Pearl of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia

By Shereen Shabnam

Dubrovnik in Croatia is a city for all seasons and one of the world’s most prominent tourist destinations. Surrounded by unique medieval ramparts, Dubrovnik attracts visitors for its rich history, mild climate, traditional hospitality and its many festivals, open-air events and architectural treasures.

I explored Dubrovnik, a UNESCO registered protected world heritage site during the evening and in the day taking in the charm of bustling streets, art and different cultural events.

Walking along the promenade during the day meant coming across various art and artefacts on sale as well as live music performances. The open air performances add character to the different areas of the old town classical and jazz music and brings rhythm and charm into an already dazzling atmosphere.

While wandering through the markets, we toured the filming location of the ‘Game of Thrones’ television series and enjoyed some retail therapy of the related merchandise for fans back in the UAE.

The best part of Dubrovnik was exploring the old city, which had interesting markets, art galleries and city walls with fortresses offering beautiful views of the city, the open sea and the Island of Lokrum.

For panoramic views of Dubrovnik, visitors can take the cable car and set out on a scenic adventure that includes breathtaking views of the old town and enjoy the sunset. Make time to head to the Island of Lokrum and Elaphiti Islands or visit the Trsteno Arboretum, which is a protected monument of nature.

Dubrovnik is a great destination for adventure sports or active tourists who enjoy horse riding, hiking, cycling or sailing. A jeep safari or a canoe tour is also an interesting way to explore the area.

Dubrovnik was a gastronomic delight with an abundance of fresh and delectable food, often seasoned with olive oil. Try the naturally grown vegetables like courgettes, cabbage, aubergines tomatoes as well as seafood prepared in a simple way.

I had a full day exploring the old town and came across a Salvador Dali exhibition, which was an unexpected delight. Visitors who enjoy experience centres will enjoy The Cultural History Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Archeological Museum exhibition at Fortress Revelin, the Dubrovnik Natural Science Museum and the Dubrovnik State Archives.

The natural scenery in the area and panoramic views of the coast on the way to the old town in Dubrovnik were definitely some of the most memorable moments in Croatia.  I am already planning my next venture into the land of fortresses and medieval architecture.

Turkish Airlines recently added Dubrovnik, Croatia to its expanding network with three weekly flights for visitors intending to explore this beautiful city.

 

Exploring Taiwan – The Land of Breathtaking Beauty

By Shereen Shabnam

With rich cultural diversity and traditions as varied as it’s beautiful natural landscape alongside tall towers and a thriving business environment, Taiwan is full of surprises for visitors.

My visit began with a tour of the Taipei 101, architecturallycreated guided with Feng Shui principles as a symbol of the evolution of technology and Asian tradition with traditional design elements, works of art and modern treatments. It comes with Indoor Observation decks plus a premium multi-level shopping mall adjoining the tower with hundreds of stores, restaurants and clubs.

The journey continued with visits to Chiayi, Alishan, Sun Moon Lake and beyond wandering through cultural attractions, lakes, hillside stations, tropical forests and sampling a wide variety of cuisine including ample choice of halal delicacies.

Taiwan offers the gamut of different cuisines and I enjoyed the Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, Japanese dishes alongside the traditional local specialties like Tainan milkfish and desert dumplings in restaurants and night markets in between sight seeing and shopping.

A visit to Taiwanese temples is a must for people watching as they gather to worship, enjoy local festivities nearby and to peruse the local art house often found in each city.

Highlight of the visit was the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month to mark the grand finale of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

This first full moon day of the New Year symbolizes the coming of the spring. People usually celebrate this festival by enjoying family dinner together, eating Yuanxiao (glutinous rice dumpling), carrying paper lanterns, and solving the riddles on the lanterns.

At the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Chiayi, I found the grand celebration with music, dance, light shows, 4D visual effects and the grand lanterns all around me magical. My Taiwanese friends said they sometimes write their wishes on the sky lanterns because it is believed as the lantern fly into the sky; it is a way to pass on your wishes to gods above.

