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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

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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.

Marstrand-Island-in-Bohuslan-Photo-Lisa-Nestorson

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.

Galleria

* 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?

Paro

  • 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.

Lunar

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?

castlebuilding

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?

MONA

© 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.

Dubai

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

*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

  • 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.

&Beyond

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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Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Posted on Jun 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Hydro Majestic Hotel Begins Again

Hydro Majestic Hotel

 

The much-anticipated revitalisation of the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel has commenced in early 2013, a $30 million redevelopment aimed at reviving its golden age.  Owners Huong Nguyen and George Saad are behind the grand revival. The couple paid $11 million for the property five years ago.  Following almost four years of detailed planning and review, the Hydro is scheduled to open in two stages, with Stage (1) building works scheduled for completion in April 2014. Opening is scheduled for July 2014.

The long awaited opportunity to peel back the layers and rediscover the essence of the most famous historic holiday resort in the Blue Mountains has arrived. The refurbishment scheme will see the hotel’s facilities, interiors and gardens – which now stretch more than a kilometre across the escarpment – revitalised to a world-class standard. Past glories, architectural and design aspects, and lost atmospherics are to be revived and rediscovered, while a touch of the here-and-now is set to take the building into the future.

Stage One will include the revitalisation of the majority of the existing buildings including the Casino Building, The Wintergarden, The Billiard Room and Cat’s Alley, The Delmonte Building and Conference Rooms and The Majestic Ballroom. This famous and fondly remembered space will have a beautiful new Lobby and pre-function area and will also include a large garden reception terrace.

Casino Lobby Artists impression

Casino Lobby Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

majestic ballroom Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression

winter garden Artists impression

 

The new Mark Foy Pavilion will reflect the spirit of the much-loved Easter Show Pavilions of Sydney’s old showgrounds. Operating as a magnificent interactive living history space and the vibrant Providores showcase – demonstrating the best regional gourmet food and wine of the area: A Taste of The Blue Mountains. This retail and exhibition space will be a tourism destination: a place to discover the history of theHydro, including multimedia screening suites, tours and places to discover the amazing produce of the Blue Mountains and surrounding regions (including Bathurst,Mudgee, Orange and the Western Plains).

Hydro View

The Boiler House (which has been neglected for decades) is to be restored, celebrating the fact that the Blue Mountains was wired for electricity four days beforethe Sydney metropolitan region. The Boiler House will be opened to the public for the first time in history, and is to include the gallery and beautiful Megalong Terrace Café looking over the breathtaking Majestic Point Lookout.

The new Majestic Point Lookout, picnic and market grounds will provide public access to the best views of the Megalong Valley. Located 10 minutes drive from Jamison Valley in Katoomba, the lookout provides a panoramic vista for picnics, music and the lost art of public promenading!

The rejuvenation and expansion of the accommodation facilities at the Hydro Majestic are planned for 2 years following the opening of Stage One. During this time the Belgravia Wing will be used to house the Hotel Management Institute, an exciting new hospitality school with its first intake scheduled for Feb 2014 .

The challenges of adding another layer of history to these significant buildings have not been taken lightly. A team of highly regarded heritage experts, architecture specialists and designers have been enlisted to realise this vision, with particular weight being given to examining and respecting the Hydro Majestic’s social history and heritage.

The team has been assembled by Sydney based hotel investors and is under theguidance of the acclaimed heritage consultant Graham Brooks with Jonathan Bryant of Graham Brooks & Associates, with over 30 years of professional experience inAustralia, Asia, UK, Europe and US.
“We are all proud to play a key role in the revival of the much loved Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath,” said Brooks. “The Hydro Majestic Hotel has developed eccentrically over time under the guidance of retail baron Mark Foy, from relatively humble beginnings as an Edwardian house hotel and hydropathic resort to its glory years as a grand hotel and resort between the two World Wars. Throughout, it has enjoyed periods of great success and periods of lengthy decline. Despite recent refurbishment under previous owners, the hotel has become increasingly run down, with a host of inherent short comings that have never been appropriately or comprehensively addressed. We are delighted that the current scheme to rejuvenate the hotel includes a comprehensive plan to revive gardens, interiors and facilities to a truly world class standard.”

The team philosophy is mindful of the past but always has an eye to the future, to ensure the hotel continues to live well beyond current generations. Our alterations choose to borrow from the existing structures, enhance the old and provide a feeling of total renewal.
The vision for the rejuvenation is to continue the Hydro Majestic’s unique and eclectic combination of architectural styles; where additions made to the hotel over the past hundred years reflect time and place. Architect Ashkan Mostaghim of Mostaghim &Assoc has created a series of magnificent new additions for Stage One and Stage Two of the development. The Mark Foy Pavilion and the new Belgravia and Mark Foy Wings add the 21st century layer to this famous Australian landmark – with absolute style and reverence for the staged form that is the Hydro Majestic.

International interior designer Peter Reeve of CRD will create luxurious, new, and historically-inspired interiors which reference the past and fold into the present with absolute luxe. They will work to harness the atmosphere and mood of the Hydro Majestic with a range of carpets and rich textiles based on period influences, timbers and stones, referencing the austere beauty of the Edwardian, the generosity of the Art Nouveau of the Belle Époque and moments of Art Deco.

Using the whites and soft tones taken from its original palette and expressed against the elegant contrast of ebonised timber and Black Japan, the interiors will work to reflect the Hydro’s flamboyant origins under the auspices of the retail baron Mark Foy. Design cues are also seen in the Raffles of Singapore and the Lavinia in Sri Lanka – sister hotels in a time of Empire, reflecting the flavour of the original Hydro Majestic.

The Avenue of Pines is to be reinstated with magnificent new landscape plantings reflecting the great gardens of the Blue Mountains and inspired by legendary landscape architect Paul Sorensen. The historic croquet lawn will live again, plus a beautiful new garden terrace entry to the Majestic Ballroom and lookout and escarpment aprons, encompassing a unique horticultural vision incorporating both European and Australian plantings.

Steeped in historical and social significance, the newly renovated Hydro Majestic Hotel, with its outstanding facilities, fine dining and accommodation, is set to offer an enormous boost to tourism and employment in the region and will re-establish the Blue Mountains as a glamorous national and international tourist destination.

The Hydro’s original owner Mark Foy was a visionary and this next chapter aims to continue his grand vision for the Blue Mountains.

Official Site

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Flying from Mt. Everest – The Mission – World Record BASE Jump

Posted on May 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Flying from Mt. Everest – The Mission – World Record BASE Jump

Flying from Mt. Everest.  When Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay summited 60 years ago, they didn’t have the equipment to fly off and why would you?

To celebrate the diamond jubilee of the first summit, Russian BASE jumper Valery Rozov threw himself off the north face in China 23,688 feet above sea level. It wasn’t the top, but it’s at least the highest BASE jump ever completed.

In the thinner air and colder temperatures of high altitude, Rozov had far less control of his wingsuit, and the flight was a little touch and go. After a minute of flying along the north face of the mountain, he landed safely in the snow on the Rongbuk Glacier at about 19,521 feet of altitude.

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