Sunday, 29 December 2013

Why some "hospitality" businesses are their own worst enemy

What really annoys Australians when they travel? Seat kickers, loud talkers and naughty children top the list according to a recent survey by www.cheapflights.com.au.

I'd add dismal airline food, rude airport security staff, incompetent car hire companies - but I'm rather grumpy when I travel. 

Screaming children was by far the most common complaint among Australian aircraft passengers, with just under half of all respondents saying it had affected a journey. Other top complaints included: being stuck on a delayed aircraft on the tarmac, stinky fellow passengers, broken entertainment systems and snoring seatmates. 

While the gripes from the 1,000+ respondents ranged from seat kicking to seat reclining, only 30 percent of those surveyed said they had actually confronted their fellow passengers. The rest suffer in silence. I am not one of them.

Asked "What is the most annoying thing a nearby traveller can do on your flight?" the responses were: Kick your seat - 22.72%, Let children misbehave - 16.22%, Talk loudly or incessantly - 15.02%, Recline their seat - 10.51%, Yank on your seat back - 6.3%, put feet on your arm rest or into your leg room - 5.81%, Bring smelly food aboard - 4.3%, Not waiting for those in rows ahead to exit first - 4%, Carry excessive hand luggage - 3.7%. 

My pet travel gripe, however, has nothing to do with flying. What makes me the angriest is travelling in Tasmania during any peak holiday period and finding so many "hospitality" businesses, dependent on tourism for much of their income - closed.

Read the Hobart Mercury and virtually every day there is a local small business person complaining how tough the business environment is. How hard it is to make a honest buck.

Maybe they blame kids in the mall for scaring away shoppers, or the lack of Christmas decorations, or the way council organizes car parking. You'd be convinced there is a statewide vendetta against small business. 

In fact, many of the problems that Tasmanian small businesses complain about are easily solved. For a start, they could open when they have customers ready and waiting to spend money.

Some examples. Very recently, when thousands of cruise ship passengers were wanting to explore the best of Hobart, many of the shops and cafes were closed. The reason: it was a public holiday.

Just today, a Monday, my small village was inundated with tourists. Yet three of the four eateries in town were closed. The one that was open made a killing - and turned dozens of people away. 

Of the other three eateries, one is closed until January 9 for annual holidays. the other for three days until after New Year's Day, the fourth, usually open on a Monday, who knows? They are just closed. 

Come a wet and windy Thursday in mid winter, all four will be open, competing for the business of a handful of customers. 

Now I know that small business people need a life, need to spend quality time with family and friends and often cannot afford to pay penalty rates. But to turn away business is plain crazy. Here's an idea. Why not open over the peak season, make some money (charging a Sunday or public holiday surcharge if necessary), and then close for a few weeks during the quiet winter months. Or quit complaining about how tough it is. 

It is a Tasmania-wide problem - and perhaps it extends to other states. When I flagged it on Twitter, I had responses from South Australians expressing amazement that so many cellar doors were closed; and from someone attending the sales in Hobart who could not find anywhere to buy a coffee - at the same time as The Taste of Tasmania festival was on down the road, the Sydney-Hobart yachts were arriving and every hotel room in town was full. 

Tasmanians have been told the tourism is the future for their beautiful state, but if they don't look after those tourists they will head elsewhere pretty damn smart. And then we'll be back to debating a pulp mill again. Oh, wait, we already are!

  

Discovering one of Tasmania's best-kept secrets

Perhaps because it is tucked away in sleepy New Norfolk, or maybe because it closed for three years after a family tragedy, delightful Woodbridge on the Derwent remains something of a well-kept secret even to Tasmanians. 

New Norfolk is just a 30-minute drive from Hobart and is surrounded by some of the best cellar doors in the state, as well as two distilleries, superb countryside and great fishing - but it remains off the radar for many Hobartians, even though it is a perfect weekend getaway destination. 

Heritage-listed Woodbridge on the Derwent, the only member of the Small Luxury Hotels group in Tasmania, is a beautifully restored Georgian mansion set in lovely gardens above the fast-flowing Derwent River (well-heeled guests sometimes arrive by seaplane, docking at the hotel's own pontoon). 

