Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Italy’s Matera promotes less-known World Heritage Sites


Matera, one of the most remarkable sights iTravelTree has seen in Southern Italy is endeavouring to promote both itself and other, often overlooked, UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Matera is a world-renowned city for its almost prehistoric-like human shelters entangled on a hillside and named “I Sassi” (the stones). I Sassi shelters were evacuated for many years until UNESCO included it in its list of World Heritage sites. It is the first city in the South Italian region to enjoy said privilege – a bliss for the city that began to revive its “dormant treasure,” owing it to newcomers – artists of various cultures pioneering the Sassi renaissance.

Back in the 70s, I Sassi was an ideal location for a number of movie films. Among these, P.P.Pasolini (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo), King David (starring Richard Gere), and La Passione di Cristo by Mel Gibson. The latest generation of film directors have also contributed to further spread the image of this biblical-age portion of the city of Matera.

The Chamber of Commerce of Matera recently decided to create a network called Mirabilia. It includes UNESCO minor cities, “deliberately” excluding those already universally known, in order to promote them in a coordinated manner to Italian and foreign tourists. “In Italy we have a variety of traditions unique in the world, and every UNESCO World Heritage site, especially the minor ones, have a particular characteristic that distinguishes themselves from others,” said Angelo Tortorelli, President of Mirabilia. “Our project is to unite them all, enhancing the value and importance of each respective territory,” he added.

The Chamber of Commerce’s vision is to create a cooperation synonymous of strength and to break up the competition existing among territories.

“In this case, Union Camere’s idea is to create the force – our idea,” says Vito Signati, Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Matera. He added that it is to propose tourism off the beaten path, tourism with a soul. This year the project has been expanded as compared to last year and incorporates nine cities, namely: Brindisi, La Spezia, Genova, L’Aquila, Matera, Perugia, Salerno, Udine, and Vicenza.

“By connecting areas which have a common historical, cultural, and economic life, we wish to propose them to the attention of the domestic and international tourism consumer, with the objective to decentralize and extend their seasonality,” Signati said.

The final aim is to promote the services offered by each territory for the creation of custom-made package tours connecting the Mirabilia destinations. The new itineraries will be proposed for short and long weekends as well as one-week tours.

The handling of this very new (for Italy) type of tour packages has been assigned to Caldana Tour Operator, selected by Mirabilia for its high reliability and deep experience in the field. However, the mandate is not of exclusivity and is open to new applicants.

“The initiative will be presented in Moscow on October 11 to the local travel trade at the Italian Embassy venue, the Rimini travel mart, “TTG Incontri,” being held from October 17-19 and November 5 at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London. The highlight of the 2013 edition presentation will end in Matera on November 25 to 27 in connection with the “Cultural Tourism Fair.”

For more information, go to

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Iceland bares its secrets

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Iceland bares its secrets

iceland horse

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – This week Iceland will launch a new tourism campaign to inspire travelers to seek out the country’s undiscovered treasures.

Share the Secret is a new campaign by Inspired by Iceland, the country’s tourism promotional effort. The campaign will draw on local knowledge to reveal some of the country’s hidden treasures by encouraging Icelanders to share their secrets and offer visitors the opportunity to discover unique experiences around the country.

The campaign will cover a wide variety of themes from Icelandic nature and culture, with secrets and insider tips from locals and Icelandic experts shared on food, design, music, shopping and adventure across all the Inspired by Iceland platforms. Icelanders will share personal favourites and travel tips with visitors online, via social media (#icelandsecret) and through experiential activity, offering a more intimate experience of their much beloved homeland to tourists. Using both physical and digital secrets the campaign will bring to life some of Iceland’s greatest wonders.

The campaign will encourage travellers to arrive with a spirit of adventure, to go further and do more, and will ask Icelanders and previous visitors to Iceland to share their best kept secrets of the country; be it their favourite record store, secret family recipe, or a spot by the lake with the very best view of the Northern Lights.

The website will become a hub for secrets, with Icelanders and tourists sharing secret places and activities on an interactive map and blog. Fans and visitors on social media will be encouraged to contribute their own secrets and experiences via Facebook and Twitter, which will be shared across all platforms.

Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir, Director for Tourism & Creative Industries at Promote Iceland, comments, “This year we want to encourage Icelanders and visitors alike to share with others just what makes the country so magical. We want to highlight the undiscovered side of Iceland and show that Iceland is a place of adventure and discovery and we are hoping that travellers will be inspired to come and seek out the secrets of others and leave with their own to share.”

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You Light Up My Life

Posted on Sep 4, 2013 | Comments Off on You Light Up My Life

Neon Museum
Neon Museum 11/12/13 Weddings
LAS VEGAS (September 2013) – When that special “Magic Day” hits on 11/12/13, brides-to-be and their grooms can say “I do” in one of the most remarkable and picturesque locations in Las Vegas: The Neon Museum. Only available on 11/12/13, The Neon Museum is now offering the “Magic Day” wedding package. For this special day, there will only be four slots available for couples.
Considered one of most colorful and sought-after attractions in Las Vegas, the Neon Museum is home to the Neon Boneyard – a collection of more than 150 classic signs from the city’s most celebrated properties—including the Moulin Rouge, the Desert Inn, the Flamingo and the Stardust—which are displayed alongside those from various other bygone hotels, restaurants and businesses. The Boneyard’s two-acre outdoor area encompasses nearly 3,600 square feet and features a partial canopy.
The package includes:
  • 30 minute wedding ceremony for the couple and up to four guests.
  • 30 minute photo opportunity in the Neon Boneyard.
  • One bottle of chilled champagne or sparkling wine, paired with cupcakes that are packaged to go.
  • An exclusive pair of his-and-her Neon Museum-wedding themed shirts.
For more information, go to To book a wedding, reception or other event, contact Events Manager Joel Castillo at or call (702) 387-6366.
*Pricing does not include ceremony officiant, catering, floral or photography. All ceremonies are performed by Elegant Vegas Weddings. A list of exclusive vendors for photography, catering, décor and equipment will be provided. A list of recommended florists is available by request. 
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Where In The World Do Chinese Tourists Go?

Posted on Sep 4, 2013 | Comments Off on Where In The World Do Chinese Tourists Go?



SEP 03, 2013 5:56 AM

Thanks to its rising affluence, China is becoming an increasingly important source market for international tourists. In 2012, it was the fourth largest source market for outbound travellers according to Euromonitor International, and the country is expected to become the largest source market in 2017, surpassing Germany. Not surprisingly, regional destinations are the biggest beneficiaries of the Chinese boom, accounting for the bulk of the top 10 most popular destinations for Chinese tourists in 2012, but long-haul destinations dominate the remainder. Over the next five years, regional destinations will again benefit the most, although countries which amend their visa policies and procedures could quickly boost their Chinese arrival figures.

Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand the Top Destinations

For most first-time overseas travellers, Hong Kong and Macau are usually their first choice, thanks to proximity, affordability and lack of language barriers. The attractions of shopping and gambling are strong draws, particularly since the Chinese yuan has appreciated over the past few years.

South Korea also benefits from its proximity to China, with flights of only 1-3 hours. Since 2008, Chinese tourists arriving directly at Jeju Island have not needed a visa, which is another major draw. The Korean Wave (hallyu) – the popularity of all things Korean globally – is attracting many Chinese tourists who want to experience South Korea’s food and culture at first hand. And the popularity of Gangnam Style has certainly not hurt either.

Growing interest in Thai culture, known as T-Pop fever, is also a factor in the growing number of Chinese tourists in Thailand. Thai television soap operas, or lakorn, have been popular among Chinese viewers over the last few years. Some series use locations across the country, such as beach, mountain, farm and boutique resorts, which has driven demand for travel to Thailand.

China Now the Second Largest Source Market for Australia and New Zealand

In 2012, China became the second largest source market for Australia, behind only New Zealand. Tourism Australia dedicated a quarter of its budget in 2012 to China, promoting the country in primary and secondary cities. Additionally, Tourism Australia formed an alliance with China Southern Airlines, which is promoting Australia to Chinese consumers via the slogan “Australia, It’s Really Not That Far” in the hope of making Australia more attractive than the US and Europe.

