Thursday, 24 May 2018

The worst job in travel: trying to market a spectacular destination

Overseas tourists are staying away from the beautiful resorts of the Philippines in their droves, scared of making bookings and then losing their money. 

When the resort of Boracay was closed in April for a six-month clean-up, authorities cancelled pre-booked trips and also refused to refund the payments.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) found interest was low when it sent a group on a tourism mission in Europe earlier this month aimed at promoting the Philippines as a tourism destination. 

ECCP president Guenter Taus said concerns followed President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s decision to shut down Boracay to address the island’s environmental issues.

“It was clearly verbalised when we were there," Taus told the Phillippines Daily Enquirer newspaper. "They said if they (the Government) can close one island, they can close any island, any time,” he said. 

Taus said it had become harder to pitch the Philippines to tour operators, especially given the experience of some who couldn’t get their money refunded because the island closure was deemed force majeure.

Force majeure refers to a clause in contracts that removes liability for unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events, restricting participants from fulfilling obligations, according to the world’s largest financial education website Investopedia.

“But it’s not force majeure because it was closed by the Government,” Taus said. 

“You’re a tourist operator and you have 500 people booked and then they tell you, ‘Sorry. The island is closed. Get lost and you don’t get your money back'.” 

ECCP, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, is still trying to convince tour operators in the European Union to look at other parts of the Philippines, despite their concerns.

Many of the tourists headed for Boracay and other Pinoy destinations opted instead for popular destinations in other Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, Tuas said.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

You don't have to spend a fortune to enjoy paradise

After reviewing a five-star property in Krabi, I had intended to return to familiar ground in Phuket to do some writing for two projects that had stalled. 

A couple of days at Railay Beach caused me to change me mind, however, and seek out some local budget accommodation. After looking at a couple of 2-3 star hotels I settled on the Railay Viewpoint Resort, where I have been living in a small villa for several days.

As I'm paying an off-season rate of 900 baht ($37) a night I didn't expect much, but I'm thoroughly enjoying my home away from home. 

I've noticed some complaints on websites about a lack of cleanliness at Viewpoint, and also unfriendly staff. My experience has been exactly the opposite. 

My villa, just a 100 metres from the waterfront at Railay East has a comfortable bed, air conditioning, good wifi (although it was once knocked out by a tropical storm), a fridge, TV with CNN and a wet/room shower that always has hot water. 

I'm provided with fresh bottles of water every day, clean towels and my room is serviced every day, or second day, depending on my needs. 

There is a good resort swimming pool just 10 metres from my door and all the mini-marts, massage shops and eateries are within a short walk. Its nice to sit on my balcony and watch the world go by.

There are more expensive rooms than the one I am in with more modern bathrooms and facilities (below) but my villa is just fine for basic accommodation.

Railay East has mangrove swamps and is not suitable for swimming, but just 350 metres away is Railay West, with its several chic resorts and clean sand beaches. The two are linked by Walking Street, a laneway of restaurants, Reggae Bars and juice bars and more massage places.

Railay, which can be reached only long-tail boat or speedboat from Chao Fa Pier from Krabi, Ao Nang or Ao Nam Mao, is popular with day trippers because of its laidback vibe. Dinner will cost you around 100 baht ($4) and there are no loud go-go bars, hustlers or discos. The massage places are totally legit. 

Don't even think of buying a bottle of wine, however, with taxes meaning a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay will cost you 50 bucks. The local Singha beer ($3.50) does the trick instead.   

The views are spectacular around these parts with striking limestone cliffs, and clean water that is frequented by squid boats at night. 

The perfect setting for a few days of relaxation. 

Railay Viewpoint Hotel, +66 82 4299 090. 

New codeshare deal between Qantas and Air France

Qantas and Air France customers will now have more options to travel between Europe and Australia via Asia following a re-ignited code share agreement between the two airlines. 

Available for booking from June 5 for flights starting from July 20, Air France will add its code to Qantas flights between Hong Kong and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and between Singapore and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Air France customers will also be able to access code share services from Sydney to five cities on the Australian airline's domestic network including Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, Cairns and Darwin.

Under the reciprocal deal, Qantas will add its code to flights operated by Air France between Singapore and Hong Kong and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, as a continuation of flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

The new agreement will see the two airlines code share on a total of more than 200 flights per week.

