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Monday, 17 January 2022

Japan keeps its doors shut tight

It has apparently been a great ski season in Japan - but no visitors have been able to enjoy it.

And anyone wanting to visit will have to wait a little longer after the Japanese government further extend its entry ban on non-resident foreigners until the end of February.

The extension was announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Kyodo reported.

The ban has been in place since November 30 after the Asian nation confirmed its first case of the highly transmissible Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The Government introduced measures initially for about a month by barring entries for non-resident foreigners and requiring returning Japanese nationals and foreign residents to quarantine in Government-designated facilities.

The only exception to the blanket ban will be 87 Government-sponsored foreign students.

They will still be required to quarantine for 10 days after arrival at hotels prepared by their schools, the Japan Times reported.

Tokyo decided on the exception “considering public interest and the urgency of the matter,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference.

The 87 students have less than one year left until they graduate or finish their studies and the Government decided to allow them in so they can finish their schooling, Matsuno said.

The Government has said it will ease the entry restrictions if there are “special circumstances,” including visits to those who are seriously ill or for funerals.

International flights to and from Japan have been drastically reduced.

Mountains resort high on chic appeal

The Blue Mountains are a delightful weekend escape destination for anyone living in Sydney and the village of Blackheath has recently welcomed Kyah Boutique Hotel, a 1970s-era motel that has been reimagined with a ‘luxe’ touch by Sydney-based design firm MKD Architects.

Less than two hours drive from Sydney, the 46-room, family-owned hotel offers a modern mountain retreat with easy access to all the region's attractions. 

The design has been inspired by Palm Springs, with archways, curves and cutaway interiors and Art Deco furnishings. 

The best news is that rooms start from $220 a night - great news for travellers on a budget. 

The revitalised hotel comprises three separate accommodation buildings (each named after one of Katoomba’s famed Three Sisters) that flow into a central lobby and entertainment hub. 

Each of the rooms and suites has its own external entry to bypass the lobby - a retained ‘motel’ feature and great for anyone who does not want to be seen. 

Travellers can choose from king suites (which sleep up to three people), twin queen rooms (which sleep up to four), and two-bedroom suites and spa suites (sleeping up to five people). I can feel a party coming on!

There are also rooms designed to cater for family groups. 

Regardless of your room type, each room comes with complimentary wifi, a smart TV to cast content from your own device, USB charging points and reverse-cycle air-conditioning. 

Other hotel amenities include a hairdryer, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and bar fridge, along with  ethically sourced bathroom amenities. 

Blaq restaurant and bar is overseen by executive chef Mate Herceg who is also the hotel’s general manager (and, presumably, a very busy boy). 

Herceg is a veteran of several regional standouts, including the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Lilianfels and  Blackheath Bar & Bistro). 

"The majority of our suppliers are located within a 80km radius to Kyah - and that’s important to me," Herceg says. "We really do have an abundance of sensational produce in the Mountains from which to choose - and I want to showcase that as much as possible.” 

The drinks list at Blaq bar also champions local suppliers, from Karu Distillery, Katoomba-based Blue Mountains Gin and Mountain Culture Beer Co., through to the 100% New South Wales wine selection. 

Kyah Boutique Hotel is located near the highest point of the Blue Mountains between Katoomba and Mount Victoria. 

Rates start from $220 per room per night for a king suite (above).

For more information or to make a reservation visit www.thekyah.com.au

Images: Steven Woodburn

Sunday, 16 January 2022

From a dark history to a bright tourism future?

The good people of Montgomery, Alabama, are not letting their region's Klu Klux Klan affiliations, links with the slave trade and long history of racism get in the way of attracting tourists.

As recently as 2019 the editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper published an editorial calling for "the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again" against "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats (who) are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama."

In 2020, Republican politician Will Dismukes was a key figure at a birthday celebration for the late Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader in the Confederate Army and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 

But the people of Montgomery want you to forget the racists in their midst and concentrate, instead, on the city's links with the civil rights movement - which was of course, sparked by ingrained racism. 