China also became the second largest source market for New Zealand in 2012. During the year, the New Zealand government signed an agreement with China Southern Airlines to increase flight capacity between New Zealand and China. The new agreement allows each country to operate up to 21 return flights weekly (previously each country was only allowed to operate one return flight daily). In addition, the government agency Immigration New Zealand struck a deal with China Southern Airlines in 2012 to allow the fast-tracking of visitor visa applications for the airline’s gold and silver frequent flyer cardholders.

As a result of the agreement, China Southern Airlines’ gold and silver frequent flyer cardholders need not produce evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves as long as they can provide their flight history over the previous two years. The New Zealand government was considering extending this agreement to other airlines, primarily Air New Zealand, during the year.

Top 25 Countries for Arrivals from China in 2012

Ranking Country 2012 Arrivals (‘000 trips) 2012 % Growth
1 Hong Kong, China 15,110.4 11.1
2 Macau 7,958.0 8.4
3 South Korea 3,383.2 55.0
4 Thailand 2,820.0 62.2
5 Taiwan 2,590.7 47.1
6 Singapore 2,054.2 30.2
7 USA 1,593.5 46.0
8 Japan 1,506.5 44.4
9 Vietnam 1,428.7 0.8
10 Malaysia 1,369.3 24.6
11 France 1,288.0 15.0
12 Russia 830.4 16.4
13 Germany 762.9 19.7
14 Switzerland 663.4 33.0
15 Australia 626.4 15.5
16 Indonesia 585.2 16.0
17 Austria 356.4 37.1
18 Cambodia 335.0 35.2
19 United Arab Emirates 300.8 23.7
20 Philippines 291.4 20.0
21 Italy 253.0 12.9
22 Canada 243.0 2.7
23 New Zealand 215.4 48.0
24 United Kingdom 206.6 17.5
25 Mongolia 203.8 2.5


Changing Visa Policy and Processing Key to Attracting Chinese Tourists

While marketing and accommodating Chinese tastes in a destination are important to attracting Chinese tourists, relaxing visa requirements and improving visa processing procedures have proven to be sure-fire ways of boosting arrivals from China. Countries intent on capitalising on the growth in Chinese international travel will continue to evaluate and improve their policies.

South Korea is a good example of a country with an evolving visa policy with regard to Chinese tourists, eliminating visas for Chinese travellers arriving directly at Jeju Island in 2008 and 2010, South Korea began issuing multiple-entry visas valid for three years to people working in a range of professions, such as teachers, and employees of the largest companies in China. This move helped boost arrivals from China by 260% over 2008-2012. In 2013, the country has announced that it will issue visas to Chinese citizens registered as residents in Beijing and Shanghai and those who own timeshares worth Won30 million (US$26,740). Spouses and children of Chinese citizens who hold multiple-entry visas will also be eligible to apply, along with students from the top 112 universities.

There are many more examples of countries improving their visa procedures to welcome more Chinese travellers. Germany and France opened a joint visa processing centre in autumn 2012 to expedite the processing of visa applications. The UK, which has come under fire for an arduous visa process, outlined in December 2012 that it is aiming to simplify its visa issuance to Chinese tourists, although the UK travel industry insists that more could be done. Thailand announced in August 2013 that it is discussing a bilateral tourist visa exemption with China that could be implemented this September. It is likely that more countries will follow these examples to boost inbound tourism from China.

Top 25 Fastest Growing Countries for Arrivals from China 2012-2017

Ranking Country 2012-2017 Absolute Growth in Chinese Arrivals (‘000 trips) Arrivals in 2017
1 Hong Kong, China 4,629.4 19,739.8
2 Thailand 3,708.8 6,528.9
3 Taiwan 2,718.5 5,309.2
4 South Korea 2,308.4 5,691.6
5 Singapore 2,038.5 4,092.7
6 USA 1,627.9 3,221.4
7 Switzerland 1,501.5 2,164.9
8 Philippines 1,080.6 1,372.0
9 Macau 1,008.8 8,966.8
10 Malaysia 875.5 2,244.8
11 Cambodia 820.8 1,155.7
12 Vietnam 719.7 2,148.4
13 France 533.6 1,821.6
14 Japan 502.2 2,008.6
15 Australia 477.1 1,103.5
16 Germany 469.8 1,232.7
17 United Arab Emirates 464.0 764.7
18 Angola 429.5 541.4
19 Spain 356.3 537.0
20 Indonesia 355.7 940.9
21 Russia 341.5 1,171.9
22 Austria 328.3 684.7
23 Italy 245.5 498.5
24 New Zealand 187.4 402.7
25 Croatia 178.5 221.8
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Recent Bali Visitor Survey Results

Posted on Sep 3, 2013 | Comments Off on Recent Bali Visitor Survey Results

Bali News: Strangers in a Strange Land


A survey conducted by Bali Indonesia in May 2013 showed that 70.11% of the international tourists who visit Bali stay in the starred hotels.