In real terms, Qantas fliers might find themselves on an Air France flight - and vice versa, so it will be to check bookings carefully if you have a strong preference for one over the other. 

The airlines' spin is that customers will benefit from more seamless travel experiences with single-ticket itineraries and through-checked baggage as well as the opportunity to earn points on the new code share services.

Air France eligible customers will also be able to access Qantas lounges in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, as well as Qantas eligible customers to Air France lounges in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Patrick Alexandre, EVP commercial sales and alliances at Air France-KLM, said: "We are very pleased to be re-establishing a partnership with Qantas. Thanks to this agreement, the Air France-KLM group will be able to offer one of the best possible travel solutions for its customers from Europe to Australia. 

"It will also deliver a better travel experience for our business customers, with connections in Singapore and Hong Kong, two of the most popular airports in the world. This new co-operation confirms our group's desire to expand in the Asia-Pacific region."

Alison Webster, CEO of Qantas International, added: "This is great news for our customers who want to travel to Europe via Asia, giving them another option to get to Paris and more opportunities to earn Frequent Flyer Points. The return of this popular code share delivers on our strategy of partnering to provide customers with access to an expanded network and more seamless travel experiences wherever they want to fly."  

Monday, 21 May 2018

Join Tasmanians for seasonal wine lunches in a snug wine cellar

Tasmania used to go to sleep for much of its long winter. Now it is alive with myriad festivals.
Moores Hill winery in the Tamar Valley has decided to join in the winter fun by combining with the Vineyard Seafood team for a series of set seasonal lunches in their snug barrel room. All will feature local producers, who will be on hand to answer questions. 
The opportunity to meet, chat and dine with featured farmers and fishermen from Tasmania’s Northern region - and with Moores Hill winemaker Julian Allport - will cost $95 per head.

Seats for the intimate lunches are very limited so if you are interested in lunching on Sundays, June 3, July 8 or August 5 then you'd better be quick. 
The first lunch, on June 3, will feature abalone, beef and chocolate! There will be a four-course menu with matched wines,

Australia's First Families of Wine taking China seriously

Australia's First Families of Wine, a group of 12 of Australia's leading family-owned wineries, is taking the growing Chinese market very, very seriously.

AFFW members are heading to Hong Kong to participate in Wine Australia’s feature program at Vinexpo 2018, then staying on in the region to be part of Wine Australia’s China Roadshow 2018.

Vinexpo is the primary industry event for wine and spirit specialists in the Asia-Pacific region and AFFW will have the opportunity to feature new products whilst networking with importers, distributors and sommeliers and telling their various vinous tales.

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will host Vinexpo Asia 2018 from May 29-31 and the China Roadshow 2018; a tour that connects Australian wine exhibitors with influential Chinese importers, distributors, wholesalers and media in the four key cities of Shenyang, Wuhan, Jinan and Shanghai runs from June 4-11.

Australia is ‘Country Of Honour’ at this year’s Vinexpo exhibition and this year sees a five-fold increase in floor space for Australian wine compared to Vinexpo Hong Kong 2016.

The Australian contingent will showcase of 140 exhibitors representing over 35 wine regions. The 12 families of AFFW will be featured together, under their own banner, as part of the larger Australian contingent.

Among the range of educational masterclasses featuring throughout Vinexpo will be AFFW’s signature tasting, named UNLOCKED, a panel masterclass tasting featuring the wines that have put AFFW’s families on the map.

These include the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon; 1999 Tahbilk 1860 Vines Shiraz; 2008 Henschke Hill of Grace and Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat.

While a familiar concept at home, this is the first time that UNLOCKED has been presented outside of Australia. The AFFW panel will feature different generations of the families and each will share the history, provenance and stories behind their families and the wines that they craft.

Similarly, the China Roadshow 2018 will offer AFFW the opportunity to network with important Chinese importers and media.

Thanks in part to the recent free trade agreement, Australian wine exports to China have surged 63% in 2017 to $848 million - more than total sales to the United States and United Kingdom combined.

AFFW Chairman Bruce Tyrrell from the Hunter Valley’s Tyrrells Wines, believes the boom will continue.

“China remains Australia’s largest export market and is still showing strong growth at all price points," he said. 