A visit to the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum was a delightin Chiayi County. The museum is set on 70 hectares of land next to a large scenic lake with gardens. It has an unmatched collection of e artifacts and priceless treasures from distant places.

Another attractionlocated in Qigu District, Tainan is the Qigu Salt Mountain set close to Qigu Lagoon, the largest inland lake in Taiwan, which is rich in ecological resources and the habitat for winter migratory birds-black-faced spoonbills. There are a number of recreational activities like go-karting, antique machines exhibition and the Doo-doo trains making it an interesting Tainan tourist spot for visitors of all ages.

Other enjoyable excursions included exploring the Sicao Mangrove Preserve and the Taijiang National Parkwith ecological and cultural landscape alongside culture and history. The Alishan National Scenic Area was also memorable.

Another breath taking experience was of course Taiwan’s largest Lake, the Sun Moon Lakelocated in the mountains of Nantou. I took a late afternoon boat tour and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. The area around the lake is home to tribes and scenic views. Leaving Taiwan was not easy especially from the Sun Moon Lake.

From the UAE, getting to Taiwan was fairly easy on Emirates Airlines, which flies to direct to Taipei daily. The city is a great starting point to get to the other popular tourist spots.

Natural Sanctuary – Bled in Slovenia

By Shereen Shabnam

One of my most memorable travel destinations recently was to Slovenia with Turkish Airlines. The first stop was at a lake town called Bled,a popular tourist destination in Slovenia known for its emerald green lake, a wonderful restaurant on top of a mountain with picturesque views and a medieval castle.

On arrival, we had an enchanting boat ride across the lake, which is the highlight of a visit to Bled. It is best to take some time to take in the ambience, watch the swans and ducks on the lakes and enjoy the lush green mountains in the distance.

A hike up a hill followed the boat ride as we climbed a stone staircase with 99 steps to have lunch with panoramic views and a visit to take pictures of the waterfront, the church of assumption andthe castle of Bled.

The Bled Castle is the oldest castle in Slovenia. There is also a museum at the top with the history of the castle, some interesting fossils and archaeological findings and a tempting gift shop selling food and the arts and crafts of Bled.

Being a food lover, I stopped to taste the famous Kremsnita cake, which was as delectable as the locals claimed and better than any cream cake I have ever sampled during my travels.

Adventure tourists will enjoy the famous hiking trails that start from Bled. They are called Pokljika, Mount Stol and Triglav. For those on the look out for picturesque views, The Vintgar Gorge has a scenic route that is serene with a lovely waterfall.

Some sites I wanted to visit but missed out on is the Postojna Cave Predjama Castle and the Lipica Stud Farm that produces horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Visitors from the Middle East who love equestrian sports can enjoy tours, rides and lessons that cover dressage and how to control horses.

Lake Bled is an ideal destination for a perfect summers day. Dress casual and comfortable to make the most of the visit as the activities involve rowing, hiking, exploring and enjoy the photography opportunities.

Rose Park Hotel – Al Barsha

By Shereen Shabnam

Inspired from past success in hospitality and the enviable reputation for delivering excellence in guest service over the last 10 years, the award-winning Rose International Hotels Management recently introduced us to the Rose Park Hotel in Al Barsha.

Over a sumptuous lunch, Thameem Razick, Director of Sales & Marketing at Rose Hotels & Hotel Apartments tells us that the 4 Star hotel is the newest addition to the growing portfolio managed by Rose International Hotels Management.

Located close to Mall of the Emirates and only a metro ride away from Dubai’s tourist attractions and business centers such as the Dubai World Trade & Exhibition Centre, the hotel is the ideal base from which to explore the surrounding areas. Rose Park Hotel – Al Barsha gives guests a 360 degree access of Dubai. The cozy new hotel is easily accessible to the Ski Dubai, the largest Ski zone at Mall of the Emirates, one of the iconic shopping malls in Dubai, the Jumeirah Beach and to Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City.