As reported by, only 10.81% of foreign tourists chose to stay in non-starred hotel and 16.36% in villas.
The same report shows that foreign tourists in Bali stayed an average of 8.55 days, an increase from the 7.67 days spent on the Island in 2012.
Elaborating further on survey, Dwi Pranoto, who heads the Bali Bank Indonesia Office, said 60.27% of foreign tourists coming to Bali seek a destination linked with nature, while 30.15% percent prefer a destination with cultural and historical conections.
Pranoto said the study shows that the time has come for Bali tourism to be managed under a single roof. “I wish to underline that whenever Bali is managed under a ‘one island management’ system it will continue to advance via an integrated vision, free of egotism and other impediments,” said Pranoto.
Dwi Pranoto also revealed that the latest survey by Bank Indonesiashowed an increase in purchasing power from US$144.40 per day to US$150 per day.
Other interesting results from the Bank Indonesia study:
  • 88,74% of foreign tourists visiting Bali do not use an Indonesian-flagged air carrier.
  •  84.52% of foreign visitors to Bali do not purchase or use a packaged tour program.
  • 52% of all foreign visitors to Bali are women.
  • 55,26% of foreign visitors to Bali work as professions, 10.90% work in technical capacities and 10.20% were students.
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Follow-up: Tourist’s death prompts Venice to ban cruise ships from entrance to Grand Canal

Posted on Sep 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Follow-up: Tourist’s death prompts Venice to ban cruise ships from entrance to Grand Canal

Image via

The eyesore of cruise ships on Venice’s famous skyline could soon become ancient history, as the behemoths are set to be banned from the city’s waterways.

The new proposals by Italy’s Environment Minister follow a crackdown on water traffic, after the death of a German tourist two weeks ago.

Joachim Vogel, 50, a professor of criminal law, was crushed against a dock by a reversing vaporetto water bus as he took a tour with his family by gondola near the Rialto Bridge.

The tragic accident has prompted authorities to bring in a series of new safety regulations including ‘a floating congestion zone’ on the Grand Canal to ease the chaotic rush hour waterway traffic. Breathalyser tests for gondoliers are also imminent.

Venice’s proud residents have long been up in arms about the presence of large cruise ships passing through the lagoon, with a flotilla of protesters taking to the waters in June.

Lobbyists argue that the huge ships, sometimes ten storeys high, erode the canals and the city’s fragile foundations, contribute to the worsening flooding that occurs every winter and damage the delicate eco-systems of the lagoon.

The cruise companies pay huge port fees for the privilege, but their passengers frequently eat and sleep on board and contribute little direct revenue to restaurants and hotels.

The Italian Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said he would put the proposals in front of cross party parliamentary committee in October.

He told the Italian daily Il Gazettino: ‘There will always be a margin of risk and even that margin is too high a risk.

‘The problem is not just the presence of large ships in St Marks basin but in general the presence of ships in the lagoon.’

He expected a ‘concrete response that could be translated into immediate action’, as the problem is getting worse all the time, he said.

‘The number of cruise ships passing in front of St Marks’s Cathedral has grown by seven per cent this year alone.’

The proposals would essentially put in action emergency legislation drafted after the Concordia tragedy, that would prevent ships of more than 500 tonnes coming within two nautical miles of landscapes of value such as the Venice lagoon or fragile environments such as the marine sanctuary between Sardinia and north-east Italy.

Venice’s mayor wants to see cruise tourists dock at Porto Marghera, a town blighted by industrial pollution. Other suggestions have included a floating off-shore port.

Alternative solutions would see the number of cruise ships allowed to enter the lagoon severely limited, or the dredging of a new approach to the same cruise passenger terminals but avoiding the narrow canals around St Marks Square.