"Importantly it is growing at the higher price points. Australia is best placed to continue to grow in China as they like our styles and we are seen as a close and safe destination for tourism. Tourism gives our industry that opportunity to convert these visitors into Australian converts and have a thorough understanding of our premium wine offering.”

The 12 members of AFFW are: Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, De Bortoli Wines, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry Wines, McWilliam’s Wines, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell’s Wines and Yalumba.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Slicing and dicing in paradise

The super-relaxed Thai resort of Krabi offers rare beachfront luxury at the legendary Rayavadee resort - and along with that luxury comes options. Lots of options. 

Quite a few people come to Rayavadee for the rock climbing and jungle trekking; most, however, are here to chill. 

Activities on offer include speedboat charters to surrounding islands, diving, water sports, elephant riding, tennis and squash courts, yoga, Thai boxing, a well-equipped gym and a luxurious spa offering a range of treatments. 

I opted, however, for an individual cooking class that was perhaps the most rewarding cooking class I've ever had. One-on-one with chef Salma, I learnt more about slicing, dicing and curry pastes than I ever have before. 

The benefit of doing a solo cooking class is that you can move at your own pace; ask for clarification or an explanation without feeling like a complete goose.

This being Rayavadee, one of Thailand's premier resorts, my class takes place on a terrace overlooking the Andaman Sea. It is hard not to be enthused in such a beautiful setting. 

Chatty Salma speaks perfect English, so is confident enough to makes small changes to traditional recipes (she comes from the south), or at my request. 

Guests can choose which dishes they want to cook in concert with Salma (it felt more like a group effort than a class) and I opted for prawn cakes, pad Thai and red duck curry. All of which turned out rather well, I hope you agree. 

We taste the ingredients as we go. A little more lemongrass, a tad less galangal. I learn to chiffonade and stir better than I have before - and without landing the ingredients on the floor.  

The hands-on approach to learning is followed by a sit-down lunch and my dishes really did taste restaurant quality.

You leave with your cooking apron and a comprehensive guide to Thai spices and recipes. And, in my case, a renewed appetite for cooking. 

Classes are available for between one to six people and other dish options include the likes of beef salad with herbs, chicken in green curry and spicy tom yang goong soup.

Rayavadee, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group, is a resort for those looking for an authentic experience; a slice of nature along with a big dollop of indulgence. There is a sense here of being somewhere really special.

A full resort review will follow shortly.

Rayavadee, 214 Moo 2, Tumbon Ao Nang, Amphoe Muang, Krabi 81000. +6675 620 740.

Australian airline passengers get the rough end of the pineapple

In the United States and Europe, airline customers are protected by a range of regulations. 

If an airline wants to bump you from a flight it has to offer to pay you for the inconvenience. If a flight is a significantly delayed you are offered compensation. Etc etc, depending on the jurisdiction.

In Australia, probably because Australians are not keen on complaining - or following through with complaints - airlines get away with blue murder and accept no responsibility for their failures.

A recent case on the Australian Frequent Flyer website underlined that consumers get the rough end of the pineapple with little comeback. 

A platinum Qantas frequent flyer reported that he has been waiting months for a resolution from Qantas. 

This flyer had booked the airline's Chauffeur Drive service ahead of a Business class flight from Sydney to London. The driver never showed up. With time running out before the flight departed, this customer reluctantly drove their own car to the airport… racking up an $864 parking bill while they were away! 

Seven months later, Qantas has offered $105 and 5,000 points as compensation - though the points have still not arrived. Is this adequate? Of course not. 

Similarly with my trip last week when the Melbourne-Phuket leg was delayed for nine hours and no one bothered to tell me until I arrived in Melbourne to twiddle my thumbs. 

The excuse, given grudgingly by one of Jetstar's flight fuhrer types, was that because I had booked through Qantas, Jetstar had no idea how to get in contact with me. That despite Jetstar having emailed me the previous day and my having checked in with Jetstar in Hobart.

The truth: Jetstar just doesn't give a damn. It's only compensation was a complimentary scowl and a $20 food voucher. Big business wins again. 

Then there is the friend who purchased business class tickets from Sydney to Hobart and return but was refused entry to the tiny Qantas Club lounge because it was “too full”. Good luck to her getting compensation. She didn’t get what she paid for. 

Sadly, there is not much we can do about it - other than complain and make other flyers aware of the issues they might face.