Thameem hopes that locals, hotel guests and visiting tourists will enjoy the hotel’s exceptional hospitality services and feel at home during their stay in the city. The hotel’s target market includes travelers and tourists from GCC, Asia, Europe and CIS and fast growing markets such as Eastern Europe, Far East and Latin America who visit UAE for business or pleasure.

Combining fully equipped business space with luxurious rooms and premium facilities, the hotel meets the needs of those travelling for work as well as leisure. The 4 Star hotel comprises of 168 contemporary bedrooms with a choice of deluxe rooms, including 24 suites, all equipped with high speed internet and 49”inch LED TVs. Dining options include the ‘Bombay Urban Cafe’ restaurant with its lavish, fine dining ambiance. There is also a business lounge for busy executives.

A well-appointed meeting room with a capacity up to 20 – 25 guests ensures all business meetings can be handled with ease. Guests can benefit from complimentary access to the hotel’s health and leisure facilities, take a dip in the swimming pool on the deck while sipping fresh juices amidst Dubai’s panoramic skyline view. Accessible 7 days a week, guests can keep fit with gym equipment, weights, sauna and steam room.

Centrally located in Al Barsha, across the street and a minute away from Sharaf DG Metro station, and adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road, guests can have a warm and relaxing haven to stay in. With its calming ambiance mixed with intriguing design elements, guests are in for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

Rose International Hotels Management continues to strengthen its portfolio with a focus on acquiring and managing properties. Since 2006, the group has been in the forefront of the development of luxurious commercial properties across key locations in UAE & Oman. The group has about six more hotel properties in the pipeline with around 687 keys, which will be delivered before Dubai Expo 2020. These are being developed in Science Park, Al Barsha, Sheikh Zayed Road, Jaddaf, Bur Dubai and in Oman – Ruwi.

Classic Elegance – Luxury at every turn at Villa Magna, Madrid

By Shereen Shabnam

On the way to my Spanish home recently, a stop in Madrid led me and my family to discover the luxury Villa Magna in Madrid where the ambience celebrates the old and new in a space that only be described as classically elegant.

In the last century, where this modern building stands today on the Paseo de la Castellana, was the Palace of Anglada which was demolished in the 1960`s. The hotel on the same site shows the same sophistication and after an extensive renovation, the luxury hotel has become a home to regular visitors who love the Bauhaus concepts and Chinese screens that combine to create a welcoming and luxurious atmosphere.

From the moment we were picked at the airport by a private chauffeur to the moment we left, the experience we had was more than amazing. The Concierge led us to the most interesting exhibitions and fashionable boutiques in Madrid but the highlight of the excursions was our teenage daughter experiencing the VIP shopper experience at El Corte Ingles…a must for all GCC visitors.

The hotel lobby is warm and welcoming with a large window offering a marvelous view to the Magnum Patio. To add a sophisticated touch the walls were adorned with Bauhaus and Vienna Secession designs. Different styles also combine among the furnishings: Louis XVI rosewood consoles, exotic screens and rugs with their geometric shapes give warmth to the marble floors.

The Restaurante Villa Magna has beautiful natural light, complimented by the choice of light colours and a large framed mirror that reflects the space as a painting. The beauty of the carpentry work and the relaxing upholstery combine to make a perfect ambience relaxing. 

The Lounge, off the Lobby of the Villa Magna, is the ideal setting to meet friends, discuss business or enjoy a relaxing meal at any time of the day. We spent our lunchtime mainly there with a selection of snacks, light lunch dishes whilst enjoying views onto the Lounge Terrace and Paseo de la Castellana beyond.

The room we stayed in was spacious, comfortable and washed with soft lighting, bright colours and warm fabrics. It was tastefully done and every detail was taken care of…from attending to my love for chocolates to the availability of prayer mats in the cupboard.