On Saturday another huge cruise ship was photographed passing within yards of St Marks, in ‘a bow’ to the city inevitably raising the spectre of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank after hitting rocks off the coast of Tuscany during just such a bow to the island of Giglio last year.

Tensions were raised in July after the Carnival Sunshine, which is owned by the same parent company as the notorious Costa Concordia, allegedly passed within yards of the city’s bank while performing ‘a sail by salute’ to a major company shareholder.

Film footage appeared to show the 110 thousand ton liner squeezing a vaporetto water taxi and other boats between the ship and the bank. Carnival denied any wrongdoing.


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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience


On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.


I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.


* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?


  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.


Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?


In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?


© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.


Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.


*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario


  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.


There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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Venice Introduces New Laws for Gondolas

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Venice Introduces New Laws for Gondolas

Venice gondoliers

Gondoliers pay their respects near the scene of the German tourist’s death in Venice. Photograph: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters


The death in Venice this month of a tourist in a gondola that was crushed by a waterbus has prompted the city’s mayor to crack down on the chaotic congestion in the Grand Canal.

Joachim Vogel, 50, a German professor of criminal law, was taking a tour with his wife and three children on 17 August when the gondola they were in was crushed against a dock by a reversing vaporetto.

In a city free of cars, the buildup of waterbuses, delivery boats and watertaxis – owing to the steady rise of tourist numbers – means officials are now being forced to treat Venice’s canals like any busy street, with plans for bans on mobile phone use while steering and stricter rules on turning and overtaking.

“I am amazed this crash didn’t happen sooner. People do exactly what they like on the canals,” said Aldo Rosso, a former city-appointed representative of Venice’s gondoliers.

Among the 26 congestion-busting measures announced this week by Venice’s mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, are drug and alcohol tests for boat handlers, following reports that the gondolier involved in the fatal collision had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his blood.

The gondolier, Stefano Pizzaggia, is under investigation by magistrates along with the pilot of the waterbus and other pilots who were close to the incident.

“The gondola was allowed to be where it was when it was hit, so it does not look like the gondolier’s behaviour had anything to do with it,” said Nicola Falconi, the current representative of the gondoliers, who have been working the canals of Venice in their handbuilt black vessels for 1,000 years.

“A small minority of young gondoliers may use drugs but older gondoliers are more than happy at the prospect of drug testing,” he added.

Ugo Bergamo, the city council’s assessor for transport, said: “There might be a few rotten apples, but Venice’s gondoliers represent the city well.”

Gundula Vogel, the widow of the crash victim, appeared to lay the blame on the waterbus pilot. “It was an absurd situation – we continued to shout from the gondola, but the vaporetto hit us and then pulled out without being aware of what had happened,” she said on Saturday. “I cannot understand how they can undertake such manoeuvres without a sailor in the stern, a camera or mirrors that allow them to see what is happening to their rear.”

Since the crash, gondoliers have reported two near misses on the Grand Canal. “I feared for my life and those of my customers,” said Alessandro Secco, after one close shave with a waterbus.

A Venetian entrepreneur who declined to be named said: “Gondoliers are victims but they do also take advantage of the precedence they have on the water and the vaporetti pilots accuse them of getting in the way. There is an ugly confrontational atmosphere since the crash.”

Falconi admitted there was tension but said gondoliers were due to meet pilots to thrash out their differences and “avoid a manhunt”. Among the mayor’s 26 measures, which will be debated with canal users before going into effect, are bow propellers on vaporetti to allow them to manoeuvre more easily, a ban on gondolas on the Grand Canal before mid-morning to allow goods boats to complete deliveries, the removal of some landing jetties and a ban on gondolas navigating in groups during the day.

Gondolas offering rides from one side of the Grand Canal to the other – a cheap alternative to a gondola tour – may be cut back.

“I like the plan to install police officers at points along the canal with whistles and signs,” said Falconi.

Bergamo said the problem on the Grand Canal was not the level of traffic. “That has not increased since 2006,” he said. “The problem is people going too fast. Last year, the handing out of fines for going over 6km/h was halted after a judge ruled the use of speed cameras was an invasion of privacy.”

But Matteo Secchi, spokesman for the local activists’ group Venessia, disagreed. “There was already too much traffic in 2006,” he said. “It all comes back to how Venice cannot support the tourists who come here, it is a simple question of space. The difference is that changes get made when people die,” he said.