Built by convicts in 1825, Woodbridge was originally the home of the new colony's magistrate and is one of Australia's oldest surviving buildings. It takes its name from the first wooden bridge over the Derwent, built in 1934 and next door to the property.

Owners John and Laurelle Grimley bought the derelict property in 2003 and have done a magnificent refurbishment job. After a spell closed following a tragic car accident involving their son, they reopened Woodbridge on the Derwent 18 months ago. They are fonts of knowledge on all things local; and as this is Tasmania the staff are uniformly friendly and eager to please, if clearly a little rattled when almost all the guests from a full house arrive for breakfast at the same time.

The rooms vary in style but include all five-star accessories including Molton & Brown toiletries, flat-screen TVs, free wi-fi, iPod docks, extremely comfortable beds, modern bathrooms, in-room safes and mini bars with complimentary soft drinks. They are so quiet that it is hard to imagine there are other guests in residence. 
Guests are welcome to help themselves to port and sherry in one of the three drawing rooms and public areas are tastefully decorated with period pieces and individually sourced artworks. There are lovely gardens in which to while away an hour to two taking in the river views.

Dinner, on the night we stayed, comprised an amuse bouche of a spicy prawn bisque, followed bydelightful starter of spinach ricotta ravioli with cherry tomato and basil sauce (below).
Then came a choice of maple-glazed Tasmanian ocean trout on a leek and fennel pancake with asparagus, or rack of Tasmanian lamb with rosemary jus, hasselback potato and seasonal greens. The trout was the stronger dish, but both were respectable. 

There were two dessert choices with a pannacotta with berries the standout - and a small but well though-out wine list featuring Derwent names including Stefano Lubiana, Derwent Estate, Laurel Bank and Kinvarra, as well as several other boutique Tasmanian producers. A Pooley 2013 Riesling was very reasonably priced at $40.  

Things are not perfect, however. I felt the dinner menu could do with at least a third choice of mains, even if just a salad, and while breakfast features delicious home-made yoghurts, stewed fruits and local salmon it was disappointing to see packet cereals along with industrial bread and cheese. It would be nice, too, if the music in the restaurant was changed more often.

These, however, are very minor quibbles. For a small hotel (just eight rooms) everything works very well and the Grimleys are happy to act as concierges, booking excursions and tastings, even a seaplane jaunt should your budget stretch that far. 
There is a bit of a boozy theme, too, with several featured packages involving tastings at nearby Redlands Estate, including dinner, bed and breakfast, a 45-minute whisky tour/tasting, a $30 credit for massages and full use of all facilities including bikes, kayaks, and the sauna/hot tub and mini-gym facility. This package starts from $625 a night for a double.

Dinner, bed and breakfast packages, including a massage credit and use of all facilities starts from $590 per night for two people.

Local attractions include the several cellar doors, the Redlands and Nant distilleries, Two Metre Tall with its home-brewed beers and ciders, the Agrarian Kitchen cooking school, the Sally Wise cookery school, as well as fly fishing, bushwalking and the famous Salmon Ponds. 

Nearby you'll find the Mount Field National Park and the Styx Valley, while New Norfolk itself is the third-oldest town in Australia and is known for its old buildings and antique stores. 

The celebrated MONA museum is just a 20-minute drive away making this an excellent base for exploring the Hobart region but many guests are happy to cocoon themselves for a day or two enjoying the gardens, riverfront promenade with its resident platypus, and the hotel's focus on local food and wine. 

Woodbridge on the Derwent, 6 Bridge Street, New Norfolk, Tasmania 7140. Phone (03) 6261 5566. Email: info@woodbridgenn.com.au. Website: www.woodbridgenn.com.au.  
  



Thursday, 26 December 2013

Bali's best new romantic getaway

Sun-drenched Bali has something to offer for all ages so no wonder it is a perennial favourite with holidaymakers from around the world. 
The Indonesian resort island has fine stretches of sand, river gorges, ancient temples, adventure sports, luxury lodges, affordable spas and friendly people, top-notch golf courses, exotic food and resorts to suit all budgets. 
For those looking for a little romance and a lot of luxury, the recently refurbished and re-branded M Gallery Amarterra Villas take a lot of beating. Other highlights include a free gym, welcome drink and cool towel on arrival, daily mineral water, fruit basket, free mini bar and snacks, whirlpool Jacuzzis and the lavish main swimming pool.