 Our day excursions meant revisiting our favourite Madrid attractions starting from the “Art Triangle” the Prado Museum, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, the Mercado and the Reina Sofia Museum to walking through Plaza Mayor and retail streets dotted with local and international brands.

The Villa Magna´s Fitness Club is equipped with the latest Technogym equipment and a team of fitness experts to provide a personalized fitness programme. The Wellness Club is a quiet area to be pampered with luxurious body treatments and skincare in a retreat of tranquility and naturally I opted for a massage on arrival.

Withthe city’s main shopping streets and attractions at the doorstep, the Villa Magna offers the most exclusive and ideal place to stay while visiting Madrid.

 

Hotels and OTAs need to work together to maximise revenues, say experts

colliers-alternative-accommodation-driving-growth-for-destinations-or-disruption-discussion.jpg

  • Dynamic commissioning and nano pricing will maximise revenue for hotels and OTAs
  • Alternative accommodation such as Airbnb should not be viewed as a threat or disruptor to the market

Hotels and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) need to work together to find a collaborative approach that maximises revenues, builds brand confidence and rewards consumer loyalty, according to a panel of experts speaking at Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

According to a report published on Monday 23rdApril, by Colliers International on ATM’s Global Stage, rate parity agreements have led to a turbulent relationship between hotels and OTAs in recent years.

The findings of the report entitled ‘Alternative Accommodation – Driving Growth for Destinations or Disruption’ were discussed by a panel of experts from Wego, AccorHotels, Expedia Group and Colliers International.

The essence of rate parity is to have the same rate for the same product across all distribution channels. However, rate undercutting has created issues between hotels and OTAs and as a result, significantly reduced consumer confidence in brands.

Filippo Sona, Director, Head of Hotels MENA, Colliers International, said: “Consumers are comparative shoppers, so when they see that the rate on a hotel website is higher than an OTA for the same product, this creates a negative sentiment about the brand in their minds. As the undercut rate percentage by OTAs increases, there is a drop in the booking conversion on the hotel’s website.

“Today’s consumers have a more sophisticated mindset and level of needs, and as a result, rate parity is hindering the ability of OTAs to make more money and hotel companies to offer higher average room rates. If we removed the rate parity mechanism, we would be able to more effectively fulfil the needs of OTAs and hotels, while providing a more personalised product to consumers.”

With continuous technological advancements in the online travel market such as metasearch engines, blockchain and augmented analytics, new strategies need to be devised to win back consumer confidence and increase their brand loyalty.

Paula De Keijer, Senior Director of Market Management Middle East, Africa, Greece & Turkey, Expedia Group, said: “With the consumer in mind, blockchain technology provides services such as secured payment, identification and security, simplified loyalty programmes and baggage tracking.

“As we look to the future, augmented analytics will provide consumers with the power to make more informed choices. Considering the vast amount of data that hotels and OTAs accumulate, this technology is the perfect tool to understand consumer behaviour, preferences and booking patterns. Combining algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning will lead to providing better recommendations to customers and matching them to the properties best suited to their needs.”

Hotels and OTAs have their own competitive advantages and limitations. While hotels have the micro information, OTAs have the purchasing and booking habits of consumers.

In the evolving landscape, it is crucial that hotels understand direct bookings do not matter like they did in the past. Instead, establishing a collaborative approach, with the help of technological advances, that maximises revenues should be the focus.

Sona, said: “The first emerging tool will be dynamic commissioning. This will enable hotels to set a hurdle rate for OTAs, in turn incentivising OTAs to sell above that rate to earn a higher commission. Based on our research, we suggest for every $10 above the hurdle rate OTAs earn an extra 5%, with the maximum amount of possible commission capped at 35%.

“The second approach is nano pricing which provides consumers with the power of choice and added confidence in brands. Today, hotel room prices are based on three factors: room view, room type and number of occupants. However, nano pricing is calculated by combining base price (room inclusive of limited amenities) with the cost of any requested extras (for example upgraded toiletries).”