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Vale Bill Peach (1935-2013)

Posted on Aug 27, 2013 | Comments Off on Vale Bill Peach (1935-2013)


27 August 2013

Bill Peach died in Sydney today. While much of the eulogies will be about his role as a television personality, Bill was also a vital part of the Australian travel scene, both as a principal of Bill Peach Journeys and as a travel writer and commentator. iTT first met Bill in Greece in 1987 and we’ve stayed friends ever since. He was an affable, knowledgeable and fun travelling companion. He will be missed. Vale Bill.


From the ABC

The life and legacy of televison presenter and intrepid traveller Bill Peach

By Jennifer King
ABC journalist Bill PeachPHOTO: Bill Peach had no on-camera experience but took to television “like duck to water”. (ABC)

With one of the most radiant smiles in current affairs, Bill Peach will be remembered by a generation of baby-booming Australians for the world he revealed to them in his scenic travel documentaries, and, most recently, as a guide of luxurious travel journeys.

Peach’s sunny disposition made him a natural choice in 1967 to host This Day Tonight, a ground-breaking current affairs program, the first of its kind in Australia.

Having begun as an ABC radio cadet in 1958, Peach had no on-camera experience, but fellow journalist and friend Peter Luck recalled that he “took to television like a duck to water”.

“He was like Ginger Meggs, the boy next door with his sunny personality,” Luck recalls.

“There was some element of larrikinism in This Day Tonight, but I wouldn’t call Bill a larrikin. He was very smart and wise, very loyal and very supportive.”

Together with a team that included Luck, Gerald Stone and Frank Bennett, Peach presented uncompromising coverage of world-changing events, like the war in Vietnam with an informative, sarcastic and witty style.

“There were a lot of things happening in Australia, and part of what made TDT exciting, but also made us friends and enemies, was because we took on big issues, we had furious debates, we had people attacking each other in the studio, and I mean physically as well as verbally,” he told Lateline in 2007.

“And we had riots going on inside and outside the studio, and of course they were happening in the country.”

Fellow journalist George Negus worked with Peach on the program in 1975.

“He was very calm, very composed, very together and very sensible when he was surrounded by a bunch cowboys like myself at the time,” he recalled.

Described as a “self-confessed stickybeak”, Peach’s love for Australia ignited a desire to share the country’s history and beauty, initially with television audiences and later, with tourists.

A life on the road

After working within a studio for eight years, Peach ventured into presenting travel documentaries, with Peach’s Australia in 1975, Holidays With Bill Peach in 1976 and Bill Peach’s Journeys in 1983.

Other documentaries Peach’s Gold and The Explorers followed, accompanied by best-selling history books, magazine articles and newspaper columns.

Paul Murphy, Bill Peach, June Heffernan, Tony Joyce and Peter LuckPHOTO: This Day Tonight team photo from 1974. (ABC)


Born in the eastern Riverina town of Lockhart, New South Wales on 15 May 1935, Peach’s wanderlust developed during road trips with his father, a stock and station agent.

“I did it initially to get out of school but found I had a love of the Australian landscape,” he said in a 2008 interview.

It was at the height of his television popularity that Peach stepped away from it all to begin his own travel company, Bill Peach Journeys.

He knew he was taking a big risk because at that time he said Australians felt they were not really having a holiday unless they went overseas.

“Holidaying here didn’t qualify, so we had to change the concept of what a holiday was,” he said in a 2008 interview.

With the memory of bouncing along in four-wheel-drive vehicles on dusty, pot-holed roads during his journalism career, Peach elected to fly his passengers across Australia.

He bought two Fokker Friendship planes and developed a 12-day luxury tour which incorporated such hard-to-reach places as Longreach, Katherine Gorge, the Bungle Bungles, Kununurra and Arnhem Land.

“A big country such as Australia is made for aviation. Planes shrink the distance between places and you have unrivalled viewing,” he said in a 2008 interview.

“I always say to people the way to look at the Gibson Desert is our way – looking out the plane and sipping a gin and tonic.”

Rosemary Champion hosted Peach and his passengers on her property Longway in Longreach, where they would be fed home-made scones and jam on the verandah and be given a taste of life in the bush.

