the decision to close the bar had been made by the restaurant manager, a cocky fellow whose attempted explanation made no sense. 

Thoroughly annoyed by this stage (all I wanted was a couple of quiet glasses of wine) I was gifted another glass by the "manager on duty". The bar, meanwhile, miraculously stayed open until midnight after all following much arm waving and discussion between the three managers. 

The sensible manager among the three said both the check-in advice and early bar closures had been a result of "miscommunications".   

I went to my room for a tea and biscuit - no biscuits, unfortunately, as the cost cutters had struck again. And no mini bar either (you can call down for snacks and drinks, I was told). 

None of these issues are major; but they are symptomatic of a general malaise in hospitality standards. 

# I was rung at 10am, just prior to my departure, by another "duty manager" who, presumably having been alerted to my social media angst, offered me a "free breakfast". 

It was a nice gesture but I'd already placed the hotel on my "avoid" list. A bargain is not always a bargain. And this being The Docklands you have to wait several minutes for a taxi - not great if you are in a hurry. 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Cruising at 3,000-feet above rural Rajasthan

One of the highlights of my trip to Jaipur has been a dawn hot-air balloon trip above rural Rajasthan with Sky Waltz. 

I'll let these images and faces tell their own story. 

# The writer/photographer was a guest of Air Asia, Tourism Rajasthan and Sky Waltz. www.skywaltz.com/destinations.html 

Air Asia flies four times a week from Kuala Lumpur to Jaipur. See www.airasia.com

Plans for New Zealand's largest hotel unveiled

New Zealand is set to gain a 650-room mega hotel following the multi-million dollar refurbishment of Cordis, Auckland.

Hong Kong-based Langham Hospitality Group announced new expansion plans that will make the upscale hotel the largest in New Zealand.

Set to be completed by late 2020 with a total of 650 rooms and suites, the recently re-branded hotel - formerly the 411-room The Langham - will reinforce its position as the city’s leading meetings and conference property with its new and extended event space, complemented with exciting food and beverage enhancements.

The new tower adjacent and connected to the existing hotel will house an additional 250 premium rooms and Cordis signature suites. The size of the new rooms will start from 32 square metres and the brand new Club Lounge will feature panoramic views of the harbour and Auckland Tower.

The hotel currently has event space in excess of 2,000 square metres, including the elegant Great Room which is one of New Zealand’s largest pillar-less ballrooms. There are plans to add a new event space of approximately 400 square metres that will offer natural light and multiple configurations, allowing for more flexibility in hosting special occasions and key events.

The award-winning Eight restaurant will feature an additional 60 seats. The hotel will also offer a new destination bar with courtyard and outdoor seating. 

“The successful repositioning of Cordis, Auckland combined with the economic growth and positive tourism outlook in New Zealand makes us confident that this is the right time for the owner of the hotel to commit its financial resources for the expansion of the hotel,” said Simon Manning, chief sales and marketing officer of Langham Hospitality Group. 

“We believe that the core essences of this new hotel brand, which are individual in style and design, reflective of its location and culture, and a provider of heartfelt service to our guests, will resonate well with corporate and leisure travellers to Auckland.”