In recent years, competition in the market has further increased with the rise of alternative accommodation such as Airbnb. The success of this type of accommodation stems from their ability to create a more local and personal experience for consumers.

Flavio Leoni, Vice President of Sales, Distribution, Loyalty & Marketing, AccorHotels Middle East & Egypt, said: “Alternative accommodation should not be viewed by hotels and OTAs as a threat or disruptor.

“It is just another tool that provides additional choice to the consumer and also presents hotels and OTAs with the option to explore new ideas and expand their brands.

“If we break down the needs of both business and leisure travellers, as well as individual and family travel, it is possible for alternative accommodation to exist peacefully in the market alongside more traditional forms of accommodation.”

For more information on Arabian Travel Market 2018, please visit the website at www.arabiantravelmarket.wtm.com

Record-breaking year: Well over 6 million overnight stays 2017

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  • 3.59 million arrivals (+7.3 per cent), 6.24 million overnight stays (+8.1 per cent) 
  • Value creation in tourism sector is increasing 
  • Convention and congress market passes 4 million participant threshold 
  • New publication points out development potential of Cologne’s hotel market 
  • Culinary Cologne is new focus topic of 2018/19 

The tourism year 2017 was the best in Cologne’s history, posting a total of 3.59 million arriving guests and 6.24 million overnight stays. There were 7.3 per cent more arrivals and 8.1 per cent more overnight stays in hotels compared to the previous year, according to official registration records. The increases for visitors from abroad were even greater, with an 8.9 per cent increase of arrivals and a 9.2 per cent increase of overnight stays.

A new study published by the tourism consulting company dwif confirms the increased value creation that tourism brings to Cologne.

“In Cologne, tourism is a strong cross-sectoral industry” explains Elisabeth Thelen, Chairwoman of the Supervisory Board of KölnTourismus GmbH. “It benefits not only related sectors such as hotels, restaurants and the retail trade but also numerous service providers and suppliers from a great variety of business areas.” Thelen emphasizes the relevance of the tourism industry for Cologne: “High-quality tourism in Cologne is good for the guests as well as for local companies and the local population.”

In the past five years, the number of overnight stays by tourists in Cologne has increased by 23.2 per cent — far more than the corresponding increase for tourists in Germany as a whole (11.2 per cent) and the average increase in overnight stays in the ten biggest German cities (17.9 per cent).*

“The visitor figures, which have once again increased significantly, demonstrate that Cologne continues to be an attractive destination for business and leisure travellers from Germany and abroad,” says Josef Sommer, CEO of the Cologne Tourist Board. “The remarkable increase in visitors from abroad testifies to Cologne’s huge appeal as a travel destination. As trendsetters and networkers, we will work together with the relevant players to further enhance the quality of Cologne as a travel destination, thus helping to shape the positive image of our city.”

Cologne’s congress and convention market in 2017 

The event market in Cologne continues to develop in a positive direction. According to the current TagungsBarometer (Conference Barometer), a total of 49,521 events (+1.8 per cent) with 4.003 million participants (+4.7 per cent) were held last year. In addition, the number of event locations increased to 174 (+5) in 2017. At the beginning of this series of market research surveys of the convention industry, which have been conducted since 2009 by the Cologne Convention Bureau (CCB) in cooperation with the Europäisches Institut für TagungWirtschaft (EITW), 41,500 events with 3.13 million participants were counted. By 2017, the number of participants had increased by almost 30 per cent.

Organizers of corporate events continue to top the list of conventions and congresses. Banks and insurance companies are still the most important sector in this category, followed by medicine and pharmaceuticals. The EDP sector occupies third place, having surpassed the communications sector for the first time. The USA is rapidly gaining ground among the international source markets. Together with the UK, it now occupies first place among event organizers from abroad. The Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria follow after a considerable gap. Most of the events have their organizers in Germany.