“Absolutely the real, genuine, authentic thing – nothing Mickey Mouse/Walt Disney stuff, you know – what you see is what you get. And, you know, basically, it’s a working cattle property, and that’s what we like to demonstrate,” she told Landline in 2008.

Sydneysider John Gorman went on more than 50 of Peach’s trips and says his adventures always made an impression on travellers.

“Seeing places they’ve never been before, and seeing outback Australia – it’s been fantastic,” he said.

“I’ve been a city slicker all my life, and it’s opened my eyes tremendously. It’s been great.”

Peach’s appreciation for travel, Australia’s natural wonders

Peach was awarded a Logie for Outstanding Personal Contribution to Australian Television in 1975 and the Order of Australia Medal (AM) for his services to the Australian media and tourism in 1991.

Today his travel company continues to highlight Australia’s natural wonders to tourists from all over the world.

His contribution to the nation’s media landscape and his promotion of the country’s wild and remote places is a legacy of the dedication he had for his country.

Australia is full of wonderful places. Which of them is your wonderful place usually comes down to your personal experiences.

Bill Peach


“Australia is full of wonderful places,” he said in a 2008 interview.

“Which of them is your wonderful place usually comes down to your personal experiences. My favourite in Victoria is Beechworth, not only because it’s a beautifully preserved gold rush town, but because my grandfather, Robert Peach, was born there. The place is in my blood.

“Ned Kelly spent a lot of time there, most of it in jail, and his image dominates the town. This is unfair to my family. I would like to place it on record that when the Peach boys rode down from the Wombat Ranges, the Kelly boys cowered in their hut. That’s my story, anyhow.”

Peach is survived by his partner Pam Young and his children Steven and Meredith. His first wife Shirley died in 1997.

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Oslo – It’s Not Porn It’s Art

Posted on Aug 27, 2013 | Comments Off on Oslo – It’s Not Porn It’s Art


Scandinavian hotel guests flicking through pay-TV channels may get more (or less) than they bargained for from now on. The Nordic Choice chain has promised to remove pornography from each of its 171 establishments and replace it with contemporary art.

The chain’s owner, Petter Stordalen, was inspired to take action after becoming involved with Unicef’s campaign to help the 1.2 million children who are victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation .

He said: “The porn industry contributes to trafficking, so I see it as a natural part of having a social responsibility to send out a clear signal that Nordic Hotels doesn’t support or condone this.”

The cliche of the travelling businessman coming back to his hotel room and watching porn is the same in Norway as in the rest of the world, admits Stordalen, but he is convinced that this can change.

“It may sound shocking or unusual [to remove pay-TV porn], but everyone said that about the ban on smoking. We were the first hotel chain in the world to ban smoking and people thought we were crazy. Now it’s totally normal for public spaces to be smoke-free.”

A well-known philanthropist in Scandinavia, Stordalen is Norwegian’s sixth richest man with a net worth of $1.2bn (£772m) according to Forbes magazine. He’s passionate about the environment, from chaining himself to Sellafield nuclear treatment plant in protest in 2002, to preserving 100 square metres of rainforest for every night booked by a guest in his hotels, and even converting his Ferrari FF to run on biofuel.

He is also an avid collector. “Art is important to me, but hotel art has always had a bad reputation – cheap paintings that match the sofas and so on,” he said. “I wanted to redefine hotel art to be something unique.”

Starting with his flagship hotel in Norway’s capital, Stordalen has done just that. Each of 121 rooms in Oslo’s The Thief is decked out with original artwork, some borrowed from Stordalen’s own collection, including a Tracey Emin and a Peter Blake. There are interactive TVs in each room offering “art on demand” with a choice of nine works of contemporary video art, including Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life from 2001″ – a film showing a bowl of fruit slowly decomposing.

Guests’ reactions have been positive, so far: “No one has asked for their porn back!” said the hotel’s Siri Løining Kolderup. “Instead, I think they appreciate that we’ve taken movie-on-demand to the next level, exchanging bad taste porn for high-end contemporary video art. We hope and predict porn will not be a part of the next generation of in-room entertainment in any hotel, anywhere.”

Stordalen and the team plan to roll out video art in their other hotels, with Copenhagen next on the list.

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