Amarterra Villas, small and offering personalised service, are perfect for visitors who want to be close to the action in the Nusa Dua tourism precinct but who cherish peace and quiet in their own private compound, each of which comes with a private courtyard, lush gardens, day beds and lap pools that are actually long enough for you to do laps (and private enough to swim nude, should you so choose. 

The resort comprises an idyllic collection of 39 luxury one-, two- and three-bedroom villas in an exclusive gated enclave a short walk from the beach (where the resort has its own beach club). You don't have to walk, of course; staff will be happy to ferry you there and back on one of the resort's golf buggies. 
Opened last year, the resort's point of difference are its serenity and the quality of the staff, who are omnipresent but never intrusive.  
The villas are beautifully appointed with Balinese themes but 21st-century technology including free wi-fi, cable TV and DVD players.  
The tranquil compound is within walking distance of the Bali Collection shopping precinct and several restaurants, while the Bali National golf course is just a short drive away. 
The villas boast luxurious en-suite bathrooms with separate open-air showers, well-equipped kitchens, mini bars with free snacks and soft drinks, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, and open-air lounges and dining areas.
The use of local materials, quality interior fitting and selected Indonesian artifacts ensure a modern version of the Balinese kampung experience, while on-site Terra Terrace restaurant offers fusion food (and some rather confused combinations) and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That said, enjoying a private romantic dinner by your own pool is a real pleasure. 
The plush Amarterra Spa follows traditional Dharma rituals and offers Balinese 'Urut' Massage, a deep-tissue massage known for its ability to accelerate healing.
Treatments range from massages and head messages to aromatherapy baths, face accupoint treatments, mud therapy and body exfoliation (I tried the massage, but passed on the exfoliation) - and the therapists are uniformly charming. 
Overall, this is a brilliant place to relax and unwind for a few days. You are even cocooned from much of the construction noise on the Nusa Dua beachfront. One bedroom villas start from around $445 and several packages are available. 
Amarterra Villas, Nusa Dua, Bali. +62 361 776400. www.amarterravilla.com.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Raise a glass to this Sydney-Hobart yacht race entry

This post is a little random, but it is, at least, seasonal, so I hope you find it interesting in this time of good cheer.

While the wine connections of Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race favourite and multiple winner Wild Oats are well known, there is also a contestant with a whisky link to cheer for.
Old Pulteney distillery has a yacht racing in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which is also competing in the Sydney to Hobart. 

And there is a real, albeit tenuous, connection - not merely sponsorship guff. Pulteney distillery at windswept Wick is one of the most northerly in Scotland and whisky connoisseurs have been known to say they can detect a faint hint of the sea in their glass of 12-year-aged single malt.

Known as the ‘Maritime Malt,’ Old Pulteney distillery dates back to 1826 and won the title of ‘World Whisky of the Year’ for 2012 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible – one of the industry’s highest accolades. 

Dutchman Patrick van der Zijden is the skipper and his crew includes sailors from Peru, Switzerland, Brazil, Hungary, Canada, the Us and Wales - and even a couple of Scots. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia is predicting a fleet of around 94 yachts for the 628-nautical mile classic, which starts at 1pm on Boxing Day. 

The Old Pulteney is one of a fleet of 12 super yachts competing in the Clipper Round the World race, which has taken in Brest, France, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Australia with stops still to come in Singapore, Qingdao, San Francisco, Panama, Jamaica, New York, Londonderry and, finally, London in July 2014.

Lara Gardner, Old Pulteney brand manager at island2island beverage company (Old Pulteney's Australian distributor) says, no doubt tongue in cheek: “As the ‘Maritime Malt’, it seems only fitting to raise a glass of Old Pulteney as the crews compete in the Sydney to Hobart race."

I know less than nothing about whisky, but thought Old Pulteney tasted delicious. My verdict was confirmed when a good Scottish friend attempted to take off with my bottle of Christmas Eve, saying "How did you know that is my favourite whisky?"

So here's to the brave (and crazy) in the yacht race fleet.