Competing with the splendid Forum and its after parties Monday night was CNN’s extensive coverage of the Buckingham Palace Diamond Jubilee concert (the building was transformed into a red, white and blue Cirque de Soleil-type fairytale, with fireworks that at one point looked like a blazing crown). Also, if there is a moment, check coverage of the previous day’s thousand-boat River Thames flotilla. The Queen took part, in the magnificently-decorated Spirit of Chartwell, dressed up as a royal barge by film designer Joseph Bennett. Now, June 12th through December 31st, 2012, you can take a Spirit of Chartwell package from The Savoy, a Fairmont Hotel. Stay in the hotel and walk a mere hundred yards to its own mooring, to board the 210-ft cruiser, a 12-year old Rotterdam-built beauty that now belongs to the Magna Carta Steamship Company.
Orient-Express’ Andrea Filippi is raving about the company’s first Californian property, El Encanto in Santa Barbara, opening June 16th, 2012 (its official opening party is September 7th, 2012). Actually this seven-acre resort, which now has 92 rooms, first opened in 1911 and later was where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard used to hang out (when they were not cavorting at Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles). Today the head honcho at El Encanto is MD Ali Kasikci, the Turkish-born genius who did such wonders first at The Peninsula Beverly Hills and then, more or less across the road, in opening Montage Beverly Hills.
Donald Wong is showing off ‘his’ beautiful The Siam, Bangkok, which opens this coming Monday. We have all heard about its antiques, its river-set location… it will also have arguably the hotel world’s only Thai boxing ring, in the LifeFitness gym. The first guests are a University of Texas professor and his family, coming in for five nights as part of an all-Thailand vacation • Interested in golf? The Tom Doak-designed Cape Kidnappers course outside Napier, New Zealand, is currently sixth best course in the world according to Golf Digest US. Cape Kidnappers is one of the luxury lodges owned by Tiger Fund boss Julian Robertson, one of the main investors in the Super PAC Restore Our Future that has helped propel Mitt Romney to his position as Republican candidate in the November 2012 US presidential election.
Polo may be the sport of kings but, says YTL CEO James McBride, it opens so many doors, and he has made many friends through polo. When he was GM of The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, in New York, he sponsored several polo matches and now, based in Singapore, he still finds polo ‘works’. Polo, with jazz, is also a favourite of the St Regis brand. Paul James, brand manager both of St Regis and Luxury Collection, sponsored a polo match outside São Paulo which subsequently encouraged dozens of Brazilians to flock to the stunning new St Regis Bal Harbour, literally just across the road from Miami Beach’s best retail mall, The Shops at Bal Harbour • Talking of shopping, Bicester Village, the luxury retail outlet that so successfully woos visitors to London to head 90 minutes out of town for good-value, good-brand purchases, is part of McArthurGlen Designer Outlets, who have the massive billboard at the back of the exhibition hall. They already have villages not only in UK but in Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Italy, and, under co-CEOs Gary Bond and Julia Calabrese, they are coming into China…
Asia, the whole of Asia, is a magnet, as was shown at yesterday’s press briefings. How, I wonder, does one get a prized media-briefing slot? It is first-come, first-served, so book now, early, for ILTM Asia 2013 • Yesterday, some companies rolled out their really top people. Michael Hobson, whose Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong turns 50 in 2013, highlighted MOHG as a global luxury brand. Julian Hagger insisted LUX* Island Resorts offers alternative to ‘over-rated luxury’ • Japan, sponsoring the VIP lounge plus its massive stand upstairs, showed that its government is committed to positioning the country as a top luxury travel destination.
Christopher Vielle, MD of GCP Holdings, used his press slot to announc the group’s entry to Bangkok and Pattaya, operating Hotel G properties franchised to Accor’s Pullman brand. (GCP Holdings is a division of financier Goodwin Gaw’s Hong Kong-based empire – his hotel interest started when he and David Chang bought the historic Hollywood Roosevelt, Los Angeles, now a beautifully-updated Commune hotel) • Re-dos are in. John Speers, GM of The Little Nell in Aspen CO, USA, is talking about the new-look of his Montagna restaurant, which is being updated by Bentel & Bentel – if Montagna is already as successful as claimed, however, why change its name? Four Seasons Hong Kong is about to have a tweaking, by designers Bilkey Llinas and Yabu Pushelberg, but of course there will be no change of name.
