Singapore has opened the first of two casino resorts – part of a multi-billion dollar effort to establish itself as a hot tourist destination and reduce the economy’s reliance on manufacturing.
The casino at Resorts World Sentosa welcomed its first customer at the auspicious time of 12.18 pm on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. When pronounced in the Cantonese dialect, 12.18 sounds like ‘prosperity’.
The resort is on Sentosa island, a former British garrison linked to the main island by bridge. It will be followed by the Marina Bay Sands resort, with both offering a range of glitzy hotels, restaurants and luxury goods shops.
Singapore, host to thousands of multi-national corporations, is already a major travel draw because of its reputation for safety, cleanliness and efficiency, as well as man-made attractions such as high-end shopping malls.
However, it’s a tiny island, which lacks the white sand beaches and breathtaking scenery found in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, and the government is continually searching for new ideas to create a buzz about the city-state.
It’s aiming to attract 17 million visitors a year, generating more than US$21 billion (£13 billion) by 2015, up from 9.7 million visitors last year. Analysts expect the casino resorts to help the city meet those targets.
by Andy Moreton, with Agence France Presse
Luxique offers a choice of seven luxury hotels in Singapore including, of course, the historic, world-famous Raffles.
Google has unveiled the prototype of an instant translation service for English-speaking tourists faced with a bewildering foreign menu.
It’s in its very early development stages and, at the moment, only works with German, but I gather it’s an extension of Google Goggles, which lets users search the web by pointing their smartphone rather than typing text.
It uses optical character recognition technology to scan written words and converts them to computer text, which is then fed through Google Translate. Hey Presto! The menu is converted into English on your phone.
Google demonstrated this latest gizmo at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week.
The search giant’s Product Marketing Manager, Andrew Gomez, said:
“Imagine being in a foreign country staring at a restaurant menu you can’t understand, a waiter impatiently tapping his foot at your table side.”
“You, a vegetarian, have no idea whether you’re about to order spaghetti with meatballs or veggie pesto. What would you do?”
I’m tempted to say ‘just eat the spaghetti and leave the meatballs’, but I don’t like to stand in the way of technological advancement.
by Andy Moreton
The up-market area of St John’s Wood in north-west London has been a magnet for many tourists because of its association with The Beatles.
The band recorded many of their songs at the Abbey Road studios there and the cover of the 1969 album Abbey Road features them walking across a zebra crossing close to the studios (although many tourists have photographs of themselves at the wrong one!)
There’s been speculation over the past week that the studios – a former 19 century townhouse – might be put up for sale by their struggling owners, EMI.
One of the two surviving Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney, said he had so many memories of the place and he’d heard of plans to try to rescue the building. “There are a few people who have been associated with the studio for a long time who were talking about mounting some bid to save it,” said Sir Paul. “I sympathise with them. I hope they can do something, it would be great.”
EMI clarified its position this week by saying that it wasn’t intending to sell the loss-making studios, but was looking for investors to help it finance what it called a ‘revitalisation’.
One of those who might put his hand in his pocket is the composer and theatrical impresario Lord (Andrew) Lloyd Webber, who has used the studios on a regular basis.
by Andy Moreton
If you’re visiting the UK in 2010, be sure to take a look at Luxique’s selection of 52 luxury hotels in London and our Top Destination guide to getting around.
Trust me, this is not a joke. A Czech travel agency is offering trips to Prague for your favourite teddy bear or other stuffed toy.
For the equivalent of £78 ($122), the agency will take pictures of the toy tourists at Prague’s major sights and put them on a CD so that you, the owner, can ‘boast to friends or on Facebook’.
The man behind it, Tomio Okamura, said:
“It is not a joke. We are four owners [including] me – the vice president of the Czech National Association of Travel Agencies – also Miss Dana Bérová, who is a former minister. So it’s proof that it’s a very serious business.”
But the sightseeing is just the half of it. For an extra £52 ($81), the toys can have massage or aromatherapy sessions. Mr Okamura again:
“Yes, we will make massage on the mat next to Charles Bridge, with Prague Castle in the background. So we will put teddy bear on the mat, put candles around him and take photos. So then his owner can say that his bear had a massage in Prague.”
Of course, the tour organisers need to know in advance if the guest is vegetarian because lunch is included …
Look, I can’t go on with this, it’s too ridiculous. If you have a teddy that’s shown an interest in broadening his horizons, go to www.sendyourdarling.com.
by Andy Moreton
Why send your teddy when you can go yourself? Here at Luxique, we describe the Czech capital as ‘a fairyland of pinnacles, towers and fabulously ornate castles and palaces.’ And we have a selection of 23 of the best luxury hotels in Prague.
The travel industry is being urged to continue supporting Madeira’s tourism despite the devastating floods over the weekend.
The Portuguese island – a favourite destination for winter sun-seekers – was hit by violent storms that caused torrents of water to sweep through streets and buildings. Forty-two people lost their lives.The worst affected area was the centre of the capital, Funchal.
The Madeira Tourist Board says the airport is operating as normal and the majority of hotels, which are located on the periphery of Funchal, have not been affected. Most areas now have electricity and water, and the harbour and main roads are now open, excluding the main route to the north.
Atlantic Holidays, a specialist Madeira tour operator in the UK, wants the industry to know that the island is open for business as usual. Sales and Marketing Manager, Dino Toouli, said:
“As many will know, Madeira heavily relies on tourism for its economy and the last thing we want now is for people to stop visiting the island.”
by Andy Moreton
Luxique features five of the finest luxury hotels in Madeira, including the celebrated Reid’s Palace, set on cliff tops overlooking the Atlantic, where traditional afternoon tea is an event not to be missed.