Cologne Convention Bureau celebrates its tenth anniversary 

The Cologne Convention Bureau (CCB) is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The CCB is the city of Cologne’s official convention office. Integrated within KölnTourismus GmbH, it was founded in 2008 in order to market Cologne as a venue for conventions and congresses. In addition to promoting the city’s existing facilities such as event locations, hotels and infrastructure, it also publicizes Cologne’s special expertise in the areas of science and business. The CCB is supported by a strong network of approximately 150 partners. In the past ten years it has cooperated with service providers from the tourism sector and the science community to attract a large number of congresses to Cologne.

Cologne’s hotel market: Further expansion of capacity is wanted 

The further expansion of Cologne’s hotel market has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. In this connection, there has been a call for more bed capacity to be offered in the luxury segment. In order to provide this discussion with a foundation and support decisions about further development, a cooperative project was launched by the relevant players, including Cologne’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK), the Cologne Tourist Board, Koelnmesse, Dehoga Nordrhein and the KölnKongress. The group has now published a brochure that addresses this issue. The publication reviews the development of Cologne’s hotel market in recent decades, analyses the current situation and sketches out future challenges.

“Cologne’s hotel market has brilliant prospects, but it also needs a hotel development plan,” says Alexander Hoeckle, the Director International and Business Support Section of the IHK. “A hotel development plan makes sense. It would enable us to actively tackle future challenges, strengthen Cologne as a location for hotels, trade fairs, conventions and congresses, and attract more major events and conventions to Cologne in the future. Smaller, privately owned guesthouses and the surrounding communities would also benefit from Cologne’s enhanced competitiveness and growing convention business.” A central conclusion reached by the group was that Cologne as a tourist destination needs, above all, to coordinate the convention facilities that will be built in the near future as part of the Koelnmesse 3.0 investment program with the resulting need for hotel beds, especially in the range of internationally known hotel chains with four or five stars.

New focus theme for 2018/19: Culinary Cologne 

Culinary establishments help to define the profile of a tourist destination and are highly relevant to travellers. That’s why the Cologne Tourist Board will focus on the culinary facets of our city in 2018 and 2019. “Culinary Cologne” is the new focus topic in Cologne’s tourism sector. Starting now, it will be marketed through various channels that are tailored to specific target groups, such as the completely restructured website, the visit.koeln blog and social media channels. The hashtag #CulinaryCologne will be the binding element.

The measures to publicize Cologne’s broad range of culinary establishments will be reinforced by the worldwide activities of the German National Tourist Board (DZT) that are part of its “Culinary Germany” campaign. Köln Tourismus GmbH Kardinal-Höffner-Platz 1 T +49. 221. 346 43 230 presse@koelntourismus.de Unternehmenskommunikation 50667 Köln ∙ Deutschland F +49. 221. 346 43 239 http://www.koelntourismus.de

PRESS RELEASE

*2013–2017 (Jan.–Nov.)

Sources: Information und Technik Nordrhein-Westfalen (IT.NRW), Wirtschaftsfaktor Tourismus für die Stadt Köln 2016 (dwif e.V. & dwif-Consulting GmbH), TagungsBarometer Köln 2017, Europäisches Institut für TagungsWirtschaft GmbH (EITW)

Photo 1 (from left to right): Alexander Hoeckle (Director International and Business Support Section of the IHK), Stephanie Kleine Klausing (Director Conventions & Marketing of the Cologne Tourist Board), Josef Sommer (CEO of the Cologne Tourist Board), Elisabeth Thelen (Chairwoman of the Supervisory Board of the Cologne Tourist Board)

Photo 2 (from left to right): Stephanie Kleine Klausing (Director Conventions & Marketing of the Cologne Tourist Board), Alexander Hoeckle (Director International and Business Support Section of the IHK), Elisabeth Thelen (Chairwoman of the Supervisory Board of the Cologne Tourist Board), Josef Sommer (CEO of the Cologne Tourist Board)

Copyright: Dieter Jacobi