Experience Montgomery has unveiled a brand-new global tourism campaign, called ‘The Journey Starts Here,’ in time for Black History Month. And it does look a lovely place. 

The aim of the campaign is to promote visits to the destination and guide visitors through the historic capital city using vibrant storytelling.

"Montgomery’s story as the birthplace of the civil rights movement resonates with the world," says Ashley Jernigan, executive director of Destination Montgomery. 

"With this campaign, education and inspiration have never been more accessible to Montgomery visitors as they can now interact with the sites of some of our country’s most profound events." 

Maybe not the Klan pushing black folk off a bridge though, or the white segregationists who created the White Citizens’ Councils because they did not want to share public transport with black people.

There is a museum and monument to victims of lynchings - but there are still streets named for Confederate generals  

The whitewashing does highlight black empowerment and significant achievements. 

The campaign design uses colours and geometric shapes to highlight the city’s natural and historical landmarks, including the Alabama River, the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building, the Selma-to-Montgomery march routes and sculptures from the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Place markers can now be found across the city on streetlight banners, light pole signage, and soon, sidewalk stickers that feature quotes from famous civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bryan Stevenson.

There are QR codes linking to a mobile site with information about the location, suggestions for what to explore next in the area, and suggested visitor itineraries.

As part of the campaign, Montgomery’s Visitor Centre has relocated to One Court Square in the heart of downtown Montgomery, making it easily accessible to some of the city’s most notable sights.

The visitor centre will also be the base of the newly launched City Ambassador Program.

The city ambassadors will wear branded t-shirts and provide meaningful insights to the historical landmarks within walking distance of the visitor centre, including the Rosa Parks Bus Stop and the Freedom Rides Museum.

Situated on the banks of the Alabama River, Montgomery is the capital and the second largest city in  Alabama.

Established in 1819, it has been the site of major events which have shaped the country’s history. Visit the official website of the Montgomery Convention and Visitor Bureau at www.visitingmontgomery.com 

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Entitled arsehats at cellar door

It is just not as much fun being a cellar door operative as it used to be. 

Rather than pouring wines for the crowd milling around the tasting bar and telling a few funny stories, the responsibilities are far greater, and more stressful. 

You have to make sure tasters are signed-in, seated, spaced, and satisfied.

At larger cellar doors you may well be understaffed due to colleagues with Covid, co-workers who won't get vaccinated or casuals who are in isolation. 

In addition you have to wear an uncomfortable mask all the time - and deal with the occasional arsehat into the bargain. Most of the time it is great. There are dozens of jobs far more onerous.

During the recent lockdowns I have been filling in one or two days a week at a local family-owned cellar door. 

It is a lovely setting, open 11am to 4pm with six wines for a seated, educational tasting for an $8 fee, refundable if you make a purchase. Tasting can take between 15 and 30 minutes depending on how quickly you taste and how many questions you have.  

I maybe dealt with a dozen groups today. Some just wanted to taste, others tasted then purchased a few bottles. All were engaged and a pleasure to deal with. Happy to pour an extra taste of the wine you like so you can make up your mind.

Until 3.50pm. The winemaker messaged and said a couple from Brisbane were at a location 15 minutes away and wondered if cellar door could remain open until 4.30pm so they could do a tasting. 

No problem. I removed the whites from the fridge, set up a tasting for two with water glasses etc. And waited.

No sign of them by 4.25pm, so I put everything away again, let the winemaker know and locked up again. No call to say they were lost, or running late.  

Just as I was driving out at 4.32pm, in drove a Toorak tractor. 

The bloke held his hand to his ear and mouthed: "We called." The woman said: "X X said 4.30pm."

Yes, 4.30pm to finish, not arrived. I wonder if they expect Bunnings to stay open late for them if they are running behind schedule, or demand their chemist stays open to fill a prescription? Probably.