The sensational Hotel Martinez, Cannes, is a new name on the exhibitors’ list this year. Richard Schilling, dressed in the blazer and white pants that are de rigueur during the annual Cannes Film Festival, jauntily showed off the elegant stand (cream, with the Art Deco logo that belongs to his 1929-vintage hotel). He has, courtesy of friends at L’Oreal, Fan Bingbing as honorary ambassador. Working with China’s best known movie star - Best Actress Award 2010 of Tokyo International Film Festival - is, says Schilling, already attracting a sizeable number of top China visitors.
Everybody wants the Chinese. With 500 million internet users in China, curiosity and a constant desire to learn means that consumers are continually chatting online. I was told of the example of posting an image of a beverage not yet available in China: within 5 minutes 20 people had asked what it was. I am constantly told offline (real-life) marketing will disappear completely soon – even Bentley launched its latest model via www.taobo.com Another example is beverage giant Diageo, which needed to catch up in the whisky market, dominated in China by Chivas Regal (somewhat diluting its brand by selling it already blended with green tea). Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker, decided to launch it ‘top down’. It has turned an old house in the Puxi area of Shanghai into a beautiful haven of whisky. Go there and blend your own whisky, then pay $300,000 – as several do, per week – to fly to Scotland to see your own blend being perfected, and you thus become a major Johnnie Walker ambassador online. Yes, everything is going online in China. The main travel site, www.ctrip.com, has 50 million users, and has an English translation that is easier to view than it is to use for booking • This is the same dilemma facing hoteliers around the world who think that they can simply translate their site into Chinese, says Dragon Trail co-founder Jens Thraenhart, who is based in Beijing. A new site must be built, from scratch: mere translation is not feasible. Thraenhart, who is also Chairman China for the Pacific Asia Travel Association PATA, says the global luxury marketplace should start looking outside China, and turn its attention to Indonesia. In two years’ time, he predicts, the same exhibitors who are now chanting China even in their sleep will evolve to a China-Indonesia tone.
In the upper hall I met Poompong Patpongpanit, co-CEO of Paresa, on the Andaman coast at Kamala, Phuket. He has been at ILTM Asia for the last two years. It is essential, he says, as it is concentrated business (stay at Paresa and you can have non-invasive dental procedures at its face2face aesthetic centre – Khun Poompong’s wife Dr Yupares Nimkarn is boss of the busy DCOne Dental Clinics in Bangkok and Phuket) • Funnily enough as you enter the exhibition hall you momentarily forget you are in Asia. You are greeted by the Dubai stand, larger than ever. This year, cleverly, Shangri-La has the easy-to-find slot on your immediate right. Go down the stairs of the magnificent hall and Fairmont-Raffles-Swissôtel is on the left, with Leading on the right (Leading’s Philip Ho laments the fact he cannot get more space, once again he can only accommodate 16 hotels, though he managed to host around 20 visitors at Leading’s lunchtime champagne offering yesterday). Leading member MPS Puri of Nira Hotels and Resorts is already seeing Chinese visitors coming to Shanti Maurice – unrelatedly, for him, The Peninsula Shanghai is undoubtedly best hotel in China… • In fact exhibitors have come from all round the world. Today, the media, who also hail from many nations, will hear about South Africa’s Zambezi Queen riverboat (hot water from rooftop solar panels) and Malaysia’s Gayana Eco Resort (owner, Gillian Tan, recently hosted a Ronan Keating concert – and the resort breeds man-sized giant clams). There will also be presentations on Tanzania’s Zanzibar Collection beach resorts and, as if to balance Sarina Bratton’s inspiring Forum words on Antarctic cruises, North Pole Voyages will enthuse about trips to the North Pole and Russian Arctic.