Vacant land around the refuge where Nelson Mandela spent his last days of freedom is to be used to build a luxury boutique hotel.
As apartheid raged in South Africa in 1961, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, north of Johannesburg, was bought on behalf of the South African Communist Party and used as the headquarters of the military arm of the African National Congress.
Mandela sought refuge there in the days before his arrest in 1963 and subsequent 27-year imprisonment on political charges, which ended on February 11.
The hotel will complement an historical museum that already exists at the farm. Nicholas Wolpe, of the Liliesleaf Trust, said:
“This is not a commercial venture, it’s more about making Liliesleaf self-sustaining. We thought about the best way to do this and a hotel seemed to fit.”
“Liliesleaf played a crucial, seminal role in the liberation struggle and it’s important for the world to understand that role.”
There will be historic exhibits in the 48-room hotel, and suites will be named after key players in South Africa’s struggle for racial equality. Construction is likely to begin in June and the property is scheduled to open in September 2011.
by Andy Moreton
If you’re travelling to South Africa, take a look at Luxique’s selection of luxury hotels in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other many other parts of this stunning country.
The enduring popularity of Abba is reflected in London’s newest tourist attraction – a museum/indoor theme park called ABBAWORLD.
The colourful Swedish quartet that gave the world Dancing Queen and other hit songs has sold 400 million records since its 1970s heyday and spawned the hugely successful stage and film musical, Mamma Mia.
The band’s story is told in 25 rooms spread over 30,000 square feet. Glass cases contain costumes in silk, satin and spandex. Visitors can see re-creations of Polar Studios, where the band recorded, and the seaside cabin near Stockholm where Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson composed the hits.
Ulvaeus and fellow Abba member Anni-Frid Lyngstad performed the opening ceremony at the venue at Earl’s Court.
“The ABBAWORLD experience is fantastic for us as well as for the fans,” said Ulvaeus. “We’ve been reunited tonight with a lot of great people who worked with us and supported Abba in the past.”
Lyngstad was misty-eyed:
“Going through ABBAWORLD brought back so many great memories. Seeing myself dancing as a 3D hologram and all the amazing stage clothes we wore, it’s just fantastic. It was a magical time and ABBAWORLD lets the magic live on.”
by Andy Moreton
Tickets are available online at www.abbaworld.com, and don’t forget that Luxique has an unbeatable selection of luxury hotels in London.
Italian police have acted to prevent large numbers of counterfeit goods reaching the streets and markets.
In a raid on eight warehouses east of Rome, they seized hundreds of items – said to be of ‘amazing quality’ – including clothes, shoes, leather goods and other accessories. It’s thought the items would have been given designer labels and sold around tourist attractions.
Italy’s national retailers’ association says that around 6.9 billion euros’ (£6 billion/$9.4 billion) worth of fake products are sold each year.
It’s not only brands such as Gucci, Bulgari and Armani that the Italians fight hard to protect – it’s foodstuffs as well.
And the pizza makers of Naples are celebrating after the European Union officially protected Neapolitan pizzas from imitations. They will now carry what’s called a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed label and become part of Europe’s food heritage.
It’s essential for a genuine Neapolitan pizza to include, among other things, only San Marzano tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. The Italian farmers’ association says half of Italy’s 25,000 pizzerias currently use the wrong ingredients, such as East European cheese or Ukrainian flour.
Italy now tops the EU chart for products that are protected – it has 180, more than Spain or France.
by Andy Moreton
If you’re planning to visit Italy, take a look at Luxique’s comprehensive selection of luxury hotels in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and many other cities.
A couple who lost their camera overboard from an ocean liner in the Atlantic have had it returned to them – by a Spanish trawlerman who found it in his nets.
Barbara and Dennis Gregory, from South Africa, were en route from New York to Southampton on Queen Mary 2 in 2008. When their camera went over the side, they didn’t expect to see it again, let alone any photos.
But Benito Estevez, fishing off the west coast of Europe, caught it in his nets, with five photos still intact on the memory card. He posted them online and they were then shown on a TV programme in the UK. Friends of the couple recognised them.
Speaking through a translator, Mr Estevez said:
“It makes me really happy to see that they have recovered the memories they lost. If it had been any other thing we would have thrown it back into the sea … but these circumstances were different. I think it’s because of destiny.”
Mrs Gregory said it was ‘absolutely mindboggling’.
And if you’re wondering what sort of camera could survive such an ordeal, it was the Nikon P90. Expect the company to advertise its hard-wearing qualities very soon …
by Andy Moreton
Just when you thought airlines were going to be a bit more accommodating to economy (coach) class passengers (see Flat Out Comfort in Economy), along come American Airlines.
American are planning to charge passengers $8 (£5) for a pillow and blanket on domestic trips and some international flights longer than two hours.
Not just any pillow and blanket, mind you. It’s ‘a blue fleece blanket with an inflatable neck pillow in a clear zip-up pouch.’ They’re even going to throw in a money-off coupon for the Bed, Bath and Beyond store. Needless to say, blankets and pillows will remain free in first class cabins.
To be fair to American, I gather US Airways already charge $7 (£4.50) for a pillow and blanket set, which comes with eye-shade and ear-plugs.
Airlines have steadily added or increased fees for various services since 2008, first to help cover jet fuel costs, then to offset large losses. British Airways recently announced that it had made a pre-tax loss of £50 million ($78 million) in the three months to December 2009. This was better than expected and BA said the figures were representative of cost-cutting measures across the company.
by Andy Moreton