I told them to go away.

They are not the first arsehats I've had at cellar door recently. There was the group who had a long-standing tasting booking and wanted to put it back until after 4pm because their members had got uproariously drunk at the previous cellar door they visited.  Err no. 

Then there was the group of women unwilling to wait when we had hit maximum Covid-safety numbers. 

"I have some people leaving very soon, if you could just wait outside," I said. No. They stormed off in high self-important dudgeon. 

Please remember you are not special. And if you want special treatment you are probably entitled. And may well write a negative TripAdvisor review. Try being kind instead. 

Generic image: Pablo Nidam, Scop.io


Cathay blow to struggling travel agents


Ever thought about how travel agents make a profit?

Remember they do not charge customers for whom they book a flight or a package holiday.

It is all about commission, which is paid to an agent by an airline, hotel, cruise line, tour organiser or travel group for each booking.

This is why travel agents will often try to direct you in a specific direction when it comes to your business or holiday choices. The possibility for conflicts is huge.

Don't expect you agent to be wanting to book you onto a Cathay Pacific flight any time soon - particularly if there is a viable alternative.

Cathay commission payments to agents in Australia and New Zealand will move from 5% to just 1% - the same payout as rivals Qantas and Emirates - effective from July.

This means that if your agent books you a single return flight on Cathay for $1800, it will make just $18 in commission.

Cathay Pacific says it is committed to working closely with its “key travel partners to ensure a successful transition to a new way of working” - which is corporate-speak for "get stuffed".

Qantas and Emirates have more routes and higher visibility - and bring agents more business than Cathay, which might be digging itself a deep hole.

Cathay has described the move as “a fresh approach to trade partner engagement” as the Hong Kong carrier makes “tough but necessary decisions to see ourselves through the pandemic”.

“Our commitment to Australia and NZ remains steadfast, and we will continue to invest in this region as we work through the pandemic,” the airline said in a statement.

Flights from Australia to Hong Kong are currently banned as authorities battle to contain Covid-19.

Friday, 14 January 2022

A cabernet with cheese fries? Americans happy to break wine "rules"

Americans can be easily confused. A considerable number of them still believe charlatan Donald Trump is the legitimate President of the United States.

It turn out that wine is also a difficult topic with 3/4 of Americans finding wine etiquette "intimidating" and 67% of respondents to a recent study believing that there are right and wrong ways to drink wine, Drinks Business reported.

The study conducted on behalf of Woodbridge Wines by OnePoll canvassed 2,000 US respondents aged 21 and older.

The poll found that over two-thirds think there are right and wrong ways to drink wine, while eight out of 10 respondents said they did not always follow the so-called “rules of wine”.

Just 17% swirl and sniff before they take a sip.

Seven out of 10 respondents said they drink wine more than any other type of alcohol over the winter, and, perhaps surprisingly, 62% of men and 50% of women said they would choose wine over beer while watching sports.

Fine dining is clearly not on the agenda of most of those polled. 

When asked about their favourite wine and food pairings, men preferred mac and cheese over other dishes (41%), while women opted for chicken wings (34%).

People in the colder north-east of the country (54%) prefer to add ice cubes to their wine - which makes no sense at all.

“Just like everything in life, there are so many old-school, traditional rules in wine culture that people feel they need to follow - swirling, sniffing, pairing,” said Serena Shrivastava, brand director for Woodbridge Wines, in a statement.

“We encourage everyone to play by their own rules instead and leave any judgement behind.
“We think there should only be one rule: enjoy wine your way - however, wherever, and whenever you want.

“Wine is for more than fancy occasions and fancy glasses. Don’t be afraid to drop an ice cube in your wine glass at home, grab a can of wine instead of a beer at a tailgate, or pair a cabernet with some delicious cheese fries at the ballpark. When you ‘wine your way,’ anything goes.”

Image: Phuong Nguyen, Scop.io